Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review: A promising new future

Treyarch Studios
Treyarch Studios /
3 of 5
call of duty: black ops 4 zombies
Treyarch Studios /

Black Ops 4 Zombies

The fan-favorite Zombies mode also returns, providing a welcomed break from the standard player-versus-player nature of Call of Duty. Treyarch, who originated this mode, has crafted the best Zombies experience yet. It no longer feels like a tacked-on mode, but rather it’s own, unique experience complete with power-ups, a perk and elixir system, and intriguing hidden quests.

Black Ops 4’s Zombies is broken into two separate storylines, Chaos and Aether, each offering their own characters and customization options, along with a unique backstory and hidden challenges. Chaos sends you back in time to an alternate version of history and is comprised of two distinct Zombies maps. IX takes you to a gladiatorial arena where you’ll fight through a labyrinth of tombs, crypts and temples and discover the powers of ancient gods.

Voyage of Despair takes you aboard the RMS Titanic right after the ship struck the iceberg. You’ll fight your way through the various rooms and galleys of the iconic ship, which has seen its crew and passengers transformed into zombies.

Both of these maps are brought together by an overarching story involving an ancient cult referred to as the Chaos Order. A brief cinematic sequence introduces each experience, but most of the story details exist in the background and is gained either through character dialogue or exploration. In either instance, it’s difficult to follow as it’s hard to keep up with the back-and-forth chatter or fully take in the environment clues while also focusing on fending off an onslaught of zombies. Regardless, as a history nerd, I enjoyed experiencing this alternate take on the Titanic.

The Aether storyline, meanwhile, takes you to a secret laboratory beneath the iconic Alcatraz prison and is set across multiple remastered Zombies maps from past Black Ops games that are linked through a time travel story. This is a wonderful homage to the previous Call of Duty games, and while the storyline can be a little difficult to follow, it’s fun to see the return of the previous four characters from World at War.

Black Ops 4 Zombies
Treyarch /

Each of the maps feels unique from one another in both aesthetic and design. Their intricate layouts and hidden challenges make it so you’ll likely have to play through them more than once to truly take everything in. The challenges add a nice wrinkle to simply just surviving and feel like lite-versions of the puzzles you’d find in a Destiny raid. They aren’t necessarily as complicated as a Destiny puzzle, which usually requires strong teamwork, but simply discovering them and figuring out what to do was a rewarding experience on its own.

Like multiplayer, Zombies also emphasizes personalization. “Custom Mutations” means you can create a Zombies experience that is personalized for you and your friends, with over 100 variables to adjust, including overall difficulty, zombie speed, health and damage.

Taking a page out of CoD: WWII, you’re also able to create custom loadouts for your character. You can select your starting weapon, though you’ll quickly replace this by purchasing new weapons as the game progresses. The most important selections you’ll make revolve around special weapons, perks and elixirs – all of which are unlocked throughout the Zombies experience.

Special weapons, which are chosen at the start of a game, are exactly what they sound like. Revolving around the theme of Black Ops 4‘s Zombies experience, they are mysterious artifacts that offer unique powers when activated. The Scepter of Ra, for example, burns and slows enemies, while also healing allies. The Hammer of Valhalla provides protective armor around you and your allies with each swing. These special weapons are incredibly fun to use and regenerate fairly quickly but are best saved for tight spots or boss waves.

Also new to Zombies are Elixirs, which are temporary powerups that grant bonuses to your character. You can select four Elixirs at the start of a match, and they function on a cooldown timer, recharging after each use. Elixirs aren’t necessarily as powerful as special weapons, but they do offer some nice perks that can save your life if things take a turn for the worse. You can also use these elixirs strategically in the middle of a match.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 blood of the dead
Activision /

The “Now You See Me” elixir, for example, makes all zombies chase you for 15 seconds. This is incredibly useful if you have a teammate trapped. “Join the Party” can be a round-saver as it revives all spectating players immediately. Granted, not all of these powerful elixirs are available at the start, which gives you some incentive to level up.

Perks are also another way to personalize your experience. Found within the “Create a Class” option of the customization menu, perks are divided into two story experiences; “Aether Story” and “Chaos Story.” Unlike elixirs, perks are unlocked as you play through a Zombies session and find special objects related to each slot (there are four total slots). These also provide special boosts and abilities that last for the entire lifespan of your character; if you die, you must unlock them again at the related object.

The addition of special weapons and perks, plus the revamped elixir system (replacing Gobblegums), makes Black Ops 4‘s Zombies mode the most in-depth, customizable version we’ve seen yet.

If you’ve played through both main stories, there’s another mode to keep you occupied – Rush. This fast-paced mode is more like an arcadey take on the traditional Zombies mode. With all weapons, ammo and perks free, the goal is to kill zombies and collect Rush Points. Multipliers are earned through the damage you deal out, helping you build up your score more quickly; but, taking damage will cause your multiplier to decrease. Rush is a nice change of pace from the traditionally slower Zombies experience and perfect for those who have completed the main stories but want to continue with a different type of challenge.