While I don’t go out of my way to look at other reviews, especially prior to finishing my own, I do become aware of the overall scores being given out and any prevalent issues surrounding a game launch. It is clear that most reviewers are not that enamoured with this latest Wolfenstein game and that is fine. Unfortunately, there has been a few folk claiming that this is all the fault of the Bethesda trying to ‘shoehorn’ female protagonists into a franchise where they don’t belong. While this is happening in many places across the entertainment spectrum right now (Ghostbusters springs to mind), I think it is folly to just make the assumption that if a game is crap and it has a female lead this must, therefore, be the reason. A woman protagonist does not automatically make a game 'woke' and if you think a woman can't kick ass I would invite you to watch Aliens. I will be talking openly about the prior two games so please be aware of spoilers, with that said let’s take a look at Wolfenstein Youngblood.
Young Dumb and full of Puns
If you have read my reviews of the previous two Wolfenstein outings you will know I am a huge fan of where MachineGames have taken this classic first-person shooter. I remember falling in love with the action sequences in The New Order but also being bowled over with how much life had been breathed into the many characters along the way. BJ himself, while still a brutal Nazi killer, falls for Anna and their connection gave the narrative an additional texture that I had not been expecting. I also liked how that devastating choice you must make at the beginning changed many subsequent story elements in both games. The New Colossus then took all these fantastic characters and dialled it to eleven with a fast-paced narrative, a deliciously spiteful antagonist and more outrageous locations to eviscerate Nazis in.
In Youngblood we now go forward in time nineteen years, the Nazi’s have been beaten back and the world is starting to recover from the devastation inflicted on it by the Third Reich. Anna (who was heavily pregnant at the close of New Colossus) gave birth to twin daughters Jessica and Sophia who are the playable characters in Youngblood. I won’t go into specific story elements other than to say BJ has vanished and his daughters decide to go find their old man. This impromptu rescue mission leads to Paris, which is still heavily occupied by Nazis and where our two would-be hero’s find the resistance headquarters deep in the Paris catacombs.
Jessica and Sophia are nothing what I would have expected the daughters of BJ Blazkowicz to be like but this not the reason why I think they are awful characters. The writing presented here is terrible and I cannot conceive how anyone over at MachineGames thought they would please Wolfenstein fans. I personally think it’s a safe bet, that any child of BJ Blazkowicz would be trained to defend themselves against Nazis from the day they could walk. The notion these two nineteen year olds are barfing and crying in their first combat situation is bizarre. Also seeing them celebrating and barfing at the same time just looks so off-key, at that point I was wondering how bad this was going to get. As the game progresses we hear the dialogue between them spill out like children trying to mimic Bill and Ted (but not in a funny way). The elevator scenes in particular actually gave me goosebumps I was cringing that much. I would far more have preferred two confident, capable and interesting young woman who showed even a glimmer of the personality of the previous cast of characters. There is a definite line between the goofy but endearing cast of characters from the previous games and these two idiots who just come across crass and even at times mentally handicapped.
The Dishonored games are a master class in level design and world-building, one reason I hold Arkane in such high regard. Moving around the many locations in Dishonored felt like an actual place with countless hidden pathways: so to see them involved in this project was both surprising and exciting. There is no denying you can see signs of Arkane’s expertise here, with many city blocks reaching up two and three floors. There are open windows, balcony’s and alternative routes for many situations: at times it really does remind me scrambling around the rafters of Dunwall. To assist the girls in reaching these loft heights, the power suits give you the ability to perform a double jump. While the levels of agility don’t come anywhere near Corvo, moving around Paris is one of the more fun aspects of the game. Just like in Dishonored, a lot of work has clearly gone into the detail that makes each room seem like a unique place. The game world is gorgeous with tonnes of weapons effects and destruction, I particularly like the prism effect when light passes through a cloaked item.
Considering this is a more open level design than the previous games I find it bizarre that there is no map to help you find your way around. The minmap is well designed and shows various layers around you but the lack of a bigger map is infuriating often leaves you wandering around lost. You can see quest markers in various directions but picking your way through the many paths can be a tricky endeavour, especially considering how fast enemies respawn.
Groundhogs can’t look up
I will never hold it against a developer to try something new and taking a game in a new direction. Ironically one of the best examples of this done right was from Arkane with Mooncrash. This worked so well because the developers infused the framework of the game with mechanics that improved the experience. Even though you would be going back over the same areas many times over, the game gave you actual reasons to care as well as an ever-shifting set of parameters. Youngblood has none of that and asks you to return to the same places over and over again with no sense of change. Indeed, if this was some kind of looter shooter then repeating the same areas and missions would at least have some mechanical justification. Alas, the guns you acquire (while fun) are set aside from the excellent customisation.
Another gameplay system that absolutely cripples the gameplay loop is how aggressively enemies respawn: you can literally clear an area, run into a building and on coming back out the whole lot of them have returned like nothing was. This kind of system, where the game world just doesn’t care what you do, is what finally killed my enjoyment of Just Cause 4 because even while fighting the same group of enemies, new ones would be appearing behind me. Bottom line is, if you are asking players to play the same situations repeatedly, you should be giving them meaningful incentives or interesting consequences to their actions.
The first big difference I noticed between this game and its predecessor smacked me round the face like a prize tuna. A whopping great health bar above each enemy just looks so out of place in this game and I wish there was an option to turn it off. This is actually symptomatic of the games larger gameplay loop and shift towards light RPG mechanics. It does seem like many of the games changes have been made specifically to artificially slow the player down and add level gated roadblocks.
The gunplay and wall to wall action of the prior games are one of the series major strengths but I also really loved how stealth had been woven into the mix. Taking down commanders before they could set the alarm off was genuinely excellent and this was largely down to the well-designed levels. In Youngblood there are numerous factors that make playing with stealth far less satisfying, one being that enemy placement just doesn’t seem to promote sneaking around. The cloak also makes these tense situations far less stressful and feels more like I’m cheesing the encounter. I will say that after many hours, stealth takedowns did start to come easier but there is still that lack of incentive when you know in a few minutes the Commander will do a Bill Murray.
There are times in Dishonored when you look down upon a group of guards and the options open to you are just mouthwatering. At times like that, I always am thankful that those fine folks over at Arkane let players save whenever they god damn wish to. Unfortunately, in Youngblood, the save system runs on a checkpoints which is one of the most unforgiving and broken I’ve ever come across. On my way to the first boss, I had to make my way through three zones before the encounter. Thanks to movement bug I was killed and the game reloaded me right back at the beginning of the three zones. This is an absolutely terrible design and I cannot fathom why a developer would do this.
Of course, the real personalities in any Wolfenstein game are the assortment of guns and gadgets we use to send the Third Reich to Nazi heaven. We have all the usual suspects here from silenced pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, right up to the meat grinders such as the Dieslkraftwerk. The weapons customisation has been expanded on in this game and a bevvy of other options such as alternate fire modes. There are even bonuses for using the same make of upgrades. I am really pleased with this part of the game and how much changing the various components can alter the way a weapon performs.
There is also an skill tree for you to work through and while many are generic 'more health/armour' upgrades there are a few more interesting additions. Unfortunately, the Stilts and Constrictor Harness have not made their way to this game but the Shackles have. These allow you to smash through doors, knock enemies over and do a ground stomp. All this goodness is somewhat muted by the bullet sponge effect of the level system and this also has a real knock-on effect to the flow of combat. To be fair, when attacking the right level of enemy you can still achieve those glorious moments when you paint the walls red and walk away feeling exhilerated.
So right from the off, you should know you cannot play the game with just one sister, so if you wanna creep around rubbing mud on your face and brooding in a dark corner forget it. If you don’t play with another player then the second sister will be guided around by the games AI and in terms of navigation, it does an ok job. What baffles me is if you have gone to the trouble of creating a game with a permanent second player, why on earth can’t you give them commands? When you come across two guards it would have been really cool to pick them both off at the same time, like in Ghost Recon. Your sister can revive you (maybe), but apart from this and the pep moves, that is your lot. Of course, because the game is designed to only work with two characters there are hundreds of ‘two-player’ items everywhere that must be used together and this gets tedious very fast.
The best way to play Youngblood is of course with a real person covering your back. To play Wolfenstein you must create/log into Bethesdas own proprietary servers and this goes for playing co-op. When you host a game you can set who can join your session, whether it be anyone or just friends. If you pick up the deluxe edition of the game you can also invite a friend who doesn’t even own the game, (with the trial downloaded and a Bethesda account) which is fantastic value. I have heard of real player co-op not working for some reviewers but for me, it worked flawlessly. The Netcode also seems very well optimised and overall we were impressed with the whole experience. Sometimes we would sneak around picking off guards in sync and other times run in guns blazing. Overall I do feel like the potential for co-op driven content has been very underused which is a shame.
Is it PC?
Ok, so the good news is that this game is pretty much running the same engine and assets as The New Colossus, with some new bits and bobs thrown in for the new 80’s era. For me, the game runs beautifully and there are tonnes of graphical options for anyone wishing to tweak a few extra fps. The action does look fantastic and as I have mentioned, you can definitely see Arkane’s influence in the way levels reach into the sky like City 17 or Dunwall. I have heard there is a G-Sync issue so be aware if you have that kind of set up. Also, rebinding keys and using a controller all work perfectly fine.
There are plenty of bugs and glitches running around the place and I have come a cropper with a few. As I mention below, not getting revived by a frozen AI companion can be infuriating but the sound bugs are also killers. If you use the flashlight it can cause the games sound to stutter which means a full restart, pity then that the game uses a checkpoint system for saves. So far Bethesda has been more preoccupied with fixing bugs affecting microtransaction than any of the real problems but I hope that changes in the near future.
In this review, I have highlighted many design issues with Youngblood and these will affect each player differently. For the most part, I have been able to learn to adjust to the bizarre ammo/shield mechanic and I got over the levelling system very fast. However, one issue I just cannot reconcile with is how I can start the end game boss fight, die and be put back in with the same ammo levels I died with. This one thing had me fuming and I had to walk away for a few hours, especially when the reason I died was that my AI companion just froze up and refused to revive me. This is shockingly bad game design and it feels like the developers just don't value the players time.
When I pan back and look at this game as a complete package, I think I can see what the developers were going for. Some have speculated that it was Bethesda telling Arkane and Machine Games to make a game of this ilk in order to get the old micro-transactions flowing. Given how Bethesda has been taking care of business lately, I wouldn't rule this out. It has to be said that Youngblood is not a full-priced game and with a buddy pass on the deluxe edition it’s not a bad deal at all. At the time of writing real money (gold bars) can only buy you cosmetics, but if this changes I'll be screaming it from the rooftops.
This is not the game many were hoping for but then I hope the developers (and Bethesda) can see that health bars, matching ammo patterns with armour and level tiers really don’t have any place in shooters like Wolfenstein. I hope all these new systems will now be tucked away (permanently) and when we do see the next instalment of this Wolfenstein saga, the game is back to full strength with all the things we love. What little there is of a story is poorly written and offers a tepid conclusion that could be legitimately skipped by series fans (or watched on YouTube). The most frustrating thing about playing Youngblood is that there were times when I did forget the design flaws for a few minutes started having real fun. Unfortunately, there was always a bug or design issue lurking around right around the corner to jump squarely in my way.
Thank you for reading my review of Wolfenstein Youngblood on PC. I would also like to thank Bethesda UK for providing me with a review key. If you like my content and would like to see more please add me to your favourites and follow me @riggedforepic where all my content gets posted.