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I had no idea there were so many Warhammer video games out there until recently. Space Marine was the first one I ever beat and it kind of got me into the franchise. I’m not a tabletop guy but the Warhammer fantasy setting fascinates me. It fascinates me enough that if I see a Warhammer action video game, I want to check it out. Vermintide is one of those games and I was interested when I first noticed it on Steam years ago. This one is like Left 4 Dead except you get to kill the Skaven which is a race of humanoid rats. Developed and published by Fatshark, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide was released for PC in October, 2015 and Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in October, 2016. For this review, I played the PC version. I also downloaded the Vermintide Mod Framework package which comes with multiple mods simply because I wanted to check out the Bot Improvements mod. Vermintide is a four-player coop action game that requires players to work together but it can be played solo.
I believe there is a story going on here but the game isn’t overloaded with cut scenes and exposition. All I really understood was the Skaven have invaded and we have to kill them. Warhammer fans will probably get a lot more out the plot. There’s five classes to choose from – Witch Hunter, Empire Soldier, Dwarf Ranger, Waywatcher, and Bright Wizard and you can switch between them in between missions. They can each equip a melee weapon, ranged weapon, and trinkets, all of which can have different traits. Like Left 4 Dead, the goal of each mission is to traverse from one end of the map to the other, complete some objectives along the way, and then escape. You can walk, run, crouch, jump, dodge, push enemies, and block and successful blocks will drain stamina which does regenerate. The amount of stamina depends on your equipment. Some of the equipment is unique to each character but, overall, each character kind of feels the same after a while. It’s their personalities that make them stand out. Much of the voice acting consists of banter between them during gameplay and some of it is actually quite humorous. I enjoyed listening to them insult each other. You will hear some of the same lines repeatedly but I never found any of them to be annoying.
Players can select missions, enhance equipment, and take on contracts from the Inn. You need to complete missions to unlock more and before starting one, you can change the difficulty. You’ll gain experience by killing enemies, meeting specific requirements, and completing missions. When you gain enough experience, you’ll level up and earn rewards. Playing through the game with other players is probably the best way to experience Vermintide but playing through it solo actually isn’t that bad. The bots are competent but far from perfect. They will run around and kill enemies, give you items, and revive you if you’re down. If an AI teammate dies, they will respawn somewhere in the map and can only return if a player finds and revives them. And I assume that’s how it works in coop as well. The bots perform well enough but there were a few instances where I went down and they couldn’t get to me even though they weren’t far so I died. They won’t complete objectives or throw bombs. Many objectives require you to transfer items from one location to another and the bots just won’t do it. Not even with the Bot Improvements mod. However, the mod does make them more efficient in combat. For example, they’re aim with ranged weapons is better, their melee behavior is improved, and they will give other bots healing items.
The Skaven come in different types. Slaves and Clan-Rats are easy to dispatch but it’s the more specialized types that you need to watch out for. Stormvermin wear armor and are immune to non-armor piercing damage. Gutter Runners are fast and can pin you down and flail away at you. They can also use smoke bombs to mask their escape. Packmasters will use their polearms to choke and drag you away from your team. Ratling Gunners are very dangerous and can drain your health from long range, forcing you to utilize cover and take them out quickly. Globadier’s throw vials that unleash a cloud of poison that can disorient players and other Skaven enemies as well. Then there’s the Rat Ogre which is a giant rat that moves fast and can inflict a lot of damage. The enemies never stop coming and can be found everywhere. They’ll come from every direction, climb over things, and every now and then you’ll be swarmed. They’re not very bright, most of them just rush you, but the challenge comes from having to deal with hordes of them. You’ll need to master blocking and dodging, especially on higher difficulties, and you want to stick with your teammates at all times. When you’re overwhelmed, you’ll want to push enemies away, know what types of attacks are best against what enemies, and know when to use items like bombs and strength and speed potions. Bombs can be life savers, especially when you’re on narrow platforms or in tight spaces and up against a mob or tough enemy types.
The character customization (if you want to call it that) is very limited. You can only equip two weapons, a few trinkets, and headgear. There’s all kinds of weapons you can acquire and use like daggers, bows, swords, axes, hammers, maces, guns, staves, and more. Trinkets grant you bonuses like increased movement speed and taking less damage from certain enemies, among other things. The headgear is only cosmetic and has no real effect on anything. Littered throughout the maps are support items like health, strength, and speed potions, medical supplies, and bombs which are great for clearing out mobs. These items can be stored in your inventory and used at any time. Some items can be given to teammates. Ranged weapons do consume ammo which can be replenished from ammo crates. The combat is simple but very enjoyable and is one of the best parts of the game. It’s fast-paced, fluid, looks brutal, and feels satisfying. You can chop up an enemy with an axe and then switch to your gun and blow his buddy’s head off. You can stab one with your sword and then impale another to the wall with an arrow from your bow. You can perform different types of attacks with melee weapons and charged attacks are better against armored enemies. Weapons will have different traits that makes them unique and they come in different rarities.
There is random loot or equipment you can acquire in Vermintide but this is not a typical loot-based game like Diablo or Borderlands for example. You don’t acquire gear in the maps. After a completing a mission, you get to roll dice to earn rewards and you have a higher chance of getting better equipment on higher difficulties. If you manage to find loot die in the maps or tomes or grimoires and escape with them, they increase your chances of a successful roll. These items give you a reason to explore and hope that maybe you’ll get something good if you escape. Other than the equipment you earn for leveling up, you’re never guaranteed anything unless you complete a quest or contract. A lot of games employ RNG in some capacity, especially loot-based games, and in reality, this is just a different form of it. I don’t really mind RNG in games if things are balanced properly but I don’t like the dice rolls here because they just don’t provide any kind of rewarding feeling or any sense of accomplishment. The issue is the execution, not the RNG element. It kind of feels disconnected from the gameplay because you’re never guaranteed anything so there’s nothing to work towards. Luckily, the gameplay is fun and there are other ways to acquire efficient equipment. When you reach the appropriate levels, you’ll unlock the Forge and Shrine of Solace at the Inn. You can fuse, upgrade, and salvage weapons at the Forge and you can improve and change the traits of weapons at the Shrine. The Shrine is also where you can create new items of different rarities based on whatever tokens you offer. Then there’s the Bounty Board where you can take on quests and contracts which are basically like side objectives. Completing these does mean you’ll be rewarded but you’ll be rewarded with something specific which is nice. Rewards can be equipment or temporary buffs. The quests and contracts can be quite enjoyable and add in the fact that you can craft and improve equipment, and the game offers plenty of reasons to return. There is a Lore-Book at the Inn which provides a good amount of detailed information on various things in the Warhammer universe as it relates to the game. However, you need to find the Lore-Book pages in the maps before you can read anything.
Most of the maps take place in the city of Ubersreik and additional locations were added in the form of DLC. I enjoyed all of the maps for the most part. Most of them are pretty big with plenty of paths, rooms, and areas to explore. There are often multiple routes to your destination and you’ll want to be on the lookout for items which can often be found in chests. There are also explosive barrels littered around that can be picked up and thrown and then blown up to kill enemies. You’ll battle Skaven from the Magnus Tower to the Under Empire. You’ll decimate enemies on the streets, in a forest, and in the sewers. You’ll raid warehouses and prevent the Skaven from contaminating wells in a residential district. You’ll have to use torches to light your way through dark dungeons and fend off enemies on a boat. It can be easy to get turned around in some maps but most of the time I never had trouble figuring out where to go. Each mission will require you to complete an objective at some point. Any objective where you have to transfer items are just tedious when playing solo because the bots won’t help you. You’ll also have to defend areas and interact with and destroy things. In addition to the campaign mode (if you want to call it that) is the Last Stand mode. The goal is to survive as many waves as you can. After certain waves, you’ll be rewarded with endurance badges and supply drops. The badges equate to experience and tokens after your run is finished. Last Stand comes with it’s own maps which are pretty small and some items can be found littered throughout but they need to be unlocked before you can acquire them.
I think Vermintide looks great. The texture work is good, the lighting is excellent, weapon and character models are detailed, and there’s a lot of great visual and gore effects. The game has this whole medieval-ish fantasy theme going for it which remains consistent throughout. The environments are well designed and there’s a lot of neat little details that add to the atmosphere. Dead bodies are scattered around and maps will have different weather conditions. You can decapitate enemies, sever their arms, and splatter their blood all over the environments. And I love the animations, especially when enemies die. You can actually watch them choke in a poison cloud. The visual and gore effects really make the combat feel brutally satisfying. It’s fantastic. There is definitely music in the game and the more intense stuff plays at certain points. I can’t say any of the songs stood out to me but on the plus side, the action is accompanied by great sound effects. All the slashes, clangs, and bangs of melee weapons sound good, the guns sound satisfying, and obliterating numerous rats is a satisfying feast for the ears. On the technical side, I saw dead bodies get stuck in the environment often. During a Last Stand, there was an enemy stuck somewhere in the map, stopping me from progressing to the next wave. I think the load times are a bit on the long side and the frame rate would dip frequently with all of the settings maxed out. Unfortunately, the game does require an internet connection, even if you play with bots.
I enjoyed Vermintide more than I thought I would. And from what I heard about it prior to playing, I thought it would feel more like a Left 4 Dead clone. In many ways it is. But there’s more to it. There’s a loot reward system, you can craft and improve weapons, and the game places a big focus on melee combat. But much like Left 4 Dead, it can be repetitive. Every mission essentially feels the same. However, the game is clearly designed for co-op so you’ll probably get a lot more out of it if you have people to play with. The AI teammates are decent but far from great in my experience and even with the Improved Bots mod, their behavior can sometimes be questionable. The combat is fun and looks and feels brutal. And there’s just something awesome about being in the middle of the fray, surrounded by an army of rats, dodging and blocking attacks, and splattering their blood all over the environments. I would often forget this is a Warhammer game. Granted, I’m not well versed on the universe and Vermintide was my introduction to the End Times setting. If you’re like me and don’t know much about it, this will feel like a well crafted fantasy game with rats. That’s not a bad thing because whether you’re a Warhammer fan or not, anyone can play this and enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.
I would absolutely recommend Vermintide to fans of action games or the Left 4 Dead series. Playing solo is a lot of fun but if you have people to play with you’ll have a better time. You don’t need to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy Vermintide and the game does support mods. And there’s quite a few out there. I do kind of wish there was more character customization and the required internet connection might be a turn off for some, but there’s no denying that Vermintide is a solid game and a great take on the Left 4 Dead formula. Definitely check it out.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide for PC Review
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