Wolfenstein: The New Order launched in 2014 to some solid critical acclaim. Critics praised the game for its surprisingly emotional story, which added depth to the game's hero, B.J. Blazkowicz. B.J., or, Terror Billy as he's known in The New Colossus, helped popularize first-person shooters in the early 90s, and has since carved a bloody path across generations of games under different publishers and different studios.
Now under Bethesda Softworks, developed by Machine Games, Wolfenstein has re-emerged as an FPS power-house at a time when single player games are under assault from multiplayer "Games-as-a-Service" titles like Overwatch, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Whether or not Wolfenstein II becomes a commercial success remains to be seen, but it deserves to. Wolfenstein II is bigger and bolder than its predecessor, as it explores the depths of human depravity inspired by the madness of Nazism, and also, the heroism it inspired.
Visuals, audio and setting
Set in the 1960s, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazis won World War 2, aided by mysterious, superior technology. Some of the world building in Wolfenstein 2 has been truly exemplary, cramming the environment with pre-digital age retro futuristic designs and alternate-history, including newspaper clippings detailing the psyche of the American people. It even has collectable Nazified versions of classic pop music, warped through the lens of Reich propaganda.
B.J. and his resistance group, filled with a rich diversity of characters, are attempting to ignite a revolution in America, occupied by the Nazi war machine. The artwork and designs realized in Wolfenstein II to depict this reality range from absurdist, almost comic book-style over the top mechanical creatures to haunting ruins of iconic US locations, including the radioactive ruins of New York City, and the war-torn remnants of New Orleans.
Wolfenstein II enlists the latest id Tech engine used by DOOM, and the results are a bit of a mixed bag on Xbox One, which frankly struggles to handle the load. Wolfenstein II's predecessor ran at an incredibly smooth 60 FPS, trading visual detail for frames, but Wolfenstein II suffers from frame rate dips into the 30s and lower in some intense moments throughout the game. Additionally, the dynamic resolution scaling can be aggressive at times, giving Wolfenstein II a bit of a blurry appearance. Naturally, playing on Windows 10 or Xbox One X will provide the better experience visually, but even on Xbox One S, Wolfenstein II holds its own.
Wolfenstein II has some truly incredible lighting and particle effects, using shadowy vignettes to emphasize laser beams, flames, sparks, and molten metal fragments. The lighting is quite vivid and immersive as a result, and seems like a worthwhile trade off for the occasional FPS or resolution dip. I simply cannot wait to see this game running on the Xbox One X.
The gore effects in Wolfenstein II have been ramped up as well. You can peel layers of enemies apart with well placed shots, shredding off chunks of armor, and eventually limbs and flesh.
Headshots leave gaping wounds, brains exposed. A shotgun to the face is still a glorious thing in Wolfenstein, showering the walls and, well, yourself with bloody viscera. Fans of old-school ultraviolence will appreciate Wolfenstein II massively.
Wolfenstein II enlists Mick Gordon of DOOM and Killer Instinct fame for its soundtrack, which ramps up and down dynamically in response to the action. Evocative industrial metal is the perfect ambiance for wasting Nazis, accompanied by the sounds of axe blades to the face, the screech of weapons like the Lasergewehr, and the meaty rip of severed limbs.
Occasional frame rate issues aside, Wolfenstein II presents extremely well on Xbox One. The mere possibility of a world ruled by Nazis is alarming by itself, but to see it presented so vividly alongside iconic US locations and even traditions, not only adds immersion, but a sense of indignation.
Machine Games' brand of Wolfenstein came with some impeccable story telling in the previous game, and the team is back with an added sense of confidence this time around. Wolfenstein II is full of genuinely hateable adversaries, darkly humorous moments, and absurd over-the-top action straight out of the 80s. Wolfenstein II might even make you misty-eyed a couple of times – yes, you read that correctly.
Wolfenstein II follows on directly from the events of the first, which you should most definitely play. B.J. Blazkowicz, known as "Terror Billy" thanks to Nazi propaganda, wakes up in an infirmary among the remains of his resistance movement from the first game. Family themes weigh pretty heavily in Wolfenstein II, from B.J.'s pregnant partner, Anya, to flashbacks of his parents, and even to the game's main antagonist, General Engels, who brings her daughter Sigrun along for some violent (and disturbing) Nazi training.
For B.J., the fight against the Nazis is no longer a simple case of vengeance, it's about creating a safe world for his family, and that fact layers urgency into the arching plot.
Wolfenstein II has some amazing writing and some incredibly shocking and memorable scenes that will truly stay with you. It takes your expectations and relentlessly twists them, taking the game to some deeply dark places, but it's always quick to remind you not to take it too seriously, leveraging good humor too. It is a game about blasting Nazi cyborgs with lasers, after all.
It's hard to describe without spoiling these incredible moments, but it approaches the very idea of a video game story in an almost deconstructive way, putting it back together to deliver something truly fresh and unique to Machine Games.
For all of Bethesda's "Make America Nazi-free again" marketing and the insistence of the wider video game media, I found Wolfenstein II resisted the urge to be preachy about the current state of world politics. Without giving too much away, there's a great scene where B.J. approaches some radical bohemian 1960s-style leftists to enlist them to his anti-Nazi revolutionary cause, but B.J. almost immediately gets into a typical argument about the historical role of the "imperialist" US and its army.
In the real world 60s, there was plenty of anti-authority sentiment stemming from the Vietnam war and civil rights moment, Wolfenstein II explores that to some degree through Horton Boone and his revolutionaries. Despite their reservations politically, B.J. and Horton resolve their differences over booze and a mutual love of killing Nazis. It's a great scene that tries to put across the point that the destruction of Nazism is a bipartisan cause.
Wolfenstein II's main story will take around 12-15 hours on Normal difficulty for most players. If you're planning to fight it out on a harder difficulty or go through the game's various side missions, you could easily extend that to 25 or 30 hours. Either way, it's a wild ride that you won't soon forget.
Wolfenstein II gameplay follows a basic premise: get huge guns, and use them to kill Nazis. No games do this better than Wolfenstein II.
This title sees many franchise staple weapons return, based on WW2 designs warped by the game's retro-futuristic technology. Each weapon is a joy to wield, reducing Nazis to piles of bloody mush, with glorious popping headshots and shredded limbs. Wolfenstein II is unapologetically violent, and it gives you the tools you need to take part.
The dual-wielding mechanics return, but it can be quite a chore to select the right weapons you want for each hand. The radial menus don't freeze or slow down time as seen in other games, so changing weapons on the fly can take some getting used to. Wielding two rotary automatic shotguns certainly helps dispatch the game's more powerful, armor-clad fascists, at the cost of burning through ammo far faster.
Not all weapons can be dual wielded, though. Heavy guns like the Lasergewehr make up some of The New Colossus' most satisfying destructive toys, ripping the air with a screeching light show, reducing enemies to ash and embers.
Based on some of your timeline decisions, you'll also be granted access to an exclusive weapon, either the Dieselkraftwerk or the Laserkraftwerk. Both of these weapons have dual-purpose roles in Wolfenstein, serving as powerful, rechargeable options for combat, while also allowing you to destroy doors and special crates for access.
Wolfenstein II's locations are wide and complex, allowing you to approach combat however you see fit. Sneak around through vents, assassinating enemies quietly using throwing axes and silenced weapons. Charging in through the front, dual-wielding machine guns. Snipe enemies from afar with scoped rifles, or go hands-on with the game's glorious new melee executions. Or hey, use a combination of all methods, you're rarely pigeonholed into a specific role.
I still think Wolfenstein struggles to excel at stealth gameplay, despite providing you with some of the tools. You can't drag bodies still, meaning that patrols will often come upon your dirty work and sound the alarm. Perhaps it's by design to keep you moving, but it wouldn't have hurt to evolve the stealth gameplay a little more.
Wolfenstein II plays best as a fast-paced shooter where movement is critical. There's no regenerating health, save for incremental boosts. For the most part, you'll be relying on armor and health pick-ups in the field, encouraging you to scavenge and explore in desperate situations.
Wolfenstein II has beefy levels crammed with unique set-pieces. I don't want to spoil some of the best ones, but you'll be riding mechanical fire-breathing dogs, blasting Nazis from a wheelchair, and even taking a trip to space. There's a large variety of things to do beyond the regular old run n' gun, with plenty of playable narrative moments scattered throughout the game, and a side-quest system that lets you return to previously traversed areas to hunt down specific commandos and bosses.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus brings a few new toys to the plate, but the formula remains largely the same. Big guns, giant Nazi cyborgs, gallons of blood. The new contextual melee executions add some intimacy to the violence, while upgradeable weapons, perks, and new heavy guns give you all the variety you could ever want. Wolfenstein continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
Wolfenstein II is a glorious single-player experience that stands proud in a AAA industry that seems increasingly obsessed with multiplayer and "Games as a Service" business models. Wolfenstein II is a pure experience that shooter fans cannot afford to miss.
On Xbox One the game does suffer from frame rate dips and a blurry resolution compared to its PlayStation and PC counterparts, but the upcoming Xbox One X enhancements should rectify those issues. And of course, you'll get the enhancements for free.
- Industry-leading story writing.
- Viciously satisfying combat.
- Memorable characters and locations.
- Stunning art and effects.
- Xbox One version suffers from low res and FPS dips.
The real crown jewel of Wolfenstein II is its story and characters, which enjoy some of the best writing and digital character acting in the business. Wolfenstein II will make you laugh, shock you with its violence, and make you seethe with anger for its genuinely hateable villains. It might even jerk a tear or two. Wolfenstein II is a moving and evocative game that you won't soon forget – a quintessential first-person shooter experience.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, with a Nintendo Switch version in development. It will also receive Xbox One X 4K enhancements. You can grab it for $59.99.
This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by Bethesda Softworks.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!