Bethesda. They have some seriously good curation in the single-player’s catalogue, and you don’t have to go back more than a few years to put together a list of some critically acclaimed, commercially successful titles from the publisher. Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim in the Elder Scrolls series, two Dishonored titles, Doom, some Fallout games, and more recently, Prey and Wolfenstein: The New Order. Amazing single-player campaigns, the lot of them. So this should come as no surprise when I tell you that the latest addition to the Wolfenstein franchise is absolutely wunderbar.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus starts where The New Order ends, so first, I want suggest that if you haven’t already played the previous game, you should. For one thing, it’s really, really, really good, but it also sets up for the sequel. But if you’re going to skip it and goose-step (but, ironically) straight into Bethesda’s latest Nazi face-punching simulator, you should know that you’ll be forced to make a decision you’d have otherwise made in The New Order as one of your first actions in The New Colossus.
The New Order tells the tale of patriotic supersoldier William “BJ” Blazkowicz, who wakes up from a coma to find that his beloved America, as well as all the other Allied powers, have lost World War II, with the US now firmly under the control of the mecha-fascists. So Blazkowicz joins the resistance and basically becomes the Nazis’ wurst nightmare, where we pick up the story in The New Colossus. Beaten and badly broken in body but not in spirit, BJ now wakes up from a coma (again) on a stolen Nazi submarine and it’s back to business.
Your trip through the game will take you to many other interesting places in Nazi-occupied America, mixing scenes of wholesome mid-century nostalgia with ultra-nationalist dystopian dread and a kind of campy audacity, a what-if future where Ku Klux Klan members practise their German outside the local diner. You move around a lot in the world of Wolfenstein 2, with the submarine forming a bit of a hub that you always return to. And while the story progression is essentially linear, you’ll get the chance to chase down additional commandos from areas you’ve visited before once you talk to some of the inhabitants of the sub, whose numbers grow as the game progresses. Decoding encrypted messages on the Enigma Machine also unlocks additional side missions, and these can all be taken on immediately, or when you finish the game should you wish to focus on the story.
The gameplay is a lot more of the same, but also mostly an improvement on The New Order. Somehow BJ feels more dangerous, more on edge than before, like a tough war veteran with PTSD and a serious grudge. The mechanics have been revamped somewhat, adding things like a power stomp that lets you break through certain floor grates, for example. You get a choice of a power up during the game as well, an option of one of three “augmentations”, if you will. The one I chose allowed me to literally run Nazis right off their feet, and straight through compromised walls and certain blocked off entrances.
The skill progression system is also quite similar to The New Order, though this time around it felt more organic. In The New Order I was constantly checking my skills and actively focusing on some of them to upgrade them, as they required you to perform certain actions a number of times in order to level them up. The same system is at play here, but the first time I bothered to check them (about half way through the game), I discovered that I’d maxed out more than half of them already, with the rest not far behind. In no time you’ll be power-sliding on the floor with akimbo auto rifles, shredding fascist pigs into Fleishsalat.
How you choose to approach The New Colossus is up to you, as the game is incredibly flexible when it comes to play style. I am a take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy, but my general knee jerk reaction to an encounter is to equip the biggest guns I have in my arsenal, say a quick “sieg fail” and kick the door in. Often, this results in my demise, at which point I equip some silenced weapons and sneak my way through instead. Most of the time both options are available to you, so if you want to lurk in the shadows, the game rewards you accordingly, but if you’re looking to repay the Jerries in the universally accepted currency of violence, that’s cool too. Regardless of your style, I recommend saving often as the combat difficulty can be brutal, and being spotted for a split second while lurking around is going to summon an army of men and machines to tear you limb from limb.