Black Ops 3 Specialists are the best thing to happen to Call of Duty in years

By Sherif Saed, Thursday, 20 August 2015 14:52 GMT

Specialists are an ingenious mix of Destiny-style supers and distinct classes. They’re exactly what Call of Duty needed, says Sherif Saed.

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A feature that lets me have more fun in a Call of Duty game and allows me to pay less attention to my KDR is exactly what I was looking for. There’s an undeniable element of attachment you’ll feel to these characters, too.

The Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 beta went live yesterday. Despite what I thought was a tepid showing at E3 2015, I remained anxious to get some hands-on space with multiplayer.

I was interested in seeing Treyarch’s take on 3D movement. But mostly, I wanted to try out the Specialists and see how something so un-Call of Duty fits into Black Ops 3.

If you’re playing the beta, you should know by now what they are. If you still haven’t played it, or prefer to wait for the full game, let me explain: Specialists are unique characters that each offer two chosen abilities. You commit to one Specialist and one ability before every round and must stick to them until the round is over.

This is separate from your character load-out and scorestreaks. Those can still be customised as in any modern Call of Duty game. Your Specialist ability charges over time before you can unleash it. These abilities differ drastically from one character to the next, giving you a very wide range of options – some reactive, others proactive.

“Classes in Call of Duty? That sounds dumb,” I hear you say. And I thought the same. Call of Duty’s core is built around getting you in the fight as quickly as possible, so you can kill freely before time runs out (or you meet your doom). That gameplay loop has no time for class-specific play or specialised roles. All of this is true. Which is ironically why Specialists work so well. They’re not exactly classes, nor do they just offer different character models with flashy gimmicks.

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Think of these abilities the same way you think of class supers in Destiny. They only come round every so often, but make you feel incredibly powerful when they do. In Black Ops 3, these go beyond giving you a golden gun (though that’s there) or a ground pound (that’s there too). They offer tactical advantages that become incredibly helpful if you pair the right combination with the right game mode.

Sneaking around in Search and Destroy? Outrider’s Vision Pulse will reveal enemies in the vicinity so you can get the drop on campers or avoid them completely. Enemy players clustering around a flag in Domination, or the hardpoint in Hardpoint? Ruin’s Gravity Spikes will take ’em out in one hit if you can get close enough. And if you can’t, you can always use Battery’s War Machine and make it rain grenades.

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A few games in, you’ll notice that you’re starting to care less about scorestreaks and more about your ability, avoiding some engagements you’re going to lose unless ability X is charged, or adapting your play-style around ability Y because it helps you do better. Most of the games I played had fewer than usual UAVs in the air. The UAV is one of the cheapest and earliest scorestreaks anyone could attain. You may think it’s because the beta is filled with noobs who don’t know what they’re doing, but I beg to differ. UAVs are second nature to anyone who’s ever played a Call of Duty game.

Instead, I think, players are keeping their eyes on their Specialist ability’s recharge meter.

As you continue experimenting with each one, you will keep finding ways that bring you back in. Last night, I had a string of games where my teammates kept dropping, a streak of losses that made me decide to call it a night. But I had this unlock token lying around. Why not open up this cool dude with a laser gun (Prophet) and give him a shot?

And so I did, and ended up playing close to an hour after I thought I was done. Gun or perk unlocks never had that effect on me, because even if they’re drastically different they still require you to perform well.

I cared less about losing fights and more about finding creative ways to use my abilities. A feature that lets me have more fun in a Call of Duty game and allows me to pay less attention to my KDR is exactly what I was looking for. There’s an undeniable element of attachment you’ll feel to these characters, too. This is amplified by how each one remarks differently about the action, with their different accents and attitude.

And even if you don’t care, you’ll always know them by their specials. Having that sort of experience in a multiplayer game of Call of Duty is incredibly refreshing.

The Specialists system itself rewards you for doing well, but, more importantly, it dangles the inevitable carrot. And it uses that to relieve you of the stress of always keeping an eye on your performance. It changes the conversation you’ll be having in your head before starting a round the same way it does when you’re arranging class choices with your buddies for maximum effect.

Go play the beta if you can, and experience the most interesting thing to happen to Call of Duty in years. I bet you’ll come out a believer.

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