Wolfenstein Youngblood review: The Adventures of Arthur and Kenneth

Bethesda /

Despite some genuinely fun gunplay and ambitious story beats, Wolfenstein: Youngblood falters in padding out a formerly robust gameplay package.

Title: Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Developers: MachineGames, Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 26, 2019

It’s rare for a video game franchise to continue to thrive and innovate for almost 40 years. Rarer is for that franchise to cover the era in which it got its humble start. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is MachineGames’ latest dive into their Nazi-killing series, this time focusing not on BJ Blazkowicz’s justifiably murderous rampage, but that of his twin daughters.

Raised to scratch their way through hard-fought lives, Sophia and Jessica Blazkowicz have been taught by the best in the ways of the gun, close-quarters combat, and survival since their birth. However, once BJ goes missing after traveling to Paris in 1980, they find themselves coming to grips with their reality; hours of preparation cannot prepare for the horrors of war.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a co-op game played via hosted online matchmaking or offline with an AI partner. You play as either sister in roles supporting each other through combat, with stealth maneuvers allowing one to take out enemies quietly and aggressive shoving to overwhelming aggressors. Of course, the standard (excellent) gunplay and FPS mechanics made standard by the modern refresh remain.

Wolfenstein Youngblood brain blood
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What I found most striking is just how aggressive the new RPG-like systems were implemented in Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and how quickly they presented themselves. I did not expect enemies to have health bars and levels above their head, nor was I anticipating shield-like bars indicating the bullet type necessary to mow them down.

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Additionally, as you level up, you gain ability points used to upgrade functions such as health/armor, abilities like your cloaking armor/strength of enemies you can silently takedown, and plenty more. As you kill Nazi scum and wipe their terror from the map, you will likely pick up ammo and silver coins among their remains, allowing players to customize their weapon upgrades across assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, and superweapons, letting the player’s creativity flow through.

The ARPG elements of Wolfenstein: Youngblood helped give this co-op-oriented game its own style, separating itself from the core MachineGames franchise and planting its own flag firmly in the ground. Moreso, switching weapon types and abilities to take down a variety of foes in linear buildings and open-air areas kept things fresh, turning the excellently flowing gunplay into a strategic chess match with the enemy AI.

Wolfenstein Youngblood repeat quests
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What did take me out of the game’s narrative, however, was just how forward the game presented itself as a grind. After a short mission to prove your worth, you are taken to a French Resistance catacomb to take on missions and side quests from your fellow freedom warriors. Even the group’s leader, Juju, presents these side missions as the training necessary before taking on tough challenges found in overtaking the city’s towers (part of your main quest).

Telling me to take on side quests plus daily and weekly challenges so that I could upgrade my character well enough to take on the main story missions quickly became a drag.

In doing so, Wolfenstein: Youngblood turns the game’s most enjoyable aspect, its core action gunplay loop, into a grind, presenting familiar challenges as if they were stenciling atop of one another. Telling me to take on side quests plus daily and weekly challenges so that I could upgrade my character well enough to take on the main story missions quickly became a drag.

Not only that, but the main location hubs spread across Paris restock their Nazi soldiers at a rapid pace; even in locations that you had already visited when you arrived on location. These side stories often involve the same lacking mission variety such as “save NPC in this building” or “find a missing character in this location” and mostly involve a familiar “wipe out all enemies from area to area” vibe.

Wolfenstein Youngblood Brother 1
Bethesda /

While some locations have a simple, yet striking beauty to their composition, the repetitive nature of the quest grinding turns them mundane. Because of the waypoint system, you will often find yourself taking missions coming out of the same metro tunnel, taking out the same crowds of enemies and becoming intimately familiar with AI patterns.

Speaking of AI, the single-player version of your sister companion is atrociously inconsistent. Most of the time, she will be your bullet sponge following you into the breach, but other times she will stand forward when you’re trying to sneak and get you both caught.

The most egregious example of a poor AI companion was in the middle of the Brother 2 tower mission. Each of the three towers requires a complete teardown ended with some sort of boss battle, yet it was during the final encounter here that my AI partner refused to resurrect me. Normally, you get up to three shared lives that get used up only when you both “bleed out” of HP.

However, because she didn’t acknowledge my rapid-fire calls for help, I had to burn through my shared lives at double the expected rate, resulting in my untimely demise. Because of the poor checkpointing system in this online-focused game (it still runs like a matchmaker-hosted course even when offline), my death meant losing close to an hour’s worth of progress. I found no such problems with a human partner, but that wasn’t supposed to be necessary to fully function.

Wolfenstein Youngblood weird lighting
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When it comes to the PC version of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, I was surprised at how well the game was optimized. You could set FPS caps, toggled FOV, use dynamic audio settings and a host of visual customization options without sacrificing performance too heavily. It ran as smooth as butter, and I never encountered issues outside of what would be present throughout all versions of this game.

…there’s a latent sense of female empowerment imprinted in the game’s DNA that isn’t treated as anything more than young women supporting young women while killing evil Nazis and robots.

That’s not to say there weren’t visual and audio bugs. On the contrary; there were some downright goofy moments during the game, including stretched-out bodies, audio dropping in and out during boss fights, the aforementioned AI inconsistencies and a zeppelin seen above outright distorting the in-game lighting. Youngblood is a looker at times, but certainly not when looking down at distant towns or being consumed by darkness.

I really, truly wanted to like this game. There are hints of brilliance hidden within, such as the neat handling of the Wolfenstein timeline and the events of the previous games. Being placed in 1980 close to two decades after the new “Second American Revolution” gives an interesting perspective, even if the story beats and lore are bookended within a dozen-hour package.

As cringey as some of their dialogue can be, the small banter moments between Jessica and Sophia create a sense of comradery that presents its own charm. From being nervous as all hell to take their first life to dancing awkwardly like nobody’s watching in loading screen-hiding elevators, there’s a latent sense of female empowerment imprinted in the game’s DNA that isn’t treated as anything more than young women supporting young women while killing evil Nazis and robots.

Wolfenstein Youngblood weak points
Bethesda /

It’s more out of frustration than an outright offense that I find myself disappointed in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. A half-priced co-op game that, in deluxe editions, allow you to bring in a friend to play with you completely free is a novel and much-praised concept, but it’s the fact that it’s so bogged down and monotonous by the end of your grinding that makes fun, precise FPS variety boring and predictable.

The growing arsenal of weaponry, added piecemeal as you progress through the game, presented microbursts of optimism in small windows, but didn’t do enough to break through a familiar loop. There’s even a double jump for the odd moment of 3D action platforming, and those moments were refreshing! It’s unfortunate that an essential chapter for series diehards is bogged down with so much filler.

6. Ripe for narrative potential, <em>Wolfenstein: Youngblood</em> is a brilliant concept overwrought with unnecessarily padded questing, turning a winning linear FPS formula into an ARPG grind fest. Complete with AI inconsistencies and visual/audio bugs, great gunplay and compelling narrative beats are buried deep within a package worth opening only by core franchise players.<p>It’s aggressively okay and disappointingly misses the mark.</p>. MachineGames. . Wolfenstein: Youngblood

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.