This Year’s Best Co-op Chaos – Warhammer: Endtime – Vermintide Review (PC)
* This review is based on the PC version of the game, with all the settings on maximum*
After redefining what a Co-op experience could be, Left 4 Dead left a lasting impression on video game development. The sheer ferocity and intensity of Left 4 Dead became a instant hit, with the game spawning a sequel as well as influencing various other titles. It’s influence can still be felt to this day, especially in Warhammer: Endtime – Vermintide.
The latest project by Fatshark (War of the Roses, Escape from Dead Island) is a fresh take on the Warhammer universe, in terms of gameplay. While past entries under the Warhammer title have ranged from RTS to MMORPGs, Vermintide is taking things in a much more visceral level. The core structure of Vermintide is four-player first person co-op with elements of dungeon crawling loot thrown in for good measure. With five different heroes to play as ( each representing various factions/races of the Warhammer universe), the game tasks players with battling back the hordes of Skaven across various scenarios.
From outside looking in, these heroes appear to fill typical ‘class’ roles seen in RPGS, but in truth they’re all similar. Sure there’s a caster who excels at ranged attacks, and a warrior who fights from the front, but there’s very little that truly differs each hero at the heart of the game. For the most part each Hero boils down to spamming the same attack in a effort to butcher through the waves and waves of enemy hordes. The only time in which the Heroes show their individuality is when the unique enemy types appear.
Vermintide’s general outline consist of four players taking on various missions that connect together via a vary loose plot. Players select missions from the local inn, which also plays hosts to various services such as a forge (granting players the ability to crafted/improve/salvage items) and a personal bank.
It’s near impossible to talk about Vermintide without constantly winking at the Left 4 Dead shaped elephant in the room. The level structure, enemy types and even the items are all extremely similar to the point where you could easily believe it’s a Left 4 Dead 2 MOD. It’s not a slight towards Fatshark, the way in they have recreated one of the best examples of gameplay is a huge testament to how talented the development team is.
Not only does Vermintide replicate Left4Dead’s formula, but it also improves on it. Woven into the core of the game is a fairly solid loot system. Melding player performance, and a dose of luck, into one neat system which opens up a whole new side to the mass rat slaying affair. Completing missions and gathering hidden items within the environment reward the player with dice, which upon rolling dictates the type, and quality, of item the player receives.
Loot mostly consists of melee and ranged items, with the occasional trinket thrown in for good measure. This is where Vermintide starts to add a little more depth to simplistic gameplay. Different items all have their own pros and cons,requiring the player to appreciate the strengths and weakness of their chosen tool. Two Handed weapons can eliminate multiple Skavern with ease, but their slow speed can leave the user open to attack.
Swords and shields offer for block rate, but have a low damage output. The same can be said for the ranged weapons, with bows and pistol firing at fast rates, but put out less damage than crossbows or rifles.Higher tier items posses bonus effects, such as 10% to attack speed or increased damage. These effects can only be unlocked by upgrading the item with crafting material salvaged from items of lower tiers.
One of Vermintide’s main frustrations is how the loot is handed out. A level must be complete in order to gain the ability to roll for a item, with the various loot dice and tomes increasing the amount of dice a player can roll. The resulting roll determines what item a player will receive, as well as the quality of the item. Frustration ensues when a roll produces a item for a hero the player never players.
This issue is mainly around the higher difficulty settings, with the task being much harder to complete, rolling a dud dice and getting a poor quality item is nothing not frustrating. There’s next to no way you can narrow down what you receive. Enjoy playing the Imperial solider armed with a two handed sword? well cross your fingers and hope the sword A) appears in the loot list at all b) the sword is a decent tier c) pray the roll of the dice is favourable.
Vermintide’s harsh loot system can easily make or break a play session, especially when fighting alongside a team of friends. There’s always a immense sense of deflation when the reward for completing hard missions is the lowest tier item, ending most play sessions with gritted teeth. Patches could easily make the system more rewarding, and less random, but it’s a issue that constantly pops up the further players delve into the game. Weapon effects aren’t a luxury, but a requirement for tackling harder difficulty settings, highlighting the issues with such a random loot system.
The before mentioned forge does allow players to ability to craft their own weapons, but in order to do so they must sacrifice five items from the same tier. Crafting involves a mixture of luck and grinding, often resulting in some curse words and repeating stages over and over in order to more effectively farm gear.
Presentation is one department in which Vermintide performs well in. The art direction is a beautifully faithful recreation of the Warhammer universe. Dark, brooding, Gothic environments ooze with character, giving each level a sense of life. The colour pallet feeds perfectly into the tone of the game, with the industrial ways of the Empire being coated with the stark neon greens of the Skavern’s craft.
Hero character models are well crafted, with the only exception coming in the shape of the Bright-Wizard. They each posses unique qualities that display their various racial backgrounds. The Skavern are fantastic, both in visual design and animation. Their rat-like nature is perfectly captured, with scruffy tufts of fur scattered across malnourished bodies giving the Skavern that distinct look that makes them such a cult figure within the Warhammer world. Crawling out from every corner of the environment, in a truly animalistic manner, allows them to effectively come across as a rushing tide of enemies, rather than a robotic horde of NPCs.
Voice acting is one of the most charming elements that Vermintide can proudly boast about. The interaction between the Heroes is genuinely hilarious and natural. Projecting their personalties, beliefs and culture in quick verbal bursts gives the whole experience a lovely little touch. The interaction between the Heroes is whole heartily faithful to the lore of the Warhammer universe, while remaining entertaining educational to people who’ve never looked into the Games Workshop staple. Even the mass of Skavern have been voiced wonderfully, with various quirky quips being vomited out in the heat of battle. From the swing of a axe, to the scream of a slain enemy, Vermintide sounds the part across the board.
Bugs are also a running issue, with some cases creating impossible situations. Missions that require players to walk onto a boat have the uncanny ability to simply not work. The fallout of this bug in particular makes the mission impossible to finish, with players either falling through the boat, or the boat refusing to move. The only way to overcome the bug is to either die, or reset the mission, both of which will place the players at the start of the mission. The bug only occurs from time to time, but there’s a number of more common bugs that plague the game. Certain enemy types can cause players to fall through the environment, while others become trapped on certain structures when launching forward to attack enemies.
To Fatshark’s credit, at the time of writing this review, there’s been a number of patches that have fixed various bugs. It’s clear that Vermintide isn’t a case of releasing a game and moving onto the next project. From the first day of release onwards, constant patches and hot fixes have been released to smooth out the rough edges of the game. It’s a vote confidence from Fatshark towards their game, as well as a reassuring move that earns the respect of Vermintide’s surprisingly vocal player-base.
Single player is available, but friendly AI is noticeably straight forward, struggling with anything that goes beyond slashing and bashing at enemies. The hordes of Skavern act in the way you’d expect, flooding players in great numbers while flanking from all corners of the environment. There’s no ‘smart’ AI to truly speak of, but given the enemies tactics and nature, clever movements would feel rather alien from the established lore.
When played as the co-op experience it was meant to be, Vermintide flows wonderfully. All of the cogs turn together in tandem, allowing the playing experience to instantly feel satisfying. Mission structures do feel rather limited to ‘go here, get this, place it there, return’ the gameplay and pacing carries the game. It’s the burst of sheer chaos, mixed with the intense engagements between special enemy types, that gives each playing session a touch of flare. Enemies charging forward, players fighting back to back, progressing towards a goal, it’s a honest and genuine video game thrill that has rarely been seen since Left 4 Dead 2.
Chaotic, intense and undeniable fun, Vermintide is hard to dislike even when the odd bug rears it’s head. The sheer satisfaction from holding off waves of enemies, overcoming the odds, is a wonderful reward. Fatshark have nailed the co-op experience in a way most games have tried and failed. Comparisons between Vermintide and Left 4 Dead are unavoidable, the fact the game matches (arguable improves) the formula is a testament to the quality on show. With the odd bug aside, and a rather frustrating loot system, it’s hard not to recommend Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide,