Wolfenstein Youngblood Review — An Enjoyable Experiment
Wolfenstein Youngblood is hit and miss in a lot of ways, but at the very least, MachineGames has been able to capitalize on the promise of making a fun co-op shooter.
Machine Games, Arkane Studios
Switch, Xbox One, PC
Review copy provided by the publisher
If you know me well, you know that I’ve pretty much loved the new Wolfenstein games this generation. From The New Order and The Old Blood to my personal favorite in The New Colossus, all of the latest Wolfenstein titles are great in my book. And with this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I once again love the latest installment in the franchise, Wolfenstein Youngblood.
That said, what MachineGames has done in this latest entry mixes things up far more than I would’ve initially imagined. While Wolfenstein Youngblood is vastly different in many ways compared to the games that have come before it in recent years, at its core it remains a solid shooter that is a ton of fun to play with a pal.
“At its core, [Wolfenstein Youngblood] remains a solid shooter that is a ton of fun to play with a pal.”
Rather than taking place directly after the events of Wolfenstein II, Youngblood jumps into the future by twenty years. No longer do you control the iconic Nazi killer B.J. Blazkowicz, but instead you are put in the shoes of one of his twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia. The power of the Nazis has been diminished a bit since the apparent death of Hitler, something that likely will occur in Wolfenstein III, but the regime does still have a stranglehold on certain parts of Europe. After B.J. goes missing early on in the game, Jess and Soph leave home and travel to Paris to find their dad and take down some Nazis along the way.
The story that Wolfenstein Youngblood tells is fairly straightforward. Off of the heels of The New Colossus, which has perhaps my favorite plotline in any game of the last few years, it definitely leaves something to be desired. More than any other game in this new Wolfenstein series so far, Youngblood likely focuses the least on the emphasis of the narrative. When it does introduce new story beats though, some of them also fall incredibly flat. One moment near the end of the game specifically still has left me scratching my head at the direction that MachineGames is seemingly taking things in this universe. I’m not sure if there will ever be another Wolfenstein game that takes place after the events of Youngblood, but if there is, I’m not all that thrilled at the moment about where things are going.
As far as the characters in Wolfenstein Youngblood go, B.J. remains the best and most interesting of the bunch. The only problem is that he’s barely in the game. The two leading women, Jess and Soph, are at times fun and witty and in other instances are just downright annoying. I also just struggle to even understand what their defining characteristics are even supposed to be. In one scene they’ll go from being stone-cold Nazi killers only to then five minutes later start acting like Beavis and Butthead. I understand that both Jess and Soph are young and are meant to be somewhat childish, but they came off as dumb goons to me throughout the game more than anything else.
On the gameplay front though is where things in Wolfenstein Youngblood have somewhat drastically been shaken up, at least in terms of structure. Rather than playing out in a pretty linear fashion like past games in the series have, Youngblood opens things up far more and allows you to do tasks in essentially any order you wish after the game’s opening. While this is cool in theory, the tasks which you’re asked to do are essentially identical to one another, so it doesn’t end up feeling all that novel.
That said, the way in which the world of Wolfenstein Youngblood is constructed is actually pretty cool. Levels are set up as different districts within the city of Paris and you can freely travel to any area that you like at any time. Each region of the city will typically have main missions for you to accomplish within, but you can also pick up some side activities as well and complete those across the city. Side missions aren’t anything special, but they do give you a bit more to do and lengthen the experience by a fair amount.
“The only problem with the RPG aspects of Youngblood though is that they can kind of break the game.”
The other big change in Youngblood comes with the addition of a multitude of RPG elements. Enemies now have active health bars over their heads, along with armor types that can only directly be countered by certain ammo types that some of your guns may use. In addition, you can also use a currency that you collect throughout the game to level up your weapons and give them added damage, an increased fire rate, or higher accuracy, depending on the upgrade path which you opt to focus on. Plus, the character that you use levels up over the course of the game and gains new skill points as well that can be redeemed for new abilities.
The advent of all these RPG systems was honestly my biggest worry coming into Wolfenstein Youngblood, but I found their addition to be pretty refreshing. The loop of killing Nazis, leveling up, and collecting more money that you could then immediately pour back into your character was largely a ton of fun. My friend and I continuously felt encouraged to go out of our way to do more side missions so that we would be able to improve our characters even further.
The only problem with the RPG aspects of Youngblood though is that they can kind of break the game. By the time my co-op partner and I reached some of the later stages of the story, the weapons that we had at our disposal were dealing insane amounts of damage. Mini-bosses of sorts that would typically take quite a few hits in order to take down were being blown to smithereens by some of our fully leveled-up energy weapons in literally one to two shots. The game’s final boss was also kind of a joke, too, because of this. It’s worth noting that we weren’t even at the suggested level in order to beat the game, but because our weapons were so over-powered, we kind of just mowed everything down.
Wolfenstein Youngblood also contains a “mastery” system with each gun that you utilize. As you kill more enemies, your mastery level with that weapon will continue to go up. Each time your mastery gets higher, the percentage of damage that you deal out with that weapon also increases. For my friend that I played the game with, he essentially only focused on using one single weapon for almost the entirety of our playthrough. By the time he had reached such a high mastery with that gun, the damage that it dealt with each shot became ridiculous. I appreciate some of the role-playing ideas implemented in Youngblood, but you really can take advantage of some of the systems very easily.
Largely, the RPG components are cool, but they don’t always work out very well. Fortunately, the core gameplay has pretty much remained as fun as it was in previous Wolfenstein games. MachineGames essentially didn’t try to fix what wasn’t already broken with Youngblood, which is fine by me. Some strategies such as stealth didn’t work out as well in Youngblood as it may have in The New Colossus, but I never felt like, as a whole, things took a drastic step back. The gameplay from previous games in the series, for the most part, made a perfect transition to the co-op style of play that is featured here.
Likely the strangest part in all of Wolfenstein Youngblood though is that it has been somewhat constructed as a live-service game. Even though there is a definitive beginning and end to the game’s story (which took me around 8 hours to beat), there are aspects that seem like they’re trying to hook you in for the long haul. Some of these features include daily and weekly challenges for you to accomplish which will reward you with (measly) XP and currency in addition to various skins for both your character and guns that you can buy.
Along with this structure, of course, is the inclusion of microtransactions. Real-money purchases have become a huge issue in many games over the past few years, but here in Wolfenstein Youngblood, I struggle to wonder what purpose they even serve. Many of the items, especially the cosmetic ones, that you can buy in Youngblood can be purchased with the in-game currency that you are constantly acquiring. Some items such as XP boosts can only be purchased with the game’s microtransaction currency, but I never at any point felt even the slightest bit tempted to do so.
Overall, I guess I’m just a bit baffled as to why microtransactions have even been included here. I’m sure some will end up giving Bethesda money, which is obviously why they have been implemented in the first place, but if we’re judging the microtransactions based on how predatory they are, then nothing that is seen in Wolfenstein Youngblood would come close to qualifying as such. I know some will be frustrated that they’ve been included whatsoever, but to me, I always judge microtransactions based on how invasive they are in the overall experience of a game. With Wolfenstein Youngblood, I found them to not be worrisome in the slightest.
“While I think I’d prefer the next Wolfenstein game to be more traditional, it was refreshing to see some new ideas here withYoungblood.”
Two final things that I feel like I should mention is that I played Wolfenstein Youngblood entirely with a friend. While the game can be played solo, I never once tried this out. Considering a large portion of Youngblood’s strength to me is that you can play with someone else, I would imagine that playing solo would definitely lessen the experience. If that’s how you personally want to potentially play this game then so be it, but it wouldn’t be my own suggestion.
Additionally, I ran across a handful of bugs and performance issues while playing the game. This mostly occurred in cutscenes for me where the frame rate would dip and occasionally stutter. The ending boss fight of Youngblood also glitched out for me greatly and my screen continually kept blinking for some strange reason until we beat the final Nazi. I don’t know if these problems stem from connectivity by playing online or if they were only issues happening natively to me, but they occurred nonetheless.
Not everything new in Wolfenstein Youngblood works wonderfully, but I appreciate that MachineGames was willing to experiment and try a bunch of new things out before apparently working on Wolfenstein III. While I think I’d prefer the next Wolfenstein game to be more traditional, it was refreshing to see some new ideas here with Youngblood. At the very least, the core gameplay loop is still a ton of fun and it will keep you entertained long enough to see the main story through to the end. If you’ve been looking for something to dive into with a friend recently, Wolfenstein Youngblood is filled with more than enough action, explosions, and Nazi beatdowns to make it worth your consideration.