Did you like Wolfenstein: The New Order? If so, you’ll probably like this standalone expansion.
I’m going to make this easy for you, right up front: If you enjoyed last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order (and we really did) then you will almost definitely enjoy this new standalone expansion Wolfenstein: The Old Blood—though probably not to the same extent.
Got it? Good. Now here’s another 1000 or so words on the subject.
A familiar tale
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood isn’t quite as good as The New Order, but that’s not really a fair comparison. After all, New Order was a full-length, $60 game. Old Blood is essentially a standalone $20 expansion.
It’s a prequel, to be exact. New Order opened with a mission set in 1946, with longtime protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz infilitrating Deathshead’s compound. Old Blood is set basically right before that mission, detailing what Blazkowicz was doing prior to heading after ol’ Deathshead.
Old Blood is split into two chapters. The first sees Blazkowicz imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein, and you have to—you guessed it—escape. The second has you pursuing Helga von Schabbs to the town of Wulfburg, where she’s awoken an ancient evil and accidentally turned her army into Nazi zombies.
As you can maybe infer from the name Helga von Schabbs, Old Blood is basically a retelling of both the first chapters of Wolfenstein 3D (where one of the main villains was Dr. Schabbs) and Return to Castle Wolfenstein (which featured Helga von Bulow). It even lifts the cable car-accessible fortress from Return—which was, in itself, lifted from the film Where Eagles Dare.
Old Blood is also campy as hell—more Dead Snow than The Longest Day—so if your favorite part of New Order was its more absurd moments (i.e. heading to the secret Nazi moon base) then you’re going to feel right at home with this follow-up. If, on the other hand, you loved the quiet character-focused interludes? Well, there’s not a lot of that here.
Almost none, really. You’ll only meet a few friendly characters during Old Blood, and none that you’ll really get a chance to bond with. Your time with them is too short, too stilted, to provide anything like what New Order did with its secret resistance base and cast of misfit fighters.
In many respects, Old Blood reminds me of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. While the original Far Cry 3’s narrative didn’t always ever make the deep, philosophical points it thought it was making, it at least tried to do so. Blood Dragon threw all that away in favor of non-stop action and ‘80s pastiche. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just a different approach.
Old Blood does similarly. While there are a few moments of solemn reflection, Old Blood is mostly concerned with murdering lots of Nazis. With much bombast. Even New Order’s much-lauded stealth mechanics are underrepresented, with most encounters featuring at least one of the “heavy” enemies you need to engage head-on instead of taking down from the shadows.
That actually annoyed me, for a while. I played New Order almost exclusively as a stealth game, and that’s simply not possible in Old Blood. Even when the game’s not forcing you into combat—which it does fairly regularly—Old Blood’s arenas are laid out in a way that almost guarantees stealth won’t last. You’re often seeing how many Nazis you can take out quietly before alerting the rest. If you’re lucky you’ll get half.
But the result is you’ll really come to appreciate the shooting in Wolfenstein, if you didn’t already. The guns are fantastic, especially the punchy feeling of the new shotgun—the Schockhammer. Old Blood is a shooter that lives up to the Wolfenstein name, even if it comes at the cost of most of the stealth I loved in its predecessor.
Honestly, this is one of those cases where if New Order didn’t exist, I think people would be more receptive towards Old Blood—which is funny, since Old Blood is an expansion. I mean, how different do people really expect the two to be? All the same, the main problem with Old Blood is that you’re inevitably going to compare it to New Order, and no doubt find it lacking. But again, this is a $20 expansion, not a full $60 title.
Standing on its own, Old Blood is a fine piece of content—especially the first half. Castle Wolfenstein’s stone corridors start to blend together after a while, but there’s enough of that ex-Starbreeze/Escape from Butcher Bay feel for the game to lure you in. I was primarily impressed by how much detail was in the environments, from the names of beers on vending machines to the way the Nazis interact with each other before you arrive on the scene.
In the second half—the Nazi zombie half—things take a bit of a dive. The main issue is that the zombies are dumb, which makes the game super easy and (by extension) boring. Most aren’t even armed, so you just stand fifty yards away and pop pistol rounds into their heads. Playing on a PC makes this an even simpler proposition, considering the mouse/keyboard is basically a headshot machine. I almost feel bad for console players, where these zombies might actually present a challenge. Maybe.
Regardless, it’s a bit of a slog. Machine Games does a good job setting up its Nazi zombies (as it does a good job with all the world-building in Wolfenstein) but it’s still a worn-out trope, especially with Call of Duty hammering the same idea into the ground every few years. The whole schtick just feels decidedly less inspired than the first half of the game, let alone anything in New Order.
Even worse, the second half culminates in a terrible boss fight, which should be no surprise if you played New Order. Seriously, Machine Games—consider letting boss fights die. I know it’s a throwback to the sort of ‘90s shooter you’re trying to emulate with Wolfenstein, but boss fights in shooters are universally terrible bullet sponges. Your games would be better without this particular “homage.”
All in all, Old Blood is a good expansion to a great game. I wanted more Wolfenstein, and that’s exactly what I got here. Sure, it’s neither as inventive nor as heartfelt as New Order, but it’s a solid piece of content that’s still leagues better than most shooters. If you liked New Order, I’d recommend checking it out.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.
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