It is a rare and beautiful day when we are blessed with a Warhammer video game that doesn’t suck. After being slightly disappointed with Blood Bowl 2, my hopes were high for Vermintide, and by Sigmar’s light, it didn’t disappoint! The bloody carnage of slicing a rat’s head in twain, the screams of the hordes rushing in, the tension of silence, it’s all there, and it’s all glorious! It may look like a Left 4 Dead rip-off, and it is in many ways, but it offers more than just zombies and med packs. Vermintide is a beautifully designed game that stays true to its lineage, and while it doesn’t offer much content, this is a must for any self-respecting LAN party.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is set in The End Times of the Warhammer universe, shocking absolutely no one. As the name would suggest, these are some pretty rough times for humanity, but never fear! You’re one of the lucky heroes who gets to try and hold back the Skaven plague (even though the Skaven are the best) that’s overrunning Reikland, one of the last bastions of humanity and all round near-defenceless town! Hooray! Grim darkness is par for the course Warhammer, but Reikland lends itself well to varied missions, an oppressive atmosphere of Gothic dread and great characters.
To ensure the town of Reikland avoids whatever fate the Skaven have planned for it (spoiler alert: it’s not pleasant), you play as one of five heroes in charge of bolstering the town’s defences. Each hero has a distinctive flavour to them, both in gameplay and personality. The dwarf ranger is upbeat and jovial, whereas the witch hunter is more cynical and unforgiving, and each character stands out as a unique member of the team. Of course, it’s easy for each character to look different, but it’s harder to make them feel different, but Vermintide delivers a different experience for each character.
Depending on which hero you choose to play as, you will be slaying vermin very differently to the other heroes. For instance, the bright mage relies on her powerful ranged attacks, but must ensure she doesn’t (literally) blow up by overusing them. Meanwhile, the elven pathfinder excels in melee and ranged combat, but lacks the strength to take down armoured enemies. These leaps between character play-styles are true of all the heroes, so if you’re bored of focusing on melee, you can switch to a more range-heavy character. Because each hero plays so differently, teamwork is essential.
To survive against the onslaught of rats trying to kill you, you’ll need to utilise the strengths of each character. It’s not an easy game by any means, and failure to cooperate leads to a swift team wipe, so knowing who can best tackle a commander or gutter runner goes a long way in aiding the team. Good positioning and watching each others backs is the only way to survive, and if you slip up, the whole team suffers. This punishing design fosters good team play, but once you start going above normal difficulty, it starts becoming less of a challenge and more of a monumental task.
It became apparent to me after a couple games that going above the normal difficulty would either require some top-tier players or a divine miracle to overcome. The game’s difficulty is not progressive so much as cliff-esque, and it requires you to be utterly masochistic to get better loot. The challenge is certainly there, but it’ll take a long time before you’ll be competent or well-equipped enough to handle the madness of hard – let alone nightmare – difficulties. The thing is, the game isn’t designed just to play through a mission once, which is its biggest strength and its ultimate weakness.
At first glance, Vermintide is a carbon copy of Left 4 Dead, right down to the unit types. Like Left 4 Dead, Vermintide relies on playing missions over and over instead of offering a linear campaign. This is great if you’re at a LAN and want to overcome a challenge with some friends, but if you’re on your own, it can get repetitive very quickly. I could only play in stints of an hour or two because I couldn’t the game’s design doesn’t lend itself to prolonged engagement, even with the nifty dice-roll loot system. Don’t get me wrong, they were very, very enjoyable stints, and I’m totally willing to keep going back for more bloodshed.
To call the gameplay ‘satisfying’ would be like calling the Mona Lisa ‘paint on canvas’. The game’s melee focus means you’re right in the thick of it for the majority of the mission, and you’ll enjoy it there. I still get a bit giddy whenever I get to watch my blade shred through hordes of rats like a katana through melting chocolate, and don’t even get me started on the soldier’s guns. Everything feels brutally good, and the carnage of the blood splatter mixed with the cacophony of rat squeaks makes my heart soften with joy. It’s an intense, visceral experience, filled with viscera and vermin, and it’s all rendered in stunning detail.
If you haven’t noticed from the screenshots, this game is gorgeous. Blades shimmer in the moonlight as blood splatters into the fur of your vermin foe, and it’s beautifully disgusting, as it so should be. It’s faithful to the source material, and everything looks like it has been taken right from the tabletop game and plugged into an FPS. It can get hectic sometimes, so seeing anything can get tricky, but when you’re literally drowning in rat blood, it only serves to fuel the power trip you’ll be on.
You couldn’t ask for a better Warhammer game than Vermintide. It’s chaotic, it’s brutal, and it has Skaven as the main enemy! Best of all, it could stand on its own as a great game, but when paired with the Warhammer setting, it just makes it even better. It does suffer from a few niggly things, but it’s hardly enough to detract from the beautiful blood-fueled mayhem that the game has to offer. Yeah, I love when Warhammer games don’t suck.