Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 – The Entire Franchise Story and Timeline, Explained

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 has been officially revealed, and Treyarch is already off to the races in one of the earliest and most aggressive marketing campaigns I’ve seen for a Call of Duty game in years. As you all well know, I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty campaigns (even though I’m trash at multiplayer and Warzone), and I have been a big fan of the Black Ops series for a long time. Call of Duty: World at War is still my favorite campaign in the series, and it even has some common story threads that lead into the Black Ops titles.

Black Ops’ story modes have some of the most ambitious campaign elements out of any Call of Duty titles, incorporating branching story paths, alternate endings, character creation, and the utilization of real-life historical theories and characters to tell a historical, yet fictional, series of spy thrillers. Here’s a breakdown of the story so far, organized chronologically just to keep all the story threads straight.

To get you in the right frame of mind, here’s the latest Black Ops 6 story trailer… “The Truth Lies”.

And now… On to the story!


World at War (1945)

We are just briefly touching upon the ending of this campaign, not the entire game’s story, just because you’ll see this one character a few more times. In May of 1945, Soviet war hero Viktor Reznov aids Private Dimitri Petrenko in assaulting the Reichstag in Berlin, atop which they eventually plant the Soviet flag – signaling their victory and ending World War II in Europe. Sometime in the next two decades offscreen, Reznov is later captured – and presumably tortured relentlessly – by a rival Russian operative named Nikita Dragovich.

Black Ops (1961-1968)

In 1961, Alex Mason (basically the main character of this entire franchise) and his partner Frank Woods participate in the Bay of Pigs invasion, later failing to assassinate Fidel Castro. Mason is captured by the real Castro and given over to Soviet Army Major General Nikita Dragovich as a gift. While imprisoned, Mason meets a former Red Army soldier named Viktor Reznov. Reznov was a major character in Call of Duty: World at War, and helped to defeat the Nazis at Stalingrad, sealing Russian victory on their own home soil. Reznov gives Mason the rundown on the other antagonists they are up against, as well as their plans to deploy a gas called Nova 6, an extremely lethal bioweapon originally designed by Hitler and the Nazis in WW2. They see it used on a fellow captive firsthand, who dies an excruciatingly brutal death.

Later, Mason and Reznov escape, and are present during the Test Offensive in the Vietnam War where they try to recover a shipment of Nova 6. It is later revealed that Mason was brainwashed by Dragovich during captivity into thinking that Viktor Reznov had carried out a series of high profile assassinations, but in reality it was Mason who performed the killings – and thatReznov was killed during their escape from Vorkuta. Mason discovers that he is a sleeper agent tasked with releasing Nova 6 into the US, which would cause mass devastation and pave the way for a Soviet takeover. Ultimately, Mason foils this plot, and Dragovich is killed before the US Navy destroys the submarine carrying Nova 6.

After the credits, there is a brief cutscene showing Alex Mason present during the day JFK was killed, and it is heavily implied (yet unconfirmed) that he could have been the one who pulled the trigger while still brainwashed.

Black Ops: Cold War (1981)

In January of 1981, CIA operatives Russell Adler, Alex Mason, and Frank Woods are sent to target organizers of the Iran hostage crisis. They learn that a former Russian operative codenamed “Perseus” is actually behind the attacks, and US President Ronald Reagan authorizes a black ops team to find and neutralize him. Joining the team is an operative named “Bell” (your player character) who has experience with the other operatives from prior conflicts.

The Unit recalls Operation Fracture Jaw in 1968, where it is believed that Perseus was first encountered by the protagonists. They learn that Perseus has somehow infiltrated Operation Greenlight, a top secret American program that secretly planted neutron bombs in every major European city to deny their use to the Soviets in the event of an invasion. It is later revealed that an Operation Greenlight scientist is one of Major General Nikita Dragovich’s sleeper agents (hope you read the Black Ops 1 part!) and has fled to Cuba – where he aided Perseus to steal the detonation codes for every Operation Greenlight bomb, meaning he can level Europe and lay blame on the USA.

In a plot twist, you (Agent Bell) are revealed to be one of Perseus’ operatives who has been brainwashed by Project MKUltra, a real-life illegal human experiment program carried out by the CIA to develop procedures and identify drugs that could be used to force confessions through brainwashing and psychological torture. Having learned all this, at this point the story diverges. You can choose to betray Perseus – or keep his location a secret – as you are interrogated.

  • The canon ending involves you (Bell) deciding to betray Perseus and help the CIA. You destroy the transmitters needed to send the detonation signal, and Perseus goes into hiding, though Adler swears to continue pursuing him and dismantle his spy network. Later, Adler takes Bell out for a private conversation, assuring them that their choice to turn against Perseus was of their own free will and that they are a hero. Adler then admits that Bell must be eliminated as a loose end and both draw their guns, with the scene fading to black as gunshots are heard.
  • The alternate, non-canon ending, you lure the CIA into a trap where they are too far from the nukes to disable them, and Europe is devastated by the explosions. Public opinion of the United States plummets, and the CIA is forced to erase the existence of the protagonists you duped in an effort to cover up the United States’ involvement in Operation Greenlight. Perseus boasts that his agents in Europe will take advantage of the chaos to infiltrate every European government and turn them towards the Soviet Union, while his agents in the United States will continue to undermine the country.

Black Ops 2 (1986-1989, 2025)

Black Ops 2 takes place in two distinct timelines, starting with Alex Mason in the 80s, and then jumping over to his son – David Mason – who continues the fight in our near future… In the year 2025.

In 1986, Alex Mason comes out of retirement to rescue Frank Woods, and they subsequently take part in strikes during the Angolan Civil War and Operation Desert Storm. They are in pursuit a Nicaraguan arms dealer named Raul Menendez, who reveals that there are moles within the CIA who are helping to further his objectives.

In 1989, Menendez conspires with Panamanian drug lord Noriega to fake his own death. He later resurfaces in 2014 under the pseudonym “Odysseus”, and leads a populist movement called Cordis Die. In 2021, Cordis Die stages a cyberattack that cripples the Chinese stock market, sparking a Second Cold War between NATO and the Chinese-led Strategic Defense Coalition.

By 2025, Cordis Die boasts an estimated two billion followers. David Mason discovers Cordis Die’s plans to release an extremely powerful computer virus that could cripple the world’s economy. David eventually takes down Menendez, with the villain’s motivations coming from a botched CIA mission in the 80s where Woods accidentally killed his sister. The US and China re-align, ending the Second Cold War. After Menendez dies, however, a video is then uploaded to YouTube in which Menendez commands Cordis Die to revolt. Cordis Die supporters launch a massive global insurrection, resulting in the burning of the White House and widespread anarchy.

Black Ops 6 (1989-1991, I think)

This actually bring us to where I think Black Ops 6 is going to take place. Nothing has been confirmed yet, as the official reveal is still just a few weeks away, but based on the campaign teaser trailers in which we see Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, and Saddam Hussein… This leads me to believe that we are entering into a Gulf War-focused story in the late 80s and early 90s, possibly beyond. In the trailer above, there’s also lots of 90s-esque product placement and real clips from politicians of that era giving various speeches, which are chopped up and edited to make it sound like a different message entirely.

I’m not 100% sure, but it seems like there is an organization in play here that is threatening to expose the truth behind the lies and deception of conventional warfare, and it looks like they are implicating various presidents and other world leaders in being complicit in these lies. If exposed, these would obviously upend the stability of the entire world… So something tells me we’re going to be on a mission in Black Ops 6 to either stop them or root out the truth behind whoever it is we’re really working for.

Black Ops 4 (2045)

This is an odd one because Black Ops 4 doesn’t really have a formal “campaign”, and instead the game’s story is told throughout a series of Specialist missions with additional story context added inside of Blackout, and even Zombies. Zombies is a whole other blog though, so this’ll just focus on the Specialist missions for now. There isn’t a lot of meat on the bone here but this is what happens anyway:

In 2045, Alex Mason’s granddaughter Savannah uses and researches advanced technology to resurrect the dead through cloning – the clones are called “archetypes”. These clones are then “tested” in the game’s Blackout mode, so really this whole plot point is the justification for why Blackout exists in the game’s canon. If you’ve played Halo 4, think the UNSC Infinity and how that was the in-canon reason why multiplayer exists.

Savannah clones and revives her grandfather, Alex Mason, and his best friend Frank Woods. She ends up romancing the Woods clone, and orders him to brainwash the Mason again, tricking him into killing her sister Jessica Mason, who opposes Savannah’s cloning work due to the ethics of it all. In the end, Jessica gathers all of Black Ops 4’s multiplayer specialists to go after Savannah and her resurrected clones of old campaign characters. Yeah, I told you it was odd and there wasn’t a lot here… But there you go.

Black Ops 3 (2065)

And here we are, at the end. Black Ops 3 is widely considered as the most complex of the Black Ops series’ stories, probably the most complex in any Call of Duty campaign. I’ll do my best to keep the story straight as I understand it, but if you want a truly great breakdown, check out Brian Steele over on Medium who breaks every bit down masterfully. There’s literally a whole other layer and interpretation to this campaign that I personally cannot even wrap my brain around, but he does a great job keeping all the twists and turns in line.

In 2065, the world has divided into two large political alliances – The Winslow Accord (USA, Canada, China, Japan, Germany, Italy, Southeast Asia, and Egypt) – and the Common Defense Pact (most of Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and a handful of aligned African countries known as the Nile River Coalition). Your character – a Winslow Accord-aligned Black Ops soldier led by John Taylor – is gravely wounded and undergoes life-saving surgery. This involves the installation of cybernetics, and a piece of software known as the Direct Neural Interface (DNI) that pretty much explains all the cool superhuman stuff you can do throughout the game.

Years later, you’re sent to investigate a disaster at the Coalescence Corporation’s Singapore HQ. This is the company that manufactures the cybernetics for the Winslow Accord, which you have in your body. It turns out that something killed over 300,000 people here, and rendered most of the city uninhabitable. Your former team, led by John Taylor, has defected to the other side after finding out that the CIA helped to develop the Direct Neural Interface (DNI) program via a human trafficking program in which people were stolen from their homes and forced into being test subjects.

Sometime after that, it is revealed that the Neural Interfaces of Taylor’s team have been infected and overwritten by an AI calling itself Corvus, which also is what infected and killed everyone in and around Coalescence HQ. You later are the sole survivor with the Corvus virus, so you turn a gun on yourself and end up in a digital afterlife where you must do battle with Corvus himself – inside your own mind – before you can be set free and extract the DNI from your brain. You do just that, and end the Corvus threat for good… At least, that’s what we think.

There is A LOT more nuance to this campaign alone than I can fit in this blog, so once again definitely go check out this super detailed breakdown by Brian Steele over on Medium for the rest of the overwhelmingly convoluted details.

So yeah… That’s pretty much it! There’s lots of additional story content hidden inside of the franchise’s Zombies, Multiplayer, and Blackout modes – but by and large the sweeping story of conspiracy, government control, and the vicious cycle of global-scale deception and destruction is pervasive throughout the core story modes. “The Truth Lies” tagline could pretty much apply to any Black Ops series entry, which leads me to believe we’re going to see even more of the same familiar character and elements that we’ve come to know and expect.

If I can ask one thing of the Treyarch team, it’s to keep up the great work. Obviously Black Ops 4 was a bit of an oddity since the actual campaign was seemingly cut in the 11th hour, but otherwise you gotta hand it to them – they consistently pull out all the stops to deliver some seriously compelling stories inside the Call of Duty universe. If Infinity Ward’s campaigns are your popcorn action flicks, then Treyarch’s are gritty spy thrillers, and I can’t wait to see what’s next when we get the full game reveal in just a few short weeks.

Black Ops 6 is expected to be released in October 2024, for PlayStation 5, Windows, and Xbox Series X/S.

Papa Dom

Co-founder, lead blogger, graphic designer, and manager of WGG's writing team - Dom has been writing about video games for over ten years. Dom's work has been featured on some of the world's biggest gaming news outlets - including Dexerto, GameInformer, and IGN.

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