Black Ops 3’s Ending Explained, Analysed, and Discussed – How Does Black Ops Even Continue?

A few days ago I finished up Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s campaign mode. At the time I was a wee bit confused and, in all honesty, a bit disappointed. However, days have since passed me by and I’ve had the chance to discuss it with mates who’ve played the game, too. Not with me, mind, I can’t be doing with that four-player stuff. But we talked about it over a few beers, whiskeys, and whatever else we could get our hands on and spent a good evening sat around exploring what Black Ops III’s ending really means. It’s fascinating stuff, truly.

From here on out, expect major, and I mean MAJOR spoilers in relation to the game’s story mode. Also, as much as we at The Games Cabin love our content being shared, please don’t share this with a buddy if they haven’t finished the story yet. Don’t be a dickhead, basically. 

Okay, so the story starts with you, Player, being a normal dude with the abilities of… a normal dude. You shoot, you throw grenades – you get the picture. By the end of the first mission you’re no longer able to do either due to some big-arse robot ripping your arms off and casting them aside like banana peels. You can still spit at the machine and hope a decent greeny lands on its battery, but it’s not looking good at this point.

In steps Taylor and his mates. They save the day and get you back to safety, most likely high-fiving each other on the way. You don’t get a high five, you bloody stump.

Once you’re in the safe confines of a warm hospital bed, you  wake up… In a simulation. Weird, yeah? Here, Taylor explains that your limbs are dog food but you’ve now been given wicked mechanical limbs. You’re like Darth Vader, except you’re a good guy. Okay, I’ll buy that. Taylor also explains that you’ve now got yourself a snazzy new DNI implant that allows you and your mates to interact with one another; to see what the others see; to speak to each other using brainwaves. It also allows you to hop into these crazy, realistic simulations to get your trained up in the art of kicking arse with style. It lets you do all sorts of crazy stuff, too, but that’s not important right now. Play the game to figure that stuff out.

A few missions later and it turns out that Taylor and his team have been compromised by some A.I thingy (still not entirely sure on that) and that they’ve essentially gone rogue. It’s now up to you and your mate Hendricks to track them down and bring them to justice. How very droll… I’ll skip explaining the entire story for the sake of not writing a 30,000-word essay.

The game ends with the A.I manifesting into a humanoid being after you supposedly shoot yourself in the mouth the stop the “infection.” You’re then chucked into a simulation world where you have to destroy the “hearts” of Corvus (the A.I) in order to bring peace to the galax- erm, world. Whatever. I didn’t really find myself caring that much at this point and I was just wanting it to be over. My character was starting to go mental and had begun reciting some crap about a ‘Frozen Forest’ and his insane monologue sounded very familiar, almost as if it was taken from Inception.

Once you’ve defeated the baddy and the world is safe, your character is revealed to be alive. I think. The simulation ends and you’re in some server room and Corvus is there – angry as shit, mind – and he’s about to lunge at you but Taylor, the friggin’ hero (who was shot in the head several missions ago, by the way) jumps in front and stops Corvus from stopping you from stopping the simulation by interfacing with the computer that you just hold your hand over. Following? A second later, the hacking is done and – oh, where’s Taylor? There’s some dead dude lying on the ground, but he ain’t Taylor. Ok. The DNI thingy-majig starts to be purged and it shows over your interface. “PURGING 20%.” This carries on as you make your way through the Zürich building and towards the exit. Once you reach the exit and the bad stuff has been purged to 100%, you open the door and are greeted by some nice soldiers, one of whom asks your name.

Player: Taylor.


What? Que? Was? So, I’m Taylor, then? Or has Taylor’s mind somehow taken over mine? Or was I Taylor all along and everything else was Reznov-esque fantasy? Actually, the latter isn’t too far from the truth.

Once again, just in case you’ve managed to read 700 words of spoiler content without wanting the story spoilt, don’t go any further if you don’t want to know anything else. 

It turns out the entire game was a dream. Yes, a bloody dream. Remember when Player gets their limbs blown off and ends up in the hospital? Remember when you get put in a simulation with Taylor? Well, from there on out, everything else is just your mind having a bit of a giggle at your dribbling face’s expense. See, shortly after Player goes into surgery to get those terminator arms and legs, complications arise and Player shakes free from his/her mortal coil.

Each mission starts with some really fast scrolling text from which a few words are picked out to identify what mission we’re playing. The text goes by so quickly that we can’t even read it. However, recording the game and pausing the playback at the right moments will let you browse freely. It’s here that we learn that Player died without ever getting to polish his mechanical wrist. Oo er. Also, the text isn’t what you think it is. It’s actually all written by… Dun, dun, duuuuun: Taylor. What’s more, it’s all in the past-tense. It already happened, but not quite as Player experiences it. See, for Player to get into a simulation with Taylor, Taylor had to “interface” with Player. It’s during this moment that Player receives the subconscious details about Taylor’s past exploits before Player’s own subconscious shuffles them around and makes them their own. Taylor’s story is pretty much identical to Player’s; a team went rogue and it was up to Taylor and his mates to track them down. Player’s story is identical, albeit with the more fantastical elements of the self-aware A.I taking over and infecting people. This was just Player’s brain inventing cool stuff because it thought Player would totally love to share this dream upon waking. Oh brain, you weren’t to know that this was a dream never to be shared. (Unless you go to the shops and buy Black Ops III.)

In hindsight, it does make a lot of sense and there are moments in the game that allude to such a possibility. I thoroughly detest myself for being so quick to discredit Black Ops III’s story. When I reviewed the game I said that the campaign was alright for what it was, but that’s just not true now. To be fair, though, I didn’t know about the whole meta-thing going on, so it’s sort of still true. But not.

I’m a big fan of stories in games and Treyarch’s past efforts have always left me wanting more. Black Ops I was a pure thriller, while Black Ops II was a bit more about exploring modern-politics via the medium of games. Black Ops III, despite being set in a weird futuristic world where bi-pedal robots fight alongside man and woman, still mirrors real life. It touches on the dangers of robotics, the ethics of experimentation and human augmentation. It’s all very deep once one looks past the flying body parts and pretty graphics.

The story is still a little whack and, at times, it’s hard to follow, but I reckon with another playthrough things’ll look a litter clearer. I highly recommend giving the campaign a second play if you haven’t already done so. In fact, if you’ve still not played the campaign at all (you obviously didn’t care for the spoiler warnings…) then I recommend seeing it through to the end. It’s a shame that so much effort is put into these stories, yet most players who pick up a Call of Duty game don’t even bother with the story, instead choosing to go into multiplayer to satiate their blood lust for “pwning noobs” or some shit like that.

Which brings me to my final thought: How the heck does Treyarch go forward now? It’s going to be another few years yet until we get another game from the studio, but I’ll still be wondering what’s next. It’s possible that it could carry on the Black Ops timeline and go for a fourth game that’s not set in a dreamworld. It’d be unusual though, considering Modern Warfare died off after three games and became Ghosts. Actually, saying that, Black Ops III is actually the fourth game in the timeline if you consider World at War a connected story, though it’s only real connection is the character Reznov who shows up in Black Ops. Ah, well. Perhaps we’ll get our answers on November 9th, 2018. Or not. Sod you Treyarch, you’ve screwed with my mind long enough. WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?!?!

Chris is currently watching Disney movies to cure his insanity. What about you? Did you guess something was up with the story, or were you suckered in, too? Where do you think the Black Ops series could go, or do you think it’ll be laid to rest with Modern Warfare? Put your maddest theories down in the comments section below.

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  1. Wow, just wow. It’s good that you’ve gone to the trouble of record-and-play-backwards thing, but really. If you think that’s deep, I can’t even imagine what will happen when you get to Spec Ops: The Line or Bastion, let alone something like Deus Ex or Planescape: Torment.

  2. I just really enjoyed the whole story, really well done. My only issue was the final mission where “Our” character kept repeating the mantra, that stage seemed badly paced out.
    As for the story when the “Player” said his name was “Taylor” in my mind this felt like either one of two outcomes A) You was playing as Taylor but your persona was as “player” to help him fight the AI program. or B) Taylor managed to jump minds when the AI “died”
    I am really looking forward to Black Ops 4 if they do make it.

    1. Agree completely – the story wasn’t presented as well as it could have been, and in hindsight, it seems a bit of a poor choice to hide the true nature of the game in such a way that most won’t find it. Hopefully this post helps those people out a little bit!

  3. I don’t share the same awe for this story even with this revelation. It feels like a half hearted blend of the stories from other fps games – like F.E.A.R. and Portal had a retarded baby. I think the developers just slapped together whatever story could loosely fit with their environments (VR simulation for convenience). The graphics and the hype with multiplayer sold me on buying it, but I’d hoped for more in this campaign.

  4. if you noticed in the first mission, nothing happened to Hendricks yet during the rest of the campaign, he got the DNI and the robotic parts added onto him. Could this have possibly meant this whole campagin was pretty much a dream and you were in taylor’s mind as when Hendricks asks a question to the player, he mentions the name “Taylor” which could give us a link for why the player zoned out during one of the missions and saw 2 doctors moving Taylor away from the hospital bed that your player was on after the first mission. All the mission reports were also personally written by Taylor, the after report for the first mission stated that the sole survivor from hendricks team had been taken for the operation but died after, which gives us a reason to believe we were dreaming the whole time as Taylor said at the start of the second mission that your player was being prepped for the operation and they were connected via their DNI. This links onto the flashback we see when your player zones out as we see Taylor being taken away from a hospital bed by two doctors. Could this have meant that this was all a dream and the campaign was based on the dream the player was having whilst he or she was being prepped for the operation. This finally links onto the end of the campaign, when your player walks out and says their name is “Taylor”. Could corvus have been symbolising your death, your last minutes. And when you walked out and said your name was “Taylor”, would this have meant that your player died in real life and fused into Taylor’s mind via the DNI. My prediction is the whole campaign after mission one was a dream and that in real life whilst your player was being prepped this was a short amount of time. Afterall Taylor did say he was training you, but did he say you were ready? And why else would you have been called Taylor or had the name Taylor being said to you. My reason is because you are Taylor, both your DNI’s have fused after you died/whilst you were being prepped and he’s giving you intel, making you believe all this is real, so you dont think about the operation you’re going through. you were never the “player”, you were Taylor all along!

  5. It would have been great if the player didn’t die and all of this was going on in his mind during the operation. If Treyarch wanted to continue this franchise they could have make the player go through the operation and make Black Ops 3 as a background story for Black ops 4 to continue. There are still things that are not finished such as the CIA and illegal experiments that have been done. The guy who did these experiments is apparently alive and the 54 immortals are still there? Khalil is still fighting for the Cairo uprising It leaves a lot of opening The main villain would be the guy from the CIA who did all these experiments

  6. It all makes sense now; at the end of the first mission when Hendricks ask “are you still seeing Rachel” towards Taylor and he responds with “that didn’t work out”. I’m assuming that Rachel is Rachel Kane.

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