Wolfenstein: The Old Blood – Review
Murdering Nazis is still great fun, but lacks the substance or longevity of The New Order.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a hugely pleasant surprise from a franchise we mostly expected nothing from. MachineGames and Bethesda somehow managed to craft an experience that was equally evocative in emotion as it was with abundant violence. Slaughtering hundreds upon hundreds of Nazis as B.J. Blazkowicz had never been so viscerally satisfying or rewarding to partake in. Above all else however, The New Order had a lot of heart. A surprising amount of depth lay within the motivations and convictions of each character, lending a sense of brooding plausibility to the entire affair. You cared for the stone-faced marine you controlled, despite his occasionally cheesy monologues and questionable romantic sub-plot. There was enough substance in the narrative to keep us invested, giving a semblance of reason to the series of bombastic set-pieces the game takes you through. The Old Blood sadly lacks such a powerful narrative. Instead it settles for a purely combat driven experience, and feels less competent as a result. This standalone expansion isn’t without some uniquely creative additions, but it sadly does not live up to the benchmark set by its superior counterpart.
Set during the midst of World War 2, on the back of a diminishing war effort. The Old Blood follows B.J. as he goes undercover to infiltrate the one and only Castle Wolfenstein. Your one objective is to receive a document detailing the location of Deathshead’s compound, the location that ushers in the beginning of The New Order. The benefit of hindsight clearly stifles some of tension surrounding the action, giving the unfolding narrative even less emotional impact. The friends and villains you encounter throughout Old Blood are perfectly serviceable, but fail to be fleshed out in any meaningful way. The plot soon descends into a flurry of occult cliches and generic supernatural tropes in the latter half. This sadly alleviates much of the intrigue and mystery surrounding the alternate history of Wolfenstein’s universe; replaced with a vision that feels like a third rate Indiana Jones sequel. Such inconsistencies in the storytelling department make similar flaws in the gameplay formula far more noticeable. Arduous stealth sections and repetitive environmental design are a common issue in the game’s opening hours, resulting in faulty pacing it almost fails to recover from.
Shooting is still an absolute blast for the most part though. New weapons such as an old fashioned bolt action rifle and a double barrelled shotgun provide you with plenty of opportunities to gruesomely dispatch the Nazi threat. Favourites from The New Order also return, but considering the earlier time period, much of future-tech is sadly absent. These are replaced by battle-worn assault rifles and other such weaponry. The intuitive perk system from The New Order also resurfaces, providing a slew of new abilities that can be unlocked by conforming to specific objectives. Unlocking these isn’t paramount to completion, but will no doubt provide completionists with a gleeful number of trophies to obtain. After obtaining a certain number of perks I felt a genuine sense of power when replaying earlier levels. Dual wielding shotguns as I obliterated the soldiers before me into morbid little chunks. I just wish there was more noticeable variety to Wolfenstein’s relentless slaughter.
Old Blood’s opening chapters are plagued by boring stealth sections that have you pulling switches and performing quick time events to eliminate otherwise invincible Nazi robots. If you’re spotted, chances are you’re dead. Forcing you into such situations simply isn’t fun, and goes against the philosophy that made The New Order such a joy to play. Only when you are given the freedom to approach combat situations however you like does the tedium cease. After a certain point each and every skirmish was a joy, with the exception of some questionable level design that seems to repeat itself as you progress. The Old Blood is not nearly as varied as The New Order in terms of outrageous set pieces and enemy diversity. But it does a decent job at keeping you invested as you venture through skeleton infested catacombs and medieval-esque castles. Like I mentioned earlier, at times it feels like an incredibly violent Indiana Jones film. Granted with far less charm and far more Nazi killing.
The archaic WW2 setting is not only prevalent in the equipment you use, but also in the environments you traverse. Small German villages are forcibly occupied by Nazi forces they are powerless to confront. Newspaper clippings strewn across the environment effortlessly describe an eclipsing war that echoes startling remnants of historic poignancy and realism. Such unexpected attention to detail alludes to a universe that is far wider than we might expect. I would love to see more from this interpretation of Wolfenstein in the future, preferably after the Nazi’s have gone and trounced everyone. The wider universe is somewhat underplayed due to the primitive narrative at work here, which is more of a clumsy foundation for the eccentric set pieces and cutesy fan service that The Old Blood provides in spades. Bethesda seem confident in their revival of ancient franchises like Doom and Wolfenstein, so I’m holding out hope for even more in the years to come.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a solid expansion to the surprisingly fantastic revival of the franchise that we saw in 2014. Building upon the core combat elements of the experience but sadly forgetting the heart and character that made it so meaningful in the first place. Startling character motivations and impactful storytelling are replaced by occasionally mediocre stealth sections and a reliance on action that grows stagnant far before the conclusion. Murdering Nazis is still great fun, but lacks the substance or longevity that I anticipated. Oh, and where the hell is Mechahitler!?