Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a continuation of the classic shooter franchise. I have not personally played any of the other Wolfenstein games but I was able to easily jump in as the game was somewhat of a reboot for the franchise and built a new story. The game was solid and had plenty of qualities that I really enjoyed but there were also a lot of flaws in this game. I have played a lot of first person shooters (FPS) and this game attempts to differentiate itself but falls just a little short of creating an entirely new experience. The basic premise of the Wolfenstein games is that the main character, William Blazkowicz, is an American soldier fighting the Nazis. This installment of the franchise takes an interesting twist where the Allied powers lose the war and Nazis now control the world. The story was, in my opinion, the strongest portion of this game.

I was very surprised at the strength of the story in this game. The first thing that surprised me was how quickly and without hesitation the characters are killed off. It always seemed ridiculous to me that in other FPS games how infrequently characters actually died, but this game is not afraid to do so. The story starts off very depressing and makes the player make a difficult choice and at the same time builds up the villain, General Deathshead, to be one of the most evil and sadistic character  in any game. I usually do not feel such hatred for a character, but the game really did a fantastic job at actually making me want to kill the villain. Despite starting strong, I feel like the game is unevenly paced in which most of the story is packed in the beginning and the end of the game. The theme of the game was pretty unique, as it was futuristic and had plenty of advanced technologies but it did manage to keep the gritty feel of World War II. I do not want to spoil anything, but the ending of the game was a bit open ended and I feel like it tries to set up a sequel. On one hand this is a good thing as it leaves you wondering, but on the other hand some people could see it as a cop-out. Most of the major characters are fleshed out well, and the game does give you some small character biographies if you want some more information on any character. Also, there are two alternate timelines in the game that make very minor changes in the story and gameplay. I like this feature as it allows people to replay the game but have a slightly difference experience, but everyone who plays the game is going to have a very similar experience regardless of which timeline they choose. Overall I felt like the first couple missions and the last couple missions had phenomenal story telling but I just wish that the middle bits were also as strong.

The gameplay I also felt mirrored the story in which it started strong but faltered around the middle chapters. While the first thirty minutes of the game are slow and serve as a tutorial, once I began the first mission I was sucked in. The game gives the player four different ways of tackling it and has different perk trees to reflect these choices. While perk and ability trees are not a unique concept, what was interesting about this game was that the perks were not earned through experience or just giving you a skill point to distribute into whatever perk you want, but instead they were achievement based. For example if you stealth kill five commanders you get a perk that reveals the location of all the commanders on the map. I really liked this system as it gave me alternate objectives and tasks during missions as I attempted to complete the main goal. There are four different perk trees, Stealth, Tactical, Assault, and Demolition. Stealth was based on sneaking up behind enemies and taking them out silently. Tactical was about smartly engaging the enemy from a distance and from behind cover. Assault was just DOOM style running and gunning. Lastly, Demolition was all about using explosives to clear spaces. This mix of gameplay options led to some epic moments, for example when I snuck up behind a commander and stealth killed him, then took over the mounted mission gun and mowed down the rest of the enemies from behind before they could react. Unfortunately I felt like there were too many missions that limited all the options that there were supposed to be. Some of map designs felt really lazy and linear, making a lot of missions play out like every generic FPS where I entered a room, posted up behind some cover, kill all the enemies, rinse and repeat until the mission is over. Another issue was the lack of ammunition, there was a plethora of different guns and tools at my disposal but the only guns with reliable amounts of ammunition to find were the Assault Rifle and the Laserkraftwerk. Despite the fact that some missions were limited in the options to tackle it, there were also a lot of really well designed levels that had many different pathways that allowed me to use a mix of the perk trees. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 8, and 13 are in my opinion what the rest of the game should have been when it comes to level design. All five of those missions were very entertaining and allowed me to use a mix of all the different tactics.

Apart from the five fantastic chapters, the rest of the levels were either just too linear or just blatant filler. Chapters 5, 7, and 9 were the most obvious examples of this and they should have just been cutscenes instead of full chapters. All three chapters play out in a very similar fashion and really serve no purpose at all, there are no enemies to fight, no stealth, no puzzles, just walking around to pick up some random item. Some of the other chapters also had some filler sections but these three missions did nothing but lengthen the game. This is really unfortunate because Wolfenstein: The New Order only has sixteen chapters so at least 18% of the game is just filler.

While the level design of the game left something to be desired, the difficulty scaling of the game felt just right to me. I played on the second hardest difficulty “I am death incarnate!” and while the game started off pretty easy it did quickly ramp up and provide some challenge. At no point did I feel like the difficulty was unfair or the game was asking an unreasonable task, but at the same time I knew that if I screwed up I would be punished for it. Unfortunately, a lot of the difficulty in the later stages of the game comes from the overwhelming amounts of “bullet sponges”. These are enemies that have a lot of health and required me to shoot at them for a minute of two to kill a single enemy. I feel like bullet sponges can be implemented properly, but they were not in this case. Since enemies have no health bars I could not even tell if I was damaging the enemies, and since I was shooting at some enemies for a couple of minutes I questioned if some enemies were even killable with bullets or if I needed to find another way to defeat them. Fighting these bullet sponges was occasionally entertaining as I needed to dip and dive out of cover to try to out maneuver them, but they are used way too frequently and there needed to be some sort of indicator that they were actually taking damage. Also, a lot of the enemies just felt inconsistent to me. Some enemies could not spot me when I was standing right in front of them, but I remember in one mission where I was hidden in a vent and a guard twenty feet away spotted me while facing the other direction. Despite the amount of bullet sponges and inconsistent enemies, I really enjoyed the two late game boss fights. Both fights had a cat and mouse feel to them and they did not drag out to long like a lot of video game bosses do. All in all, the difficulty was solid and while it was challenging, it never felt unfair.

The last thing about Wolfenstein: The New Order that I want to talk about is the collectible system. I am somebody who loves getting all of the collectibles in a game, and this game had plenty of them, but I did not get even close to getting all of them. The game has the weird system in which it reveals some of the hidden items locations on the map, but not all of them. So if I wanted to find all of the items I would have to comb the entire map and break open every box and look in every cabinet for items that were frankly tough to spot. I do not mind if the collectibles are hidden and do not show up on the map, but they should at least be easy to spot if that is the case. Despite this issue I really did appreciate how many things there were to collect if the player chooses to do so.

I did not expect much when I first started this game, but it certainly did surprise me with the first couple of chapters in terms of the strength of the gameplay and the impact of the story. If these aspects were carried out through the rest of the game it would have been a phenomenal game, but it does fall flat in the middle, has too much filler, and it has some smaller gameplay issues. For these reasons I give Wolfenstein: The New Order a 6/10. It was extremely fun, engaging, and emotional for a couple of chapters; I just wish that the entire game was like that.


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