Back 4 Blood wrapped up its closed beta that ran this past weekend. If you didn’t get a chance to shoot some Ridden in the head then you can participate in the open beta this coming weekend as the event kicks off on 12 August. You can find out more about the beta content and times here.
I played Back 4 Blood a lot this weekend. So much so that I completed the eight campaign chapters three times and attempted multiple playthroughs on the second difficulty. As a big fan of Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood scratched that itch and managed to provide a satisfying co-op experience. Don’t be fooled, Back 4 Blood is literally a copy-and-paste of Left 4 Dead and the various mechanics that tie the game together make this clear. With that being said, the genre is now more mainstream than ever. Look at Vermintide, World War Z etc. These games all provide the same gameplay loop.
You grab some friends, or bots, and head into a match while completing objectives, shooting monsters and tackling all the different encounters to the best of your ability. Back 4 Blood does just this. The eight levels in the beta were filled with excitement. This is thanks to the excellent level design, intense moment-to-moment gunplay and of course, the item management system that requires more focus than it seems.
The first four levels took through factories, over quarries and ended up on a giant ferry. The later four levels were all about the rundown neighbourhoods and ended at a mine. However, the in-between moments during these stages is where Back 4 Blood shines. Each chapter provided some unique opportunities to kill the Ridden in different ways while also relying heavily on the procedurally generated items and loot. So much so that some areas even have different doors that are open or closed depending on your run.
While these mechanics are nothing new in the genre, they go a long way in keeping Back 4 Blood fresh. This is especially apparent in the tougher difficulties where every item and every coin are of vital importance. You can also feel this pressure when you’re playing on the mid and higher challenge tiers. I constantly had no health, the ammo was impossible to find and the thought of a Stinger appearing while all this was happening is a nightmare.
Now imagine this constant feeling of dread with friends around you. All of you suffering from the same low health problem, meleeing enemies because you have no ammo and the Ridden keep coming at you. It is a fantastic rush that is only possible in co-op. I remember being the last one standing with 300 shots in my pistol. I ran around the train tracks shooting a Crusher as I clung onto life. It took 10 minutes and my friends kept screaming at me to run but we did it.
Back 4 Blood Card System Needs Work
These moments make Back 4 Blood so great and the game is probably only playable in co-op. I will explain why in a bit. Teamwork also comes into play thanks to the game’s card system. You can make a deck and equip cards to it. These cards range from different buffs and advantages. Be it being able to hold more ammo, have more health, carry one extra healing item etc. Cards also benefit your team so discussing the best ones to equip also goes a long way to enhance your co-op game.
Even after unlocking four Supply panels (the free battle pass where you earn new cards using Supply Points), I found the buffs just weren’t enough to help in the later challenges. The kick they provided didn’t help. The game still ruined my life. Now, this card system is meant to be the game’s “unique” mechanic and the cards are pretty meh. They don’t force you to build a specific role for the characters, and the random drops in-between chapters felt like the system works against mastering roles.
The same is said for guns. While Back 4 Blood includes a lot of them, none of us ever used a sniper and we also moved away from shotguns. The relentless gameplay made these specific-ranged weapons feel redundant. Auto rifles and SMGs worked a lot better than firing a single shot into a Ridden and reloading. Even with increased reload speed cards, it wasn’t ideal.
You will probably try and be unique and create cool roles using the weapons and decks but in the end, don’t feel bad for throwing it away and using an AK47. The game wants you to. Even melee weapons, while being fun to use, are only ideal in the first difficulty. You can’t mow through hundreds of enemies with an axe when it takes a massive chunk of your stamina bar. Even when I had a card that gave me health back when I killed a Ridden with a melee weapon, you simply can’t keep up with the damage they deal.
Now, with everything I mentioned in mind, imagine doing this all alone? To make the matter worse, the bots in Back 4 Blood are the most pathetic beings I have ever seen in a video game. Granted, the game is still in beta, but they are terrible. They fall off cliffs, shoot random objects, bug out by ladders and die while trying to remember how to climb them. Not to mention that friendly fire deals massive damage. They shoot you in the back and don’t give a crap.
The lack of teamwork in Back 4 Blood, while playing with bots, makes the experience frustrating. You don’t know what cards they are using that might benefit the team either. Sure, this doesn’t matter much when playing on the easiest difficulty and the game is a breeze, but when the challenge kicks in, don’t expect to go far with these bots. Back 4 Blood is not a single-player game.
Then we have the game’s biggest issue. The question is whether or not the game will last? So far, it looks like Back 4 Blood is relying heavily on the card system. Earning supply points by completing stages unlocks more cards along with some rather terrible and pointless sprays and icons. The big replayability aspect comes from doing runs using these card decks you build. All in the hope that you get further thanks to the benefits they provide. However, the card system just isn’t strong enough to carry the game at this current point.
They don’t add much excitement to the mix and the benefits are also questionable. I don’t expect crazy enhancements but they have to do something more than add an extra magazine of ammo to the game. They need to either scale with the difficulty or offer higher tier versions that actually feel different. I know it is a long stretch but imagine getting cards that perhaps had a 10% chance to set an enemy on fire or explode their head when you shoot a headshot. Now those are cards that will come in handy.
Back 4 Blood is probably going to be ridden in microtransactions. Already, we see the game offering weapon skins for pre-orders. You can bet WB Games is going to abuse this silly. Meanwhile, the supply chains also have cosmetic items. These are sprays and banners. I didn’t even bother learning how to put down my spray. That is how pointless these items are. It is not 2017 anymore.
Back 4 Blood is still a few months away and things might change. I just fear the game is a bit shallow at this point. The card system is bland, the bots are bad, and the higher difficulties needs friends. You can’t even play them with randoms because the lack of teamwork and chat works against you. How long until you have completed the entire campaign, which doesn’t seem very long, and there’s nothing new to do? I do worry about Back 4 Blood. That price tag (when not on Game Pass) is a tough sell. We are going to have to see how it plans out.
Back 4 Blood releases on 12 October for PS5, PS4, Xbox and PC.