With the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII in May of 2018, fans of the Zombies mode eagerly awaited the return and potential finale of the Aether storyline.
However, during the announcement of the long awaited title, co-studio head of Treyarch Jason Blundell revealed a brand new story to launch alongside the Aether Story, dubbed the “Chaos Story”.
Fans of the Zombies mode were not particularly excited for the Chaos Story because it seemed to come out of nowhere and the Aether Story had a nearly 10 year run, a decade of investment from said fans.
March 26th, 2019 marked the launch date of the fourth map in the Chaos Story, Ancient Evil. Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII suffered a very rocky launch and is considered Treyarch’s most controversial installment of the Zombies mode, even months after launch.
With investment in the Chaos Story being at an all-time low, does Ancient Evil provide this new storyline legs to stand on? Feel free as always to skip the recap if you are fully caught up on the Chaos Story and the behind-the-scenes troubles that plagued Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII to jump straight into the review.
A Chaos Story Recap
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII had the roughest launch of a Treyarch title yet. Consistent crashes, game-breaking bugs and lack of communication from the dev team certainly turned off a huge chunk of the Zombies community.
The problems with the Zombies mode were exacerbated with innovations of previous tried and true mechanics, such as the perk system. The mode felt overhauled and rebuilt from the ground up, though many argued that it was without polish.
The game launched with two Chaos Story maps, Voyage of Despair and IX.
Voyage of Despair is one of the largest Zombies maps to date, taking place on the RMS Titanic on its infamous maiden voyage. The map served as the introduction to this new storyline and it wasted no time in throwing entirely new characters and concepts at the player.
Though Voyage of Despair is beautifully designed and quite layered in gameplay, it’s quite the overwhelming experience. The layout can feel confusing and it’s by no means a map meant for casual players.
IX is the second Chaos Story map and arguably the best map at launch. Compared to the other three maps (Voyage of Despair, Blood of the Dead, Classified), it is quite small and its gameplay elements are relatively straightforward.
It’s the most rewarding map and geared towards casual and hardcore fans alike. It features the same cast as Voyage of Despair (albeit in gladiator outfits), but also introduces some new characters such as the Oracle and one of the season’s main antagonists, the High Priest of Chaos.
Though IX featured a lot of in-game lore, it still did not entirely sell people on this new storyline. It wouldn’t take long to get a new Chaos Story map as on December 11th, 2018, Dead of the Night released from seemingly out of nowhere.
Dead of the Night released with no marketing and no indication that it would even come out, the best it had was a preview of the map in a Black Ops Pass update trailer, releasing the very same day. Despite the lack of marketing, leaks surfaced featuring the new playable characters in the menu.
The map features an all-star celebrity cast (Brian Blessed, Charles Dance, Kiefer Sutherland, Helena Bonham Carter) in a prequel to Voyage of Despair.
The map takes place in a haunted mansion, featuring myths and legends such as werewolves and nosferatus. Dead of the Night further elaborates on the lore of the Chaos Story and reveals the inciting incident, otherwise known as the kidnapping of Alistair Rhodes.
Dead of the Night was the most poorly received map in the Chaos Story. Despite the fun and unique gameplay elements and the layered characterization, the lack of marketing was taken as a sign that Treyarch and Activision did not care for the Zombies mode anymore, focusing on Multiplayer and the new Blackout mode.
Sometime prior to the release of the new map, a disgruntled ex-Treyarch employee took to Reddit to voice his frustrations working for the company, as well as leaking easter eggs, side quests and this map, among other things. Treyarch themselves had been radio silent during this fiasco and remained that way for quite a while.
As for Dead of the Night, one of the more common critiques was the release of the map. No, not the silent release, but the fact that it was a prequel that was better served as a launch map due to it feeling like a proper introduction, more than Voyage of Despair ever was.
It was not until January 15th, 2019, that a major shift began. Three months into the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, the mode had finally felt stable. Crashes and bugs were far less frequent and new content that was promised a week or so prior had finally started releasing, beginning with a brand new challenge mode known as Gauntlets.
As well as the new content drop, co-studio head Jason Blundell took to twitter to do a Q&A. Several things were addressed, such as a hint to the next map that would have inspiration from Greek mythology. Dead of the Night’s status as a prequel that had a later release was also addressed, as Jason Blundell says himself:
“… Dead of the Night was always intended to have a celebrity cast. And so due to, kind of, recording schedules and so forth, we had to put it later in the schedule”.
After another month of active Zombies updates, the Operation Grand Heist update released for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on February 19th, 2019, giving fans of all three modes new content to play around with.
Alongside the release of this new operation, Treyarch held a livestream on their YouTube channel, addressing the concerns about the lack of Aether Story updates by revealing that the last two DLC maps will be strictly Aether. But more importantly, they revealed the next installment of the Chaos Story; Ancient Evil.
The Pre-Release of Ancient Evil
Unlike Dead of the Night, Ancient Evil featured actual promotion of the map. Starting with viral marketing on the official Treyarch twitter, the official trailer dropped on March 21st, 2019, with highly positive reception. It seemed like fans of the Zombies mode were opening up to the Chaos Story.
Not only did we get a new trailer, early gameplay footage was released a day prior to release, as well as another Treyarch livestream talking about the map and new gameplay features. The hype around Ancient Evil was unprecedented for a game this controversial and with a fanbase this alienated. And so, on March 26th, 2019, Ancient Evil launched.
Does Ancient Evil Hold Up?
Ancient Evil is set directly after the events of IX and is set in the underground city of Delphi, Greece. The map takes heavy inspiration from Greek mythology, introducing numerous concepts and creatures to fight with or against including the Pegasus, Gegenees, and the fabled Oracle of Delphi known as the Pythia.
The map is highly stylized and quite frankly, gorgeous to look at. It looks and feels like a love letter to Greek mythology and it does help that the layout is modeled after the real Delphi. One of the common criticisms of Black Ops IIII Zombies is that these maps don’t look half as good as its predecessor title and to some extent, I would agree.
Ancient Evil serves as the exception, from the dynamic lighting to the designs and implied history, it is a marvel to look at. If I were to point out a small gripe, it’s that the map suffers from what I like to call invisible barriers syndrome, especially around the River of Sorrow and Center of the World areas. These parts feel and look more open than they actually are.
But looks aren’t everything, does Ancient Evil live up to its gorgeous design in gameplay?
Right off the bat, the game wastes no time by having the player(s) fighting the undead. In the first round alone, every single Zombie is there with you and already spawned. Ancient Evil takes many of the familiar gameplay elements of the past and makes its own unique innovations.
The map pushes you towards the Sentinel Artifact, but with a more cinematic twist. Located in an amphitheater, upon activating it, A LOT of Zombies begin to spawn. Starting off slow before what feels like a horde of a hundred Zombies begin chasing the player, if you survive long enough, the Pegasus begins saving your skin and decimating the hordes behind you.
The map then pushes you to find the Pegasus’ “Golden Bridle” and upon picking it up, a Gegenees rises from the ground (or debris) and attacks the player. If you manage to defeat it, you gain a shield part.
Shields are not uncommon in Zombies, having been introduced in the mode all the way back in 2012 with TranZit and perfected in maps like Mob of the Dead and Gorod Krovi. What makes the shield special in Ancient Evil?
The shield, appropriately titled ‘Apollo’s Will’, has a design inspired by Spartan weaponry. A rounded shield in your left arm and an explosive spear in your right, what it lacks in ‘real innovation’, it more than makes up for in aesthetic and effectiveness. It’s quite easy to craft and has some slick animations.
Riding the Pegasus takes you to another half of the map, which contains the Odin perk, Pack-a-Punch, and a new buildable equipment known as the ‘Pegasus Strike’. As the name implies, it summons a Pegasus to help against the hordes of the undead.
Pack-a-Punch in Ancient Evil is surprisingly easy and straightforward, which is a nice deviation from previous maps and their tendency to convolute steps taken to unlock it. By the time you reach this point, it should become clear that the map is quite challenging.
The map is mostly made up of close-quarters areas, and if that isn’t bad enough, you must deal with numerous special enemy types, both old and new. However, to offset the challenging gameplay, the map features a fifth character, the Oracle, guiding the player.
The Oracle highlights parts, can refill your ammo and health, as well as opening new doors. Should you go back to spawn and approach the imprisoned Oracle, there will be challenges awaiting you for a small fee.
Challenges are not new to Zombies and especially not new to the Chaos Story, as IX had a great progression system regarding the challenges and some kick ass rewards to boot. Ancient Evil expands on the system presented in IX. The tasks are relatively simple and some you’d expect, such as melee and shield kills.
These challenges have a new twist to them, however. There’s a time limit of about two minutes and the more effective you are at completing them, the better your rewards will be. The rewards range from the usual drops to points, Pack-a-Punched weapons and perks!
The new challenge system is quite the double-edged sword, however. They worked well in IX due to the fact that the map doesn’t have much else in terms of gameplay elements. It’s your usual get all 4 perks, unlock Pack-a-Punch and do the easter egg, with a few exceptions of course. The challenges worked well because you managed a lot less.
Ancient Evil features a beautiful innovation to that same mechanic, but it’s a lot harder to manage. Conservation of points becomes an issue without any buffs from Elixirs or Talismans and you’re generally doing a lot more, such as going on the quest to get the Wonder Weapons of the map.
Speaking of which, the map features four new elemental Wonder Weapons, based on Greek myths. The Fallen Hands of Gaia, Hemera, Charon, and Ouranos.
Despite the ridiculous 20 different part locations, the quest to obtain these weapons are very straightforward and easy. It amounts to the biggest trope of the Zombies mode, a soul box. Though in this case, it’s quite welcome and balanced with other gameplay elements.
Obtaining the weapons is one thing, but how about upgrading them? I’m happy to report that the upgrade quest for these weapons are also straightforward. Though they all amount to doing 3 things and showing off against a horde of Zombies, it’s a welcome change of pace. Each quest has its own little quirk that makes it challenging in its own way.
But that’s not all, after upgrading the Fallen Hands to the Redeemed Hands, there is a third quest to obtain the Exalted Hands.
Obtaining the Exalted hands is more convoluted and unnecessary for what amounts to an increase in ammo. It’s mostly dependent on RNG and having the right Catalyst to spawn in and sacrifice to a soul box. It doesn’t require going into too much detail because it’s frankly unimportant, but should you want to do it, at least it’s there.
Overall, the gameplay of Ancient Evil hits that sweet spot of challenging, yet fun. Treyarch took a very cinematic approach, especially during the Sentinel Artifact lockdown and the Pegasus ride to the River of Sorrow. It’s clear that they had a focus on presentation and I believe they nailed it.
The Wonder Weapons feel amazing to use and are easy to obtain and upgrade, the new challenge system is a great innovation despite the amount of tasks you must juggle alongside it. The enemies are tough but are well balanced to other mechanics such as the Oracle and the aforementioned easy Wonder Weapon quests and Pack-a-Punch quest.
I do have one final note to go over and it’s my biggest gripe with Ancient Evil. The map is pretty much inaccessible while playing offline. You can start it, of course, but parts of the map and key mechanics are locked. It’s a spit in the face to those who are without PS+ or Xbox Live, but time will tell if Treyarch decides to fix this.
After covering the design and the gameplay, one thing remains. The story.
To go over it briefly, the map itself is riddled with lore, just as the previous maps were. Focusing on Greek mythology, you can find most of the significant items and people. One of the nicer additions is the Python that was slain by Apollo, as she looms over the Pack-a-Punch and is a significant part of the Redeemed Hand of Ouranos quest.
Instead of locking the lore behind ciphers and hidden radios as per the usual Treyarch fashion, they opted for a more direct approach which is admirable. Randomly interacting with the world initiates audio cues from the Oracle chronicling the history of said item or person.
The main characters, or Chaos Crew, are considerably more layered this time around. They’ve really course corrected Scarlett’s personality, as she’s less bitter and more enjoyable. Bruno has a more interesting dynamic this time around, which is a gimmick set up by Dead of the Night.
To slightly recap, Godfrey was killed and resurrected with the Scepter of Ra, but started hearing voices of a “Dark Godfrey” taunting him. It’s pretty much the same concept with Bruno and it works well enough. Shaw and Diego are as fun and interesting as ever, as they’ve been the highlights of the Chaos Crew, for me at least.
Going on the main quest, or Easter Egg, can be hit or miss. I personally do not have much to say on this topic as I have not attempted it, but I can comment on what I’ve seen. If you’d like to dedicate yourself to it, it doesn’t seem as tedious as previous main quests.
It’s always nice to have a mid-quest cutscene in these maps. In the case of Ancient Evil, spoiler alert, Bruno stabs Shaw and resurrects him with the Scepter of Ra, making him one with The Order.
The boss fight seems quite challenging. Within the boss fight, you get to battle a corrupted Pegasus and Perseus himself, son of Zeus in Mount Olympus. Yes, you heard that right. Parts of Mount Olympus get blocked by meteor strikes, making it a lot more claustrophobic and less open than previous boss fights.
Upon completion of the main quest, we are greeted with the ending cutscene and cliffhanger for the Chaos Story until the next Treyarch title. To summarize:
The Oracle opens a pathway for our heroes to go and rescue Alistair Rhodes, who was kidnapped by The Order. Diego, Bruno and Shaw go to investigate and find that they’ve been turned to stone. And it seems that The Order were protecting Alistair the whole time.
When Scarlett frees the Oracle, who has been a helping hand throughout IX and Ancient Evil, she reveals herself to be Medusa. She forces herself into Scarlett’s mind to gain knowledge of the modern world and soon takes control of the Prima Materia, the primary Macguffin (or Deus Ex Machina if Element 115 is anything to go by) of the Chaos Story.
The Medusa twist doesn’t come out of nowhere and if you’re quick to pay attention, you’d hear mention of the Oracle’s “sisters” and if you recognize the name, you’d realize that it’s Medusa’s sisters. And in plain sight since Voyage of Despair, the Zeus Altar looks like it’s been turned to stone, Medusa’s iconic power.
Now, to answer the question raised in the title, does Ancient Evil save Black Ops IIII Zombies? Yes. Treyarch has been course correcting the Zombies season since the start of the year after a brutal launch and if this map is anything to go by, when Treyarch really cares, it shows.
I have a feeling Ancient Evil is going to be one of the most replayable maps of the whole game, with its masterful balancing in gameplay, its beautiful atmosphere and especially the story, where even more secrets will be uncovered probably years from now.
Ancient Evil not only proves the Chaos Story is worth it, I believe it is the map that saves Black Ops IIII Zombies.