PAX Hands-On: Wolfenstein: The New Order

As I descended into the expo hall of PAX East, two words caught my eye: Bethesda and Wolfenstein. The Wolfenstein series’ pedigree stretches back to when video games came on floppy disks the size of dinner plates. While its quality over the years has varied from game to game, its foundation is solid enough that it has continued to draw developers back to it for decades.


This latest revival comes from developer MachinegunGames and publisher Bethesda. I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the newest installment and get an idea of what to expect from Wolfenstein: The New Order. The game stands by the classic Wolfenstein premise that has stood the test of time: The player must save the world from a Nazi empire fueled by super science. MachinegunGames took this tried and true premise and put on a new spin on it: The Nazis have already conquered the world, and you have to free it.

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The demo wastes no time throwing the player into the middle of a warzone. Within a minute you are charging down a trench towards a pack of Nazi soldiers. The combat was made up of a series of brief, intense gunfights. Enemies were fairly smart, taking cover and throwing grenades to flush you out, making victory satisfying. Wolfenstein’s controls were intuitive and responsive, with the buttons’ functions mirroring other shooters.

The notable exception is the existence of both a crouch button and a button that allows you to lean in any direction, including down. This redundancy was responsible for one of the two points in the demo that I could not figure out how to proceed. A door blocked by an enemy, whose feet were only visible when leaning down, but not when crouching. With no prompts, I doubt I would have been able to progress without the help of a friendly staffer. The second break in the action was a result of the game’s vague wording of objectives.

If you’re told to, “Clear the Path” when you have a heavy machinegun in each hand and are surrounded by Nazis, then it’s fair to interpret that as “Kill Everybody,” instead of “Find and Clear Debris.” With the exception of these two interruptions, the demo was well paced providing enough combat to keep you engaged without providing so much that the impact is diminished. Wolfenstein’s gameplay doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. This isn’t a strike against it, as anyone familiar with shooters should have no trouble jumping right in. However, who you fight holds much more promise for new and exciting experiences than how you fight them.

The aspect of the demo that excited me the most was the enemy design. Two enemies in particular stole the show:

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The massive “Stomper”, a machine the size of a building that looms over the battlefield and periodically launches electrical blasts.

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And the “Panzerhund”, a rhino-sized robot that apparently has the brain of an attack dog.
These enemies embody what makes the Wolfenstein series stand out: Terrifying super-scientific creations that the player fights and the equally over-the-top weapons that you get to use. This skillful use of the setting, combined with solid shooter mechanics and impressive graphics, demonstrate Wolfenstein: The New Order’s potential to be a strong entry in this classic series.