The Good: Nice graphics. Interesting maps.
The Bad: Silly in-mission objectives. Weapons feel like they lack punch. Co-op partner AI is iffy.
The Ugly: No difference between characters. Few people playing Co-Op.
Maybe it’s that I’m tired of killing Nazis. Or maybe it’s not that I’m tired of killing Nazis, but Wolfenstein: Youngblood makes it so unexciting to do so. Maybe it’s that the characters, the daughters of B.J. Blazkowicz, Jess and Soph, are entirely the same (do you want to play as the blonde daughter, or the brunette daughter?). Or maybe it’s that the game is always played Co-Op, and it was tough finding partners, leaving me to play with the mediocre AI partner the game provides. To be fair, Arkane Studios, the new kids on the team, have made their presence known by throwing a lot of little elements into the mix, making Wolfenstein more of an action RPG hybrid than ever before, but as they actually play out, these elements are too tepid to inspire you to fight to make that next level. It seemed to me that I played The New Colossus through in just a couple of sittings, but in Youngblood am constantly thinking of other games I’d rather be playing when I’m trying to review it, and have yet to play for more than about an hour in a single session.
Oh, where to start? While nothing is really awful about Youngblood, I really struggled to find things that I thought were good about it. The maps are probably the highpoint, providing multiple routes to achieving your objectives, in general offering a sneaky, less shoot-y way, and a going in with guns blazing route. Beyond the mission maps themselves, the whole world is open, allowing you to tackle missions in any order you see fit, fast traveling to different locations through an underground transit system. The mission themselves are not a particularly surprising collection of ‘go here and kill that guy,’ ‘go there and recover that item,’ and ‘go there and investigate something.’ During the mission, a side mission may pop up that you can do for extra experience points. Whatever engine is generating these missions is doing a terrible job. I’m given a pop-up mission that there is an enigma machine nearby, and I need to beat the Nazis to it. It’s in the next room that I cleared two seconds ago. In another instance, I’m told there are hostages being killed in the area, and there they are, right in front of me (I’m a little surprised I didn’t see them simply appear there). Furthermore, the enemy, as near as I can tell, isn’t actually trying to do the things the mission cautions me on, like get to the enigma before I do or kill the hostages I’m rescuing. The whole thing is frankly very baffling.
The game is always Co-Op, the two daughters fighting side by side. The serious problem is that no one is playing it, and I think that’s going to get worse, not better. I’ve spent a ton of time watching the “waiting for another player” message, often giving up (which appears to require you bringing up a task manager and killing the program?!?) and going with a Co-Op bot. The bot is neither particularly bright nor stupid. It negotiates the terrain well, so if I go in quiet, jumping from roof to roof say, it follows my lead and my trail. It does unfortunately tend to get fixated on an enemy they have no chance of killing and getting destroyed by it. There are a number of things like doors and crates that require both women to accomplish, and the bot does a surprisingly good job of coming over and doing their part – which is often more than I could get a human Co-Op player to do – but when you’re down, your Co-Op partner can revive you before you bleed out, and rarely did the bot do that. The Co-Op AI oddly sometimes throws you armor or health, which I last saw in Bioshock Infinite – how did that get in here? As a side note, I do think the bot is cheating a little, as they never seem to run out of ammo despite firing nearly constantly. Speaking of which, enemies are tough, or maybe the weapons just lack punch, because even bottom line soldiers take several shots to bring down. Part of that could be that soldiers come in several levels of difficulty differentiated subtly by small changes in their armor or trim color (they also seem to have their rank in text hovering over them, which either I’ve been missing up until now, or just arrived with the last patch). Of course, when you’re shooting an enemy at range past your own muzzle flash, you can’t really see those details (or read the text), so you end up just shooting until your target drops, and sometimes you feel like you’re shooting a lot for what looked like a low-level soldier while others seem to die almost unexpectedly fragilely.
As in previous games, players can upgrade their weapons (in this case by collecting silver coins to buy upgrades with), but Arkane added in a number of RPG elements that the previous Wolfenstein games have not had. Characters now level up, gaining experience for killing enemies and completing objectives. When you level up, you gain a ridiculously small damage improvement (like 1% or something, and it makes me wonder about the mathematics of the game theory that led to that pittance), and an ability point. These points are spent gaining skills such as silent attacks, the ability to dual wield or wield certain weapons, and higher base health and armor – that kind of thing. The skills are separated into tiers with the higher tiers only becoming unlocked at certain levels (or maybe that’s certain points in the plotline – I’m not sure which). Higher level skills require more ability points to unlock, so between the tiny damage increase and slowly collecting the ability points one at a time, the motivation to level up was definitely lacking (You mean if I play for just another hour, I can get a whole ability point, when I need four to unlock the skill I want, PLUS 1% additional damage? Be still, my heart!).
So, on the whole, I don’t know. Certainly Bethesda can make great games (Fallout 76 aside), and Machinegames has been at it for years, and I like what I’ve seen from Arkane, but Wolfenstein: Youngblood just feels lazy, playing off my desire for yet more of that Wolfenstein Nazi killing action flavor. And when my editor offered Youngblood to me, I was excited to play it. Yet somewhere between that excitement and what it actually plays like leaves me feeling like I’ve done it all before (and I have) better (which it has been).
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
This review is based on a digital copy of Wolfenstein: Youngblood for the PC provided by Bethesda Softworks.