It’s hard to shake the feeling of confusion when it comes to Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Even after playing for a few hours there’s a sense that its shift to a co-operative non-linear experience comes with a number of design elements and choices that feel a little slapdash. Even when, mechanically speaking, they work great. Take the weapon upgrade system, which allows for weapons to be modified, adjusting stuff like fire-rates and magazine sizes in addition to being able to see the raw damage and damage-per-second numbers right there in a nice RGP-like list of numerical stats. It’s deep, rewarding, and instantly gratifying.
Because it then allows for the dispatching of Nazi’s more efficiently and sometime more gruesomely.
The oddness comes from the fact that it takes Coins, found all over the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris in the 1980s, to modify a weapon. And in the many swastika-emblazoned crates that are basically Loot Chests tucked around every second corner. Functionally it’s a sound and simple way to go about weapon upgrades or crafting, and a generous helping of coinage helps keep these modifications flowing in such a way that you begin to feel more and more powerful the deeper you get into the game. But, why Coins? And more importantly, how?
Some 4K capture on PC via a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
Outside of progression for progressions sake, why do each of the two main protagonists - B.J. Blazkowicz daughters Jess and Soph - level up alongside the Nazi soldiers with their increasingly formidable health and armour bars powered by a number above their head?
“It’s hard to shake the feeling of confusion when it comes to Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Even after playing for a few hours.”
Breaking down mechanics found in action-RPGs and shooters that borrow as much of their design from the likes of Diablo as they do DOOM or Call of Duty in this way is, well, easy enough to do. And admittedly not all that perceptive. Or clever. This is stuff that can quite easily be passed off with a “because, videogames” shrug. The problem here though is that following in the footsteps of Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, these are mechanics that service Gameplay Only - to the detriment of story, the world, the struggle, character development, and the series’ longform cinematic ambition.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood falls into the same trap that many designed for co-op titles with RPG elements tend to fall into, mostly context-free action that is its own reward. Youngblood does have a story, and the introduction sets the scene in a well executed and lengthy cinematic that showcases Jess and Soph breaking free from the comfort of liberated America to search the streets of Paris for their missing father - the infamous Terror Billy.
For the most part though, once you meet up with resistance forces you’re then presented with a set of non-linear missions and side activities in various districts and Nazi installations with little in the way of drive outside of the ultimate goal. You need to take out three Brothers, enter Lab-X. Free Papa.
And yet even when you get there you’ll be hard pressed to recall or explain in a sentence or two just what and who the Brothers were, and what made them the main stepping stone in getting to the lab. For a game full of Nazis to shoot, Wolfenstein: Youngblood lacks a villain. Things pick up in the grand finale, with some energetic storytelling, bouts of stylish cinematic violence, and a big dramatic build-up and twist. But still, for the duration of the running and gunning time enemies are simple arcade stand-ins that respawn in a fashion that is more NES game that ran out of memory so all the enemies are now back on the screen you just left than gritty alternate timeline
Side note, the final ‘Boss Fight’ is a mess and just-about completely broken in design and execution. So there’s that too.
“IThings pick up in the grand finale, with some energetic storytelling, bouts of stylish cinematic violence, and a big dramatic build-up and twist.”
But, even without everything coming together to form a nice 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of a neon sunset sitting above war-torn Parisian streets, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a lot of fun. The gun feel, the combat variety, the various enemy types, the fluid movement, now with added co-op. There’s something that feels noteworthy and different about a shooter powered by the incredible id Tech engine, playable with a partner. And make no mistake about it Wolfenstein: Youngblood is meant to be experienced in this way. Playing alone, and the set-pieces all begin to feel a little broken when. Especially when armoured enemies are meant to be tackled cooperatively, with teamwork. Blood helping blood.
With development being a collaboration between MachineGames and Arkane Studios, there’s also a Dishonored vibe to a lot of the transversal - which emphasises the stealthier elements of the series in a way that is not only welcome, but exceptional. Sneaking around the multi-tiered levels is generally a blast and there’s a Nazi occupied Paris by the way of Dunwall vibe. Of course, even here the design confusion rears its head - with the knife being more powerful than several magazines of a high-powered rifle.
In the end Wolfenstein: Youngblood isn’t so much a misstep as it is a side-step, inessential but rewarding once you look past the confusion and simply take up arms and do that thing that this series does so well - kill and take-out entire squads of Nazi super soldiers in style. Now with an invitation that reads, plus one.
What we liked
Great gun feel and combat
Non-linear design leads to some great levels
Id Tech 6 is a brilliant engine offering solid performance and great effects
Weapon upgrades have the right impact on combat
Late game story stuff injects the game with momentum and purpose
What we didn't like
That said, the final boss battle is broken
The RPG stuff and mission/side mission setup feels a little slapdash
No real villain or antagonist to drive the plot
Enemy re-spawns are almost NES-level bad
Cosmetic micro-transactions and boosters feel pointless when the game itself is not that long