Straight off the bat it has to be said and is probably already well known by those of you it applies to, but fans of either of Valves’ Left 4 Dead franchise or the Warhammer fantasy world, especially fans of both, are going to absolutely love this corker of a sequel to Vermintide: End Times.
It’s a simple formula really, take the team based co-op and quirky escape style play of L4D add the world of Warhammer Fantasy table top games and you’ve got an instantly popular title. I reckon it can be easy to become lazy or complacent with such tried and tested gaming gold dust. However developers FatShark didn’t just lean on the popularity of the brand and style of game. In my opinion they have delivered a well-rounded playing experience that stands on its’ own merits and is just such a pleasure to play.
I haven’t played Vermintide: End Times, the first game in the series, but I had to try out the second as did many others it seems. This release has been bringing new fans to the desk as it outsold its’ predecessors’ lifetime sales in just two weeks!
In this article I will go over a few of my first impressions, looking at what aspects really struck a chord with me and what I thought made it an enjoyable experience, based on my first day of playing. I would also like to dedicate this article to a good friend Spawndex whom loves the Skaven and will probably be angry to know I still haven’t tried them in Total War: Warhammer 2 and that I much prefer dismembering them in Vermintide 2.
Character Progression, User Interface And Crafting
There are 5 heroes to choose from a Witch Hunter, Dwarf Ranger, Waywatcher, Bright Wizard and my personal favourite an Empire Soldier. Each have different abilities and can be levelled up with equipment and cosmetics gained, as well as skill choices to be made that are unlocked as higher levels are reached. There are 25 levels for each character with 3 perks unlocked every 5 levels, these can be mixed and matched as and when you please in the skill section of the inventory. There are also 3 unlockable career paths for each hero which give them different passive and special abilities. Each hero of course has their own play-style, strengths and weaknesses that you must get to grips with, some nice variation there but I won’t bore you with the intricacies and let you find out for yourself.
You can gain loot through completing missions or levelling up and can get better loot boxes through completing a variety of tasks and challenges in-game. I like this as there is no micro-transactions so the game is all about the rank up grind and not buying your way through the gameplay. Essentially robbing yourself of the experience.
Some of the items you get really add to your fighting style, mainly the weapons, which can have their own properties and add to your heroes overall power level known as hero power. As well as weapons you get necklaces, charms, cosmetics and trinkets to outfit your character with that also contain perks and give an addition to this level. You can also unlock deeds with harder challenges from crates, which give you xp bonuses for completing them. This progressive customisation of characters is nice as it gives you something to aim for and doesn’t feel too unreachable nor too fast, it’s a nice balance.
However there has been some criticism levelled on the specifics of hero power which I have yet to experience with my limited time in the game. Essentially your power level effects the way weapons fundamentally work and some have said it makes for inconsistent gameplay, having to unlearn and relearn your weapons intricacies depending on difficulty and power level. If you’d like to know more have a watch of milkandcookiesTWs’ YouTube video on the subject;
Before missions start players join into an interactive lobby known as the Stronghold where you can open your loot crates and rewards, view your inventory, crafting options, choose skills you’ve earnt and customise your loadout. It’s a preparation room, as well as being a generally fun and nice place to dick around in before the match starts and all players are ready. However there is also a bit more functionality to it with potions and bombs to test out, as well as dummies you can hit to test your damage power to find your best set up. Another comment on this Stronghold is that it is that from clicking the play option on the main menu to being in the stronghold is pretty much instantaneous, no load screens.
All the actions mentioned above are carried out through a user interface which is simple and easy to use, feeling very natural in no time at all. The UI even has nice sound effects which is a nice touch. Below is a little video of me just showing a bit of it off.
The crafting system allows you to break down and salvage unwanted lesser and useless loot and combine the scraps to create new items, upgrade existing ones or re-roll the properties on them. Meaning the crappy rewards too have their uses and don’t just sit there idly. The crafting is easy to use also, which I like as I don’t enjoy fumbling around and am easily confused. But confuse me this did not.
Currently the cosmetics seem to be very limited but the developer has stated they will be adding more to the currently scant array. Which will do them well as there are even forum posts imploring for more unlockable and buyable (why they want to have to pay I don’t know) cosmetic loot. But it appears the developers are pretty adamant that they are to keep micro-transactions out of the game as can be seen by this blunt response to a question begging to throw money at them …
This character progression is brilliant for players like me who like to feel they’re going somewhere, giving a feeling of achievement and decision making flare to the game. Adding more to the playing experience and replay value through giving you 5 different classes to hone and equip.
Gameplay And Mechanics
It has to be said that it is primarily a hack and slash game with ranged weapons taking a secondary but important role, you just have to use your ammo wisely. Whilst hack and slash games can become boring and repetitive button clicking at times, the game mechanics are just so smooth and intuitive that you feel much more in control of your character. Therefore you’re more involved instead of button mashing as there is variation in moves. Even a fool like me picked it up easy enough, not to say the game is easy, far from it, I was just playing on recruit which is the easiest out of 4 difficulty settings and apparently equal to L4Ds’ hardest setting. This game has done a good job of making the fighting and movement feel more natural and the gameplay so intense that it’s gripping and involving, you always have to be on your toes with there being a lot of enemies!
Furthermore the chopping up the enemy lark is very visually and audibly rewarding, giving good and most often graphic feedback, if you love gore in games, this will get your bloodlust pumping. Sometimes you can even cut a Skaven rat clean in half at the waist and see its’ entrails, check out a pretty tame example of the audio visual feedback below…
And now an example of Skaven guts and legs teetering over …
The use of dodging, blocking, parrying and melee fighting are just a delight to play, it’s been built spot on. This can also be seen in the shooting of bows and guns, they’re not at all clunky as you’d have come to expect at least a little of from playing other similar games. It’s just not there, you feel like a well-oiled fighting machine all round.
You can tag items using the T key which helps show others where any spare gear is, simple I know, but it makes things nice and easy. The mission loading pages are pretty brief and have nice tidy little cut scenes to introduce the story arc for the certain Acts you are working on, they’re speedy and keep the pace of the game moving nicely. The storylines and missions are varied and fun and do not feel repetitive and played out even when playing them through over again as there is enough difference in between to make it feel somewhat fresh again. Besides I reckon this one is just too fun to get stale quick, if at all. Although I do hope more and more will be added, what we’ve got does suffice though. But you always want more of a good thing …. right? Well we’re in luck as the developers have been quite clear with their roadmap and plans for the first 3 months since release, in which they state aims to achieve;
‘Regular DLCs and updates … Dedicated Servers … Mod Support.’
As well as listening to feedback from us the players and their fanbase, pretty nice approach if you ask me.
The enemy types are numerous and it is fun to engage with their different fighting styles and qualities. Some that will pick you off and drag you away, others who are shielded and better at combat, gunners and flamethrowers. As well as wizards that suck you into a green vortex spell they cast, just to name a few. It’s a joy to engage in combat with all of them. The bigger monsters and bosses are great too, though sometimes repetitive but varied enough and always a fun challenge when they rear their ugly heads again. Especially that one whose weakness is a little Skaven rat baby thingy on its’ back …
The Bile Troll also has an apparent weakness … but isn’t that area a weakness for us all?
Aesthetics And Level Design
Now for some more words that I’ve already used regarding this game, intuitive and varied. That is exactly what the level design is. There are so many different settings in this vast fantasy world, Reichland towns, Skaven strongholds in the mountains, Dwarven holds and the fortresses of men that I’ve seen so far. They are well made, good looking, easy to follow but with enough room for searching and exploring. Allowing you to take slightly different routes for good replay value.
Also the gear around the map you need is randomised so you have to be explorative and I like the fact it encourages that. I could see myself enjoying these maps and missions over and over again combined with the gameplay it’s just so enjoyable. They also have replay value added by the fact that loot boxes earned can be upgraded by hunting for the hidden Tomes and Grimoires scattered around the map. Giving you better gear, and cosmetics the better your box is upgraded. I like the way that carrying these books give you a health penalty as they are cursed and that they disallow you from carrying any healing potions or otherwise depending on the type of book. Making things more challenging when you run the risk in hope of better loot.
Here are some screenshots from various levels;
It’s very atmospheric, especially in the areas of grim, morbid and foreboding. You’re fighting your way through the ruin and horrors that the inhabitants of this world have suffered through at the hands of the Chaos realms and the Vermintide of Skaven. The aftermath is truly a horrific and gripping experience to play through and I commend FatShark for capturing the terror of this fantasy world so well, they’ve spared no expense in the areas of bloody grimness. Lynched corpses littering trees, hanging from rafters, flesh tents … they’ve really pulled out all the stops, so much so that at points it actually had me shuddering. Really doing the source material the justice in capturing its’ essence.
There’s a level where you have to help relieve a besieged fortress under attack from the Skaven and break out through the gates. It’s a very atmospheric battle as you fight your way to the castle, you can see cannon burst, rockets and the green Skaven energy bursts firing to and fro in the sky. Makes you feel you’re part of something larger and so making it very immersive and … what’s a cooler word for epic? Lets just say, extremely satisfying.
You get to a cannon and must destroy the enemy catapults, aiming it, firing it and finding more ammunition for it before finally destroying them all and sallying forth.
Another level starts out looking like an epic Dwarven hold but soon turns out to be a nest of filthy vermin, it has clearly been taken over and turned into a Skaven enclave in the mined out depths below. This map stands out to me as it just looks astounding and breath-taking in size, scale and attention to detail.
Finally I’d just like to comment on how well they have implemented good lighting, there are dark parts in missions (notably when you are following a mine cart by torchlight,) which are done really well. My friend I was playing with even exclaimed mid-game ‘This is how you do darkness!’ He was not wrong the lighting in this game is exceptional.
The dialogue is often hilarious and not monotonous at all, except maybe when it comes to using your special powers which can become repetitive. Although take this with a pinch of salt as this was my first time playing of course. The characters react to each other and have a bond and are constantly in friendly rivalry and competitive banter whilst the fighting is going on. The dialogue and accents suits the characters well and of course it features the Dwarven and Elven rivalry we all have come to expect. Even though I’m not a super fan of Warhammer I think they capture the lore well in this and the game as a whole. Those who know the lore more in-depth than I can be a better judge of that but i generally feel those folk will be satisfied. As a whole the dialogue does a good job of adding to the immersive experience coupled with the level design, character progression and gameplay it’s another big old thumbs up from me. And it has been getting chuckles out of me so far so I’m loving it … see this example below….
As well as being immersive it makes the characters more 3D and equips them with some nice personalities. Even if I hate that slimy sounding smug Witch Hunter bastard, at least he makes me feel something, instead of just being a throwaway flat nothing. Each character is their own person and it comes across.
Kerillians fine by me … sort that other geezer out first!
Slight Bugs Or Glitches
Just a couple minor things to mention here which really don’t detract from the game at all. I had a dual monitor phantom mouse clicking off the screen issue with windowed or bordered full screen. But was easily fixed when I set it to full screen with no borders.
Of course there are some minor AI model bugging issues but they’re few and far between.
Sometimes the bosses’ health meter doesn’t show up for a while if at all in the time it takes you to dispatch the foul creature. Which can be a bit jarring when you have no feedback for how the fight is going, but usually it’s only for some of your party and rarely all of you. So no biggy there really.
All round it’s a fantastic game in my eyes, even if you’re not a fan of either aforementioned franchises but just like team based escape games and hack and slash with tactical team gameplay. This one is still for you as I think this is just an objectively enjoyable game for the most part.
One slight remark that isn’t really a criticism just a suggestion, even though there is already enough in the game to make it worth the money. I just got to thinking perhaps there could be a different game mode in the form of Stronghold defense and through this you could upgrade your Stronghold cosmetically and functionally. More of a suggestion and wish on my part more than anything, as I would like to do what it says in its’ name and hold it strong. Geddit? Har-Har.
A solid effort with very little criticism to be levelled, if any, thus far from my 15 hours or so of experience. Which is good, so I’d say I’d give it 10 somethings out of 10 somethings on my first playing. Going to be playing this one thoroughly, we’ll see if my first impressions hold true.