B.J. Blazkowicz has been killing Nazis by the dozen for over twenty-five years, but he’s never been much more than an avatar for the player to take out their aggression on one of history’s most loathed regimes. MachineGames set out to change that with Wolfenstein: The New Order by giving Blazkowicz distinct traits and a unique personality in a way that mattered for the first time in the franchise’s history. While some moments were hit-or-miss, The New Order’s story felt every bit as important as its action which is something I never expected from a Wolfenstein title. Then came Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus expands upon this by going further into the backstory of Blazkowicz while building upon the already excellent gunplay that was found in the original game. This deeper dive in both the gun mechanics and the backstory of B.J. doesn’t just make Wolfenstein II a superior game to its predecessor in every way, it also makes for one of the best first-person shooter experiences of this generation.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus picks up almost six months after The New Order with B.J. Blazkowicz clinging to life. Upon waking up from a coma to find his base under siege, Blazkowicz crawls to a nearby wheelchair and takes up arms against the invading Nazis. After these opening moments, Blazkowicz soon finds himself back on his feet and sets out with his comrades to ignite a revolution in America against the Nazis.
While this is the overall trajectory of the narrative of Wolfenstein II, the story that hit me was found within B.J.’s internal struggle. From the opening moments, we are introduced to B.J.’s mother and father through flashbacks as well as getting a glimpse of what it was like for B.J. growing up. These moments of Wolfenstein II give us our truest look into who Blazkowicz is as a character and also provide us with an understanding of how he became the Nazi-hater that he is.
The flashback portion of the story culminates in series scenes later on in the game, all of which contained some of the most powerful character moments I’ve seen in any medium in quite some time. In an age where I’ve become rather disenfranchised to most stories in video games, I didn’t expect Wolfenstein II to draw out some of the most meaningful emotions I’ve had while playing a game in recent years.
At its core, what makes Wolfenstein II so compelling is that it teaches the player to hate in the same way that Blazkowicz was taught to hate. Whether that be through the form of a flashback or through watching your friends be tortured by Nazis in front of your eyes, MachineGames does an incredible job of matching the player’s emotions with that of Blazkowicz. If you find racism, anti-semitism, domestic abuse, or a variety of other cruel, bigoted beliefs and practices abhorrent, then Wolfenstein II will make you feel fury that only blowing away Nazis could satisfy.
Joining B.J. on his mission this time around are new characters like resistance leader Grace Walker, conspiracy theorist Super Spesh, and the communist Horton Boone. Each of these characters, in addition to the returning cast from The New Order, are all well written and voice acted.
The most notable side character, however, is that of Frau Engel, the main antagonist of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Engel is a perfect combination of evil and annoying which makes her incredibly hateable. From the opening moments of the game, all I wanted to do was beat her face in with the butt of my gun. Engel is easily the most well-written character in the game outside of B.J. simply due to how she gets under the player’s skin.
Despite the more serious nature that The New Colossus has from time-to-time, there’s still plenty of moments that had me shaking my head in disbelief saying, “Did that really just happen?” Wolfenstein II has some of my favorite moments of the year when it comes to the downright insanity that could only ensue in a video game. While I’ve praised Wolfenstein II’s more serious tone, it also provided me with a hefty amount of laughs throughout its 15-20 hour campaign.
What I find to be the most impressive about Wolfenstein II is the way in which can mix these serious, tense moments together with those that are downright bonkers. On paper, these two tones just shouldn’t be able to coexist with one another. Somehow, MachineGames has created a world in which a character can have a morbid monologue dealing with thoughts of self-sacrifice one moment and follow it up with a pregnant woman blowing away Nazi-dogs in the next and still have it all make sense. These shifts from the heartfelt to the crazy aren’t jarring in any way, which is perhaps the game’s most significant achievement.
Also worth noting is that the story of Wolfenstein II changes slightly depending on the character that you saved — Fergus or Wyatt — in The New Order. At the start of the game, you are given the option to select which character you previously saved to determine who is still alive within your posse. While many other developers would typically just choose one path as the “true” canon in a sequel, I appreciated that MachineGames stayed committed to this branching timeline. It made my own experience feel that much more personal.
As for the setting of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, I adored venturing through a frightening, yet familiar, America. Seeing locations like Roswell, New Mexico decorated with swastikas while klansmen openly walk the streets was both unsettling and novel. While the fiction of the Axis winning World War II and taking over America isn’t overly original, the combination of 60s era Unites States mixed with the terror of the Third Reich felt incredibly unique to Wolfenstein II.
Much like The New Order, shooting mechanics in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus are incredibly solid. As a whole, the gunplay remains somewhat similar to that of its predecessor, which isn’t a negative thing at all. New additions such as the ability to mix-and-match two different guns when dual-wielding gives players more choice than before.
New devices called contraptions add even more choice and allow players to play in a way that suits them. These contraptions come in three different categories — stealth, mayhem, and tactical — and give you new abilities that enhance each playstyle. For instance, let’s say you like to stealth your way around each level. If you choose the contraption that enhances stealth, you’ll be able to squeeze into small cracks and hide under objects that are low to the ground to get the drop on your enemies. Plus, you can upgrade each contraption that you earn through doing specific in-game missions.
Weapon upgrades are also included this time around and add even more depth to the progression systems in the game. Each weapon that you acquire can be enhanced three different times and will grant you bonuses such as silencers, burst fire, or scopes. This upgrade system in addition to the returning perks system adds a lot of satisfying progression elements to Wolfenstein II. You won’t want to stop until you’ve upgraded every weapon or unlocked every perk.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is excellent at giving players the freedom to decide how they want to tackle a specific situation. Throughout the entirety of my playthrough of the game’s campaign, I found myself consistently mixing up how I would play, which made things quite refreshing. It was hard to tire of combat at any point because if I was sick of running and gunning through enemies, I would instead begin sneaking around or taking them out from afar.
Environments have also been drastically improved in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Almost every new location within Wolfenstein II is bigger than that of The New Order which means there are loads of different angles from which you can approach any combat scenario. In some instances I would find myself getting stuck during certain stretches of a level only to realize that every time I restarted the encounter I would choose to approach it in the same way as before. Upon realizing this, I would purposefully look to take a different route which more often than not led to success. I prefer this style of play much more than to that of shooters that siphon you down a specific, narrow path.
Throughout these expanded areas you’ll be able to explore and find a variety of collectibles. Most of these items don’t give you anything other than statues or cards that you can then look at within your inventory if you’re so inclined. However, the collectibles that I most enjoyed were the journal entries, newspaper clippings, and Nazi propaganda that were strewn about. Many of these items would describe in further detail the backstory of individual characters or would shed light on the fall of America when the Nazis took over. I haven’t played a game in quite a long time where I read every single scrap of paper that I found while playing, but these collectibles really brought to life the world of Wolfenstein II even more.
Along with the main story mission, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus features a variety of side missions. Some of these objectives are exclusive to Evas Hammer — the hub area where you go between story mission — but others allow you to re-enter the world and complete various tasks for crew members aboard the sub. The most prominent of these side objectives are the assassination missions, which have you hunting down Nazi Übercommanders.
My only real complaint with these assassination missions is that they take place within the levels that you have already played through from the story. While I can understand how difficult it would’ve been for MachineGames to create entirely new environments for the sixteen different assassination missions in the game, seeing previous locations recycled was a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, the missions themselves were still fun and added a fair amount of post-game content for when you finish the main campaign.
Also worth mentioning is the absolutely superb soundtrack by — a seemingly Bethesda Softworks staple — Mick Gordon. Much like The New Order, the guitar-heavy, fast-paced music blends perfectly with the frantic, explosive combat found within the game. Between past work on titles like DOOM and Prey, Gordon has asserted himself as one of the premier composers in the industry, especially when it comes to titles in the shooter genre.
I, like I’m sure many who are reading this, play so many video games in a given year that it is sometimes hard for me to quantify when I am thoroughly having “fun” with a game. It’s easy sometimes to become numb to the process of beating a game and moving onto the next one without remembering that the entire reason we play games in the first place is to exude joy. While I’ve said many positive things about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus in this review, the best compliment I can give it is that it plastered a big smile across my face more times than one and made me remember why I love gaming in the first place.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has become the new benchmark for single-player shooter campaigns. The sheer amount of freedom that players have to go along with the excellent gunplay make it one of the best shooters in years on those merits alone. Add in what is one the year’s most compelling, important narratives and you have a recipe for an instant classic on your hands. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t just 2017’s best shooter, it’s a game that will be looked back upon as one of the standout titles of this generation when it comes to an end.