Der Führer may be obliterated, but the Nazi threat still looms large in Neu-Paris.
Oh, Bethesda. Back in 2017, you were all about the single-player games. We even got a trending hashtag out of it—#SavePlayer1—delivered to us by none other than Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman! Fast-forward 18 months later and Fallout’s gone full-blown online multiplayer RPG, and Wolfenstein’s latest offering is an online co-op RPG. Well, that certainly didn’t last long.
I’m not opposed to single-player series dabbling into multiplayer experiences—just look at Final Fantasy XIV or The Elder Scrolls Online as two great examples. But certainly taking a series in that direction takes a lot of consideration and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, well, almost gets it right. It’s got satisfying gunplay like its predecessor, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and the new focus on semi-open world exploration has its merits.
The drawback, however, is that the two-player interactions feel under-baked, if not outright shoehorned into the experience. There’s still fun to be had in Youngblood, but just don’t expect it to live up to its exceptional (and more focused) predecessors.
A new generation of Blazkowicz
Soph or Jess… Soph or Jess… choosing who to play as is the big decision you have to make before the story begins. The pair, colloquially known as “The Terror Twins,” are the daughters of famed Nazi killers B.J. Blazkowicz and Anya Oliwa who fans will, of course, remember from the previous games. Deciding who to play as isn’t an easy choice; really, the only information you get is Soph has short blonde hair, and Jess has longer, brown hair. Blonde is a cool colour, so I went with Soph.
Soph also has a weak stomach and is prone to vomiting, so there’s that to factor in, too. I’m not even joking, lol.
As it turns out, and you’ll discover this early in the game, it doesn’t really make a difference who you choose. Both twins have the exact same weaponry and skill trees, and the game is played in first-person so, cutscenes aside, you never see yourself anyway. If it matters, Soph winds up being the more temperamental and aggressive twin, while Jess is calmer and more analytical. Soph also has a weak stomach and is prone to vomiting, so there’s that to factor in, too. I’m not even joking, lol.
America is Nazi-free, but…
Story-wise, both sisters get raised by B.J. and Anya in Texas roughly 19 years following the events of the previous game. America has rid itself of its Nazis problem, although the Third Reich still commands a powerful presence in Europe. Despite the lack of homeland danger, Soph and Jess are rigorously trained in defence by their parents. In particular, Soph focuses on lethal hand-to-hand combat, while Jess hones her marksmanship skills. And, wouldn’t you know it, none of this specialized “expertise” works its way into the gameplay. Ah, well.
Early in the game, daddy “decapitation-survivor” Blazkowicz goes missing, and hints point to him travelling to Neu-Paris. To visualize Neu-Paris, think a war-ravaged ’80s Paris overrun with thousands of Nazis equipped with mech technology, and all the swastika banners and propaganda to go along with that.
Early in the game, daddy “decapitation-survivor” Blazkowicz goes missing, and hints point to him travelling to Neu-Paris.
Arkane Studios is well known for their amazing world-building, and while Neu-Paris isn’t as interesting or varied as Dishonored’s Dunwall, visually it still looks pretty good. A memorable Zeppelin opening scene was the biggest highlight, though the three main Neu-Paris zones each have their own eye candy. The biggest attractions are the three heavily guarded towers, one per zone, known as Brothers. Collectively, these daunting fortresses hold the keys to Lab X where supposedly dearest daddy is doing something or other. I’m being intentionally vague here, since the girls themselves aren’t even sure what B.J. is up to.
A semi-open world
While the previous two Wolfensteins were linear affairs, Youngblood opts for an open-world map separated into districts (and load screens). At any point, you can also visit the cavernous Paris catacombs, which serve as your HQ much like the U-boat submarine from the previous game. In the catacombs, you’ll meet NPCs that assign you missions ranging from main quests that progress the story to side quests mostly used to gain XP and level up your sis.
Oh, and there’s no playable Wolfenstein 3D in this game, but there is… Elite Hans: Die Neue Ordnung! It’s a parody of Wolfenstein 3D where you play as a Nazi and battle Allied forces. So yeah, it’s basically a silly reverse version of the classic game. You’ll find Elite Hans in an arcade cabinet in the catacombs, so don’t miss it!
Oh, and there’s no playable Wolfenstein 3D in this game but there is… Elite Hans: Die Neue Ordnung!
I mentioned that Youngblood is open world, and while that’s true, you really can’t travel anywhere you please. That’s because the game introduces a lot of RPG elements, most notably character levels, and, subsequently, level recommendations for each mission. You can attempt missions above your level, but I wouldn’t advise it: Youngblood can be seriously punishing when you’re underpowered. So, ironically, despite the game’s open structure, I suspect most players will follow roughly the same path, give or take a mission or two.
Teamwork: a pinch of excellence, a dash of awkward
Let’s get one thing straight: you can play Wolfenstein: Youngblood single-player with an A.I. companion, but you won’t want to. Your bot-controlled ally is, to put it mildly, dumb as a rock and more often a source of frustration than offering tangible help. Half the time I wanted my partner to engage in combat they just sat there, as if they didn’t even see that massive robotic Panzerhund or Super Soldier charging towards us. Worse still, I lost track of how many times I was downed and needed a revive, only to have my bot buddy let me bleed out. Imagine having conversations like this in your head:
Hey, A.I. helper, there’s a missile drone chasing me, are you going to attack this time? No, I didn’t think so!
A.I. buddy, I’m bleeding out and safely around the corner. Come revive me quick! No, OK, we’ll just replay the entire mission.
So yeah, grab a real-life buddy to play with or match up with something online using Quick Play. Youngblood absolutely requires a co-op partner.
Even with a coop ally, you can expect a real mixed bag as far as the gameplay goes. What I did like is how reliant you are on each other to succeed. Grab a mic, because you’ll need to be in constant communication about position, tagging enemies and when to strike. Also, you need to stay close to each other, as the twins have “Pep Signals” that can instantly grant shield or health boosts. It’s better if you team up with someone you know, though—from my experience, random matchmaking partners far too often stray away from your position. In this game, that’s a deathwish.
So if an enemy is chasing you and you’re looking to escape through a door—nope can’t do. You gotta wait for your teammate to come help open it.
One design decision that really aggravated me is why does every door in this game require both sisters to open? Seriously. Whether it’s both girls struggling to open an elevator door or a blast door that requires both of you pull switches in sync, every time you both need to be there. So, if an enemy is chasing you and you’re looking to escape through a door—nope, can’t do. You gotta wait for your teammate to come help open it. Also, let’s say you start opening a door and it takes your partner 15 seconds to get there. Welp, guess you’re standing there doing nothing until they arrive.
Another strange gameplay element in Youngblood: stealth. Both sisters have the ability to cloak, sneak up on enemies and do silent takedowns. The problem is, your stealth drains so fast, it’s practically useless. Usually, in a room full of enemies, my partner and I could stealthily take down one each, then we’d uncloak, and within seconds enemy reinforcement alarms start blaring. You can upgrade your stealth to make it a more worthwhile ability, but in the early going, it’s hardly worth using.
On a positive note, the weapons in Wolfenstein: Youngblood are excellent. This should come as no surprise, since the game repurposes some of the high-powered tools found in the previous two Wolfenstein games. My favourite returning weapons are the Dieselkraftwerk, a diesel-powered incendiary grenade launcher, and the LaserKraftWerk, a prototype laser weapon that melts metal. The best weapon, though, is the new Elektrokraftwerk that shoots out Telsa bolts that easily disables robots or strikes multiple enemies at once.
While you should feel like a real powerhouse wielding these futuristic guns, most enemies are enormous damage sponges. Wolfenstein games always have been about power fantasies—you grab insanely OP guns and shred enemies like butter. Not so in this game. Your weapons are satisfying to shoot, but they take off such little damage you’ll feel weak and underpowered. Levelling up your character does help—you’ll gain a 2% damage buff per level—but it’s a real grind before you become a competent Nazi killer.
While you should feel like a real powerhouse wielding these futuristic guns, most enemies are huge damage sponges.
One other odd inclusion: enemies have two different types of shield, light or strong. Certain guns are more effective against specific armour types, so some foreknowledge and gun switching is required. It’s a fine addition that adds another layer to the gameplay, but it’s not without a drawback. Should you run out of the required ammo, you’ll be forced to shoot foes with your “ineffective” ammo, making the already spongy enemies absurdly spongy.
As a slight reprieve to all this spongy-ness, you’ll collect Silver coins everywhere that can be used to upgrade your weapons. From adding a larger clip to attaching a scope, there are dozens of upgrades across multiple guns. You can even unlock weapon perks should you upgrade multiple components made by the same gun manufacturer. As with most elements of this game, there’s also a con: upgrades rarely seem to have any effect. Sure, you might take off another five damage per second, but does it really matter when enemies soak up so many bullets?
A fine addition to the series
Wolfenstein: Youngblood isn’t bad, but it’s not amazing either. It’s a serviceable Wolfenstein entry with some great standout parts—like the gunplay—but also has odd coop mechanics that detract from the gameplay. The difficulty feels unbalanced: you start out super weak and enemies are super bullet spongy. This eases over time as you gain levels and purchase gun upgrades, but it’s a slow grind.
Absolutely you need to play Wolfenstein: Youngblood with a real-life buddy. The A.I. is atrocious, and while you can matchmake with others around the world, unless you both have mics and coordinate your actions, it all breaks down fast. When you do have a good partner, the game can be tremendous fun. Planning and executing attacks is thrilling as a duo, particularly because enemies are generally stronger than you. The biggest rush happens when you successfully infiltrate heavily-guarded towers and dismantle them from the inside. In short, if you have a co-op buddy, there’s lots of fun to be had here. On your own, though, it’s a lesser experience that only the most hardcore Wolfenstein fans will enjoy.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood – Pros:
- Lots of cool guns.
- Neu-Paris looks great.
- Lots of weapon and skill upgrades.
- Coop gameplay is fun with the right partner.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood – Cons:
- Half-baked coop mechanics – both twins are needed to open every door?
- Difficulty is unbalanced, especially in the early going.
- Story is average and takes a backseat.
- Enemies are way too bullet spongy.