Taking a look at Bethesda’s take over of the Wolfenstein series.
- Genre: First Person Single Player Linear Shooter.
- Developed & Published by: MachineGames & Bethesda Softworks
- Platform: Windows, PS4 & Xbox One
- Business Model: Single Purchase
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Wolfenstein 3D created and popularized the FPS genre back in 1992 with its innovative FPS action, controversial Nazi usage and labyrinthine levels. It started a genre of games that has endured and thrived on all platforms. The original game hasn’t aged as well, the maze levels are an exercise in frustration and the combat is simply old. However, it’s still worth checking out if you want to see where it all started. Time hasn’t been kind to the Wolfenstein series. It’s been rebooted three times now, once in 2001 as Return to Castle Wolfenstein by Gray Matter Interactive, another in 2009 with Raven Software’s Wolfenstein and now The New Order by MachineGames. The second reboot was particularly notable for being a buggy, uninspired release that seemed to have little connection to its history. When Bethesda took over the IP from Activision, there was interest in whether the publisher could do the series right for once and bridge the gap between old school and modern-day shooter design. Regardless of what I’ll say in the rest of the review, Bethesda has done an impressive job of doing just that while avoiding many of the pitfalls of AAA design and sales.
I’ve only recently played Wolfenstein 3D and never got around to finishing it. My knowledge of the series outside of the Apogee titles is pretty limited. I’m mostly just aware of the failed reboot Wolfenstein because I happened to start gaming on PC a couple of years before it came out. Even back then, it barely made a blip in the radar and its removal from the Steam stores is unsurprising. I doubt anyone missed it. But what of the New Order and The Old Blood? Did Bethesda do a better job? Let’s find out.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Jumping into the Wolfenstein series through The New Order doesn’t require knowledge of the series’ past. Mostly because there isn’t a ton of lore to go into and the general idea in the New Order is pretty simple. It’s an alternate history story where the Nazis win WWII instead of the US and its allies. It’s an exploration of “what if?” while following a band of survivors and rebels attempting to overthrow the Nazi regime. In this day of FPS deluge, it’s impressive that Wolfenstein still manages to keep a unique identity that doesn’t feel old or tired. Which perhaps surprises me more than it should. On paper, The New Order should be a dull run with its usage of Nazis as yet another villain and a beefcake “super” soldier being the protagonist. Yet they make it works and the only reason I can think of why it does is because they explore what makes the main protagonist tick along with having a wide cast of interesting characters for him to interact with.
As for the gameplay itself, it mixes FPS combat with level exploration, mech driving sections, stealth and questing. It creates a decent adventurous pace to the game that ensures you aren’t doing one thing for too long. That you’re on this hard fought quest to overthrow the Nazi regime and that there are risks involved. It’s a well crafted adventure I have to say, even if the shooting does get bullet spongy towards the end. Boss fights are also pretty creative as well.
You are B.J. Blazkowicz, (oh dear lord, typing that name out every time I mention it is going to give me a headache) a soldier fighting the Nazi problem with a wide range of weaponry (many of them can being dual-wielded) in a linear shooter that mixes cover shooting, health packs and stealth action gameplay together. In The New Order, you have access to the usual handguns, SMGs, Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles and Shotguns. What sets this apart from other shooters are the most pseudo-futuristic weapons that get unlocked pretty early on in the game. The LaserKraftWerk being the most notable new weapon. This laser-cutting weapon used for both offense and utility as it can cut through robotic creations and steel grates/boxes with ease. Allowing the player to explore boxes and new areas. It’s a very cool weapon in my opinion. There’s also the double-barreled shotgun, machine guns and Tesla grenades to fill out the rest of the lineup. If that’s still not enough firepower for you, the MG-60 Machine gun that can either be in turret form or picked up should be more than enough. A lot of the futuristic weapons can be recharged from energy stations while the traditional weapons rely on ammo to be located. I can’t remember having a single complaint with any of the weapons Wolfenstein has, except maybe the MG-60 whose bullet count never seemed to be enough. But that’s a minor complaint. Stealth in Wolfenstein is basically not getting caught in line of sight or shooting a loud weapon, allowing players to approach a situation from different angles. It’s not a deep system but it works well enough for a shooter focused experience like The New Order. I had plenty of fun moments where I tried to sneak by enemies and usually succeeded. But even if I didn’t, it wasn’t game over and I could blast what few enemies remained.
The upgrade system is pretty simplistic. A lot of it is unlocked by achieving certain feats in the game such as killing five enemies in one shotgun blast or other complicated maneuvers. It’s ok, but it’s not something I really paid a lot of attention to when I was playing it.
The game starts with Captain B.J. Blazkowicz accompanied by Fergus Reid and Private Probst Wyatt III in a WWII bomber. They are part of a massive Allied task force to kill General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse and destroy the laboratory that has been creating the advanced technology that the Axis powers have been using to win the war. Despite some success at infiltrating the facility, they are captured by Deathshead. One of the companions is executed by player choice and, after being left for dead, they escape the facility. However, Blazkowicz takes a blow to the head from a metallic object and spends the next 14 years in a mental facility in Poland, unable to do anything at all. B.J. eventually wakes up in the Mental Ward he’s been living in when the Nazis are about to execute all of the patients and he rescues the daughter of the family that was working there. After deciding to join up with the resistance that has been captured by the Nazis, they smuggle themselves into Berlin and begin work at overthrowing the regime.
The story largely takes place at the resistance’s HQ and on missions. The HQ is underneath Berlin in the every twisting and winding ways of sewer systems and allows them to work underneath the regime without them noticing. In-game, it serves as a place to let the player talk to the other characters, take a breath, explore and move the plot along. As they situate themselves, they work on stealing stealth helicopters, saving people from Nazi camps and generally working their way towards killing Deathshead. They figure putting him down will give them a lot of breathing room. It’s a very well paced campaign and there are some genuinely hard scenes to watch. For a story that could have easily been garbage, MachineGames does a really good job at making it intriguing to experience. There’s also plenty of homages to the original Wolfenstein games strewn throughout the game, so keep an eye out for them.
The Old Blood Thoughts (“Spoilers”)
The Old Blood expandalone is a prequel story to The New Order. B.J. Blazkowicz is infiltrating a top secret research facility, Castle Wolfenstein, to determine the location of Deathshead. However, he discovers that a Nazi scientist named Helga von Schabb is hell bent on uncovering a crypt containing artifacts relating to King Otto of the Holy Roman Emperor. He gets captured and then escapes the Castle to meet a contact in the nearby village. He attempts to steal a folder from Helga but is discovered while at the same time an Earthquake is unleashed and a chemical pours out of the crypt’s entrance, causing the dead to come back to life. What follows is a campaign of trying to figure out how to solve this latest crisis, fighting the undead horde of Nazi zombies and discovering the secret of King Otto’s crypt. Which is a giant monster of unknown origin. After killing it and seeing Helga die, Blazkowicz is rescued by Fergus Reid and the events that began The New Order are started.
Weapons are basically the WWII weapons seen in the prologue of The New Order with some tweaks. There’s a pipe that can be used as a melee weapon and a way to climb walls. A bolt rifle and grenade launcher also make an appearance. The other big mechanic change is the use of Nazi zombies as the primary enemy fodder and older technology suits. The new tech weapons aren’t here, most notably the LaserKraftWerk, so that’s a little disappointing. Otherwise, The Old Blood essentially plays out like the same as The New Order, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view.
For myself, something about the Old Blood just doesn’t bring the same excitement or interest that I had with The New Order. That isn’t to say that The Old Blood is a bad game…the hook just isn’t there for me. The stakes don’t seem as important, there really isn’t much different outside of the usual gameplay and B.J. Blazkowicz doesn’t really have much of a character arc either which doesn’t help the narrative’s pace. Then there’s the Nazi Zombie enemies which feel like the same iteration of zombies that have come from multitude of prior titles. A type of enemy that has been done to death nearly as much as regular zombies. Or maybe that’s just my bias. This iteration of them doesn’t do anything to spice up the interactions either, though I’m easily amused when I set the Nazi Zombies on the regular zombies by “mistake”. I will give MachineGames credit though, they clearly put effort into this game when it easily could have been an asset flip. Even if I don’t think it really does enough to drive my interest, this is still a solid entry to the series.
PC Settings & Audio/Video
Options confirmed by PCGamingWiki.
|Game Options||What the User Can Configure|
|Widescreen, Ultra-Widescreen and 4K Support||General resolutions are supported.|
|Windowed, Fullscreen and Borderless Window Support||Can select between all three.|
|V-Sync. 60FPS support. FoV goes from 80-100*. FoV doesn’t affect the size of the weapons, you’ll need to open the game console for that change.||Cutscenes are annoyingly capped at 30FPS with the rest of the game capped at 60FPS. This will create a jarring disconnect while playing the game and watching cutscenes.|
|AA and AF settings aren’t present in options menu.||You’ll need to add them in the launch options but support for AF is very limited.|
|Multitude of GPU options to configure your experience.||Shadow quality, DoF, Godrays, Flares, Filterings and more.|
|Keyboard can be changed except for certain keys which are hardbound with config file edits. Full controller support for the game but controllers can’t be rebound or changed.||Decent but limited in certain aspects.|
|Volume controls: Master solider only. Subtitle support.||Supports up to 7.0 surround sound. Subtitles can be changed between none, foreign languages only or always on.|
id Tech 5 engine continues to impress with its solid performance and graphical capabilities. Seeing an alternate world of concrete, steel and Nazis doesn’t disappoint here. They really did a good job with the graphics. I’ll admit that I don’t recall any crashes or bugs worth noting but there are a number or issues listed on PCGamingWiki so go there or the Steam forums to check things out. Wolfenstein is very well optimized even though I’m beginning to see that my computer’s old CPU is having a harder time keeping up. The Old Blood works a lot like the New Order so there’s no changes worth mentioning here. It’s likely that there have been performance improvements over The New Order. Both Wolfenstein games look really good and remain colorful despite how gritty they can be at times. Audio is a bit of a mixed bag. The combat can be good but sometimes I noticed oddities with cutscenes and sometimes people saying something but no vocals coming out of the speakers. Could never nail down what the problem was.
Both entries are worth picking up. Wolfenstein: The New Order is the serious, grounded gritty entry that reboots the series into the modern era with it’s futuristic weaponry, fun combat and effective storytelling. I’m surprised at how well crafted these characters were and how I felt pulled into their conflict. The gun action is very well done with all of the guns feeling like they have a legitimate place. Blasting duel-wielded shotguns or assault rifles is incredibly joyous while cutting through Nazi guards and mechanical creations a like. It’s also a good length and there’s some replayability if you want. The Old Blood on the other hand has bigger hints of supernatural goings on with throwbacks to the series’ history and remains an entertaining jaunt of action. I just found myself less interested in the subject matter, the Nazi Zombies and the less important stakes. It’s not a bad game but I’m not going to say you need to play it after finishing The New Order. Both games are now $20 each and worth the asking price as far as I’m concerned. So, get out there and take down a Nazi regime. Enjoy!
Thanks for reading this review! Feel free to share it around or read my reviews on other FPS titles! I’ve been writing about a few of them lately.