There are few things more cathartic than blasting through armies of Nazis with reckless abandon, which is why Wolfenstein has been one of my favorite franchises in recent years. I reviewed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which you can read here, and it was my personal game of the year in 2017. Simply put, everything from the excellent narrative, awesome combat, and gut-wrenching decisions raised the bar on story-driven first-person shooters. Now, developer Machine Games hopes to bring that same basic formula to the world of co-op, and my player 2 and I couldn’t have been more pumped to take on the third reich together.
Unfortunately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood falls short of achieving the heights of its predecessor for a whole slew of reasons. Instead of a story-focused odyssey through a dark, Nazi-controlled reflection of our world, Youngblood has emphasized an RPG leveling system, replaying through the same levels to accomplish mundane sidequests, and implemented unnecessary games-as-a-service elements that ask you to grind even more.
Before I get into all the things that make Wolfenstein: Youngblood not so great, it’s important for you to know that the game actually has a ton of good things going for it, which becomes apparent as soon as you boot up the game and watch its opening cutscene. Taking place two decades after The New Colossus, Youngblood focuses on the Blazcowicz family, which now includes BJ and Anya’s twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia. After BJ goes missing in Nazi-occupied France, Jessica and Sophia go searching for him. The opening two missions are some of the best moments of the game, as you watch the twins score their first Nazi kill and immediately joy-puke, and discover that they’ve inherited their parents’ genetic propensity for killing fascists. And although the boss fights drag on and often feel a bit forced, the core experience of leaping in the air, sliding on the ground, and running at a full sprint as you blast Nazis out of their lederhosen is one that rarely disappoints.
The issues with the game really don’t reveal themselves until you get past the introductory missions and enter the core piece of the game, which has a free-roam format across several small pieces of Nazi-controlled France, and is where the repetitive, mind-numbingly boring grind rears its ugly head. Instead of continuing along the linear story, you’ll be forced to retread the same areas over and over again completing menial tasks for your allies and grinding up your character level until you’re strong enough to tackle the main missions. If you try to take on a particular section of the game too early, you’ll be confronted with high-level goose-steppers who can scarcely be defeated for the arbitrary reason of having a higher number over their bald heads.
To be perfectly clear, you’ll spend more time running sidequests to level up and prepare for the next main mission than you’ll spend actually progressing in the story — a lot more time. After the introductory missions, you’ll be asked to grind through the same areas until you’re strong enough to face three bosses. After taking them all down, you’re in for one last mission before the game reaches its predictable, wet fart of an ending. And as if the grind of side quests wasn’t enough, one of your allies, Abby, will offer daily and weekly quests, similar to what you’d find in live-service games, which have you retrace your steps even more by completing bounties and replaying through old missions.
The most tragic part about all of this is that I genuinely love Jessica and Sophia, and by the end of the opening cutscene was excited to see where the story led. Instead, the entire game focused on taking down unnamed Nazi bosses with only the occasional small talk between the sisters and their allies to keep me company. There was a huge opportunity with Youngblood to give new characters their time in the spotlight after three games starring BJ. Instead, the main characters of Youngblood appear to be side quests and XP.
The good news is that, for how big of a disappointment Wolfenstein: Youngblood was for me, the game’s cost is at least reasonable. For $30, you’ll get to shoot through swastikas for a ten or so hours, and by using the game’s “buddy pass,” your co-op partner can play with you for free. It’s hard to argue with a $15 per person price tag, even given the game’s numerous shortcomings.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood falls dramatically short of its predecessor in most ways and feels like a missed opportunity for a great focused, story-driven co-op game. That said, killing all of Hitler’s best friends with a co-op partner at your side isn’t without its enjoyable moments.