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How Black Ops 2 handles 'Prestige,' adds levels to Combat Training, and focuses on Party Games

Xav de Matos, @Xav

In the last of many features revealed before Call of Duty: Black Ops 2's November 13 launch, we return to the all-important multiplayer.

Though hardcore shooter fans can throw themselves into the competitive arena and find fun, players with less skill often feel intimidated by the mode. Spawning and being beaten into the ground, as it turns out, isn't any fun.

There's a lot Treyarch wants to do to address that feeling, such as offering tiered League matches and improving matchmaking; however, that can't guarantee things will draw people into a world they may despise out of intimidation.

Gallery: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 - Multiplayer (9/27/2012) | 4 Photos

Combat Training
To increase confidence levels of players who see more Kill Cam than game, Treyarch has focused its attention on Combat Training, the mode meant to introduce players to multiplayer basics against AI controlled bots.

In Black Ops 2, Combat Training users can earn experience points and level their online soldier in a mode dubbed 'Boot Camp.' In this mode, players face off against a mixture of human players and bots in matches of Team Deathmatch. Players can earn full experience points and level up to a maximum level of 10, which Game Design Director David Vonderhaar refers to as "graduating."

If comfort levels aren't high enough to jump into the fray online, players can stay within Combat Training and play through its 'Objective' mode, where two teams of six (3 players, 3 bots) compete in objective-based game modes. Players can rank up beyond level 10 in this mode, but are only given half of the usual XP they would earn online.

'Bot Stomp' is an experience point-free mode where teams of six players battle six bots in any gametype they choose. Playing this mode is a great way to practice skills, learn maps and modes, and is a "really good way for newer players to experience the high end game," Vonderhaar says. All modes also include public matchmaking, to make finding optimal games easier.

How Black Ops 2 handles 'Prestige,' adds levels to Combat Training, and focuses on Party Games
Party On
Wager Matches have been abandoned in Black Ops 2, but in name only. Now dubbed 'Party Games,' favorites like Gun Game, One in the Chamber, Sharpshooter, and Sticks and Stones have returned. The mode's new name reflects Treyarch's attitude toward the modes, which are meant to be played by groups to have fun. Of course, matchmaking still exists for those looking for a quick pick-up game.

"We want you to play in a party, we encourage you to play with your friends," Vonderhaar adds. To entice players into the section of online play, Party Games – unlike Wager Matches – now offer experience points.

Changing the name may seem trivial, but the simple switch makes the mode much more inviting for less skilled players; players who may have felt the original name implied they would be gambling by entering the arena. We asked Treyarch if new Party Games would appear in Black Ops 2, but the team isn't talking.

Custom Games and Unlocking Cosmetic Changes
"Custom games have haunted me since we put it in Black Ops," Vonderhaar admits. The trick for Black Ops 2 was to make sure "every game mode can be customized in really meaningful ways."

Custom Games can be created in all game modes, and give players the ability to change any aspect of the game they want. If the Pick 10 system can be modified to allow a maximum of only 3 selections for those that feel the default is too generous or as many as 17 for those looking to carry an entire arsenal on their back. Players can restrict content in matches as they see fit, Vonderhaar said, using claymores as an example. "I don't want claymores," he hollered, "No claymores are allowed in my custom game!"

Players can change a restrict default classes, even restricting content to a specific class. "If someone wants to use a claymore in my match," Vonderhaar says, "they have to use the class I made for it." Player health can be adjusted, announcers can be silenced, the way scoring works can be modified, and even victory conditions for objective-based games can be changed – like in Capture the Flag. These options extend to online, offline and LAN games. Bots can be added, and can even take over for a friend if they suddenly have to escape back to the real world.

Unlocking cosmetic content is now purely based on Challenges, which is a detailed system that Vonderhaar says plays a "really, really significant role in Black Ops 2." Challenges reward players for "branching out and experiencing more of the game" and because it's a system that is always on, featuring over 1000 challenges, it always gives players something to work towards. Completing challenges is the only way to unlock weapon camo, new reticles, player card customization options and more.

Every weapon in Black Ops 2 – from the pistols to knives, rocket launchers and shields – can now be customized. Based on the item, there are a base level of camo options but "high end camo" like gold or carbon fiber options can be unlocked after many challenges have been completed. Vonderhaar also promises a number of hidden camos, with "super big bling on them." Reticles have "eight uniques per optic," and special challenges unlock special reticles like "The Steve," a curly mustache reticle we were shown during our preview.

For the creative types, players can still make their own emblems using a suite of options. Vonderhaar says that when you see a player card and they have a unique look you can't help but smile or wonder how they did it, "and when a penis comes up, you can just report it and we'll take care of that person," he quickly added. Since custom emblems are considered player content, that can be disabled on the platform level and the game will revert to default rank emblems.

How Black Ops 2 handles 'Prestige,' adds levels to Combat Training, and focuses on Party Games
Call of Duty: Hollywood
Theater Mode has seen a number of changes, specifically to entice players to participate with the sharing system. A new option called 'Highlight Reel' will, when selected, scour the replay of a match and automatically assemble together a film of your best moments.

For budding Hollywood types, cameras can now be affixed to any object – including rockets, drones ... anything – to make for some more dramatic films. Dolly Cam returns, players can record the first-person view of any player and parties can join a theater session to play armchair second-unit director. The mode now allows for 20 clips per film, but a series of clips can now be merged into one, so players can "go well beyond" the increased clip limitation.

To find this content, Treyarch has enhanced its Theater Mode layout as a more "visual experience" with a simple up/down voting system and given players more control over editing meta-data and more.

Vonderhaar said that Treyarch wanted to challenge the assumption that the system of earning Prestige meant a hard reset for player progression. "Thank you for leveling up! Do it again," he says, poking fun at the original system.

In Black Ops 2, hitting Prestige no longer resets weapon experience or unlocks, it no longer wipes challenge progress and aims to be another step in a long line of level progression. As mentioned in earlier previews, there are 55 levels in Black Ops 2 with 10 levels of Prestige. "Back to basics here, this is not a grind," Vonderhaar says. Each level gives players a single unlock token, which allows them to select from a list of content gated by rank.

When players reach Prestige, they are given a number of options. Firstly, they earn a Prestige Unlock Token that ignores all level gates (pick anything you want) and unlocks that item permanently.

There are also three options players must select from: they can unlock an extra Custom Class slot (with a max of five), players can choose to completely reset their stats to "truly start over," and Vonderhaar puts it, which is available for purists that want the system to work as it has in the past and they can ask for a 'Refund' of all used tokens.

"It's like respecting or re-rolling your character in Call of Duty," Vonderhaar says, explaining how the 'Refund' system works. If you decide to take a different path with your unlock tokens, the refund option will lock all content, return all of your tokens, and allow you to carve a new path.

For ultimate badasses, those that reach the top of the mountain – that's all ten levels of Prestige – you're awarded a special emblem and all content is unlocked for your use. If you hit this mark, Vonderhaar says, "you're a total stud."

How Black Ops 2 handles 'Prestige,' adds levels to Combat Training, and focuses on Party Games
Modes, Maps, More
During my multiplayer session we played through a new mode called 'Hardpoint,' which is inspired by traditional King of the Hill modes. Points on the map constantly move and it's up to your team to control the territory for longer than the other team.

Other modes confirmed during the presentation were classics like Team Deathmatch, Free For All, Demolition, Headquarters, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy and the returning favorite Kill Confirmed.

Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Hardpoint are all available as multi-team matches for up to 18 players and up to six teams facing off.

Three new maps were featured during the presentation: 'Overflow,' battles on the ruined streets of Peshawar, Pakistan; 'Hijacked,' close quarters combat on the high seas on a fancy yacht; and 'Express,' a fight at the Los Angeles terminal of the California High-Speed Rail – which is finished in Treyarch's 2025 – featuring moving, bullet trains that will kill you if you get in their way.

We've seen and heard a lot from Treyarch regarding its next Call of Duty installment, but the only thing left for us to do is review the final product. There's certainly a passion and dedication from that team to take the series in a fresh direction and from what we've seen Black Ops 2 is the most ambitious Call of Duty ever assembled.

Now we wait to find out if it's the best.

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