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Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus Review – A Valiant Sequel

I’m not the first to say that following up MachineGames Wolfenstein: The New Order is no easy task. Not only was it a continuation of one of the longest running franchises in gaming, but The New Order delivered a surprisingly gripping emotional tale in between some of the most over-the-top action sequences in recent memory. In fact, the first game was so good that Machine could have released a sequel with no improvements and a rehash of its story and we would have been content. Instead, for better or worse, they made a U-boats worth of changes that affect the game in varying degrees.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus begins precisely where The New Order left off – with the crew coming to pick up B.J. after nuking Deathshead’s base. Right on the edge of death, doctor Set Roth is able to keep B.J. alive – but just barely. Comatose for five months, we take control of him as he wakes up to a Nazi attack on the captured U-Boat the group calls their home. The man gets into a wheelchair and goes on a killing spree with you at the helm. While awkward to control, this sequence does what it needs to – it reinforces B.J. as the Nazi-whipping machine he’s always been… or so you think.

Once the situation calms down, it’s revealed that B.J. is running on fumes, here. On top of this, his lover, Anya, is pregnant with twins, and the Kreisau Circle is set on revolutionizing America. B.J. is stuck between letting his wife know of his impending doom, or distancing himself in attempts to get her used to him gone. These underlying debates affect B.J.’s every decision, and drive him to keep going until the job is done – even if it means destroying what’s left of his body. It’s a devastating introduction, but the story fails to keep this momentum going throughout.

The two just can’t find peace together

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its high points. The New Colossus’ best moments are direct references to The New Order, attempts to top the events from before. Multiple twists rendered me into a gaping idiot, making me forget I’m even playing a game. Otherwise, a majority of the characters established in the first game lost most of their screen time to the new ones. I chose the Fergus timeline for my playthrough, and he was relevant for only three or four major conversations. Who was once B.J.’s fighting hand is now a bad side character, with stereotypical interactions rather than any moments of development. From what I’ve heard, Wyatt seems to fare better in the opposite timeline, however. Set Roth is the most prevalent returning character, eclipsing even Anya in exposure. He’s always going on about some new invention or idea to move the plot forward.

Both B.J. and the new resistance members are given more attention, particularly the two female leads – one being the American resistance leader and the other a former Nazi turned friend. Both experience loss, identity struggles, and a renewed passion for leadership. B.J. explores his past through flashbacks and confronts it as an adult in some dark but ultimately shallow scenes. It’s nice to see this part of him examined, but none of the flashbacks nor the real-time situations will surprise you. The overall plot is still more than strong enough to carry me through the experience, even if the ending feels somewhat rushed. I would have bet money there was another hour or two of gameplay when instead the credits rolled. It’s not a wholly unsatisfying ending, however, and it still left me looking forward to any continuation.

It’s bold – especially in today’s climate

It’s both impressive and scary how well The New Colossus addresses it’s more controversial topics like racism and the KKK. The game places them right in your face and holds nothing back, portraying just how horrific the world would be if WWII ended differently. Yes, they do draw comparisons to today’s political climate, but it’s important to note that this was in development long before we’ve arrived at our current state. MachineGames handles the situation maturely here.

Combat is faster now, with new weapons and abilities introduced even in the game’s third act, though the total weapon count is down from The New Order. On multiple occasions, I’ve been killed by overshooting how quick I should move to get into cover. Enemies are more aggressive, meaning less time is spent using the cover/pop-out mechanic. I played on one of the harder difficulties and died frequently. There was rarely an encounter I got through on my first try once I got into the late-game. Stealth gameplay is less viable due to the lackluster level design. While the aesthetics and locales are fantastic (you’re traveling all over the United States this time), most fights take place in a circular open area or a long hallway, both of which you can just corner yourself and wait for enemies to come before mowing them down. The upgrade system is back, though it’s the same as before. Each gun gets an something like an alternative fire, extended clip, and faster reload, with a few exceptions. Despite this, gunplay is tight as ever, and there are a couple of story-centric combat modifiers throughout the campaign that adds variety.

Enemy diversity has taken a step back. Big robot dogs and drones give way to mostly humanoid characters. There are only a couple standout combat scenarios throughout the campaign, a majority entailing a massive version of said humanoids. Don’t expect any boss fights like the ones in The New Order. Even on higher difficulties, adversaries are killed quickly, meaning threats come from a multitude of enemies more-so than any super tough one.

The perk system makes a return, and it’s one of my favorite systems in recent games. Unlocking higher level perks by actually using their respective skills makes perfect sense, and it encourages experimentation. Collectibles are everywhere. Them combined with alternate timeline skills and characters help with replayability, and a new side assassination mode tasks you with playing remixed versions of levels and going after a commander. Side-quests are back, as is exploring the hub to find them. I hit around 12 hours upon completion which is a great length for a first-person shooter, and you’re looking at 40-50 to complete all The New Colossus has to offer.

As we’ve come to expect, the game runs at a rocksteady 60 frames with quick loading screens and 1080p resolution. Character models have a clay look to them, which can be distracting, but the world is gorgeous. From Texas to New Orleans, and even to space, The New Colossus is a treat to look at. Each location is hyper-stylized with the dystopian 60’s futuristic look The New Order established, and it’s never been shown better. The incredible voice acting makes its return, bringing the occasionally stiff faces to life, and a killer soundtrack backs the adventure.

For all it tries to innovate on, The New Colossus suffers from the high bar established for it the first time around. It’s still a standout romp through alternative history, and the production value is out of this world. The plot has some weird pacing issues, past characters are stepped back for new ones, and level layouts are definitely on the weaker end of the creative scale, but this sequel still manages to wrap itself together and draw you in for its ride. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is another title to pile onto this years tower of quality releases.

This review is based off the Xbox One version of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus provided by Bethesda Softworks.

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