Wolfenstein: Youngblood has some very big shoes to fill. The most recent entries in the Wolfenstein series have breathed fresh life into the Nazi-slaying franchise with stylish violence, hilarious quips, and immersive world-building. Rather than stick with the familiar, Youngblood is a spin-off from the main story that heads in a new direction both in terms of narrative and the gameplay loop. The result is a mostly successful experiment that only stumbles in a few of its attempts.
The core hook of Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a focus on two-player co-op. The game jumps forward in the franchise timeline by about two decades and puts players in control of BJ's twin daughters, Jess and Soph. The pair are a couple of Texas-bred nerds whose love of detective novels and mystery is only topped by their love of stabbing and shooting Nazis to death. Youngblood clearly prefers that players work through the game with a friend online, but the AI sister gets the job done and mostly stays out of trouble whenever players decide to log in solo.
The game's co-op system is very intuitive and players can easily drop in and out of each other's games (either with a friend or with a random via public host settings). The two sisters both start out with the double jump ability that it took BJ quite a while to acquire, in addition to a few special perks and abilities. The game's talent trees allow both sisters the ability to become a jack of all trades at higher levels, but early on it is very fun to have one sister spec into stealth and the other spec into brute force. At the start of the game, the pair set off on a mission to find their father in Nazi-occupied Paris, where they can gun down enemies in tons of story and side missions to level up, gather coins that can be spent on customization, and unlock new abilities.
Unlike the fairly linear approach of the last game, Youngblood quickly introduces a hub location, not unlike The Division or Destiny, where players can meet with allies, pick up quests, and use the Metro to travel to their next point of interest. The open system works pretty well, but if players stray too far from the level appropriate mission zones, they'll quickly be smacked down by much higher level enemies. In some ways this makes the open system feel a bit more like an illusion of freedom. That said, picking up quests and heading out into the world to kill enemies and level up is an incredibly rewarding experience thanks to an effective progression system, the franchise's reliable gun-play, and some amazing new level design.
The level design is really where gamers will feel the Arkane Studios touch on Wolfenstein: Youngblood, as each zone is full of vertical areas to explore with the powerful double jump. This should sound familiar to Dishonored fans in all the right ways. Paris is full of multistory buildings with open windows to jump through where players can find enemies, collectibles, and precious extra lives. Some underground levels felt a bit more on rails and offered less room for creative plans of attack, but the above ground areas take full advantage of both the jumping and cloaking abilities that the sisters have and help setup some very thrilling and rewarding combat encounters.
Combat itself feels very similar to the previous games in the series. The stealth is great for picking off a few guards before the gunfights start, but the gunplay is where the encounters really shine. The usual arsenal is back and the sisters have a nice selection of upgrade-able pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and more. The guns feel heavy in the best kind of way and really deliver some satisfying shoot 'em up moments against both grunts and super-powered bosses.
In terms of visuals, Wolfenstein: Youngblood likely isn't going to blow anyone away. The game looks fine and is on par with the last entry in the franchise, but there is no real generation leap that will make the characters jump off the screen here.
On the subject of the characters, Youngblood does fall a little short of the franchise standard. Jess and Soph are both interesting characters, but the limited cutscenes don't really give us enough time to get to know them and their quirks. They are at their most likable when they're quipping back and forth about old lessons from their parents or their favorite books, but the same old pump up lines and 80s catchphrases get incredibly played out after the first 20 or so levels and begin to lose their initial charm. The supporting cast gets even less love and, aside from Abby, who starts out interesting but quickly becomes a generic "sidekick in the chair", we barely get to know the rest of the Paris-based resistance.
Although the story and characters fall a little short, there's still a lot to love. The decision to introduce a progression system pays off for the most part. Unlocking abilities that allow the sisters to become better at stealth, have more health, or find more ammo is very rewarding and makes heading out missions really seem worth it. The game's Daily, Weekly, and Repeatable quests provide some good motivation to play at least once a day to cash in on the rewards, but we only had about a week's worth of game time, so we can't say how well that holds up over time just yet.
Overall, Wolfenstein: Youngblood offers a great gameplay loop that will likely keep FPS fans busy for a few dozen hours, even if it doesn't quite deliver in terms of character and world-building. This first interation of a progression system feels like a success and hopefully it becomes a staple of the franchise moving forward.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood releases July 26 for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC version for this review.