Back to the 40ís
Wolfenstein: The New Order was my favourite game of 2014. I loved its focus on character building, immersive story and varied locations. That being the case, you can imagine my elation when a new, stand-alone campaign expansion, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was announced. Whereas The New Order only spent its opening back in the 1940ís, The Old Blood calls the second World War home. A much smaller, more focused narrative spans only a few locals, concerning with escaping the fabled Castle Wolfenstein and stopping a plot to utilize centuries old research by King Otto II. What results is a game thatís fun, but suffers from leaving out some of its main installmentís strongest features.
A More Narrow Focus
Being that itís an expansion, and not a full on sequel, the campaign is understandably shorter. Spanning about 6 hours, The Old Blood is able to be a bit more focused in its narrative, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand thereís much less repetition. Some of the missions in the middle third of The New Order dragged a bit, not going much for plot or character. The same problem isnít present here, with the plot constantly plodding towards its climax. It makes the game easy to hit down and rip out over a few long gaming sessions since I never felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. On the other side, the shorter, tighter campaign holds the game down by limiting the environments and removing much of the characterization the first entry did so well. In The New Order we travelled all around, from prisons, to internment camps, to secret underwater bases to the moon. Discovering where youíd go next was half the fun, and the environments were vibrant and beautifully made. This time weíre much more locked down. Thereís definitely some cool artistic direction, but a large part of the game is spent in fairly generic stone rooms, prisons and towns.
On of the reasons I loved The New Order so much was its cast of unique, deep characters. Both protagonists and antagonists had personalities and motivations that made me care about (or hate) them. The Old Blood does a great job with its villains, but doesnít quite succeed as much with the player character, Blazkowicz, or any of his friends. The first bad guy you meet is my favorite, a physically imposing, Dolph Lundgren-eque Nazi Rudi
Jager, and I hated him for all the right reasons from scene one. His unhealthy obsession with mechanically altered dogs is terrifying, and I was definitely scared the first time I came face to face with him. Unfortunately Blazkowicz doesnít get any friends that are present enough for them to develop the same depth and personality, which is surely a result of a shorter game. The game doesnít have time to slow down and breath, which were the times when NPCs were previously able to shine and grow. Luckily BJ is still written and voiced excellently. He may look like every Duke Nukem, Marcus Fenix looking brute antagonist, but his dialogue and internal monologue make him seem very much real and vulnerable.
Story and characters are great, but none of thatís worth much if the gameplay is a let down. Fortunately the gameplay is still just as much of a blast as it was in 2014. Gunplay is tight; the weapons have weight to them, and taking people out really does feel like youíre hitting them with a freight train of lead. Most portions of the game give you the choice whether to go in guns blazing, or stealth things out. I personally favour the stealth approach, which makes each room feel like a puzzle. Luckily the gunplay is fun enough that my ďpunishmentĒ for getting caught is swarms of guys, which are a blast to unload on in any case. The only section that really didnít do it for me gameplay-wise was a section towards the beginning which forces you to stealth through some set path super soldiers, sneaking around to shut off their power source. It isnít particularly fun, it lasts too long, and I couldn't wait for it to just be over.
The Old Blood gives you a good array of bad guys and fun weapons to take them out with. Without spoiling anything in particular about plot and enemy developments, Iím happy to see The Old Blood embrace some of the paranormal elements that were lacking in The New Order. It doesnít overdo it for most of the campaign, but thereís definitely otherworldly stuff afoot, and it makes for some fun versions of enemy types that have been driven to the ground in other games. Even normal enemies feel better than in The New Order. The shotgun Nazis are no longer a huge pain in the rear, and feel more appropriately balanced. Normal buds die quick, but are fun to shoot and can lay down a lot of damage if not taken care of quickly. The robotic Panzerhunds (literally ďtank dogsĒ) are still absolutely terrifying, and were good for a few pee-in-your-pants scenes. While I missed a few of the speciality guns that didnít make their way over to the expansion (which makes sense due to this game not taking place at all in present day), the arsenal is fun to toy with. Of particular note are two new additions, the lead pipe that can be used as a melee weapon and a climbing tool, and the incendiary pistol that blows groups of bad guys into oblivion.
A must play for those who loved 2014ís The New Order
Some might say that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood doesnít add enough new to the series given the amount of time between it and the base game, but itís important to remember that this is an expansion, not a sequel. Itís definitely more of the same, but when your base game is as good as it is, thatís not an insult. Itís not going to win over new fans to the franchise, but The Old Blood is a must play for those who loved 2014ís The New Order. While its faster pace robs the experience of some of its more heartfelt, quiet moments, it makes up for it with its tight gunplay, intriguing villains and willingness to get back into the paranormal. It does a great job whetting my appetite for more Blazkowicz, and makes the wait for the inevitable sequel all the more difficult.
A tighter campaign makes for less repetition, the voice acting is great, the gunplay still feels great and enemies are interesting and fun to kill.
The environments arenít quite as interesting, the faster pace leaves behind character development and that early stealth sequence is a drag.