With Treyarch Working on Vanguard Zombies, What’s the Future of CoD Zombies?
There are three pillars of the Call of Duty series: multiplayer, campaign, and Zombies. There used to be just the first two before the launch of World at War, and usually, the way most players would play the game is to finish the campaign before jumping into multiplayer. Some players didn’t care about the campaign and would jump right into the multiplayer to play with their friends.
The thing about World at War is that hidden inside the game, and only after completing the campaign of the title, was a whole new mode for players to enjoy. Locked inside one of the buildings from the campaign, an onslaught of the undead donning German war clothing circled in on the player. There only means of survival, the M1911 they started with, and the mysterious chalk drawings on the walls.
This was the birth of the Call of Duty Zombies mode, and what started as a side mode slowly turned into a third pillar of the series, with Zombies maps now being packaged inside of the map packs being sold for the game. By the end of World at War, there were four maps: Nacht Der Untoten, Verrukt, Shi No Numa, and Der Rise.
The developer behind this revolutionary mode? Treyarch.
The Growth of the Zombies Mode
Players immediately fell in love with the new mode and, without much encouragement, were happy to see that more maps were being made, and expansions for the mode were slowly being pushed out with the multiplayer maps. The size of the mode at the time didn’t matter that only one map was coming out. However, the maps were received very well. This expanded into the next game developed by Treyarch, Call of Duty Black Ops. Included more content, with the base game coming with Zombies already, as well as a new mode, Dead Ops Arcade.
The map packs after the launch of Black Ops contained more Zombies maps, including fan favorites like Ascension, Call of the Dead, and Shangrila. However, the game included one more thing that players weren’t expecting in a full-scale Zombies map pack, including all the maps from the previous game, and a new map set on the Moon. This focus on the Zombies mode brought trust from the fans and cemented itself as the third pillar of the series for future Treyarch titles. Black Ops 2, while not having a centric Zombies map pack, did include a lot of content for the game, like new game modes and maps continuing the story from the first game.
With the success of the new mode, the other CoD developers tried jumping onto the bandwagon. Games like Call of Duty Ghosts brought in their own take on the co-op game with Extinction, Advanced Warfare brought in their own form of Zombies, called Exo Zombies. While they weren’t the modes that players had come to expect from Treyarch’s games, they were able to capture some of the mechanics. However, Treyarch would then step in with Black Ops 3, and change the game again. This time, focusing full-on on the core zombies experience, adding two maps with the launch, and then continuing to add maps to the game until well after the game was finished. For the second time, a Zombies centric DLC was included called Zombies Chronicles. It became the single most purchased DLC Activision ever created.
The Fall of Zombies and Treyarch’s Involvement in Call of Duty Vanguard
However, this would seemingly be the peak of Zombies, as after the end of Infinite Warfare, some fatigue of the inclusion of Zombies in each year set in amongst players. This began with the poor reception of World War 2’s Zombies mode made by Sledgehammer, After this, the release of Black Ops 4 happened, where the cracks of the mode started showing. Treyarch started a new story in conjunction with the current story of the game. However, their promises of new modes and two continuous stories seemed to fall flat, as the new story was left on a cliffhanger, and the old story took over the second half of the DLC season, which wasn’t the intention from Treyarch.
Now, players were forced to watch as the mode slowly crumbled with remakes of previous maps, which were planned for the second year, much like Zombies Chronicles, filled the void of the last two maps that would have been taken up by the new story. This all culminated with the ending of the game’s longest-running story, which was a resounding flop from the player’s perspective. After this, Modern Warfare 2019 launched, and players were happy to not have a Zombies this year, meaning that the next game from Sledgehammer would most likely include a better version of the mode. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.
While not explicitly said, Treyarch’s next game would have been this year, but the rumor is that Sledgehammer and Raven Software were fighting due to the direction of the next game. Activision then gave them 2021’s Call of Duty and forced Treyarch to cut their development time and focus on a new game. This spawned the Zombies we currently know, with the game’s maps being reused assets from the campaign, and a lackluster Outbreak Mode.
However, this isn’t the end for Treyarch, as the rumors have circulated again that they’re going to repurpose the Zombies Chronicles 2 maps they were planning to use in Black Ops 4 in Cold War as a new expansion. Unfortunately, it’s also been revealed that they’re working on the Zombies mode in this year’s game as well, spreading their development team thin between games.
The role in the development of Vanguard is unclear, however, it is theorized that the developers are working together to tie Vanguard’s Zombies mode to the story being portrayed in Cold War, which is a soft reboot of the game’s story from the World at War to Black ops 4. While they won’t include all of the same characters, it’s fair to assume that players are going to be fighting zombies and dealing with the same threats from Cold War’s Zombies mode.
However, with all this in mind, if Treyarch has a massive hand in Vanguard’s Zombies mode, what does this mean for the future of Zombies?
What This Means for the Future of Zombies
This is the biggest question on the player’s plate right now, and to get the most obvious facts out of the way, Treyarch isn’t what they used to be. Zombies aren’t spearheaded by Jason Blundell anymore, as he’s working at Deviation Games, making a PlayStation exclusive title. Zombies isn’t going to have the same feel nor charm that Blundell’s iterations of the game had. This means that players are going to get a completely different experience from the Zombies of the past. All this is true, looking at the mechanics of the Cold War, a lot of things are different, from weapon tiers to perk levels, and boss zombies that just don’t seem to die.
However, it’s already apparent that the development of Cold War Zombies is lackluster. The constant reuse of Campaign maps, and more make the game feel less like Zombies and more like an afterthought. However, there’s a chance that Vanguard Zombies might be better, seeing that Sledgehammer has had an entire extra year of development since the removal of their 2020 spot, although it’s uncertain whether or not their previous idea was scrapped.
The most worrying thing about the future of the game is that Activision is trying to merge all the Call of Duty IPs into one single Call of Duty Universe. This means that the story of zombies might continue into the world of the Next Call of Duty Game past Vanguard. Modern Warfare. This would put zombies in 3 separate time periods. The 80’s the 40’s and then, the 2020’s. If this is the case, what is the likelihood that Treyarch is brought onto the development with Infinity Ward? This would give Treyarch less time to work on their own game and focus on the development of their Zombies mode for Call of Duty 2023. Transitioning Treyarch into the Zombies developer, specifically because they were able to make the fan-favorite modes before won’t work now, because all of the developers that made the game a fan favorite in the first place aren’t working on the games anymore.
There are two ways that this can go. First, the Zombies mode could remain a Treyarch and Sledgehammer only mode, seeing that Modern Warfare 2019 didn’t include Zombies, and opted to go for their Spec Ops mode. This helped with relieving some of the series’ Zombies fatigue. Keeping Zombies to Sledgehammer and Treyarch would give Treyarch enough time to work on their own game while helping with the Zombies mode in Sledgehammer, However, whether or not this is a one-time deal is yet to be seen.
The second direction that this could go is having the Zombies mode be an overarching story, adding itself to the ever-growing Call of Duty universe. With Sledgehammer’s game being a prequel to the current Dark Aether story, there’s a chance that Infinity Ward’s next game is going to be a sequel to the story if they include a Zombies mode. If this is the case, this would mean that Treyarch is going to have their hands in that game, on top of Zombies, making them the sole Zombies developer for the series. The worst case scenario is that Treyarch is removed from making their own games, and is to focus solely on the Zombies mode of the other titles, with Raven taking the place of Treyarch. However, this is unlikely, but the current trend of Activision relying on Treyarch to fix the mistakes of their series seems to lead to a similar conclusion.
Regardless, all of this is speculation, but it’s interesting to think about what the developers are going to do next, as Activision isn’t in the best of places at the moment, removing their name from the newest game in the series to seemingly avoid backlash from the multiple lawsuits their currently in. While they’re not directly attached to the development of the franchise, they are the publishers of the game.