Review: Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide (PC)

coverWarhammer: End Times – Vermintide
Developer: Fatshark
Publisher: Fatshark
Genre: co-op First Person Shooter
Release Date: 10/23/2015

Well after a few successful runs with the beta testing, for which you can find my thoughts on the preview here, I got to get my grabby little hands on the actual release and where I was hoping they’d take the ball and run with it, Fatshark has delivered. While there a few bumps and bruises here and there, I do have to say that Warhammer’s End Times certainly is full of death, dismemberment and a lot of rat men that want you dead. Let’s take a look.

Vermintide takes place during the End Times part of Warhammer‘s fantasy setting, where Chaos is finally rising up to wipe the world clean. Set in and around Ubersreik, a city situated at the mouth of the Grey Lady Pass in Reikland. It’s primarily a shipping town as it’s right on a river. Ubersreik also happens to be the start of an overall massive invasion by a race known as the Skaven, nasty looking half-man and half-rat critters that live in underground tunnels. The Skaven aren’t content to live underground anymore and have set their sites on Ubersreik and have started spewing forth from the underground to try and take the city. Unfortunately for our heroes, they were in Ubersreik when this all started and have to stem the advancing horde, if they can, before the city falls completely to the ratmen.

01Our five heroes include a nice variety to play as even though we only have the five to pick from. First up is Victor Saltzpyre, a human Witch Hunter who’s obsessed with stopping the Skaven to the point it’s cost him promotions. He has a large hat, uses a sword and pistol by default and is really imposing. Kerillian is a Wood Elf Waywatcher who left her post as a guardian of her ancient home of Athel Loren for her own reasons. She’s the bow and two weapon fighter of the group. Markus Kruber is a human Empire Soldier who ended up stuck in the middle of nowhere for rubbing a superior officer the wrong way. He’s got some decent armor and can either go sword and board or large with a big sword or you can load him up with a blunderbuss. Bardin Goreksson is our Dwarf Ranger who’s usually first into battle and hails from the Grey Mountains, keeping the holds of Karak Ziflin and Karak Norn safe from overground attacks. Baradin is a lot of fun to listen to and starts off sword and board and using a crossbow for ranged. Last up is Sienna Fuegonasus who’s a human Bright Wizard who roams the land in a constant search for opportunities to indulge herself in the ecstasy of pyromancy. While she has a melee weapon, her bread and butter are her staves which allow her to combine a variety of fire magic for ranged attacks.

Most of the story for this comes across in banter and the brief intros to each mission. It’s a bit light but this one isn’t necessarily about telling a story, it’s about trying to survive a pending apocalypse and throwing in some RPG elements which it does pretty well. Most of the information I’ve gotten from the game world I picked up off their wiki page. Still though, there’s more here than when vanilla Destiny first launched, so there is that.

03This is a very impressive looking and visually immersive and fun game. Built in and running on Autodesk’s Stingray engine, Vermintide looks fantastic. It helps that the designs are fantastic and the whole game has this great feel to it, but after a few passes with their patches and it’s not only humming but it’s a really smooth engine with great lighting and a really nice online connection set-up. While this may not be hyper-realistic, it definitely captures the artwork and feel of the Warhammer universe. The animations fit the characters and really my only complaint would be the sometimes off looking fire animation on the head of Sienna the fire mage.

Audibly there’s a lot to love. There’s lots of variation in the music and most of it is designed around the fighting with the Skaven which really helps drive it along while you’re playing. What is really a lot of fun though is the party banter. While there are some bits on repeat, most all of them fit the situation and are tailored between the characters and who’s actually out. Overall it’s much better than what we got with Dragon Age Inquisition‘s multiplayer where you’d get the same dialogue over and over again. You can actually go through a whole level without hearing repeat banter which is great. The skaven are appropriately nasty to hear and overall they managed to really suck you in with that end of things.

05So I played this with both the keyboard and mouse and a 360 controller since they tagged this as having partial controller support. You can play most of this game with just a controller but some of the menus and other options like selecting the next map in multiplayer for vote are a bit wonky or won’t work so if you’re looking at playing this in big picture mode with just a controller, you’re out of luck. Keep a wireless keyboard and mouse nearby. I do have to say that it does play better with a controller than it did with my keyboard and mouse, but I think that may have a lot to do with how much Destiny I’ve been playing on my PS4. I may just be too used to the controller and have a lot of rust when it comes to the keyboard and mouse. Either way it’s responsive and does what you tell it it’s just not how I preferred to go about playing.

The game is set up in a string of missions around the town. You launch them form a central hub, a bar located within Ubersreik with a place to reload and restock as well as craft. There’s a map laid out that you select which mission and which difficulty you want to run the mission on. When you launch alone the game goes to work trying to find you a matching game already in progress for you to join but sometimes you get in without the character you had selected as someone else is already using it.

02Depending on the mission you have different objectives at differing points. Usually the mission simply involves getting from point A to point B and clearing out obstacles and the horde of Skaven that show up. Other missions get more involved but hold the same basic idea. There are always Skaven scattered around the level to be a pain but when it gets hairy is when you hear the horn blare out as they’ll start descending on you en mass shortly after. There are a variety of Skaven, the bulk of them being either unarmored or lightly armored troops to take out. The heavier armored ones will take longer. They also have Skaven that drop poison bombs on your group. The bigger problems are the assassins that take your character to the ground and stab you to death without the ability for you to kick them off yourself. You party members have to help with that. There are packmasters that will throw a collar on you and drag you away that also require intervention from your party. They’ve got a giant Skaven that’s a big brutal monster to take out, but the ones with the gatling cannon can be a pain as well.

Be careful of ledges because if you fall off you’ll grab the ledge but you have no way of getting yourself up. Your party has to help. Same as if you get dropped to zero hit points. You can’t just heal yourself even if you have an item to do it. They limit you in what you can carry. You start off with one item if you restocked at the bar and a limited amount of ammunition for your ranged weapons. You can also only carry so many grenades. There are tomes and grimoire scattered around each area. These can greatly benefit your party as your loot roll increases if you beat the mission, but you’ll be lacking a healing item as it takes up that spot. Healing and ammo refills are scattered about, but you’ll have to be careful how you blow through them in each level to make sure you’re not screwing yourself or your party.

04Before I touch crafting I want to touch on loot. You get a randomized item after completing a mission. There are seven reward tiers and you get to roll 7 dice to see where you land on that reward tower to see what you get. There are things that can affect the rolls, like finding cursed dice in a level that ups the reward chance, the tomes that really increase the chance at the cost of your healing ability, and the grimoire that give you an automatic chance at a dice hit at the cost of your entire party’s hit points. It’s an interesting system.

Crafting is actually kind fo involved which really surprised me. They’ve broken it down into three sections, forging, upgrading and salvaging. Forging involves melting down five items of the same rarity to make one item of the next highest rarity. So if you put in five white items, you get a green one. Basically your commons are white, uncommons are green and rares are blue, if that helps. Upgrading involves using special rocks to unlock traits on weapons and shields that have been locked away. Once you’ve unlocked them they work for your from there on out. Lastly you have salvaging which lets you dump an item in to pop out a rock of the corresponding color.

06For the achievement crowd, there are a good chunk here to go out and try to get. There’s also the different experience of playing this every time as each group will tackle different areas far differently form the last group. This ends up lending quite a bit of replay value right there on top of several difficulties to play each mission on as well as the different classes and a gear and loot system to help drive that RPG kind of grind to the game while keeping things moving pretty quickly. While I do think the game is better in shorter stints, it is a lot of fun to play and get back into after putting it down for awhile.

I do have to give them credit, none of the classes feels more powerful than the others while you’re playing but each one feels unique and they managed to do this with five different classes of which only four are playable at a time. The missions run a pretty decent length and giving you thirteen different ones to run through to tell the tale of the Vermintide is pretty good. This is one you’ll probably end up playing more than once just because of gear drops and trying to get into decent groups. There’s enough content here that it’s worth the asking price but only if you’re willing to play through all the missions a few times each.

07While the gameplay feels very similar to Left 4 Dead, the setting and the characters along with their banter are very different from that game. There’s a lot of RPG elements to this as well which adds to that and bonuses for going in on a harder difficulty including better drops. It’s feels very much in the same line-up but does enough differently that it ends up feeling like a different type and kind of game while using a similar approach. On the other hand it’s a zombie horde attack game using rat-men instead of undead, so it still ends up hitting you in the face with that.

The game itself is a lot of fun to play but it’s better in shorter bursts. Each mission runs around fifteen minutes or so and I’d go about three or four and put the game down for a bit. Yes you have a variety of areas to play in both inside and outside of the town, but like the zombies in Left 4 Dead, you can only fight the same oncoming horde of Skaven for so long before you just groan when you hear the predictable horn announcing the next massive wave of them. That can get monotonous even while you’re actively doing something completely different than the previous mission you went out on. Sure changing missions and characters help, but it’s pretty much the same endless horde of rat-men you’re wading through regardless of class or area. I found that one or two missions would be enough and then I’d need a break. I also was pugging or playing with AI bots the entire time. An actual group of friends or regular online group might get far more out of a longer session than I could.

08Warhammer has quite a few fans, but this game kind of goes in a different way than expected from the tabletop wargame. That’s not a bad thing, but I think people looking for that in video game form aren’t going to find it here. I do think it has an audience with people who like co-op first person shooters and games like Left 4 Dead. It does run well and is a lot of fun to play when the mix of people playing and your skill set and what you’re looking to get out of it all match up. Like any online game though be prepared for players looking to grief or be trolls and be prepared to ditch them the first moment you can. Overall while I liked it in shorter burststhere is a lot ot like with this one.

When I first tried the beta I purposefully jumped in with bots to give them a fair shake. Online games tend to have fluctuating populations and it’s a given that you’ll end up stuck with them at some point. The bots here can be really helpful, but when they go stupid, they really go stupid. They have issues sometimes with ledges that you have to use to move into new areas. One time I went to the next area and then found myself alone with a horde of Skaven while the bots just looked on impassionately from their perch as I was torn apart. Another time I was shot dead by a gunner I missed while I was out and about trying to return something needed for the mission and my bot party hid behind a building, terrified of the rat gunner while I bled out in front of them. So while they can be useful, some missions and situations it seems will utterly and totally break them leaving you with a failed mission and wondering what crack they were on.

09The game performance is much improved over the beta experience and has gotten even smoother after launch. I haven’t had any crashes to desktop or anything too extreme. My other big question mark with this is match-ups and the player base. The groups I’d end up in randomly were either really good and ready to go or ended up full of a bunch of people who just wanted to try and push each other around the map or set the other people up to get jumped by a swarm and giggle about it. If you end up in the first group, the game’s a lot of fun. When you’re trying to review a game though and get nothing but the other group it tends to color your experience. The matchmaking can be pretty good in this but when you get on a bad streak it can be downright terrible when you’re not in the mood for trolls. I’d recommend this a bit more if you’ve got a core group of friends to play.

Short Attention Span Summary
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is an interesting take on the end of the Warhammer universe. By focusing on the rat man menace, Fatshark has been able to capitalize on the formula that worked so well with Left 4 Dead and apply it to the hordes of invading Skaven only with a more coherent story attached to the game. The character banter is a lot of fun, the music is pretty good and the matchmaking works pretty quickly to get you into another mission with actual players pretty quickly. While there are some quirks with the bots and of course players who are more interested in griefing than playing, the game itself is a lot of fun in hour or so bursts and the RPG elements will definitely keep people coming back after beating all the missions. If you’re looking for a fun and brutal co-op game to play with friends this is your next game.

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