A few years back, Bethesda couldn’t stop boasting about its line-up of purely single player titles. The space for solo players was never in any real danger of disappearing completely, but in the age of online looter shooters and the rise of the games as a service concept, the commitment was appreciated. Fast forward to 2019, however, and the landscape couldn’t be more different. Fallout 76 was a multiplayer disaster, RAGE 2 has already been all but forgotten about, and the publisher’s latest effort isn’t going to turn too many heads either. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a soulless co-operative undertaking that can’t hold a candle to the boisterous adventures of B.J. Blazkowicz.
While the series’ third entry can be played by yourself, it’s worth noting just how much it contrasts and differs from Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and the meaning behind Bethesda’s single player message. It has microtransactions for cosmetic skins. It has daily and weekly objectives to grind that award differing upgrades and materials. It has replayable missions which change on a constant basis. It has three different types of currencies. It has emotes that grant you buffs. And, last but not least, it has ammo, armour, and health boosts.
None of these aspects are particularly egregious on their own, but as a collective within a franchise that has traditionally stayed away from these sorts of things, it doesn’t sit particularly well with us. It’s a strange design choice that supports its claim as a game as a service – the very same market Bethesda was supposedly trying to avoid earlier in the generation.
Its questionable tactics always linger in the back of the mind, but if you’ve played the title’s predecessor or 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, then you’ll feel at home with Youngblood – to a degree. The fast-paced gameplay loop that keeps you on your toes as you transition from one Nazi butchering to the next returns, but you’ll need to be more aware of which weapon you’re using this time around. That’s because MachineGames’ latest introduces an armour system that needs to be whittled away before blood spills.
Different types of guns deal varying amounts of damage to the two armour types, meaning that a certain firearm may be a lot more useful than another depending on the type of Nazi that stands in front of you. A shotgun is always going to be useful when it comes to close quarters action, but if the enemy in front of you is resistant to its shells, you may actually have a better time with a pistol.
It’s definitely realism breaking, and we’re not sure the game is better for it. Of course, it’s something else to think about in the heat of battle, but it also turns many enemy types into bullet sponges. You’d think the feature would encourage a more tactical approach, but in reality, it’s little more than an annoyance that brings about little in the way of depth.
Another mechanic that’ll affect firepower is your level – a new element introduced by Youngblood that contributes further to our previous point. Reaching a new level brings with it a straight-up increase in damage alongside upgrade points which can be allocated into three different basic skill trees, and it means that battling it out with higher-level Nazis becomes a chore.
This can be circumvented by grinding out levels, but is that what you come to Wolfenstein for? We think not. However, the biggest offender of all is that the game’s structure pretty much promotes this way of play. There are very few tasks that the title classes as main missions, with everything else deemed side quests. You’ll pick up numerous optional missions from NPCs within the Paris Catacombs, and they’re all as brain dead as the next. Mindless fetch quests litter your mission log, serving as nothing more than a quick XP grab that’ll take you to within reach of the next level.
You’re given the objective of eliminating three Nazi generals once you reach Paris alongside the rank you’ll need to be at to take them down, and it’s here where you begin the grind of simply levelling up enough to stand a chance against them. It’s mind-numbingly boring stuff that’ll put you on auto-pilot the majority of the time. Collect this briefcase, eliminate that Nazi, investigate a certain area – it’s mission design that belongs in the previous generation.
Fortunately, combat – outside of its armour system – is what will keep you going. There’s no better feeling than utilising your double jump and slamming into the ground to dispose of some Nazis, before sprinting up to the next set and sliding along the ground in style as you pump them full of bullets. Getting creative in engagements and giving you the tools to pull those stunts off is what Youngblood does best – one of the few motivators to head out and increase your level by one or two.
Arkane Studios, the team behind the likes of Dishonored and PREY, was brought on to work with MachineGames on its level design – and it most definitely shows. Areas and buildings often have various levels of elevation that hide secrets within and a whole host of collectibles, while main missions regularly have more than one way to get by a locked door. Be it an open vent tucked away in the corner or a certain weapon that’ll vaporise the lock, there’ll normally be a different route to progress. It’s just a shame the game it has been implemented into couldn’t have been better.
One of the best things about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was its outrageously incredible story, an aspect that this spin-off ditches completely. Save for some decent cut scenes at the start and very end of the game, it is all but devoid of plot. Twins Jess and Soph have come to Paris in search of their Dad, series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz, who is missing in action. After meeting up with the resistance, you’re then told to kill the three aforementioned Nazi generals in order to gain access to Lab X, and that’s it until the very end of the game.
It feels like 30 minutes of narrative that has been stretched to cover a six-hour game in order to justify a playthrough. There’s really nothing worth shouting about here, which comes as a real shame after its predecessor told one of the best stories in a first-person shooter for a very long time.
Youngblood has been designed with co-operative play in mind, so much so that purchasing the Deluxe Edition nets you a Buddy Pass that allows a friend to play with you for free. It’s a great incentive that takes advantage of the dynamic of the twins, as they’re never apart during the entire campaign. Inviting a pal along for the ride does help the experience somewhat when it comes to its grindy and repetitive nature, but that’s only because you’ll have someone to play off of.
Thanks to questionable tactics, a tedious and boring structure, bullet spongey enemies, and a narrative that’s completely throwaway, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is far and away the worst entry in the franchise this generation. Some of its inventive combat mechanics remain intact, but they’re completely overshadowed by throwaway side quests that we were tired of five years ago. This is a boring, tedious slog through Nazi-occupied Paris that you can probably skip.