Prior to its release in the summer of 2014, anticipation for Wolfenstein: The New Order was relatively low. Sure, it was a familiar name, but up to that point previews of the game had done little to inspire confidence in MachineGames’ reboot.
That all changed once people actually played Wolfenstein: The New Order, however, which revealed itself to be a stunning display of unique gunplay and compelling narrative. Game Rant even counted it among the 10 best games of the year, a distinction we never could have predicted.
Now that The New Order has surprised us anticipation for its standalone follow-up, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, is understandably higher. MachineGames has taken a full year to develop this prequel adventure, and now that it has arrived gamers are surely eager to see what it offers.
By and large, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is another great B.J. Blazkowicz adventure. It features our blonde-haired, blue-eyed protagonist as he tries to uncover the location of General Deathshead, setting up the events of the main game. The prologue will take players to both the iconic Castle Wolfenstein and a nearby German town, and like with The New Order it’s filled with plenty of unique surprises.
The one downside to The Old Blood’s story is that it doesn’t have the same gravitas that The New Order did. That main game carefully balanced bombastic action set pieces with quiet character moments, which in turn helped create NPCs that players cared about and action that was thrilling. The Old Blood has some of those action moments, but the character work is extremely lacking. There are a few characters that players are supposed to care about and connect with, but the game is so fast paced it’s hard to develop those same affinities. Ultimately the story is a shell of what The New Order was, although players will see flashes of those narrative touches.
Luckily, the gunplay of The New Order is on full display in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. Fans of the original game’s no-holds-barred approach to FPS mechanics, a.k.a. double wielding everything, will feel right at home in The Old Blood, as they once again stomp out Nazi foes. The game doesn’t make too many changes to the core gameplay set-up, but that’s hardly an issue. Even at close to 20 hours, The New Order was endlessly fun, and those who favor that gunplay will absolutely love the surprisingly robust The Old Blood.
However, what makes Wolfenstein so unique is the way it blends stealth with full on action. Once again, players can approach any area with the intent of slowly dispatching every guard or with guns blazing; both options are viable and players will never feel forced one way or another. Even when players do go stealth and get caught, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood ensures that they can simply shift to gunplay without feeling that sense of failure or insurmountable odds. When the proverbial s*** hits the fan, Wolfenstein encourages players to run with it, and is all the better as a result.
The one knock to be had against the gunplay is that the levels and specific areas feel like they are designed as combat arenas more so than anything else. Typically a player will enter an area and kill as many Nazis required before they can advance. Instead of carefully crafted showdowns, The Old Blood offers somewhat tedious open spaces wherein players manage oncoming threats until the enemies simply stop coming. The Old Blood also features a handful of boss and mini-boss encounters that, like in the main game, feature interestingly designed enemies, but are hardly creative. Players shoot the glowing weak points until the enemy taps out, and that’s about it. And for the diehard Wolfenstein fans, MachineGames packed in a lot more Easter Eggs this time around, doubling down on its retro Wolfenstein sections from the first game.
Without giving too much away, though, it’s worth mentioning that The Old Blood does change things up in its second act. There the game truly delves into the occult obsession of the Nazi army, switching gears in a surprising but welcome way. In all honesty, those sections speak more to the spirit of a standalone like this, much like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon spun off from its mainline game. It’s just a shame the game couldn’t find other ways to make the combat encounters feel less like arcade mode set-ups.
Well, as it turns out, there’s probably an answer for that. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood features a score-based arcade mode complete with online leaderboard. It’s not the full game, mind you, but specific areas are recreated with scoring that rewards quick and accurate kills as well as all out destruction. For those players who wished The New Order offered more replayability, this is that answer. It’s a fun excuse to sit back and take out a couple dozen more Nazis, and adds a few more hours of entertainment that’s already close to 8 hours long.
With a few new mechanics at play and a truly bonkers final third, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood ultimately delivers another fun ride for fans of The New Order. Its visuals are superb thanks to a current-gen and PC focus, the animations are slicker than ever, and the game’s level design juxtaposes the military industrial with a quaint German town. But truly, the major selling point of The Old Blood will be its gunplay, which is once again fast, frenetic, and wildly creative.
However, fans hoping that the game might give hints towards the future of the franchise, both in terms of new gameplay ideas and story beats, will likely come away disappointed. This is more of the same – and in some cases a tiny step backwards – from a product whose strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a decent spin-off from The New Order, but is not an essential standalone experience.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.