Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide (PC)
Released: 24th of October, 2015
MSRP: $29.99 USD
You finally realize where you are. Your every senses corrupted. The ringing of gunshots echo in your ears. The smell of gunpowder fills your nostrils. The taste of blood in your mouth, it’s so cold and metallic. The feeling of moist ravenous snarls baring down on you and the sight of an over-sized rat poised to sink their blades into you and end your miserable suffering. Welcome to Ubersriek! Released on October 23rd, Fatshark (makers of Krater and more recently Bloodsports.TV) has unleashed the Skaven rat horde upon the world for all to fight and conquer.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide takes place during the End Times of the Warhammer series. Where the prophesied cataclysmic event takes place and wipes out the Warhammer universe. The game occurs during 2523 I.C in a city called Ubersreik, Reikland. In it, the player will have to fight against the Skaven. A race of humanoid rat creatures that thrive underground in a giant empire. They are a particularly nasty race of creatures as they fight to take over the overworld due to their beliefs in being the superior species of all race according to their deity the “Horned Rat”. Utilizing fear and shadowy tactics, they are a formidable race that could very well have the capacity to take on the world. I know nothing about the Warhammer world, but I love that this is my entry into the franchise.
As for the heroes? They take the role of 5 hunters who are trying to fight the Skaven horde. The Witch Hunter, Victor Saltzpyre is a man of absolute law, drawing upon quick shooting. Kerillian the Waywatcher, a Wood Elf guardian of Athel Loren who utilizes bows for precision. Markus Kruber the Empirical soldier who utilizes heavy weaponry and was the sole survivor of his regiment after a horrendous war. Bardin Gorreksson the Dwarf Ranger who was merely hunting for treasure but ended up fighting for his life with extreme defensive capabilities. The final member of the crew is Sienna Fuegonasus the Bright Wizard who lends the group her wit and fiery magical prowess. She was wrongfully caught and placed on trial for the death of the Burgomeister of Ubersreik’s son by Victor. There are talks of even more playable characters should the game become successful. There is some great lore in the Warhammer series, if you’re itching to read up on some of the Vermintide stuff, you can check out the wiki for a bit more detail about the setting and characters. You’ll get to hear some amazing banter between the characters as you play through the campaign that will help fill in the lore and story of the world.
Now then, let’s talk about the game. When you jump into the first campaign you’ll immediately draw parallels with another familiar co-op title in recent memory: Left 4 Dead. You’ll have an AI director send in random waves of Skaven hordes and a sprinkling of some special Skavens including the Ratling Gunner who focuses one of your party members into cover with a Gatling gun or a Rat Ogre who will come charging in and disrupt the flow of progression until you can slay the giant. There are even more to discover as you fight through the horde of Skaven, but one thing is still important. Much like in Left 4 Dead, your teammates are your life lines, you have to work together in order to survive. As you progress through levels, you’ll have to fulfill objectives such as collecting items or defending against the Skaven. On the subject of items, you’ll be able to find healing draughts, med-kits, strength and speed potions, and bombs strewn throughout the level.
However, this is where the game deviates from Left 4 Dead. After every successful campaign, you’ll enter a screen where you’ll do a dice roll mini-game that determines what loot weapon you’ll pick up. The more die with symbols on them rolled, the higher the rarity of loot is. Throughout levels you can come across tomes and a grimoire that take up an inventory space for a player. You will need to carry this all the way to the end of the level, usually signified by escaping with Olesya the Handler. Players can also find bonus die throughout levels randomly. All of these items improve the dice thrown during the mini-game. The grimoire makes one die have a 100% chance of showing a symbol.
As you play through the 13 currently available campaigns, you’ll continuously pick up loot weapons which can be upgraded to unlock their full potential or fused with other weapons to create a higher ranked weapon or even smelted down for materials. All of this is done via the forge that only becomes available after the first character level up. Oh yes characters do level up, however, it doesn’t increase stats. It only unlocks weapons that characters can use.
There are many weapons to find and unlock for all characters. For instance, I tend to run the Waywatcher who starts off with dual daggers and a basic shortbow. After a few quick successful normal matches, she now wields a single powerful blade and her arrows are now coated with poison. With different elements and effects, there are a magnitude of unique weapons to find, something that is definitely keeping me interested in repeating levels. The weapons are by no means overpowered which means the game retains its challenge. The only way to breeze through campaigns is to find a solid load out, have great communication with teammates and to master the fundamentals of combat.
While Left 4 Dead 2 introduced melee weapons, they were for the most part not unique and only differed through damage output. In Vermintide, weapons can change the play style of characters greatly. For instance, a weapon can have the ability to pierce armor, because of that, they are an effective weapon to combat the Stormvermin, a heavily armored species of Skaven. Aside from abilities, innate stats of weapons have an impact on their usefulness. You can have a weapon with a wider swing or a weapon that knocks back the rats further. There’s a depth of variability that allows weapons to have situational use as you fight the rat infestation. Then there’s the actual mechanic where it draws inspiration from Chivalry’s way of doing melee combat: click and move the mouse to swing at the dynamic targets. Blocking becomes essential, you can’t block forever, but you can do it in crucial moments or use it to push away oncoming attacks to mitigate damage. There’s a very intuitive dodge that works so well, a vertical hit from a Skaven with a well timed dodge can allow you to avoid damage and still throw out the charged attack you were building up.
Although Vermintide is touted as a co-op game, you can still run the campaigns in single player with bots. While they are no real replacement for a human player, they are adequate enough to make their way through and assist you as you play alone. I did have some issues with finicky AI. At some point I stood there pinging at a med-kit to get the AI to pick it up and they instead wander off to get captured by a Packmaster. Granted this was when I was in a match with one other human player so it could very well have been programming to make sure the AI wasn’t greedy in multiplayer. That said, on numerous occasions, the AI would steal the health packs when they notice I was carrying a tome. On that matter, playing with AI on single player makes it incredibly hard to carry multiple tomes back as they tend to drop them in favor of health items. I do however appreciated the fact that when I’m riding an elevator or was far away the AI would teleport nearby if they weren’t incapacitated. Overall, the AI bots were mediocre when it comes to being a replacement human players, but they do their job as an extra pair of hands nicely.
When it comes to aesthetics and ambience, the score and scenery is done extraordinarily well. The darkened hue of the world lit up by mere candles shows how far in disarray the city of Ubersreik is. Doorways and windows are barred with wooden planks, some broken, some standing, all to show the futility of resistance as the Skaven take control. The composition for the game is by Jesper Kyd who has worked on the Hitman, Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands series. His work here is duly noted with the shrill peaceful yet anxious tune at the inn to the frightening bellows of war horns sounded in the distance to signify a rat horde, the composition and sound cues really makes the world stand out as a truly dire place.
I’ve made comparisons to Left 4 Dead in this review and honestly? That’s not a bad thing at all. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is Left 4 Dead and more. There’s a lot of replayability thanks to the loot system and a lot of variability through playing different styles of the same characters. Vermintide is an excellent entry into a genre that is so diluted, it’s a welcome entry and should stand proud next to the likes of the timeless classic that is Left 4 Dead. Yet despite this familiarity, Vermintide still maintains its uniqueness due to it’s well-shaped setting, character and gameplay. I just wish the dwarf would stop running away with my med-packs.