Wolfenstein Youngblood takes several steps away from what you’ve come to understand this series is, but it still shines thanks to its leading ladies and killer gunplay.
MachineGames’ Wolfenstein revival has been an unqualified success since 2014’s The New Order. To date, it’s gotten by with the uncomfortably charming juxtaposition of swiftly brutal gunplay and a calmed poeticism from its All-American protagonist, William “BJ” Blazkowicz. Between bouts of ice skating around nazi facilities lopping off heads and limbs of tyrants, he’ll softspokenly opine on being welcomed by death itself someday.
As the world waits for the conclusion of the Terror Billy trilogy (Billogy?), we’re taking another detour with the alternate history shooter. But rather than zombies like we saw in The Old Blood, this time we’re pairing up as BJ’s twin daughters Soph and Jess, as they take on the Fourth Reich in occupied “Neu-Paris” circa 1980.
The audiovisual makeover and the new heroes just scratch the surface of how Wolfenstein Youngblood differs from the mainline series, but even as some of the changes feel radical, they mostly work too, and if you’ve got a co-op partner, Neu-Paris is lovely this time of year.
Youngblood’s timeline means this epilogue predates the proper finale we’re still waiting on, but even as the story is pretty light this time, what’s there is not only very fun, but also may explain why Mechinegames has gone this route — though that’s a spoiler-filled discussion for another day.
The sisters, Soph and Jess, are on a hunt for their father who’s been missing for some time. They believe he’s been kidnapped, so with their power suits and fully customizable guns and skill trees, they set out in search out him in a newly open-world setting.
Youngblood was co-developed by Arcane Lyon, the team behind Dishonored 2, and their influence is both apparent and awesome. In this brave new world for Wolfenstein, with vaguely cyberpunk leanings and a synthwave soundtrack, Soph and Jess can double jump to new heights, find shortcuts, and tear down barriers with special ammo in satisfying ways that bring Wolfenstein away from a straight first-person shooter and closer to an immersive sim. Cautious players can even circumvent major obstacles en route to bosses, for once clearing the path ahead with careful consideration rather than dual-wielded shotguns.
That’s not the only seismic shift in design, though. Youngblood has a pretty long tail waiting for its most ardent fans. After a story-heavy early mission, the world opens up to the player to explore however they want, and story takes a backseat until the very end. While that’s disappointing, the gunplay still feels top of the line and should make up a lot of ground for series veterans. Questgivers are all over your headquarters in the catacombs, and even when you’re out on a particular mission, they’ll come over the radio with additional objectives that disappear when your play session ends. Wolfenstein is suddenly a living service game, but it mostly works.
After the credits roll, you’re meant to replay missions, earn more loot, and level up your character and arsenal to a superhuman level. Like any game similarly built, the number of players actually willing to stick around that long is probably few, but for any series fans, it remains worth it from opening to closing credits.
Enemies are clearly leveled and behave as bullet sponges too, though each is vulnerable to a type of ammo which, when matched, brings them down much faster. An added emphasis on stealth is on offer, and even as it’s well designed given the open hub levels, in our experience after taking it slow earlier on, we eventually abandoned the quiet approach and the game felt a lot closer to the Wolfenstein of recent years.
Youngblood is designed for co-op in every step of the way, so much so that if you do elect to play alone, you’ll still have an AI companion by your side. Like most games designed for co-op, however, it’s miles better with a friend. Combining moves and exploring the Dishonored-style levels is a lot more inventive with another human by your side.
As the pair of heroes, Jess and Soph are dorky and memorable. Their demeanor is different than anyone else’s in the series, though they fit right in with the ragtag assembly of resistance fighters the series has seen so far. When the game is loading behind elevator sequences, the girls dance and screw around with each other. They regularly refer to each other as Kenneth and Arthur, the boy stars of their favorite mystery novels from their childhood. They’re also really good at motivating each other, and there’s an entire game mechanic based on emoting to your partner to give them an ability boost.
Somehow maintaining their lightheartedness amidst crippling tyranny, they are some of the year’s best characters even as each feels like one half of a whole. They bring a new and interesting juxtaposition for a series that has already brilliantly moved in that space for half a decade.
Of all the game’s sweeping changes, the only one that feels especially awkward is the in-game store. All games are free to try their hand at selling cosmetic items, but that just feels so foreign to this specific series that it can only come off as a bit gross. Spending hard-earned silver coins on weapon upgrades is a deep and satisfying system. Spending them on new power suit colors or weapon skins just feels especially fourth-wall-breaking, because these characters aren’t the empty vessels you see in other games with similar economies.
Final Score: 8.5
Wolfenstein Youngblood is not Wolfenstein III. It never claimed to be and in many ways it proves to have unique goals separate from what we’ve seen of the series so far. If you’re worried the true finale will play like Youngblood, a co-op loot shooter-lite, don’t fret. We expect this is just an offshoot. But even with that said, Youngblood does tread this new ground with confidence and charisma, and that comes through with every step you take as the resistance’s dorkiest killing machines.