Wolfenstein: Youngblood - What Exactly Are You In For?

A decent co-op shooter, but a Wolfenstein title in name only.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is out now, and here's everything you can expect from Bethesda's newest co-op shooter.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is out now, and here's everything you can expect from Bethesda's newest co-op shooter. Bethesda

Wolfenstein: Youngblood released over the weekend, and this new entry in the rebooted Wolfenstein franchise from MachineGames breaks away quite a bit from the other Wolfenstein games in that you do not play as the ever-tenacious BJ Blazkowicz, but as his daughters Jessica and Sophia Blazkowicz. Yep, it’s a co-operative first-person shooter, which should mean double the fun in killing your outlandish and over-the-top Nazis, right? Well, about that.

Having played Wolfenstein: Youngblood for a bit last Friday, there are both very compelling reasons for getting this game and for ignoring it entirely. So, if you’re looking for something to help you decide on whether you should go out and buy it or not, then read on to see what exactly are you in for with Wolfenstein: Youngblood.

A decent co-op shooter

First off, yes, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a very decent co-operative shooter. What’s even better is that with the Buddy Pass feature, only or your buddy needs to purchase a copy of the game, and you’re all set to play. Grab a friend and gun down Nazis with a decent lineup of weapons, all set within a fictionalized occupation of Paris if Nazis would have lasted until the 1980s.

There’s a lot of neat interactions between Sophia and Jessica, and there’s a lot of room for open-ended gameplay between you and your co-op partner. It can provide a very decent challenge at times as well, which you learn to appreciate more with a friend at your side. However, I think that this is a bit of cheating, though, as in my opinion most games can be fun with a friend – which brings us to my next point.

An afterthought of a single-player mode

There’s no beating the bush around here – Wolfenstein: Youngblood was not designed with both co-operative and multiplayer in mind. No matter how much is said on this subject, the game is first and foremost a co-op multiplayer game – the single-player mode was just added in order to appease people who wanted a single-player experience.

The AI you play with when not playing with a friend is horrible, and is probably one of the worst implementations I’ve ever had the displeasure of babysitting in a video game. I genuinely believed at times that it was designed to almost always run around and soak up enemy bullets, which ends up downing her. It doesn’t matter who you play as – the AI will suck all the same. This would’ve been no problem if you can turn it off entirely and play by yourself, but because it was completely designed to be played out by two protagonists, single players are out of luck.

Normally, I would be content to just let the AI partner die off if she likes getting killed so much, but you can’t even do that in this game. Normally, games like these use a checkpoint system – you die, and then you respawn at a certain point in the mission. Since the game is mostly based around multiplayer play, however, the developers thought that it would be a great idea to tie progression with a life system. These lives are shared between Jess and Soph, so if one of them dies, that’s one life down. It’s great for introducing challenge in the co-op mode, but in single-player it's such a drag because of how poor the AI is. It becomes a real chore to make sure that your braindead AI partner doesn’t get downed for the eighth consecutive time from an enemy as basic as a Neosoldaten.

If you’re still not convinced that the single-player in this game is an afterthought, then consider the fact that there is no pausing the game, even if you’re playing alone. Why? Who thought that was a good idea? Sure, this could work in a co-op space where there’s someone else to cover you, but who actually expects the AI to be advanced enough to watch your back while you go to the bathroom? If enough people make a stink out of this it could very well be fixed, but for the most part this oversight told me everything I need to know about single-player in Wolfenstein: Youngblood.

If you were expecting something decent to come out of the single-player mode, then you’ll be in for a disappointment. As it stands, for players who are only planning to do single-player, just go play something else – even Borderlands allows you to pause the game if you’re playing solo. If you think that that is a weird comparison, then I welcome you to my next point.

Some light RPG elements, along with gameplay structured around looter shooters

This can go either ways for most people. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is now structured non-linearly, and its many missions and side missions can be completed in any way you choose. The only catch is that the harder ones are gated off with a level system, which introduces abilities like additional health, damage and other perks to your characters. Weapons are now heavily structured around this mechanic as well, starting you off with a standard gun that you can customize to become more powerful as you go.

For some reason, the developers also thought that floating HP bars for enemies was a good idea as well, since it can’t be that light semi-open world FPS/RPG without the Nazis having their levels hovering around their heads next to how much health and armor they have. Some people might not see all of these changes as actual downsides, but when I signed up to play Wolfenstein, what I was expecting was a standard point-and-shoot affair with Nazi super soldiers, not drawn-out fights with absolute bullet sponges designed to gate you off from other areas, ruining the illusion of non-linearity.

It’s such a shame as well, because some of the level designs are absolutely top notch. MachineGames worked with Arkane on this title (which is primarily the reason I got it) and it really shows – there’s a lot of forks and options to choose from, and some of them hold amazing secrets and other hidden features that makes exploration a must. However, it’s all squandered since there aren’t a lot of hallways to cross where you’ll meet incredibly beefy enemies that take forever to kill. Before you go and counter this with the fact that there are bullet sponges in the other Wolfenstein games and that this is nothing new, consider the fact that most of those bosses are high-tier and you’ll meet them only in late-game levels where they are spread far enough from each other to not be annoying. Here, you’re likely to meet them at every turn, and even the more insignificant enemies can be a real pain to bring down.

Some might end up liking this new system, and I can’t really speak for them, so if you do, then by all means enjoy it. I will say, however, that at the very least it’s a jarring and otherwise nonsensical move – if they wanted to make a co-op Wolfenstein, why not just take everything from the previous games and make it like that. Sure, put in a loadout screen so that maybe one of the sisters is better suited for long-ranged shooting, while you do corner-peeking duty, but leave all the shooting and progression as is. I guess ‘thoughtful’ game designs like these require much harder work. It’s just a bit sad to see what was once a shooter based on level exploration and careful usage of covers and various other shooting-based mechanics regress to how much ammo are you carrying and how long you can hold down the trigger.

Not a bad game, but a bad Wolfenstein game

Some will say that Wolfenstein: Youngblood is an outright bad game. In fact, this was also my initial opinion after playing it. After playing it again on a friend’s copy (I refunded mine before it hit the two-hour mark) for a few more hours I’ve come to a decision that it’s not really a bad game. It is, however, a bad Wolfenstein game, because as far as I’m concerned, it tried to bring a lot to the table that the series didn’t really need. There are plenty of games out there right now where you can shoot, loot and RPG-ify as much as you want, but in my opinion, Wolfenstein is the last series that needed that. I’m not the most avid fan of the series, but even I know that they are first and foremost story-based first-person shooters that work and thrive on great level design and glorious gunplay. It doesn’t need RPG mechanics, bullet sponge enemies and other such gimmicks.

All of that said, there is some value to be found in it, seeing as the gunplay is still fine mechanically. If you’ve got a friend to tag along, co-op is still fun. For some people the grind-fest is rewarding, and the RPG mechanics in a shooting title can be a big draw to some players, and there’s a lot of them to be had in Wolfenstein: Youngblood.

In conclusion, if none of this stuff bothers you, then go for it. There is a game underneath all that, but you have to be the biggest Wolfenstein, or MachineGames, or even Bethesda fan to appreciate that. Of course, you’ll also have to put up with the fact that it also has microtransactions in the form of “time-savers” and cosmetics, so if you don’t mind those, then great for you. Most looter shooters already have those, so it only makes sense that Wolfenstein: Youngblood gets the same treatment as well.

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