Activision and developer Treyarch kicked off Gamescom 2012 with a bang, literally. The game developer revealed a ton of new information about the multiplayer experience for Call of Duty: Black Ops II (although there’s a lot still left under the hood for future reveals). Most importantly, the developer offered hands-on gameplay on four of the multiplayer maps, allowing media to get some quality time with the future of warfare.

“Coming off Black Ops the team was energized and they thrived on the creative freedom of exploring a new time period of 2025 with new weapons and vehicles and how that translated to gameplay, especially with the multiplayer experience,” said Mark Lamia, Treyarch Studio Head. “Drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence all play a vital role in warfare, and provide powerful combinations of power in multiplayer. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the most ambitious and best multiplayer game we’ve ever made. The team is building off the success of Black Ops, but challenging the fundamentals of gameplay.”

While the campaign mode of the game will feature key missions set in the 1980s, the multiplayer experience will be set exclusively in 2025. This has allowed the separate multiplayer team at Treyarch (the developer has three massive teams working on each component of the game – campaign, zombies, and multiplayer) to delve into the current battlefield technology and extrapolate how it would appear a decade from now.

According to Treyarch Game Design Director David Vonderhaar, this futuristic setting gave his team a bigger sandbox to play with. Black Ops II has a new Score Streaks system replacing the Kill Streaks from the last game, which is closer to the support killstreaks in Modern Warfare 3 than the traditional killstreaks. This will introduce approximately 20 new upgrade rewards that players can access and use in combat, dynamically altering the strategies involved on the battlefield.

New Weapons of Destruction

“We’re introducing a new arsenal of rewards like the Guardian, which is a group crowd control mechanic,” said Vonderhaar. “The military uses something similar to this today, but it needs a Humvee with an upgraded frame and a trailer to carry a giant battery. Since we’re set in 2025, we’ve made it a portable turret. Technically, it’s non-lethal. But if you stand in the radius of that turret for long, you’re definitely going to get cooked.”

Another futuristic reward comes in the form of an AGR (Autonomous Ground Robot). It’s a high level score streak reward that allows the player to jump in and control the walking turret on-the-fly. Whenever you jump out, the AI controls this powerful beast.

“It comes in a supply drop canister and a helicopter drops it and it bursts out of its container, powers on and goes out autonomously and starts wrecking people,” said Vonderhaar. “You can pull it up on the data pad by pressing X and you can take control of it at any time. This thing’s a complete beast, although if an enemy player is equipped correctly with an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) grenade, you can deal with it. But it’s a lot of fun to play with.”

Vonderhaar said the Hellstorm Missile Score Streak reward perfectly illustrates how the team thought about keeping players engaged with rewards at all times, while adding new interactions to those rewards so players can have risk/reward gameplay around the decisions they’re making on the battlefield. This devastating missile has a secondary fire that increases the area of effect while risking prevision. If you can get a team clustered together, the burst can be devastating to a squad. But it’s not an easy move to pull off.

Another Score Streak comes in the form of an Escort Drone, a futuristic version of the unmanned weapons that are currently flying the skies in hotspots around the globe. This AI-controlled drone is constantly in contact with the player. They tell you they’re wheeled up, they’re coming down, and they’ll let you know how they’re behaving on your behalf. They add a nice level of immersion to the complexities of the battle and give you the sense of a bigger war, as well as a big brother in the sky.

Customizable Gameplay

“When we started development of this game, we were inspired by the need to challenge all core assumptions of what cows are sacred in the multiplayer game,” said Vonderhaar. “The common theme was that the power of the game belongs in the hands of players. Every gameplay system has been re-examined to make sure that we give the player the utmost control of the system.”

The new Create-A-Class system actually has its roots in an old fashioned board game. The team created several versions of a board game in paper form for each of the core systems, which allowed them to evaluate and test core systems. They decided to move away from the rigidly structured content in favor of a giant bucket with no categories that players could use to build the class they wanted to have.

The system is called Pick 10, and it allows you to take 10 pieces of equipment from anything – weapons, perks, equipment, etc. – and build your experience. You don’t even have to take a primary weapon. If you don’t want a grenade, it doesn’t matter, everything costs one of these allocation points. Of course, there are some Wild Cards. Treyarch allows players to extend system rules and use these Wild Cards like extra lethal grenades, third attachments for weapons, or double perks, but each of these also takes up one of those 10 slots. This means every time you go into battle, it can be a truly unique experience.

The entire experience has been designed to be visually intuitive, which will allow anyone to easily jump in and explore the system. The grid is a visual representation of all the content you have available. You pick your primary firearm from a weapons carousel, going left or right to pick a particular gun and up and down to change categories. I picked an AN94, which is good in combat because the first two rounds of each burst are fired at a faster rate — this benefits those players who can handle the trigger really well.

In keeping with that theme, attachments are also in a grid format. The laser site illustrates how the team thought about the weapons system because there are no perks that modify the behavior of a gun. You have to take an attachment and add it to the weapon. Since this is 2025, Treyarch added a millimeter scanner into the optic of the gun as one attachment, which sends a pulse wave through the map. This will allow you to see them through smoke. And in heat of battle, any second or advantage you get is a massive one.

If at any point during this customization process you change your mind and you want to add something like a foregrip, you can. The game will show you the 10 items, so you can trade and stay at the right number by removing a grenade to add the foregrip.

The game also offers secondary perks through Greed Cards, which introduce new things like “Ghost” to the mix, which allows you to move without being detected by enemy UAVs, but you have to be moving for it to work. There are no perk pros in Black Ops II, and Vanderhaar said although everything is tunable, no one perk overly dominates a category, which ensures there’s plenty of diversity.

During combat, tactical grenades come in handy. A shock charge grenade can be used as an alarm system by players. If you throw them out by doors and entrances to an area, anyone coming through will get temporarily electrocuted. That gives players a few extra seconds to take them down.

Treyarch’s multiplayer rewards desirable gameplay, encouraging players to follow objectives. Now, the points you earn are for more than bragging rights in a leader board. Vonderhaar explained that with a UAV being worth 375 points, players can’t simply get a flag capture and two kills to start the UAV spam. There’s a value to each objective — for example a kill is worth 100 points, but capturing a flag in domination could earn you 250 points. The attempt to capture the flag is 100 points, completing the objective is an extra 150. That gives you two and a half kills worth of points. In contrast, to scale the points based on objective, taking out a Dragon Fly rewards players with only 50 points.

“These are key design changes where everything has a score requirement, but they’re not strict,” said Vonderhaar. “You can earn multiple score streaks at the same time. Guys helping teammates are going to be earning rewards.

Four New Multiplayer Maps

Treyarch offered four playable multiplayer maps at Gamescom, which fans will be able to play throughout this weekend. There’s Aftermath, Countdown, Turbine, and Yemen. Each map featured different gameplay elements that opened up multiplayer strategies.

Aftermath shows off the destruction in the game with a torn-up Los Angeles, likely the aftermath of the campaign shown at E3 that saw the city wasted. This is a mid-sized stage with a lot of different routes to explore. There are interior areas that lead to high vantage points, as well as underground routes that take you into the basements of demolished buildings. Also adding depth to this map are large exterior streets.

Another mid-sized map, Cargo, is an ever-changing experience thanks to giant cranes that are picking up and moving crates around a dock area. This movement is constantly opening up new areas to explore, or hide, as they provide cover too. And there are some great vantage points for snipers to camp up in the buildings surrounding the central shipping container area. Filled with tunnels and narrow walkways, this map showcased some fast-paced gameplay with more of an arena feel.

The Yemen map seemed like it was designed for shotgun fans. In contrast to the previous described maps, it’s been designed for close-quarters combat. This Middle Eastern backdrop offers urban alleyways and claustrophobic corridors for in-your-face fighting. Building ledges also open up the ability to sneak around out of enemy sight for surprise attacks.

The largest of the maps shown, Turbine harkens back to Modern Warfare 2’s Afghan map. This huge map seems like it was designed for new team-oriented objective modes. Giant wind turbines fill the backdrop of this dusty map, which features a crashed airplane at its center. Everything in the game, including that plane wreck, can be climbed upon. There’s even a mounted rifle on a ledge that can be used to obliterate enemies. Factor in a pair of interior spaces, and this map offers a lot of depth.

Let’s be honest, Treyarch could have phoned it in with Black Ops II. These days, the Call of Duty franchise is all but guaranteed to sell a billion dollars of software each fall. But the team has really outdone themselves, delving into what works – and doesn’t – with multiplayer. With plenty of development time left, even at this stage, this multiplayer experience blows away previous Call of Duty games. And keep in mind, it’s just one part – albeit a very large part – of the new Black Ops II experience.

WEAPONS, EQUIPMENT, AND PERKS

Assault Rifles

• AN-94

• SMR

• M8A1

• Type 25

• SA58

• Sig 556

• SCAR-H

Shotguns

• m1216

• Seiga 12

• R870-MCS


• LSATLight Machine Guns

• QBB-LSW

• Mk 48

Sniper Rifles

• DSR-50

• SVU-AS

• Ballista

• Special

• Assault Shield

Sub-Machine Guns

• MP7

• Chicom QCB

• PDW-57

• Skorpion EVO 3

• MSMC

• Secondary Weapons

Launchers

• SMAW

• RPG

• FJH-18AA

• Pistols

• KAP-40

• Tac-45

• Executioner

• u23-R

No Weapon Equipped

• Combat Knife

Primary Attachments (Assault Rifle Only)

• Reflex Scope

• ACOG

• Target Finder — Sight which highlights enemies when they enter the field-of-view

• Hybrid Optic

• Suppresser

• Fast Mag

• Adjustable Stock

• Quickdraw

• Grenade ScannerMillimeter Scanner

• Grenade Launcher

• Select Fire

• FMJ

• Extended Clip

Secondary Attachments (Pistol Only)

• Reflex

• Suppressor

• Extended Clip

• Fast Mag

• FMJ

• Dual Wield

• Laser Sight

Perk 1

• Flak Jacket — Take less explosive damage.

• Ghost — Cannot be detected by enemy UAVs while moving.

• Blind Eye — Unaffected by AI-controlled perks.

• Hardline — Receive bonus score points.

• Lightweight — Move faster, take no damage from falling.

Perk 2

• Hard-wired — Immune to counter-UAV and enemy EMPs.

• Scavenger — Replenish ammo and grenades from fallen enemies.

• Cold-blooded — Resistance to targeting systems including Dual Band, Target Finder, Sensor Grenades and player-controlled aircraft.

• Toughness — Flinch less when shot.

• Fast Hands — Swap grenades faster, use grenades and equipment faster, and safely throw back frag grenades.

Perk 3

• Engineer — Show enemy equipment in the world, delay explosives and re-roll and booby trap care packages.

• Dead Silence — Move silently.

• Extreme Conditioning — Sprint for a longer duration.

• Tactical Mask — Reduce the effect of flash, concussion and shock charges.

• Awareness — Enemy movements are easier to hear.

• Dexterity — Climb ladders and mantle over objects faster, recover from melee faster and aim faster after sprinting.

Lethal Grenades

• Grenade — Produces lethal radius damage upon detonation.

• Semtex — Grenade that sticks to surfaces before detonating.

• Combat Axe — Retrievable axe that causes instant death upon impact.

• Claymore — Directional antipersonnel mine that triggers a proximity-based explosion.

• C4 — Plastic explosive device that can be set and triggered remotely.

• Bouncing Betty — Proximity mine that launches into the air before detonating. Can be avoided by crouching or going prone.

Tactical Grenades

• Sensor Grenade

• Flashbang

• Concussion

• Shock Charge — A deployable charge which stuns enemies that enter its proximity.

• EMP Grenade

• Tactical Insertion

• Smoke Grenade

• Black Hat PDA — Hack equipment and care packages, or disable enemy vehicles.

• One additional point can be spent on any tactical grenade to bring two of the same type into battle when you spawn.

Wildcards

• Primary Gunfighter — Allows a 3rd attachment for the primary weapon.

• Secondary Gunfighter — Allows a 2nd attachment for the secondary weapon.

• Overkill — Take a primary weapon as your secondary weapon.

• Danger Close — Take a second Lethal.

• Perk 1 Greed — Take a second Perk 1.

• Perk 2 Greed — Take a second Perk 2.

• Perk 3 Greed — Take a second Perk 3.

• Tactician — Take a Tactical grenade in place of your lethal Grenade.

Scorestreaks

• RCC — 325 points — A remote-controlled car packed with explosives.

• UAV — 375 points — Shows enemies on the mini-map.

• Hunter Killer — 400 points — Airborne drone that seeks out and destroys a nearby target.

• Care Package — 450 points — Air drop a random Scorestreak.

• Counter-UAV — 475 points — Temporarily disables enemy radar.

• Guardian — 500 points — Projects microwave field which stuns and impairs enemies.

• Hellstorm Missile — 525 points — An air-to-surface missile which can be scattered into a cluster bomb whilefalling.

• Lightning Strike — 550 points — Launch a coordinated lightning strike on three locations.

• Death Machine — 600 points — Your own personal handheld mini-gun.

• Sentry Gun — 650 points — An automatic sentry gun which can be remote-controlled.

• War Machine — 700 points — Grenade launcher with rapid, semi-automatic firing.

• Dragonfire — 725 points — Remote-controlled quad-rotor with lightweight machine gun.

• AGR — 800 points — Air drop an autonomous ground robot that searches for and destroys enemies and can be remote controlled.

• Stealth Chopper — 850 points — Call in a stealth helicopter which does not appear on the enemy’s mini-map.

• Orbital VSAT — 900 points — Shows both enemy position and direction on the mini-map, cannot be shot down.

• Escort Drone — 1000 points — Get personal air support from an escort drone.

• Warthog — 1025 points — Jet aircraft that provides close air support with several strafe runs.

• EMP Systems — 1050 points — Temporarily disables enemy electronics.

• Lodestar — 1150 points — Lase missile targets remotely from the Lodestar.

• VTOL Warship — 1200 points — Be the gunner of a powerful VTOL Warship.

• Canine Unit — 1275 points — Attack dogs that hunt down the enemy.

• Swarm — 1400 points — Call in a swarm of lethal Hunter Killer drones that search and destroy enemies