Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's second season has officially launched, bringing a whole list of new content including more guns, maps and even an entirely unique Zombies experience unlike no other, called Outbreak. To get the inside look at how different Outbreak is to any other Zombies mode before it, we caught up with Lead Writer Craig Houston, Expert Game Designer Kevin Drew, and Studio Creative Director Corky Lehmkuhl from the Zombies team at Treyarch to talk about all things Outbreak, Wonder Weapons and Easter Eggs.
Outbreak is different to other Zombies modes because it does not use a linear, round-based design like previous Zombies' experiences. Outbreak is a more open world version of Zombies that sees players completing a variety of objectives across a massive map, and because of that design, the Zombies experience had to be rethought to adapt to the new scenario.
"One of the core changes to this mode was that we wanted to make sure that you're always under constant threat," said Drew. "We had all of the elements of round-based, but we had to rearrange them to make it work in this giant open world format. We wanted to make sure you still had the ability to traverse at your own pace, and breathe every once in a while, because at the start of this, when we first got it set up, we just put round-based on top of these spaces and it was just like... It was a lot. You didn't feel like you could go around and explore, or enjoy it, because you were under a constant threat of zombies."
Drew continued saying, "What we realised quickly was we needed a purpose, and that was objectives, that would drive people together once they have gone out exploring, and we knew all of the players would be out in that one space, so we could really turn up that difficulty, and focus, and increase that tension there."
To be able to accommodate this new design, the difficulty was adapted as well. In Outbreak the map is split into Regions, and each time you head to a different region the zombies you face will become stronger. "Region 1 is round one, under the hood," said Drew. "It's a much more casual friendly experience up front. It's a power trip, you think you can explore this entire map and kill all of the zombies at round one, when usually round one lasts around three seconds in round-based. But, when you warp - when you go under the hood - it's like round 8 suddenly, then round 15, 22, and 30. Very quickly, it translates from a very casual experience to a very hardcore experience," "A terrifying one," Houston added.
As well as the difficulty changes, I asked the guys how they have adapted the zombies themselves to be able to suit this more open world style of map. Drew replied simply, "Did we fundamentally change our normal zombie. No, we didn't." But, to ensure players still felt challenged by Outbreak, a few new types of foe have been created and added.
"We definitely opened up the door to take some new AI types that wouldn't work necessarily well in a more claustrophobic space, like the Tempest, which is the enemy that warps around and shoots projectiles at you," mentioned Drew. "The other enemy is a classic enemy, which is the Panzer Soldat from previous games, who is now the Krasny Soldat. He has these jetpacks" - "The bastard" Houston interjected - "He has the ability to leap hundreds of metres to reach you. So, if you engage with him, that's a fight you'll never escape from."
As with any great Zombies experience, the most efficient way to dispatch the undead is usually tied to the Wonder Weapons on offer. I asked the guys how they go about creating these unique weapons that all feel special to use, Lehmkuhl told me, "It's kind of a case by case." He continued further saying, "We kind of feed off the story and the narrative of the map, and where it takes place. There's really no formula to it, other than let's brainstorm some ideas of stuff we haven't seen and stuff we'd like to do."
Drew then stepped in to comment further, "It's like, question one, what haven't we done? And then, the second one for me is like, what is something I've seen or been inspired by in other sources? You look at something like Ratchet and Clank, they have to make so many cool guns that do random stuff, and it's like, which one of those would be awesome in first person?"
Houston also explained his take on the matter from a storyline perspective, "This is really about who can harness the power of the Dark Aether and ultimately weaponise it, because the game is set in the 80s during the great fear of the Cold War. That backdrop is certainly present in the game, this is just kind of an interesting way to explore, what if there was this other new frontier that could be exploited and weaponised?"
To follow Houston's mention of the narrative, I asked him what kind of Easter Eggs or Intel we can expect to be unravelling in Outbreak. He replied, "There's a lot of Intel in there, and there's a lot of what we call World Events. In terms of a main Easter Egg, or a main quest as we sometimes call it, that won't be introduced into Outbreak until Season 3. Our plan for Outbreak is definitely to keep expanding it and adding to it, not just with additional Intel."
With the decision to keep building on the Outbreak experience, I also posed the question to the team about whether they intend to make Outbreak the Warzone of Zombies, in terms of its expansion over the course of several seasons. "It is definitely a brand new mode, and a brand new experience," stated Drew. "We wanted to make sure that players can experience that in its purest of forms, and not worry about completing Easter Eggs."
Lehmkuhl then added, "It's very similar to that. If you think of Nacht [Der Untoten] as our first Zombies map, this is our first open world map. I'm not going to say it's simple like Nacht, but it's our first foot into this open world Zombies experience that we're just going to continue to iterate on and explore and expand."
While the future of Outbreak is still something Treyarch is keeping very quiet for the time being, it is now available to play in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. No doubt if you head out into the dangerous Ural Mountains (where the mode is set), you'll be able to dig up a whole range of Intel that might even suggest the sorts of experiences we can look forward to down the line. For the time being, make sure to give the new mode a go on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series, and thanks to Treyarch, Lehmkuhl, Houston, and Drew for having a chat with us.