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Call of Duty Vanguard Zombies - everything we know

Learn more about the mysterious Dark Aether

A zombified Nazi solider in Stalingrad 1944 in Call of Duty Vanguard's Zombies mode

Want to know more about the Zombies mode in Call of Duty Vanguard? Treyarch is returning this year to continue the Dark Aether storyline, an interdimensional tale that started in Black Ops 4 back in 2018.

Zombies is the first story mode in the history of the series to span multiple Call of Duty games, creating a unified story around the Dark Aether that remains consistent from the beginning to the end. The story this year focuses on a new set of characters as they attempt to take down the Nazi’s zombie horde. Treyarch says returning fans will appreciate the story, but the new operators will also appeal to newcomers.

While returning fans have been asking the devs for a round-based zombies mode, it appears Treyarch wants to try something slightly different this year. According to the Call of Duty data miners, round-based maps will return in Vanguard Season 1. Here’s everything we know about Call of Duty Vanguard’s zombie mode so far, including the story, powers, and maps available at launch.

Vanguard Zombies Dark Aether Story

The Nazis discovered the Dark Aether after a science experiment went horribly wrong. The experiment punched a hole through the dimensional veil, exposing the Dark Aether. Vanguard takes players back to Projekt Endstation in 1944, where the experiment began to stop the Nazis from spreading the zombie horde across Europe.

Oberführer Wolfram Von List, a high ranking Nazi officer, used the Dark Aether to find mystical antiquities that could help win the war. Von List discovered the Dark Aether entities within the antiquities – these powerful beings are similar to symbiotes, they can’t control humans but they can offer their guidance and powers. Von List aligned himself with Kortifex the Deathless, the most powerful entity within the Dark Aether.

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Von List uses Kortifex’s powers at Stalingrad in 1944, one year after the Nazi’s worst loss in WWII. Professor Gabriel Krafft, one of Von List’s assistants, sent out a distress signal to warn people about the upcoming assault. Vanguard’s special forces operators answer the call, but upon arriving at Stalingrad, they realise Kortifex has sealed off the area using his dark magic. Without any form of backup, the operators are forced to go it alone.

Fortunately, Krafft has four lesser antiquities that contain Dark Aether entities to help the operators bring down Von List and Kortifex. Bellekar the Warlock, Inviktor the Destroyer, Norticus the Conqueror, and Saraxis the Shadow give players access to unique abilities. These entities usually wouldn’t bind themselves to regular soldiers, but it appears they may have their own agendas that involve more than simply ousting Kortifex.

A group of soldiers running towards a burning windmill in Call of Duty Vanguard's Zombies mode

Vanguard Zombies Der Anfang Gameplay

Der Anfang, or ‘the beginning’, is the new game mode in Zombies. The core zombies gameplay centres around completing objectives through the Dark Aether portals back at the Stalingrad base. The Stalingrad base expands as players make their way through the objectives, unlocking access to upgrades like Pack-a-Punch, weapon upgrades, and perks.

Judging by the footage in the trailer, the portals take players to zombified versions of the Call of Duty Vanguard multiplayer maps, including Hotel Royal, Red Star, and Eagle’s Nest. Hardcore players even spotted some gameplay showing off Shi No Numa, a fan favourite map dating all the way back to Call of Duty: World at War. Teams must complete four objectives before the exfil event can take place – the devs say this usually takes around 20 minutes.

Here are the objectives we know about in Der Anfang so far:

  • Blitz – survive against hordes of zombies as you capture specific zones on the map
  • Harvest – kill special zombies holding runestones and place them into the Sin-Eater
  • Transmit – protect and escort a floating zombie head as it searches for a dimensional tear to the Dark Aether

A yellow skull containing a Dark Aether entity in Call of Duty Vanguard's Zombies mode

Dark Aether Entity Abilities

The four Dark Aether entities have their own unique abilities to pick from, though they may look familiar to returning players. It’s unclear whether multiple players in the same squad can pick the same ability, or if every player must have their own power.

  • Energy Mine – the Dragon of Saraxis spawns an Aethereal explosive, dealing massive damage to enemies who set it off
  • Aether Shroud – the Mask of Bellekar cloaks you in Dark Aether, masking your presence from enemies for five seconds
  • Ring of Fire – the Sword of Inviktor sparks a ring of Aethereal flame to boost damage for anyone within – lasts 15 seconds
  • Frost Blast – the Horn of Norticus summons a frigid vortex, damaging enemies with the initial blast and slowing those that enter

Vanguard Zombies Altar of Covenants Powers

The Stalingrad base is home to the Altar of Covenants, a new location that allows you to pick from a randomised list of upgrades if you offer up a Sacrificial Heart. Players receive one Sacrificial Heart at the end of each objective, giving them access to unique gameplay builds never before seen in the zombies game mode.

Examples of some of these upgrades include Brain Rot which turns zombies into allies, Ammo Gremlin to reload any of your unequipped weapons, and Unholy Ground to help lock down objectives. The upgrades on offer increase in power and rarity as the match progresses – if you’re very lucky, a legendary covenant could appear early in your run to drastically alter your current build.

That’s everything you need to know about Call of Duty Vanguard’s zombies mode. Head on over to our Call of Duty Vanguard guns guide to see which weapons you’ll be using to blast away hordes of the undead. Don’t forget to read our best zombies games list if you’re looking for more flesh eating fun.