Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is a game of many subtitles developed by Fatshark and set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. In Vermintide players, either solo or in a group of up to four, battle through the city of Ubersreik, hacking up hordes of rat men in an attempt to stem the tide and reclaim the ruined city.
Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way first; Vermintide is, at its most basic, a very close clone of Left 4 Dead. Despite oversimplifying things it is an accurate description of the core gameplay loop: you’re a group of survivors in the middle of an apocalypse and must fight your way through hordes of enemies, face powerful mutants and carefully manage your meagre supplies.
It’s hard to name any one thing that sets Vermintide apart from its contemporaries, but if I had to choose a personal favourite it would be the melee combat. Vermintide features both ranged and melee weapons but depending on who you’re playing and the situation you find yourselves in, you might lean on one more than the other. Thankfully the melee combat has a couple of features to keep it feeling fun even on your thousandth kill.
Gooey gobs of blood splatter everywhere while arms, legs, heads and sometimes whole torsos are cleaved by the many bladed and blunt weapons available. In addition to cleaving right through your enemies, weapons will actually impact your targets along the arc of the swing or thrust, making each attack feel meaty and powerful. You can almost feel your axe getting jammed in a Skaven’s ribs.
It’s not all about wildly hacking away at things – tactics are your friend. Learning to recognise your equipment’s strengths and weaknesses, reach and whether or not it pierces armour or scores headshots will all help you succeed. Dealing damage isn’t always the best route, Vermintide is a game of skill, dodging or blocking incoming attacks is a must if you want your small supply of health to last on most difficulties.
To aid in all this enemies will telegraph their attacks to varying degrees but when you’re surrounded and the pressure’s on, having the presence of mind to actually keep an eye on them all is nigh on impossible. Aggro management allows you to further mitigate damage; by pushing enemies back you can not only stall their attack but you’ll draw their attention to keep them off more fragile allies. Combining these skills in a choke point will let you handle most hordes of enemies.
More difficult to deal with are the special enemies; Gutter Runners can teleport, turn invisible and pounce on targets to immobilize and deal damage. Packmasters will snatch an ally with a pole, dragging them away to a secluded spot to hang them. Ratling Gunners will single out a target and hose them with a torrent of warp shot, dealing massive damage. Poison Wind Globadiers throw gas grenades that mess with your vision and deal damage, they can also self detonate if injured. Finally, the Rat Ogre is a hulking monstrosity with one goal – smash everyone into a fine paste.
When faced with the special enemies communication is key; calling out enemy positions, type and whether or not you’re currently having your arse handed to you. Communication is also key when faced with armoured Commanders and Stormvermin who can either be mixed in with regular enemies or come at you in large patrols all on their own. These patrols make quite a lot of noise, allowing you to identify them evade them by employing the better part of valour.
Further altering tactics is your inventory; each character can equip a melee weapon, ranged weapon, hat and trinkets. Your items alter things like attack speed, power, reach and higher quality items confer bonuses such as a chance to increase damage for several seconds after a kill. Bows and crossbows are silent, allowing for a modicum of stealth while various Bright Wizard staffs can conjure fire javelins or explosions. There’s guns too, ranging from pistols to multi-barrel rifles, arquebus, blunderbus and plain old shotguns.
Melee weapons have similar variety, ranging from daggers and axes to zweihanders and maces. These more drastically change the way you’ll fight than ranged weapons; whether or not you take a shield will determine if you’re focusing on damage dealing or defence. The Witch Hunter best illustrates this – his rapier allows you to fire an off-hand pistol at will but favours skill at dodging and accurate thrusts. Of you can give him a massive zweihander and take advantage of wide, powerful swings to take out several enemies per strike.
Items are acquired via dice roll. Upon successfully completing a level you’re awarded several loot dice, with higher quality ones either hidden in levels, awarded via tomes or super rare grimoires which guarantee at least one success. The ratio of loot quality is determined by the difficulty you play on, the amount of dice needed to get quality gear is fair but the physics feel a little off, with most runs resulting in you getting only common quality gear.
Thankfully random drops aren’t the only way to get gear; a crafting system allows you to meld 5 items into one of a higher quality or melt them into gems which can be used to upgrade high quality gear with additional buffs. When melding items, random items will result in a random craft but if you combine 5 items of the same type and quality you’ll get another item of that type. It’s not an ideal system, mainly due to the loot drops feeling less rewarding than they should but it certainly helps.
By and large the maps are well designed, providing a variety of scenery and varied terrain shapes to make most encounters interesting. Only one map of the thirteen actually sucks, playing alone we found it impossible and playing with friends we barely scraped through on easy difficulty. The rest of the game takes you to docks, forests, war camps, graveyards and Skaven tunnels amongst others.
There’s a lot to see but the story is fairly light on the ground, presented via a spoken briefing at the start of each mission. It’s easy to miss what’s going off but there’s enough banter between the characters themselves to keep it entertaining anyway.
The five characters are varied enough in their roles and fighting styles to provide a favourite for everyone and equipment is varied enough to encourage experimentation. Situations and differing groups of players can make different the same map progress differently. Despite having hidden things like tomes to find in levels it feels like the game is constantly pushing you to move forwards which could be easily remedied by allowing players an extra twenty to thirty seconds loitering time. Unfortunately the main drawback is the always online requirement. If you can’t get a connection to the Fatshark servers then you can’t play, even solo. Thankfully, at least for the score, we’ve had so much fun with the game that the flaws are mostly forgiven.
Feels Good Man: The melee combat is spot on.
There’s A Rat: The Skaven are fairly faithfully represented.
In My Kitchen: Crafting is simple and fairly rewarding.
What Am I Gonna Do: Loot rolls are a bit stingy however.
Variety: Most maps are great, but that one that sucks really really sucks.
Always On: Better hope there’s no connection hiccups or you’re not playing.
Failure: Is not an option, fail a mission at any time and there’s no reward.
If you need something done, you need a dwarf. Put him to a task and he will stoically work on it until hell freezes over, the mountains come crumbling down and the sky has become nothing but a black smog of death and fire. Witch Hunters? Soldiers? Wizards and Elves? Pah, useless. Especially the latter. Fair enough, they have their uses as a meat shield so they got that going for themselves. But don’t you trust them with anything. Who has battled the Skaven for centuries? Yup, that’s right, the dwarfs of old. Men and elves know nothing of the ratmen so it is only just proper that a dwarf gets dibs on which Skaven he may slay and which one he leaves for the rest. He’ll take the biggest one, fyi. Vermintide gives us plenty of big ones. Especially one very big one that looks like it needs an axe to the face. Repeatedly. And that’s what you do, slaughtering rats everywhere, becoming the most accomplished rodent exterminator in the business.
Granted, Vermintide is L4D but with a few added bonuses. First off, melee usually takes precedent over ranged combat, so no cowards here. Second, the MP doesn’t have a versus mode (never say never though). The enemy specials are essentially copy paste jobs and the mission design is also placed around the tried and tested L4D method of getting things done. But that’s the foundation that L4D set and in itself, it never went further. Vermintide does.
The banter between the characters is more enticing, the overall story arch – while just on the side of passable – gives you more than the L4D survival trip and the loot and die system adds some much needed depth. Sure, it can be frustrating to wish upon yourself a specific weapon and failing to roll for it over and over again, but then that is part of the RNG equation you are signing up for. Overall, Vermintide is a fantastic time with friends. Just get out of the way of the dwarf.
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is perhaps one of the most shameless rip-offs in recent gaming history. You’d be hard pressed to find a game that steals as much from another game as Vermintide does from Left 4 Dead. There are a few differences – like the loot-drop system and the focus on character-specific weapons rather than weapons anyone can pick up and use – but beyond this there’s little distinguishing the two. However, considering it’s been six years since the last L4D released, I doubt anyone cares too much. I certainly don’t. I just want another 4-player cooperative game that’s more than just horde-based survival. Vermintide seeks to be the antidote. And yet, it doesn’t quite live up.
Vermintide sure is ambitious, I’ll give it that. Developer Fatshark certainly has less in terms of funding and experience than big old Valve do and when that’s considered, Vermintide manages quite well to mimic a lot of what made Valve’s zombie shooter so much fun. At least at first glance. The essence of L4D lives on with Vermintide, with the added bonus of something to fight for; the loot drop at the end of the level. But the game suffers from the same issues that Payday 2 did upon launch. It’s extremely stingy with the loot you get. And just like Payday 2, you’re offered a single item as reward for each mission you complete, and only if you actually win that mission. It’s almost as if the game is afraid you’ll pack your bags and leave the moment you get a good weapon, so the majority of the time you’re dealt something completely useless – oftentimes for a different character than the ones you are focusing on. It’s completely based on luck, as a dice roll decides the rarity of your reward. You can improve your chances by picking up additional dice throughout the levels, but this often comes with its own risks. More often than not, you’ll be lucky just to get a weapon with green rarity. As a result, you’re forced to replay levels over and over again, to eventually get enough useless weapons to forge into a better one. But even then; there’s only a one in five chance you’re going to get a weapon for your favorite character.
Beside this one major flaw, there are a number of other frustrating problems that currently plague the overall experience. There are plenty of bugs involving clipping and hit registration, and the game generally feels rough around the edges. For example, when you join another player’s lobby, you’re thrown into his or her Inn. But there’s nothing to do here, no way to test your weapons or inspect trophies collected by the hosting player. There’s no point to it. This feeling carries throughout the game, a feeling of funding or time running out for the studio during development. There are thirteen levels to play through, all of which repeat the same objectives over and over. Vermintide is also a bit short on content; more playable characters, special enemy types and items to find in the world would greatly help offset the obsessive and tedious focus on grinding for loot. Hopefully, more content is added by the developer in the coming months, and issues concerning the loot drop system are balanced out. Because even with all its flaws, Vermintide has a solid core concept and can still be quite a bit of fun when played with a full posse of friends.
Simply put Vermintide is pure co-op fun. The game could do with more levels, better levelling/looting system but killing masses of rats in a spectacularly gory way is satisfying. And doing that with friends is even better.
Vermintide is pretty much Left for Dead with rats, daggers and magic. If you played any L4D in the past, you will feel right at home in Vermintides sewers, forests and enchanted castles.
A melee driven L4D, full of special enemies and mostly linear progression. What Vermintide brings to the table is its unique classes and unlockable loot. Being able to load out your favourite character is a charming addition to the formula. But while the game is good, the formula the game is based around is lacking.