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
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