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The untold truth of Call of Duty: Blackout

The newest iteration of Call of Duty is jumping on the battle royale bandwagon; in Black Ops 4, you can take to a massive map, hunt for gear, and play cat-and-mouse with dozens of other players at once. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's battle royale mode is called Blackout, and time will tell if it can cut into the crowded landscape of BR games and make some gains on the genre's royalty, PUBG and Fortnite.

Early impressions of Blackout are encouraging: Eurogamer raves about Blackout's polish and smooth feel, and IGN writes that its intuitive nature and smooth gunplay will assuredly make it a contender in the genre as long as it receives the support it needs from the development team.

Today, we're your one-stop shop for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode. Here's everything you need to know before you dive in and start racking up headshots.

Blackout is replacing the traditional single-player campaign

One of the trademarks of Call of Duty has always been its twist-filled single-player campaign, with its monster set pieces, over-the-top action, and absolutely memorable missions. The original Black Ops campaign featured a cerebral Cold War yarn featuring Academy Award winner Gary Oldman as fan-favorite Viktor Reznov, and Kotaku called the original Modern Warfare mission "All Ghillied Up" one of gaming's best levels ever. That's why it came as such a shock when it was announced that Black Ops 4 would not feature a traditional single player campaign.

There are three "pillars" of Black Ops 4: traditional multiplayer, Zombies, and Blackout. Polygon writes that the developers were never planning on including single-player, instead focusing on multiplayer interaction. It seems a likely leap that much of the development time that would have gone into polishing the cinematic campaign has gone into balancing and creating the best experience for Blackout. Treyarch is banking on players creating their own epic moments in Blackout and the other modes, rather than playing through the set pieces the series is known for.

Blackout will run through Blizzard Battle.net on PC

You may think Battle.net is reserved only for Blizzard games like Overwatch and StarCraft, but Activision has started utilizing the platform for some of their PC releases recently. Black Ops 4 is following in the footsteps of Destiny 2, which also released on Battle.net. If you want to play the game on PC, you're going to need to download Blizzard's digital storefront.

There are plenty of benefits to the arrangement. WCCF writes about the experience and optimization that Battle.net offers for PC gamers. The platform has been around for over twenty years, launching alongside Diablo in 1996. Therefore, it seems likely that the infrastructure is in place to make sure Black Ops 4 is ready to roll right out of the gate. It also has excellent anti-cheating measures in place, and even offers some benefits that other platforms might not receive: in an interview with Eurogamer, David Vonderhaar, the studio design director for Treyarch, thinks that dynamic time of day (where the in-game time and weather matches the real world's) may hit the PC version of the game due to Blizzard's digital platform.

The Blackout map is a greatest hits of fan-favorite Black Ops maps

One of the biggest headaches in Call of Duty multiplayer is map rotation: if your favorite rotated out, you may not get that many chances to jump into it. Luckily, Blackout is a veritable who's who of locations based on some of the most popular maps in Black Ops history. There are several areas of the Blackout map that will look familiar to salty veterans of the series.

An official video from PlayStation shows off some of the different locations that players will be able to explore in Blackout. Gadgets 360 has a complete rundown of these locations, but here are some of the places you can camp out in during a round of Blackout: Estates is based on both Raid from Black Ops 2 and Stronghold from Black Ops 3. Asylum draws inspiration from the Zombies map Verruckt. The Hydro Facility area is based on (surprise!) Hydro from Black Ops 2, and the Cargo Docks area is based on the map Cargo from the same game. Finally, Nuketown Island is based on the classic map Nuketown from the original Black OpsPC Gamer says it's one of the spots to drop for the best loot.

Zombies have shambled over

Zombies are getting even more focus in Black Ops 4 than in previous Call of Duty titles. There are multiple maps in the Zombies campaign, and it sounds like that mode is the closest thing the game will have to a traditional story. More surprising, however, is that the zombies have invaded Blackout, and they've brought some of the best toys with them.

If you've played a battle royale game, you're probably familiar with the idea of "supply drops," "air drops," "dumbo drops," etc. Whoever gets to it first has a shot at obtaining some powerful weapons and other super rare loot, but it attracts a lot of attention. Camping these drops is an easy way to rack up some kills. In Blackout, the infamous "Mystery Box" that has generally been constrained to Zombies mode fills in this role, and the glowing-eyed monsters come with it.

The AI controls these beasts, and they are surprisingly deadly if you aren't on your guard. Opening up the Mystery Box is definitely worth it, with powerful weapons (like the ray gun and Zweihander) and strong armor often inside. Just look for the column of light in the sky to find your way to the Mystery Box.

Blackout hosts fewer players than standard

One of the best aspects of battle royale games is watching the massive player count dwindle as you continue to loot, improve, and strive for the end game. PUBG and Fortnite both top out at 100 players in a single round, and the battle royale mode Firestorm mode in Battlefield 5 is supposedly topping out at sixty-four players. Just how many people will you need to outlast when you're dropping into a mode of Blackout?

The answer to that depends on how you are playing. At launch, the maximum player count for both solo and duos in a round of Blackout stands at 88. That number jumps up to 100 if you are playing in squads of four (which means there are twenty-five different teams vying for supremacy). However, Treyarch has indicated that player count may fluctuate, and have even suggested that certain special modes could support up to 115 players. Better pack plenty of ammo.

Blackout changed Call of Duty's health system

Call of Duty's healing system only recently started to change. For over a decade, players were used to the "auto-recover" system where you could find a place to hide, wait a few seconds, and jump back into the action fully recharged. With 2017's Call of Duty: World War II, that changed, making healing a much more dangerous and deliberate act that called for teamwork and cover, as well as more time. The addition of the Blackout mode has necessitated yet another change to the way health recovery works in Black Ops 4.

Black Ops 4 has a dedicated healing button in Blackout mode, so long as you have picked up healing supplies. You can set which item you want in your healing slot, and holding the button will initiate the animation to increase your health. It is essentially the same system that you've used in other battle royale games.

This system has actually transitioned over to the other modes in Black Ops 4, albeit with a slight twist. You will not need to pick up healing items in traditional multiplayer, but your healing is set on a cooldown. This means you need to be smart about when to take a step back and when to charge back into the fray.

Blackout has primed the pump to become a major esport

PUBG and Fortnite have both made major moves into the esports arena, and both still seem to be ironing out the details about how to make that work. PUBG's massive map and more deliberate playstyle can make for extremely long, uneventful matches, and Epic Games is still pumping a great deal of money into trying to bring Fortnite to the top of the food chain in the world of competitive gaming. However, CNBC writes that Blackout may be poised to swoop in and become the battle royale esport of choice.

Several mainstream media outlets are reporting that Activision and Treyarch may have a monster on its hands with Black Ops 4. The Motley Fool writes that stock markets are anticipating a massive stock jump for Activision Blizzard as Black Ops 4 gains traction, and that Blackout could follow in the vein of other esports giants like Overwatch. They also report that esports is already approaching $1 billion in revenue for the company, prior to the game's release.

Call of Duty, with its massive cultural pull and mainstream presence, could take the esports world by storm with its Blackout mode. That's what plenty of people are anticipating, at least.

Fog of war will play a major role

Another staple of Call of Duty multiplayer has always been minimap watching: if a player fires a shot and isn't using a perk or attachment to keep concealed, they would be giving away their location immediately. This would make Blackout mode incredibly difficult; the massive map distances involved would slow the game down to a crawl, as taking a shot on anything but a guaranteed kill would showcase your presence to dozens of players at once. Thankfully, a fog of war system will limit the minimap's usefulness, and will further push squads to communicate and work together to succeed.

Variety writes about how Treyarch has tweaked the fog of war system since the game's beta, and it seems likely that Black Ops 4's Blackout mode will continue to see tweaks and optimization as time goes on. As it stands, every player has a small portion around them revealed on the minimap, and certain items and perks can expand or constrict the revealed area. If a player fires within your vision, their location is revealed. This will raise interesting questions about squad placement and equipment selections, as a communicative and geared up squad will be able to keep vision on a much greater portion of the map.

Friendly fire caused some serious problems

One big issue that a lot of gamers found in the Blackout beta was team killing. Many competitive games have a zero-tolerance policy on the practice, but Black Ops 4 was missing that feature in the earliest version. That meant if you were on a team and you were unhappy that a member of your squad picked up something you wanted, you could kill them and loot it from their corpse.

Obviously, this goes completely against the philosophy of team games, especially in something as high stakes as a "die and you're out" battle royale game. Treyarch addressed the problem as their number one concern coming out of the Blackout open beta, writing this message on Reddit: "One of the most upvoted requests concerns preventing team killers from looting the bodies of teammates they've killed. In addition to reporting bad behavior through the "Report Player" function in the Social menu (and continuing to ban players for intentional team killing), we agree with this approach and are adding this, or something similar, to our "To Do" list. We have a zero-tolerance policy for intentional team killers. Be sure to report them so we can bring the banhammer down."

Like Fortnite or PUBG, team kill in Blackout at your own risk; Treyarch will be gunning for you.

Vehicles play a large role in Blackout

The vehicle conundrum is a difficult one in battle royale games: stealth is extremely important, so will you sacrifice that for speed and splat power? Traditionally, piloting vehicles does not play a huge role in Call of Duty games, but that is changing in the Blackout mode of Black Ops 4. Not only will there be the typical wheeled rides you might expect, but there are sea and air transportation options as well.

Game Rant has a list of the four vehicles available in Blackout mode currently, but it seems likely that as new maps and wrinkles to the gameplay are added, more vehicles will appear as well. The land vehicles are a two-person ATV and a cargo truck that can transport an entire team. There is currently a small, two-person boat that can take to the waves, and a transport helicopter that can fly overhead and bring death from the skies. Take care, especially if you are transporting an entire team, with that last one: if the pilot is shot out of the sky, it is a long way down for the rest of your squadmates.