I can’t believe it. Call of Duty has returned to good form again. I haven’t played any of them year round since Black Ops II. I dabbled in Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, but didn’t bother with Black Ops III or Infinite Warfare. They sacrificed the core of what made the series fun in the name of innovation. While that was an admirable goal I was vocal about around Black Ops, it eventually went awry by running away from “boots-on-the-ground” gameplay to another that prioritized the skill of movement. A comparable example is Fortnite, where commendable gunplay is less important than finely-tuned building skills, which isn’t my cup of tea even though I understood why it resonates with players. I prefer purer shooters, and it’s one out of many reasons why I adored Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer. Even Black Ops IIII has maintained this back-to-basics approach with gameplay.

I felt estranged to Call of Duty as my performance crumbled in tandem with the franchise’s changes. Now, with the past two releases, it seems I’ve also returned to good form and tend to keep it up, especially in Blackout: a battle royale mode perfectly suited for Call of Duty and me. I can’t tell you how much fun and success I’ve had with the greatest and most polished take on this multiplayer fad. I’ll leave Fortnite and PUBG to others. Blackout is where I belong.

I’ve had over a dozen victories with my friends since launch. However, I can assuredly say that it didn’t begin well with many frustrating nights of close wins and shameful deaths. However, we’ve been more consistent with performance as time has gone on. It’s not only about learning which weapons, places to drop, and equipment are best. We’ve also had to internalize subtle, practical things that are just as—if not more—essential to know on the battlefield. Whether you’re a veteran or newcomer to battle royale (and/or Call of Duty), I’ve got just the guide for you with tales of failure and pride to back up my claims on how you can come out on top.

Don’t Stop Dancin’

I had a clean line of fire. He downed one of my friends and I intended retribution. As I held my breath, I made sure my aim was true, but had he seen me? Were we locked on to each other? My slight hesitation in doubt and for perfection cost my team the match. You’d assume it was because I didn’t shoot in time or wasn’t on target. No, those weren’t the main faults in my approach. I had stopped moving.

I don’t care how safe you think you are. If you’re sniping, move to the left and right and sporadically crouch to avoid getting headshot. If you’re looting, prone and make it quick. If you’re exposed without cover, go on and jump, slide, and run as unpredictably as you can. As a general rule of thumb, you should pretend a sniper has you in his scope at all times, or that someone is around the corner ready to pounce. There’s a perk called Paranoia that alerts you when you’re being aimed at, and while that’s recommended to use while on the move, you should act like it’s warning you even if you don’t have it. As the adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You might save yourself without even knowing it half the time if you keep moving.

Mobility and Skulker are great perks for giving trouble to would-be killers. The former allows you to vault over obstacles quickly and take no fall damage, whereas the latter increases your crouch walk to sprinting speed. You should have these ready when you’re in areas that might necessitate speedy maneuvering or jumps that would otherwise prove fatal. If you can manage it, an ATV or helicopter would be suitable alternatives to long stretches of space, which you can locate more easily if you happen upon Engineer (allows you to see glowing outlines of vehicles). As always, the idea of erratic movement applies to vehicles, too. Lastly, grapple guns are a lifesaver to seek cover in a building or throw an enemy’s aim off.

The High Ground

Yeah, yeah. “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!” The illustrious, perfect high ground in Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan did have a reasonable point that Anakin should’ve thought about more. His master had a wider field of view and psychologically advantageous position. Not only that, the high ground offers better cover and puts gravity in your favor with stuff like grenades. My friends and I have ascended hills and, more often than not, been destroyed because people were shooting down at us from safe spots. The high ground is always preferable, but there are ways to combat it if you’re on the other end.

If you’ve got the high ground, that comes with the added pressure of being easier to spot and needing to scan more areas. Delegate and stick with areas to watch over if you have teammates. If you’re storming the high ground, take the aforementioned weaknesses into account. The best way to stand a chance is for teammates to split up and be as aggressive as possible. However, when the high ground is exceptional, there’s no shame in retreating. You’ve got their number now, and if your team moves on ahead of the storm by circling around, you’ll have your own high ground of sorts if you catch the enemy leaving their nest.

The Benefits of Backups

“You have any 5.56 ammo?” one of my friends asked. I was pretty sure I’d seen some from the place we’d just left, but I didn’t pick it up because I hadn’t needed it. I kept silent in embarrassment for not thinking ahead, and I’ve made the same mistake with equipment. I realized it’s better to adopt the outlook I have toward stuff like soda refills and trial subscriptions: if it’s free, take it!

You might not have any conceivable need for a molotov now, but a standoff might have you reaching for it out of desperation when you’re empty and can’t reload. Perhaps your teammate will appreciate some spare shotgun shells or a handful of small med kits you stocked up on. By keeping your inventory and ammo reserves packed, you’ll be the go-to guy for supplies in a pinch.

Backpacks are an obvious must the moment you land so you can pick up all that you can. Just remember that if you have the space, use it. Worry about making space later on if you must. Oh, and even if someone’s not asking for anything, make sure they have what they’re silently looking for and are stocked beyond what they need.

The Perks Of Perks

“This challenge to unlock Bishop says something about having three perks active at once…wait.” I checked my inventory to use another perk. “Oh…I didn’t know you could have more than one active.” My friends laughed in bewilderment that I hadn’t realized that. I’d been playing for a month and assumed you couldn’t do that because of balancing. I was also bad about implementing them more effectively since I treated them like rare elixirs or potions in RPGs. Their rarity makes me reluctant to use them to the point where I never do.

Once you have a practical understanding of perks and when they’re useful, it’s important to pick up at least two or three and have them in your back pocket. Ones like Awareness and Dead Silence are must haves when you need to (respectively) know where enemies are and be sneaky. On the other hand, If you’re starting out a match and find Engineer and Looter, pop those perks so you can let your teammates know where all the vehicles and good loot are without delay. My friends have told me when Iron Lungs is nearby because we all benefit from it when my sniping is required. In the spirit of the preceding point, pick up a couple perks just in case and drop them when you don’t. Use them liberally or wisely depending on their circumstantial worth. Overall, don’t let perks stagnate in your inventory or on the battlefield.

It’s A Trap!

I was among the last survivors in a solo match. I got lucky and wound up near the center of the storm’s final enclosure before everyone else, so I holed up in a building and set up mesh mines (laser-triggered explosives). You’d think I’d place these in the trailer I was in, but I placed them in a big shed close by. The mines make a low, humming sound, and it turned out that I unsettled two people who came in on my position. They thought someone was in the building with mines, but lo and behold, he was nowhere to be seen until it was too late.

It’s a similar approach that people take with Kapkan in Rainbow Six: Siege. He can place similar explosives on door and window frames, but everyone expects you to place them right around the objective. No, it’s better to place them as far from it as possible in random locations. You’re more likely to catch attackers further out than you are further in since enemies will likely know a Kapkan is on the Defender team and be more wary of traps. However, this tip extends beyond mesh mines in Blackout.

You can intentionally break windows and leave doors open in one house while observing from another that appears untouched. Draw enemies’ attention to other equipment like barricades, trophy systems, recon cars, and razor wire when they scout out your area. Having one teammate in an unusual spot while everyone else sticks together can be the one distraction that causes the opposition to fall apart. Having knifed someone from behind while my friends distracted a guy with suppressing fire proves my point—use the environment to your advantage by playing mental games with your enemies. Make them think you are where you aren’t.

Off The Beaten Path

“Let’s go…uhh, here!” One of my friends said as he marked the map. If you made a triangle out of Rivertown, Fracking Tower, and Turbine and found the center, that’s where he wanted to go. It’s the kind of thinking I like, especially when I play solo. Everyone and your mom is going to be at Estates or Train Station, but…the gazebo and six houses northwest of Fracking Tower? The six condos south of Construction Site? These are unusual places to land that are often void of activity yet rich enough with loot. That’s why they’re often the best places to drop.

Now, this doesn’t mean they won’t be hot here and there, but most players will be sticking with main areas due to more loot and easy communication. What’s more important though—hoping you’ll prevail amidst a sea of panicked, bloodthirsty players by lucking out with a weapon upon landing, or having more time and less resistance to slowly build up your arsenal and inventory? Remember, the current meta of Blackout rewards avoiding confrontation since you’ll mostly come out less prepared for following firefights, so mix things up by landing in smaller, weirder places. You might find a personal groove with a few that are tactically advantageous with loot and location.

Like A Ghost

I’m sitting behind a door in a fancy bedroom. I heard someone rummaging around outside and decided to hide myself. He eventually opened the door and unwittingly waltzed past me, handing me an easy kill. However, I believe a major part of my success was because I made it seem like no one had touched the residence. This has been an important aspect of my playstyle that I’ve found shockingly uncommon across the board. The idea is to leave everything as you found it.

As soon as you open a door, close it behind you. Use doors or garages to enter buildings, not windows. Don’t park running vehicles directly next to where you’re holding up for the moment. Crouch as much as possible when you’re not stressed to sprint (and use the Dead Silence or Awareness perks when possible to decrease your aural presence or increase that of your enemies). Don’t fire guns or grossly expose yourself when no one seems to be around. All of these principles mitigate the chance of prematurely tipping off foes to your presence, so try not to leave a trail of your activity. Enemies’ body bags, opened item boxes, broken windows, and…well, noise from shootouts are usually unavoidable exceptions, but do what you can to remain a ghost.

Intel Wins Wars

“Joey, what’s going on?” my friend impatiently asked while I’m shooting two people. I don’t multitask well and tend to mishear or tone out people when I’m focused. “Talk to me, Joey,” he repeats with more urgency. He manages to break through my tunnel vision since my targets have taken cover, so I let him know which direction and building they’re in. It’s indisputably better to get another pair of eyes on something to help out with something, and the same goes for Blackout. Make it second instinct to read the compass at the top of your screen and develop a common lingo to call out particular landmarks, buildings, and more. Don’t leave your teammates in the dark.

Don’t stop talking either! I tend to be a quiet person, so I stick to the essentials with game-focused chatter, but I’ve let my own ideas of “essential” get in the way of speaking up when I should. When you’re starting out a match, be sure to call out a lot of items you come across. Letting your friends know there’s .336 caliber ammo in some corner may not seem important, but that might be something they need. If you’re making unexpected moves, tell people where you are, what you’re using, and when you’re opening doors. Frequently remind others how close the storm is and if you see vehicles in the distance. If you are using Paranoia and get aimed at or driving a vehicle and get locked on to, instantly alert everyone! You might think sweating the details is annoying, but seriously, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to everything, let alone communication.

A Step Ahead Of The Storm

One of the largest areas to comb for loot is Cargo Docks. You’ve got a ship, piles of cargo, and multiple buildings to explore before you need to head out or set up shop. That depends on where the storm is—a dark, harmful phenomena that swallows the world in a tightening circle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in Cargo Docks and realized with horror how far away my team had to travel to remain in the safe zone. It’s not just loot that had us distracted, but also strings of encounters that kept us rooted in place.

This stems from a lack of attention toward the storm. We’re all aware with a timer, announcer, and visuals on the map alerting us to its impending collapses, and yet we’ve ignored them out of forgetfulness or stubbornness. Don’t make that stupid mistake! Frequently pull up the mini map to see where it’s collapsing and call out the time it’ll take before it starts enclosing. This will remind teammates to be vigilant in case, say, the storm is enclosing on the other side of the map, prompting everyone to start searching for a vehicle or moving on foot in advance.

Instead of the storm pushing you along, readiness could mean using it strategically to catch frantic enemies off guard. Heck, if you have the perk Outlander (lessens damage of the storm) and enough med kits, you could even stay in the storm for a couple minutes. Very rarely are players on the lookout for someone who actually wants to be on the outside, so you’ll have a good chance of ambushing others from behind since their attention is understandably fixated on the inside. The storm can be your ally as long as you plan ahead.

Stack Up, Stay Frosty

It was down to two teams. The guys standing in our way were in a house parallel to us on the second floor. After some potshots, one of my friends had an idea to draw them downstairs, so I told him I’d toss a cluster grenade upstairs while he’d be waiting for them. We executed the plan and succeeded spectacularly. It remains one of my favorite moments because of how simple yet effective our approach was, and it had to do with sticking together and keeping our cool.

It’s easy for teams to unwittingly spread out while searching for loot or engaging enemies, but you should always have your buddies’ backs. There are plenty of times where slight breakdowns in formation will prevent allies from reaching you if you’re in a rough spot, but if you’re mindful of everyone’s relative location, that prevents confusion and chaos breaking out if you’re ambushed.

Being in this ready state also paves the way for quick, smart plays. For example, if you’re already split up when you’re caught in an engagement, impromptu improvisation usually goes wrong. If everyone’s in sync when a firefight breaks out, it’s safer to say, have one person flank the enemy because everyone else is ready to distract with suppressing fire and pounce when the enemy’s attention is divided.

There’s a perk called Squad Link that allows you to see glowing outlines of teammates. It seems useless since you can observe teammates’ locations live on the mini map, but it does encourage players to never lose sight of their team and know exactly where everyone is moving. Even if you don’t have that perk, see the importance in the advantages it affords.

Play Your Part

“Joey, I got something for ya,” my friend says with a mischievous tone. I run over to him and find a Paladin sniper rifle lying on the ground. I let out a little maniacal laugh as my character loads a bullet into the chamber because my friends know I’m the man for long-range engagements, and if one of them kept the weapon for themselves, they’d be limiting our potential as a unit since I’m the most proficient sniper. One of my friends is killer with the Spitfire. Another loves the ICR-7. Their passion correlates with performance, so all of us look for each others’ favorite guns to tear through the competition.

Roles don’t only cover weapons or equipment, but also playstyles. Designate a teammate who thrives at close-quarters combat to clear a room after throwing a concussion or grenade inside. Ask your sniper to hang back and be ready to intercept enemies should they try to escape. If you’re a squad of four, have pairs of two always watching each others’ backs. Even designated drivers might prove useful if someone else’s ATV or helicopter skills aren’t as efficient! You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so be sure to mitigate that by being cognizant of and fostering everyone’s strengths.

Be Assertive!

I wound up fending for myself when a four-man squad caught my team unawares. My heart was pumping as I weaved like a snake through the interior of Lighthouse, downing two invaders in the process. I managed to injure the remaining two and had to briefly retreat, but not for long. I flew out of a window and landed in front of a corner near the Lighthouse’s entrance. I could feel the horror grip the guys huddling in the corner as they were healing up, but before they could riddle me silly with bullets, I lit them up by having the upper hand in readiness. I would’ve never done that when I started playing Blackout.

I’m inclined to hang back and wait for some ambiguous “perfect moment” when I’m in a firefight. If I rashly charge in guns blazing, that’s a suicide run, right? You’d be surprised how often that risk pays off, especially if the enemy knows you’re at a disadvantage. People don’t expect someone in that position to go gung-ho, and that’s why it works. So, if you and an opponent traded good hits, be the one that swoops in while they’re healing behind cover. If you downed someone in a squad, move in as fast as possible to catch the others off guard while they’re trying to revive him. It’s like how the Americans beat the British in the Revolutionary War (well, one part). They didn’t conform to the “rules” of combat by taking turns firing. They struck from the shadows and bore down on the red coats with guerrilla warfare. It was surprising and unexpected, and that’s exactly what being assertive means.

Yes, there remains considerable risk as effective as this may be. Sometimes you need to pick your battles and realize when you’re putting yourself in foolish danger, such as when a whole squad is locked onto your location or if you’re outmatched with weapons in terms of range. Another important thing to note is that retreat or sitting out firefights can be preferable. With the current state of Blackout, there’s not much reward in killing others if you can avoid it (unless your inventory is severely lacking), so don’t pull a Leroy Jenkins unless you’re forced to do so.



And that’s my guide for Blackout. Hope you manage to get something out of it, soldier.

Article contains a mix of personal screenshots and press release screenshots from Activision for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Header image is courtesy of Game Informer’s cover issue.