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I spoke to two COD Zombies legends as Black Ops 6’s reveal looms

With Black Ops 6 starting a new chapter of Dark Ether chaos, COD Zombies veterans NoahJ456 and MrRoflWaffles discuss the mode’s rocky road to redemption.

Black Ops 6 Zombies: An image of NoahJ456 and MrRoflWaffles, and a Zombie in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Zombies.

Being a Call of Duty Zombies fan is a rollercoaster ride. The highs of the long-running survival mode see triumphs like Black Ops 3 and Black Ops Cold War rejuvenate Treyarch’s formula, while crushing lows like Vanguard and MWZ’s meager content drops make me yearn for better times. However, once again, Treyarch is in a position to recapture the magic with Black Ops 6. Ahead of the Xbox Showcase, where we will surely get our first look at Black Ops 6 Zombies, I asked COD Zombies icons ‘MrRoflWaffles’ and ‘NoahJ456’ to reflect on the mode’s past, assess the present, and predict the future.

Presently, Call of Duty Zombies is in the strangest place it has ever been. The mode’s traditional round-based firefights are nowhere to be found, and instead we’re left to wander an open world game-style void of repetitive objectives in Modern Warfare 3’s MWZ. What makes it all sting is the fact that MWZ’s map isn’t a dedicated Zombies battleground, but it is merely using the scraps of battle royale game spin-off Warzone to stage its action.

It didn’t initially seem this dire, though, as the foundations for a promising reconfiguration of the Zombies formula were seemingly put in place. “In that first update we got introduced to some really interesting features into the game, and it seemed to indicate that things were going in a really positive direction,” MrRoflWaffles tells me. “[However] where expectations were missed, I think, is that the initial support for the Zombies mode has fallen away in a very big way.” As production on Black Ops 6 enters its final stretches, Treyarch is reportedly no longer involved with MWZ’s content creation, leaving Sledgehammer Games to finish off the FPS game’s seasonal updates.

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It’s a frustrating position to be in, considering that MWZ can actually be a blast at its best, with squads of 15+ players withstanding the might of Urzikstan’s toughest enemy tiers. Sadly, those moments are rare, and unless you’re playing with friends, most PS5 or Xbox players will leave you to fend yourself. Yet, MWZ’s concept owes a lot to Treyarch’s experimentation with Black Ops Cold War’s Outbreak mode, an excellent combination of round-based and large-scale battles. MrRoflWaffles, like me, wasn’t expecting Outbreak to be as successful as it was.

“When Outbreak dropped, that was a really surprising change to the formula that people were not really not anticipating […] There’s pros and cons to the fact that round-based was not the only segment of the pie chart.” Round-based Zombies isn’t always easy to break into. I still get shivers thinking about my first time attempting Shadows of Evil. MrRoflWaffles wonders if round-based Zombies’ “high skill ceiling” is part of the transition to the open world format Outbreak revels in.

But Outbreak sought to do things differently. It aimed to give experienced undead slayers the hit of action they craved, while newcomers had a chance to see why COD Zombies is the phenomenon it is. “It asked the question of ‘how can this work in a completely different context? Can Zombies work in a big space? Can Zombies work with hundreds of AI on the map instead of 10s of AI?’” MrRoflWaffles passionately ponders. Outbreak was just one of many victory laps for Treyarch during the Black Ops Cold War era. I can still feel the excitement and the hope that surged through my brain when the Cold War Zombies reveal trailer debuted.

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After spending hundreds of hours inside Cold War’s multiplayer game modes, I know wholeheartedly that much of my progression came purely from Zombies XP gains.

Not only did it take us back to the origins of Zombies with a sensational spin on Nacht Der Untoten with Die Maschine, but it managed to evoke a comforting sense of familiarity while pushing the mode forward with overhauled loadout systems and best-in-class gunplay. I gush to MrRoflWaffles about the renaissance that the Cold War era started for Zombies, following the divisive nature of Black Ops 4 and the standout experience in Black Ops 3 – and he mostly agrees with that sentiment.

“I think that Black Ops 3 is looked back on in hindsight as being a real golden era for the game,” he says. “The build up to Black Ops 4 was the sort of peak of Zombies hype across gaming culture, really. I think that there was an incredibly large amount of anticipation for that game.” But reflecting on the past can be a dangerous game, and while I’m not adverse to change in Black Ops 6, I’m worried that Treyarch may be heading towards a point of no return. Can Treyarch pay off four years worth of mysterious Dark Aether lore additions later this year?

Edward Richtofen’s master plan in the Dark Aether timeline is hanging in the balance, following a spine-tingling reveal that the fan-favorite character was in fact alive and kicking, despite both the Ultimis and Primis variants (and the multiverse itself) meeting their demise at the end of Black Ops 4. Treyarch has been teasing what’s next for the franchise recently, and MrRoflWaffles has already been spinning up plausible theories that maps like TranZit could be back – a notion I also pleaded for earlier this year. So that leaves us with the upcoming Xbox Showcase to look forward to.

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Zombies reveals have often been overshadowed by Call of Duty campaign and multiplayer presentations, leaving fans starved of meaningful information. The promise of a dedicated Black Ops 6 Direct presentation has me hopeful that it will take on similar levels of awe like last year’s Starfield Direct. At the very least, for me, just confirm that round-based gameplay is back on the menu. For NoahJ456, their expectations are in the same ballpark.

“As always, I’m hoping for even just a three-second teaser for anything Zombies in the reveal. They usually keep it pretty close to their chest until it’s almost launch time. That being said, I think this year could be the year that they give us a few early hints at where the story could be going.”

Like most Zombies fans, MrRoflWaffles is trying to temper his expectations. “I’m very mindful of the risks of allowing your imagination to run free, and then causing higher expectations and then to feel like you’re missing something that could have been much greater […] As a result of that, I think that the Zombies content in the Direct is going to be limited to about a sentence. I think that there’s going to basically be nothing for Zombies,” he speculates. It is certainly a possibility, but COD Zombies is far too big to leave out of the festivities these days. After all, MWZ was held up like a golden crown, as Sledgehammer Games proudly proclaimed it to be the largest offering to date prior to launch.

When the game does finally arrive, though, what do our two Zombies veterans really want to see from BO6?

“I personally am in favor of the continued evolution of the mode, just like we saw in [Black Ops] Cold War,” MrRoflWaffles says. “Whether that means taking certain roguelike elements that they started playing with in Vanguard and finding a much better, more cohesive way to implement some of those ideas, or whether that means surprising us with some new systems.”

NoahJ456, on the other hand, is eager for a core aspect of Zombies DNA to get its time to shine: easter egg hunting. “I think the absolute number one thing I want back in Zombies are the classic easter egg hunts,” he says. “I remember the anticipation of the old Zombies map launches when everyone got online and raced to finish the easter egg first.” He also looks back fondly on the release of Revelations in Black Ops 3, telling me that the map “had the entire community looking for a rock for a week straight. It might sound crazy to most people, but that is when the community was at its best.”

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There is a lot of riding on Black Ops 6 Zombies, arguably more so than any other overhaul of the game mode in the last 15 years. Launching as a day one Xbox Game Pass title means that legions of players will be getting their fill for as little as $16.99 – a truly unprecedented change that I never envisioned while playing World at War Zombies on my shitty CRT TV in my childhood bedroom.

Like NoahJ456 and MrRoflWaffles, COD Zombies holds a very special place in my heart, and I’m always going to be excited to see what’s next, but whether it can truly grip me again is a bridge I’ll have to cross at some point soon. The time for innovation is now, Treyarch, but don’t lose the mode’s soul in the process.

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