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Wolfenstein is a great a series and only seems to get better with each sequel, at least in my opinion. Wolfenstein 3D was revolutionary, I thought Return to Castle Wolfenstein had an awesome campaign but it was better known for its multiplayer, and Wolfenstein, released in 2009, had an excellent single player campaign with upgradeable weapons and even special abilities to help you eradicate Nazis in new and fun ways. The earlier games are definitely dated by today’s standards but are still fun to play. I’ve played and completed every game in the series several times and still revisit each of them every now and then. Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda, Wolfenstein: The New Order was released for PC in May, 2014. I remember following its development right up until it released. I got the actual game day one for PS4 and eventually obtained a copy on Steam some time later which is the version I played for this review. This review will also cover Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a standalone expansion to The New Order, released in May, 2015.
Once again you play as our favorite American hero, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz. The story opens in 1946 and B.J. and his fellow soldiers infiltrate a Nazi fortress. This fortress is run by series antagonist Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse and B.J. and his fellow soldiers are soon captured by Deathshead, himself. Deathshead forces B.J. to make a difficult decision and the choice you make does slightly affect the way the story is played out for the rest of the game, giving players the ability to play through two timelines. After making the choice, B.J. is able to escape the fortress but is severely wounded and brought to a psychiatric asylum where he remains in a vegetative state for fourteen years. He is cared for by a nurse named Anya Oliwa and her parents who run the asylum. So now it’s 1960, and B.J. soon learns that the Nazis won the war and basically rule the world so he decides to join the resistance led by Caroline Becker, a returning character from the previous game. The real meat of the game takes place during the terrifying alternate history of 1960, straying away from the traditional World War II roots of previous entries. The Old Blood takes place in 1946 and is basically a prequel to The New Order. The story opens with B.J. infiltrating the infamous Castle Wolfenstein to obtain a top secret folder containing the location of Deathshead’s compound from Nazi archaeologist, Helga von Schabbs. B.J. is eventually captured but continues his mission to obtain this folder. The voice acting is quite excellent throughout both campaigns, but more so in The New Order. B.J. is voiced by Brian Bloom who gives a phenomenal performance. During and even outside of cut scenes, B.J. will often talk and think to himself, which sometimes seems over-the-top, but he comes across like a poet with believable and emotional, yet brief, monologues. It’s thanks to the writing and Brian Bloom’s performance that B.J. is no longer a one-dimensional character. Unlike previous games, The New Order is a very story-driven experience, complete with actual characters, great world building, and besides Deathshead, even a new memorable villain, Frau Engel. The Old Blood is definitely more action focused but still contains several sequences that focus on narrative. I really enjoyed one of the new minor villains, Rudy Jager, introduced here. The only downside to these campaigns being story-focused is during repeated playthroughs when you’re forced to navigate through areas that contain a lot of walking and dialogue and basically very little action. Because the action is truly an experience.
The combat in both of these campaigns is extremely satisfying. Bullets rip through enemies in a glorious gory fashion and you can even dual wield most weapons which definitely helps heighten the carnage. B.J. has several weapons at his disposable which can be upgraded via pickups or perks. For example, in The New Order, you’ll acquire a Laser Cutter that enables you to cut through fences and chains but you’ll eventually acquire the LaserKraftWerk which is basically a laser rifle that doubles as a Laser Cutter. It can also be upgraded with things like reflection that makes shots bounce off surfaces and even a targeting scope, among others. You can acquire an Automatic Shotgun which can be dual wielded and once you acquire the the shrapnel shot upgrade, you basically become a Nazi killing beast at close range. You’ve got some traditional weapons like a pistol, assault rifle, and even a double-barreled shotgun. The AR Marksman rifle is another standout weapon since it not only acts as a long range weapon but also doubles as a plasma rifle. You can acquire frag grenades as well as tesla grenades that emit explosive EMP charges. You can even dismount and carry energy-based machine guns from their charging stations. These weapons normally act as turrets. However, B.J. cannot store a machine gun and must drop it when switching weapons. The Old Blood adds several new weapons including the Bombenchuss which is a bolt-action rifle that’s very satisfying to shoot. It can even be upgraded with a scope along with perk upgrades. You’ll also acquire the Kampfpistole which fires explosive rounds, the Shockhammer which is a double-barreled semi-automatic shotgun, and late in the game you’ll acquire a sawed-off shotgun. My go-to weapon is usually the assault rifle and not only can it be dual wielded, but in The New Order, it can be upgraded with a rocket launcher attachment. All of the weapons feel great and experimenting with each and finding new ways to blow away Nazis is all part of the fun.
The perk system is cool since it adapts to your playstyle. It’s the basic system of “play to unlock”. So if you frequently kill enemies with grenades you’ll unlock grenade perks, if you frequently use the assault rifle you’ll unlock assault rifle perks. Killing enemies using stealth will unlock various stealth perks. The perk system works well and it basically encourages you to try new things. Many scenarios require you to kill one or multiple Nazi commanders. You can go in guns blazing but you have the option to be quiet and use stealth. If the commanders are alerted to your presence, reinforcements will keep coming until the commanders are eliminated. These encounters seem like the game’s way of really emphasizing stealth but the stealth mechanics are very basic. Crouch, stay out of sight, and use your silenced pistol, knife, or even throwing knives to kill enemies and remain undetected. That’s basically it. Now it is extremely enjoyable watching B.J. stealth kill Nazis in brutal ways but I, personally, prefer shooting to stealth, especially in a Wolfenstein game. It seems that most of the enemy encounters in The Old Blood include commanders so sometimes it feels like the campaign is really trying to push you into using stealth. In fact, very early on there’s a particularly long sequence in this campaign that basically forces you to use stealth which kind of sucks. The enemy AI is decent during combat and I would say stupid if you decide to use stealth. Not only will they shoot at you but they’ll run around, get behind cover, throw grenades and even try and flank you in some situations which did catch me off guard a few times. When utilizing stealth, you can kill an enemy only a few feet from another or what seems like in clear sight of another and the other won’t even flinch. You can’t pickup and hide bodies or anything like that and the stealth just feels very bare bones as there’s no real punishment for being discovered unless you don’t like the gunplay in which case you would be insane.
B.J. can move around like any standard FPS protagonist. He can run, sprint, jump, crouch, and when you get behind cover you can lean out automatically just by aiming down your sights. You can also lean at anytime during gameplay. Now when engaged in combat, the action can become really intense, especially on higher difficulties of which there are five. The Old Blood includes many small open areas with plenty of cover to avoid the shots coming from the waves of enemies. You’ll need to move fast and and fire constantly to stay alive. You can actually run and then slide around areas and even shoot while sliding which always feels badass. When overwhelmed by gunfire, it’s very easy to die but luckily health, armor, and ammo pickups are everywhere. Unfortunately, this is one of those games where you need to manually pick up items which does become tiresome but despite what some people say, it doesn’t really ruin the game. At least not for me. You can overcharge your health by acquiring a health pack when you’re already at maximum health. When overcharged, your health will slowly drain back down to the maximum. This also applies to armor. Unless the plot decides to strip B.J. of his weapons, you’ll always be carrying a knife and in The Old Blood, you’ll acquire pipes. Just like the knife, the pipes act as melee weapons but can also be used to climb rock walls and even break unstable walls. The pipes seem like a random addition that don’t seem to do much for the gameplay. They’re not bad or anything but just seem to offer a new way to navigate through areas. However, some of the pipe stealth kills are pretty cool.
Both campaigns do offer some excellent set pieces including piloting different types of mech robots. Both The New Order and The Old Blood are linear experiences but you’re not forced to traverse down straight and narrow paths. In many areas, there’s usually multiple paths to a destination and the game rewards you for exploring every nook and cranny with plenty of pickups and even hidden collectibles. These include gold, letters that provide some backstory, and even enigma codes in The New Order. Collecting and decrypting all of the enigma codes unlocks extra game modes which really helps increase the replay value, especially since there’s no multiplayer of any kind. Several times throughout The New Order campaign, you’ll need to traverse through the resistance HQ and basically complete errands for various characters. There’s usually plenty of collectibles and you can even sleep and obtain permanent health upgrades. However, there’s a special little bed that lets you play through classic Wolfenstein 3D levels if you decide to sleep in it. There’s no HQ or similar area in The Old Blood but these Wolfenstein 3D beds are scattered throughout the environments. These are nice touches and you can leave these classic levels at any time. Although, completing them does reward you with achievements if you’re into that kind of thing. There are some negative aspects of the level design but my issues with them relate back to this being a story-driven experience and are more of a problem during repeated playthroughs. There’s several sequences or areas of the environments where you just walk around, like when you’re in the resistance HQ, or maybe you need to follow somebody and listen to dialogue before proceeding, or the one sequence where you use a tunnel glider to navigate underwater in the sewers. It’s all about working your way from one checkpoint to another. Nothing too exciting. Luckily, the environments are not designed like mazes and you do have a map that you can reference at any time so it’s not like you’ll get lost, or at least not often.
The New Order takes you to various locations, primarily throughout Germany. Hell, the resistance HQ is hidden in the center of Berlin. Besides navigating through the Nazi compound, you’ll blast your way through an asylum, prison, destroyed bridge, and even a Nazi Moon base. Yeah, there’s quite a bit of environmental variety. As much as I appreciate the change in time period and the developers attempting something new in terms of world building, I think I prefer the World War II setting in The Old Blood. The actual Castle Wolfenstein has some excellent architecture with superb design. Even when you get to Paderborn Village, there’s just something about the entire wartime European setting that really gives off this whole World War II feel, making the campaign feel right at home, if you will. It’s funny because when I first played this, I didn’t realize that this village was a nod to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The Wolfenstein series has always had a focus on the paranormal or some other crazy shit which I would say is kind of what makes this series stand out compared to other World War II shooters. At least back in the day. This time around, in addition to Deathshead’s sadistic human medical experiments, the Nazi’s are all about robots or mechs or whatever they are. Most of the standard enemies include Nazi soldiers but there’s other variants like Rocket Troopers and Fire Troopers which are both equipped with heavy armor. The more unique enemies include Kampfhunds, which are basically attack dogs covered in armor. There’s also Panzerhunds, which are these giant robotics hounds. Sometimes you’ll encounter small attack drones that fly around and shoot at you. The more dangerous enemies include the Heavy Robot, Guard Robot, and Super Soldiers, all of which can kill you quickly if you’re not careful, however, they do have weak points that can be exploited for quick take downs. Many of the same enemies that appear in The New Order also appear in The Old Blood, however, you will have to deal with zombies late in The Old Blood’s campaign. I am not a fan of zombies in modern games and I think the only reason they even work here is because the whole Nazi paranormal thing can back it up. There’s not much to say about them except that they act like stereotypical zombies. They slowly walk towards you, some of them will run, some shoot at you, and they’ll try and smack you around if you get close. They’re easy to kill but they usually appear in large numbers. I would say there are two real boss battles in The New Order and another two in The Old Blood. The final boss battle in The New Order is a nice nod to a specific boss in Wolfenstein 3D. With that said, they’re all pretty memorable and once you figure out the strategy for each, which isn’t hard, you can defeat them rather quickly. But I wouldn’t call them pushovers, at least not the final bosses in each campaign. On higher difficulties, the bosses do feel more challenging.
While The New Order includes unlockable game modes to help increase replay value, The Old Blood includes a Challenges mode. Throughout the campaign you’ll probably notice there’s a lot of what feel like small battle arenas that contain a lot of enemies. You’ll either have the option to use stealth or get overwhelmed and have to blast your way out. The reason for this seems to be related to the Challenges mode. I actually love these areas because they’re action packed and once you complete them in the campaign you’ll unlock them as what I’ll call maps for the Challenges mode. The idea of the Challenges mode is to achieve the best possible score. You basically play through these battle arena’s seen in the campaign except now you earn points for killing enemies. Different enemy types reward you with different amounts of points. Pulling off head shots and performing stealth kills rewards you with bonus points. Chaining kills together for combos also rewards you with bonus points. Some of these areas give you the option of stealth, complete with commanders to kill. You can set high scores in each map for each difficulty and earning specific amounts of points rewards you with medals. My biggest issue with this mode is that, these maps are ripped straight from the campaign, including the enemies and their placements. Hell, a Challenge map doesn’t actually end when you kill all of the enemies. To end the Challenge, you have to proceed to the next area as if you’re playing through the campaign. It’s literally the campaign battle arenas with a scoring system. That’s all. I wouldn’t mind it so much if there was more to it like modifiers, maybe multiple waves of enemies, random enemy placements, a survival mode, just something to make it stand out and even add more replay value. Don’t get me wrong, these are fun but there’s not much to them and unless you’re playing on the higher difficulties, it’s very easy to achieve a high score, and you can get through each map rather quickly. I wish the developers at least included more maps or added exclusive maps just for this mode. I like the idea of the Challenges mode but I feel like it was rushed or something because it just seems like a big missed opportunity.
While playing The New Order, I can’t say I had any serious technical issues but I did notice a brief, less than a second, pause during I think every cut scene. It did bother me a bit but, thankfully, I experienced no technical issues during gameplay. However, during my time with The Old Blood, I experienced several. I don’t know if this was rushed or just not optimized but I noticed a lot of texture flickering which I was able to resolve by disabling v-sync and forcing it through the nVidia Control Panel. The frame rate would also dip in several spots, mainly during the opening cut scene and first area you visit. Because I am playing on a PC with specs way above and beyond recommended, I initially maxed everything out but the frame rate dips caused me to lower some settings, mainly anti-aliasing. I also got stuck in the ground at one point and couldn’t move. On the visual side, everything looks great. Watching an enemy’s head explode into bloody chunks is very cool as is watching your gunfire just rip through parts of the environment and seeing dust and debris kick up amid the carnage. Both games include a good amount of color, the texture work is excellent, and some of the backgrounds are just gorgeous. Specifically, the Paderborn Village area in The Old Blood. Even when blasting away enemies it was hard not to notice the gorgeous mountain vista in the background. Even when you revisit this area later in the campaign, watching burning Nazis rain from the sky just adds to the whole visual spectacle. I originally thought the new 1960 setting would be a nice change of pace compared to previous games, and it is, but after playing through the 1946 areas in the beginning of The New Order and the entirety of The Old Blood, I just yearned for more of that classic World War II atmosphere just because of the way it’s all presented here. Now the animations are excellent and the character models are well detailed. Specifically, the eyes of every character. They just really seem to stand out here. The audio design is somewhat of a mixed bag. I’ll be honest, the weapons could sound better. They could sound both louder and more powerful. I wouldn’t say they sound as weak as the weapons in Doom 3 but they definitely look and feel more powerful than they sound. The music is pretty good. I did enjoy a particularly dramatic score heard during the The Old Blood’s sixth chapter. Outside of that and The New Order’s main theme, I can’t say any tunes really stick out in my head but they do get the job done with music generally intensifying during combat.
I really do love both of these campaigns, even though they have some issues. But most of my problems with them only appear during repeated playthroughs. With that said, I just wish there was more combat overall because the gunplay here is just so much fun. It’s the kind of game where I’d like to replay several of the combat sequences and skip everything else. The Old Blood does offer that in a way with the Challenges mode but I wish there was just something else, something that I could come back to over and over for both quick and even long sessions. Now I want to make it clear that these are both excellent first-person shooters and well worth playing. Before the new Doom dropped, The New Order was my favorite shooter of the new generation. I think this is my fourth or fifth time playing through The New Order and maybe my third time playing through The Old Blood and it’s the gunplay that blows me away every time. Just the feel of it all. There’s very few shooters that I revisit frequently but these two are definitely on that list.
Ultimately, I would definitely recommend Wolfenstein: The New Order and The Old Blood. The Old Blood is actually a standalone game while doubling as somewhat of an expansion and prequel to The New Order. And I guess it doesn’t matter which one you play first but you should play both of them. While The New Order is very story-driven, it’s still an action-packed experience. The Old Blood definitely emphasizes action over story but it’s also a shorter and tighter experience overall. You can probably beat it in about five hours. The New Order has some issues with pacing and The Old Blood has some performance issues but luckily, there’s nothing that really brought down the overall experience of both campaigns in any major way. I appreciate the developers actually taking the series in a more serious direction yet at the same time, retaining some of what made the series so great to begin with. MachineGames did a phenomenal job with these games and I just can’t wait to see what happens in future titles.