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Sledgehammer Games is taking us back to World War II with the rise of special forces in its Call of Duty: Vanguard premium game and multiplayer combat. On top of that, Activision will be shipping the Treyarch-developed Zombies mode for release with Vanguard on the consoles and the PC at the Vanguard launch.
In a video today, Treyarch’s leaders Craig Houston, Tony Bedard, and Gavin Locke answered some of the pressing fan questions about “Der Anfang,” the next chapter in the Dark Aether sag that has driven Zombies lore. This sort of gameplay is sticky for Call of Duty fans, and it’s the kind of thing that will keep them from spending too much time in rival games like Halo: Infinite and Battlefield 2042.
In the video released today, professor Gabriel Krafft said Stalingrad has a problem, as the Nazis found a way to win the war using the Dark Aether entity in service of the Third Reich.
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In Zombies, special forces operatives will need all the help they can get to survive the undead.
The story of Vanguard Zombies
Vanguard Zombies reveals that entities from the Dark Aether dimension had contact with humans, going back centuries. Players will find out what was happening in the Dark Aether before the events at Projekt Endstation changed everything. In fact, the cyclotron incident at Endstation is what sparks the events in Vanguard Zombies. The dimensional breach activates long-dormant artifacts collected by the Nazis, granting SS commander Wolfram Von List an opportunity to bond with a lord of the Dark Aether and single-handedly win WWII for the Third Reich.
Only a small band of Allied Special Forces soldiers who have forged a similar bond with their own Dark Aether entities stand in his way. So, the new characters are in a different setting than last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War Zombies, but they still have the same level of high stakes with global implications.
The new main villain is Oberführer Von List, commander of the SS battalion Die Wahrheit. His soldiers have plundered the globe for mystical items, and their search paid off with an artifact that has symbiotically bonded Von List with a former lord of the Dark Aether, Kortifex the Deathless. Kortifex shares his power to reanimate the dead, and now the world is in danger of being overrun by an army of Nazi zombies.
Other Dark Aether entities include Norticus the Conqueror, who once led Kortifex’s armies in the Dark Aether — now they’re sworn enemies. Saraxis the Shadow is a witty, wicked trickster who sees humans as playthings. Inviktor the Destroyer is the ultimate frontline fighter, at home in the thick of battle and always out for blood. Bellekar the Warlock is a master of Dark Aether rune magic, fascinated by humans and their warlike ways. Players will learn more about these entities and their revolt against Kortifex as they progress deeper into the game.
When a human interacts with one of the artifacts, they form a connection with its corresponding Dark Aether entity. Each of them gives access to a different ability. Pick up the Sword of Inviktor and gain his Ring of Fire attack. The Mask of Bellekar grants her Aether Shroud power, the Horn of Norticus grants Frost Blast, and the Dragon of Saraxis grants Energy Mine.
The Vanguard Special Forces have come to Stalingrad in response to a distress call sent by professor Krafft, a demonologist blackmailed into the service of Von List. Players may have already discovered some pages from Krafft’s diary during Black Ops Cold War Zombies, if they looked in the right places.
The soldiers find themselves trapped inside a containment spell conjured by Kortifex. Cut off from their superiors, they must fight against overwhelming undead forces, with Krafft guiding them over radios as their Dark Aether “partners” speak to them telepathically. It all retains a very World War II military feel, but with a unique fantasy/horror edge.
The battles with Zombies take place in the ruins of Stalingrad, the war-torn farms at Merville, the rooftops of Nazi-occupied Paris, and the Japanese army camp at Shi No Numa. All of these locations, trapped within Kortifex’s barrier spell, have dark, disturbing visual touches. You’ll find piles of exhumed corpses in Stalingrad, shrines and sacrifices atop the Hotel Royal, and skulls and runes everywhere you look.
A typical match starts in the center of Stalingrad. In a small starting area, you can fight zombies, access several upgrade machines, view the initial three objective portals, and encounter a few other surprises. The player’s first big decision is on which objective portal to interact with. On day one, three objectives will be available to the player: Blitz, Transmit, and Harvest.
For shorter matches, players will want to pick and choose the objectives and locations they feel they will have the best chance of succeeding in or focus on opening up the portion of the map that contains the perks they prefer. For longer play sessions, players will need to plan more thoughtfully to open up even more of the map and aim for personal records.
Completing objectives is core to the gameplay loop, awarding Essence and Salvage, which return as two crucial in-game currencies. Additionally, and more importantly, the players can receive a Sacrificial Heart, which can grant buffs at the new Altar of Covenants.
The Mystery Box will also increase in power over time, giving players a random chance of really boosting their power. New Perk Fountains will become available as the map opens up. After players complete the fourth objective, they will gain the ability to start the optional Exfil event, allowing them to end the match successfully at their own pace.
Most matches can end with a successful exfiltration in about 20 minutes. This means completing four objectives and then surviving the Exfil event.
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