Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the follow-up to The New Colossus and The New Order is the latest entry in the Wolfenstein franchise since the series’ reboot in 2014. Developed by Machine Games and Arkane Studios and priced at $30, does the smaller scope and focus on new protagonists preserve the series’ brilliance, or does it fall short? This is our review of Wolfenstein: Youngblood on PC.
If you missed our review in progress yesterday, I had some positive initial impressions of Youngblood. Let’s dive into the finer details.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes place roughly 18 years after The New Colossus in 1980 Nazi-occupied Paris.
It boasts a much lighter tone than The New Order and The New Colossus, featuring returning characters in addition to new characters, like Grace’s daughter Abby who provides you with objectives and acts as your main contact when you’re out in the field.
You play as either Jessie (Jes) or Zofia (Soph) Blazkowicz, twin sisters and daughters of BJ and Anya. They each have distinct personalities, with Jes being the more logical and Soph being the more aggressive.
I found their banter genuinely enjoyable. They call each other Arthur and Kenneth, which is highly amusing. Small touches like their antics during elevator rides not only serve to hide the loading, but build a stronger foundation for the relationship between the two. You can tell that Jes and Soph are best friends.
Like its predecessors, the writing in Youngblood is just awesome. I marvel at how the writers manage to execute a story for me to become invested in while still remaining fully self-aware that Wolfenstein is about killing Nazis in truly absurd ways. This balance of the serious with the ludicrous has always made Wolfenstein stand out to me in and go toe-to-toe with other story-driven shooters like Metro.
The story in Youngblood is not without its twists, one of which had me shaking my head in disbelief. Without spoiling, you’re tasked with finding your father, BJ, who went missing recently in Paris. The story sees you traversing the Nazi-occupied city performing various missions as the plot unfolds. Personally, I found the story to be enjoyable and the payoff satisfying, but because it’s so tightly wound with the level design, I’ll speak more on this in the Gameplay section below.
The music in Youngblood isn’t anything to write home about. The score isn’t memorable in that I couldn’t hum the theme for you like I can with other titles like Skyrim. However, the music absolutely does its job of conveying the tension or tranquility of your current predicament. Most of the time, there is no music when you’re simply traversing around Paris. But come time for combat encounters and the music ratchets up.
The performances from everyone, especially the actors who portray Jes and Soph, are top notch. But then again, I expected nothing less going into Youngblood given just how good the acting was in The New Order and The New Colossus. As mentioned above, I completely believed they were sisters and best friends.
Finally, the sound design of the weapons, various mechanical monstrosities, and overall ambience was extremely good. Each weapon sounded distinct. Each bullet hit felt impactful. The mechanical groans and shrieks of the Nazi machinery drove home their analogue nature. Overall, sound design is a strength in Youngblood.
As you play, you gain experience, ability points, and silver. Ability points are used to purchase new passive and active abilities, whereas silver is used to purchase weapon upgrades and cosmetics.
Cosmetics can also be purchased with gold bars, but from my experience, it looks like gold bars are only purchasable for real money via microtransactions. I find this just terrible because I am loathe for the inclusion of microtransactions in any game.
You are constantly showered in silver and ability points, so don’t feel like you need to horde these. Silver in particular can be found everywhere if you explore like me, tucked away in crates, difficult to reach places, and dropped by enemies.
Each weapon can be upgraded through its muzzle, receiver, stock, etc attachments. There are three types of upgrades per attachment: Nadel, Tempo, and Stier. Nadel upgrades favor a stealthier approach with accuracy, Tempo favors fire rate, and Stier favors damage and DPS. Three of any Nadel, Tempo, or Stier upgrades will give you a bonus for that weapon.
As I mentioned in my review in progress, the gunplay is amazing. Each gun feels weighty and impactful. The recoil and impact convey a certain lethal finality which other shooters lack.
Like its predecessors, Youngblood includes unique weapons such as the grenade-launcher-on-steroids Dieselkraftwerk. These weapons embrace the more bonkers side of Wolfenstein. Just look at this thing!
Using the Dieselkraftwerk against heavily armored enemies puts a massive grin on my face as I watch them melt away. Video games you guys. Video games.
Similar to New Order and The New Colossus, Wolfenstein: Youngblood features a mission hub in the Paris Catacombs from which you can obtain main missions, side missions, and simply banter with your cohorts. You can also check out the firing range to practice your marksmanship and speed, in addition to playing retro 80s arcades to beat and set a high score.
I do like games with well-designed hubs, and the fact that Youngblood adopts the macabre Catacombs for this purpose merely compounds my appreciation for this feature. Exploring the hub, talking with my cohorts, and simply killing time in the arcade is just good fun.
The missions overall are straight up fun, with incredibly detailed locales, verticality to explore thanks to the double jump mechanic, and tons of collectibles to find. Collectibles include floppy disks containing codes for various lockboxes, and other documents which enrich the lore of the world. Completionists may find these worth their while for the sake of completion. Explorers like me like me use these opportunities to find these collectibles as an excuse to further explore Paris.
Level design has Arkane’s fingerprints all over it, with increased verticality and scores of alleyways, winding staircases, apartment buildings, rooftops, checkpoints, and destroyed shops to discover and explore.
Like Dishonored, Youngblood’s Paris feels like one connected city as you revisit locations for various missions. However, this never once felt repetitive to me given just how Byzantine the design of the city feels, aping downtown Los Santos in GTA V.
Keep in mind, this isn’t an open world. Paris is contained. But Machine Games and Arkane have given players so many more options to explore that the playable area feels much larger than it initially looks.
It just once again proves that “linear” doesn’t have to mean, “get from A to B.” It’s less about getting to your objective, and more about how you get to your objective. It’s truly stunning level design, one which I wholeheartedly applaud.
Completing side missions offered by various NPCs in the Catacombs will net you resources, but will also recruit people to your hub. This opens some additional dialogue like New Order and New Colossus, which adds to the overall world building, and provides additional missions for you to undertake.
Finally, missions include a level rating indicating the recommended level you should be before partaking. You can collect all missions which will be kept in your journal and access them anytime, so don’t worry about accepting a higher level mission and getting locked in.
Like The New Order and The New Colossus, stealth is an option. I consider myself a stealthy player in any game which allows it. However, there’s something so damn satisfying about going in guns blazing in Wolfenstein: Youngblood that I found myself sneaking less that I would otherwise...except during the main mission raids of three Brüder (Brother) towers.
These effectively act as dungeons and contain hordes of enemies, amazing verticality, and present a serious challenge. They are the Crown Jewels of Youngblood. Everything I’ve mentioned thus far about combat, stealth, exploration, and exemplary level design culminates into these three main raids.
Visuals and Performance
Here are the specs of the PC used in this review:
- CPU: i7 8700k (OC 4.7 GHz)
- Memory: 16 GB G.Skill Trident Z DDR4
- GPU: RTX 2080 Ti
- Nvidia Driver: 431.60 (Game Ready driver)
- Monitor: Acer Predator X34P (3440 x 1440p @ 120 Hz)
- All game settings and sliders maxed out
Built on id Tech 6 like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus before it, Wolfenstein: Youngblood offers plenty of options. Variable rate shading (a method to reduce GPU load by lowering the perceived resolution of ancillary effects like motion or luminance) for Nvidia cards returns for Youngblood after its implementation in The New Colossus. I messed around with these options, but because my performance was effectively maxed out to begin with, I noticed no gain. However, this is meant more for lower-end PCs to win back some performance while maintaining image quality, and so, like The New Colossus before it, should be enabled if you’re experiencing some performance drops.
Antialiasing options are aplenty, with TSSAA 8x selected for review. Motion blur is great with good sampling, ensuring smooth camera blur and per object blur. Motion blur is divisive, however, I love it as it mimics the motion properties of real-life objects. Volumetric lighting returns as well, but presented an oddity. Most of the time, it looks great. However, seemingly at random, the lighting displayed aliasing artefacts, suggesting a lower resolution for the voxel grid. From the screenshot below, you can see the effect of this which resulted in pixelated lighting. To someone like me, this is extremely distracting.
Water caustics seem to be screen space, and thus disappear when the water isn’t within your viewport. I don’t think these caustics have any lighting property, however, as they don’t seem to add any illumination. It looks more like a shader. This isn’t bad, per se, but I wish it cast light. Perhaps we’ll get this with the ray tracing down the road. You can see the effect of this in the image below. Focus on the ripples of light on the ceiling of the catacombs and you’ll see what caustics are.
Post process (effects which are added to the image after the main rendering) is as expected for an id Tech 6 game. If you’ve played DOOM or The New Colossus, these effects will be familiar to you in the form of lens flares, depth of field, and the like. Additionally, the post process appears to apply faint scan lines to mimic the 80s vibe. It’s not enough to distract, but its effect is still pretty cool to subtly drive home the time period.
With all settings maxed out, I could not get performance to dip below 120fps -- the max refresh rate of my monitor -- despite my best efforts to throw particles, alpha, and all manner of chaos on screen. This exemplary performance can most likely be attributed to the optimization of the Vulkan API, along with the sheer horsepower I’m throwing at Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
Gameplay and cinematics (both pre-rendered and real-time) run in my native 21:9, however, menus are 16:9. I have no idea why this is the case, but this inconsistency is distracting, considering all your weapon, ability, and collectible management is done through menus and you’ll spend a good chunk of time there.
There were some aspects of the visual presentation I disliked. At the time of this writing, there is no option to disable head bobbing, just like its two predecessors. Its use here is excessive and I wish there was a way to reduce its effect, or disable it entirely.
Animations and performance capture are excellent, with in-game lip sync being the only unfortunate standout. The lip syncing animations don’t quite align with the words being spoken. It’s not as polished as the other animations like climbing, vaulting, stumbling, and the like.
But Where Is The Ray Tracing?
Nvidia heavily marketed Wolfenstein: Youngblood in their ray tracing push, going so far as to include it in a bundle with Control should you purchase one of their new Super graphics cards. However, there is no ray tracing included at launch.
While Nvidia’s marketed never explicitly stated that ray tracing would be included at launch, I still feel this marketing was misleading because of the implication that ray tracing would be included at launch.
While this isn’t a dealbreaker per se, it is nevertheless something to call out if you were looking forward to ray tracing in Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
At first glance, Youngblood appears to have no second column to input secondary key bindings, but you can bind secondary keys to actions. The UI here is confusing. As the mainstay PC titles now offer a secondary keybinding, it’s a shame that Wolfenstein: Youngblood doesn’t follow suit.
Additionally, there are no options to disable mouse acceleration and mouse smoothing. Mouse smoothing and acceleration adversely affect accuracy and responsiveness of your mouse -- two things which are crucial to shooters. These feel disabled by default, but without any options to manually control this, I can’t be completely certain.
Finally, there are no options to independently control mouse look sensitivity and aim down sights sensitivity, which is just a bad omission for a first person shooter. These things should be the bare minimum on PC today.
Overall, Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s key bindings and mouse options are not up to par from what PC gamers expect as standard from a game in 2019.
Unlike its predecessors, Youngblood features co-op for the first time. You are given a few co-op options when you launch the game: public, private, friends only, nobody (offline). If you play offline, your sister is controlled by the AI.
Despite my initial worries, you are not babysitting your sister. She’s fully competent and can take care of herself. However, regardless of which co-op mode you select, you have a pool of Shared Lives, with three lives as a maximum. These can be found throughout levels. These are self-explanatory: if you run out of Shared Lives, game over. You start over from the last checkpoint.
Online co-op was interesting. Despite receiving a steam code for review, I found out I needed to play with my Bethesda.net friends. Fortunately, I had already linked steam and Bethesda so this wasn’t an issue.
Loot and currencies are instanced when playing co-op with a friend. I played with Bradford for my co-op testing. We died three times, but ultimately, it was a fun experience. Playing with a friend is new to the modern Wolfenstein games and proved to be engaging and slightly panic inducing, especially when your friend is 18 levels below you and decides to aggro a Panzerhund, leaving you to deal with the repercussions of such brazen actions. (Note: Bradford is the single worst co-op companion. This is my official analysis.)
Also included is a Buddy Pass which allows a friend who doesn’t own Youngblood to play alongside you. However, this feature isn’t live until the game launches for consoles today, and so I was unable to test it out here in time for the review.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood does have its annoyances. Inconsistency with its aspect ratio between gameplay and the menus, lack of discrete sliders for mouse look and mouse aim, and an unnecessarily unintuitive key bindings menu absolutely irk me. These annoyances simply shouldn’t exist in a game in 2019. Period. Additionally, the ever-expanding proliferation of microtransactions in AAA games will never cease to frustrate me.
Overall, however, Youngblood is an amazing experience. For $30 at the time of writing, it combines a great story, impeccable gunplay, and truly exemplary level design into a clean concise package which simply should not be passed over.
Score: 9 out of 10
- Outstanding performance and optimization on PC
- Plenty of graphics options for PC gamers
- Exemplary level design
- Well-written and well-acted
- 21:9 support inconsistent
- Mouse options are lacking
- Microtansactions shouldn’t exist