Vermintide’s an unusual game, to say the least – a dark, intense co-op action game set in the iconic world of Warhammer, now out on console after a year on PC. It definitely gives off a Left 4 Dead vibe, but instead of uzis and rocket launchers, players are treated to an arsenal of medieval, arcane weaponry.
The End Times is without doubt one of the most intriguing sagas concocted under Games Workshop’s banner. Desperately in need of new ideas, the company decided to kill off an entire universe teeming with lore and characters.
Vermintide serves up a self-contained chapter in this cataclysmic period of the fantasy world. In southern Reikland, the once grand city of Ubersreik has fallen to a mutated race of rodents called the Skaven. These rat-like humanoids belong to a vast underground empire feeding itself on the dark sorceries of Chaos. They attack in their hundreds – a relentless pack that kills and corrupts everything in its path.
With no Pied Piper to call on, the fate of Ubersreik lies in the hands of five unlikely heroes. Together, this pack of misfits look to thwart the Skaven and retake the town, one landmark at a time. It’s a perilous campaign, and one that has players visiting a diverse spread of locales, from lofty battlements and abandoned streets to the surrounding woodland.
Laying low in a secluded tavern, it’s here that you’ll party up with other adventurers before setting off on your latest mission. There’s around a dozen or so levels, pitting groups against a barrage of ratmen as attempt to break through, completing a series of objectives. Although not terribly innovative, there’s a decent variety, each helping to alter the game’s pace. For instance, some will have you carting barrels of supplies and explosives while others have you defending certain points on the map.
It’s no cakewalk, to say the least. Vermintide is one of those games that works best when buddied up people you know, barking commands at one another. Even on its easiest difficulty setting, it took no less than seven games to finally secure a win as my teammates constantly floundered.
There’s a definite learning curve. When advancing from one checkpoint to the next, you’ll instinctively learn to watch your flanks, pick out targets, and conserve items such as health kits and bombs. Where regular clanrats can easily be dispatched in a single blow or shot from a ranged weapon, there are other, more advanced breeds thrown into the mix.
Packrats can incapacitate heroes, dragging them helplessly away to a dark corner of the map. Meanwhile globadiers and gunners can wreak havoc from afar, often forcing players to break their defensive line or run for cover. Gutter runners are particularly nasty, pinning unsuspecting players to the ground, ripping into their health bar. Among others, there are also the rat ogres – towering mutants that quickly draw a party’s attention with their devastating attack and surprising mobility. You might notice the shades of Left 4 Dead within those special enemies.
With no mid-level checkpoint, Vermintide can be a frustrating, unforgiving affair. Aside from progressing through the campaign, you’ll quickly join the hunt for precious loot with which to power up your heroes. Unlike some games where gear can often be found on fallen enemies or tucked away in chests, here you get one item each time you clear a stage.
The rarity of that weapon is determined by a random number generator, the results of which can be improved by finding collectibles throughout the mission. Still, there’s nothing more demoralising than half an hour of intense fighting only to receive a common sword at the very end. That grind will prove a huge turn-off for casual players, though Fatshark is in the process of reworking the system.
The jump from PC to console has been fairly seamless, despite having less content and the occasional server issues. Swinging a great axe or shooting a bow feels great on a gamepad, though some added functionality wouldn’t have gone amiss. Given the game’s overriding focus on teamwork, having some kind of chat or command system is essential when playing with randoms, but it’s something that’s missing.
Naturally, having a small number of active players also affects the game. There was a point where my progress came to a sudden halt as I was unable to find a group tackling the level I needed to beat. Almost a year after its original release, Vermintide’s companion AI are still not up to the job. I approached the Wizard’s Tower several times with bots in tow, but they were bloody useless to say the least, walking into walls and completely ignoring me when I was swamped by gutter runners or in need of reviving.
When everything goes to plan, however, Vermintide stands out as one of the best, most unique, co-op games on the market. It’s flawed and frustrating, but there’s a certain charm at play and a foundation that Fatshark can hopefully mould into a sequel.