Opinion: Compared to other Call of Duty titles, Black Ops 4’s reward system lacks player choice

Jeffrey Mizrahi

With no avenues to earn loot outside of Contraband Streams and Cases, Black Ops 4’s rewards feel empty and inconsistent.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 has severe loot issues. Between the lack of enticing items offered in paid Reserve Cases, to the absence of challenges that reward character cosmetics, the way most things are unlocked doesn’t feel earned.

as Torque. (Black Ops 4)

The loot system in Call of Duty Black Ops 4’s feels bare. From the launch of the game, something didn’t sit right with me. Coming from Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare, and WWII, I was surprised to see that I had no choice in how I was earning items aside from the traditional weapon camo challenges. There was only Tiers and randomized lootboxes.

Black Ops 3 offered Specialist Personalization in the form of challenges. Infinite Warfare introduced a Salvage and Collection system that showed you direct paths towards unlocking specific items, and WWII let players choose Contracts and Orders that had a variety of rewards. Black Ops 4 has the Contraband Stream and real money purchases. That’s it.

There are three major systems from past Call of Duty’s that are missing in Black Ops 4’s Multiplayer:

  • Challenge-based Character Cosmetics
  • Collections
  • Contracts/Orders/Missions

Breaking down each of these, challenge-based cosmetics have been around since Modern Warfare. Get enough headshots with a gun, you unlock a camo for that gun.

When Ghosts introduced the Create-a-Soldier system, those character cosmetics followed the weapon model and were also unlocked through challenges. While direct purchase cosmetics were later offered, there was always a handful of character skins you knew you could unlock by performing specific actions.

If you played as Outrider, you earned Outrider items. Makes sense. (Black Ops 3)

Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3, and Infinite Warfare all kept that system intact because it’s a great way to make the player feel like they have control over what they are earning rather than feel like they’re scratching lottery tickets.

In Black Ops 4 the only cosmetic challenges that are present are weapon camos and calling cards. Character Cosmetics are all in the Contraband Stream which doesn’t require any specific actions.

Spent an hour getting 5 Kills and 100 Deaths in Multiplayer? You earn a tier. Spent an hour with Ruin getting 30 Grav Slam kills? Here’s the same tier. There’s no more player agency when these challenges are stripped from the game. The incentive to play well is lost when everyone is rewarded equally.

The challenge based system made sense because you were rewarded with new character items for the character you were playing as, rather than a random lootbox or a tier that gave you a skin for a character you weren’t using.

Clear paths to your desired rewards using currency earned from doing specific actions. (Infinite Warfare)

The Prototype Lab introduced in Infinite Warfare fixes Black Ops 3’s biggest lootbox issue. While BO3 restricted new guns to the luck of the draw, IW gave all players access to the base models of new weapons, while offering direct avenues to earn upgraded versions of every gun.

Salvage, the currency used to unlock upgraded guns, was given to players frequently through login bonuses, Mission Teams, and lootboxes. Players could see the prices of better guns and what it took to get them. This system evolved into Collections in Modern Warfare Remastered and WWII that showed players exactly what was needed to unlock the best items.

If I want an Epic NV4 in IW, I know I need to buy the Rare and Legendary versions first. I can see what the prices are for those and know how much Salvage I need to save up. If I want the Rangers shotgun in MWR, I know I need to save up enough parts to buy the Camos and Calling Cards that lead up to it.

This idea of seeing what I need to do to unlock something, then doing that, is what Black Ops 4 lacks. I can tell you exactly how many Parts or Salvage I need to unlock something in MWR and IW, I can not tell you how much money I need to spend to unlock a specific item in Black Ops 4. That’s a problem.

The lack of any clear path to specific rewards in BO4 means that players feel absolutely zero control over the items they receive.

No guessing here. If I get 100 LMG Kills, I get an LMG. Simple as that. (WWII)

However, the system that gives players the most control and agency over how they go about unlocking things in recent Call of Duty’s is WWII’s Contracts and Orders. Between Daily and Weekly Orders, I can choose what I need to do to earn what I want.

If I want the Epic Variant of the Lewis LMG, I can accept the Order to get 100 LMG kills, get the LMG kills because I’m an LMG player, and get the reward. Simple. Rather than playing for an hour to unlock a lootbox, I can choose an Order that I personally can complete in less than an hour and be rewarded with a lootbox.

While there are issues here, like the fact that there are only 6 daily orders and 3 weekly, the idea is in the right place. Player choice is completely absent in BO4. You spend time in the game or you don’t. That’s about as much choice you have when it comes to what rewards you earn.

Although, I will give credit to Blackout Character Unlocks which is exactly the system we should see but in MP and Zombies. Direct avenues of earning specific items is what’s best for players and makes them feel ownership over the loot they earn.

Since all loot in Black Ops 4 is funneled into one stream of content, I feel like I am being rewarded less often and less relevantly. My actions aren’t tied to my rewards. When someone sees a skin I’m wearing in Multiplayer and asks how I got it, my answer should demonstrate my skill or choices, not just randomization. Call of Duty has always had the right idea with Weapon Camos being earned through proficiency with a specific gun, now that philosophy has to be applied everywhere else in Black Ops 4.