Impressions from the Back 4 Blood Early Access Open Beta
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly eight months since we played the Back 4 Blood Closed Alpha. At the time, the game showed a strong foundation built from the Left 4 Dead franchise while using new elements to build something new. It was also at a time when the game was still scheduled to release in June. Now, the game is set for release on October 12th, 2021, but it’s bringing some changes along with it. We were granted early access to the Back 4 Blood Open Beta, and we were surprised to see some significant changes. It was especially nice to see some of our own Alpha feedback addressed in the updated build.
As mentioned before, Back 4 Blood takes the Left 4 Dead formula that put Turtle Rock Studios on the map and applies new features to it. Most notable are the roguelike elements, using a deck of cards and slight procedural generation for the maps. You’ll also have survivors (known here as “Cleaners”) with their own passive skills and talents. Finally, there’s the supply boxes where players can purchase weapons, upgrades and other tools. It adds just enough to the gameplay to make it feel unique, but of course, there’s the main threat: the Ridden.
Fighting against the Ridden might feel familiar at first, but it will quickly show some variance. This especially becomes the case when you play the all new Swarm versus mode. It was there that I found out that each type of Ridden had a handful of variants that had their own differences. For example, the Reeker family involves large Ridden that can explode against their enemies. While there is the standard Reeker, there’s also the Retch with the ability to throw projectile vomit at Cleaners, and there’s also the Exploder, who does significantly more damage upon exploding. It’s these differences that add more diversity to the special Ridden roster.
Speaking of the Swarm mode, this 4-vs-4 mode changes things up quite a bit from the Left 4 Dead version. It feels like it takes some cues from the Battle Royale genre, as there’s an infestation ring that shrinks over time. Cleaners will want to stay in this ring to avoid damage while also giving them less places to hide from the oncoming Ridden swarm. The mode starts with the Cleaners having a bit of time to scavenge for supplies and weapons. Once that time is up, they have to prepare for waves of common and special Ridden controlled by the opposing team. It’s all about survival, lasting as long as you can against the freakish hordes.
Of course, the main feature for Swarm is being able to play as the Ridden. You’ll be able to select a Ridden from whichever family you prefer, using their unique abilities to make life a living hell for the Cleaners by finding a hidden spot on the map to spawn in. You’ll also be able to upgrade your Ridden over time using mutation points, which you’ll earn over time. These mutations will increase offensive and defensive capabilities, as well as their utility. For example, you can make it so a Tallboy can’t be stunned for too long, or make a Reeker’s pus slow Cleaners. Still, you won’t always play as the Ridden, as you’ll eventually switch sides with the Cleaners, playing for two out of three.
Moving on to the other features of the Back 4 Blood Open Beta, there’s a new campaign act to play, which you can even jump right into after the first campaign with all your stats and upgrades. The beta gives us a glimpse of a new hub area with Fort Hope, something Left 4 Dead didn’t have. We also get the chance to try the new Cleaner, Mom, who brings additional support skills to the team. Perhaps most important for the beta, players can test out the crossplay with other platforms. All that in mind, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and quite a few changes as well.
For starters, we’ll mention a lot of the changes made. In our earlier preview, we mentioned the lack of flashlights in the darker areas. While there aren’t any flashlights to toggle on or off, it seems they’ll still have their place in the game. During select parts of a mission, the Cleaners will have flashlights to help navigate through darker areas like tunnels. While we still prefer the option of using them whenever we want, it’s nice to see it in some way. Another change is the additional personality in character dialogue. Characters talk a lot more and exchange dialogue, making it feel more like a team.
It also feels like the difficulty is adjusted a bit. When I played the alpha, Ridden seemed to always be in larger numbers. Now it feels like there are more moments of calm, with groups of Ridden more spread out. I also managed to finally take down an Ogre in the beta. Before, he would always escape before we could finish him off, but now I’ve defeated him multiple times. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a challenge to the game. There’s plenty of moments where Ridden can overwhelm you, especially during various events.
In the new campaign mission, there were several different events to take on too. One involves going inside a chapel and boarding up the windows to prevent the Ridden from getting inside. This chapel also happens to be the safehouse, making it a unique change from the traditional formula. Another event involves loading a howitzer with shells to destroy a mine entrance before escaping. It’s great to see that even after all this time, Turtle Rock Studio can still create some interesting scenarios. Despite this, I do hope for a little more variety in locales when the final product comes in.
Even with some of these changes, the overall mechanics are still functionally the same. The shooting feels great and offers a variety of weapons to get a feel for thanks to the practice range in Fort Hope. Stamina feels a bit more important, as sprinting and melee attacks make use of it. I often made sure to use cards to give me more stamina, which helps when going from one campaign to the next. Really, if you’re taking on the Ridden, expect a bloody good time, and we mean bloody. Back 4 Blood doesn’t hold back in the blood department, making sure to cover the Cleaners with it in their fights.
Getting to the cards, I did notice a bit of a change here after playing the alpha. The Back 4 Blood Open Beta seems to hold back in the card department, at least at first. Upon starting the game, you’ll have six cards available to you. A deck can have 15 cards, so starting with less than half makes the deck a bit underwhelming at first. It takes a lot of play in the campaigns to find new cards to use in your decks. You’ll also be able to use Supply Points to buy new cards, though the beta only has a few. Hopefully the final game provides a few more card acquisition options.
Visually, the game does seem to be a bit more detailed than before. The graphics themselves will likely vary by platform, but there’s still a very noticeable upgrade to the UI. Several elements like the cards and other artwork have been updated, giving a better presentation. Performance seems to be touch and go from my play sessions, though this seemed partly due to network connections. Other players were lagging from time to time, but I expect things to improve before the final release. Who knows, it may even improve for the regular access dates.
Overall, the Back 4 Blood Open Beta does leave me excited for the final game. While there’s games that mimic Left 4 Dead, like World War Z, it’ll be nice to get a successor from the actual developers. With the beta opening again tomorrow, I know I’ll probably be jumping back in for some bloody carnage. The Back 4 Blood Open Beta will be available to all on August 12th, 2021 at 12:00PM PST, and will run until August 16th at 12:00PM PST. Players can enjoy crossplay on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC as well. Will you be jumping in? Let us know in the comments below.