From its gameplay loops to the similarities of its special infected enemies, Back 4 Blood has no qualms about being compared to Left 4 Dead. It’s essentially Left 4 Dead 3 even if it’s not named so, but it’s got one key component through the card drawing, deck building system that does wonders to set it apart from its Left 4 Dead roots. It’s just different enough to make it feel more like a transition to something new and not just a repeat of what we’ve already seen.
To be clear, Left 4 Dead 3 would not be a bad thing by any means. A continuation like that is what I and I’m sure many others wanted most from Back 4 Blood, and the idea of building a deck of cards used to award stat buffs and talents initially only sounded like a roadblock to blasting zombies, not a fresh take on the formula. But after spending time with the card system during the closed alpha and seeing how it diversified playthroughs, it feels like it’s exactly the kind of thing Back 4 Blood needed.
The card system in Back 4 Blood works by allowing players to choose cards from different categories until they’ve built up a 15-card deck. Some of those are largely invisible investments like +10% stamina, others buff your whole team’s stats, and some are gambles like granting players even bigger stat bonuses at the cost of losing the ability to aim down a weapon’s sights.
The catch with the system is that you might not see all the cards you put in the deck in any given playthrough. You choose a few to keep from a hand at the start and get additional cards between acts or by finding them in the game’s world like you would a weapon or other resources.
Not knowing what to expect from my first Back 4 Blood playthrough, I built just one deck (you can build several and name them accordingly) to have some control over the experience instead of going with the default deck. Upon getting stuck with a character who started with a melee weapon and realizing I’d omitted many melee-focused perks, it became evident why having multiple specialized decks would be important. The cards that granted players a primary weapon to start with, should that card be drawn soon enough to be beneficial, quickly earned at least one spot in any future decks I built. The first game was rough without capitalizing on the card system, but it was the perfect crash course in how Back 4 Blood works.
Perhaps even more exciting is the idea of what the "Corruption Cards" will look like, the ones that dictate what types of unique zombies to expect from a level and other variables like weather effects. Those cards chosen by the “Dynamic Game Director” have already done wonders to make one playthrough different from the next during the alpha, and I feel like I’ve only seen a fraction of all the cards available.
Despite its potential, there are a few minor hesitations held where the card system is concerned. It quickly became clear that some cards were overpowered, though those values and effects can always be altered. All we saw during the alpha was PvE gameplay against AI enemies, so there’s no telling how, if at all, the card system will be employed in the PvP element. It’s also worth remembering Turtle Rock Studios’ Evolve which was created with a different publisher had aggressive microtransactions, and while nothing of that sort has been confirmed for Back 4 Blood yet, it’d be reassuring to know I won’t have to worry about opening packs of cards or purchasing new ones later on as post-launch content is inevitably released.
The card system boasts an inviting level replayability for Back 4 Blood if nothing else, and Left 4 Dead already had plenty of that to begin with. Advantages and disadvantages of the individual builds and the overall system will become more apparent as players get more time with the game, but the way it looked in the closed alpha was a promising start.
Back 4 Blood is scheduled to be released on June 22, 2021.