Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the third Wolfenstein game by Machine Games and is the most bombastic and over the top entry the series has seen yet. Both gameplay and story features memorable moments that are among the best in the shooter genre and make the game a standout in many ways. While Wolfenstein II does a lot right, there are a few design choices that really hurt the games enjoyability and takes away from the frenetic action that the Wolfenstein series is known for. Are these issues enough to hold The New Colossus back from being a great game? Let’s find out.
Wolfenstein II picks up months after 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order ends where you begin the game as a wounded BJ Blaskowicz who is dealing with the physical and mental toll of his battles with Nazi forces as well as trauma from his childhood. Wolfenstein imagines an alternate universe where the Nazis won World War II and took over the United States of America. BJ Blaskowicz is part of a resistance group who fights against the odds to recapture the United States from the oppressive Nazi force.
The story features an eclectic group of characters who all have unique personalities and backstories. Irene Engel is the main foe of The New Colossus and is an over-the-top high ranking Nazi officer. She steals every scene that she is in and is one of the main driving forces that makes the story work.
The main group of characters you will spend time with are other resistance members who will join you in your journey. I can’t say that I found any of these characters to be worth caring for in any meaningful way, but they were a nice addition and a nice change of pace after heart racing action sequences.
The story itself is good enough to pay attention to highlighted by a few moments that focus on BJ Blaskowicz’s childhood trauma. An encounter with your father halfway through the game is a highlight of the games narrative and stuck with me throughout my playthrough.
The campaign features several varied locations and levels as Blaskowicz travels across the United States. You will visit Manhattan, Roswell, New Orleans and more locations that have been overrun by the Nazis. It is impressive how Machine Games has been able to imagine what the United States would look like if it had been overrun by Nazi Germany. Each location feels familiar if you know these United States locations, but eerily different due it’s destruction after the war.
Wolfenstein II runs on iD tech, iD software’s proprietary engine best known as used for the Doom franchise. It is no surprise then that Wolfenstein looks fantastic and is able to be simultaneously gorgeous and performant. Running at a rock solid 60 fps on Series X, I was constantly impressed by the way the game looked and had to remind myself this game was originally developed for the Xbox One generation of consoles.
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The gameplay is the star here and is mostly very good, but a few design choices seriously dampened my time playing. Starting with the positives, gunplay feels mostly excellent as weapons feel great to fire and each feel unique enough to be used in a variety of scenarios. You will use your standard Pistol, Shotgun, Assault Rifle, and SMG as well as unique weapons like energy beams. Each weapon provided unique advantages and were constantly in my rotation during my playthrough.
Wolfenstein stands alongside Doom as one of the most chaotic first-person shooters on the market. The game is about mowing down Nazis with incredibly satisfying weapons after all, and there was rarely a moment where there wasn’t something thrilling happening on screen.
With these positives in mind, it is disappointing then that there are a variety of issues that persisted throughout that often made me question how I felt about the game. Guns felt great to shoot, but there were many times where it felt as though there was little to no damage feedback. In most modern shooters, there are signals to indicate that enemies are being damaged or weak. In Halo, enemy shields will glow as they are taking damage and sound cues will let the player know if they are weak. In Doom, enemies flash if they are on the brink of death. In Wolfenstein, there is little to no indication what the status of an enemy is.
There are great looking animations that indicate that an enemy is taking damage, such as a regular soldier stumbling or a mech beginning to fall after taking damage. However, these were not enough to indicate to me how much damage I was doing to an enemy. The lack of damage indicators doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but most other modern shooters do this aspect so much better that it stood out during my playthrough of the game.
This same lack of damage feedback goes the other way as well as there is very little indication of when you are taking damage. There are no obvious sound effects or screen indicators other than diminishing health and armor numbers on the bottom of the screen. There were dozens of times where I would die without realizing how damaged I was and felt forced to stare at my health instead of focusing on the action. This isn’t an issue in Machine Games first go at Wolfenstein in The New Order. In that game, there are clear visual indicators where blood will fill the corners of the screen when you are getting damaged. It is perplexing why Machine Games decided to remove this completely in The New Colossus.
This frustration is only amplified by Wolfenstein’s completely odd difficulty spikes. There are a handful of occasions when you are forced to go against seemingly endless hordes of Nazi enemies that include generic soldiers, robot dogs, mechs with Lazer and gattling guns, and other various enemies. In these moments, the game truly begins to feel a bit unfair and poorly designed. Playing on the normal difficulty that is titled “Bring Em On”, there were numerous occasions where I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally set the difficulty to the highest possible option.
Enemies will down you quickly when you face a group of them, forcing you to hide and scour for health packs and armor. This often caused frustration, as one too many times I was forced to disengage for a fight to look for health. I consider myself pretty good at first-person shooters, and I found myself perplexed at how often I was losing fights and retreating for health in Wolfenstein II. It never felt fun or fair to have to run away from the action just to search out for health. It doesn’t feel like Machine Games wanted this outcome, but far too often this is what the game would turn into.
These design decisions feel so much more frustrating because I know just how good the game feels when it is not hamstrung by these systems. If the game had a better health system, improved damage feedback and less difficulty spikes this could easily be one of the best first person shooter ever made. Many times, when playing I thought that might actually be the case. But then I would encounter a mob of enemies, lose my health in seconds, run around spamming the x button to pick up health, spam my weapon with no idea how much damage I was doing, and feel frustration set in. When these frustrating moments were not occurring, I was mowing down Nazis with Lazer beams, hacking enemies with my axe, and enjoying one of the most chaotic shooters I have ever played. The game feels like a constant tug of war between the adrenaline filled moment to moment action and the systems that dragged the game down. I would still recommend any first-person shooter fan to play the game as it does a lot right, but I simply found myself at wits end with many aspects of the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Order is almost great but is held back by a number of issues. A few design choices Machine Games made far too often took me out of the game and frustrated me to no end. For such a great feeling game, the lack of damage indicators to and from enemies made the game feel off far too many times. An outdated health system forced me to play the game differently than I wanted to. Instead of the clear intent at fast paced chaotic action the game does so well, I was too often hiding behind cover, scouring for health packs, and dying in seconds due to frequent difficulty spikes.
Even with these issues, I still had an overall positive experience with the game due to strong story beats and chaotic moment to moment action. Wolfenstein II is a game I would recommend to anyone but is a game that may leave you feeling a bit frustrated in the end.