Wolfenstein: The Old Blood review: madder red

Game Info
Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Developer MachineGames
Release Date May 5, 2015

The hardest thing about selling doubters on Wolfenstein: The New Order was convincing them it wasn't just another bland shooter, despite how its marketing (and, frankly, underwhelming first hour) would make it appear.

New Order had genuine pathos, real emotion and enough great character moments underscoring the real evil of the Third Reich to do the unthinkable: Make killing Nazis feel fresh again. A skeptical player who skipped straight to The Old Blood, a new stand-alone expansion to New Order, would likely find that their doubts were well-founded: There's plenty of great action, but not enough heart to make it feel as vital and fresh as its predecessor.

The Old Blood is comprised of two acts, "Rudi Jager and the Den of Wolves" and "The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs." Though originally intended for release as two separate products, they are treated as two, admittedly clearly bifurcated, parts of an overarching story here.

Den of Wolves pits our hero, William "B.J." Blazkowicz against prototypical torture-loving, American-hating Nazi heavy Rudi Jager as B.J. races against time to save his squadmate, Wesley. If you were to imagine the first action-heavy-yet-character-light hour of New Order blown out to about five hours of wall-to-wall action, you'd have a pretty good idea of what you're getting in Old Blood's first act.

wolfenstein old blood

Old Blood shares its predecessor's biggest gameplay strength, which is how it allows players to blend stealth with all-out gunplay as the situation demands. As with New Order, pure gun battles are a thrill in Old Blood, thanks to a flexible set of weapons that completely change the feel of the game with a button press. Turning on the fly from a walking tank wielding dual-assault rifles (which have gotten a major overhaul in Old Blood) into an assassin popping off headshots from a silenced pistol has lost none of its lustre in this second pass.

Those like myself that prefer a stealth approach may be a little more annoyed by Old Blood. There are a lot of larger environments this time around, which meant I was getting spotted by unseen enemies and blowing my stealth attempts a lot more frequently. I played New Order as sneakily as possible, but Old Blood frustrated me into shootouts about half of the time. Of course, if you're looking for a real test of your sneakiness, Old Blood has your number.

The perk system, which improves B.J.'s abilities differently depending on which of his skills he tends to lean on, returns for the expansion, but it's been pared way down. This meant I had no trouble getting my combat and stealth perks but, by extension, this sort of muted the system's effect. Still, its nice to see it included.

The bigger problem, especially in Den of Wolves, is that there are barely any moments where the action slows down enough to develop the type of characters and motivation that charged the big combat set pieces in New Order. It all starts to feel like a bit of a slog, and I'll be honest: after I downed Jager, I was relieved to be through with Old Blood — not knowing that there was a whole other act to come.

It all starts to feel like a bit of a slog

That second act is both an improvement and a backslide. There are a lot more great, tense character moments, the likes of which separated New Order from the first-person shooter pack. Especially when B.J. finds himself face-to-face with adventurer and occultist Helga von Schabbs (the far better antagonist of the two), I found myself way more invested than at any point in Den of Wolves.


But The Dark Secrets makes a weird pivot, with old-fashioned Nazis being replaced by Nazi zombies thanks to Helga's meddling in otherworldly affairs. Even if you forget that Nazi zombies have been turned into something of a cliche at this point in gaming's history, they're simply less fun to fight, turning much of Act Two into a repetitive meat-grinder lacking the stealthy options that were the hallmark of The New Order. It's a much needed bit of variation, just not a particularly interesting one.

The Old Blood suggests B-movie camp with its logo and Act Two premise, but it doesn't lean into it much. It's weirder than New Order, no question, but the world-weary, "make Max Payne look like Beverly Cleary" narration from B.J. keeps it from a grindhouse vibe that would have made Old Blood feel much more essential.

Wrap Up:

the old blood doesn't quite capture what made the new order great

Instead, we are left with a totally competent expansion that keeps enough of what worked about the previous game to make for a pleasant if forgettable seven hours. The Old Blood mostly nailed the components that made New Order good, but it doesn't quite manage to capture what made it great.

Wolfestein: The Old Blood was reviewed using a PS4 code provided by Bethesda Softworks. You can find additional information on Polygon's ethics policy here.

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