Activision details how Call of Duty: Cold War's Zombies Outbreak mode will actually work

Last week, Activision revealed that a "large-scale" Zombies mode called Outbreak is coming to Season Two of Call of Duty: Black Ops—Cold War. Today it dropped a trailer showcasing the new mode in action, along with a blog post detailing how it's all going to work.

The trailer isn't much to write home about, I don't think: Gunfire, explosions, zombies, and generic one-liners delivered flatly by voice actors who sound like they're reading from the phone book, while a classic rock remix plays in the background. The blog post is a different story, however. There's plenty of narrative background if you're into that sort of thing, and more practically there's also a breakdown of how the new mode will actually play.

Squads of up to four players will be inserted into the Outbreak zone and given one of five objectives to investigate and complete. How you approach these objectives is entirely up to you: You can take any route to get there, and as much time as you like along the way. Exploring the region will uncover rewards in loot chests, trigger random encounters, and open up Trial Computers.

More types of missions are expected to be added as Outbreak grows and evolves, but for now, this is what you'll be getting up to:

  • Defend - Your task is to claim a fully intact sample, place it in a device to study, and defend the machine while it uploads data. Depending on the location of this device, numerous strategies for keeping the device online can be effective, like using vehicles in outdoor locations or mid-range weapons for busier locales. No matter where the device is, the usually scattered hordes of the undead will undoubtedly funnel in toward the scanning machine, making close-quarters weapons and placeable equipment or Support items solid choices for defending it.
  • Escort - Requiem recently developed a fleet of highly advanced, yet highly vulnerable, rovers to help them detect dimensional portals into the Dark Aether. Your mission is to ensure this rover (with its captured specimen) finds this dimensional portal somewhere in the Outbreak zone and gets through it in one piece. For this experiment, it’s wise to remember back to your security detail training: keep the principal (the rover) at center, move as one unit, and shift to deal with threats as they come.
  • Retrieve - Somewhere in the Outbreak zone, there are two Aether harvesting units that have been gathering raw Aetherium from the atmosphere and growing Aetherium Crystals inside its containment canisters. These Aetherium Canisters need to be extracted to a safe location quickly. Fortunately, a nearby set of rockets can carry them away from harm. For this experiment, agents will need to carry these canisters to the rockets manually for extraction. Due to their size, they will be unable to use any of their weapons or equipment, and will be rendered slower than usual. However, while carrying the Aetherium Canister, your normal Field Upgrade is replaced with a very powerful one, which can emit a small burst of Aether energy that knocks down nearby zombies – helpful in a pinch if other Operators cannot pick them off.
  • Eliminate -  For this experiment, a GPS tracker is used to find elite enemies, who will phase into existence after their position is compromised. Here, agents will have to make a strategic decision: dodge the HVT long enough to clear the ensuing wave of enemies, or deal enough damage to the HVT to force it to move to the next wave of the fight, which will wipe out the remaining wave.
  • Holdout - A massive, unstable Aether Crystal is emitting alarming amounts of Dark Aether energy, to a point where some researchers reported hearing voices as they approached it. Due to its chaotic nature, destruction is the only option on the table, although attempting to do so will send agents into the Dark Aether itself, where they must hold out against any undead threats until the explosives are triggered. This experiment will be the most familiar to veteran Requiem agents, as zombies will flow into the confined space where windows can be boarded up for temporary protection. Use your training to survive for as long as the timer states, and use power-ups and boarding up windows to maximize your chances of holding out.

Fail the primary objective, and it's game over; succeed, and you'll then need to move to a beacon located elsewhere on the map. Once the beacon is activated, various machines including a Crafting Table, Arsenal, Der Wunderfizz, and a Pack-a-Punch Machine will appear, granting access to equipment and support items, armor and weapon upgrades, and more. Then it's time for the big decision: To call for extraction, in which case you'll have to move to the exfil zone, clear it, and hop a chopper, or to take another dimensional portal to a new, more challenging mission, with potentially greater rewards.

Completing objectives and getting out in one piece will get you "large" XP rewards and three types of Aetherium Crystals:

  • Raw Aetherium Crystals – Requiem agents know this resource well. These are used to upgrade Skills for Weapon Classes, Field Upgrades, Perks, and Ammo Mods through the first three Tiers of power.
  • Refined Aetherium Crystals [NEW] – A more matured crystal structure. A greater energy source used to upgrade Skills to Tier 4.
  • Flawless Aetherium Crystals [NEW] – This is the highest maturity an Aetherium Crystal can reach. This incredibly powerful resource is used to upgrade Skills to Tier 5.

Activision warned that earning the Refined and Flawless crystals "requires more extensive research during a single Outbreak infiltration"—in other words, it doesn't sound like you're going to get very many of them if you just complete the primary and haul ass.

I'm not a Call of Duty player but I think this new mode sounds like a lot of fun—a bit like a battle royale, with sprawling open levels to explore and treasures to dig out, but built around PvE gameplay rather than the vicious PvP that dumps me back out the lobby ten seconds after the shooting starts. As someone who enjoys roaming large open spaces but isn't quite up to the intensities of gun duels with people half my age (who have a lot more free time to sink into practising), I feel like this might be a really engaging combination of styles.

The second season of Call of Duty: Black Ops—Cold War and Warzone will begin on Feburary 25. That will also kick off a free week of selected Call of Duty multiplayer and Zombies content, including the new Outbreak mode, which will run until March 4.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.