World War Z, the dynamic and extremely replayable co-op zombie shooter, is getting a huge content upgrade this month in the form of the Aftermath update. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play it, and I’ve come away impressed with the changes the developers have made to their already-compelling third person shooter.
The most notable thing is, of course, that it’s no longer strictly a third person game. In the most crucial change to the way WWZ is played, there’s now a first-person option which gives players the chance to aim down their gun’s barrel at the oncoming hordes. The natural response to this news is, of course, that a first-person World War Z is just Left 4 Dead, but I didn’t find that to be the case since each game has a distinctly different play flow.
While the seminal classic L4D focuses on claustrophobic battles in restricted locations against dozens of zombies, WWZ is all about giant setpiece combat with huge open arenas and long sightlines, allowing the player to marvel (and panic) at hundreds of screaming zombies heading straight for them.
This design focus was on display in the two levels I sampled, drawn from the new Italy and Russia campaigns. Each one had two of these ‘siege’ sequences in which the player has a minute to set up defenses as hordes of the living dead draw closer. Watching zombies spill out of a building in the distance and coalesce into a black column of sprinting monstrosities was a sight to behold. I continue to be amazed at the way the game’s engine manages to handle the scores of zombies all at once, never slowing down.
In addition to the new levels, the Aftermath update offers a new character class, the Vanguard. While lacking in offensive capability, they come equipped with a shield that can withstand whatever the zombies throw at it. While basically useless on its own, the Vanguard is a potent addition to any team smart enough to stick together because the secret to surviving WWZ is finding chokepoints where their numerical advantage of zombies can be rendered irrelevant. Having a walking wall on the team means that players can create chokepoints nearly anywhere they want (save for the siege battles, of course) – even siege onslaughts can be slowed by positioning the shield-bearer at the tops of ramps and staircases.
There’s also a new enemy in the game, but it’s not a new humanoid — players now have to watch out for hordes of flesh-eating rats capable of stripping a player down to the bone in a matter of seconds. The developers explained that part of their design philosophy is to find ways to force players to work together, and the rats do a great job of that. While a grenade can disperse the rodents instantly, the optimal approach is to get the whole team shooting at them simultaneously in order to save those precious grenades for the zombies.
Perhaps the most exciting development, though, are the new randomized objectives.
Since WWZ is built around players going through the same levels time and again, grinding experience and improving their characters, veterans learn every surprise the maps have to offer very quickly, to the point where they’re able to play them on autopilot. The new campaigns try to remedy that by offering randomized objectives.
I saw this in action during one of the Kamchatka missions, in which there were three switches scattered around the map that needed to be flipped in a specific order. According to the developers, which switches are involved and what order they need to be flipped will change every time, forcing players to explore the map during each run. Sadly, this type of objective hasn’t been edited into the original campaigns, but it’s sure to make the new ones a popular choice.
World War Z was already a fantastic co-op experience, and these new additions expand on it perfectly without damaging anything that was already there. The one thing I wasn’t able to try out was the upgraded horde mode, which is exclusive to the next-generation console version of the game. I was promised truly unbelievable numbers of zombies, and that definitely sounds amazing, but for now we’ll just have to wait and see.
World War Z: Aftermath comes out on PC, PS4/5, and XBO/S/X on September 21st. It will be available as a standalone package containing all existing WWZ content, and those who already own WWZ will be able to purchase the new content as DLC.