Going back to old reviews is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the time I do it just to refresh myself on the nuances of a game I played some time ago, my opinion of it not really shifting one way or the other. However sometimes, for whatever reason, what I currently think about the game is wildly out of whack with what thought about it and Vermintide seems to be one of those games. If you asked me today what I thought about it I’d say it was fun while it lasted, but was ultimately a pretty forgettable experience. Past me? Fucking loved that thing, 9.0/10! So maybe it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I enjoyed Warhammer 40k: Darktide as much as I did. Truth be told the game does still have a lot of room for improvement, but the fact I’ve spent longer in this one than any of the genre previously says a lot for it.
Your crimes against the Emperor are serious heretic, which is why you find yourself aboard the prison ship Tancred Bastion enroute to a penal world. Just as luck would have it though your ship is boarded by followers of the Chaos god Nurgle and you’re given a chance to prove your loyalty to the Emperor once more. In battling your foes you rescue Explicator Zola who, wanting to put your loyalty to the test (and as a reward for saving her life) recruits you into the Inquisition and brings you aboard her ship: the Mourningstar. Your target? The hive city of Tertium which is currently being infested by Nurgle followers. Your missions? Clear them all out using whatever means necessary.
Just like its predecessors Darktide uses the Autodesk Stingray engine which, given this is their third time around with it, seems well suited to it. Visually there’s definitely been a boost to the overall graphical fidelity of the game: the environments are more detailed, draw distances are up (even though everything is technically indoors), lighting systems have been improved and the game just generally feels like a current gen title. The aesthetic is Warhammer 40k to a tee, although the engine or art direction does feel a little plasticky for my tastes. Performance is good too, although there seems to be some major integration issues with the Windows Game Bar as any time an overlay popped up it’d crash my FPS right into the floor. I fixed that by turning notifications off which just feels like a band aid solution. I know this wouldn’t be an issue on the Steam version given, well, the game bar wouldn’t be active but this was my second Gamepass title so…yeah no choice there unfortunately.
Darktide follows most of the same tropes of Vermintide albeit with everything taking on a distinctly 40K flavour. Combat seems better balanced between ranged and melee however with better variety coming in the form of weapons rather than talent choices. Progression feels pretty linear, with higher levels giving you access to more weapons, levels and other tools to further refine your build. There’s less focus on the story this time around as whilst the game’s opening moments are seemingly building to something the rest of the game follows the standard trope: short mission brief, lots of banter along the way, mission done. Like Vermintide 2 was to its predecessor Darktide is an evolution of the formula, keeping what was good and streamlining the rest.
I decided to eschew my usual preference for melee-first characters and instead rolled a Psyker this time around (which I’m told was somewhat similar to the mage in Vermintide). Early on this class is an exercise in frustration as whilst you have access to similar weapons to the other classes managing your peril is a real pain in the ass. To be sure you’re needed in those early levels as otherwise dealing with elites is problematic, but the fact that you can only use your ability twice before needing to meditate for a good 5 seconds means the pace of the game isn’t particularly fast. This does start to change as you level up however, and that’s when things start to get a lot more fun.
Unlocking the additional staff types gives you access to different alternate abilities, something which I believe is similar for the other classes as well. These enable you to craft your playstyle which, if you’re playing with a crew, will help make everyone more effective and make managing your peril that much easier. I am personally loving the lightning staff, even if it isn’t the most practical of the lot it’s certainly one of the most fun. The force swords don’t seem to be worth it from what I can see, adding more peril generation for not a lot of benefit. It could be that I’m not using them correctly but it seems like a single target damage buff, something you’re not going to want when you’re forced into melee range.
Progression comes steadily, usually only requiring a couple successful missions to boost you up a level. My mate mentioned we could do level 2 missions right off the bat and, with him capped out, we certainly could. Level 3 missions were proving challenging but easily doable, that was up until recently when it seems that there was an unannounced difficulty increase which made the same missions we got through before almost impossible now. To be sure it could’ve just been us having a bad night but when you go from completing every mission to failing 3 in a row in a single night you do wonder what the hell was going on.
There’s still a few rough edges that need to be sorted out, even this long after release. Prime among these is the isolation between Steam and Gamepass matchmaking, a long running issue for any Gamepass game but something that is made all the more clear when my mate and I were always starting missions with bots, no matter what we chose. Aiming seems to be a bit finicky, often missing something completely even though it’s right in the middle of your reticle. This also extends to hit detection on abilities (both yours and enemies’) which can lead to some really frustrating moments. There’s also a handful of unoptimised areas that’ll drop performance right to the ground although it does clear up once you’re out of there.
Narrative wise I can tell you even less about Darktide than I could about its predecessors. The opening story seems to be the only time that you get some sort of cohesive narrative, the rest of the missions being self-contained little vignettes that don’t really tie together into an overall whole. I don’t count this too heavily against Darktide as these kinds of games are always light on story-wise.
Warhammer 40k: Darktide is a solid evolution of the genre, expanding itself into the far flung dark future that many of us love. The combat, progression and overall game feels familiar but fresh, bringing enough new ideas to the table to make it more than just a Vermintide in the future. The streamlined progression system is welcome, even if some will lament the lack of crafting (or comment on how it seems like it was there, once, and will come back). The typical issues are there, along with the utterly forgettable narrative, but when all is said and done Warhammer 40k: Darktide is a great evolution of the -tide concept.
Warhammer 40k: Darktide is available on PC right now for $59.95. Tota play time was approximately 15 hours with 12% of the achievements unlocked.