And the perks themselves have evolved too. "Perks were pretty important for us to rethink, because they were getting too complex. You had perks, perk pros, perks that influence you, perks that influence your gun, perks that influence team mates. We've simplified that so perks only ever affect your character, and more importantly, Black Ops II's perks aren't absolutes. In Black Ops our only balancing options were to remove the perk or keep it; now we can tune any perk by increments to nerf it or improve it."
That means those wildly exploitable perk setups from Modern Warfare 3 are a thing of the past. "I can nerf perks and I will, mark my words," says Vonderhaar. "A perk should never be something you need just to compete. A perk is 'I got a parking spot,' or 'the soda machine gave me free soda.' Your life shouldn't depend on it. The community helped me understand that, and that's why our new system has no absolutes. We can try to make it the most balanced CoD ever."
TAKE ON ME
Hands on, it plays differently. Sure, Black Ops II feels like Call of Duty - that same buttery-smooth framerate, snappy response and that same measured pace - but for the first time, you'll play the game the way it was always intended to be played. We took part in dozens of games against Treyarch's team, but every time the battle played out exactly as Treyarch intended.
The new balance they're talking about works in practice as well as thoery. Very quickly we found creative uses for Black Ops II's more exotic new gadgets, placing the new microwave Guardian turret in places players were likely to fall, and using the shock grenade as a motion sensor of sorts. Scorestreaks never spoiled the battle and objectives were prioritised above wanton murder. It's Battlefield's teamwork neatly slotted into Call of Duty, and it's clear the game was always meant to be played this way.
"The Battlefield series is really well put together," Vonderhaar says. "There's all sorts of great influence to draw from how they use their visual treatments and encourage teamplay. There's a League of Legends influence in Black Ops II, a Quake 1 influence... Halo had a theatre mode and we created CoD's version of it - of course there's influence from other games."
Is there ever a danger of CoD going the way of Guitar Hero or Tony Hawk? "I can't speak for how those other franchises were handled but I can speak for us and how we're handling Black Ops," says studio head Mark Lamia. "I think that if you want to maintain a franchise, that you're going to have to innovate and keep it fresh, but also remain true to your core. It's absolutely the needle we try and thread in every game.
"I think you have to keep the game accessible but have that depth. I think it will take players a while to peel back the layers on this one because there's a lot of stuff going on underneath, there's all kinds of different ways to play now. If you want to survive you're going to have to play the objectives and play with your team.
"I think that's a fundamental change to the way people play Call of Duty. Black Ops II isn't just the next CoD game; it really is a major step in how Call of Duty's gameplay is going to be perceived."