Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 offers 10 different approaches to the action with its diverse squad of Specialist Operatives. Effective Specialist selection can make or break a round, and while they can be swapped between deaths in many of the game’s core modes, picking the right one and sticking with them ensures that no ability and equipment charges are misspent.
The game does offer up a Specialists HQ option from the main menu, which provides constructed scenarios and objectives for all ten characters, pitted against AI-controlled enemies. While this can teach newcomers the utmost basics, the best way to learn each Specialists is to simply try them out in-game and get a feel for their individual details and quirks. For players wanting to jump directly into the action, however, there are no on-the-fly tutorials baked into multiplayer modes.
Each Specialist in Black Ops 4 functions, in many ways, like individual class-based characters in competitive multiplayer shooters like Overwatch. That means that they’re all equipped with certain combat options simmering on regenerative cooldowns, along with a unique high-powered ability that – when used appropriately – can turn the tide of battle, somewhat similar to how ultimates work in Overwatch. Some Specialists are designed to function more aggressively, two are in a supportive class, and some of their abilities admittedly feel overpowered at present. Specialist selection is restricted in certain competitive modes, which means that it’s a common occurrence for a favorite to be locked off if someone else is quicker on the draw during setup. Make a mental list of your preferred specialists and don’t get dissuaded if the top picks are spoken for; it just means that the opportunity to master another has been made available.
Let’s take a look at each Specialist Operative in Black Ops 4, revealing what players might expect in the game’s early hours, as well as some things to keep in mind when out in the field.
- Ability: Ballistic Shield – A fortified shield which protects Ajax from front-facing damage, allowing him to return fire with a machine pistol. Note that he can still be damaged by gunfire through the small window in the front of the shield.
- Equipment: 9-Bang – A grenade that both flashes AND stuns, throwing enemies in the line of sight into a compromised state where they cannot shoot, heal or use abilities. 9-Bangs can also be cooked to trigger multiple detonations.
- Notes: An enemy afflicted by a 9-Bang is all but destined for death, as they are sent stumbling blindly to avoid getting killed. Remember: they can still shoot (and even kill you), but they’ll have no visual, so watch out for pray-and-spray.
Ajax’s Ballistic Shield delivers varying results depending on mode and enemy loadout. Smart players will flank him, forcing him to drop his shield for increased mobility and putting him at a disadvantage. However, if enemies are clustered in a hallway, a shield-wielding Ajax appearing at the opposite end can be an intimidating sight.
- Ability: War Machine – A grenade launcher with splash damage, especially viable for enemies clustered together and/or behind cover.
- Equipment: Cluster Grenade – A sticky grenade which releases multiple smaller grenades on detonation.
- Notes: Battery’s equipment can kill enemies caught in the first explosion, as well as create a kind of explosive effect which can briefly provide area denial. Note the setup time needed for her equipment and ability, as neither are quick-activating and need to be prepped well in advance, with the War Machine’s load animation requiring a few seconds of vulnerability.
Battery is one of the few grenade-wielding Specialists (along with Ajax) in Black Ops 4, but her specials can be effectively countered via medium-to-long distance targeting.
- Ability: TAK-5 – Over-heals player and allies, making them harder to take down.
- Equipment: Assault Pack – Drops a duffel bag which allows allies to grab extra magazines for their weapon, within a reasonably long distance.
- Notes: Crash is something of a support specialist, though ammo provision considerations in Black Ops 4’s early hours may be a case of putting the cart before the horse. Staying alive is more important than replenishing ammo at this stage of play, especially when players are allowed to quickly loot potentially decent weapons from downed operatives.
In the long game, though, Crash is an absolute boon to have on the team. Beyond the benefit of simply providing more ammo, kills made with Assault Pack boosts grant Crash bonus points, which can lead to multiple TAK-5 deployments within a single round.
- Ability: Purifier – A flamethrower which obliterates close-to-medium distanced enemies caught in its wake.
- Equipment: Reactor Core – Attaches to surfaces and emits radiation, which reduces the max health of nearby enemies.
- Notes: Using Reactor Core around key points of activity can be absolutely devastating on Control maps, turning bullet sponges into easy kills and disrupting heals. Additionally, Firebreak’s Purifier will decimate noobs looking to engage at close range, though it has a very recognizable sound and is easy to spot from a distance.
Reactor Core can be a fiddly piece of equipment on its own, since it needs to be primed carefully, its radius of damage grows larger as it’s charged, and even damages the user – for best results, get as close to the red as possible without overdoing it, and retreat and heal when needed. Its most effective application is in modes like Control, Hardpoint, and Domination, where it can severely hamper a team attempting to secure a point, and its spherical AOE penetrates through solid walls.
- Ability: K9-Unit – A killer dog who can guard a player’s proximity or patrol ahead, quickly killing any path-crossing enemies.
- Equipment: Mesh Mine – A laser-triggered pair of mines.
- Notes: A quick glance at the trending posts in the Black Ops 4 subreddit says it all: Nomad’s attack dog feels somewhat overpowered and hearing the callout “K-9 Unit in your area” increases enemy blood pressure. The dog can be killed, sure, but absorbs a surprising amount of damage and often unpredictably, making Nomad an excellent starter Specialist.
Mesh Mines are a godsend to snipers, who can position them in stairwells next to their nest to kill enemies and/or set a triggered alarm advising them that it’s time to reposition. Note that the mines are a two-step action, meaning that you have to position each in a functional distance and orientation to each other to activate the laser tripwire.
Page 2 of 2: Prophet, Recon, Ruin, Seraph, and Torque
- Ability: Tempest – A sniper rifle which fires shock rounds, incapacitating enemies and forcing them to crawl on the floor temporarily.
- Equipment: Seeker Shock Mine – The most dangerous Roomba ever invented, this rolling drone paralyzes any enemies it encounters, though it doesn’t kill them outright.
- Notes: Prophet is an excellent early-game Specialist, and his abilities are easy to understand and devastating in certain scenarios. If the enemy team is turtling up on the point, dropping his quick-charging equipment allows players a few precious seconds to stroll in and complete the kill.
There’s a catch, though: Seekers don’t prevent the enemy from firing their weapon straight ahead, and a quick-time event allows them to defuse it, within a small window. Late-game players tend to be savvier on the equipment’s callout and may anticipate this, and even shocked enemies can kill if you happen to be in their straight-firing path. Still, beyond its applications in capture point modes, they can also be an effective Hail Mary play – when low on health and being chased by an enemy player, quickly dropping a Seeker while running can turn the tables, providing ample time to escape or retaliate.
- Ability: Vision Pulse – A kind of self-radar which reveals any nearby enemies as red blips on the mini-map which all teammates can see.
- Equipment: Sensor Dart – Similar to the above ability, this fires a dart which reproduces this effect on a targeted surface and location.
- Notes: Recon is an incredibly useful Specialist on a team, offering value even in the absence of consistent headshots. His Sensor Dart can dictate how specific teams enter combat zones, though it will emit a red light to the enemy team and can be quickly destroyed if found.
As something of a light support based on increased team awareness, Recon can also be considered a more viable sniper build than other Specialists, since his equipment and ability can prevent sneak attacks and call out enemy locations to target.
- Ability: Grav Slam – A favorite for plays of the game, Ruin’s Grav Slam prompts a dramatic jump animation which kills any enemy in a circular radius.
- Equipment: Grapple Gun – The single most powerful movement technique in the game, the Grapple Gun pulls the player to any hooked surface, and features a significantly short cooldown.
- Notes: Ruin’s Grav Slam is an early game favorite, requiring little to no coordination to rack up kills. Additionally, his equipment can help surprise encamped enemies and choke points, or quickly allow access to windows and sniper nests.
For savvier players, though, the lead-time between Ruin’s ability callout and it actually hitting the ground is ample time to shoot his jumping body out of the air. It’s important to practice the element of surprise, and Grav Slam works best when approaching a group of enemies around a corner or from behind.
- Ability: Annihilator – A powerful revolver which usually results in a single-shot insta-kill.
- Equipment: Tac-Deploy – Drops a beacon which allows teammates to respawn in a specific area.
- Notes: The Annihilator is a brutal weapon that shreds full-health enemies. Unfortunately, Seraph’s Tac-Deploy is a bit compromised at present; for one, it’s easy for the enemy to dismantle, and most quick-clicking teammates won’t even notice it as an option on their respawn screen (it doesn’t prompt teammates to spawn on it by default).
It’s possible that this represents a balance between ability and equipment, since the Annihilator can help struggling players climb back up the scoreboard. The target area for this gun is wide and forgiving, even at long rage, and its callout is relatively understated when compared to something like the Grav Slam.
- Ability: Barricade – A blockade which provides oversized movable cover to teammates that also causes AOE damage and slowdown to nearby enemies.
- Equipment: Razor Wire – A spiral of razor wire which can be positioned anywhere on the ground, slowing and damaging enemies who cross it.
- Notes: Torque’s ability and equipment thwarts enemy movement and can be surprisingly effective when placed around corners or in frequented doorways. That being said, neither are overpowered, and mindful enemies will spot them from a distance and figure out routes to avoid them.
Razor Wire can be destroyed, but is remarkably resilient and can take a few clips of steady fire. While throwing it in front of a thin passage seems the most obvious play, it’s also lethal around tight corners where enemies may not anticipate placement. If an enemy stumbles into it by mistake, there’s a strong chance it will result in a kill before they can escape.
Specialist selection relies on game mode, player ability, and team composition. For capture point modes, Specialists with area-of-denial/AOE abilities will find numerous ideal use-cases for them. These scenarios are less likely to occur in Free For All, Team Deathmatch, or Kill Confirmed, unless certain of these types of matches devolve into choke point battles. Since kills can come surprisingly quick, Ajax’s Grapple Gun can feel like a get-out-of-jail-free card to new players. Similarly, Nomad’s K-9 Unit is currently one of the best abilities at disrupting enemy players, which can feel tremendously satisfying on a low K/D ratio. It does come down to team composition and team communication. Coordinating ability-usage with verbal planning can overwhelm the enemy, dividing and shifting their respawns and making it hard to regroup. For non-capture-point modes, controlling the battle (and the scoreboard) in this way is how to generate gaps of 10+ points, earn Scorestreaks, and take the lead.
If a player can’t aim as well as others, abilities like those of Prophet, Battery, or Seraph are going to feel misspent. These special weapons function on limited ammo and time, and while they make it easier to kill enemies than standard issue guns, they can be effectively flanked and dodged, or wasted when the player is killed on activation. These players may want to go for a Specialist like Nomad or Crash, whose abilities bolster the team with minimal effort or skill-based guidance or their part. Experimenting with Specialists in Black Ops 4‘s modes will communicate which one is best for your play-style, but prioritizing objectives and self-assessing strengths should help determine the ideal shortlist.