Vermintide is a game that I quite enjoyed, even if its concept is fairly simple. So simple, in fact, that one could reasonably give it a visual make-over and sell it again in an entirely different setting. Welcome to Darktide.
Like Vermintide, this is a hack & slash action game in which you play one of several unique heroes. You take on missions that have you navigate slightly-randomized levels, while butchering hordes of enemies. It’s basically an evolution on Left 4 Dead, complete with special enemies that fulfill very similar roles.
The difference here is that you play in the 40K universe. You are a prisoner unjustly sentenced to death for a petty crime, until a sudden insurgence sets you free. You rescue your would-be executioner, which convinces her to give you a chance to redeem yourself. Thus you are brought on board a ship tasked with saving the city of Tertium from heretics, crime, and anything in-between. Joining you are hundreds of other players, who all conveniently have the exact same backstory.
Plot is really not that important. Its relegated to a background detail almost as soon as you wrap up the tutorial, after which you’re free to try any of the game’s missions in whatever order you please. You are occasionally obligated to watch cutscenes, but these do little to advance the narrative.
Gameplay is fortunately quite solid. It builds on Vermintide as a foundation; bringing you the same co-op centric gameplay as Fat Shark’s other series. You can block, dodge, and perform a mixture of light & heavy attacks. Each of the 4 classes has their own special ability to mix things up, such as my zealot who can target an enemy to charge at. Gunplay is also an option and serviceable, if unexciting by FPS standards.
Where the game fails for me is in how quickly it runs out of novelty. Its missions are barely 15 minutes long a piece and there are only about 10 of them in total. Charitably speaking, that would be 2.5 hours of content. However, repetition sets in far sooner than that. Environments and objectives will start to feel stale after just a few brief missions and you’ll be fighting the same hordes, special enemies, and mini bosses over and over and over again.
You gain experience and various currencies after completing these missions, but there is little satisfaction in advancing. The game showers you in new unlocks, but these are usually varieties on weapons you already had access to. You don’t even get the weapon itself; you have to buy it in the store. If the utterly minimal improvement over your old one makes it worth the investment, that is.
Through this, the game quickly dives into a cynical grind-a-thon. You repeat the same short missions over and over again for currency, which you spend on the random selection of goods in the store that you can then give random upgrades. If luck is with you, these multiple layers of RNG will produce a marginally-better piece of equipment. Whether you’ll notice the 5 extra points of damage as you carve your way through enemies that die in one-hit is another matter entirely.
The cosmetic shop feels insulting as well. You get kicked into the online scene wearing a prison garb, unless you bought the special edition. You can buy clothes with in-game money, but only a paltry selection of lame armors and generic recolors. The prices for these are extortionate; 5 times the cost of a mid-range weapon for a generic chestpiece. Anything cool or befitting of your class is locked behind the cash shop, which operates indirectly by having you purchase “aquilas” by the bundle.
Items are priced in such a way to not line up with an amount of aquilas you can actually buy. You’ll either get left with spare currency that you can’t use or have to buy more of it to cover the cost; at which point you’re back to the first issue. It’s transparently manipulative in its design.
What makes this feel particularly insulting is that the game released in a barebones state. Features that are present in Vermintide or seem like obvious inclusions are just not here. You can’t recycle equipment, for example. You can only discard an item, along with any improvements you’ve made to it. This makes any investment feel like a waste until you hit the level cap, as you’ll outgrow any equipment in a round or 2. Why waste what little little currency the game gives you on temporary equipment if you can’t even reimburse it for a fraction of the cost?
On a technical level, the game is lacking as well. Loading times are atrocious and matchmaking unpredictable. You might get matched with complete newbies on advanced missions, all but guaranteeing a swift demise. You also can’t form private lobbies or volunteer to play with bots. Even though Vermintide has had those options since the first game in the series.
I know I am biased against multiplayer, but playing Darktide with other people just sucks. They rush ahead constantly, neglect exploration even in missions that specifically call for it, and get butthurt over any perceived slights. I just want to play this game with friends I trust. Or at my own pace if none are available. I don’t want to deal with randos that get ambushed by special enemies 3 areas ahead of the group, then rage about it in chat before disconnecting.
Finally, the core gameplay is just not that special. Certainly not as polished as it was in Vermintide. Every class basically feels the same, as they all use the same weapons and complete the same objectives with roughly the same competence. Once in a blue moon I found myself in a party with an Ogryn that actually uses his shield or a fellow zealot that bothered to bring a flamer. For the most part, though, it made no difference who was standing next to me as we spammed melee attacks. The exception being the psyker, whose magical abilities are at least more noticeable.
Plaguing the gameplay further are a number of minor issues that pile up over time. Hit-detection is wonky and abilities frequently don’t work as intended. The amount of times I targeted an enemy to charge, only to get stuck in scenery were too much to count. The game is also prone to crashing and sometimes you get to witness the beautiful moment where a horde of enemies pops into existence. Or they just disappear suddenly for no clear reason.
At this point, Darktide is simply not worth getting. You run out of things to do in no time at all and the grind is too shallow to bother with. After an afternoon of unlocking a dozen slightly-different autoguns, I already felt thoroughly done with the game.