The secret heart of Treyarch’s Call of Duty games since 2008 has always been zombies. The wave-based survival mode is in equal parts silly, challenging, and endlessly repeatable. But in the 12 years since it was first released, Treyarch has added way too much to the mode. 2018 Black Ops 4 was so complicated that the features were distracted from the fun. I spent more time watching YouTube videos trying to figure out the cards than going through the game itself.
But in Black Ops Cold War, Treyarch has put the focus back on zombies and how to kill them.
Black Ops Cold War doesn’t reinvent the wheel in zombie mode. It retains most of the basic ideas Treyarch added to the mode over the past 12 years, but simplifies them down to the most fun elements.
The best example of this comes from Black Ops Cold War‘s card that the original Nazi research laboratory takes over from the start World at war Zombie Map and expands it into a modern, much bigger zombies experience. Called The Machine, this card still holds a lot of hidden secrets, but it leads players to things like the power button that you need to turn on to buy perks and the Pack-a-Punch machine which uses simple target markers keep them hidden. This makes the map feel more focused than zombies maps from the recent past. Everything I do on the map now feels like it is for my survival.
More importantly, killing zombies in The Machine is a tremendous amount of fun. The environment is divided into an upper level, a snowy landscape with stones and debris that makes it perfect for avoiding zombies, and a lower laboratory that is full of narrow corridors that are easy to ambush. While previous maps were made, the zombies feel like an afterthought of the Easter eggs. One of my favorite parts of The Machine was like the Pied Piper, kiting hundreds of zombies on the map, but with a laser gun instead of a flute.
Instead of the microtransaction upgrades from Black Ops 4, Black Ops Cold WarThe upgrades are earned by surviving waves. When you actively upgrade, the rewards feel direct and important. Upgrading a perk like Juggernog can give you more health, while upgrading ammo mods – which give weapon elemental effects – can increase your damage or stun zombies when they are shot. With every new upgrade I bought, I could see I was making more and more laps.
Zombies now has a weapon rarity system that should look pretty familiar to anyone who’s played an MMO or RPG. Weapons come in rare tiers from Common to Uncommon, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. Each rarity upgrade does more damage and comes with a random selection of attachments. The mode’s mystery box, which spits out random weapons, can give you weapons of any rarity, and it is more likely that you will level up later in the game.
Black Ops Cold War Plus, for the first time, you can bring in weapons from your custom multiplayer loadouts. These bespoke weapons with your favorite accessories start at low power and can be upgraded as you play. That said, you can just use your personal weapons and keep improving them instead of using the weapons you might find on the map. Even better, everything in Zombies is now tied to the other Call of Duty modes. This means that the experience you gain in zombies will carry over to your multiplayer rank.
This new weapon rarity system gives zombies a strong sense of progression. Instead of dealing with the binary number of good and bad weapons, there are now shades of gray between each weapon. I was given a semi-automatic rifle in one match, and although I might have missed it in previous games, I was won over by its legendary rarity of sending it through the pack-a-punch machine, and I ended up using it for dozens of rounds. It saved me dozens of times and cut me through early zombies much better than I could have done with an ordinary assault rifle. It also made me want to try a different weapon than I would normally do in mode.
All of these things, taken by themselves, would have been significant improvements over the Zombies modes of the more recent past. Taken together, however, they feel like a giant leap forward for the entire mode. This time tweaking the overly complicated mechanics, Treyarch focuses again on the bread and butter of the mode: killing zombies.