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Why Back 4 Blood Couldn't Find The Same Success As Left 4 Dead

For a long time, fans of the legendary "Left 4 Dead" games didn't have any other options for team-based zombie mayhem — none that felt quite the same anyway. After "Left 4 Dead 2," the two games' approach to multiplayer co-op was all but dead. To the excitement of many, a few years ago Turtle Rock Studios — the team that put together the original "Left 4 Dead" game before being bought out by Valve — announced it was making a spiritual successor, "Back 4 Blood," now available on most modern consoles and PC. 

But now only a few years after its release, "Back 4 Blood" has reached the end of the road as Turtle Rock Studios plans to shut down support and updates for the game later in 2023. It wasn't exactly panned by critics, but it wasn't exactly what fans were expecting, either. "Back 4 Blood" reached a peak of over 65,000 concurrent players according to Steam Charts, and now sees about 1000 to 3000 players in-game at any given time. 65,000 peak players is no small number, a number that hundreds of games on Steam could only dream of attaining. 

But "Left 4 Dead 2," a now 14-year-old game, reached a peak nearly three times that. Its returning playerbase blows "Back 4 Blood" out of the water, too, with around 20,000 concurrent players in 2023. There are a lot of theories as to why "Back 4 Blood" didn't take off like "Left 4 Dead" did — ultimately, the two biggest complaints were unsatisfying gameplay and the lack of an active modding scene.

The gunplay and general gameplay of Back 4 Blood felt less satisfying than Left 4 Dead

Even as early as the beta testing period for "Back 4 Blood," players were noticing some pretty glaring issues with the game's audio, guns, movement, and general gameplay. Some of these complaints were actually fixed for the final version, but few were barely touched at all. The most common problem players had with guns was aiming. A player on the Back 4 Blood subreddit stated the auto aim was too good and almost caused them motion sickness, but they also said without auto aim, it's nearly impossible to make shots. The gunplay was "laughably bad" and the player pointed out its "half-baked" attachment system, which even big fans of the game had to admit is just not great.

Another user seemed to agree in a post pointing out the game's many dated shooting mechanics, but gunplay is just one part of gameplay. "Back 4 Blood" also adds a card-based skill system that players equip and unlock as they progress through the game. It's strangely complex, though, and some were turned off by the learning curve and how much grinding is involved with getting better cards. 

Another major issue players pointed out was the difficulty spike. On normal difficulty, the game is way too easy, but on Veteran, it's next to impossible to get through a level without the whole team playing near-perfectly. The AI in the game is also heavily criticized — Veteran mode isn't made any easier when your AI teammates do absolutely nothing to help you improve.

Left 4 Dead still has a dedicated modding community — Back 4 Blood actively dissuaded mods

One of the biggest complaints against "Back 4 Blood" was its lack of mod support. This is in large part because it's an online-oriented game and allowing mods could cause conflicts with crossplay games and cheating in online matches. It has been pointed out by some fans that including mod support for the game at this point would require a complete re-work from the ground up, as crossplay issues would need to be addressed somehow. It doesn't help that Turtle Rock Studios has actively shut down unofficial cosmetic mods.

Mods can go a long way in extending the lifetime of a game. Mods completely changed "The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim," for example, which just released an Anniversary Edition containing a bunch of official mods that were inspired, and made by, fans. The longevity of the "Left 4 Dead" games can certainly be attributed to its everlasting modding community as well as continuous official updates, like 2020's "The Last Stand" DLC for "Left 4 Dead 2."

"Back 4 Blood" doesn't make modding easy. In fact, it actively dissuades them. Developer Matt O'Driscoll said in an interview that the game files were "contained at launch for sure," but left the possibility of future mod compatibility open. As it turns out, that functionality was never added to the game, and plenty of fans believe it could have helped the game be successful in the long term.