When it was announced that Wolfenstein was coming back, I wasn’t sure what to think. Was there really a way to rework Wolfenstein to fit with games today? That trepidation was quickly nixed once I started playing Machine Games’ version of the IP. Wolfenstein: The New Order brought frenzied, visceral nazi-murdering back to the World in a way that we hadn’t seen in years, and The New Colossus cemented Machine Games’ reputation as some of the best in the business at crazy cinematic action moments. Both were fantastic single player experiences, if still a little rough around the edges at points. Wolfenstein: Youngblood marks a new direction for the series, with a focus on more open areas, co-op play and RPG elements, but is unfortunately also the weakest entry in the series so far.
Youngblood opens in the 1980’s, long after the end of The New Colossus, and has you take control of one of BJ’s twin daughters Jess and Soph. BJ has disappeared and the girls have taken it upon themselves to travel to Nazi occupied Paris in search of their father. This is effectively as much story as you’ll find for much of Youngblood, as the game largely moves away from the cinematic story telling methods of its predecessors. There are some fun moments here and there, but you’ll spend most of your time jumping from area to area, completing missions filled with lots of Nazis, but little exposition. Exposition and cinematic moments were very much the best parts of the previous Wolfenstein games and so it feels like Youngblood is missing the lifeblood of modern Wolfenstein. If you were coming in hoping for a cavalcade of cinematic action moments, you’ll be pretty disappointed with what’s here.
With little story to propel you through Youngblood, the focus is squarely on the gameplay and level design of Nazi-occupied Paris. One of the worst parts of Wolfenstein: The New Order was the game’s apparent focus on stealth elements, despite large levels that felt entirely counterproductive to stealth. This is somewhat rectified in Youngblood, with levels that are often tighter and built to allow multiple methods of progression, making stealth a more viable option than in the past. However, there are still issues with enemies seeing you with little warning – or ability to hide from – and scenarios quickly devolve into a multitude of enemies all seemingly appearing from cracks in the wall and rushing you. There often seems to be little strategy to enemy AI, beyond utilising mounted weapons and the occasional grenade. What results is every combat encounter following a simple formula; sneakily take out 3 to 4 enemies, have a soldier appear out of nowhere, spot you within a second, trigger the alarms and then have all 30+ enemies in the area swam you. It’s not fun the first time it happens, and it certainly isn’t fun once you’ve hit the fifth time in a single mission.
The changes to the new Wolfenstein formula continue in Youngblood, with the introduction of a levelling system and new armour mechanics. The armour mechanics were initially frustrating, with the signifiers of the two different armour types being extremely hard to parse at distance or during any decently paced encounters. This meant I would often use the wrong weapons early in the game, leading to doing lower damage and protracting combat. While this frustration lessened as I got used to the system, I would still often find myself running out of ammo and having to resort to the wrong weapon types or significantly weaker weapons. With some better weapon balancing and some more distinctive signifiers, the armour system could have been a great addition to the game.
Instead of the linear progression of previous games, you’ll jump from open level to open level, completing missions for a variety of characters, earning experience and levelling up. Levelling up does a few things, but the most relevant are unlocking skill points and reaching level thresholds for other missions. Skills are the same as in past games, increasing your health/armour, resource drop rates and a few other special perks. The number of your level is more important than your skills, however, as being underleveled in a mission will drop the damage you do and increase the damage you take. That’s right, get ready to grind in Youngblood as you’ll be unable to hit the required level requirements by just completing the ‘main’ missions in the game. It almost feels like the level system was added to pad the game out, because the main through line of the game would otherwise only last a few hours.
The biggest differences introduced with Youngblood comes in the form of its open areas and its focus on co-op gameplay. Instead of having bespoke areas created for a singular mission like in the past, Youngblood instead utilises larger hub-like areas that are re-used across multiple missions. This formula has worked incredibly well over a wide swath of games and genres, but Youngblood’s areas are largely uninteresting and hard to navigate. There’s no map beyond the small mini-map and walkways often loop around in directions you can’t initially see, leading to often going in the wrong direction while trying to get to the next mission point. A lack of interesting secrets to find – beyond the occasional single-use chest filled with silver coins – means there’s little incentive to wade through the masses of Nazis they contain. The worst part of this is that the buildings and areas of Youngblood look good, so I would have loved more incentive to explore them.
The transition to a co-op system is both the best and worst part of Youngblood. Massacring waves of zombies with a friend is a heap of fun and planning out approaches adds a great element to the game. You can alternate weapon types, focusing on different enemies and armour types, easily double down on enemies and just communicate in general. If you’re playing alone though, Youngblood can be an incredibly frustrating experience. The AI controlled companion can often be seen running directly to high levelled enemies and quickly dying, idling next to a wall while you’re getting obliterated or refusing to come over and revive you. My enjoyment of Youngblood dropped significantly whenever I played the game solo, so I would highly suggest avoiding it if you can.
I loved Wolfenstein: The New Order, and while The New Colossus didn’t quite hit the same high notes as its predecessor, it left me hoping for and wanting more. Conversely, Youngblood has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. The new mechanics brought into the game largely feel unfinished and unengaging, with the story and bombast the series is known for largely missing. While fun to play with a friend, solo play is a largely frustrating experience. All in all, if you’re hoping for a cinematic action adventure with an awesome story, Youngblood isn’t the game for you. If you’re looking for your next co-op shooter to play with a friend, there are much more engaging options out there.
- Free buddy pass is fantastic - Graphically looks great - Gunplay is great
- AI companion isn't great - Encounter design leaves a lot to be desired - Open areas lack any real engaging secrets or content - Signature cinematic action scenes are largely missing