The well-received Wolfenstein: The New Order (and its standalone expansion The Old Blood) were always going to be a tough act to follow. The journey of B.J. Blazkowicz as he fought his way through the alternate Nazi-filled timeline was an absolute riot, finding the right balance between its slick style and the crude brutality of its bombastic gameplay. Plus, you know, killing Nazis never gets old. So, expectations were high that MachineGames could deliver an equally satisfying sequel.
Picking up right from the end of The New Order, it turns out things haven’t been going too well following Deathshead’s defeat. The Kreisau Circle are on the run in a captured U-Boat, America is still dominated by Nazi rule, and B.J. is barely hanging on due to his injuries. Awaking from his 5-month-long coma should be a time for celebration, but Frau Engel – still a little cheesed at B.J.’s rearranging her face and killing her boy toy – has found the U-boat and wants revenge. Cue a ridiculous yet superb opening sequence that sets to tone for the rest of this over-the-top ride.
Much of what made The New Order great returns for Wolfenstein II, with MachineGames building upon what came before. The best example of this is the dual-wielding guns mechanic, which remains the satisfying delivery of overkill, but with the added bonus of selecting different types of guns for each hand. There was something about the way I could have an assault rifle in one hand and a shotgun in the other, covering all my bases for mowing down all the Nazis.
The perks system returns too, encouraging the player to play to their strengths to gain boosts to damage and survivability. When paired with the new weapon upgrade packs that are in each level, it means players can tinker with their arsenal and feel rewarded for whichever is their favourite tactic – stealthy approaches with silenced guns, or all-out fascist slaughter with expanded ammo clips.
Or, in my case, a mixture of both when I missed hitting someone with a throwing axe. Ugh.
While the combat remains as bombastic as ever, I did feel that the environments weren’t as varied as MachineGames’ previous efforts. Even the more exotic locations later in the game didn’t mix things, and it’s a shame that the Roswell section of the game shown in the pre-release footage doesn’t feature more. It’s a shame, because what is there is beautifully detailed and packed with items that flesh out the lore.
Another customisation aspect introduced later on is the contraptions, which add new ways to approach objectives – the Constrictor Harness to allow access to small spaces; the Ram Shackles which can smash down walls and doors; and the Battle Walker which gives B.J mechanical stilts to reach higher platforms. Unfortunately, outside of combat applications, I felt it was a wasted opportunity. In most cases, they offered little divergence in reaching an objective, with crawling pipes appearing right next to destroyable walls. I can sympathise that adding fully unique routes would have needed increased development time that MachineGames didn’t have, but it was still slightly disappointing.
However, my biggest pet-peeve was how objectives weren’t clear at certain stages, particularly later in the game. Even with the new hint button at my disposal, there were some instances where I was going round in circles looking for a way through to the next area. I did feel rather sheepish once I realised where I was meant to go, but I feel there could have been more done to ensure I wasn’t lost in the first place.
Perhaps the biggest addition for Wolfenstein II is the role the U-boat plays, acting as the main hub in-between each mission. It’s here aboard Eva’s Hammer that players can take on assassination missions later on in the game, which adds a very light sandbox element to the slaughter. I will admit there was a feeling of repetitive to them, especially as they all took place in areas I had just been through, but they offered a distraction from taking down Frau Engel.
Wandering around the Eva’s Hammer also allows players to embrace an already-expanded story, getting to know the new and familiar faces of the Kreisau Circle. It’s all optional, of course, but overhearing conversations about the war effort, or the latest happenings between the crew add an extra layer on top of B.J.’s internal monologue.
Yes, the dialogue may be full of tropes and clichés, and those wishing to just get to the action may find it all a bit much, but I enjoyed B.J.’s struggle between a growing sense of mortality and his need to find enough strength to finish the fight. It helps that the art direction comes off as so effortlessly cool. When the soundtrack kicks in, regardless whether it’s a sombre and touching moment or a raucous scene with bullets flying, the overblown dialogue didn’t matter. I was engaged by the story and I wanted to see it through.
And see it through I did, but was I satisfied at the end of the wild ride? Yes and no. The Epilogue gave the narrative the finish is rightly deserved, but the final battle before it was nowhere near the epic scale of The New Order’s showdown with Deathshead. Sure, it was a tough fight, but it lacked a central focus to make it memorable.
In terms of replayability, the assassination missions and side quests give extra life to the game during and after the main story. There are also a host of collectables to find, meaning completists will have plenty to do outside of the 10+ hour campaign (depending on difficulty setting.) Otherwise, it’s simply a case of taking on harder difficulties, including the new Mein Leben mode (unlocked after the first playthrough) which has permadeath. No, really – you have to restart the game if you die.
I assure you that I won’t be attempting it, as I would rather avoid having a nervous breakdown.
The thing is, as much as Wolfenstein II is a blast from start to finish, I don’t think it quite matches the heights of its predecessor. I enjoyed the story with its blunt and often crude delivery, and the gameplay is as cathartic as it has ever been. The problem is that, even with its improvements and additions, Wolfenstein II feels like the ground we’ve already trodden through before. But make no mistake – the latest instalment in the Wolfenstein series is a fun shooter regardless of this. I just hope the upcoming content in the Season Pass mixes up the formula to make it an unmissable recommendation.
One last note to PC users – as the game progressed I was suffering from a series of crashes that required verifying the install to get working again. Likewise, there were a number of graphical issues when I tried to turn up the settings. As such, it might be worth holding out until the problems are fixed if you’d rather not test your patience, or go for the console version (which doesn’t suffer from these performance issues.)
- The combat is as satisfying as ever with an expanded dual-wielding mechanic.
- The world building allows players to dive into the oppressive (yet wonderfully ridiculous) world of Wolfenstein.
- Assassination missions & collectables add extra game time & replayability.
- A lack of varied environments is disappointing.
- Some objectives aren’t clear, even with the hint button.
- Crashes and graphical issues on PC were annoying.
The Short Version:
While the end result doesn’t quite hit the highs of its predecessor, Wolfenstein II delivers one of the best FPS experiences of the year with its take-no-prisoners attitude and cathartic FPS action.
Platform: PC (Tested), PS4, Xbox One, Switch (2018)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks