Wolfenstein: The New Order’s ending seemed wholly conclusive. Protagonist B J Blazkowicz lay a dying man, his chance to escape alive thwarted by a final grenade. It didn’t matter however, those final moments of life afforded him the closure of seeing his comrades escape safely prior to the facilities destruction. It seems however that things weren’t as finite as they seemed, with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus ready to redefine what constitutes a mortal wound.
Things pick up where the previous left off, with Blazkowicz a broken man both physically and mentally. Months of recovery expressed through a series of traumatic flashbacks – which develop as the game progresses – further develop Blazkowicz’s character, enlightening the player to his abusive upbringing at the hands of his racist father. It’s a cold and chilling introduction, succeeding with ease at engendering a mutual sense of hatred for both your father and the games primary antagonist Frau Engel, who makes her return from the first game. Despite the strong opening, these themes continue to develop as the game progresses maintaining an exceptionally high quality throughout, and Developer Machine Games willingness to address current topical issues should be commended, not simply for expressing an opinion but rather the cleverness in which it forces the player to confront them. At times it’s dark and unnerving, building upon the no-win choice presented to the player during the first game. It effectively transmits Blazkowicz’s own feelings unto your own, and it’s hard to think of many other games that execute this as effectively.
To contrast this, the game is structured around a new central hub, the stolen Nazi u-boat Evas Hammer, which serves as a platform to launch raids against various parts of the 3rd Reich. It’s a more homely launchpad compared to the squalid sewer lair from the first-game, its militaristic purpose abstracted away behind drying clothes and colourful artwork. It serves as respite between missions and a chance to engage with characters both old and new. But surprisingly, it also acts as the platform for the post game content, which after completing the main story tasks you with revisiting locations to complete additional objectives, and hunt high value targets.
Behind the games excellent cinematics and narrative, improvements to other areas are much less apparent. Gameplay in general feels much the same as before, so much so that it’s very difficult to distinguish what exactly has changed. Duel wielding and power weapons make a welcome return, although unlike the first game you’re no longer free to cut out your favourite phallic shapes in wire fences which sadly feels a little bit regressive.
Environments themselves are well considered and nicely varied, seeing you travel around various locations with each managing to feel distinctly unique. Overall they now feel a lot less linear, offering the player several paths to approach each objective. Most paths favour a more stealthy strategy, and on harder difficulties thinning the herd is certainly preferable before taking the direct approach. Options are further expanded later in the game, with some new abilities opening some additional paths allowing you to for example contort through tight spaces to edge closer to the goal unseen. This opens up some extra strategical options, however it does little to address an underlying feeling of repetitiveness, with the game really suffering from a lack of imagination around goals and objectives. Despite the occasional divergence the majority of encounters task you with eliminating officers, who once aware of your presence sound alarms summoning streams of reinforcements until disposed of. It quickly overstays its welcome, and by the end of the games main campaign – which weighs in around the 10 hour mark – the narrative stands alone as the most compelling reason to press on.
Overall, for fans of the first game or those looking for a strong story experience this is most certainly a must buy. A skilfully woven tale that tackles some serious topics whilst balancing the delivery with just the right amount of humour. But under the skin it’s a well polished but ‘average’ shooter elevated by it’s high budget and engaging narrative.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was provided to us by Xbox/Bethesda via a digital code for Xbox One.