Like I said last time, my goal here is to illustrate how this game has a lot of overlooked shortcomings and half-baked gameplay systems that should be fully-baked by the third entry in a series. But before I can argue with the critics, we need to talk about the PC launch. So let’s get that out of the way. Let’s talk about…
The game launched as a broken mess on the PC. I’ve spent hours reading the forums and I’ve never been able to find a pattern in any of it. There doesn’t seem to be a single unifying problem that caused the crashes, headaches, slowdowns, glitches, and bugs. There were people with low-end hardware that could run the game and people with high-end hardware that couldn’t. The problems impacted both AMD and NVIDIA hardware.
I get it. Developing for the PC is hard. This is doubly true if you’re one of the first AAA games to use the new Vulkan API and you’re still working the bugs out. While I always insist that for $60 the publisher is obligated to perform the due diligence required to make the product usable for the customer, I might be more inclined to give the publisher a bit of slack if they had shown even a sliver of competence after launch.
The timeline went like this:
- At launch, many users complain that the game runs absurdly slowly. Others report it doesn’t run at all.
- Publisher Bethesda announces a beta patch and encourages people to try it out. At about the same time, NVIDIA pushes a fresh set of drivers.
- It’s not clear if the problem is the patch or the drivers, but many people report that the game is now worse. For some the game had been working but was now running slowly. For others (including me) the game had been running slowly and now wouldn’t launch at all.
- Ignoring this feedback, Bethesda pushes the update to the masses. Additionally, this new version forces everyone to use the latest drivers, which makes it even harder for the community to figure out where the slowdowns and crashes are coming from.
- A bunch of new people show up in the forums. The game had been fine for them and they hadn’t paid attention to the beta, but now that Steam has pushed the latest version they’re having problems.
- Bethesda posts a bunch of nonsense advice like “update your drivers” and makes it pretty clear they aren’t reading a single word people are posting to the forums.
- Another patch goes into beta. This one is focused on getting 4K rendering working for people. That’s nice for people looking to run the game in super-ultra-fancy mode, but there’s nothing here to help the poor folks who can no longer run the game after the latest patch.
- The patch goes live, and a few more people show up in the forums. More problems. A lot of the earlier people have moved on. Maybe they fixed their problems, maybe they returned the game, or maybe they shelved Wolfenstein II for the time being. In any case, the posts saying, “You broke the game for me” far outpace the posts saying, “This fixed my problem.”
- Bethesda announces another coming patch. This patch only has a single feature: “- Improved leaderboard stability from pause menu while in SAS Machine Combat Sim” That’s… that’s crazy. That’s a very minor problem, and I’ve never even SEEN someone complaining about that.
I never saw anyone complaining about leaderboards. Instead I saw dozens of people asking stuff like: Why are faces and the player’s gun always rendered in the lowest possible detail no matter how high I set the texture resolution? Why does the game crash when I Alt-Tab? Why does the game crash when I load a save? Why is the game crashing on startup when it worked fine for me at launch? How come antialiasing isn’t working the way it should? What’s causing these visual artifacts? And so on. I haven’t experienced all of these problems myself, but they seem to be pretty common and it’s clear they’re being ignored.
For me, the most obvious failure of all is just how much horsepower this game demands. This is a linear corridor shooter. When it comes to keeping the framerate high, that’s as easy as it gets. The shadows don’t move around the environment. No day-night cycle. The space isn’t filled with moving light sources. No open-world detail streaming on objects that stretch to the horizon. No dynamic weather. No dynamically destructible environments.
And fine, a Wolfenstein game doesn’t need to have those things. But since it doesn’t, where are all of the processing cycles going?
This is why all of the early shooters were set indoors. Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal, Dark Forces, and Half-Life were games focused around proceeding through a series of rooms in a set order. Even the supposedly “outdoor” sections were just big rooms surrounded by cliffs. This makes it easyActually in graphics nothing is truly “easy”, but I’m speaking in relative terms. for the game to figure out what needs to be drawn and what doesn’t.
On top of that, this game is mostly focused on fighting in industrial settings. Again, that usually makes things easier. Organic and chaotic spaces are much harder to render compared to rectangular hallways and rooms. And finally, the vast majority of your Wolfenstein II foes are wearing full-body armor so the game doesn’t need to render complex features like skin and hair and it doesn’t need to animate a ton of faces. Yet despite all these advantages the game pushes my system far harder than (say) Grand Theft Auto V or Doom 2016, both of which are facing much tougher rendering challenges.
This would be fine if the game was taking some bold new step in visual fidelity, but this is just another corridor shooter. Yes, the texture resolution is higher and you can push the resolution up to 4k mode if you want, but the game runs like a pig even if you’re not using any of those next-gen features.
I’m sure many of you will be tempted to say, “But the game ran fine for me!” Granted. It obviously ran fine for thousands of people. But it also malfunctioned for a lot of people, and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for that failure. Maybe Bethesda set the system requirements too low, maybe their Vulkan-based evolution of id Tech 6 still needs some work, and maybe Bethesda’s QA and support staff is asleep at the wheel. I can’t diagnose the problem from here; all I can do is point out that the problem exists and it shouldn’t.
For the record, I did get the game running properly. Many users posted various tricks and hacks in the Steam forum. They managed to isolate some settings that fixed a lot of stability problems. These settings require mucking about with config files because they aren’t exposed by the video options menu. The important thing is that I did manage to experience the game as intended and was able to hit silky-smooth 60fpsActually, there were still a few spots where the framerate was bad, but they were rare. And strangely enough, they were often in spots where it didn’t seem like the game was drawing anything particularly difficult. with no crashes.
If you decide to play along with this series, then I have two bits of advice for those of you playing on the PC:
- Be careful if you’re near the low end of the system requirements. Those minimum requirements seem to be what’s needed to boot the game up, not what you need for a playable experience.
- On Steam, right-click on the game and select “Properties”. Look for the button that says “Set Launch Options”. That will bring up a text box where you can enter:
This will disable the appalling 30 seconds of splash screens. Look, 30 seconds of unskippable screens is bad enough in a game when it’s smooth and stable. But in a game that is both prone to crashing and that needs lots of restarts to tweak with settings, it’s absolutely unforgivable.
Or maybe you should get Wolfenstein II for the console, if that option is open to you. Just be warned that George Wiedman says the game is significantly harder on the console. Apparently the game was balanced around the mouse? I wouldn’t know. Good luck!
One final note is that all of this means the screenshots that go with this series are not representative of the intended look of the game. I usually try to get screenshots on average or above-average settings, but that just isn’t possible for me with this hardware setup. It’s true I could get clean shots from YouTube videos, but sometimes I need to take my own shots to illustrate things and I don’t want a jarring shift between my shots and stuff from YouTube. So we’re going to have all shots taken with the graphics settings set to “looks like ass”. Sorry about that. If Bethesda marketing wants to send me a fancy new graphics cardAssuming they can afford one. then I’ll be happy to replay things and get a fresh round of pretty screenshots, but if not then we’ll just have to muddle through with what we have now.
Ok, I’m done griping about stupid technology problems. Next time we’ll get into the story and gameplay things I actually want to talk about.
 Actually in graphics nothing is truly “easy”, but I’m speaking in relative terms.
 Actually, there were still a few spots where the framerate was bad, but they were rare. And strangely enough, they were often in spots where it didn’t seem like the game was drawing anything particularly difficult.
 Assuming they can afford one.
In Defense of Crunch
Crunch-mode game development isn't good, but sometimes it happens for good reasons.
The Strange Evolution of OpenGL
Sometimes software is engineered. Sometimes it grows organically. And sometimes it's thrown together seemingly at random over two decades.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
Game at the Bottom
Why spend millions on visuals that are just a distraction from the REAL game of hotbar-watching?
Bethesda felt the need to jam a morality system into Fallout 3, and they blew it. Good and evil make no sense and the moral compass points sideways.