I just can’t say no to a good horde-blasting co-op game. Growing up on hours-long Left 4 Dead sessions and endless waves of Halo: ODST Firefight, it’s baked into my being to enjoy these games. The Warhammer: Vermintide games scratched that itch for me plenty, but my natural love for sci-fi and space weirdness meant that the more crusty, medieval fantasy setting of never really did it for me. Fatshark’s follow up Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, though, enters the grimdark far future filled Space Marines, Chaos and, after getting to play through a full mission with some members of the team, I can soundly say that Darktide is really good.
All I needed to be convinced about Darktide was that it would be Vermintide’s gameplay with a sci-fi coat of paint, but the truth is that this game is so much more than just a reskin of Fatshark’s last co-op game. The bold new scale of Darktide is clear as soon as you arrive in the hub are. In previous games, this is simply where you and your co-op friends would gather to sort out character upgrades, equip new cosmetics, and pick your next mission. In Darktide, though, the hub aims to be a true social space; dozens of online players will seamlessly populate the area, and you can interact with them or even squad up to tackle missions together.
You can still customise your characters here, but even that has seen a major upgrade. Rather than equipping new hats on pre-existing characters, Darktide lets you fully customise the build, look and voice of your character for each class – you’re basically playing as a Warhammer 40K Suicide Squad made up of convicts being given the slightest hope of redemption by the Inquisition and sent in to fight the massing corruption of Chaos. They’re minor changes in the grand scheme of things, but they add up and it’s exciting to know how much more stuff there is to engage with outside of the main meat of missions and horde-fighting.
And buddy, there are hordes in Darktide. The AI has been improved in this game to allow for more organic enemy hordes and groups to pile in and chase you down – rather than a conga-line of grunts, you’ll be genuinely overwhelmed by waves of space baddies. These encounters won’t be as immediately claustrophobic as they were in Vermintide, though, as the core combat of Darktide is way more focused on guns and projectiles this time around. A focused squad will usually be able to keep the swarms at bay, but then a lot of your enemies will have guns of their own, so you’ll need to make smart use of cover to avoid fire and let your recharging shields – another new mechanic for Darktide – fill back up.
The speed and energy of combat feels similar to Vermintide, but the weighty responsiveness of your guns adds a whole new charm to things. Plus, you’ve still got melee attacks and they rule. One class has a chainsaw you can rev up for massive damage, and it never got old busting that out during huge battles.
Another great part of Darktide is just how distinct the aesthetic of the game is from the Vermintide titles. Gone are the brown caves and grassy farmland fields, my mission taking me through a dank and decrepit space station full of glowing red hatches, gunmetal grey walls and steam-spewing pipe systems. The clash in culture between the old-school sci-fi macro-designs of the world and the minor weird-fantasy elements like heretic cult warriors and skull-powered hacking devices gave the whole game such a constantly addictive energy. Half of my attention was carried by the addictive gameplay while my other half just really wanted to turn a corner and discover more of Warhammer 40,000’s sci-fi fantasy stuff waiting for me on the other side.
Warhammer: Darktide is a blast. The big thing that makes it stand out from Vermintide is easily the shift to more ranged weaponry in combat, but the dozens of other upgrades and quality-of-life improvement sprinkled in blew me away. Topped off with the genuinely way more engaging and intriguing aesthetic of Warhammer 40K in place of the medieval fantasy Warhammer style from Vermintide, and baby, you’ve got a skull-stew cooking. I only got to try a small portion of the game, but if the full package stacks up with what I played, then Darktide is going to be a must-play co-op treat.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide will be available on PC and Xbox Series X|S from 13th September 2022. Got Game Pass? It’ll be on that too.