Back 4 Blood Early Access Open Beta impressions

By Tom West,
A beta test for any game is generally a small portion of gameplay that players can experience repeatedly for as long as the test lasts. But when Turtle Rock Studios decided to open the Back 4 Blood beta doors to those of us lucky enough to be granted Early Access, what we found when loading it on the Xbox Series X was a decent-sized chunk of the game waiting to be explored. This test offered us two of the game’s PvE Acts — Act 1 and Act 4 — comprised of four missions each as well as three difficulty levels, although I can’t imagine there were many people playing on the hardest of difficulties. There was also a PvP mode called Swarm which tasked two teams of four players to go head-to-head in a battle for the longest survival time, with one team playing as the survivors, called Cleaners, and the other as the Ridden specials. Mixed in with the game modes were every weapon, five playable Cleaners, customisation cards, and the full camp experience that acts as the game’s main hub. It was quite the amount of content and only says good things about the state of the game’s development with only a few short months left until release.

back 4 blood early access open beta impressions

The first thing that struck me when booting up the game was the pop-up menu covering all aspects of accessibility, such as speech-to-text, font sizing, language, and a whole heap of other options aimed to create a good experience for a wide range of players. It even had options to turn off profanity and toggle cross play etc. This was all front and center before the main menu — not hidden within the settings options, just plonked on my lap before I went anywhere, just to ask, “hey, how do you want/need to play me?”

I left those menus feeling fairly good about the level of care Turtle Rock wanted to display with this title and was plunged into the main menu. I say plunged because you’re sent straight to the Cleaners' base called Camp Hope which acts as the game’s menu, giving you the ability to speak to various camp members to start missions, customise your character’s card loadouts, and other bits and bobs that you’d expect to see within a game’s main menu. The camp looks great and felt like a safe part of the world, giving you a natural way to move about the game. One issue I did have with Camp Hope was that the threat of impending doom just wasn’t there. It’s obviously a personal preference and definitely not a problem with the game, but I feel it needs a little more tense atmosphere swirled into it, especially seeing as everywhere you look when on missions and in PvP is surrounded in death and despair. But then again, that’s probably the point.

back 4 blood early access open beta impressions

Once you decide to leave the safety of Camp Hope and head out into the Ridden-infested world for some PvE Acts, the whole Left 4 Dead feeling floods in. Honestly, everything about the missions in Back 4 Blood is dripping in its predecessor’s glory. After the debacle of Evolve, I was feeling slightly wary as to whether Turtle Rock could pull off a spiritual successor to L4D, but it seems — at least as far as I can see right now — that my caution was unnecessary. Missions feel familiar but fresh in Back 4 Blood, with the same safe-room-to-safe-room gameplay that attracted many players to the original games: fighting off hordes of zombies (Ridden), dodging the dangerous clutches of special monsters, and working as a unit to survive the ever-present risk of an onslaught.

Although many of the game’s aspects are nostalgic, it’s also been given a fresh and modern coat of paint. Your arsenal has been expanded drastically, along with attachments, special equipment like barbed wire and toolkits to silently unlock alarmed doors, and fresh new enemy types and hazards like flocks of birds that will alert the horde if they’re disturbed. It all bundles into a wonderful experience with fast, fluid combat mixed with deep teamwork-based set pieces, although the weapon handling is currently quite snappy and takes a moment to become accustomed to. Once you have adjusted, though, it’s just a great experience.

back 4 blood early access open beta impressions

I’ve seen some people mention the inability to shoot out light bulbs, and I have to say that I was having so much fun with the actual gameplay that I didn’t really have a chance to stop and see if I could perform basic DIY actions within the game. I was in there to exterminate zombies, not pretend to be a janitor. But on the note of Back 4 Blood’s visuals, they are fantastic, especially the lighting effects. Turtle Rock has focused on scene-setting within the missions, especially with the lighting and it shows clearly when playing — there was a mission in Act 4 where I made my way through a cemetery at night and the mixture of moonlight and fog was stunning. I have no doubts that the rest of the game will show this same level of attention to detail once we can experience more of it.

Layered on top of the gameplay is the new card system. I can’t quite comment on its ability to offer replayability yet as I didn't have a chance to unlock a huge amount of them. What I can say, however, is that currently, the system allows for players to customise each game with a mixture of cards that reward buffs. These cards will be paramount when attempting to tackle the game’s higher difficulties, and even though it undoubtedly will split the community in the future, it will allow for experienced players to meet in random matches to complete the harder content. It’s going to be interesting to see the builds that come from players experimentations when the game fully releases, that’s for sure, both for PvE content and PvP.

back 4 blood early access open beta impressions

Yes, the card system extends into PvP as well, but again, I can’t comment right now about the long-term effects of the card system's builds due to not being able to unlock a huge amount during the Early Access Open Beta. I do know that they will most certainly be fundamental to the one PvP mode I had access to, called Swarm. This was a 4v4 survival game mode that tasked one team with attempting to survive as the Cleaners and the other playing as special Ridden, with both teams switching sides once the match is over. The aim of the game is to survive the longest time in each round — split into four sections where the playable area shrinks drastically each time — and the best out of three will win the game. Once players start unlocking the better cards to customise their desired characters, we’ll be seeing some interesting survival times coming out of the game, for sure.

Overall, Back 4 Blood is looking like it has everything in place to be the next co-op shooter we compare every title in the genre against, much like the two Left 4 Dead titles still are today. What I’m most surprised about is the fact that I’ve left the beta after experiencing a huge amount of content, but still feel like there are so many things I can speculate on and be excited about. That’s the reason why I urge anyone interested to take part in the Open Beta that kicks off on August 12th. Turtle Rock is onto a winning formula as it stands right now, and I’ll be very eager to see what the finished product looks like when it releases (and comes to Game Pass) on October 12th.
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Hey, I'm Tom! I joined TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies in 2021 as a Staff Writer. I'm a big achievement hunting fan so you may come across me in a session sometime. In a few short words I'm a hard rocking, alternative gamer with an addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online and a passion for wolves!