There is no denying that multiplayer is the most important part of any contemporary Call of Duty title. The case is true for any first-person shooter, especially those that fall into the military category. With the Call of Duty franchise becoming annualised, Activision runs the risk of the multiplayer portion of their IP becoming stagnant. Treyarch, however, is not about to let that happen – Black Ops II multiplayer is looking fantastic.
If I could pick the overarching tenet of Black Ops II’s multiplayer, it would be player control. Treyarch claims to be “challenging all the core assumptions” about multiplayer, and with that focus they’ve crafted a far more personal multiplayer experience than we’re used to in a Call of Duty game. Part of how they’re doing this is by revamping the class system and fully integrating an online match broadcasting system that’s heralded the coining of a new online term: “CODcasting”.
Treyarch has thrown out the traditional approach to multiplayer classes in Black Ops II. You’ll still find the basic classes that you’re used to, but they’re more like springboards for developing your own unique class based on your play style. Central to the new Create-A-Class mode is the new “Pick 10 System”. On top of that, Treyarch has added Wildcards to class creation.
Pick 10 started life as a board game in the Treyarch offices. It was meant to help the team brainstorm ideas for revamping the class system; in the end, the board game fundamentals turned out to be the new class system anyway.
Pick 10 means that you’re given 10 points to spend on equipment, perks, attachments, grenades and weapons. It’s all represented visually on your loadout screens, and as you add your own combination of items, so a bar fills up on the top of the screen; once the bar is full, you will have hit your maximum allowance and you’ll be unable to add anything further. The nice thing is just how customisable this all is. If, for example, you don’t want to take a secondary weapon but would rather use that point to add an additional attachment, perk or lethal, then you’re free to do so. In other words, you’re no longer forced to take an item in every category, which means you can fine-tune your class to echo your play style.
Wildcards allow you to buck the system, so to speak. You have three Wildcard slots and using a slot counts towards your Pick 10 total. Wildcards do things like allow you to pick an additional level one perk, or add a third attachment to your primary weapon. Essentially, the Wildcards are there to allow you to tweak the Call of Duty multiplayer structures a little more.
Kill Streaks are out, Score Streaks are in
They’re still essentially the same thing, but there are now more ways to get points in order to unlock your Rewards. At present, Treyarch has 21 Rewards planned for Black Ops II, but Vonderhaar reminded us that the game is still in development so that number could increase.
As the name implies, you’re no longer bound to racking up kills in order to get your Kill Streak Rewards. In Black Ops II, any action you do that helps your team in some way, will net you Score for your Score Streak Rewards instead. In CTF mode, capturing the flag or executing a kill assist will get you Score. Those are just two examples, but there are several; I even noticed myself accruing Score for shooting out enemy claymores. Whenever you perform a Score related action during a match, you’ll see the value of that action pop up on screen much like the XP notifications you’re used to from some shooters.
On the bottom right of the screen is your Score meter and icons for the three Rewards you selected while creating your class. Each Reward has a Score cost requirement before it becomes available to you during a multiplayer game. So if you’re not particularly good (like me) you might pick three Rewards that require relatively little Score before they unlock.
Insofar as the actual Rewards go, there are a few familiar faces like drones, Hellfire missiles and dogs (!), but there are some new ones thanks to the 2025 setting of Black Ops II. The Guardian Turret is that awesome microwave cannon you can see getting deployed and cooking people during the multiplayer reveal video. The AGR (Autonomous Ground Robot) is an AI or player controlled Reward; as the name suggests, it’s a robot with some mean guns attached to it. You can either deploy it and let it roll off on its own killing spree, or you can take control of it yourself via your soldier’s datapad.
Levelling and unlocks
There are 55 levels and 10 levels of Prestige in Black Ops II. You’ll still be collecting XP in order to progress and unlock weapons and equipment, but you’ll also be collecting Medals. Medals are a new feature to Black Ops II and they’re very similar to the Ribbons system in Gears of War 3. As you do specific things during a match (headshots, revenge kills, etc.) you’ll get a Medal notification on the screen. You can earn each Medal multiple times during a match, and whenever you do you’ll get an XP bonus.
In terms of unlocking new items, Black Ops II has gotten rid of “COD Points” and replaced them with unlock tokens instead. You’ll get one token per level, and then you can use your tokens to unlock items. Items aren’t made available every level; instead, items will unlock as you move up in rank (lieutenant, captain etc.). Considering there are over a hundred items to unlock and only 55 levels, you won’t be able to unlock everything without Prestiging. Get ready to put in a whole lot of hours.
The focus on eSports
Call of Duty is already synonymous with eSports, but Treyarch has shown a renewed focus on this in their approach to multiplayer in Black Ops II. They’re introducing League Play, and with it an entire ladder system and matchmaking suite based on players’ skills. It’s very similar to what StarCraft 2 employs with its extensive ladder systems. Your first few games will be used to gauge your skill, and after that you’ll placed into a specific pool. The more you play and improve, the higher up the ladder you’ll progress. Teyarch has big plans to foster a competitive community with seasonal Leagues and ladders for Black Ops II.
Of course, with eSports come spectatorship and what better way to create community involvement than with the newly dubbed CODcasting system? Whoever fancies themselves a commentator for multiplayer matches will be able to start broadcasting their own commentary with CODcasting and Black Ops II. The CODcast system will come with a suite of features that allow would-be commentators to customise their match commentary and visuals. Picture-in-picture modes, map overviews, score panels and more will all be part of the CODcasting system, and Treyarch is hoping this will take off online in a big way, further cementing the relationship between Call of Duty multiplayer and eSports.
Live streaming is also being included, which allows players and competitions to stream live matches all from within the game. And yes, they’re making streaming apps for smart phones and tablets.
All of the Call of Duty and Black Ops multiplayer staples will be making a return in Black Ops II. Two new modes have been revealed and we got to play both of them: Multi Teams and the new Hardpoint mode.
Multi Team matches are a blast with up to six teams of three players each. Communication is key to victory in these matches, because the action is incredibly fast. We played numerous rounds of this mode and I have to admit it was by far my favourite; it just seems more focused and personal.
Hardpoint is a Black Ops II variant of King of the Hill matches. Specific points on the map become designated as Hardpoints for a short period of time. It’s up to each team to reach that point and hold it for as long as possible in order to increase their score. Once the specific Hardpoint times out a new one appears on the map and the action moves off to that new location. It’s typical King of the Hill, but with Score Streak Rewards thrown in to make things extra chaotic.
The multiplayer hands-on event was a lot fun. Despite the fact that Black Ops II’s single player campaign will hop between different time periods, the game’s entire multiplayer suite is set in 2025 which means the tech on hand will be much more fun.
There’s more to come on the multiplayer for Black Ops II. On Wednesday 15th August at 6PM South African time, they’ll be live streaming Gamescom Black Ops II matches via Xbox LIVE. If you don’t have an Xbox 360, then you can catch the same live stream on CallofDuty.com, Facebook.com/codblackops and Twitch.tv/treyarch. If you want to watch what we got to play then be sure to tune in.