Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the first modern co-op Wolfenstein adventure. Team up with a friend or play solo as one of BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters and wield a powerful arsenal of new weapons, gadgets, and abilities to liberate Paris from the Nazis.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Reviewed on: PS4 Pro (12 hours co-op, 6 hours solo)
Also available for: Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Cast: Valerie Rose Lohman, Shelby Young, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Brian Bloom, Alicja Bachleda, Debra Wilson
Developer: MachineGames, Arkane Studios
Directors: Jerk Gustafsson, Dinga Bakaba, Tom Keegan
Writers: Road Thorsen (story & dialogue), Tommy Tordsson (narrative design)
Gameplay Director: Fredrik Ljungdahl
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and all prior entries into the soft-reboot of the series from MachineGames went heavily against the grain of modern first-person-shooters. They're single-player, story-focused narratives and The New Colossus, in particular, goes into very weird and brave territory with its storytelling. All of this makes MachineGames’ latest entry into their Wolfenstein story all the odder. It's a co-op focused game, where you're encouraged to replay missions, pick up daily and weekly tasks and grind out for coins and exp to level up your character. It's not a bad game, but it's certainly an odd Wolfenstein entry.
19 years after the events of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus B.J Blazkowicz has raised a family. Anya gave birth to twin girls named Jessica and Sophia who have grown up in a liberated America thanks to the efforts of the revolution B.J helped spark at the end of The New Colossus. However, when their father goes missing in Neu-Paris, which is still under Nazi control, the girls and Abby, the daughter of Grace Walker who now runs the FBI, steal a helicopter, some power armour and head off to find their father.
After an initial prologue mission setting up Paris as the location for the game and the introduction of a couple of characters you'll be interacting with, there isn't much story content in Wolfenstein: Youngblood until the final mission. This will be understandably frustrating for fans of the previous games looking to expand upon the franchise's lore, especially given just how narrative and character-driven The New Colossus was. While the cast of The New Colossus was rich with personality and interacting with them was always enjoyable, the characters you interact with in Youngblood at your HUB are a bore, other than Abby, who we were first introduced to as a baby in the previous game.
Jessica and Sophie are walking 80's stereotypes dropping "whoah, dudes" at every possible second, which I didn't mind. There's not much development with them here; there's not much character development for anyone here. I enjoyed them though and thought their rather loud personalities and traits fit right into the wacky world of Wolfenstein.
In the game’s last hour, you have several potential story threads thrown at you for where Wolfenstein III could go, but if one of the primary reasons you loved the previous games was the characters and story, there isn't much to be seen here. Wolfenstein III could be set before Youngblood and would fill in the information for a lot of things we missed that are mentioned pretty quickly, particularly how B.J killed Hitler. The next game could be set after Youngblood, but the story here could be covered in a 1-min cutscene.
What Wolfenstein: Youngblood does have though is lots of Nazi killing and like all previous entries in this long-running franchise — that's a lot of fun.
There are only three main 'story' missions to complete in Youngblood with a shared objective of helping Abby hack into three massive super-computers, Brother 1, 2 and 3. Those missions all end with a boss fight, the first one proved a challenge, and exciting, the rest not so much. The last boss fight is worth a mention if simply for performing one of my favourite video game sins of giving you a new ability right beforehand and expecting you to feel comfortable being forced to use it.
I've spent most my time playing Youngblood in co-op and that's the way the game feels designed to be played. Although your A.I partner isn't terrible, the repetitive nature of going back into areas you've already been to to do another side quest is balanced out of being too tedious when you have someone to talk to. I've done a few hours in single-player and it's a much emptier game. Luckily you can find a friend pretty easily by searching for people's public games, or if you bought the Deluxe Edition you can invite someone to play who doesn't own the game, much like how EA's A Way Out worked last year.
The majority of Youngblood is spent doing side missions that can range from blowing up a bunch of computers, killing a certain Nazi commander or collecting some items someone back at your base wants. To be honest, I have paid little-to-no attention to what I'm doing in these side missions because they're not very exciting. Do the thing, return to base and hand in the mission, go back out and do it again. And you have to do at least a handful of these to help you level up between the 'Brother' missions because they have a suggest level-cap, and you'll want to be close to meeting it unless you want to die fast.
As you level up by killing enemies and handy in missions you'll unlock skill points which can be used to activate an assortment of abilities ranging from increasing HP and armour, extending your special ability, being able to collect more ammo from dead enemies and more. None of these abilities shapes a particular playstyle though, which means when playing with a friend there's little the two of you can do to strategically cover different strategies and tactics. You can put points into stealth related stuff, but honestly, much like the previous entries in the Wolfenstein games, stealth isn't a strong-point.
One ability to pay attention to though is the buffs you and your partner, even your A.I partner, can use to help one another. These start simply by allowing you to return a slight amount of armour, but late game you can get more powerful variants or even the ability to revive your teammate from further away. All of these run on a cool-down timer, but it's one ability new to the series that's important to remember to use and change up as you progress.
You'll get gold for killing enemies as well and those can be used to buy upgrades for your arsenal of weapons. The attachments are the same as The New Colossus: extended mag, silencer, heavy barrel etc. Your weapons also increase in level the more you kill with them which does increase damage slightly.
Although you may just want to stick to using the shotgun as I did, you unfortunately won't be able to without giving yourself a handicap. Enemies now have more RPG elements than the previous games and not only do they have levels assigned to them and are much more bullet spongy — although they thankfully don't have numbers flying off them as you shoot — most now have shields as well. These shields will break slowly over-time with any weapon but to get through an enemy with quick precision you'll need to break their shield with a specific weapon. The armour symbols above their health will be shaped in a specific way to tell you what works best in your arsenal. Although I knew most enemies weaknesses by the time I rolled credits, it would have been much easier to understand this shield system if they simply colour coded the weakness to ammo type. Instead, you have a slight shape difference between a rectangle representing a shotgun weakness and a rectangle representing weakness to machine guns.
Combat feels good, even with all the new confusing numbers and shield stuff to remember. Blasting Nazi's into pieces is a joy and the guns feel good, as does getting around the levels. The sisters start the game in power armour and have access to double-jump and can unlock both invisibility and the crush ability from The New Colossus. Ramming into an enemy and seeing them explode into a cloud of red mist is fantastic, as is cloaking around a room to silently clear out everyone without raising a single alarm.
There's a fair range of mobility in the combat thanks to the double-jump and it feels great. But it also adds lots of ways to explore areas and although the three main areas you'll explore aren't large, they have a scale and platforming your way up a few objects to find a way inside an open window means there are lots of secrets to find.
Oh boy, secrets. Hey, if you like finding collectables, Wolfenstein: Youngblood will be a fantastic game for you because there are a lot. Cassettes, 3-D glasses, concept art, floppy disks, documents and more. Luckily you can unlock an ability later in the game that makes them appear on your mini-map or it'd be a nightmare to find them all. I'm close to having them all, and as a fan of some mindless collectable box-ticking, this game has that in hordes.
I have encountered a lot of bugs playing both online and offline. The most annoying of which was an audio glitch that would cause the audio to turn off and on constantly which ended with me simply muting the in-game audio so I could just chat to my partner without wanting to rip my headphones out. There's a decent amount of frame drops as well, especially in times when the action is at its highest and in the last boss battle the game started artifacting for myself and my partner.
Even after spending 14 hours playing Wolfenstein: Youngblood, if you asked me who the target audience for this game was I couldn't tell you. It's neither a straight-up co-op Wolfenstein romp or a Destiny clone. It looks like Wolfenstein, but its design feels like something completely different. The guns are the same, but the way they land is now within this slight RPG system that doesn't reward you with better guns as rewards. The carrot on the end of the stick seems to simply be weapon and armour skins, which is where the game's micro-transactions lie as well, of course, but even most of them aren't super exciting.
Ignoring the bugs I encountered for a moment: I have enjoyed Wolfenstein: Youngblood. It's an odd entry into the franchise and I'd love to know the thought process that led to its creation, but for those seeking a 10-12 hour co-op shooter, you could certainly do worse than this mixed bag.
(Wolfenstein: Youngblood code provided for review)