Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus for PC Review

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Wolfenstein: The New Order released in May, 2014 and was quite a different game compared to previous entries in the series. It’s a story-driven experience set primarily in 1960 in a terrifying alternate history where the Nazis win World War II and basically rule the world. I think one of the biggest things the game did was turn B.J. into more than just a one-dimensional character. Story-driven or not, for me, it’s all about the gameplay. You can dual wield weapons, run, sprint, and slide around environments, blow away enemies with an awesome arsenal of weapons, earn perks, and there was even unlockable game modes. The Old Blood was an expansion to The New Order which kind of felt more like prior games in the series due its 1946 setting. It contained more traditional supernatural elements but the same action-packed gameplay as The New Order. Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in October, 2017. For this review, I played the PC version and was very excited to jump in and kill more Nazi scum.

When you first start playing you can watch a recap of events from The New Order and you also have to make the same choice you made in that game to define the events of the storyline here. This choice does change things about the storyline like some characters and small plot points, which basically means there’s two timelines to play through. After the recap and making the choice, the story truly begins and takes place right where the previous game left off. You play as William “B.J. Blazkowicz”, a member of the Kreisau Circle resistance, who just killed series antagonist, Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse. After he kills Deathshead, B.J. is severely wounded from a blast that almost completely destroyed Deathshead’s fortress. After having several internal organs removed and being in a coma, he survives but is extremely weak. He distances himself from his girlfriend, Anya, who is now pregnant with twins, because he believes he’s not the man he used to be. Frau Engel, an antagonist from the previous game, returns and serves as the main antagonist here. She’s on the hunt for B.J. and he is now a wanted man, even given the moniker “Terror Billy”. The game takes place in the United States. B.J. and the resistance travel to New York, Roswell, Texas, and New Orleans taking the fight to the Nazis and recruiting more fighters for the resistance in an effort to start a revolution. And at one point you get to travel to the planet Venus. Throughout the story, B.J. has flashbacks of his childhood which flesh out his character and backstory even more. Without spoiling too much, there are few twists throughout the story that I honestly didn’t see coming and the story did keep me engaged from beginning to end. That’s a good thing because this is a very story-driven experience. In fact, I would even say the gameplay takes a backseat to the narrative in the first half of the game. Don’t get me wrong, you get to kill plenty of Nazis but I feel like I was watching more than I was playing during that first half. There’s a lot of cut scenes and my issue with this comes during repeated playthroughs. I had the same issue with The New Order. One of my issues with the story is that it ends quite abruptly. It basically just comes to a stop which I did not see coming and I think the ending in general is pretty anticlimactic. Now the voice acting is on par with the previous game meaning it’s excellent and once again Brian Bloom does a fantastic job voicing B.J. thanks to a believable performance that helps portray B.J. as more than just a Nazi killing machine. That’s not to say the supporting characters are just stereotypical cutouts. All of the performances are excellent and almost every character is memorable.

B.J. can run, sprint, slide, jump, crouch, swim, and lean from cover to shoot at enemies. B.J. acquires power armor in the beginning of the game that allows him to slam down through metal grates from above, destroy crates, or even attack enemies from above. Wolfenstein II feels significantly more difficult than the previous game. There’s seven difficulty modes, one of which, Mein Leben, needs to be unlocked and it’s basically a permadeath mode. You get one life. If you die, it’s game over. Your health regenerates slowly and only up to a certain point but enemies can drop you in a matter of seconds if you’re not paying attention. And you should pay attention because one of my biggest issues with the combat is the damage indicator which downright sucks. It’s very possible to die because you didn’t realize you were getting shot, which is understandable because the firefights can be intense you need to focus. You may not even notice you’re health is draining like crazy until all of the colors on the screen change right before you’re about to die. It’s terrible and can hopefully be patched. Enemies also don’t go down so easily, minus a well placed headshot. I wouldn’t say they’re bullet sponges but it’ll take more than a few shots to bring down most enemy types. You’ve got your standard Nazi’s, most wear armor, there’s heavier types that can thrust forward and wield heavy weapons, giant mech things that basically fire mortars, robot Nazis, armored dogs, drones, and the famous Panzerhund’s which are these giant mechanical dogs and in this game they spit fire. You can even ride one at some point and it’s a lot fun burning Nazis alive. You’ll even be killing Ku Klux Klan members. One of my issues with the encounters is that they all feel too similar, even with a diverse cast of enemies. Some enemy types don’t appear until late in the game and every encounter always seems to involve one or more heavily armored enemies wielding heavy weapons. So heavy weapons are always going to be lying around which can make some battles a lot easier. The giant mech things appear during a few sequences and mix things up since you have to beware of their mortar fire all while other enemies are also gunning for you.

A lot of people had an issue with having to pick up items manually in The New Order and I’m happy to report that you can now acquire ammo, health, and armor just by walking over them. But you can still pick them up manually if you want. You can also shoot different parts of an enemy’s body and armor pieces will fall off. Stealth makes a return but it’s never really forced upon you. When a stealth commander is in the vicinity, you have the option to sneak around and pick off enemies, working your way to the commander , or simply just blast your way to him. However, if the commander is alerted to your presence, an alarm will sound and reinforcements will keep coming until he’s killed. If you upgrade the pistol with a silencer, you can shoot things near enemies to lure them in a certain direction but the stealth, overall, is just as simplistic as it was in the prior game. The enemy AI is decent enough and shows more stupidity during stealth sequences. For example, you can slaughter an enemy standing right next to another and the other enemy won’t even flinch as you perform the kill. I can’t say there’s any traditional boss battles, except maybe at the end which really isn’t that memorable of a battle. Ultimately, the combat is the same as the previous game, but definitely more brutal. The damage indicator really needs work and the lack of boss battles is kind of a bummer but the combat is still fun and that’s the most important thing.

Wolfenstein II contains an extremely fun arsenal and some weapons are exclusive to a specific timeline. You’ve got your standard pistol, the Kampfepistole which fires explosives, an assault rifle, submachine gun, the Shockhammer which is a shotgun, hand grenades, the Dieselkraftwerk can fire sticky bombs, and the Laserkraftwerk makes a return. The developers decided to ditch the whole cutting through metal mechanic from the previous game and instead, the Laserkraftwerk can just blast through thin metal. And this, along with some other weapons, need to be recharged at charging stations since they don’t consume traditional ammo. B.J. acquires a hatchet early on which allows you to gain access to certain areas but more importantly, you can use it to brutally kill Nazis. You can also acquire hatchets to throw at enemies. All of these weapons can be carried and you can switch between them at any time. You can still dual-wield weapons and now you have the option to wield two different weapons at once. You can pick up heavy weapons found in the environments, or from fallen enemies, like a flamethrower and heavy laser weapon but these cannot be stored. Most of the weapons can be upgraded by finding Weapon Upgrade Kits. You can upgrade weapon magazines, add suppressors, the submachine gun can be upgraded with heated bullets, the shockhammer can be upgraded to fire shrapnel-loaded shells that bounce off surfaces, and upgrades can be applied and removed at any time after they’re unlocked. The weapon upgrades make your arsenal even more deadly and it’s just fun to experiment with the different kinds, making every weapon feel useful. Just like in The New Order, you can earn Perks which adapt to your playstyle meaning you unlock them as you play. There’s three Perk trees – Stealth, Mayhem, and Tactical which cater to different playstyles. The Perks grant you different bonuses like increased damage when aiming down sights, increased speed for regenerating health, slower deflate on health overcharge, and things like that. The Perks do encourage you to try new things during combat and the game gives you plenty of options when it comes to killing enemies.

About halfway through the game, B.J. is able to equip one of three contraptions. The Battle Walker is a mechanical actuator on your legs that you can extend at any time to reach high platforms. Ram Shackles allow you to ram through obstacles, even into enemies. And the Constrictor Harness compresses your torso section allowing you to move through extremely narrow spaces like pipes, which is great for those that enjoy stealth. However, the constrictor harness restricts your breathing and can kill you if you use it for too long. You only get to choose one of these contraptions but you can acquire the other two later on if you can find them. Each of them can be upgraded to provide you more benefits. The Battle Walker upgrade will enable any overcharge health to remain until you sustain damage. The Ram Shackle upgrade will cause your armor to slowly regenerate. The Constrictor Harness upgrade allows you to hold your breath for longer while constricted. The Contraptions are cool additions and give you more options for navigating the environments. With that said, you can approach an encounter in numerous different ways. You can go in guns blazing, maybe crawl through a vent or pipe, jump down from above, and sometimes you just can run right past enemies and straight to your objective. Wolfenstein II is a linear game but because of the options your given during combat, you’re always encouraged to try something new, giving the game a good amount of replay value.

The Kreisau Circle headquarters is located on a submarine named Evas Hammer. This is kind of like a hub world where you can interact with NPC’s and complete very minor side missions like feeding a pig, retrieving Fergus’ mechanical arm, delivering a letter, and stuff like that. Completion of specific side missions rewards you with Contraption upgrades so you’ll want to talk to everybody. Within Evas Hammer, you can also practice shooting at the shooting range, get a drink at Club Kreisau, and even play a slightly altered version of the entirety of Wolfenstein 3D, titled Wolfstone 3D. Once the Enigma Code machine becomes available you can decrypt Enigma Codes which are always dropped by fallen commanders. The codes reveal the locations of Ubercommanders. Once the location is revealed, you go to the War Map and choose the location, which are always locations seen in the story missions, and then B.J. travels there and you need to assassinate the Ubercommander. These are similar to the Challenge Arena’s in The Old Blood. While the locations are still ripped straight from the story, the battles aren’t exactly the same. You can travel to any revealed locations at any time and some Ubercommanders require a specific amount of Enigma Codes for deciphering. So you may have to replay some areas and kill more commanders to acquire more Enigma Codes, another way the game encourages replay value. Decrypting the Enigma Codes involve this little mini-game where you have to quickly match these domino-looking things. If you fail to decrypt a code in time, you lose one Enigma code. I really don’t see the need for this mini-game since it gets old rather quickly and the tutorial for it sucks but it’s not really hard to figure out. The War Map is basically how you revisit campaign areas and I really love this. It doesn’t exactly replicate every combat sequence in the campaign but it lets you revisit the areas and kill enemies without any cut scenes or heavy dialogue sequences. The Ubercommander stuff does extend the game a bit and after beating the game you can still go back and assassinate any remaining commanders or just revisit the areas to acquire any missing collectibles.

On your quest to take back occupied US territory from the Nazi regime, you’ll travel to several different locations across the country. The subway and harbor of Manhattan, the decimated city of New Orleans, a small section of Roswell, New Mexico, and a Nazi fortress on the planet Venus. Many of the areas seen in the campaign consist of factories and other similar locations which is kind of a let down considering how diverse the US is but all of the outdoor areas and, of course, the locations on Venus, are really fun to navigate and explore and luckily, these areas can be revisited from the War Map. When you traverse the surface of planet Venus you have to be mindful about keeping yourself cool and you don’t want to overheat which does kind of make encounters a bit more stressful but you can cool yourself at the many of the coolant stations found in the area. Scattered throughout the environments are a ton of collectibles. You can find Readables like newspaper articles and letters which provide backstory on events and characters, and just general lore. You can also collect toys for Max, records, Starcards, concept art, gold, and Ubercommanders drop Deathcards. Deathcards provide information on Ubercommanders so it kind of makes it feel like you’re actually assassinating a Nazi of importance rather than just a generic commander. There’s a lot to collect in this game so you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny. The environments are linear for the most part with multiple paths to a destination, some rooms and small areas you have go a little out of your way for to explore, but the environments clearly funnel you from A to B. And each location is well crafted and feels like a real place. Crates are littered around which can be broken to reveal items like health, ammo, and armor.

Wolfenstein II does look noticeably better than the previous game. The modelling and texture work are all excellent, the animations look great and smooth, and the particle effects look really cool, which helps to make explosions look and feel awesome. I’ve heard some say the game is too dark or the lighting is messed up but I, honestly, didn’t experience any issues with that. Little details like blood splatter make the combat feel super satisfying and you can even see blood appear on B.J.’s weapons and arms during a firefight. Explosions can turn enemies into bloody stumps, you can blow off an enemy’s head or limbs with a well placed shotgun blast, and the gunplay, overall, can be really intense. Mick Gordon composed the music and did a phenomenal job. The music is good at getting you pumped up and kicks in at just the right time, whether it’s during cut scenes or gameplay. The sound effects are better than what was heard in The New Order but the sounds of gunfire still need work. The guns sound and feel more powerful here but they’re still not loud enough in my opinion. I also think the volume of the voice work is a bit too low at times, compared to all of the other sounds, but that can easily be solved by raising the volume. On the technical side, the game ran smooth for me. I didn’t notice any frame rate dips or anything game breaking. However, the game would always crash whenever I would Alt+Tab. At one point I was forced to restart my computer. I like to Alt+Tab often so this was definitely annoying. I’ve read reports of other players experiencing a lot more issues which I can’t say I encountered so I guess I’m lucky. But it sounds like the game may need some more tweaking which can hopefully be rectified with patches.

I enjoyed Wolfenstein II but sometimes I felt like I was just watching a movie. The game really starts off slow and picks up during the second half. I don’t think it’s as paced as well as The New Order was but I did enjoy the storyline, the bigger focus on B.J.’s backstory, and the development of supporting characters. I do wish there were more enemy encounters in the campaign and more diverse locations but I do appreciate the developers straying away from the typical European locations normally seen in this series. I just think there’s a lot more they could have done when it comes to the locations given how diverse the United States is. The Ubercommander stuff is really a saving grace since it allows you to revisit areas and get into gunfights without any padding or story stuff to get in your way. I think the gameplay, overall, is improved from the last game. It’s more challenging, you’re given multiple ways to approach and eliminate enemies, and the gunplay feels more brutal. I know DLC is planned where you get to play as different characters and there is a Vault Timer in the main menu counting down to what I believe is DLC. In the end, I had a lot of fun with Wolfenstein II but I do think the developers could have done more. None of the encounters felt epic like several sequences in The New Order including when B.J. and his fellow soldiers infiltrate Deathshead’s fortress or when B.J. works his way down an SS office building before battling the London Monitor. A good majority of encounters involve commanders, giving you the choice of a stealth approach or to go in guns blazing. However, this means each encounter does give you more options when it comes to approaching situations, a concept which I do embrace. I’d rather be given freedom and options as opposed to being forced through a scripted sequence of events all the time.

Ultimately, I think Wolfenstein II is a great game and worthy sequel, I just think it could have been better. I’m hoping any DLC adds more exciting firefights, maybe some cool boss battles, new locations, and even more ways to brutally annihilate enemies because as I was playing this I always felt like the game was building up to some super epic encounter but in the end they all ended up falling short of that “wow” factor. But that’s not to say the game is bad. I think compared to The New Order, Wolfenstein II is the better game, overall, mainly due to the brutal and satisfying gunplay and the more challenging gameplay in general which always kept me alert and more aware of my surroundings. The Ubercommander stuff is really cool, it’s one of the best parts of the game, and gives the game a good amount of replay value. Add in the numerous difficulty modes, two timelines, collectibles, Perks, and weapon upgrades, and you’ve got plenty of reasons to return. If you’re a fan of the Wolfenstein series or just The New Order, or first-person shooters in general, I would highly recommend Wolfenstein II.

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