Jul 29, 2019

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $29.99
We Recommend: $23.99
  • Developer: Machine Games, Arkane Studios
  • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
  • Genre: Action
  • Released: Jul 26, 2019
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Reviewed: Windows

The Terror-Billy takes a backseat to the Terror Twins as they carry the Blazkowicz name into the 80s with the same fury to kill all Nazis, just like their daddy. Wolfenstein: Youngblood comes from the joint efforts of Machine Games and Arkane Studios, blending amazing gunplay with detailed locations, but the game on the whole feels like an experiment and less story-driven as the series is known for. This is a standalone entry that ties into the former and upcoming mainline games that tries many new things, and not all elements are as well executed as others, but manages to be a fun time overall. The best thing Wolfenstein: Youngblood does, is give a glimpse at where the series is heading, and it’s so very exciting.

Our beloved B.J. has gone missing, and his twin daughters, Jess and Soph decide to go find him with minimal training and entirely on impulse. Because hey, B.J. can’t live forever and we need a new Blazkowicz or two to pick up the mantle until the Nazi threat is completely eliminated. The cutscenes are kept to a minimum, but the twins are shown to be awkward, nerdy, relatable heroes. Their short investigation leads them to Neu-Paris, where B.J. is believed to have disappeared to. You’ll witness their first kill along with them, to their horror and excitement. You make contact with the French resistance in the Catacombs which gives you more intel to work off of in this Nazi-occupied Paris. The characters within this hub area are a lot less personable than those aboard the submarine of Wolfenstein II, but you’re meant to be out in the quasi-open-world more than not. So you’ll start out by picking Jess or Soph, choosing their armored outfit, starting abilities, and starting weapons and you’re off. And with some Tarantino storytelling, you’ll jump back and forth in time you catch up to the present to be told about three “brothers”, or watchtowers that must have their main computers hacked in order to help find a secret lab where B.J. is likely located. It’s here where the game kicks off and really opens up for the first time in the series history.

There are two mission types: main and side, though the game doesn’t do a good job at telling you which are which, the ‘Brother’ missions are the main missions. Though the catch is that you’ve gotta be decently leveled up before you even think about taking them on. So you focus on the side missions to start. You should think of the side missions like the district mission you’d take on from the sub from Wolfenstein II. While on a side mission, you’ll be given tasks to complete for extra money and experience, but are completely optional; like setting car bombs, freeing captured civilians, and eliminating Nazi targets. The side missions and tasks get very grindy and make up a large portion of your time, almost too much time if you ask me.

The game evokes a Destiny-like RPG vibe with experience points, level progression, ability points, currency, and more. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that the ‘Brother’ missions are called “Raids”. While it’s factually correct terminology, the word isn’t used in the MMO sense here. These missions are simply sudden, and large attacks on a facility to reach the big computers for Abby, the daughter of Grace Walker, and hacker to get into. It’s pretty clear these are the main missions, but what they don’t tell you, is that they house specialized weapons (the same B.J. wields in the prior games) that can only be attained here.

When Wolfenstein: The Old Blood released as a standalone item, it served as a prequel to the events of Wolfenstein: The New Blood, and it didn’t require you to play it to enjoy the latter, even though The Old Blood released after The New Blood. While I wouldn’t classify Youngblood as a requirement either, it does bridge the gap between Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and whatever Wolfenstein III becomes, serving as a sequel and prequel.

The addition of the RPG mechanics has a few issues, but surfaces problems I’ve had with some of the spongy enemies in this series. I had a similar problem with Far Cry New Dawn when it visualized health and armor for the player to see. It made headshots less impactful and meaningful, but it gave visibility into how much damage you were doing. Wolfenstein: Youngblood offers the same visibility, allowing you to see what their level is and what kind of damage you’re doing, even if it feels like too much to get a kill. And as a result, the RPG elements are not that strong, being a means to an end or a number to reach a goal. It took me 12 hours of gametime to see the end credits, and if that was cut down to 4 to 5 hours, it’d be the meat of the experience that’s much more palatable.

Empowerment doesn’t last in Youngblood. The aforementioned bullet spongy enemies are constantly matching or exceeding your current level, that it feels like you’re never getting ahead or have an advantage. With each new level gained, you obtain one ability point and a 2% boost to weapon damage. It’s a stilted means of progression, and you find yourself min/maxing the skills as they don’t come that fast or often beyond level 25. The skills stop being locked after level 30, and it seems you can level far beyond that, to a limit I haven’t yet hit. It seems it could be possible to get all skills and upgrades when you pick up after the credits roll, but it maybe comes too late for that to matter once the story has concluded.

The series has pretty much had this progression system all along, but it was done in a much more organic way before. There was a perk system that allowed you to get more health, add more moves, and so on. Now in Youngblood that’s been relegated to accruing experience points for getting said perks. The system in The New Colossus and the prior games was much better in practice, and didn’t need to be changed for the sake of change.

Weapons see an improvement to how they’re used here, in that the player can attain masteries through simply using them. In the style of the previous perk system, the weapons work this way instead. Keep getting kills, and you’ll achieve a new mastery level which adds a damage buff to the weapon. All the guns in the game can be customized by adding new barrels, optics, magazines, and more that fit your playstyle. Additionally, the upgrades can be improved after a certain player level to make them more deadly. Which is great, but RPG style shooting adds longevity to kills that negates their lethality. It’s a scale that never balances.

The game works similarly in allowing you to choose stealth vs being overt. In most cases you can, and just like in the prior games, when it falls apart, you’ve eliminated some amount of threats that are stacked against you. Though again, the RPG system gets in the way as some enemies require two to three shots to get the headshot before they go down, in hopes you don’t alert nearby enemies to your presence earlier than you planned.

Arkane Studios’ participation can be felt all over Wolfenstein: Youngblood, particularly in the quasi-open-world of Neu-Paris. There are four districts to explore: Little Berlin, Riverside, Victory Boulevard, and Political Detention Area 4. These places are dense, detailed, and have more interior areas to explore and rummage through. There’s even fully underground areas the house many secrets of their own. There are metros to unlock fast travel points or otherwise shortcuts to getting around faster and easier. Why would you want that? Because the game respawns all enemies into an area once you’ve left it, and sometimes if you linger too much in one.

Yes, of course you can play Wolfenstein 3D – at least Youngblood‘s version of it. You also can replay selected missions, or take on daily or weekly challenges that have you revisiting Neu-Paris’ open-world to accomplish them. There’s also some questionable gold bars that can only be gained by future microtransaction purchases for what may only be cosmetic purposes. There’s a lot of skins to unlock and use, and perhaps more on the way.

If you buy the Digital Deluxe edition of the game (for ten dollars more), you’ll be given a “Buddy Pass” to play co-op with a friend who doesn’t even have to own the game. It’s a smart way to split the costs, and the pass can be used multiple times, on multiple people. This is a game designed for co-op, for which I played entirely solo. I felt like the AI companion (opposite of whomever you choose) was more than adequate. There’s a revive mechanic in the game, where you can revive your partner and vice versa. If you both get into the thick of it, you will die. Though, there’s a lives system and once all three have been used, then it’s back to the start. You can avoid this thanks to the pep system, it allows you to throw up the devil horns or do a silly dance to give each other armor or health. There’s additional items that can be purchased with in-game currency that offer more substantial buffs, and whether playing solo or co-op, offers plenty of ways to stay alive to keep the action going.

PC Specs of Review System:

– Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
– Intel Core i7 6700k @ 4.2Ghz (Turbo)
– NZXT Kraken X61 106.1 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW 8GB GDDR5X
– Seagate 2TB Barracuda SSD SATA III 6Gb/s Internal SSD Drive

It’s officially 1980, so there’s synthesizers, neon, and new wave music. Is this the Blood Dragon of Wolfenstein? Not quite. You only see Paris in this decade, but it gives a peek at what life in a Nazi-occupied 80s would have looked like, as well as the sound. Synthwave would have still been a thing, though the soundtrack is decidedly dark synth to match a future not fully freed of the Nazi regime. The game runs on the idTech 6 engine using the Vulkan API, and Wolfenstein has never looked better. I was getting 120fps on my 144Hz monitor at all times, and it’s incredibly performant and beautiful.

While I complain about Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the issues I have with it center around the inclusion of RPG mechanics that don’t really find their place in this game, and hurt it in the long-run. Arkane’s influence to level design makes these places feeling more lived in, and more interesting than any of the locations in The New Blood, The Old Blood, or even The New Colossus despite the populace having been displaced due to the occupation. As a primer for the events of Wolfenstein III, it’s well worth the price of admission. You can still be a turbo killer as one of the Terror Twins, by murdering Nazis with reckless abandon with a shitload of heavy weaponry — and that’s more than enough for me.

An early access Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes