MW3’s Open World Zombies Kicks Old School To The Curb – And It’s a Good Thing

A closer look at Modern Warfare 3’s open-world Zombies: What sets it apart from the rest?

Modern Warfare 3 Zombies will take players into Urzikstan with a mission.

Image via Activision

Okay, before we get started, let me say this: I know that Call of Duty Zombies is a sacred tradition for some people. I was there for the genesis of it in World at War. My friends were obsessed with Nacht Der Untoten, and they always barraged me with harrowing stories from their battles against the virtual undead.

It took a long time for me to see the same things they do, but I eventually fell in line and have grown to appreciate the mode for being bold, creative, and full of surprises. Those are the reasons I think Modern Warfare 3’s open-world, DMZ-inspired interpretation is getting a bad rap before it even gets off the ground.

Round-based Zombie experiences are remarkable. I won’t argue against them, especially with Treyarch at the helm. I simply think there’s room for more than one style in the all-time classic mode. Yes, these developers are good at that style, but it’s never going to evolve if each title features the same stuff.

Treyarch took a shot at something different in Vanguard, and while it mostly fell flat, I believe it’s because they didn’t push Zombies’ limits far enough. This is a chance for them to right that ship and sail their way back into the hearts of fans everywhere.

MW3 Zombies: An Departure From Tradition

Image via Activision

First, if you’re unfamiliar with how MW3 Zombies will work, here’s a barebones recap. Our operators will be hitting the streets of Urzikstan to engage the Zombie hordes in open-world warfare.

Eschewing the limited, door-buying adventures of the past, the map will be separated into zones with different challenge levels, allowing us to pick what kind of difficulty we want to take on. There’s a definitive time limit now, too, meaning you’ll have to clear your selected zone in an hour or less if you want to survive.

That’s not the only MW2 DMZ mechanic at play here, either. Other squads will be taking on the fight simultaneously, opening up the mode to a level of cooperation that it’s never seen before.

We’ll also be able to interact with NPCs around the map. According to what we heard at Call of Duty Next, you could even focus solely on those NPC battles and treat the Zombies like aggressive scenery for our political conflicts.

I know that doesn’t sound like Zombies at all, but I can’t help but think that’s a good thing.

Modern Warfare 3's Zombies will take players into Urzikstan to hold off all kinds of nasty creatures.
Image via Activision.

We’ve had seven versions of Treyarch’s horde-fighting gameplay. Infinity Ward tried their hand at a similar mode with Extinction in Ghosts before officially adding Zombies in Infinite Warfare. Sledgehammer joined the part with EXO Zombies in Advanced Warfare.

These efforts were mostly shunned by fans, but going back to try them after their heyday left me with a deep appreciation for the new concepts each time.

I understand fans’ early frustrations, though. It’s common to hear hardcore fans say Black Ops Cold War was the last proper entry in the franchise, meaning it’ll be at least 2024 before they get to feel that familiar rush again (and that’s only if Treyarch has decided to stick with their roots in their next game.)

That’s quite a long time to be waiting on your tip-toes, and I genuinely hope the devs deliver something spectacular when it finally happens – but I’m getting bored of the format.

As I said, my first exposure to Zombies dates back to 2008. Admittedly, I didn’t understand the appeal back then, but I played a few rounds with them and enjoyed it well enough. That’s how I experienced the mode every time for almost a decade.

Black Ops 3 Operators taking on the undead in Zombies.
Image via Activision

I’d brush it off for weeks until my friends convinced me to play, form an iron-clad opinion on limited playtime, watch everyone lose their minds over each new map, feature, or easter egg, and move on with my life. Then, Black Ops 3 happened.

I was a fresh-faced college student at Murray State University in November 2015, and Call of Duty releases were a bonified holiday in my circle. I couldn’t afford a copy of my own at the time, but my best friend Bryan had pre-ordered the game. When the time came, we loaded up a third friend’s car, dropped Bryan off at GameStop, and then went and picked up Cook-Out trays and settled in to experience something wonderful.

As a self-admitted tryhard, it’s unusual for me to play anything other than Multiplayer for most of CoD’s annual cycle. I only deviate from that path when there’s an obstacle in the way, but BO3’s online services crashing around 2 a.m. on launch night was a sizable obstacle. I booted up Shadows of Evil out of desperation and ended up falling in love.

My retinas were scorched, and the sun had risen through the blinds behind me by the time I turned Bryan’s Xbox off.

Shadows of Evil was Treyarch's first try for jetpack Zombies and it was incredible.
Image via Activision.

Before this, Black Ops 1’s classic lineup of Zombies maps was the only time I played more than a few spontaneous sessions. Ever since then, though? I’ve put the hours in like nobody’s business — Easter eggs, exploits, updates. I’ve done them all and seen everything I need to see. I’m caught up on the Dark Aether storyline and hungry for the return of the Chaos crew, but that stuff can happen another time.

It’s impossible to deny that Treyarch has mastered the craft. They’re responsible for so many iconic parts of Call of Duty. From Der Riese to Transit to Gorod Korovi and beyond, they’ve innovated more than any other studio, and this is just another opportunity for them to do something special.

I’m not quite the plucky, energetic college student that I was. I’ve changed, grown, and evolved a lot since those days. Treyarch has too, and I’m ready to have my mind blown by some of the most creative minds in the entire industry.