At long last Call of Duty players finally know what's in store for 2020. A trailer for the next major Call of Duty game, released Wednesday, confirms what fans have suspected based on several months of leaks: The 2020 installment is Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, a reboot of the Black Ops sub-franchise that started with Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010.
But what's different about Black Ops Cold War that didn't exist 10 years ago is this idea of games-as-a-service. 2020 has seen Call of Duty rock the scene with its wildly popular online battle royale game Warzone, a free-to-play standalone(ish) game that spun off 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
So how will Black Ops Cold War influence, or work in concert with, future seasons of Warzone? Season 5 is underway and likely won't change because of Black Ops Cold War. But how will Black Ops Cold War impact Warzone Seasons 6, 7, 8, and beyond?
There's no crystal clear answer, for now. The only thing we do know is that Warzone will remain its own entity, regardless of how many players play or don't play Modern Warfare in the future. Warzone was "designed from the beginning to be its own game," design director Geoff Smith told GamesRadar+ in a recent interview. "As the game continues to be updated over time, it will evolve and become tied to other games in the Call of Duty universe."
How Black Ops Cold War could change Warzone
It is not a mistake that Infinity Ward has used, and continues to use, Warzone to promote Black Ops Cold War, henceforth just Cold War. Warzone is wildly popular with a touted 75 million players. While many people turned to Animal Crossing in quarantine, an arguably even bigger community found solace in the mayhem of Warzone.
The most likely outcome of Warzone's relationship with Cold War is the inclusion of Cold War multiplayer characters, known in Call of Duty parlance as "Operators." Just as Modern Warfare's multiplayer Operators are also playable in Warzone, it is very likely the Operators introduced in Cold War will appear in a similar way in Warzone.
In fact, there are already existing data files that hint the arrival of "Woods," a character from the original Black Ops games, to appear in Modern Warfare and Warzone. Just like how Modern Warfare's Captain Price joined Warzone in Season 4.
A bigger, more crucial point in the games' relationship is how the Verdansk map might change with Black Ops.
Many (though not all) maps in Modern Warfare multiplayer are scattered throughout Warzone. Infinity Ward has shown a willingness to change Verdansk too, such as the recent additions of a moving train and the opening the stadium. And let's not forget those bunkers. Changes to the map aren't only possible; They're probably inevitable when Cold War arrives.
Will Verdansk get bigger? Looking at the map as of Season 5, Verdansk is about the size it ought to be for 150 players (sometimes 200 players, depending on how spicy Infinity Ward gets on a random weekend). The arrival of Black Ops Cold War means map changes are likely to happen, but how that will look remains completely open-ended. True to its namesake and appropriate tone of paranoia, Cold War could very well level Verdansk with a nuclear explosion. Remember, there are inactive nukes just lying around those bunkers scattered across the map. If Infinity Ward decides to set any of them off, fans could be looking at a very, very different Warzone.
Less drastic than a nuke is the ever-present possibility of a significant underground expansion, which ties neatly to the aesthetic and themes of Cold War. The truth is, we don't really know just how deep those bunkers could go underground.
What we know about Black Ops Cold War
In the same way that 2019's Modern Warfare reinterpreted the original 2007-2011 Modern Warfare series, Black Ops Cold War will revisit Cold War-era warfare. Previous leaks heavily suggest players will drop into the Vietnam War, itself a proxy war for intensifying U.S.-Russian tensions.
Infinity Ward is also teasing the game might delve into some "real" aspects of the Cold War conflict. The trailer, released yesterday, makes mention of the still-unidentified Russian spy codenamed "Perseus" who is alleged to have infiltrated echelons of the U.S. military as part of a Russian effort to destabilize its superpower rivals. (Here is a CIA document detailing what it knows about Perseus.) The trailer prominently features Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB defector who warned Americans in a 1984 television interview about the former Soviet Union's plan to destabilize the United States.
What's new about Black Ops Cold War is that, because of Warzone, the Black Ops franchise is about to have a much deeper relationship to its Modern Warfare sibling. That includes crossover characters, maps, and of course Warzone being a space for both games. We may even see the beginning of a Marvel-style ongoing narrative, in which a singular, unifying story is told over multiple and seemingly distinct games.
In Call of Duty history, the Modern Warfare titles grounded its story in the near immediate future, taking place just a handful of years ahead. Black Ops, on the other hand, began in the Cold War before rapidly advancing to the distant future where there's mechs, droids, and enhanced abilities. (Oh, and there were Zombies.)
Black Ops Cold War is a fresh start for the Black Ops games, but whether it will maintain its period settings over multiple installments or go back to the future is another huge question that Infinity Ward is keeping us in the dark. All anyone knows how to do is to just keep playing.
A full Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reveal will take place on August 26 in Warzone.