Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
I had played through Wolfenstein: The New Order and was part way through its sequel, The New Colossus, ahead of going hands-on with the E3 2019 demo of the newest iteration of the rebooted franchise, Wolfenstein Youngblood. Needless to say, its mechanics and general feel were fresh in my mind.
Given my recent past I went in cocky, sure of myself and my skills, and was quickly forced to chow down on some humble pie. This is due to a number of significant changes that have been implemented. The most influential is that Youngblood has been designed as a co-op experience that lets you play as either Soph or Jes, the twin daughters of famed protagonist BJ Blazkowicz. As the E3 2019 demo was designed for live co-op with a human companion, I was matched with one and had my entire Wolfenstein experience turned on its head as a result.
My new partner and I both watched as the demo opened with a lengthy yet beautifully detailed cutscene. It offered a little backstory into the life that BJ, Anya and their daughters have made for themselves in the nineteen years that followed The New Colossus. The family lives a humble, low-key existence on a rural property where they fend for themselves and largely stay out of trouble.
BJ teaches one daughter to shoot while Anya trains the other to fight. The family soon comes together in an interaction that — military training aside — is so typical of any family dynamic it had me instantly linked to the characters. The sisters fight as real sisters do, easily selling their relationship and the ones they have with their parents. Really, this should come as no surprise; despite the over-the-top historical setting of this rebooted series, it has consistently offered fully developed characters that you want to connect with. Add to that quality performances by its voice cast and Youngblood easily keeps to the standard that MachineGames’ Wolfenstein has set.
Through necessity, BJ bows out of proceedings and we transition to the twins. Game time. As you’d expect, gameplay at its core is typical Wolfenstein: fast-paced, hectic and fun. With that comforting fact established early on, my focus was drawn to new additions which haven’t been seen in the series before. This starts quickly with a loadout screen that has you selecting starting weapons, signature abilities unique to each twin and a “pep signal” which is used to buff or support your sister. Loadout options in the E3 2019 demo were very limited (as it appeared we were starting from the very beginning of the game) but we’re told there will be plenty of potential builds to play around with including cosmetic upgrades.
In another key change, the weapon upgrade system has been overhauled for the third time in as many iterations. In The New Order, you’d find specific items like silencers or extended magazines lying around to attach to your weapons. In The New Colossus, generic upgrade kits were scattered throughout levels, giving you more choice as to which upgrades you unlocked. In Youngblood, you’ll instead collect coins that are used to pay for the upgrades you’re most keen on. The best part is that you won’t be fighting against your companion for pickups — they spawn separately for both characters.
During gameplay, you can throw up a “pep signal” for your co-op companion which, at least in this build, activated a health or armour boost. I initially forgot about this ability as I started my Nazi-killing, though an on-screen indicator (and voice-prompt) telling me that my sister’s health was low soon corrected that. Surprisingly, activating the pep feature became second nature very quickly; it was soon an absolute necessity in some sections as the difficulty spiked significantly on several occasions in the one-hour E3 2019 demo.
While critically acclaimed, previous games in the series have been slammed for instances of inconsistent difficulty. As stated, this was experienced in the demo but it felt like less of a problem with a real human helping you along the way. As things became more challenging, my teammate and I ramped up our communication; we discussed our approach, our timing and kept ourselves up to date on health, ammo count and weapon selections.
For example, a particularly armour-heavy enemy seemed almost bulletproof when attacked head on; his heavy machine gun made short work of us both. But a weakness on his back made coordination imperative to success. While I drew the enemies fire from behind cover, my co-op sister found a flanking route through the level (which was much more open than in previous games) and attacked from the rear. This baddie did ‘nazi’ that coming (sorry).
What concerns me about this is that coordination in performing attacks was absolutely necessary in order to get past these difficult sections. While that makes for some fun and challenging co-op game play, I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near as fun with an AI companion. Thankfully, Wolfenstein: Youngblood includes a Buddy Pass that allows the game’s owner to share the co-op with a friend at no additional cost to either party (just don’t expect Achievements or Trophies as the freeloader).
Wolfenstein: Youngblood is without a doubt going to be chock-full of simple yet challenging gun battles, interesting bosses and an over-the-top setting. There wasn’t much more than that to the previous two games and that made up a large portion of their charm. I mean, who doesn’t love mindlessly slaughtering Nazis? While the added features of co-op, loadout builds, abilities and even a leveling system might appear to add some depth to the series, I can’t help but ask myself if it’s all necessary.
We’ll find out on 26 July when Wolfenstein: Youngblood is released to Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch.
Jay Ball travelled to Los Angeles to cover Wolfenstein: Youngblood as a guest of Bethesda. This arrangement does not impact our Bethesda coverage, nor limit additional E3 2019 coverage.