Wolfenstein: The New Order Preview: Winning a Losing Fight
Our previous looks at the game have shown us how The New Order makes use of older shooter tropes, like health and armor kits, and mixes them with newer ideas, like cover and regenerating health, and those elements also add to the possibilities when it comes to play styles. BJ can overload his health quite a bit past 100 percent, though it drains off over time, which can give you lots of opportunities to storm enemies and take all the punishment they can manage to dish out before you’ve ravaged them.
If you get into trouble or want to play tactically, however, health recharges to a point — in multiples of 20 once you’ve gone below 100 — so you can stay in the battle even if searching for a health pack isn’t practical.
At its best, The New Order is a confluence of all these styles, allowing you to stealth your way through one engagement and then double-gun into another. As players fight through the trenches up to the castle, knocking out anti-air guns (and eventually using one to drop the stomper, if players so choose), there are ample opportunities to flex all of BJ’s combat capabilities, and The New Order rewards you for doing so.
A new element I hadn’t seen before in previous previews of The New Order is the game’s Perk system, which unlocks new abilities for BJ over time in four categories: “Stealth,” “Tactical,” “Assault” and “Demolitions.” These are all related to play style and reward players for doing different things: For example, if you execute enough stealth takedowns on enemies, you’re rewarded with the ability to find and throw spare knives, which give you a little bit of range on your stealth kills. If you annihilate enough soldiers with turrets, every turret you pull loose of its moorings to carry with you will come with a little extra ammo with on eof the Assault perks, and so on.
The delivery of these different boosts allows players to further customize how they want to play the game. Sure, you can unlock every perk (they go in order down each of four skill trees) by completing the requirements for each one, but if you’re someone who favors stealth over loud battles, you’re rewarded for your diligence. If you want to take cover and snap off a bunch of headshots in every fight, The New Order rewards you for doing that, instead.
A Losing Fight You’re Winning
Shooters usually have a strange complication — they struggle to convey tough concepts like failure, fear and tragedy. It’s hard to make the stakes of a war seem high, or like the enemy force has the upper hand, when you’re wading easily through hundreds of enemy soldiers on your own. The New Order has to combat this issue as well; even as you’re fighting through tens of soldiers on your own and barely slowing down, the game works to build an ever-present sense of doom at the hands of the Nazi war machine.
Of course, there are still the usual set pieces in the assault on Deathshead’s fortress. One scene has players using a rope to scale a vertical wall while shooting at enemies as they pop out of windows (and which culminates in a plane crashing into the fortress above); another features a fight with a Frankenstein-esque cyborg creature, one of Deathshead’s experiments, in which BJ has to carefully take out air hoses and other vulnerabilities.
But by and large, the character moments of The New Order, which are many, are quieter and more subtle. BJ has a momentary interaction with a private on his team who needs help shoring up his equipment, for example, and the green-but-eager soldier gets just enough characterization to flesh him out a bit; same goes for BJ’s commanding officer, a no-nonsense asskicker with a Scottish accent who knows his mission is so important that it’s more than worth his life.
These little character beats aren’t many in the opening mission, but do play a big role in its concluding moments. When BJ finally meets back up with his team inside the castle, they find their way into one of Deathshead’s experiment chambers — which is filled with the kind of graphic, flayed body Nazi medical experiment horrors you’ve come to expect. The room becomes a trap, BJ and his crew captured, and Deathshead puts BJ to a choice of which of his most three-dimensional comrades must die. (Choosing neither results in everyone being killed and a restart.)
I chose to save my CO over the frightened private, and the result was Deathshead leaving the remainder of us to burn alive in the experiment chamber, which doubles as a huge incinerator. Of course, we make a narrow escape, but not before BJ is hit in the head with flying shrapnel.
Through a series of lucky events, BJ finds himself in a mental hospital in Poland following the attack on Deathshead’s fortress, but he’s a vegetable. Only vaguely aware of his surroundings and trapped in his own body, he watches as years pass and Nazis use the family run institution as a stockpile of medical test subjects, against the will of the doctor and his family.
Finally, some sort of internal healing takes place and BJ finds himself able to break his paralysis just at the right time — when Nazi troops arrive to liquidate the hospital. What follows is more shooting, sneaking and stabbing as BJ shakes off his injuries (and apparently ignores more than a decade of muscle atrophy, but whatever).