After the 2014 release of Wolfenstein: The New Order, developer MachineGames followed up with a stand-alone expansion, The Old Blood. Likewise, after Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, publisher Bethesda is gearing up for the launch of a new title in the series. While not the Wolfenstein III fans are eagerly awaiting, Youngblood still takes some big risks with the aim of shaking up the status quo for this high concept spin-off.
The biggest addition to Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the inclusion of two player co-op. While the game can still be played solo, multiplayer brings a host of new opportunities for both tactical stealth and chaotic action alike. Wolfenstein has always been strategic and difficult, but Youngblood adds a whole new layer of jolly cooperation to the proceedings. In addition to these new gameplay possibilities, Youngblood also takes big risks with the storyline, being set in Nazi-occupied France twenty years after the end of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. A line of dialogue in the demo says B.J. Blazkowicz is the man who killed Hitler, while trailers identity America as the "Liberated United States," presumably alluding to events from a future game which hasn't officially been announced yet. It's a bold approach, but one with exciting potential for storytelling as the series moves forward.
The E3 floor demo paired me up with a stranger, and we were dropped into a level set on a French city street. Cast in the roles of B.J.'s twin daughters, Soph and Jess, players must fight and sneak their way behind enemy lines while searching for their father, who has gone missing in the region. The demo began with a stealth section, but it only took seconds for my co-op partner to trigger the alarm, so I switched from my silenced pistol to a heavy-duty shotgun, and started blasting Nazis into oblivion with a non-stop hailstorm of large-caliber firepower.
Almost immediately, I was struck by one of the biggest changes to Youngblood: enemy health. While regular enemies can still be dispatched with a few well-placed bullets, bigger baddies (which are frequently encountered) can take a comical amount of punishment before going down for good. Perhaps this was done to emphasize co-op team work, but it comes across as a way to artificially inflate difficulty. Then again, my co-op partner wasn't exactly a world champion Wolfenstein player, so it might not feel so unbalanced when playing with a trusted friend. Still, there's nothing that can justify the obtrusive enemy health bars which make the game look like an RPG and dilute the cinematic presentation which has consistently made Wolfenstein stand out from its peers. One positive change appears to be the new XP system; rather than performing specific (and sometimes obtuse) tasks to upgrade specific abilities, killing Nazis earns XP, which translates into skill points which can be spent on a variety of skills, though the specifics of the skill trees were not part of the E3 2019 demo.
As the demo progressed, me and my partner blasted our way through multiple waves of enemy troops, utterly decimating checkpoint after checkpoint, putting the Nazis in their proper place. dead under the boot of righteous justice. Though I had to revive my companion multiple times, he still came in handy when I needed a bullet sponge to draw the attention of the big enemies while I scavenged for ammo; by the end, though, he started to get a grasp on the game, and we eventually became a well-oiled, two-pronged killing machine.
Alas, the demo came to an unceremonious end at a potentially exciting juncture. We came to a choke point with a mounted laser gun and a sizeable assortment of Nazis down below. My partner dutifully took a position on the mounted gun, and I ran off the bridge, jumping into the fray, prepared to blast my way through the enemy while my guardian angel rained death from above. Midway through my bold flying leap off the bridge, the game froze and the demo crashed to the desktop. Well, that's one way to end a demo!
E3 demos crash all the time, and the builds shown to the press and the public aren't necessarily the most recent. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a promising game with lots of potential, though some of its design choices had me second-guessing the priorities of developers MachineGames and Arkane Studios. Then again, with Arkane, it takes more than a 15-minute vertical slice to make an earnest judgment on the game's quality. Either way, I'm still excited to play Wolfenstein: Youngblood all the way through with a co-op partner by my side to see how the whole adventure shakes out.
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