Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 rolls out its multiplayer open beta this weekend—today at 10am PST / 6pm BST if you preordred; the same time tomorrow if you didn't. Developers Treyarch and Beenox think it can be the "the best PC version of Call of Duty ever", and tell us it pulls from Destiny 2 and Overwatch in certain areas.
Beenox is a subsidiary of Activision who developed a feature-limited, multiplayer-only version of Black Ops 3 for PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. Creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson tells me its involvement in Black Ops 4—a multiplayer-only COD, without a singleplayer campaign—is no coincidence, but that the studio's focus is naturally on this weekend's multiplayer beta.
"We have a long history of PC development," says Wilson. "In-house we have PC gamers, we even have retired pro-gamers who are really passionate about the PC version. Basically what we do is spend the amount of resources and time that PC version needs for the first time. We look at what the PC community would expect—and that comes down to flexibility, options, and it's making sure that we have a wide variety of features that are supported so that we address what players want."
Wilson says this means casting a wide net over what it reckons PC players want—be that visual fidelity, performance tied to the competitive spectrum, ultra-wide monitor support, and multiple monitor support among lots of other things.
"Keyboard and mouse controls must feel natural, too," adds Wilson. "There's a lot of options that players can tweak, such as FOV. One thing we tried to do also is to try to match the mouse sensitivity to games like Overwatch and Destiny 2, both other Battle.net games. That way, there's a natural transition if you're used to playing on Battle.net.
"When we're talking about being serious about putting the best PC version of Call of Duty ever out, that's part of the process—getting feedback early and we can address it for launch."
Jonathan Moses, Treyarch's senior PC producer, tells me Black Ops 4 "never had a traditional singleplayer campaign, from its earliest days", and that it was always keen to tell its story in a different way from previous COD games.
When pressed about the beta's "secret new mode that's been kept under tight wraps" which Treyarch mentioned on Reddit earlier this week, Moses, somewhat expectedly, remains tight-lipped. Likewise, both Moses and Wilson sidestep questions about the possibility of loot boxes and Black Ops 4's incoming Blackout battle royale mode. I guess we'll find out more on all of that in due course.
Moses' insights into the similarities between his team and Beenox's work against their console dev counterparts are nonetheless interesting.
"I think the big thing is really how similar the process is," says Moses. "The opportunity to work with Beenox meant we were able to bring a big team on earlier and to be focused on the PC version. This meant Beenox has been able to run alongside the console game's development—keeping up and making changes as they needed for the PC version, so that we could have the public beta coming out this weekend with the same features and content as the console version.
"We have regular phone calls between the designers at Treyarch and the designers at Beenox, talking about weapon balance and features with regards to how the changes needed for the PC can be done while keeping true to the design expectations, while also being true to the PC's mouse and keyboard support."