In order to understand the Black Ops 6 storyline, we recommend playing these other essential Call of Duty titles.

If you’re planning on hopping into Black Ops 6 when it launches on October 25, 2024, you may find yourself confused when playing through the game’s Campaign.

After all, Black Ops 6 might be the sixth entry in the Black Ops franchise, but it’s also the third game in the series chronologically, and the timelines can get a little tricky.

Do You Need to Play Any Game Before Black Ops 6?

No, technically speaking, you don’t need to play any of the previous Black Ops titles before diving into Black Ops 6.

Activision usually makes each game’s story accessible enough that even a new fan can easily jump in and enjoy the Campaign.

However, we highly suggest at least playing Black Ops Cold War, Treyarch’s most recent release, which Black Ops 6 is a direct sequel to.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Woods Fire Helicopter

We’d also suggest refreshing your memory with a playthrough of both the original Black Ops, and the early timeline missions of Black Ops 2, the events of which are shown to highly impact Black Ops 6.

On the Call of Duty game timeline, Black Ops 6 takes place a decade after Cold War, and just two years after Black Ops 2’s 1980s missions.

Don’t fancy playing through three games before October? In that case, check out our full recap of each game below:

Full Story Recap Before Black Ops 6

Here’s a quick summary of each Black Ops game you need to know about before playing Black Ops 6.

We’ve also included a video playthrough, for those who would prefer to watch the Campaign being played.

Black Ops

  • In 1961, CIA operative Alex Mason is present during an attempted assassination of Fidel Castro. After killing a decoy, Mason is captured by the real Castro and given to Major General Nikita Dragovich.
  • After two years, Mason escapes Vortuka Gulag, a Russian labor camp, by starting an uprising with Viktor Reznov.
  • One month later, Mason is taken to the Pentagon by Jason Hudson, where he receives authorization by President Kennedy to assassinate Dragovich.
  • Hudson and Grigori Weaver track Dr. Clarke, a scientist working under Dragovich, to Kowloon Honk Kong where they interrogate him. Clarke reveals a hidden facility in the Ural Mountains, but is killed before he can explain a mysterious numbers broadcast.
  • Mason reveals that Reznov told him about a German biochemical weapon, Nova 6, which Dragovich has been testing on his own men, including Reznov’s close friend, Dimitri Petreno. Reznov makes Mason promise to avenge his friend’s death, by killing Dragovich, along with his right-hand man, Kravchenko, and German scientist, Dr. Steiner.
  • In 1968, Mason, alongside Frank Woods and Joseph Bowman, battle through Viet Cong territory to track down Kravchenko before being sent to investigate a downed Soviet plane containing Nova 6. However, they are captured by the Viet Cong.
  • Bowman is killed by their captors, but Mason and Woods escape and reach Kravchenko’s base. Mason encounters Reznov, and the duo confront Kravchenko.
  • Woods stabs Kravchenko, who pulls the pins out of four grenades strapped to his chest. Woods tackles Kravchenko out of a window and a huge explosion leads Mason to presume the soldiers are dead.
  • Hudson infiltrates the Ural Mountains base, finding that the control room is rigged with explosives. Dr. Steiner aids Hudson in exchange for his own safety, and promises to provide information regarding the numbers broadcast.
  • Mason and Reznov, having found documents pointing to the location, arrive on Rebirth Island and battle their way into the facility. Just as Hudson and Weaver arrive, Mason watches Reznov murder Dr. Steiner.
  • However, Hudson’s perspective reveals that Mason alone, believing himself to be Reznov, shot Steiner. It is revealed that, while captured at Vorkuta, Mason was brainwashed into becoming a Russian sleeper agent with orders to kill President Kennedy.
  • Instead, Reznov had hijacked his programming, making Mason’s mission killing Dragovich, Kravchenko, and Steiner. Reznov himself actually died while escaping Vorkuta and had only ever been Mason’s hallucination.
  • The mystery of the numbers broadcast is revealed. The broadcast is set to trigger sleeper agents across the USA, who will unleash Nova 6 gas across the country.
  • His programming broken, Mason is able to recall the numbers broadcast location, a ship off the shore of Cuba.
  • In one final assault, the CIA takes down the numbers station and Mason confronts Dragovich, killing him.
  • Despite his victory, it is revealed that Mason was present at President Kennedy’s real assassination in 1963, suggesting that the soviet brainwashing may have worked after all.

Black Ops Cold War

  • In 1981, CIA operatives Russell Adler, Alex Mason, and Frank Woods are sent after Qasim Javadi and Arash Kadivar for their roles in the Iran hostage crisis. Before Arash dies, he brags that Perseus was behind the hostage crisis, leading President Reagan to authorize an assassination attempt.
  • A new member of Adler’s team, Bell, infiltrates a secret Spetsnaz training facility with Woods. The team learns that Perseus has found his way into Operation Greenlight, an American program that saw neutron bombs planted in every major European city to deny their use to Soviets during an invasion.
  • After infiltrating the KGB Headquarters, the team learns that an Operation Greenlight scientist is a sleeper agent who has fled to Cuba.
  • Perseus has managed to steal the detonation codes for every bomb, giving him the power to detonate the explosives and place the blame on the United States.
  • Adler reveals that Bell was an agent of Perseus, who was shot by Arash in the opening mission of the game. The CIA operative reveals he found Bell and brainwashed him into thinking they were allies.
  • Bell can choose to remain loyal to Perseus, giving Adler and his team the wrong location for Perseus Headquarters.
    • This causes Europe to be devastated by nuclear warheads, and the United States takes the blame. Bell, with the help of Perseus, kills Adler’s team and Russian agents in every European government help steer the countries towards the Soviet Uniion.
  • Alternatively, the canon ending involves Bell betraying Perseus and assisting the CIA.
    • In this ending, Adler’s team assaults Perseus’ headquarters in the Solovetsky Islands, destroying the transmitters required to send the detonation signal. Perseus goes into hiding.
    • Despite his betrayal, Adler admits that Bell must be eliminated as a loose end. Both parties pull their guns before the screen goes black and gunshots are heard.
    • And seeing as Adler is back in Black Ops 6, we have to assume that Bell is dead.
  • After the events of Cold War, Adler is captured by Vikhor Kuzmin (AKA Stitch), who brainwashed him, leading to the destruction of Verdansk.
  • Adler is eventually recovered by Mason, and Stitch is executed. However, before he dies, Stitch reveals that the original Perseus spy died of cancer in 1983, having been succeeded by the Perseus spy ring.

Black Ops 2

In the 1980s

  • In 1986, a retired Alex Mason is approached by Hudson to help rescue Frank Woods and his team, who disappeared trying to take down an arms smuggling ring.
  • Mason and Hudson rescue Woods, encountering a Nicaraguan arms dealer named Raul Menendez, who was responsible for torturing and killing his team.
  • The trio travel to Afghanistan and capture Lev Kravchenko, who has now partnered with Menendez.
  • Mason’s brainwashing urges him to kill Kravchenko. If the player resists, Kravchenko reveals that Menendez has moles inside of the CIA, before Woods kills him.
  • The origin of Menendez’s hatred of America is revealed: his sister Josefina was horrifically disfigured in a fire as part of an American businessman’s insurance fraud plan. In order to provide for his family, Menendez and his father took to drug-running, causing the CIA to assassinate the latter.
  • Mason, Woods, and Hudson raid Menendez’s compound, and an enraged Woods accidentally kills Josefina with a grenade.
  • In December 1989, after faking his own death, Menendez kidnaps Mason’s son David and uses him to coerce Hudson into leading Mason and Woods into a trap.
  • Woods is tricked into shooting Mason, before Menendez reveals himself and shoots Woods in both kneecaps. He then murders Hudson and swears to return for Woods at a later date. At the time of Black Ops 6, Woods is alive but without the use of his legs.
  • If Mason is not shot in the head, he will survive the gunshot, reuniting with Woods in 2025.
  • However, the canon ending to Black Ops 2 shows his son David Mason, retiring from the military after visiting his father’s grave. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect Mason to return in Black Ops 6.

It’s worth noting that Black Ops 2 also has a series of missions set in the 2020s.

However, these events have not taken place at the time of Black Ops 6, so we haven’t included them in our recap.

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Managing Editor
Max has a wealth of experience in the industry and is a lover of all things video games, situated in Manchester, United Kingdom.