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Opinion: Activision should make Blackout free to play with more updates to compete with the changing industry

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With the influx of Battle Royale games on the market, many thought Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout would reign in as one of the most popular games to take that genre over for those looking for an alternative battle royale to play. But almost 3 months into the game’s life cycle, there’s less excitement amongst the community about the mode’s future and sustainability.

With new titles like Apex Legends coming into the market, the competition against Blackout continues to increase.

Blackout was one of the first AAA battle royale games on the market, with Fortnite and PUBG both independently published by smaller companies at the time. Blackout was also one of the first FPS battle royale from a AAA developer available across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But, Blackout’s $60 fee to start playing, alongside with the slow release of content, has started to limit the excitement for the game. The increased competition has started to overshadow Blackout in the community’s view.

Apex Legends, Respawn’s new battle royale game, marks one of the first AAA-backed battle royale games available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC that delivers, so far, an incredible experience for players. It was announced and released the same day, and thus far, has delivered a polished day 1 experience. It features new twists on the battle royale genre that other games did not adapt, like hero based abilities, 3 player squad, an active ping system, and more.

Apex Legends Screenshot – Respawn

And, most importantly, it’s free to play. Apex Legends has already taken over Twitch being the #1 streamed game across the site for 3 days since its launch. Some may attribute to streamers being promoted to share the game, but many streamers playing have already acknowledged its excitement and their plans to add Apex into their rotation of games shown on their stream.

Being free to play, many players are bound to jump on to try a new experience on Battle Royale. A big question on Apex Legends’ future will be the cadence of content being released post launch, something that has, thus far, limited Blackout’s growth. Respawn has already taken it a step further by providing a road-map of content to expect for the entire first year of the game, something we’ve not seen from Treyarch. Treyarch so far has stuck to the “later this month” or “soon” in regards to updates for Black Ops 4, without providing any direction on what to expect next for the title.

Blackout launched on October 12, 2018. Three months into the game’s cycle, there has only been one update with new changes to Blackout (beyond the balancing updates) back in December. The map still is fall themed, only has had one new location added, and the variety of weapons has remained stale throughout the game’s cycle thus far. Many have been asking what happened to the promise of “delivering more content with more frequency.” Activision’s blog post from June 2018 even said that Treyarch plans to deliver “a more frequent cadence to keep things fresh and deliver new maps and content more regularly throughout the year”. Some community members have pointed out that Sledgehammer Games actually released more content for Call of Duty: WWII at this point then what Treyarch has for Black Ops 4.

Operation Absolute Zero

Treyarch seems to be tying their ability to add more content to new operations only, and with each operation lasting over 60+ days, that’s a long drought of no new meaningful updates that is driving many players to check out other battle royale experiences.

With how much the industry is changing, I think it’s time for Activision to re-evaluate their strategy with Call of Duty and how to approach battle royale with the franchise. The yearly $60 release will probably always be there, but for Blackout or the franchise to sustain long term with increased free to play competition on the market, Activision should start to adapt to the new industry direction before the company gets pushed out. There’s also a lot of uncertainty with Activision overall, as industry analysts have started to wonder what Activision will do to replace the revenue loss from no longer having Destiny.

Even EA, the last company anyone would expect to do what they’ve done this week, has started to adapt with Apex Legends being free to play!

Treyarch created a good foundation for a battle royale with Blackout — the gameplay, mechanics, and features of the core of the mode, like zombies spawns, vehicle integration, and more have been implemented in a good way thus far. There’s obviously some balancing issues with armor and equipment, but the core of the game is still good.

But, for Blackout to be successful in the long run, Activision really show un-bundle it from Black Ops 4 and make it a standalone free to play product across PS4, Xbox One, and PC — and allow it to grow and be updated without being tied to the other modes in Black Ops 4 with new content updates more often compared to large updates that actually don’t bring new in game content (not just Black Market updates).

FIFA 22

Is a cheap FIFA 22 Ultimate Team market good for the game?

The Transfer Market in FIFA 22 Ultimate Team has been extremely cheap in the first weeks of the season, but is that a good thing?

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FIFA 22 Mbappe running

The state of FIFA 22 Ultimate Team’s market has sparked a lot of debate among FUT fans this year. We break down the pros and cons of such a cheap market, as well as the concerning long-term impacts.

FIFA 22 Ultimate Team’s market has caused a lot of confusion since the game’s launch on October 1.

Some of FIFA 22’s highest-rated players, including Heroes and TOTW cards, are selling for a fraction of the price you’d expect, throwing the strategies of savvy Web App players into disarray.

But is this crashed market a good thing for players, or is it going to hamper the game so early into a long FUT season?

Sucker for a bargain

Van Dijk walkout FIFA 22

As mentioned at the top, many of FIFA 22’s biggest names are on the Transfer Market for next to nothing when you consider the ratings EA has assigned them.

At the time of writing, Karim Benzema (89) and Harry Kane (90), two of the highest-rated strikers in the game, are clocking in at a mere 25k and 30k respectively. At this point in previous years, you’d expect these two to be around double that.

Low-rated meta players that normally demand a big fee are also selling for pocket change with Gabriel Jesus (83) and Lukas Klostermann (80) being listed for under 1,000 coins.

There’s still a handful of 80 to 85-rated cards that will break the bank, but these tend to be the cards that are only needed to compete at the top level. As a rule, players with huge pace stats or invaluable chemistry links like Ferland Mendy are the only ones who keep their value.

Lewandowski Player menu in FIFA 22

The big positive of this is that casual players who don’t have thousands of hours to dedicate to the FUT grind can build competitive teams relatively quickly.

This means we’re seeing a more level playing field when it comes to Division Rivals, making the matches more about skill than having a team full of 1 million coin players.

Of course, you still have to put in the time to earn the cream of the crop, but gone are the days where you need 500k to build a squad to stand a chance in online modes – which can only be a good thing for the average player.

FIFA 22 PSG players in a line

The second big win of such a friendly market is the ease with which SBCs can be completed in FIFA 22.

In previous years, cards of a higher rating would keep their price regardless of their viability in-game because they could be used as SBC fodder. Every time a big challenge dropped, slow, but high-rated, players Busquets and Parejo would shoot up in price.

This doesn’t seem to be the case in FUT 22, as even Player of the Month Ronaldo couldn’t lift the 86 rated players above the 10k mark. So, SBC prices are at an all-time low, making it far less likely that you’ll be priced out of a card that would fit your team like a goalkeeper glove.

It’s helping FIFA 22’s status as the most accessible FIFA in years, as many of the top cards are no longer locked behind a ridiculous grind.

But at what cost?

FIFA 22 Ultimate Team squad

Unfortunately, a broken market isn’t all rosy when you look at the long-term fun of the game. It’s also bringing some serious problems just a few weeks after launch.

High-rated players that are worth so little are making it almost impossible to make coins from opening tradeable packs. When it comes to promo packs that cost upwards of 45,000, there’s only a handful of players that would help you break even.

Realistically, you need a special card from the latest promotion, or a golden goose like Mbappe or Ronaldo to stand a chance of making your gamble pay off.

This all subtly nudges players to fork over their money on FIFA Points rather than using coins to buy packs. Especially when you consider that most SBC packs are untradeable.

Pack in FIFA 22 Ultimate Team

From a gameplay point of view, the ease with which you can build a strong is team is making FUT Champs and Rivals a real slog to make any progress in.

While it’s true that everyone having good teams makes the playing field more even, it also makes the online modes feel less rewarding at the higher levels.

Missing out on a promotion because a lesser player is being carried by their 20k Romelu Lukaku quickly sucks the fun out of competitive play.

Haaland Transfer Market screenshot

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in a mode geared around building an “Ultimate Team,” actually improving your team is becoming next to impossible.

At the moment, what we’re seeing is a huge disparity between players in the same position from the same leagues.

For example, Riyad Mahrez, the second-highest rated right-winger in the Premier League, is under 10,000 coins, while the next upgrade is Mohammed Salah at 371,000.

This is preventing players from making the jump from starter team to competitive team as they rise through the ranks in Division Rivals because there are very few cards they can pack to help raise the funds to buy a superstar.

Packs in FIFA 22 Ultimate Team

What needs to change?

What’s most concerning about the current state of the FUT 22 market is how much it resembles an end-of-year market. Players with so little worth usually come in the summer months, when the game is flooded with special cards – not before Christmas.

There are steps that EA can take to help secure the long-term enjoyment of Ultimate Team, such as raising the price ranges of some of the bigger names to stop them from dropping too low.

Regular promotions also offer some more valuable cards for players to hunt, but the pack weight will have to be significantly raised to make them more than a pipe dream to throw FIFA Points at.

Without that spark of excitement when you open a pack, the Ultimate Team experience starts to fall apart. Fans need to feel that every pack could change their fortunes, but that feeling just isn’t there right now.

Player shooting in FIFA 22

In conclusion

As it stands, the Ultimate Team market is precariously balanced, and what EA does in the next few months will make or break how successful this year of FUT will be.

There’s no denying that having access to household names is making FIFA 22 more fun in the short term, but it’s hard to imagine how this ever-changing market is going to survive in the long run.

EA has some work to do if wants to keep players on the bandwagon for the rest of the season.

For more on FIFA 22 Ultimate Team, check out our full review of the mode, and the best starter team you should build.

Image credits: EA

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FIFA 22

FIFA 22 Ultimate Team review: A future star

In our FIFA 22 Ultimate Team review, we place FUT under the microscope and see how it stacks up. Check out our thoughts below.

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FIFA 22 Ultimate Team review

FIFA 22 Ultimate Team is finally here, and after nearly a week of playing early access for this review, there’s plenty to be excited about. But there’s still work to do if FUT 22 is going to mount a title challenge – instead of settling for mid-table obscurity.

Ultimate Team is the premier mode FIFA and one of the main reasons why football fans come flooding back through the turnstiles year upon year.

The lure of building a squad packed with the stars of today, as well as the ICONS of years gone by, is almost irresistible to lovers of the beautiful game.

After the big overhauls in FUT for FIFA 22, how does it stack up once the boots are laced and packs start opening?

Check out our full FIFA 22 Ultimate Team review.

Tactical masterclass

FIFA 22 teams lining up

Despite all the cosmetic and presentational changes that EA has made to the FUT format for FIFA 22, it’s on the pitch where this truly feels like a new game. The gameplay has been overhauled to make for the most authentic football experience the series has created to date – and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Gone are the end-to-end nine-goal thrillers that were commonplace in FIFA 21. Instead, players are asked to take part in an elaborate chess match to break through stubborn defenses with well-timed moves.

Defending as a whole is more robust, with players much more willing to stay in position and make blocks than last year. It can take a few hours to get used to, but grinding out a result as your opponent throws men forward is just as satisfying as a 3-0 dunking.

Games, in general, feel more tactical than ever before. The first 10 or so in-game minutes are often spent sizing the opponent up and being savvy enough to adjust your gameplan mid-game feels more vital than ever.

The midfield, which has often taken something of a backseat in previous years, is now the battleground where matches are won or lost. Finding the right balance of protection for the backline and support for the frontmen is crucial, and welcomes lots of tinkering from us aspiring tactical masterminds.

FIFA 22 customized stadium with fans

There’s a lot to love in FIFA 22, especially if you’ve looked at the PES (or eFootball now) series’ more simulation-based approach to gameplay and wished it could come packaged with EA’s knack for securing official licensing.

It’s a shame, then, that the on-the-pitch action is held back by some glaring issues that are frustrating at best, and rage-inducing at worst.

Game of two halves

It’s far too common that players you control won’t lock on to the ball after it breaks loose. There have been dozens of occasions where a pressing striker will poke the ball away from a defender, only for the midfield to stand by and let the opponents gather it back up.

The same issue crops up when crossing. Seeing Erling Haaland make a busting run into the box only to sprint away from the ball when it comes in really breaks the immersion – and probably controllers.

FIFA 22 Manchester United players

Goalkeepers are also widely inconsistent. The new animations and AI make often make them seem impossible to beat, as they save one-on-ones time and time again. But after seeing so many shots tipped around the post, it feels cheap to then score, or concede, because they parried a tame header into the side-netting.

Finally, there’s also a real problem with swapping which player you control when defending. You sometimes have to press switch four or five times before it changes to the man who is nearest the opponent, using up precious seconds that can cost you the chance to make a tackle.

The good news is that most of these issues can be fixed in updates and patches throughout the year. Hopefully, these fixes come soon so that this prospect can live up to his full potential.

Away from the pitch

FUT Champs rewards in FIFA 22

It’s not just on the field that has seen a reinvention, there have also been some major changes to the FUT modes and how you earn those valuable rewards. After years of demanding huge time and investments from its players, accessibility is the name of the game in FUT 22.

The way modes that the two main modes, Division Rivals and FUT Champions, have been changed means that you no longer have to sink in an obscene number of hours to still earn packs and coins.

Rivals now resets after each season, and you only have to win seven matches to be eligible for weekly rewards. While FUT Champs is broken up into Play-Offs and Finals, the latter of which requires you to play 20 games over a weekend. Much more manageable than last year’s 30.

PSG players in FIFA 22

The cost of all this accessibility is that unless you have the time and skill to compete in the FUT Champs Finals consistently, the rewards themselves are much leaner. It’s early days but substantial packs and coins have been hard to come by so far, and the well-documented “FUT grind” is back in full effect.

By making the pack rewards less valuable, and coins harder to grind for, FUT still has the gross feeling that it’s geared around its notorious monetization model that seems to pressure players into consistently coughing up real money for the chance of packing a Messi or a Ronaldo.

This is an issue that has plagued the mode almost since its inception, and it’s disheartening as a long-time fan and football fanatic to see that it’s still attacking my wallet, if not my time.

In conclusion

Chelsea players FIFA 22 defending a free kick

FIFA 22 Ultimate Team has a lot of potential. The more thoughtful, methodical gameplay makes it the most vivid recreation of the sport in the series to date, and a true joy to play at times.

There are some kinks that need to be ironed out, and the constant push towards its loot boxes feels as gross as ever, but there is a great football game here, underneath all the issues and gambling.

Overall, we’re hopeful that FIFA 22 Ultimate Team can evolve and grow as the year goes on, and live up to its billing as a future star.

Verdict: 8/10

For more on FIFA 22 Ultimate Team, check out our guide on how to snipe players and the latest Team of the Week.

Image credits: EA

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Call of Duty: Vanguard

Call of Duty Vanguard Beta Review: Big potential but major tweaks needed

The Call of Duty: Vanguard Beta was full of thrills and spills, but how close is it away from being perfection?

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The first full weekend of the Call of Duty: Vanguard Beta has been and gone, and after a few hours with it, we can safely say that fans should be excited.

The Call of Duty: Vanguard Alpha was merely a snippet of what the full game is going to offer, only showing off the new Champion Hill mode. With solid gunplay and a mode with potential, the Vanguard alpha certainly won us over, but the biggest test for the game so far was yet to come.

It’s arrived in the form of the long-awaited Beta testing with PlayStation users getting early access. Early indications are that whilst there is some obvious room for improvement, Call of Duty: Vanguard could be heralded as a classic upon its release.

Maps, modes, and meaty mayhem

gavutu map in cod vanguard

Keen testers are able to sample three of the game’s maps, a selection of guns, and other key elements like killstreaks, loadouts, and Perks.

Each map contains an abundance of personality: Gavutu is a gorgeous tropical island with weather effects playing havoc with your screen, Red Star is a brisk stroll through a snowy, war-torn square, and Hotel Royal could be one of the best Call of Duty maps ever.

To adequately test them out, the Beta removes the ability to custom-select the game modes you want to play, which is understandable given that Sledghemamer wants all the content to be played equally.

Alongside the classic Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed stipulations is the new Patrol game mode. It’s essentially Hardpoint, but the objective area is constantly moving, making for a more dynamic and proactive experience.

cod vanguard operator aiming pistol

For anyone who missed out on the Alpha, Champion Hill returns to challenge eight teams of either 2 or 3 members to go toe-to-toe and whittle down each other’s lives. We covered our full experience with it in our Call of Duty: Vanguard Alpha review, but it’s safe to say that it’s a mode that will keep people coming back for more.

The final major change that tries to set Vanguard apart from previous entries is the new Combat Pacing variants – Tactical, Assault, and Blitz.

Tactical is usual 6v6 fare, Assault ups the player count to around 20, and Blitz is a chaotic duel between two huge teams – roughly 40 players in total. In our experience, we found that this function certainly changes the way matches play out, not always for the better though.

Assault and Blitz on Red Star are immense, Tactical is not – with fewer people, the map inherits the problems that Miami originally had in Cold War by having a huge map with no one around, leading to sluggish, uneventful gameplay. If players are able to filter pacing choices in Vanguard’s full release, then we expect Assault and Blitz to be picked a lot more than Tactical.

Plenty of customization, but glaring issues

call of duty vanguard gunsmith options

Gunsmith returns in Call of Duty: Vanguard with players able to select up to 10 attachments per gun.

Each slot contains a variety of different attachments, each with its own subtle differences, so we expect to see lots of interesting loadouts for the STG44, MP40, MG42, and more.

The Perk meta may not be as interesting though, as unless another one or two are added, then we expect to see almost everyone running Ghost and Radar.

Vanguard also suffers from two problems that we can’t help but comment on – visibility and spawning. We are in love with the PS5’s ability to process breathtaking particle effects and give each map a rich, premium shine, boosted by HDR and exquisite ray tracing.

cod vanguard red star map

But its technical polish is scuppered by constant visibility issues, a common flaw of Black Ops Cold War. We found ourselves on the receiving end of deaths without ever knowing where they came from.

Maps like Hotel Royal have so much going on that it’s easy to become lost in the action, and Gavutu’s extravagant scenery also becomes perfect folly for campers. Maybe the addition of a faint silhouette or outline could help matters, but we feel that it needs to be improved somehow.

The audio seems to be fine, and with a headset, we experienced few problems, but the main issue with Call of Duty: Vanguard at present sticks out like a sore thumb – spawns. CoD games have never been renowned for having the best spawn placement, but Vanguard’s different pacing across each map is clearly affecting the game’s logic and decision-making.

We simply lost count of how many times we were killed from behind from nonsensical spawn placements and how often enemy players just appeared right in front of us, enabling us to score an easy kill.


In Conclusion

lounge area in cod vanguard

On the plus side, the game is a lot of fun to play. Guns feel distinct and tight, the hitmaker sound effect is ridiculously good, and the game modes on offer help to keep the Beta fresh.

But as the Beta progresses and we draw towards Call of Duty: Vanguard’s release, it’s vital that Sledgehammer looks at some of the game’s unwelcome distractions. We understand that visibility and spawns are hard to get perfect, but they definitely need improvement.

Overall, we feel quite optimistic about Call of Duty: Vanguard, and players who are unable to take part in the Beta can remain confident and excited ahead of its November 5, 2021 release date.

Verdict: 8.5 / 10

Image Credit: Activision / Sledgehammer Games

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