The changes in Wolfenstein: Youngblood were a shame. I’m not a fan of the more looter shooter elements, with bullet sponge enemies, so much backtracking, and the negative elements of the forced AI co-op, but I appreciate the attempt at positive change and growth in what is the newest offshoot of the main series — it just doesn’t work. The best thing that came out of this experience, and what I think Youngblood will be most remembered for, other than not taking full advantage of a 1980s setting, is its heroines.
Jessica “Jes” and Zofia “Soph” Blazkowicz are the daughters of Wolfenstein’s greatest hero and the man who killed Adolf Hitler. With their friend Abby, they must leave the safety of a liberated Texas to search for their father. It’s a decent setup, something befitting the stories they read about Arthur and Kenneth, the super spies. They’re even looking for a place ridiculously called Lab X. But past the initial warmth of a good foundation, the story and in-game interactions simply aren’t as refined, so I focused on getting to know my characters and their motivations better.
I messed up in the beginning. The game asked me to pick between the two sisters before I knew anything about them and assign my selected character armor abilities that will enhance the hero. I gave the juggernaut-like ability to the sister I wanted to play, Jes, but as the cutscenes unfolded I realized that she was not the brute I had intended. Jessica seems a bit calmer; the hunter, more aware and patient, much more geared for the stealth ability.
These upgrades support their host much better narratively if chosen correctly, but there is no indicator for new players. I like Soph (a little less, sure), but I would never use the words level-headed or tactical to describe her. That sister is more aggressive and reactionary, determined. Since there was so little good story to focus on and I was only invested in the girls, this lapse in judgment bothered me through a large portion of the game.
I love that we are playing two inexperienced, but certainly not weak or incapable, Nazi killers. After playing BJ for so long, it is hard not to feel a bit like an unstoppable colossus. Killing is old hat, being a veteran of so many great crusades that not even death itself could keep him away from the battlefield. Their father is so much composed, somber, spiritual (Caroline, lend me your wings), and focused on the mission at all times. These girls feel like his daughters: younger, rougher, but just as patriotic, stubborn, and violent, while still thankfully coming across as much different. Their youth and positivity shines through, even as they discuss their potential deaths at enemy hands, fully in acceptance, but not letting it crush them.
From the moment Soph vomits and Jes is grossed out when she gets some brain in her mouth after killing their first Nazi, there are constant reminders of just how young and inexperienced these fighters are. Most of the events that happen to them are compared to the adventure stories they read because that is the only point of reference they have, plus whatever tales daddy told them. They play slaps when they get bored waiting for a new mission, they giggle and squabble with each other often like siblings who have always been around each other, but also encourage one another in the tough moments. The Blaskowicz sisters also come across as a bit crude, acting like young boys, which is probably what BJ wanted — that is definitely how he raised them, as we see the girls have been brought up on a steady diet of hunting and boxing. They were never handled with kid gloves. Not many children can say their mother held a knife tightly to their throats and warned of the Nazi threat.
Others spot their youth and inexperience immediately. When the twins meet the Parisian group, no one believes their bravado or the claims that come with it. Despite this, the girls are optimistic, passionate, and are weapons ready to be pointed. They are the titular young blood in the resistance that can change Neu-Paris for the better. The others in the rebel group have been through so much, lost their loved ones, been wounded with lifelong scars, and the girls approach them with a can-do attitude. No matter their good intentions, they are still quite naïve, and we see how that gets them treated in the end.
Jes and Soph (along with Abby) make for a great team, so it isn’t hard to see why the developers wanted to focus more on the co-op parts. A lot of the interactions we get during gameplay are neat, but can become kind of grating due to the repetition. There wasn’t enough of other characters, like Abby who has to listen to them on the headset, calling them out for that, but I think they may have rubbed off a bit on her. The dialogue isn’t exactly horrible, but it isn’t good either, as this installment seems to have some of the weakest writing in the newer Wolfenstein games. Their elevator antics (like the dancing) and mild bickering add a bit of comical realism, but there was a lot more that could have been instituted to flesh them out even more during gameplay.
The Blazkowicz sisters are refreshing for the series. It was neat to see them in Paris, away from home and doing new things that they probably shouldn’t be: getting into squabbles, smoking, killing. Their Southern charm and down to Earth nature doesn’t mean they don’t fit in with the rest of the world that has been created. They take BJ talking about alternate realities pretty well, in fact, seeming unfazed on a physical and mental level by the end. I may not have been too keen on Wolfenstein: Youngblood as a game, but I am all for giving Jes and Soph another shot and hope they are a part of a better adventure.