Despite it’s lackluster gunplay, Youngblood’s co-op and intricate level design make for a solid chapter in the Wolfenstein saga.
Developer – MachineGames, Arkane Studios
Publisher – Bethesda
Release Date – July 27th, 2019
Platforms – PC – Reviewed, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the latest adventure in the alternative Nazi propaganda soaked insanity that BJ Blazkowicz and his fellow allies inhabit. This time poppa BJ has gone missing, and his twin daughters, Soph and Jess take it upon themselves to get him back.
As you would expect from a synopsis that straight forward, the game doesn’t really waste any time getting started. After a short story introduction you’re thrust back into the world of Wolfenstein, 20 some odd years later. Trading in the 60’s style Americana for 80’s style synth that’s all the rave these days. Like the title implies, you play as the young bloods in the Blazkowicz family in a leaner, tighter co-op focused experience.
That lean approach really effects everything. Story, which was by far the biggest strength of the previous titles is very dialed back. The bulk of the story is given to you right upfront, and a bunch more near the games end. For the majority of the game’s seven hour run-time, the extent of the story will come from loading screen exchanges or random dialogue between the sisters. Extensive audio diaries and tapes can be collected, but once again you can’t listen to any of these while you’re playing and running around the map.
On the gameplay front, Youngblood feels like a faster, more combat heavy variant on the previous titles. The biggest change, outside of the co-op, is the inclusion of a character leveling system. Outside of the leveling, the games core structure itself is also radically different.
The game operates out of a hub area, where NPC’s and other side missions can be picked up. From this hub you can move into one of three distinct districts. These area’s, although limited in size are fun to explore. They are built much wider, and have a lot more verticality compared to the linear design of The New Colossus’s stages.
Despite what some may think about stealth and it’s mechanics in previous Wolfenstein games, it is possible with careful play and your abilities to get through large chunks of the game with proper stealth and silent take downs in Youngblood.
When stealth goes wrong, and trust me in co-op it most certainly will, the game becomes very hectic. Reinforcements come pouring in, and the action is fast and frenetic. The co-op really addresses previous issues with Wolfenstein’s combat in regards to how fast you can get killed. Having two characters allows for much needed help, a distraction for the enemies to fight and useful revives when you finally get downed.
One aspect of the new structure that isn’t handled too well are the enemies themselves. Enemies are effected by the levels just like the player, and if you dare fight in higher level zone, it’s possible, just not very fun. Enemies scale up and the more heavily armored variants can soak up damage. The game tells you to use certain ammo types to damage them but even with the right weapon they can be a slog to shoot down most of the time.
The lack of weight with the core gun play is back and in this game worse than ever before, and the inclusion of level based RPG mechanics only make that problem worse.
On top of this, it’s possible to spec your upgrade points into throwing weapons and it only deepens the issue. Here is an example.
My fully leveled up shotgun, customized to be damage based barely puts a dents in most enemies. Even if it’s the right damage type against that enemy. It also feels very light and lacks that satisfying boom you want from a shotgun but I digress.
Meanwhile, my throwing skill allows me to take a flimsy knife or tomahawk and absolutely devastate heavily armored enemies with ease.
This creates a big problem in terms of game balance, as the inexperience of incorporating deeper RPG mechanics into a franchise not known for it really shows its head.
As fun as throwing tomahawks left and right is for me, it shouldn’t be the best way to fight enemies in open combat. Little things like this put a hamper on the games long term prospects, and the gun play once again is the games weakest point. That’s never a good thing for a game billed as a first person shooter, ever.
On the tech front, I’ve also come across various issues regarding sound that were game breaking. Entire sections where sound would drop out completely happened a bit too much for my liking. It’s been patched now, but it was a big issue earlier on. Performance wise the game runs great, and I’ve had no issues with the co-op at all. In fact in terms of co-op its extremely easy to hop in with a friend, and the buddy pass is fantastic if you want to have a friend hop in and play with you at no cost.
Overall, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is an enjoyable experience and introduces several new mechanics that I wouldn’t mind showing up in the inevitable Wolfenstein 3. Just don’t go in expecting the next big step forward, as the budget price is pretty indicative of what to expect.
The fantastic co-op,level design, stealth mechanics and the Blazkowicz twins are great additions to the series, and help keep the game fun despite another round of disappointing combat.
If you’re a fan of the series, it’s an easy recommendation.