There ARE spoilers ahead!
Each entry in the Call of Duty: Black Ops series generally promises a more engrossing, if not complex, story than their Modern Warfare counterparts, but the campaign plot in the most recent release, Black Ops III, takes first place as the most bewildering. While the context in which it’s all set might be a little easier to grasp if you played through the last two entries, gamers new to the franchise won’t have missed much. There are a few references and acronyms that might seem vague and poorly established but you can always read about them later, or during gameplay. That being said, the ending and its meanings have been debated and analysed thoroughly since the game’s release in late 2015. Here are some of the best theories and explanations. Be warned that there are spoilers ahead, obviously.
The Black Ops 3 ending comprises of the player (who thus far has been unnamed) climbing out of a crumbling Coalescence tower after having just destroyed a malevolent AI program named Corvus, who acted only out of a need to know what and why it was. After being asked their name from a friendly Swiss soldier, the player replies ‘Taylor’. So what does that mean? Why did the previously unnamed player respond with that name?
The prevalent and most widely accepted theory is that the player was playing as Taylor for the majority of the game, with events playing out as half a memory and half a simulation. The first mission is chronologically the last mission and everything following it was actually Taylor’s life leading up to the infiltration of the Ethiopian base. The evidence for this is abundant, with players citing various details such as Taylor, and subsequently the player’s relationship with Rachael Kane. If you’re the kind to remember little details like that, you might recall Hendricks asking Taylor about how things are with Rachel, to which Taylor replied, “It didn’t work out”. With that in mind, consider the seemingly odd relationship (if you could call it that) the player had with Rachel throughout the game. You might also remember the red scarf on the bedside table in the hospital room present during the end of the first mission you play, prior to us, as the player, being formally introduced to her. This wouldn’t make much sense without considering the chronological order of the game’s missions. If that’s not enough, you can either train yourself to read at breakneck speeds or record and pause the fast-scrolling text at the beginning of every mission. From them you’ll learn that A) they’re reports written by Taylor and B) they state that there was one injured individual right for the Winslow Accord and for a DNI but they died after the operation. The events in those reports also mirror each mission you play through following the first with a few details, i.e. names, changed. This makes Corvus nothing more than a simulated opponent whose role is merely symbolic of the Taylor’s own confusion and insecurity.
So there is quite a lot of evidence to back this theory up, more than can be said in this article. However, the beauty of Black Ops III is that the ending and the details can be interpreted in more ways than one. The unnamed player’s final statement, for example, has led some to believe that a trace of Taylor remained in the unnamed players DNI after the simulation and that the player’s final statement was proof that this remnant took full control of the player. That would be a simpler explanation than the memory/simulation and there isn’t exactly any evidence against it, however, that would leave a lot of loose ends albeit, hidden in the details. As entertaining as that theory is, we have to say, sorry Ockham, not this time.
Similarly however, this last theory was one of the earliest and states that Corvus (the malevolent AI portrayed as a humanoid shadow demanding that you listen to his voice) and through a glitch, the deceased Taylor, successfully purged the player of their own personality and took over with a merged persona. Again, you’d have to look past the heaps of loose ends this explanation would create in the details. Admittedly though, it would be somewhat poetic if it were true.
Those are the three most popular theories regarding the ending of Black Ops III. While they’re all wonderfully bewildering in their own way, only one of them is true, or close to being true. But it seems we’ll never know. As the developers stated, the truth is hidden in the details. So just keep playing until everything makes sense and if you find it’s just too much to comprehend, just imagine somewhere calm. Imagine somewhere safe. Imagine yourself in a frozen forest.