Spoiler alert: You may want to play the game first. If you would like to watch the campaign instead (like me, I have no gaming rig to play BO3), I highly recommend watching MKIceandFire’s.
The Black Ops series in Call of Duty franchise are known to have the most innovative campaign stories. From a protagonist brainwashed by Russian in Black Ops, to player-determined outcomes in Black Ops 2, we know we can expect more from Black Ops 3.
And they delivered, Black Ops 3 not just have the weirdest ending, but diving deeper, you will start to realise the story is open for interpretation. Like the continuously spinning top at the ending of Inception begging for more discussions and debates.
I have no idea what really happened in the game, but after some Googling, reading up comments on gaming videos on Youtube, going through the Wikia that keeps on changing, here are some ways we can tell the story.
There are a few facts we know for sure:
- Player died right after Mission 1. It’s revealed in the scrolling text before the mission starts, which is actually an after action report written by Taylor.
- Taylor and Hendricks liquidated 4 of their ex-teammates in Team Phi, including Dylan Stone who leaked out CIA’s Black Project, safehouse locations around the world, and thus undermining Winslow Accord.
- John Taylor and Rachel Kane were in a relationship. Hendricks asked Taylor about it during Mission 1 when they first met again after killing Dylan Stone at The Lotus Towers in Cairo.
- 3rd mission (In Darkness) – 2nd last mission (breakup with Kane in hospital) are based on John Taylor’s memory.
What we don’t know for sure:
- Is the last mission based on reality? Or it’s pure imagination? It may have deviated from actual events, and it didn’t feel any less real.
Interpretation #1: Everyone survived
- The whole thing is a simulation – a frozen forest to comfort the dying Player. It’s made up of Taylor’s memory of hunting down traitorous teammates, with Corvus mixing in an augmented Hendricks (c’mon, is he crazy enough to chop off his hands and legs to get cybernetic parts?)
- The last mission is pure imagination – it is a closure to the weird dream that the Player had.
- It is essentially a living nightmare, throughout the mission, you were killing off your teammates one by one, at the end, even your girlfriend Kane, and BFF Hendricks died too.
- In the Frozen Forest, Player slowly realised they were in a dying dream and came to accept the fact. They also knew that they were just living Taylor’s past memory.
- Who died? No one else.
- Corvus probably really wanted to help Player out by letting Player do what they love to do – being a Black Ops.
- In Nightmares mode, Dr. Salim did mention that some constructs in the dream are meant to help Player to navigate the missions – in this case, an augmented Hendricks could be one of them. And in the final mission, Rachel Kane in real life, and John Taylor in the frozen forest.
- John Taylor was able to write AAR (after action review) for the minister rescue mission in Ethiopia (1st mission) after the Player died. That means he did not go bat-shit crazy and moved on with his life.
- If Hendricks did get cybernetic augmentations, John Taylor would probably have mentioned it in the AAR.
- The last mission (Life) happened on Day Unknown. It’s probably entirely made up Corvus didn’t bother to smack a timestamp to it.
- Sarah Hall’s living nightmare is really detailed. Without going into her subconscious, how did Corvus know that she had been thinking about the Siege of Bastogne? Why was she saying the Player scrambled with her mind?
Right after finishing the campaign (by watching) and watched the Black Ops 3 – Ending Explained by Joylocks, I went to COD Wikia and feel glad that everyone except Player – lived.
However weeks later, the Wikia showed all other characters, including Hendricks, Kane, and Taylor’s team – all dead. Except John Taylor. Read on.
Interpretation #2: Only Taylor survived
This interpretation is the currently accepted one on COD Wikia.
- Right after interfacing with dying Player, Corvus felt the pain and “woke up”, infected Taylor, Hall, Diaz, Maretti, and began simulating all the missions – based on Taylor’s memory to find out who he is.
- Player’s physical body is dead, but his consciousness lived on in DNI.
- Hendricks did get the cybernetic augmentations.
- The Player interfaced with Sarah Hall, not by touching their DNI, but remotely with the assistance of Corvus, and caused her death.
- Corvus assisted with the remote killings of Diaz and Maretti.
- John Taylor did not die.
- The last mission took place in real life, Hendricks did not make peace with what he found in Singapore, and the death of his teammates in Team Phi. He went to Zurich to find Sebastian Krueger.
- John Taylor and Rachel Kane went to Zurich to stop Hendricks. However, Corvus let Player took control of Taylor’s body, Kane noticed Taylor wasn’t being himself again and asked “Are you still there?”, in which the Player replied, “I am still me”.
- Rachel Kane died IRL. So are Sebastian and Hendricks – shot by Player-controlled Taylor.
- Player and Taylor fell into frozen forest. Eventually, they managed to kill all remaining consciousnesses held by Corvus, and got out of it.
- Player-controlled Taylor then proceed to initiate the DNI purge sequence.
- Taylor then calm Player down while the DNI is purging – as soon as the DNI is purged, Player will be dead.
- Who died? Everyone, except Taylor.
- Hmm, it makes sense actually.
- The last mission started out with optical glitch – something previous mission don’t really have, maybe it hinted remote control?
- What Taylor Corvus said when they are coming out from the frozen forest – “There’s so much noise in my head I can’t even think. I don’t even know your name. Who am I? Who are you?”. That is probably when Player, Taylor, and Corvus fused their thoughts together. He was fighting to gain his body back.
- Hendricks is not badly injured in the mission. There is no need for him to get cybernetic augmentations. Maybe he is as crazy as Ruin?
- Hendricks strongly opposed SP/CORVUS – the black project that gave birth to DNI, so why would he even get cybernetic augmentations?
- If the last mission happened in real life, why would Hendricks suddenly go after Sebastian 1 year after the mission to hunt down Dylan Stone?
- Why would Kane suddenly get back together with Taylor 1 year after breaking up, just to apprehend the rogue Hendricks?
- If Taylor is infected right after interfacing with dying Player, how did he write the AAR for Ethiopia mission?
Unfortunately, we need more proofs for both the interpretations to clear up our doubts. As for now, I would love to pick Interpretation #1 simply because there are less arguments against it.
However, Interpretation #2 is actually more interesting, simply because it gave Corvus more character depth. It also did a better job of painting a far more dystopian future as well.
Nevertheless, Treyarch did a really good job with the campaign storyline. When people whine about how boring Call of Duty has became, Treyarch is the one that is pushing the innovation of the shooter franchise. To the point they risked the flaks from public for writing such confusing story.
Let’s keep the discussion going, shall we?