Warhammer End Times: Vermintide

Next up in my list of games that have been eating all my time is Warhammer End Times: Vermintide by Fatshark games.

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Set in the End Times of the famed Warhammer Fantasy world. The game is a co-op first-person melee fighting game, in a similar vein to Left 4 Dead. Players take on the role of one of five heroes each of which will be identifiable to anyone familiar with the Warhammer Fantasy world: a dwarf ranger, a bright wizard, an elf waywatcher, an imperial witchhunter and an imperial guardsman. Each character has their own specific style and skills: the wizard excels at area of effect and ranged damage, while the ranger and the guardsman are melee tanks. The witchhunter and the waywatcher have a nice balance of ranged and melee skills.

Players start at the Red Moon In with a basic set of equipment. Missions are selected from a map in the Inn. The missions take place in and around the human city if Ubersreik and range in length from 10-15 minutes to 40 minutes or more. Each level can be played (initially) on three difficulty levels: easy, medium and hard. The game is hard enough on easy mode, but two additional difficulty levels are available if the level is beaten on hard difficulty.

As well as making the level more of a challenge to complete, the difficulty also affects the reward. After beating each level, you get to roll dice to determine loot, and experience is awarded to your characters. The harder the difficulty you play on, the more experience you get and the better loot is awarded. Experience is tied to your player, rather than a character, so each hero in you can play as is always at the same level. As levels increase, different perks and facilities unlock, and additional loot items are awarded. Unlocking the forge allows you to improve your magical items, melt down unwanted items to salvage components and forge new items for your characters. Each piece of equipment has distinct advantages and disadvantages, requiring that you consider what you’ll be getting into before you start. A great axe allows you to deal devastating blows and is good against armoured enemies, but not so effective against large numbers of enemies who might swarm you; an axe and shield is better for dealing swarms but struggles to damage larger and armoured enemies.

The enemies you face in the game are the Skaven. Fatshark do plan to introduce additional enemy types in forthcoming DLC, however.

There are a variety of enemy types available:

  • Clan and slave rats appear in large numbers and while they don’t do a lot of damage and go down easily they can easily overwhelm you if you don’t keep an eye on what’s happening.
  • Stormvermin are armoured and usually appear in numbers ranging from 2-6. They can be taken out instantly with a well placed head shot, but if they get close their armour makes them hard to deal with.
  • Ratling gunners are large enemies that target one hero with a ratling gun and shoot until the weapon jams or they run out of ammo.
  • Globadiers throw poison gas grenades that choke and disorient your heroes.
  • Packmasters capture a hero and drag them away from their support leaving them prone for regular enemies to attack and kill.
  • Gutter runners have excellent climbing skills and smoke grenades to hide their location. They run with alarming speed and can pin and kill a hero in seconds if not dealt with quickly.
  • Rat Ogres are huge hulking brutes that take a lot of damage before going down and can devastate a team if a proper strategy isn’t used.

The individual Skaven behave much as you would expect: individual rats are cowardly and if pressed will often try to run away or lead you back to where they have the advantage of numbers. When attacking in a swarm, however the rats will charge fearlessly in and press you, trying to separate the group or drive you into a corner where your options are limited. In addition to this, and the variation created by the difficulty settings, the game features an over-arching AI system called the Director. This helps vary the events on a level according to what’s happening: it will create ammo and healing items when you need them most (which is almost never, apparently) and hordes of slave rats whenever its bored (which is almost all the time).

I joke of course: if you’re getting badly beaten, healing items and ammo will appear in chests or in rooms; if you’re doing really well, it might conjure a swarm of clan rats or a storm vermin patrol to make you think. At its disposal are also all the special enemies: when you’re pinned in a courtyard, a rat ogre might charge you from a side-street or a ratling gunner may start shooting from the rooftops. This helps make sure that, even though the geography of the level remains the same each play through, the events you encounter won’t.

The levels themselves are very well designed and look fantastic, with some wonderful atmospheric sounds and lighting effects. As its a first person game, its easy to feel that you’re in the city of Ubersreik, witnessing its decay at the end of the world. When you’re in caves in the sewers or the Skaven tunnels, the atmosphere feels very claustrophobic and close, and as you hear the sounds of the Skaven drawing closer, you can’t help but feel a pang of fear… There are also very few clues as to where to go, meaning that you’ll need to explore to find the right path (and sometimes there are several routes to go). Exploration has its rewards, extra loot dice can be found, as can useful items like bombs, tomes and bandages. You have to be careful when wandering, however: take too long and the Director may decide that you need to be hurried along a little…

The character models themselves are superbly detailed and very well animated, and as can be seen from the character biographies, they all have a pre-existing relationship before the game starts, which leads to some interesting and funny sound bites and the game progresses.

I mentioned at the start of this article that the game is co-op. The whole campaign is multiplayer, there is no single player option. You can choose to join a pre-existing game, if one is available for the level you want to play, or you can host your own. When you start a game, the AI will control any characters that aren’t being controlled by another player, and a human player can join your game, slipping in silently and taking over from the AI player at any point. The number of human players in the game will also have an impact on how it plays: I’ve noticed that the Director is much more lenient on a team where there are AI players than it is on a team comprised wholly of human players. This does make sense, as it forces humans to cooperate (perhaps using the game’s own VOIP chat or Teamspeak) in a way that its not possible to do with AI teammates. That said, I have enjoyed playing through levels with nothing but AI companions, and having them around isn’t what you could call a disadvantage.

The game’s controls are pretty standard for PC titles, however I do feel that as we aren’t dealing with loads of key bindings as in other titles, full controller support would be good to see for this title. Partial controller support is available, so I imagine that future patch will introduce this support.

Another thing that Warhammer fans will enjoy is the amount of attention to detail that has been paid to the lore of the world. Fatshark have put plenty in there to see, hear, read and discover and its the number of these things which make the game come to life in the way that similar titles have failed to do so.

I mentioned that the graphics in the title are fantastic, and indeed they are. The game looks wonderful even on medium settings (which is as high as my GeForce GTX 970 will comfortably go), and would look even better on a rig that supported the higher settings.

I’ve sunk quite a few hours into this game since I picked it up in the Steam sale, and I’m really enjoying it. I even like playing through levels I’ve completed several times already, and I look forward to seeing what Fatshark have planned for release in their next set of DLC.

The Bottom Line: A thoroughly enjoyable co-op horde-based hack ’em up. Strange that I love this game, but hated Left 4 Dead when they’re almost the same game. Well worth picking up, even for full price, and if you can arrange a team of friends to play a night of gaming can be easily arranged with this title. The matchmaking has some issues, which have seen me spawn and die instantly in a game, and also get booted as I joined a game the host then immediately left. Hosting your own game avoids these issues though. The future plans from Fatshark also mean that even if you’ve played every mission, there’ll be more things to come! 85%

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide Intro Video
Gameplay footage of the prologue mission from PC Gamer<
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