A solid entry to the franchise that tries too much and perfects too little
Type: Single-Player, Co-Op
Genre: FPS, RPG, Action
Developer: Machine Games,
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 25 Jul, 2019
Wolfenstein Youngblood is a very weird entry to the franchise. As Arkane snuck into the sheets with Machine Games, my excitement grew – Wolfenstein is getting better level design! New Order had okay level design, the shooting and the characters are what really carried it. Old Blood was a smaller package, standalone DLC to New Order – shorter, less cutscenes and more combat (but… way more linear with worse level design and flow).
Later on, we got New Colossus, another great package that redeemed Old Blood and got the series back to the greatness of New Order. The original 2014 reboot was still better but New Colossus brought some new mechanics and design decisions that helped the game greatly. The level design and flow was superior, the music was brilliant and the pacing and gameplay also were improved.
And now we reach Youngblood. Since E3 that we noticed RPG mechanics were added to the game, big health bars hovering over enemies, XP numbers popping for every kill, filling an arbitrary level XP bar; levelling up increase gun damage permanently, guns have mastery levels (alas Borderlands 1) which give more damage as you complete challenges with each gun and upgrade the mastery level. It honestly is a jarring decision to add these softcore RPG mechanics on a franchise that never had them (or need them), which really doesn’t fit and make this otherwise excellent game… a very niche one that I can’t recommend to most wolfenstein fans. I really enjoyed the game and the Deluxe edition is a phenomenal idea to play with friends, but the game is not a good Wolfenstein game and I can’t fully recommend it because of that.
I love idTech6, which saw its use start in DOOM (the 2016 reboot) and later in New Colossus. The engine, running a Vulkan API, allows for great performance on non-Windows based Operating Systems, like Linux environments. The performance is really great, running at rock solid 60 fps on High on my i7 and GTX1060. The options menu is very vast with a lot of graphics options to reduce or turn off, helping the game run on most systems.
The game looks a lot like The New Colossus, with guns surprisingly looking less detailed than the New Colossus counterparts (about 70% of guns are the exact same, with the same switching and reloading animations). It’s worth noting, however, that the level detail is far superior anything Machine Games put since 2014 which makes exploring the semi-open world really fun and not just something to look at.
The art of Neu-Paris also gives the game a great vibe of what a modern nazi architecture would look like and helps the game also feel different during exploration from The New Colossus. Exploration is also worthy of discussing next.
Starting with the promised exploration, the game changes from the linear level transitions of the prequels to a hub based open world: the catacombs work as your hub where the french resistance presents you with main and side quests (and even some daily and weekly quests to do), you get to test your guns in the armory, talk to people, investigate and get a few collectibles, etc. It works much like RAGE’s small city hubs… except without any minigames or reasons to go back but to collect everything with an exclamation mark.
After you collect all your repetitive sidequests (some admittedly stand out but are too spread out in the game progression), you now get to pick which “district” you want to go to and complete the quests there, or simply explore, gather collectibles or coins or simply farm enemies for XP and level ups (which you really shouldn’t need to do). Quests usually involve going somewhere and getting a piece of data: a cassette, an audio log, a file, etc., kill a commander or a robot (working as a miniboss); it’s sad to say that nothing affect the game’s progression… there is a quest that involves killing a prototype panzerhund and collect a data drive that afterwards leads you to a panzerhund factory which you get to destroy – instead of giving me extra damage or an ability to take down the panzerhunds more easily, I just get XP and coins… yay.
The sidequests have no creativity or originality tied to them. New Colossus at least had the endgame sidequests to kill Ubercommanders which at least gave collectibles; here you get coins, XP (which becomes completely negligible by the time you reach level 30 or above) and an upgrade point (the only thing that honestly matters). There are no cool rewards like weapons, exclusive upgrades, secrets or even extra abilities.
And yet… I still can’t stop doing them because they are admittedly quick and fun to do, in particular thanks to the brilliant combat system, improved from New Colossus. Playing in the 80’s as BJ’s twin daughters, Jess and Soph get access to an improved combat power armor than the one worn by BJ or Caroline in New Colossus – double jumping has been added from the get-go and you can unlock Cloaking and the Crush ability from the New Colossus (a fully upgraded Crush can demolish pretty much any non boss enemy quite easily not just damage wise but because it stuns, giving the possibility to mow them down with a full magazine to the head).
I cannot approach the combat without mentioning a weird design decision that affects the whole gameplay loop: the RPG systems. Enemies now have levels and level up with you to keep the combat balanced no matter what’s your level (which creates the issue of stagnation and the player ultimately feeling powerless in the mid-game) which is a must as by the end-game, even with levels of 45 which are quite high, you will pretty much wipe everything without breaking a sweat unlike similar games (Borderlands or Fallout 4). Leveling up grants an ability point and a boring 2% perma-damage boost and is done by gathering XP – obtainable from kills and quest completion.
With the above mentioned ability points, you get to play around in the character upgrade system, allowing you to upgrade your active abilities and passive abilities (like more health, armor, grenade damage, etc) one of which changes the gameplay alot and helps it feel different from the New Colossus – carrying heavy weapons in your inventory. You can carry all guns like previous Wolfenstein games and this game just goes to eleven by giving you about 11 weapons, all with their own upgrades which actually change the weapon’s look dramatically! Even big weapons like a dieselkraftwerk or an uberhammer can look more badass than when you picked them up when applying upgrades.
As a quick example, the dieselkraftwerk (which works as a grenade launcher) can charge to shoot multiple grenades at the same time and you can make them drop napalm as they explore, burning enemies that are close; that’s one gun, you can add all these gameplay changing upgrades to all guns (ballistic weapons are a bit more generic but stuff like the Nail Ammo from New Colossus returns, for example), making each feel unique and different from one another which allows you to create your own, varied and tactical arsenal to approach any situation however you want to.
With that out of the way, we finally get to the combat, which is basically New Colossus 2. Most of the guns are disappointingly the same… the SMG, assault rifle and so on all look and feel the exact same, only changing in their look once upgraded (which admittedly can even look like an entirely different gun from the original version).
Does it play great? Of course, Machine Games always nail their guns and this is no exception. It’s disappointing nonetheless… it’s been nearly 20 in-game years since the end of The New Colossus… did the nazis invent a gun remotely useful in the 80’s arsenal? A pump-action shotgun wouldn’t be a bad idea, for example, and the new Machine Pistol (looks much like a Mac10 or an Uzi) is not enough, it really isn’t.
Arkane Studios also has their footprints all over this game with the districts: the “world” is split into districts, each being extremely open ended – a lot of routes to the same places, open windows lead to apartments with loot, you can access rooftops by climbing ledges and double jumping without any limits; the freedom observed in the Dishonored games is pretty much entirely present here and helps the combat and level exploration a treat.
The biggest problem with the combat (and the whole game, frankly) is what I’ll call the “armor-ammo” system. Every weapon uses its own ammo does more damage to an armor type that is associated with (light or heavy) so, to exemplify, the regular pistol does more damage to heavy armored enemies than the shotgun, which does more damage to light armored enemies. Anyone reading this can already see the problem: first of all, it makes no goddamn sense, I’m sorry but in no galaxy does a pistol do more damage to an enemy than a close-range full-pellet shotgun blast to the face. Secondly… to optimize combat performance, you have to switch guns whenever heavy or light armored enemies appear, breaking the flow of combat severely and honestly destroying a bit the fun nazi-killing flow that modern Wolfensteins are known for since The New Order. This idea isn’t bad but the balance behind it is unbelievably bad to the point 10 shotgun blasts can do the same damage as 2 rifle shots! It’s not logical or fun! Borderlands at least balanced armor with corrosion, flesh with fire and shields with shock, but you could still tear everyone a new one no matter the health type as long as you had a decent gun, adequate elemental or not. You can get a railgun here and barely talk half health to a guy with light armor.
It’s really sad this had everything to be the most fun wolfenstein game to date in the Machine Games timeline and the RPG mechanics (along the armor-ammo combo system) simply do not fit at all as it screws with the balance and flow of the combat for the sake of a few RPG mechanics nobody asked for… and the balance isn’t even related to what most criticisms actually talk about: the enemies are not bullet-sponges as most cry about, spending your coins on upgrades and actually progressing the guns simply makes the enemies never resist more than a couple seconds of straight shooting. By the end, I could kill a Zitadelle III or even IV (the endgame boss of New Colossus that everyone hated) in about 2-3 Uberhammer shots, which you can instantly regenerate by picking up the enemy’s dropped weapons.
The game becomes TOO EASY. ON MAX DIFFICULTY. The AI partner actually makes it easier to play as you literally just need to get close to it and you’ll be instantly revived. Meanwhile, your co-op partner will need a 2 second animation to get you back on your feet and he’s also way more squishy than the AI counterpart, which can stand an unbelievable amount of lead to the face. The AI is quite competent, I’ve had it bug out and not revive me even thought I was standing right next to it. Despite that, the AI reacts to combat well and kills pretty decently but there is no exhibition of ability use – the AI upgrades in level and damage, but not in any abilities or new combat moves, making it feel way too basic for any single player tactics I could’ve used. Stealth is actually viable in Youngblood and improved a lot more from The New Colossus but the AI in stealth is so incompetent that there’s no point in even trying and the combat is far too much fun (and the AI performs better there too) for me or the AI to remotely bother. Overall, use combat for single player, stealth for co-op (no alarm bonuses give a ridiculously good amount of XP so stealth does reward you, which is a great way to balance both play styles).
The enemy AI hasn’t changed from New Colossus, scaling from human enemies with pinpoint accuracy to big robots that eat your whole health in less than a second, cover is barely a thing (admittedly, some of them are basically walking cover) and some even like to bug out, in particular boss type enemies like the Zitadelle or even the Ubergarde Brother 2.
The latter which is, by far, the worst boss fight I’ve faced in probably a decade. It is so terribly balanced and so easy to cheat through that fair combat isn’t possible as it spits grenades like peanuts without interruption, making ground combat nigh impossible, and you can just stand in the side platforms (which are in a taller position) and shot the boss from there as it CANNOT shoot back! I literally stood there half an hour as I answered a video call from my girlfriend and the enemy was just spewing grenades and missing. Call ended, sprayed enemy with lead, boss beaten without a scratch.
Machine Games never did bosses right and the fact the only decent one was in New Order, a game that is 5 years old, is really embarrassing.
Finally, microtransactions: absolutely unnecessary, I collected over 40K silver coins just by playing in 12-13 hours. That allowed me to have all my guns with my desired attachments (even the upgraded version!) and a couple skins. The gold bars are a speedy way to get the skins and are completely unnecessary, much like RAGE 2 and, as a miraculously more accepted game, Devil May Cry 5.
A lot less impactful and memorable soundtrack than the prequels, sadly. Gameplay is quite mute overall but the little tracks seen are pretty great nonetheless. The absence of Carpenter Brut (author of all the songs in all the trailers) is a massive disappointment as it could’ve given the game a much needed 80’s feel that the rest of the soundtrack (and even the visuals) don’t fully give as they should.
Voice acting is quite spread-out across 4-5 cutscenes throughout the whole game and a few chats you can have with the resistance members. Jess and Soph are well acted but the writing doesn’t help them but I’ll approach that below.
Gameplay sounds are great, though; alarms blazing, enemies shouting or blowing to pieces, the sisters interacting, guns firing, etc. are all stellar and sound fantastic, so kudos there.
The story puts you about 20 years after New Colossus, Jess and Soph are BJ and Anya’s daughters and are a bunch of loudmouth awesome sisters… mostly. They find out BJ’s possible location after going AWOL and go to nazi controlled Paris to try to find him. A simple premise that works and foreshadows A LOT of the events of Wolfenstein 3 (which is going places I never imagined) that is sadly hurt by a very one-dimensional main villain (introduced only near the end-game) and the sisters being quite hit or miss.
The sisters are well voiced but the script really hurts half of them, because of Soph. Jess is well voiced, is actually well developed as a character and has a great mix of being badass and emotional. Soph on the other hand, abuses downright cringeworthy one-liners and has no development besides “I wanna write a book”. It’s like each sister was written by two different people, one clearly more competent than the other. I am lucky I did a full run as Jess and never looked back, I recommend the same for anyone starting out.
The ending sets Wolfenstein 3 decently but I can’t help but feel disappointed at the overall length: at level 45 and pretty much all the content done (and I’m not counting collectibles, though I got around 60% of them, which is a lot given the fact that there are about 6-7 different types of collectibles), the game took me about 12 hours which is half of the claimed 25-30 in previews. Even if I hunt for everything, I don’t see myself reaching 19, let alone 20 hours! While this is okay for a 30€ game (which is the current release price), it’s far different from the claimed playtime and collectible hunting is really not worth another 15 hours of hunting every nook and cranny that Arkane created. Dishonored isn’t a 40 hour game because I searched every safe, apartment and dead body I found in Dunwall.
Overall, the story is average, getting most of my praise for the setup for Wolfenstein 3 (which I am hyping more after playing Youngblood than New Colossus so this game did something really right to say the least).
Great game ruined by pointless and unnecessary mechanic additions to a flawless gameplay system that the prequels already had. Being half the price of the previous New Colossus, I have no issue in recommending Youngblood for fans with a more open mind. Wolfenstein fans will probably skip this and I don’t blame them. Microtransactions were uncalled for, the RPG system is quite tacked on with the damage numbers and such (the abilities are pretty fun though, I hope to see more of this in Wolfenstein 3), the bosses are pretty terrible and the armor-ammo combo system does not improve gameplay at all, it only hinders its flow and logic.
The 40€ edition (Deluxe) gives the buyer the Buddy Pass, which allows friends of the buyer to install a trial version and play THE FULL GAME to completion with the buyer in co-op. An infinite number of friends can use this and it’s frankly a brilliant idea. Hats off to Bethesda for giving the game a reduced price, allowing the improvement of a lot in the prequel (while admittedly ruining a lot too) and giving this pretty unique “demo/free full game” system to anyone who gives an extra 10€ for a deluxe edition.
A cautious recommendation for hardcore Wolfenstein fans. While I consider myself one, I really enjoyed it but I can’t help but feel most fans won’t appreciate the game as much as I did and as such, I need to bring it a bit lower than a safe “Save” recommendation.