Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has loot boxes now - and they're awful.
The arrival of loot boxes to the full-price shooter comes four months after the game launched, and adds another layer of microtransactions on top of what was already a game drenched in various ways for players to spend money.
Black Ops 4's loot boxes are called Reserve Crates, and cost 200 COD Points (£1.79) each. You can also gain reserve items through time played (you get one item every two hours spent in multiplayer or Blackout). A Reserve Crate includes three different cosmetic items, such as outfits, weapon camos and warpaint. However, you can also get new signature weapons in Reserve Crates. These are a "MKII" version of a gun that provides a 25 per cent experience point boost per kill.
Black Ops 4 players have said the fact loot boxes are in the game is bad enough, but the way the loot boxes work feels particularly grubby. Black Ops 4's loot boxes do not display probabilities, unlike loot boxes in, for example, FIFA Ultimate Team and Apex Legends. They can also contain duplicates. The image, below, shows the content of one loot box I opened this morning. It includes the Daemon 3XB signature weapon.
This image shows the content of another loot box I opened this morning, which also included the Daemon 3XB signature weapon.
As is obvious, Black Ops 4's loot boxes go beyond cosmetics-only. I obtained the Swat RFT assault rifle from one crate, and I've already mentioned obtaining the Daemon 3XB - twice. These are meaningful signature weapons that were added to the game in Operation Absolute Zero back in December. Now, the versions found in loot boxes come with an XP boost, which is certainly gameplay affecting. Also, if you missed out on these weapons back in December, loot boxes are your only hope of getting them now.
As you'd expect, this hasn't gone down well with the Call of Duty community. "I don't care if you like the game or don't. If you still enjoy it, that's good for you. But please, do not support this obvious, audacious cash grab," wrote redditor c3ix on r/Blackops4.
Much of the anger at these loot boxes stems from the growing feeling that Black Ops 4 is buckling under the pressure to generate more money for publisher Activision. Here we have a full price video game with a userbase-splitting £39.99 season pass for DLC maps, a take on Fortnite's incredibly successful battle pass called the Contraband progression system, the ability to pay to complete tiers on the Contraband progression system, Special Orders you can pay real world money for, individual cosmetic items you can spend real world money on directly, and even reticles as microtransactions.
It's convoluted, confused and inescapably money-grabbing - and it's also a real shame as the core game underneath all these alternative revenue streams remains fantastic. Indeed, the controversy around loot boxes threatens to overshadow the meaningful changes made this week to Blackout, Black Ops 4's battle royale, which feels like it's being squeezed between Respawn's Apex Legends and the ongoing popularity of Fortnite and PUBG as Treyarch struggles to freshen up the experience often enough.
It's hard to know where Black Ops 4 goes from here that isn't some form of free-to-play. Meanwhile, players continue to rage against the corporate machine's vice-like grip on Black Ops 4. And sometimes you feel Black Ops 4 doesn't do itself any favours. Hilariously, Black Ops 4's latest operation is called Grand Heist. It adds a new specialist called Outrider, who has an outfit that's made of images of dollar bills.