After around four hours with Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, I have concerns, and a bit of a case of déjà vu.
Let’s take a step back for a minute, back to the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order in 2014. There was a great deal of critical praise for MachineGames’ assumption of development duties on the property, including my own, which was accompanied by a lot of surprise. But it’s not because Wolfenstein: The New Order came out of nowhere — it’s because the game had shown so poorly prior to release.
Try this: Google Wolfenstein: The New Order coverage from E3 2013, and try to see the same level of enthusiasm the game received at release. My guess? It will be hard to find it. In June of 2013, it was a game with big problems — primarily enemy AI that was so aggressive it wasn’t fun so much as it was frustrating, and guns that just didn’t feel effective. The E3 demo was set a quarter of the way or so through the London Nautica, in the level’s first big firefight, and it was a parade of death and swear words.
I’ve had the opportunity now to play through a pair of levels in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus twice: the introductory level set on a stolen Nazi submarine, where a freshly awakened B.J. Blazkowicz is relegated to a wheelchair due to injuries sustained at the end of Wolfenstein: The New Order, and then, set many missions later, Roswell, New Mexico. Both times playing through both of those levels, I couldn’t shake the feeling that The New Colossus has some old problems.
Stealth-oriented New Order players may be seriously disappointed to hear that the silenced pistol has largely been neutered: A majority of Nazi soldiers wear protective facewear. In the build I played, melee executions just didn’t feel reliable. More annoyingly, enemy soldiers felt hyper-aware, with the slightest sound triggering an alarm and prompting waves of enemies that forced direct confrontation. None of the weapons felt especially effective — not even the automatic shotgun.
To make things worse, B.J. feels especially fragile this time around. In the introductory level, this made sense, as he’d been in a coma for months, making a health cap of 50 — instead of the traditional 100 — seem reasonable. But going into Roswell with a hero on his feet and equipped with what appears to be powerful Da’at Yichud technology, that same cap was still in place, and much, much more of a pain in the ass. Enemies swarm, and they move a little too often to get an effective bead on them from a distance. This may be intentional, but it wasn’t much fun in my time with the game.
It’s worth mentioning that I encountered these issues across two different difficulties, both the default and the next option down the list. It’s not just that The New Colossus seems especially difficult, though it might end up that way. Currently, it just doesn’t feel fair.
This could change, of course, because there are still three to four months’ worth of balance tweaks and changes to be made before The New Colossus’ release this fall. I hope that’s the case, because everything else around the actual playing of the game was pushing just about all my buttons.
Even in my brief time with the game, I was struck by MachineGames’ fantastic character work, storytelling and world-building, which, if anything, felt improved over The New Order’s already considerable achievements there. What’s more, there are once again a pair of slightly divergent timelines continued from The New Order featuring some different characters and, if I feel compelled to play through the game twice, I’d really prefer it be fun. I was only more impressed watching the extended story bits the second time I played through the demo — The New Colossus has some of the tightest, best-written dialogue I’ve heard in a game, and the performances so far back it up with personality to spare.
Of course, there’s also the expanded, conquered world to explore, and everything I’ve seen so far is encouraging ... sort of. It’s not that the developers aren’t doing their due diligence. But watching an America — sorry, “Amerika” — taken over by Nazis systematically persecuting every marginalized group and ethnic minority just doesn’t feel as easily accepted as tongue-in-cheek as it did a few years ago.
But hey, if you want to find loads of hidden bits of information, Easter eggs and collectibles expanding on The New Colossus’ setting, it’s everywhere, just like it was previously. Go nuts.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus launches on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC on Oct. 27.