Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review: Killing Nazis Is Your Destiny

Some bright writing can't safe this spinoff from mediocrity.

The premier Nazi-killing simulator is back! Yet fans of the series might be left feeling cold in this unusual departure from the Wolfenstein status quo. The cooperative Wolfenstein: Youngblood has as much DNA from the likes of Destiny in its makeup as it does any of the previous games in its own series. This leaves us with a strange hybrid. Youngblood attempts to fuse lightning-fast, bombastic action with obnoxious levels of grind and back-tracking. The moment-to-moment gunfights are still as glorious as ever, but the story, pacing and character development have taken a serious hit in this ambitious — but flawed — spinoff.

The story, such as it is, starts with usual protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz missing in action. He’s snuck off to Nazi-occupied Europe on a clandestine mission. Playing as his twin teenage daughters, Jess and Sofia, you travel to Paris to find dear old pop. Unlike previous Wolfenstein titles, which took place in a linear series of levels, Youngblood is spread out across the city of Neu Paris: a hub map separated into distinct regions. You can fast travel between aid regions by finding and unlocking subway stations.

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After a brief introductory mission, you team up with the French underground resistance. Naturally, they instruct you to take down three Nazi strongholds. You’re also warned that you’ll be pounded into mulch if you attempt to take on these towers without preparing first — a warning not to be taken lightly. I have no idea why Wolfenstein: Youngblood even bothers revealing these missions to you at the outset. They’re nigh impossible until you level up. That puts you in entirely the wrong frame of mind for tackling the various tasks around the city. They’re instantly framed as grind-y side activities, rather than anything meaningful to the plot.

And grind-y they are. If you’ve played Destiny, The DivisionAnthem, or any other number of RPG shooters from the past five years, then you know what to expect here. Every side mission follows the same formula: introductory spiel from quest-giver, head out to a location in the city, kill the Nazis, collect the McGuffin, and then hand in the quest. Sometimes the McGuffin leads you to another location with another group of Nazis, but in the end it doesn’t matter. You traipse around the map, fast travel to various sectors, kill groups of goons, and finally collect your XP reward. There are also daily and weekly missions to attend to, along with patrol missions that pop up randomly while you’re out on the town, but they all feel dull and generic. Wolfenstein: Youngblood has abandoned structure in the hopes of becoming something like a live service game. The pacing suffers immeasurably for it.

Despite these shortcomings, Wolfenstein gunplay has come through the transition largely intact. The sisters move with the same giddy enthusiasm of their father, belting around at breakneck pace, sliding along the floor to deliver satisfyingly chunky shotgun blasts to Third Reich scumbags. The weapons are the usual suspects, too. It’s a blend of conventional firearms like the shotgun and assault rifle — backed up by bonkers sci-fi death dealers like the Laserkraftwerk. That’s an energy weapon that disintegrates its targets.

Wolfenstein Youngblood Review

Some Familiar Fireworks

The combat hasn’t entirely escaped Destiny-fication, though. Many enemies now have armor bars in addition to their health. There are three types of armor and three matching weapon types; if you shoot the armor with the matching weapon type, you deal extra damage. It’s nearly identical to the Solar, Void, and Arc element system from Destiny itself. It just replaces the elements with arbitrary ammo types. The system is functional and encourages you to swap weapons constantly, but the presentation is soulless.

The other major departure from Wolfenstein series’ roots is the focus on cooperation. You and your partner play as the Blazkowicz sisters, Jess and Sofia, as they search for their missing father. Although both sisters have identical abilities. And while you can make some choices about your starting loadout, you’ll quickly unlock the other options, too.

Generally, character development is another area where Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes a step back from its predecessors. The relationship between the sisters is one standout exception. They each have their share of cringeworthy dialogue, same as everybody else, but their behavior towards each other is bang-on for a pair of teenage siblings. They’re shown to care about each other deeply, while also winding each other up at every opportunity. Many of the game’s loading screens are usually disguised behind elevators in which you’re treated to short videos of the sisters goofing off in their downtime. Sometimes they dance; sometimes one scares the other. And sometimes they just flip each other off.

Wolfenstein Youngblood Review

The Ultimate Betrayal

On the battlefield there are a variety of gameplay systems to encourage you to work with your partner. Certain doors and item boxes can only be opened together, while in combat the sisters can give each other a hearty thumbs up to boost their health or armor. The sisters can also revive each other. Fail to revive your sibling in time and she will get herself up, but at the cost of one of your shared lives. Run out of lives and it’s back to the start of the section with you both! These quirks do a good job of encouraging you to support your partner, since their death will cost you both dearly.

If you’d rather play solo, you can let the game take control of your darling sister. The AI does a reasonable job of staying alive — keeping out of sight when you attempt stealth and reviving you when you’re down. It’s not very active beyond that, though. Your off-hand sister just sticks to your side in gunfights.

This is particularly annoying when battling enemies whose weakness is on their side or rear. You can’t flank them without two active players, after all. So, if like me you get stuck on the final boss, whose weakness is on its back, you need to draft in a random player. It’s at this point that Youngblood plays its ultimate trap card: There is no level matching in matchmaking. I lost count of the number of times a random player would join me, only to be vastly under-leveled for the mission. They’d drop in, die, waste our lives, and then rightfully quit in frustration.

The core of what made the modern Wolfenstein series so great is still here, admittedly, but it’s been loaded down with tons of live service baggage. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is strange sort of Destiny clone — one with all the color sucked out. You don’t travel between exotic planets; you bounce between near-identical districts of Paris; you don’t balance the elements of fire, lighting, and the cosmic void. You just switch caliber of ammunition. There are some nice moments and the gunplay still feels great, but fans of Wolfenstein: The New Order and The New Colossus (and even Destiny) can both find better experiences elsewhere.

Wolfenstein Youngblood

5

Wolfenstein Youngblood tries for something new to the franchise, but can't help but be outshone by games that ran this particular experiment better.

Pros
  • Solid shooting
  • Fun and funny sisterly love
Cons
  • Too much grinding
  • Not much enemy variety
  • Soulless mission design
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