Within fifteen minutes of booting up Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, I had to walk away from my computer for a couple seconds to emotionally process what was in front of me. This new chapter in B.J. Blazkowicz’s journey isn’t meant for the faint of heart, and developer MachineGames wants you to know it right off the top. But if you stick with this game, you’ll find an unforgettable journey with powerful set pieces that will leave you hating Nazis as much as Blazkowicz.
Above all, the strongest point of this first-person shooter is its phenomenal story. Wolfenstein II picks up right where The New Order left off and chronicles Blazkowicz’s gruesome recovery after the first game’s final battle. He reminisces about his childhood memories, introducing the player to his parents. The well-delivered dialogue instantly characterizes his caring, Jewish mother and harsh, racist, masculine, Texan father.
The first real moment you get to play the game, you’re stuck in a wheelchair. You can’t climb stairs, but hey, your hands are free to hold a gun and shoot some Nazis. The rest of the game follows the Kreisau Circle, the rebel group that Blazkowicz joined in the first game, as they fight to ignite a revolution all across the American Territories.
Since the events of the first game, Blazkowicz has been given the name “Terror-Billy” by the Germans because in their eyes, he’s the world’s greatest terrorist. Responsible for the massacre of thousands of loyal soldiers, Terror-Billy needs to be caught before more lives are lost. At least, that’s the Nazi narrative, which is presented astonishingly well through the many small moments of Germans grieving for lost family members. It almost leaves you sympathizing with one of modern history’s most vile regimes, reminding you that behind the politics and ideologies, these are still human beings with families. But at the end of the day, it takes more than sympathy to keep America free. Wolfenstein II leaves you with a powerful mix of emotions, and it tackles questions about the true values of freedom and happiness as hard as Blazkowicz tackles Nazis.
Toward the end of the journey, however, the game stumbles a bit. The credits rolled rather abruptly, and it didn’t really feel like the story had finished satisfactorily. At first, I was expecting a lot more. Various loose ends weren’t tied up by the conclusion of the story, but it ends in a way that leaves the door wide open for a Wolfenstein III to walk through in a couple years. It’s not necessarily that the last few moments of the game were unsatisfying; rather, it’s just that the credits could have rolled after another mission or two.
Even if the ending is a bit too soon, it doesn’t diminish what MachineGames has accomplished with Wolfenstein II. There are so many developments to the story that make it truly exciting to watch. When things come together and go in Blazkowicz’s favor, even when things seem bleak, it can give you a rush and have you jumping for joy. It’s the kind of game that has so many noteworthy moments that will stick with you after you’re done killing Nazis.
Despite the big picture involving nationwide political and territorial liberation, the story shines incredibly well in its personal moments. More often than not, I found myself rooting for Blazkowicz not because he was the main character nor because I wanted to see the Nazis lose; I wanted him to succeed so he could be happy with his pregnant girlfriend, Anya. I hoped for his safety whenever he was around his abusive father. I looked forward to the next time he could see his friends back on Evas Hammer, the Nazi U-boat turned resistance base. Every interaction he had with all the crew members cemented the idea that Blazkowicz is the Kreisau Circle’s true beacon of hope in this dark world, and it really contributes to the power fantasy of shredding every last Nazi to pieces.
So let’s talk about what it’s like to shred Nazis in Wolfenstein II. Overall, the gunplay is extremely over-the-top in the best way. If you enjoyed it in the first game, the second game only improves upon it. Being able to mix and match what weapons you’re dual wielding makes every moment feel more strategic, but the game doesn’t give you too much time to think about it. Every fight is an adrenaline rush, and just a few mistakes will get you killed, especially because Blazkowicz feels more fragile in this game than in the previous ones. The combat can feel chaotic, but it’s rewarding when you’re able to control a situation and take out all the Nazis surrounding you. The stealth aspect of combat returns as well, rewarding you with less Nazis to fight if you can pick off the commanders without being noticed. Although the close-and-personal hatchet kills are gruesome yet satisfying to watch, they can at times feel too risky to even bother trying. Sometimes it seems more effective to pull out two automatic shotguns that shoot three shells at once and rush every enemy.
The wonderful combat does unfortunately come with its share of bugs, some of which hindered what would be a smooth gameplay experience. At times, switching weapons in the off hand is just impossible. Instead of switching from submachine gun to assault rifle, Blazkowicz would just put the first gun down to retrieve the first gun again. Sometimes when activating dual wielding, if you reload you will cause a glitch in the off-hand gun, causing it not to fire at all. At other times, the gun in Blazkowicz's right hand would float above his hand. Luckily, none of these bugs break the game in any way, and the combat is an absolute blast.
After spending a couple hours killing some Nazis, the gameplay stays fresh with the addition of contraptions. About halfway through the game, Terror-Billy gets access to one of three devices that change the way you play the game. For example, one allows you to crawl through small spaces and walk silently. Another gives you the ability to break through thin walls and tackle Nazis to the ground. You can eventually get all of these devices, and they keep the game fresh as you near the end.
Wolfenstein II has replay value on offer. At the beginning, you make a decision to save one of two friends, the same choice that was presented in the first game. Whichever friend you save changes small parts of the story. The major story beats stay the same, so whether it warrants a second playthrough is up to you.
Killing the previously mentioned commanders gives you enigma codes, which can be used to find oberkommandos—essentially extremely important Nazi personnel. They’re located in maps you’ll already run through in the main story, which acts somewhat as a detriment to the game. Although it’s satisfying to mow down droves of Nazis, hunting these oberkommandos becomes a tedious task without any real sense of reward. After killing every target, I didn’t feel compelled to tackle the few other side quests that various Eva's Hammer crew members throw at Blazkowicz.
This issue is a shame, because these different maps are out of this world in terms of design and flavor. You’ll travel to New Orleans, which has turned into a walled-off ghetto district. New York, or I should say what’s left of New York, is an irradiated husk of a city after it was nuked to end this game's alternate version of World War II. Probably one of the most interesting places to visit is the old Blazkowicz home in Mesquite, Texas. That level is chock full of cutscenes and ambient storytelling that helps you understand how Blazkowicz turned into the Nazi killing machine known as Terror-Billy.
At the end of the day, if you enjoy being engrossed in an alternate history Nazi America with powerful, personal stories weaved into a larger, revolutionary narrative, this game checks all the boxes. The game also shines as a shooter, although if you’re just looking for mindless gunning, you’ll find yourself skipping through a lot of cutscenes.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is as much a story as it is a shooter, and although the end leaves something to be desired, experiencing the story is more than satisfying. It’s a journey that makes you think about the meaning of freedom and happiness, all while tackling some social issues that are a little too relevant today.