As much as Black Ops 2 looks to ensure that the single player campaign isn’t just lost in the shuffle, it’s not like Treyarch has completely forgotten about multiplayer, either. By taking advantage of the new 2025 setting and completely overhauled killstreak and create-a-class systems, Black Ops 2 is looking to give Call of Duty fans the most intense yet streamlined multiplayer experience yet, as we saw during our hands-on preview

The most striking difference was the overhauled create-a-class system, which boasts some big, readily apparent changes. Not only does the interace look completely different, the feature now acts similarly to an RPG inventory. Whereas previous games in the franchise presented you with a rigid set of inventory options, Black Ops 2‘s system is much more flexible, allowing you to assign weapons, perks, and equipment to fill up the slots you’re allotted in any way you see fit.

As game design director David Vonderhaar explains, this new system—dubbed “Big 10” internally—will work to provide players with a truly customizable experience. “You can take any ten pieces of content in the system—and this is the key differential between all create a classes before and the one in Black Ops 2. In Black Ops 1, you had to take content. You had a secondary weapon. You had a tactical grenade. You had those things whether you cared for them or didn’t care for them, whether you used them or you didn’t use them, but in the create-a-class for Black Ops 2 you don’t have to take those things. You can straight up not take a secondary weapon if you’re never going to switch to it, and then use that freely allocated point and put it somewhere else. That could be an attachment. That could be an extra perk. That could be a second lethal grenade. That’s the core of the system. That’s the difference, the key pivotal difference between this and the systems that have come before.”

David also pointed out that you’ll need to get to Level 4 in Black Ops 2 before you can unlock the create-a-class. With 55 levels and 10 levels of prestige, you’ll need to prestige at least once before you can unlock all possibilities this time around. In the hopes of us playing around with it some, though, everything was unlocked for us from the start, and I was immediately able to appreciate the changes.

I dropped my secondary weapon—admittedly, I rarely stay alive long enough to need it—and second lethal grenade, affording me two points to play around with. I then made sure my tactical grenade was what would become the bane of riot shield users (now referred to as an “assault shield,” as much like Gears of War 2‘s Boomshield, you can plant it in the ground and use it as makeshift cover), my electro-dart. Basically, this handy little device would temporarily paralyze anyone who walks by it with a mildly damaging electric shock. Of course, whoever was unfortunate to walk past it and start twitching violently didn’t need to worry about the pitiful damage, as I was more than happy to finish them off with whatever assault rifle I was messing around with.

These extra two points though I took and equipped a second top-tier perk, as David explained to us the concept of create-a-class “wild cards.”

“Wild cards are an entirely new type of create-a-class content. What makes these wild cards special is they allow you to break the rules of the traditional system. So, by allocating one of your points on a wild card, you can do things like take a third attachment for your gun, take a second Perk 1, take a second lethal, take two primary weapons, or add additional attachments to your secondary weapon. It’s wild cards that really open up the create-a-class possibilities, and there’s an intrinsic cost. They cost one of your ten. You can break those rules, but it will cost you. So, wild cards are the rule breakers.”

To be of any effect though, the wild card cost me my two open points—one to unlock the card and one to actually equip the extra perk. It would be worth it, though, as I really only needed the one weapon and its attachments.

And speaking of attachments, this is where things got really wild. I could barely wrap my head around how many different goodies I could strap onto my assault rifle. Some are your first-person shooter staples, like laser sights and what not, and others have been heavily influenced by the 2025 setting, like the millimeter scanner, which could well be the greatest anti-camping tool conceived. By equipping the scanner, you’ll actually be able to see through walls to find players who are standing still and allow you to eliminate them before they cause any real havoc. But, as David was quick to point out, the idea of gun attachments have been taken to a new level as well.

“The laser sight increases accuracy, specifically hip-fire accuracy. Now, if you’re a Call of Duty player, you know that as Steady Aim, and you know that as a perk, but in Black Ops 2, there are no perks that modify a gun. If you want to modify a gun, you will take an attachment for that gun. That is the best way for us to allow you to have an experience with that gun that’s appropriate for that gun. Whereas a perk might modify all guns evenly, this allows us to, if we think that perk-like ability is inappropriate for that weapon, then that attachment’s not available for that weapon. It’s a very key pivot here, because I can also tune this laser sight specifically for the gun, so if it’s already a gun that hip-fires very accurately, this laser sight might modify it differently than something that would have to modify all weapons evenly. That gives us a really good opportunity to balance all these weapons, because there are so many guns and so many combinations of attachments. It’s a very important part of our strategy.”

So, I had my rifle, I had my gun, I had my perks, and I had my grenades. I was ready for combat! This was your more traditional Call of Duty experience: running around, trying to capture objectives and mow down your enemies as much as possible before they got to you in order to not only win the match, but also achieve killstreaks—now called score streaks—to help your cause as much as possible. But this was another aspect of the game that had been overhauled. Not only were there rewards that were unique to the 2025 setting, like the various robotic drones you could call upon and control to bring death to your enemies, but now there were added benefits to using rewards that helped your team, like the Call of Duty staple, the UAV.

“The UAV doesn’t get kills for you, but it still helps you win, and it helps your team win,” David explained. “Those are the only rewards that stack in, that actually give you score. So, a UAV is up and your teammates get kills, those are giving you +25 every time. +25 every time someone gets a kill while your UAV is up. Well, that assures I’ll make the enemy team shoot down UAVs, right? No longer something to just be ignored, and you’re not doing much except helping your team, which is helping your team win. So this strategy is super-important to us. We want to reward players who are helping their team win the game mode—not just the game, the game mode—and we want to reward players who are helping their team. There are lots of scoring events like this. The UAV is just an example of one. Anything that doesn’t directly generate kills for you but helps your team gives you a little bit of score. Not a lot. 25. Normally, one fourth of a kill.”

This also explained the name change, as acquiring points was what allowed you to unlock rewards and so heavily objective based players (like myself) could help out the team or capture objectives and see his score increase without ever firing a shot. We saw this some in Modern Warfare 3 with obtaining experience points like in Kill Confirmed mode by just picking up dog tags, but now we’ll see a more direct advantage to this within the game.

The effect is surprisingly noticeable. When I was carrying the flag in CTF, I saw my score multiplier double each time I got a kill. There was one match where I took down four guys who’d been unlucky enough to bunch up around my electro-dart (electro-dart for the win!) and got the point equivalent of 15 kills because of the multiplier that was added on for being the flag carrier.

Aside from the standard Team Deathmatch and CTF games, we also saw Hardpoint, the newest game mode added to the Call of Duty multiplayer repertoire. The best way to describe Hardpoint is that it plays exactly like Gears of War’s Annex mode. There is one point on the map worth a set number of points, and when those points run out, the hot spot moves to another section of the map. When one team captures enough points, they win the match.

When all was said and done, I was rather impressed with what I had seen of Black Ops 2’s multiplayer. The four levels we saw—Aftermath, Yemen, Cargo, and Turbine—were designed in the usual Call of Duty fashion to keep the action fast and frantic, and they all looked great graphically. The create-a-class really made me feel like I had a say in how I went into a fight and helped me perform better than I usually do because I could make my class conform more to my strategies. Last but not least, the new score system helped me feel like I had a fighting chance to help the team out with some rewards that are normally  just out of reach for me. From what I saw, it definitely looks like Treyarch is definitely upping the ante with Black Ops 2‘s multiplayer. I’ve got a hunch that Call of Duty fans will be very pleased come mid-November.