Wolfenstein: Youngblood, developed by Machinegames and Arkane Studios, adapts the run-and-gun action of its predecessors into a fun but somewhat basic co-op experience with plenty of post-game hijinks to explore. While retaining the DNA of the main franchise, this side story about B.J.’s goofy but likable children takes risks that pay off about as often as they frustrate the experience.
Fighting Nazis is a Family Affair
We open in the ’80s. It’s been twenty years since the events of New Colossus. While the majority of the world is now Nazi free, Europe is still under fire, and B.J. has gone missing while on a covert mission in France. The search for their father propels our protagonists, Jess and Soph, into joining up with the French Resistance and donning a pair of super suits equipped with the series standard double jump, ramming ability, and a brand new cloaking device.
New playable characters, a new location and time period, and an original game mode all sound like a recipe for success from a studio that always seems to know how to top their last effort. But the question remains: do all of these changes add up to a superior, Nazi-stomping experience?
Like Riding a Bike
The combat and mobility are as fluid and satisfying as ever, with the familiar assortment of weapons filling your inventory within the first few missions. The addition of a modding system allows you to switch out scopes, stocks, and barrels, building upon the basic upgrades of previous games with improved variety and customization.
This new approach to RPG like systems extends to the addition of a skill tree and leveling system. You earn skill points that can be spent across three areas of play; power, mind, and muscle which upgrades things like armor, health, special abilities, weapon types, and map awareness. This system is pretty basic, and leveling up to earn skill points feels not only arbitrary but unnecessary. Skills are now locked behind levels, leading to the need to grind out XP just to have access to abilities that were readily available in previous installments.
The need to grind wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if it weren’t for how limited the environments are. You ditch the claustrophobic halls of Venus and lively parades of Nazi-controlled America for the empty streets of war-torn France and bunkers that all feel vaguely similar. Youngblood ditches linear level design for an a la carte system with acquirable missions, random encounters, and secret pathways that populate the districts you explore. This all may end up feeling far too monotonous due to how often you trek through ‘another one of those’ areas.
On the plus side, the levels are refreshingly open. I imagine it’s most likely due to the inclusion of Arkane Studios, the creators of Dishonored, as co-developers. Arkane leaves their mark by giving the player multiple options to approach a scenario and adding a light Metroidvania-esque challenge with the inclusion of locked chests and doors that encourage revisiting. It’s a welcome addition to the series, with the collectibles and caches you find providing a much-needed reward for exploring every nook and cranny of the map.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
The enemies you fight throughout the campaign aren’t all that memorable, with the same variety of panzerhounds, drones, death troopers and armored uberguard that have become staples of the series. In an attempt to shake things up, Youngblood includes an armor system that makes certain enemy types vulnerable to specific weapons. It’s a neat idea that would provide an added level of necessary strategy to combat if it weren’t for the general lack of ammo and enemy bullet sponges.
This combination would lead to frustratingly long encounters that completely threw the armor matching system and run-and-gun nature of the series out the window, in favor of cheesing tried-and-true weapons and hiding behind cover. The developers could have given players an out with stealth style play, but utilizing stealth in combat isn’t really an option. Alarms would sound after even the most isolated of kills, requiring me to handle almost every enemy head-on.
“Raid”ers of the Lost Ark
These combat issues are most apparent in Youngblood’s new Raid Encounters, which reflect the design of traditional Wolfenstein levels. The goal of these missions is to infiltrate a Nazi base to take down one of three towers in the hopes of revealing the location of Lab X, which B.J. had been searching for before his disappearance.
At first glance, these levels feel like the best part of the game and even reward players that took the time to uncover secret entrances, but it all falls apart when you happen to burn through your three shared lives. If you fail to revive your companion in time, you use up a life to get back into the fray, but if you lose them all, you’re booted back to a checkpoint. Fairly standard, and you won’t experience death very often while exploring the districts, but the Raid Encounters are a substantial step up in difficulty where you may die, and if you do, you are placed unnecessarily far back in the level, often to the very beginning. On top of that, you lose the ammo, armor, and lives that you used up throughout that encounter, making it incredibly difficult to jump right back in.
There’s a lot to admire and enjoy in this offshoot of the Wolfenstein franchise, with the addition of Co-op being the most successful inclusion. Unfortunately, most of the changes feel like half-hearted experiments rather than fully-fleshed out gameplay mechanics that frustrate the experience as much as they innovate. With the main story clocking in somewhere between 10-15 hours and aside from a late-game story reveal, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is worth picking up only if you’ve been aching to play with a friend. I think it is best left alone if you were hoping for the next integral piece of the franchise.
High Ground View
Here’s my verdict on Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
Single-Player Mode (6/10)
As a single-player experience, Youngblood lacks in both narrative and gameplay as a worthy successor. There is fun to be had in exploring the open district levels, but this still feels like a beefy piece of DLC rather than the next big thing in the Wolfenstein series. Thankfully, it is priced accordingly.
Co-Op Mode (7.5/10)
For just $10 more the Buddy Pass allows you to play with a friend who doesn’t own the game, making it the most innovative and enticing addition to the Wolfenstein formula.
As an added benefit, you aren’t locked into playing with just one person, but can instead cycle between as many friends as you’d like. The only caveat here is that they cannot play the game solo or gain trophies. Playing with a friend is when this game is most enjoyable. Co-op play turns it into a looter-shooter that may have its faults but elevates the addictive gameplay up a few notches. The new mechanics, level design, and easy drop-in drop-out mechanic make Youngblood a game best experienced with a friend.
- Developers: MachineGames and Arcane Studios
- Publisher: IdSoftworks
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, XboxOne, PC, Stadia
- Genre: FPS
- Price: $29.99 Standard Edition | $39.99 Deluxe Edition (includes Buddy Pass)
- Release Date: July 26, 2019
- Business Model: Game Sales and Cosmetic Microtransactions
While Wolfenstein: Youngblood retains the essence of what makes Machinegames’ rebooted series so innovative. IDSoftworks adds systems that are welcome additions, but the game still can’t quite reach the spectacular pulp-action heights of its predecessors.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review Verdict
Game title: Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Game description: A first-person shooter developed by Arkane Studios and MachineGames. Serving as a prelude to Wolfenstein 3, it is available now on Windows, PS4, Xbox One, and Stadia at a later date.
Single-Player Mode - 6/10
Co-Op Mode - 7.5/10
An experience best played with a partner, and at a price point of $29.99 ($39.99 for the Deluxe Edition) it just might keep you satisfied until the next mainline release.
- Killing Nazis in co-op is fun
- A visual success; nice coat of paint
- Combat and movement is fluid and engaging
- New armor system falls short
- Stealth play is underdeveloped
- Starts feeling grindy rather quickly