The Sister’s that slay together, stay together…
When previews and final reviews had hit just a day or two before the game released, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from MachineGame’s latest spin-off to the Wolfenstein saga. Taking place several years after The New Colossus, starring the daughters of series lead, BJ Blazkowicz, the game certainly has its own unique flavor due to the dorky and often hilarious duo. By the time the credits rolled, I was pleased with Wolfenstein: Youngblood, but its journey is not entirely and wholly satisfying.
Set twenty years after the last time we took the much needed fight to the Nazi regime as good ol’ B.J. Blazkowicz, with the help of several supporting characters, such as his wife, Anya, we get a small glimpse into the family life that he’s currently settled into. However; it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as B.J. has since gone missing, and his daughters, Soph and Jess, break off with their friend Abby; Grace Walker’s own daughter, and attempt to track him down in Nazi occupied France. The girls end up teaming up with the French Resistance, running missions for the group, a faction under the control of a french woman named Juju, one who aids in the girl’s search for their missing father.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is not structured like a typical Wolfenstein game, and expecting one, or placing your hopes that it is, is only going to lead to disappointment. Here, you have a small hub location that can place you within a few districts of Neu-Paris, as you’ll often revisit these same few locations over and over again as you complete missions, grind enemies to level up, as well as track down coins used to buy new outfits, equip new mods to your weapons, and use your level up tokens to unlock new powers and abilities. Essentially, while it may have the appearance of a live-service looter shooter, it’s not quite that. Youngblood does have trouble coming up with an identity all its own, but it does serve out some fantastic shooting in the meanwhile, all at a budget price.
Now, I’ve seen all the complaints about how the game is structured and the formula used to keep you going back into the same locations, but I’ve also read that many people are enjoying what Youngblood offers, and I too am one who also has enjoyed my time here. Traversing the same few environments would be something I would find annoying, but collecting coins, tracking down chests, and the overall fast paced combat just kept me engaged everytime I jump back in. The level design handled by Arkane, the developers of Dishonored, is a thing of beauty as you’ll consistently discover new paths and secret hideaways that reward exploring off the beaten path.
The pair of girls are an absolute riot and some of my favorite new characters in years. These dorky and childish girls make jokes, quote a pair of characters from their favorite fantasy novels; in a British accent no less, and often break out into dance in an elevator. During combat, each of them are always spouting off words of encouragement as they splatter through Nazis soldiers, and gunning down towering robotic threats. Love’em or leave’em, the Blazkowicz twins are my favorite new additions to the world of Wolfenstein. The girls also have the ability to grant buffs or quick heals through animations like throwing a thumbs up, or making the metal horns emote with their hand. You can select whichever of these you like and I found the revive perk to work extremely well when I was separated from Jess and she was deep within a group of Nazi’s. Now, playing in Co-op, this buff system works rather well, but when you have to rely on an AI companion in solo play, I’ve had them either ignore my pleas for help or run up to me and just stand there. Granted, this oblivious behavior happened maybe 3 or 4 times, but since your lives are shared, it sucks to lose one of them to this sort of annoyance.
Neu-Paris is split into districts, often containing areas that hold much stronger enemies than you can handle at the moment. There were several times I would stumble into a freakishly tall robotic solider, sporting a red skull icon indicating his advanced health threat level, only for me to nope right out of there and go back to something a bit more my speed. Enemies do level up alongside you as you’ll jump back into each District, always forcing you to kill a bit more efficiently or take advantage of the level design and have them approach you on your terms. One complaint thrown in the game’s direction is that enemies can come off as mere bullet sponges, and while you can swap to a weapon that is harsher on their shields than others, I do agree that enemies can often feel artificially stronger than they should be. Much like my complaints with the recently released Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, I’d rather have far more weaker enemies thrown at me than a few health bar enhanced foes eating my bullets for far longer than they realistically should.
While there is an aspect of stealth; crouching, hiding, as well as cloaking, being sneaky or invisible is not a strong aspect of the game and frankly, enemies can easily spot you despite your best efforts. You can melee kill enemies fairly quickly, throw knives or hand axes, but it’s the actual gun-blazing shooting that most people are coming to a Wolfenstein game for. Combat is fast paced, blood thirsty, and vastly enjoyable. Weapons, such as they are in this world, pack a lethal punch and can often explode enemies into a fine paste, fueling your desire to unleash more hell. Youngblood, however; has the worst weapon wheel I’ve ever seen as you are not moving the analog stick between slotted weapons, but rather you are moving a small white dot around the circle to the weapon you want. It’s highly inconsistent and as there is no slow down while the weapon wheel is active, this is a live co-op game after all, which makes you incredibly vulnerable as you attempt to select weapons. I’ve had numerous times where I would lose half my health attempting to even select the weapon, often it not picking up on what I wanted and I’d be downed in seconds. While you can quick tab between your last used pair of weapons, the weapon wheel is incredibly horrible and had a huge impact on my experience.
With each of the girls sporting a state of art power suit, they can double jump, cloak, and slam down into the ground, as well as run into enemies, causing them to fly back from the impact. Some of these skills are not all available at the start, and you’ll need to unlock more of them as you progress through the story. The same is also said for when you’ll earn many of the weapons that assist in unlocking doors you’ll encounter everywhere. It’s not quite a metroidvania tactic, but it does feel like one in many ways. The girls will level up as they complete tasks and kill enemies, and you can use those tokens to boost their health, the amount of damage their tackle can do, or allow your weapons to become more devastating with increasing their ammo capacity, and more.
Priced at half of what a typical AAA games is on release, Youngblood does show that cost reflected in the amount of content available. Skilled players can push through the main story missions rather quickly, where those looking to get their money’s worth can easily sink a few dozen hours or more into what is here. There are a small number of main missions available with several side quests that are usually quite entertaining, if not for the fetch quest appeal to many of them. There are also a few random events like placing a car bomb, or rescuing local hostages, but there are just too few of them and they repeat far too often. There is also one in particular where Abby will say there is a nearby Nazi solider that needs to be taken out, but they will almost always be on the other side of the map. There are limited cutscenes due to the lack of proper story missions, but the ones that are here are solid and set up the next stage of Wolfenstein with some insanely cool ideas. If anything, Youngblood has made me more excited for the next main series title than anything else.
While there’s been much talk about the microtransaction model in the gold bars, a currency used to buy some new skins for your guns and power armor, I never saw a point to it and frankly, it didn’t invade my experience whatsoever. While I would prefer they weren’t there, as this isn’t a free to play release, it’s really not as obvious or in your face as many other outlets are claiming. Hell, for a while, I didn’t even know they existed until I checked out the skins I could get for Soph’s suit. Apart from one kick ass skin, nearly everything here, including the xp boosts you can purchase, feel lacking or even remotely interesting. Also, at the time that I write this, the xp boosts being purchasable with gold bars was patched out, with Bethesda claiming it was in error. Unlike WB’s Shadow of War, the game does not feel designed around these boosts or gold bar items affecting the core gameplay loop or the progression systems at play.
Owners of the Deluxe edition of the game can opt to have a friend share the experience with them. This version of the game allows your friend to download a basic version of the game that allows you to join up with owners of the actual release. Much like how A Way Out handled its co-op, here players can fight alongside one another for the purchase of one copy of the Deluxe edition. The joining player cannot, however; earn achievements or trophy’s unless they purchase an actual copy of the game. Their progress will save should they do so.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is certainly with its issues, but apart from the awful weapon wheel or the bullet sponge Nazi threats, I enjoyed the little story that was there and the combat surrounding it. It’s a fairly short experience that could have benefited by having more credible reasons for us to jump back into the same locations, despite learning the in’s and out’s of the splendid level design. Jess and Soph are wonderful characters that I hope stick around, and that MachineGames comes back to offer us up a full scale sequel utilizing all the pieces they currently have in play.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.