The next major Call of Duty game is going deep into the universe's lore in a way that will call to mind another popular multiplayer shooter: Blizzard's Overwatch.
Here's why the biggest thing revealed at the September 9 Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer reveal is hugely evocative of the lore-centric Overwatch.
What Happened? — On September 9, Treyarch revealed via a live stream the meaty multiplayer of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, 2020's mainline Call of Duty game. A continuation of the Black Ops sub-franchise and a direct sequel to 2010's Call of Duty: Black Ops, the game will be released on next-gen consoles and PC on November 13. Access to the multiplayer beta will begin for PlayStation 4 on October 8, and for Xbox and PC on October 15.
Among the reveals for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which include the return of Zombies mode (details TBD), cross-platform play and cross-progression, and the new 6v6 game type VIP Escort, a big focus of the afternoon reveal was on a new thing: Deniable Operations.
Deniable Operations is a narrative-driven, lore-centric multiplayer in which very specific game types — with very specific goals — exist on very specific maps.
Rest assured, traditional Call of Duty multiplayer like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Kill Confirmed will return in Black Ops Cold War. But Deniable Operations is Treyarch's newest toy exclusive to Black Ops Cold War multiplayer.
What are Deniable Operations? — On the livestream, Studio Design Director at Treyarch, David Vonderhaar, said Deniable Operations are the "bedrock of Black Ops" that are all about "the missions that stayed off the books, and the targets and sources who stayed off the record."
"The Cold War we set out to build is realistic," Vonderhaar said. "It's plausible. It's inspired by a gritty historical tone we've woven into every element of our game's world and gameplay. Deniable Ops lies at the heart of multiplayer."
Vonderhaar said the team aimed to create "a clear and unique narrative that influences every bit of our multiplayer." He added that Deniable Operations is about "immersing players into a narrative of unfolding events." While any given game's outcome won't be canon in the Call of Duty mythology, they are specific times, places, and conflicts that is more grounded in the story and lore of Black Ops than your run of the mill game of Domination.
Throughout the stream, lead members of Treyarch unpacked a handful of the Deniable Operations maps and games. They revealed the following:
- Satellite, set in the Angolan desert in Central Africa, an American recon satellite is downed. NATO and hired mercenaries race to find the satellite first.
- Crossroads, set in Uzbekistan, NATO and Soviet forces collide as NATO attempts to ambush a Soviet convoy in a frozen wilderness.
- Armada, inspired by Operation Azorian, U.S. and Soviet forces arrive in the North Atlantic Ocean to salvage a nuclear submarine.
- Moscow, set in (where else?) Moscow in the U.S.S.R, a Spetzsnaz squad is sent to a compromised CIA safe house, leading to a conflict with dispatched CIA-JSOC.
- Miami, set in (again, where else?) Miami, it's January 17, 1984 and the party is popping on South Beach. CIA special forces and DGI forces fight while the CIA figures out the whereabouts of the mysterious Perseus.
While traditional Call of Duty multiplayer mix and match game types and maps, Deniable Operations is all about specific objectives on specific maps that all play a part in the story of Black Ops Cold War.
The Overwatch Resemblance — Fans of Blizzard's Overwatch may already know that the game's multiplayer skirmish games aren't just non-canonical nonsense. Mostly.
While the outcome of every game isn't canon per se, the maps and game types all echo the larger story of Overwatch. For example: On the Hollywood map, players are tasked with escorting — or targeting — an Omnic filmmaker on his way to his trailer on the other side of the studio lot. The Numbani map takes place on Unity Day, and part of the celebrations is an exhibit on the then-unseen character Doomfist. Players either escort Doomfist's gauntlet to the museum, or seek to steal it for nefarious reasons.
Overwatch fans like to argue and speculate on the lore of the maps, but what matters is that the lore is there, and players — whether they realize it or not — are taking part in a short story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Deniable Operations seem to function similarly, giving players a specific goal to achieve that has an actual story. It's not just defusing scattered bombs placed by no one, or capturing random flags planted by nobody.
The Inverse Analysis — Deniable Operations being lore-centric won't make or break Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. The Call of Duty games have gone swimmingly for a decade and a half without introducing a story into its multiplayer. In fact, many players might not even notice that the lore is there.
And Call of Duty is no stranger to story-driven multiplayer either; Warzone features lore that focuses on a specific time in a specific place, and the popular Zombies mode associated with the Black Ops series is basically a standalone narrative co-op.
But Deniable Operations is a fun spin on traditional Call of Duty multiplayer. With a stronger emphasis on story and setting, Black Ops Cold War takes a step further in entrenching players into Cold War-era conflicts that will feel like the closest thing to uncovering classified information.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War will be released on Xbox One. Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC on November 13.