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Table of Contents
Putting the Wolftenstein games in order may seem a simple task, given how obvious and important id Software’s WW2-themed first-person shooter was in establishing gaming’s greatest genre. But, what is often overlooked is that the Wolfenstein series was a decade old before the creators of Doom and Quake got to work with it. As far removed as the most recent game is from the first in terms of technology and gameplay, it’s remarkable that Wolfenstein as a series of games has been around for forty years. Join us then as we start back in 1981 and make our way through all the Wolfenstein games in release order.
Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
Inspired to develop the game after watching the classic war movie The Guns of Navarone, legendary coder Silas Warner (who’s credited with creating some of the first multiplayer games) made Castle Wolfenstein as a reaction again all the space shooters that were prevalent in the early 1980s. In the game, you controlled an Allied spy, imprisoned in the titular fortress, with the ultimate aim to escape. It was a top-down 2D affair with procedurally-generated rooms, wandering SS stormtroopers, and gameplay reminiscent of early stealth games. Released for Apple II and ported to other 8-bit machines, Castle Wolfenstein may even be the first stealth game. In that sense, Warner could be said to be the führer of two genres.
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984)
Given the ground-breaking nature of the original game (it was the first game to feature digitized speech, for example), Beyond Castle Wolfenstein was as much a disappointment as some later sequels were. The 1984 release didn’t offer much of a graphical improvement on the original game and was said to be blighted with performance issues. However, the gameplay was a little more evolved and clearly influenced the next interaction of the series. Rather than simply escape, for example, the aim was to find and assassinate Hitler in his bunker. You could collect passes and bribe money, and use them when challenged by guards. You were also issued with a knife for stealthy take-downs, after which bodies could be concealed or used to block passages. It was far from being an action game, but the influence on future Wolfensteins was there for all to see.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
Arguably the most influential game of all time, Wolfenstein 3D began life as a tech demo. Id Software, having completed it’s family-friendly Commander Keen series, was looking to set its sights on a game that was darker, faster and thoroughly three-dimensional. As John Carmack evolved the tech that would power Catacomb 3-D, level designer John Romero suggested a 3D version of Castle Wolfenstein (id Software were all fans) as id’s next release. The rights to the series were snapped up for a mere $5,000 and the rest is history.
Well, not quite. For one thing, Wolfenstein 3D was not a stealth game. It could have been, and the ability to move and hide dead bodies was mooted, but engine performance demanded an action game that allowed for stormtroopers and their guard dogs to be mercilessly mown down. The resulting game, released after 18 months of development, was a revelation, a smooth and action-packed shooter the likes of which hadn’t existed before. Wolfenstein 3D put shareware at the forefront of PC game development for years to come and remains one of the most important titles ever released.
Spear of Destiny (1992)
To call Spear of Destiny a disappointing follow-up doesn’t quite tell the full story. Publisher Apogee were understandably keen to capitalise on Wolfenstein 3D’s massive success and convinced id Software to develop an add-on episode, The Nocturnal Missions. Soon afterwards. Spear of Destiny was released as a self-contained prequel episode, selling almost as many copies as Wolfenstein 3D. However, despite the interesting premise and a return for Wolfenstein 3D’s B.J. Blazkowicz, it was barely more of the same when Doom was already rounding the corner. Spear of Destiny then received two add-ons of its own – not made by id – Return to Danger and Ultimate Challenge, which were risible at best. These days all the episodes are lumped together and those latter two certainly drag the whole package down.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001)
With the world quickly moving on to the demonic hellscapes of Doom and Quake, Wolfenstein 3D was quickly looked upon as a relic and the franchise was placed in the vault much like Silas Warner’s efforts had been for much of the 1980s. However, with the growing popularity of World War 2 shooters like Medal of Honor in the late 1990s, Wolfenstein was deemed by Activision, then id Software’s publisher, to be worthy of a knee-high reboot. B.J. Blazkowicz was given his marching orders, and thanks to developer Gray Matter Studios (later to work on the early Call of Duty games) it was back to Castle Wolfenstein for the first time in a generation.
After the comparatively tame occult overtones of id’s games, it’s fair to say that Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s devs doubled down on them. Powered by the endemic Quake III Arena engine, RtCW introduced us to Deathshead, Übersoldaten and all manner of supernatural steam-powered cyber soldiers that the series has since become famed for.
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003)
Originally intended for release as an expansion for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, issues around its single-player component dragged out its development, eventually causing the game to be released in standalone form for free.
As a multiplayer-only affair, Enemy Territory didn’t advance Wolfenstein’s lore by an inch, and in fact played much like many of the WW2 shooters that were around at the time (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Battlefield 1942), save for a clever mechanic that required each side to complete map objectives during the course of all the firefights going on around them.
So successful was Enemy Territory that hundreds of player-made maps have been created, the game is still played by a hardcore few and a commercial Quake spin-off followed. Given how single-player focused the series has become since, an Enemy Territory reboot is long overdue.
Wolfenstein RPG (2008)
These days mobile versions of PC or console games can be just as popular as their full-screen counterparts, but it wasn’t always the case. Back at the dawn of the touchscreen revolution, diminutive adaptations were a little less self-assured.
Wolfenstein RPG, cribbed from the equally-unimaginatively-titled Doom RPG, was a first-person, turn-based, dungeon-crawler-esque role-playing game. Yes, you read that correctly. It was a curious combination of gameplay and mechanics for a Wolfenstein game, for sure, but not an entirely unenjoyable one, thanks to the playful comic book aesthetic and silly chicken-abusing mini-game. Would we recommend playing it now? Of course not, but it passed the time back when Wolfenstein was between reboots.
Of the 13 released Wolfenstein games we’ve listed, only one has been so bold as to rely on the single-word name Wolfenstein. By doing so it was a statement as much as anything else, one intended to draw a line under the titles that preceded it. Castle Wolfenstein, Wolf 3D, RtCW – those were all in the past. “Wolfenstein” was a new beginning. Yep, another one.
Except it wasn’t. Developed by Raven Software (before it became part of the Call of Duty triptych), 2009’s Wolfenstein was as much a narrative sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein as it was a new beginning. By all accounts it was a serviceable shooter, but it was certainly of it’s time – when shooters were sticking to the sides of corridors rather than enjoying the wide open world spaces others were migrating to. It was ok, but another Return to Castle Wolfenstein in all but name.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)
By the time of The New Order’s release, its 2009 predecessor had been conveniently forgotten (still has – it’s not been available for sale since). The narrative from new publisher Bethesda was that, with shooters increasingly tearing through open worlds, its new Wolfenstein was a throwback to simpler times. No multiplayer, no lengthy campaign, just honest-to-goodness, balls-to-the-wall Nazi slaughter. Fortunately, in spite of a lingering skepticism that there was a market for throwback corridor shooters with cover mechanics, it turned out that developer MachineGames was onto something. Pre-order access to the anticipated Doom (2016) beta didn’t hurt things either.
Rather than run through WW2 and resurrect the tired old links between Nazism and its apparent penchant for the occult, The New Order swung ahead to a 1960s Europe in which national socialism (with a little help from reverse-engineered ancient technology) was dominant. It’s into this alternative reality that our even more grizzled veteran awakes, recalling his tireless mission to kill every last Nazi, in spite of them having killer robots, nukes and a lunar base. Great fun.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015)
Initially conceived as a brace of DLC episodes for The New Order, The Old Blood was quickly transformed into a standalone prequel to capitalize on its predecessor’s success.
Set around the time of The New Blood’s prologue, the game trod more familiar WW2-era territory, being in many ways a day-return to Castle Wolfenstein, in the sense that it offered a welcome return to old haunts. Stealth aspects were a little more prominent and a couple of new weapons filled out the arsenal, but it was essentially more of the same – which was no bad thing
The fact that The Old Blood was no better or worse than The New Order means that it worked whether you played it as a starter or dessert. If you enjoyed the New Order entree without sampling The Old Blood, you should book a table.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017)
Picking up from where Wolfenstein: The New Order left off, The New Colossus moved the eternal fight against Nazi scum to the United States. B.J. Blazkowicz emerges from another of his pre-game amnesia episodes with a new mission to kickstart a new American Revolution and hopefully get everyone eating apple pie again.
Released around the time of the infamous far-right rally in Charlottesville and playing on the MAGA slogan with “Make America Nazi-Free Again”, the premise of The New Colossus drew parallels with Donald Trump’s America. Seeing the likes of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by Nazi iconography certainly resonated with many gamers (moreso than with the tame Far Cry 6), but what made the game a triumph was the all-important action. The gameplay was much the same as MachineGames’ previous episodes, but in the wake of new Doom’s release, Wolfenstein II felt evolved and self-assured. It had taken 20 years, but in Wolfenstein II the series had an entry that was the equal of the franchise it helped birth.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (2019)
With Youngblood the Wolfenstein series took another bold step forward into its alternative timeline, landing in Neu-Paris, France. It’s 1980 and B.J. Blazkowicz has mysteriously disappeared. Thankfully he brought up his twin daughters up correctly and they are compelled to travel to Nazi France to find out what might have happened to their likely arthritic father.
Despite being a narrative sequel to New Colossus, Youngblood was distinctly different in tone to its predecessor. The Parsian setting provided more of an open-world setting than the series had previously enjoyed and the action felt more measured in response.
Less over-the-top in its violence and more goofy in it’s sidekick comedy, the joy of Youngblood came from the setting and its twin protagonists. Unfortunately, the innovative co-op mode that allowed two players to control Jessie and Zofia simultaneously, was undermined by an annoying and unnecessary progression system. Wolfenstein: Youngblood certainly had its moments, but after the three best and most consistent games in the series, it was a disappointing sequel.
Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot (2019)
Released on the same day as Youngblood, VR-only game Cyperpilot was set just before the Blazkowicz sisters flew to Paris to search for B.J. In the spin-off game you played a French Resistence pilot who’s able to control a series of Nazi mechs, causing a series of loud but short-lived diversaions while, we assumed, Jessie and Zofia got on with their rescue mission in the background.
Despite the fact that cockpit-based shooting tends to work well in VR, and that Wolfenstein’s metal machines are some of the most iconic in all of gaming, Cyberpilot looked good, but felt dated and half-hearted upon release. Sadly, it hasn’t gotten better with age and there are far better head-mounted mech shooters with which to churn your stomach. With a mod that makes Return to Castle Wolfenstein playable on Oculus Quest, it’s not even up there on our ‘VR Wolfenstein games in order’ list
Wolfenstein 3 (TBC)
Plans to complete the story of the Blazkowicz clan and its 50-year quest to defeat national socialism were revealed back in 2017, with the release of an eventual Wolfenstein 3 said to be reliant on the success of The New Colossus. That game did well of course, but we can only assume Bethesda went a bit cold on the idea of a full-blooded sequel after the critical and commercial disappointment of Youngblood and Cyberpilot.
Despite only hearing rumours since (that Mecha-Hitler will return and that the game will be set after Youngblood), hopes remain high that a Wolfenstein 3 remains in development. Speaking to GameSpot in June 2021, Bethesda’s Pete Hines expressed a desire to see Wolfenstein return and has appeared confident that Wolfenstein 3 is “absolutely” going to be revealed at some point. Whether it will be before we get to see more of MachineGames’ Indiana Jones game is unknown, but it’s been confirmed that the Wolfenstein studio does have two games in the oven.
Calling it: B.J. Blazkowicz will return. Probably.