Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the third Wolfenstein game from Machine Games and is the most bombastic and over the top game the series has seen yet. Both the gameplay and the story feature memorable moments that are among the best in the shooter genre and make the game stand out in many ways. While Wolfenstein II does a lot of good, there are some design choices that really hurt the gameplay and take away from the frantic action that the Wolfenstein series is known for. Are these issues enough to keep The New Colossus from being a great game? Let’s find out.
Wolfenstein II picks up months after 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, where you start the game as a wounded BJ Blaskowicz, dealing with the physical and mental damage of his battles with Nazi forces, as well as trauma from his childhood his. Wolfenstein imagines an alternate universe where the Nazis won World War II and occupied the United States of America. BJ Blaskowicz is part of a resistance group fighting against the odds to reclaim the United States from the oppressive Nazi force.
The story features an eclectic group of characters who all have unique personalities and stories. Irene Engel is the main enemy of the New Colossus and is a high-ranking Nazi officer. She steals every scene she’s 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 members of the resistance who will join you on your journey. I can’t say I found any of these characters worth caring about in any meaningful way, but they were a nice addition and a nice change of pace after the heart-pounding action sequences.
The story itself is good enough to be highlighted by some moments that focus on BJ Blaskowicz’s childhood trauma. An encounter with your father halfway through the game is a high point of the games narrative and stuck with me throughout my playthrough.
The campaign features several different locations and levels as Blaskowicz travels across the United States. You will visit Manhattan, Roswell, New Orleans and other places that were occupied by the Nazis. It’s impressive how Machine Games has been able to imagine what the United States would look like if it were invaded by Nazi Germany. Each location feels familiar if you know these United States locations, but wildly different due to the devastation after the war.
Wolfenstein II runs on iD Technology, iD Software’s proprietary engine, best known for being used for the Doom franchise. It’s no surprise then that Wolfenstein looks fantastic and manages to be both gorgeous and performant. Running at a solid 60fps on the Series X, I was constantly impressed by how the game looked and had to remind myself that this game was originally developed for the Xbox One generation of consoles.
Click Click Boom
The gameplay is the star here and is mostly very good, but some design choices seriously cut into my playing time. Starting with the positives, the gunplay mostly feels great as the guns feel great to fire and each feels unique enough to be used in a variety of scenarios. You’ll use your standard pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and SMG, as well as unique weapons like energy beams. Each weapon provided unique advantages and was constantly in my rotation throughout 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 exciting on screen.
With these positives in mind, it’s disappointing then that there are a number of issues that persisted throughout that often made me question how I felt about the game. The guns felt good to shoot, but there were plenty of times where it felt like there was little to no damage feedback. In most modern shooters, there are signals indicating that enemies are being damaged or weakened. In Halo, enemy shields will glow as they take damage and beeps will let the player know if they are weak. In Doom, enemies light up if they are about to die. In Wolfenstein, there is little to no indication of what an enemy’s status is.
There are cool animations showing that an enemy is taking damage, such as a regular soldier tripping or a mech starting to fall after taking damage. However, these weren’t enough to tell me how much damage I was doing to an enemy. The lack of damage indicators doesn’t break the game or anything, but most other modern shooters do this aspect so well that it stood out during my playthrough of the game.
The same lack of damage response goes the other way, as well as having very little indication of when you’re taking damage. There are no noticeable sound effects or screen indicators other than the reduced health and armor counts at the bottom of the screen. There were dozens of times when I died without realizing how damaged I was and felt compelled to look at my health instead of focusing on the action. This isn’t a problem in Machine Games since you first go to Wolfenstein in the New Order. In that game, there are clear visual indicators where blood will fill the corners of the screen when you’re taking damage. It’s strange why Machine Games decided to remove this completely in The New Colossus.
This frustration is only amplified by Wolfenstein’s completely weird difficulty points. There are several times when you are forced to go up against a seemingly endless horde of Nazi enemies that include generic soldiers, robot dogs, mechs with lasers and guns, and various other enemies. At these points, the game really starts to feel a bit unfair and poorly designed. Playing on the normal difficulty that is titled “Bring Em On”, there were numerous times where I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally set the difficulty to the highest possible option.
Enemies will take you down quickly when faced with a group of them, forcing you to hide and scavenge for health packs and armor. This often caused frustration, as many times I was forced to break away for a fight to seek health. I consider myself pretty good at first-person shooters, and I found myself baffled by how often I was losing fights and retreating for health in Wolfenstein II. It never felt fun or right to run away from the action just to seek health. It doesn’t seem like Machine Games wanted this outcome, but all too often that’s what the game would turn into.
These design decisions feel all the more frustrating because I know how good the game feels when it’s not hampered by these systems. If the game had a better health system, improved damage reactions, and less difficulty, this could easily be one of the best shooters ever made. Many times, when I was playing, I thought it might be like that. But then I’d run into a horde of enemies, lose health in seconds, run around spamming the x button to get health, post my gun with no idea how much damage I was doing, and feel disappointment. When these frustrating moments weren’t happening, I was mowing down Nazis with laser beams, hacking enemies with axes, and enjoying one of the most chaotic shooters I’ve ever played. The game feels like a constant tug of war between the adrenaline-pumping 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 so well, but I just found myself on edge with many aspects of the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Order is almost great, but it’s held back by a number of issues. Certain design choices Machine Games made all too often threw me off 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 out of place at times. An outdated health system forced me to play the game differently than I wanted. Instead of clearly aiming for fast-paced chaotic action, the game works so well, I was often hiding behind cover, searching for health packs, and dying in seconds due to frequent difficulty.
Even with these issues, I still had an overall positive experience with the game due to the strong story beats and chaotic moment-to-moment action. Wolfenstein II is a game I would recommend to anyone, but it’s one that can leave you feeling a little frustrated at the end.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus