Review – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
When Wolfenstein returned in 2014 with the surprise hit Wolfenstein: The New Order, it threw audiences right back into the alternate-history 1960’s where the Nazi party won in WWII. Its hyper-violent gameplay pulled no punches as it led the series’ main protagonist, William J. Blazkowicz into the fray with chaotic dual-wielding, knife throwing, blood-rushing non-stop action. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus brings us back to the madness and introduces a whole new beast of an experience.
Picking up exactly where its predecessor left us, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus opens up on a battered and beaten Blazkowicz who is holding onto his life by a frayed thread. A cast of familiar supporting characters rushes to his aid, hoping to save him before it’s too late. The scene bounces back and forth between BJ Blazkowicz’s intestines getting pushed back into place and flashbacks of his Jewish mother and abusive American father, introducing us to the ghosts that will haunt BJ throughout The New Colossus. But if you thought that it wouldn’t get any more gruesome than that, let’s take a moment to discuss the opening mission.
BJ awakes from his life-saving surgery to the sound of gunfire as Nazis storm the resistance’s newly acquired U-boat. In agonizing pain from his incisions, BJ, unable to stand, drags himself into a wheelchair, where he spends the rest of the mission firing an SMG with one hand, and steering himself around with the other. At one point, BJ is thrown out of his chair mid-shootout. It’s a stressful scene for sure, but only a mild taste of the severity that follows in the remaining twelve hours of playthrough time. Sadly, there’s little detail that can be shared here without spoiling some major plot points, but it’s worth saying the BJ gets the beatdown of a lifetime, every time.
With General Frau Engel still alive and well, it’s time for Blazkowicz and the other misfits to put their newly acquired U-boat to good use and hunt her down, all while inciting a revolution. BJ and crew travel across the ocean to gather new tools and allies in the ultimate retribution tale.
The story of The New Colossus is far more grand than the previous title, yet at the same time, it feels smaller and more intimate. The fights are bigger, but the plot is largely driven by more internal struggles than external. After his injuries from the conclusion of The New Order, Blazkowicz can feel his life slipping away from him, as every step leaves him more fatigued. Knowing that his days are numbered, his resistance mission is driven more by BJ’s desire to create a better world for Anya and his family, establishing a much more personal feel to this story than the previous ones. It’s this connection to the character that makes the action to follow that much more intense, wholly desiring to see BJ get back home, not just reach the mission end point.
Mission stages are hit-or-miss this time around. The environments that BJ encounters are either similar enough to previous ones that they blend together, or they are top-notch design, with little falling in between. While there are a couple of duds early on in the game, The New Colossus grows consistently more engaging and chaotic as you progress, making up for any lackluster moments early on. With endless rounds of Nazi soldiers, tight corridors, and moving environments, once Wolfenstein: The New Colossus gains momentum, it doesn’t slow down until it’s over.
While many of the supporting characters from Wolfenstein: The New Order return for the sequel (i.e Caroline, Anya, Fergus/Wyatt, and the ever articulate, Max Hass), it’s the new characters that really steal the show. Grace, Super Spesh, and Horton were briefly seen in some of the later trailers.
What makes the characters so great are their bizarre personalities, each one is ultimately an over-exaggerated caricature of themselves. But in the world of Wolfenstein, it’s the perfect fit for such a hyperbolic game. Every character introduction has something unique and enjoyable to bring to the table, but Horton and his rag tag militia’s debut appearance is a masterpiece of cinematography, patriotic rhetoric, and improvised jazz. I’ve run off to Youtube to rewatch the scene more times that I’m willing to admit.
The character perks system is largely unchanged from The New Order. Players can boost BJ’s abilities by completing a certain task a set number of times. X number of completed headshots gets you bonus damage while aiming down sight. Likewise, achieving a certain number of overcharged kills will slow down the rate that your health drops while overcharged. Players don’t need to pay thorough attention to the unlock qualifiers as many of them will occur naturally. But if there is a particular perk that would be beneficial, you can temporarily narrow your play style down to what would be the best to guide you to the most needed perks.
Additionally, you’ll find weapon upgrade kits scattered about along your missions. They’ll be incredibly helpful to have on hand as each weapon has three upgrades available to unlock. The schockhammer (shotgun) for example has reload, spread, and barrel size upgrades available. It’s entirely possible to go through the game without it, but when the heavy hitters come out late in the game, you’ll definitely want the extra assistance.
A few final thoughts: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus really amps up the challenge. Even on the lower difficulties, the sheer quantity of armored Nazis will prove to be a roadblock for many. However, the challenge is never unfair. There is a huge difficulty spike for the end game mission that feels exponentially more difficult than the previous stages. But none of that matters when the combat music kicks in. I dare you to resist the compulsive urge to rush Nazis with a dual shotguns and a hatchet spree when Mick Gordon’s combat theme starts in the background. I certainly couldn’t.