Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Let’s make a recipe to describe Wolfenstein: Youngblood:

Take Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

Chop it in half

Move it along from the 1970’s to the 1980’s

Triple the collectibles

Give it to the people who made Dishonored

Add an extensive weapon mod system

Add two player coop

Add microtransactions

And take out the story

There. That’s about right.

Youngblood is a new non-sequel in the Wolfenstein series, much like The Old Blood wasn’t a sequel to The New Order. It’s smaller in scope, taking only about 10 hours to complete. It’s meant to be played in coop but I played almost the entire game solo. It wasn’t terribly burdensome, though, of course, the AI wasn’t quite as useful as a human player.

It plays an awful lot like how I remember The New Colossus playing. Stealth is an option and sneaking around to silently murder Nazis is extremely satisfying. But, more often than not, you’re going to get caught and have to shoot your way out of an area. All of the weapons have that signature Machine Games look and feel. They sound great, they look great, and they’re very effective! Except that Youngblood added a layer of armor to almost every enemy. Some armor is broken with the shotgun and submachine gun (squishier targets), but most armor is broken with heavier stuff, the assault rifle and pistol. At first, I was annoyed by this system, and it never quite felt great against big enemies, but it does force you to use different weapons in different situations. My biggest problem with it is that there are more weapons for squishy targets than armored targets, but there seemed to be more armored enemies than squishy, so I didn’t get to have as much fun with every weapon.

The structure of the game is very reminiscent of Dishonored. There are a small handful of mission areas, and the bulk of the early game is visiting these areas repeatedly to complete short-ish tasks. For example, you’ll go in to one area, make your way to the mechanic’s garage, find an item or kill a particular enemy, and then you can either pick a new mission in that area and do it, or go back to the hub safe area. The result is that a bulk of the game is doing small missions in the same areas repeatedly. There were four major assaults on Nazi strongholds, and those were the big missions. Still not a whole lot of narrative to them, and once I completed them, I was handed another small mission to go back to them. Even the big mission areas get reused. The New Colossus did this too (sending you back to maps you’ve already finished to get more XP or currency), but it was a much bigger game.

The two places where the game fails is in the narrative and failing to exploit the setting. There’s a lengthy cutscene at the start, a lengthy cutscene after you finish three of the five major missions, and a short cutscene after you beat the boss. That’s it. In between, there isn’t a whole lot of motivating narrative to the little missions you’re doing before taking on Nazi strongholds. This is a fairly sharp contrast to The New Order and The New Colossus, both of which were rather competent in their storytelling. It’s particularly painful to have such an uncompelling and absentee antagonist when those prior games had great (well-written but awful) antagonists.

It’s also nominally in the 80’s. I don’t expect it to be all shopping malls and aerobics and new wave, but you can’t just throw around some 3D glasses, VHS tapes, and cassettes as collectibles to make it 80’s enough. The 1980’s in Nazi-occupied Paris should be absolutely fascinating, but instead it’s indistinguishable from any other game depicting a fascist occupation. Rubble, concrete, big Nazi robots. There’s not even radios playing the fascist pop music they made for this game. You only get to listen to it by finding the cassette collectibles and listening to them in a menu. This doesn’t fly for a coop game. Give me a Walkman!

Now let’s get to the ugly. Microtransactions. There are two currencies in game: silver coins, and gold bars. You can find silver coins all over the place in small quantities. You get silver coins for finishing missions. You have to purchase gold bars for cash. Silver coins are what you use to upgrade and modify your weapons, but all the cosmetics in the game (weapon and player skins) can also be purchased for silver coins or gold bars. There’s no lack of silver coins in the game, but for practical purposes, you’re going to spend those on your weapons, not looking good. I know this is a coop game and you can show off your good looks for strangers, but I really don’t understand why they jammed in this second currency. It’s not loot boxes, but it’s greedy and needless.

If I sound down on Youngblood, it’s because I kind of am. It’s the daughters of BJ Blazkowicz fighting Nazi’s in Paris in the 1980’s, and it’s just okay. This is a concept that could’ve been a full Wolfenstein game rather than a half-step before the next full sequel. I liked it but didn’t love it because I want it to be more than it is.

Reference: Machine Games and Arkane Studios Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Steam

RAGE 2

I’m terribly disappointed in RAGE 2 so before I go on and on about why I think it sucks, here’s what I liked, in bullet point form:

  • Enemy heads have a huge hitbox and pop in a satisfying manner
  • The ground punch attack feels great
  • It looks good and there’s no loading once you’re in the world
  • The cars sound meaty
  • Exploring the world is fun even if a lot of the map markers are just boring “kill everything” activities

The game starts off okay, with The Authority (the primary antagonist in RAGE) razing your fledgling community. After this tutorial (and honestly, who needs a tutorial in a FPS anymore?), you’re given a car and an open map and set to work. The work is meeting three characters that will help you overthrow The Authority. You gain their support by completing open world activities.

Minus the grinding to build support, the game is more or less just 7 story missions. It’s amazing how short the story is. There was just so little in the narrative to keep me interested. The open world activities are mostly just “kill everything”. There’s one ally whose support is gained through search and recovery missions, which I found to be not only the most interesting but the most rewarding. There are arks scattered across the world, where the game dispenses either a new weapon or a new ability. Since they’re so rewarding, they’re well worth searching out and they build your support with one ally. I finished the game with that ally’s support maxed out and all the others only half full because their missions are just slogs through enemy nests that give you resources to buy things.

The problem with dispensing abilities and weapons through open world activities is that if you never find that ark, you miss out on something that makes the game more fun. When I finished, the map revealed the rest of the arks I hadn’t found and I finished the game without three weapons and two abilities. Considering I found use for almost every weapon and ability I did have, it’s baffling that the game was perfectly happy with letting me finish it and not give me the tools to make the game more enjoyable. I specifically sought out arks because they give gameplay-affecting tools, but I guess that was my bad because I could’ve finished it with just a pistol, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. I’m really curious what the bare minimum of this game you have to play before hitting the credits.

Beyond taking away the things that make the game fun and hiding them on an enormous open world map, the travel between points was worse than boring, it’s a waste of time. Driving from one area to another in an open world wasteland should be more dangerous, but I was rarely attacked, and everything that attacked me was easily shrugged off or ran away from. At one point I unlocked a flying motorcycle that just hovered high enough above the ground to make all ground obstacles pointless and I couldn’t be attacked, so I was making straight line flights from one point to another. I may as well have had fast travel.

So most missions are a grind, exploring isn’t necessary, and travel is a waste of time, but how’s the shooting? It’s okay. Nothing has the id Software signature feel to it. Enemies are mostly bullet sponges unless you aim for the head, which is comically easy to hit. It’s like bullets are magnetically attracted to their skulls. I found that most fights boiled down to whether I shoot them in the head at a distance with the assault rifle, or run up to shotgun them in the torso. I had a rocket launcher that was useful for big enemies, and a pistol that shot rounds that would catch on fire that I didn’t find particularly useful, but, again, I didn’t find three of the weapons in this game. Maybe they were super cool. I’ll never know!

The worst part of RAGE 2, the unforgivable part of it, is the bugs. Holy hell. One location never flagged as 100% complete because I opened a chest, died, and the chest remained opened but the counter locked it at unopened. There were a handful of times when the game just hard locked. Once the game crashed my OS. One time I beat a boss but died at the same time. It played the “you beat the boss” cutscene, but I came back dead and had to quit to restart it.

I didn’t think RAGE would ever get a sequel, and I question what this is doing for anyone. The original wasn’t a great game by any stretch but it was better than this one in almost every measure. There’s a lot more to do in RAGE 2 and the open world aspect might appeal to some people, where RAGE was more of linear game, but more to do isn’t a benefit when what you’re doing isn’t fun to begin with.

Reference: Avalanche Studios and id Software. RAGE 2 (Bethesda Softworks, 2019)

Source: Purchased from Steam