I, like many of my generation, spent far too much of my time in Games Workshop stores as a teenager. I’d go there to gawk that the miniatures, painted in such exquisite detail that I tried and failed to replicate. That was only half of it though, the sense of community among those of us who’d spend as much time as we could at these places was far and above anything else. Thus the rather tumultuous path that the Games Workshop has walked these past few years has been tough as many of us felt they no longer cared about us, their biggest fans. However one good thing has come out all this and that has been Games Workshop’s more generous attitude towards licensing out its IP. The latest such incarnation comes in the form of Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide, a Left 4 Dead-esque co-op survival game that breathes new life into the genre.
You are a band of warriors in the town of Ubersreik, a city that has been overrun by the Skaven, a race of devilish rat people. With the town in peril everyone has been looking towards you to save them and there are numerous quests you must complete to keep the town safe. Some of these are simple, stopping the Skaven from poisoning the wells or destroying the food stocks, others will require you to climb to the top of massive towers to stop powerful magic from falling into Skaven hands. These will not be easy quests, dear warrior, and you’re likely to face much more than just hordes of rats along the way.
Vermintide comes to us care of the Autodesk Stingray engine, essentially a revamped version of the BitSquid engine that powered titles like Gauntlet and Magicka: Wizard Wars. In terms of capability and performance the engine really does shine, with great visuals that don’t drag your system down when the action heats up. The visual style is also very distinctive, being slightly stylized but still feeling as if it was pulled directly out of the Warhammer universe. Of course there have been some sacrifices in order to ensure performance remains consistent, meaning that some areas do feel a bit barren with little detail, but you’re usually too busy dealing with rats to notice. Considering the rather low asking price for the engine I hope to see more indie titles make use of it and the capabilities it can provide.
As I alluded to earlier Vermintide is a co-op survival game modelled directly on the framework Left 4 Dead so successfully created. You’re a band of four heroes who must make it from the start to the end whilst completing objectives along the way. You’ll be beset on all sides by hordes of Skaven including various special versions which have abilities to disrupt your team and take them out of the fight. Unlike Left 4 Dead however this is not a PVP game, instead Vermintide’s variety comes from the various character classes you can choose, the RPG like levelling and loot system and the rather deep combat mechanics that make the game much more than a simple hack and slasher. Honestly the first hour had me thinking I was simply playing the latest version of Left 4 Dead but once I dug under the surface I was incredibly impressed by the level of complexity that Vermintide has.
Unlike other survival games where melee is a last resort in Vermintide it’s your primary damage dealing mechanism. You still have a ranged weapon, limited by ammunition, but they’re usually reserved for special situations like dealing with special vermin or clearing a path through swarms. This melee focus means you have to be much more aware of what is coming at you, when its attacking and when you should either dodge or block. Sure you can ignore all of that and just go charging in however you’re likely to find yourself running out of health very quickly, something which is at a premium in this game. Indeed we were barely able to finish the first mission on easy by using that tactic and it was only after a more seasoned friend of mine showed us the ways did we start to appreciate just how complex the combat was.
The different character classes have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, all of which you’ll need to take into consideration when crafting your party. Each character class isn’t locked into a specific role either as different items can change the way you play. I was playing the Empire Solider for the most part and could change from a damage dealer/special slayer into a front line tank by equipping a sword and shield. For other classes weapons can change them from single target to AOE focused or impart some insane abilities like arrows that are guaranteed headshots. Suffice to say there’s a lot to keep you coming back to Vermintide over and over again as the loot and character variety ensure that there’s dozens of hours of gameplay to be had.
That’s not to mention the loot system’s ingeniously evil risk vs reward system. Essentially there are various loot bolstering devices hidden around the map and each of them will reduce your ability to survive the rat onslaught. However should you make it all the way through with them you’ll get bonus loot dies at the end. Some of them are innocuous, like taking away your healing slot (but you can just drop the tome and use the healing then pick the tome back up) to others which reduce the entire parties health by 25% permanently. Suddenly a simple run becomes a balancing game of how much loot you can get vs how well you think you can survive.
There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to upgrade, salvage and “forge” better weapons for yourself. The forge is essentially just a dumping ground for all the loot you don’t want as you’ll get, at most, 2 weapons per run (1 from the roll and 1 from a level up) and you’ll need 5 to make it work. Green and higher tier items have upgrades on them which need to be unlocked using certain coloured rocks. Those rocks will come from salvaging other items that you no longer want. Overall it’s a pretty simplistic crafting system but at least it gives you the opportunity to make something of the drops that you’d otherwise get nothing from.
For all its polish though Vermintide still has a couple issues which could do with fixing. The hit detection can get a bit crazy at times, resulting in strange behaviour like pack masters being able to pull players through walls. It works two ways though so sometimes you can get special rats, like the gattling gun one, stuck in a place where they can’t hit you but you can hit them. There’s also some lag induced issues which can cause rats to flit all over the place, fall through the ground or randomly spawn out of no where. I’m assuming this is born out of its P2P hosting nature which means that game sync can get a bit weird if one or more people have a tenuous connection to the host.
Vermintide would be easy to write off as a Left 4 Dead clone but after a couple of hours you quickly realise it’s anything but. Sure the combat and core mechanics are definitely inspired by the grand daddy of this genre but the extra elements that Vermintide has makes it on its own. The character classes and loot system help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve played the same map a dozen times over. The combat retains that same high tension feeling that we all grew to love in Left 4 Dead whilst distinguishing itself with a bunch of Warhammer inspired mechanics. The crafting system and few rough edges are the few let downs of vermintide but it says a lot that those are the only negative things I have to say about it. For those who were let down by Evolve Vermintide could very well be the game that resells you on the genre.
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is available on PC right now for $29.99 and coming Q1 2016 to PlayStation4 and XboxOne. Total play time was 6 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked.