Wolfenstein: Youngblood feels a little like Bethesda dipping their toes in to the live service genre. I’ve never been a fan of this style of game, and initially felt somewhat disappointed by this swerve. However, the more I played, the more I found that classic Wolfenstein feel I was looking for. The fact that Dishonered developer Arkane also had a hand in the mix shows too, with masterfully crafted play spaces that look and feel brilliant to explore.
From the off there’s no mistaking that the game was designed to play in co-op. Simply starting a game forces you to choose your host status – with even offline singleplayer still acting as though you’re connected, the game unable to be paused at any time. Choosing between the two Blazkowicz daughters – Jess and Soph – will slightly alter how you play, though only in which weapons you will start with. Powers and XP are shared across the sisters, so ultimately it comes down to personal preference rather than going after a set class. Choose to go it alone, and AI will fill in for the other player. For the most part, they do an admirable job of pulling their weight, though on a handful of occasions – despite standing right next to me – I wasn’t revived in time and lost a life. With just 3 shared lives between the two of you, losing one like this is just not cool. There are more than a few dotted about the level in collectable crates, but once all 3 are gone, you must restart the whole level…
Things improve greatly when playing with a buddy though (A neat touch for those purchasing the Deluxe Edition: You’ll be able to invite any of your friends to play with you, even if they do not own the game via the Buddy Pass). Much like the previous entries, areas can be approached in a few different ways. Use stealth to kill a few Nazi’s before the whole room notices, or just go in guns blazing from the off. Planning and executing a strategy with a partner is immensely satisfying, with co-ordinated stealth attacks dwindling the numbers fast. One the proverbial hits the fan, having that extra fire power on your side goes a long way, with sustained fire and grenades filling the screen with explosions (and the mist of the enemies you vaporise).
This is the exact gameplay loop that I loved about Machinegames’ previous entries. The combat is as great as ever, with a real sense of weight and impact to every shot, stab and throw of a grenade. Sound design is spot on, with the kickback of a rifle or nearby explosion sounding… meaty. Movement remains top notch too, with fast, responsive action (including that super satisfying slide), and is complimented by a double jump that allows the sisters to reach better vantage points – as well as some sneaky bonus rooms and areas.
It’s here that it’s most noticeable that Arkane has helped out. While there are only a few level hubs in the game, each one is packed with alternate routes and hidden areas. I often had to remind myself that I couldn’t in fact Blink across the map. Visually, it’s very reminiscent of Dunwall as well, with a slight pastoral hue and brilliantly realised architecture. Between Machinegames brilliant combat and Arkane’s eye for detail, there’s so much to like here.
However. I’m not overly sold on the implementation of the online shooter features: Daily challenges, various in game currencies, levelled enemies that display health bars above their heads. I’d be more than happy with a levelling up system, and to be fair, the one here is actually quite good. The abilities and buffs on offer do give you a sense of progression, but there’s an overarching feeling of grind; that you’ll need to complete more side activities than you may like, or tirelessly hunt down the random optional objectives that Abby back at home base will dish out on the way. There are only 4 main missions throughout the short campaign, with the rest padded out by side quests given out by other characters at the home base.
These main missions (called Raids) will be way beyond your level for a good few hours – my co-op partner and I tried for over an hour to clear Brother 1 (the first Raid), only to realise that we were 10 levels short. Cue backtracking through other areas in search of XP, with re-spawning enemies – often simply by leaving and re-entering a small areas – proving an annoyance. There are purchasable boosters on offer, which grant you 10 minutes of XP/Ammo or health buffs – I can’t say i was too impressed by this to start with. However, they are relatively cheap to buy with currency earned in game (brilliantly, no real world money can be used for this) and at the rate I was picking up coins, I never really struggled to afford one here and there as well as the other upgrades.
But, despite my initial grievances with these systems, I grew to get past it. Even if on occasion you’ll be flattened by an enemy way beyond your level, there’s no denying the sheer visceral thrill in the combat and movement. Weapons can be upgraded too, with the Kugelgewehr being my personal favourite – upgraded it is a beast, making quick work of almost any smaller enemy. Some foes have specific shield variants, requiring one of two different ammo types to quickly bypass. Smart players will make use of all weapons at your disposal a) for the ease of killing Nazi’s and b) because you’ll be missing out if you just stick to one.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood may not be quite what I expected in a new entry to the series, but damn, if it isn’t good. The ‘live service’ additions detract slightly from the experience, but that glorious combat more than makes up for it. Add in some wonderfully crafted play spaces to explore (if only there was a couple more) and you’ve got yourself a great way to spend a weekend. The main campaign will be over quick, but while it lasts, it’s great, wholesome, Nazi killing fun.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.