Treyarch has been adding lots of map variants to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, changing the time of day and weather patterns in some of the previously existing maps. They can be a nice change of pace, but they don’t change the gameplay, and are clogging up the map rotation, too.
On the one hand, criticizing these maps feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth here, as all of the variants have been free. But I think it’s important to have quality over quantity. The variations really need to work for the map being altered, and feel different enough to deserve a place in map rotation. This hasn’t always been the case.
Treyarch first tested the waters by dropping two subtle variants in Black Ops 4’s November 27 update. “Firing Range Night” took the standard sunlit Firing Range map and setting it in the wee hours of the evening. “Seaside Sunset” did the same thing for the Seaside map, setting the time of day to sunset and adding a light drizzle of rain. The original maps are still around, so the variants just add to the list of maps that can be found in Black Ops 4’s multiplayer.
In my opinion, Seaside Sunset was too subtle of a change to warrant having both versions of the map stay in rotation. Yes, the sunset is beautiful, but maybe Seaside should’ve had that splash of color from the start? Honestly, I’d be completely happy if Treyarch axed the original Seaside in favor of the Sunset map. We really don’t need them both, and sunsets are pretty.
Black Ops 4’s March 12 content drop upped the ante with “Contraband Hurricane,” which added weather elements to the existing Contraband map. Personally, I was excited by the premise of adding weather elements into Black Ops 4 maps. I enjoyed some of the rainy maps from the Modern Warfare series such as Downpour and Wet Work, because they were a nice change of atmosphere. Not every map needs to be dry and sunny.
I also remember being in awe the first time I saw Battlefield 4’s dynamic weather, especially watching the brutal storm roll in on the Paracel Storm map. I always wanted at least a taste of that weather in Call of Duty. While not nearly as dynamic as anything Battlefield as done in recent years, Contraband Hurricane is a solid alternate-weather map for Black Ops 4. The normally sunny island vibe is altered by the cloudy gloom of a hurricane, bringing wind and rain to the map. The weather doesn’t change how you play the map, but it just looks and sounds really good.
I found Contraband Hurricane so enjoyable that I was intrigued, at first, about the latest map, “Arsenal Sandstorm,” which kicks up a massive sandstorm in the Arsenal map. I’m not sure that this weather element works well for Arsenal. I think I was expecting something more like a Mad Max-style gust to just blow through the map periodically, forcing players to meet indoors for some added chaos that would change the pace of the game. I know Call of Duty matches tend to be much shorter, but Battlefield 1’s sandstorms came out of nowhere and lasted just enough time to create panic and confusion. I don’t recall any of the sandstorms just hanging around for the duration of the match.
Arsenal Sandstorm doesn’t do anything so dynamic— it’s just a constant haze of sand surrounding the buildings. If you listen carefully, you can hear some wind when the gunfights die down, but mostly you’re just left squinting outside as you aim down the battlefield. Your line of sight isn’t completely obstructed by being out in the storm, but the decreased visibility can get annoying. As a creature of habit, I continue to play the outside areas of the map as I normally would. The lack of visibility doesn’t force me to spend more time indoors, but I don’t exactly enjoy my outdoor routes as much, either.
Arsenal seemed like a strange map to put a sandstorm on, given that it is a weapons manufacturing facility in North America. Meanwhile, Morocco is a Black Ops 4 map that seems like the most logical location to have a sandstorm weather variant. Why not there? Perhaps, given the desert-y sandstone color palette of Morocco, we wouldn’t be able to see shit in a Moroccan sandstorm if the storm was the same constant and almost stagnant effect as we see on Arsenal. I’ll give Treyarch props for trying to add in some weather elements, but I think Arsenal Sandstorm just missed the mark here. It’s neither fun to play nor visually pleasing.
The real issue is that with all these alternate maps clogging up the rotation, it can sometimes feel like you’re just playing some variation or Firing Range or Seaside all night long. I don’t think Black Ops 4 needs any more subtle lighting variants, but I’d like to see Treyarch take another shot at raising the bar with weather elements, preferably with a completely new DLC map in which weather is a force of nature, not just an alternate backdrop.