Robotic dogs, a moon landing, and a lot of Nazi assholes.
When I watched the announcement of Wolfenstein II: The New Collossus during Bethesda’s E3 Press Conference, I was captivated. The charm and tension of the dialogue, the breakneck-speed gunplay, and the weird atmospheric vibe all grabbed my immediate attention. I quickly put the game’s predecessor at the top of my most wanted list and picked it up during Microsoft’s Summer Sale. And now, after playing Wolfenstein: The New Order, I’m even more excited for what the franchise has to offer moving forward.
Like the many Wolfenstein games before it, The New Order is an action-based first-person shooter. Carrying some of the classic mechanics from the series into the modern time, The New Order relies on picking up health, ammo, and armor in continuum as you play through it’s 16 chapter campaign. Guns feel lofty and unwieldy and combat can often be unforgiving. However, all of these mechanics combine together to create a feeling of authenticity and weight in the gameplay. While you can certainly sprint around dual-wielding automatic shotguns like a Nazi-killing madman (and it’s certainly fun to do so), it isn’t always in your best interest. Without health regeneration, open combat situations can get difficult. I personally found the game to do an excellent job of scaling the difficulty as you progress further in its campaign. Exciting, set-piece moments continuing to escalate and scale up in grandeur as you near the explosive finale. That being said, some moments do definitely stand out in my memory for being more difficult than the rest, even early on.
With regards to the game’s arsenal, there is a enough variety of weapons to keep you killing Nazis in new and inventive ways. Throughout the game, you’ll pick up grenades, knives, pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, marksman rifles, and the LaserKraftWerk. Each weapon, other than the Laserkraftwerk can be dual-wielded for double the stopping power. Of course, with two weapons firing off, your ammo count has effectively been cut in half, so proceed with caution. As far as upgrades are concerned, the game hands out weapon upgrades along the narrative path of the story. In one mission you might get the shotgun for the first time or pick up a silencer for your pistol, but beyond that point, the weapon will be automatically unlocked and available for use. With this method, each level feels more specifically tailored to the weapon you’ve just unlocked. It’s a good way of balancing the weapons that makes the journey to get them all feel rewarding and satisfying as you watch the weapon wheel fill up. There is one exception to the rule in the Laserkraftwerk, which is the only gun with a strict upgrading system. This highly effective laser gun can be upgraded through picking up specific items in various levels throughout the game. In my first playthrough, I was able to obtain all of the upgrades naturally without missing any of them. However, I do tend to explore a lot in these types of games, so if you’re just running through without searching the environment, your mileage may vary. While overall I enjoyed the simplicity of the weapons system, I did occasionally miss the ability to upgrade the weapons on my own.
Though there isn’t a lot of customization to the weapons, there is a lot to delve into in the four perk trees. These aren’t perk trees that unlock through skill points or experience like inmost games; instead, the perks in The New Order are handled more like mini-challenges. There are four separate trees: Stealth, Tactical, Assault, and Demolition. Stealth perks can offer benefits like increased knife capacities or health from performing takedowns, Tactical perks can offer increased weapon magazines or quicker reloads, Assault perks can provide better speed and ammo capacities for dual-wielding weapons, and Demolition perks can increase the effectiveness and capacities of grenades. Each of the unlockable perks is tied to a specific challenge that I found a great deal of enjoyment in seeking out. For example, to unlock Scavenger (which increases ammo looting from dual-wielding kills), I had to perform 3 kills with dual-wielding assault rifles without releasing the triggers. While this sounded like a simple feat when I first read it, I found myself working pretty hard to try and complete it. All in all, I really enjoyed the way that The New Order’s perks were more involved and entertaining than simply placing ability points in a branching skill tree.
The New Order tells a gripping tale of the resistance in an alternate reality where the Nazis won World War II due to a technological enlightenment. After waking up and discovering the fate of the war, B.J. Blazkowitz and a band of varied rebels fight together to turn the tides of the war. While it may not be the most unique tale in the video game or movie industry, its the execution that shines here. You’re not playing as the typical shooter grunt like in many first-person shooter campaigns, you’re playing as someone who feels real. B.J. may genuinely love killing Nazis more than any other man alive, but he also has his feelings and his demons to deal with as well. In the midst of all this action-packed storytelling are real moments of love, sadness, tension, fear, and friendship. The relationships feel believable and the characters themselves feel even more so. Between the major missions of the game, you’ll find yourself back at your home base, helping out your partners and friends with small and memorable favors in the quiet and peaceful moments between the chaos. These moments between you and your comrades never failed to land for me in their attempt to make the stakes of what I was trying to accomplish feel real and important.
Through my 16-or-so hour playthrough in the main campaign, I greatly enjoyed the game’s overall tone and direction. Scenes and cinematics are directed wonderfully, and the game’s pacing and flow feel well-executed. Levels full of intense action are often interspersed with levels of tense stealth or exploration. And as I mentioned before, moments of peace occasionally come to break up the violent action. All of these changes to the pacing and flow of the game serve to subvert your expectations for the action-based first-person shooter and, in my opinion, never lose their effectiveness. From the very start of the game, the stakes are set high. Within the first hour, you’re presented with an abrupt and difficult choice to make, causing a split in the timeline beyond this point in the campaign. And as with many of these types of choices where your hand is forced, neither option is desirable and you most certainly will not enjoy choosing between them. However, your choice does ultimately matter and will impact your gameplay and story going forward in meaningful ways that I will not spoil here. It does also offer some incentive towards multiple playthroughs in order to see both sides of the coin in their entirety.
Graphically, The New Order is a fairly good-looking game. Its release was back in the era where games were still being made for both the current and previous generation of consoles, so it has become a bit dated graphically. However, for its age, it still looks pretty great overall. Though their textures can sometimes be a but muddy, character models are well-designed and animations are lively. The environments are well-realized and detailed with a great deal of hidden secrets and lore to find, building the context of the world in small snippets of detail. The visuals tend to follow an understated grey color palette throughout the game which, while adding to the dreariness of the experience, can make environments look a bit duller on occasion. I personally didn’t notice any graphical issues during my playthrough, and the game maintained a solid 60 fps that kept the action buttery smooth. By comparison with more recent titles, the visuals are certainly not perfect, but all in all it’s a very well-delivered package.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fast-paced, thrill-ridden action story, but it also isn’t afraid to stop for a moment and make you feel something. Rather than follow the standard formula, The New Order is full of moments that subvert your expectations. This isn’t just a story about the good guys winning; this is a story about the underdogs just trying to get by in a world where the bad guys are the winners. There’s moments of victory, but also moments of crushing loss. And while there is excellently directed action and violence, there are also calm, quiet moments of emotion and peace. You’re not playing as a soldier in an army. You’re just a man who hates Nazis and loves his friends. In The New Order, it’s this very duality that makes the game’s story so very effective. Add in the game’s excellent weapon mechanics and its great skills system and you have a recipe for one of the best testaments to the story-driven first-person shooter in recent memory.