Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide PC Review
I’m not sure what is going on at Games Workshop, but as a fan of their Warhammer and Warhammer 40:000 titles, I’m happy that we are seeing a growth of licensed games hitting the market, as those intellectual properties are rich with content to work with a wide range of genres. A perfect example of that is Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide, a game that is so easy to explain to someone, simply because this is Left 4 Dead twisted into Warhammer‘s fantasy world where zombies are replaced with giant rats and machine guns and pistols are switched for swords and infancy firearms. What is fascinating is that this type of game, one that includes a campaign rather than small maps with central points (Payday 2), has not seen great releases past Left 4 Dead 2. Similar titles have taken the cooperative survival idea and put it into third-person, such as the fun Zombie Army Trilogy, but pure first-person action has only come with the lukewarm Evolve that messed up its release with awful DLC announcements before the game even hit, and even then, that game featured small areas to hunt down the monster.
Vermintide pushes home that this game is completely inspired by Valve’s zombie game to the point that it includes concepts that are identical, just re-skinned to fit with the theme of Vermintide. Even so, what is reused is done well, but Vermintide manages to throw in refreshing ideas to bring its own identity to what could have easily been a botched attempt to capture Valve’s magic.
The End Times are part of Game Workshops’ fantasy Warhammer campaign arc where a great cataclysmic event is signalling the end of the world. In utmost chaos, the city of Ubersreik has become overrun by Skaven, a race of Ratmen, and its down to the surviving humans to keep alive while fending off wave upon wave of human-sized vermin. Warhammer has a huge lore behind it, but you will not find that here, as story is minimal, rather using the theme to support the game more than its deep lore. All you need to know is given to the player, so everyone should have alarm bells ringing that rats are bad and must be killed. One of the big differences between this and Left 4 Dead is the shift in tone. Vermintide is grisly, dark and depressing, with its colour scheme fitting with the atmosphere and its visual clarity muddle in an oily effect. It works wonders for bringing a visually striking, dirty town infested with uncleanness to our monitors.
A hero needs to be picked before jumping into the action, and just like Left 4 Dead, only one instance of the character can used during a level. This is where the first difference between those two games is apparent, as five heroes are available to use, but unlike Left 4 Dead, these Warhammer classes have their own distinct abilities and weapons, with one melee and one range weapon given to each class to allow multiple ways to deal with the pests. Witch Hunter (the one I spent most time with) uses light pistols and rapiers, Bright Wizard is based around fire, using wizard staves to conjure fireballs, flame beams and area of effect fire pools, while using maces and swords for up close action. Every fantasy has dwarfs, and the Dwarf Ranger in Vermintide keeps up with the stereotype of these small guys being tough cookies with his hammers, shields and crossbows, while the Waywatcher is the ranger of the team, equipped with a bow and daggers for quick strikes. Empire Soldier makes up the last class, offering defence and heavy blunt strikes with his mace and hard hitting blunderbuss gun. While all classes have the ability to attack from range or up close, it’s clear that each one plays slightly different, with the Bright Wizard and Waywatcher being more powerful when used from range with their head shot prowess and pyrotechnic bombing, while the rest are good for getting in close.
Thirteen missions are laid out across three acts, each one with an objective to fill. There is a mixture of mission structures, some are point-to-point, fighting through enemies to get to the objective, usually lasting around 15-25 minutes to travel from start to finish, while others are survival or collectathons, such as protecting wells in a town square or collecting six sacks of grain and returning them to the getaway cart. These tasks aren’t anything new in terms of game mechanics, but some great level design mixed in with the random placement of enemies and items means that hacking through the stone-filled streets of Ubersreik or going underground to explore its sewers is always interesting. In actual fact, even with the scope of Ubersreik, the developers have managed to squeeze in a few diverse locations to split up from the city streets and docks. During the three acts, players will visit a magical tower, explore a wealthy estate garden and traverse through the local forest. More locations could be added, but it’s nice to see more than the town, plus, the more exciting locations add colour to the otherwise often murky brown of this dying place.
As mentioned earlier, these locations are filled with enemies – plenty of rats to take down. These rats are virtually the zombies of the game, pests that offer entertaining kills as they are taken down with chops, shots and limb mutilation – bodies flying everywhere when the physics go a little wild. It’s a pleasant joy to act as the fantasy exterminator. A few minutes with the game makes it clear that melee is an important part of Vermintide, so it does well that melee feels good. It’s not complex, since attacks are done with a click of the mouse, while holding down the mouse charges a stronger blow. Right click usually blocks, and a parry can be performed when clicking left mouse while blocking during an enemy attack animation. Even with the lack of complexity, the sound and impact of steel hitting rat meat is squishtastic – it looks, sounds and feels meaty, so I always preferred getting in with the melee weapons rather than shooting them with the Witch Hunter’s pistols, not that ranged is bad, it just does not have the same impact as hacking down four rats – arms, legs or heads coming off with a lucky charge swing.
Moving up from the cannon fodder are the special enemies, these are the Hunters, Tanks and Jockeys of the game. Most enemies can be mapped to the Left 4 Dead special infected. Rat Orges are Tanks, massive bulky rats that slam the ground or punch players with so much force they fly back from the impact. Packmasters are the Jockeys, sneaky rats that seem to come out of nowhere and clamp the hero with a hook, dragging them off to eventually hang them up to bleed to death unless a friendly buddy comes to the rescue. The Globadier is the spitter, lobbing gas bombs to poison everyone who succumbs to the poison cloud hanging in the air. I could go on, but you get the idea that most special units are cloned from Left 4 Dead. Bizarrely, there isn’t a type that copies The Witch, so don’t expect any instant deaths from being noisy. The closest unit to represent that would be the Stormvermin patrol that marches around. These are armoured rats that walk around an area looking for players. If someone is spotted by the Stormvermin, the pack will begin to chase down the player until killed. The absence of a Witch-esque enemy and the fact that Fatshark did stick in something like the Ratling Gunner – a rat armed with a mini gun like Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator 2 – does bring a little of their own flavour.
To help with the rat extermination, each hero can carry a healing item, a buff potion and a bomb. Healing items can be small bottles to heal oneself or a medipack that can be used on either the player or a friendly. Buff potions add speed or strength for a very limited time, mainly useful for tackling the Rat Ogre or a few Stormvermin, while bombs are great for clearing a huge pack of rats, exploding on impact and sending them flying in the air. Items are often found randomly in chests or laid open for all to see, and plenty can be found to use during a mission.
The biggest difference between Valve’s game and this is the loot system. Fatshark has developed a randomised reward system to give player new melee, ranged or trinkets, if a mission is successfully completed. An irrelevant experience system is also in place, but this is just a number to show off how long you have played the game, since the only benefit from levelling up is getting a free loot drop.
A set of dice is rolled to determine the rewarded loot. Depending how many winning sides appear determine which item in the reward list is received. These are random items, so often the reward is for another class than the one you are currently playing. This makes it feel like the game wants you to switch around classes and play with all five of the heroes, as keeping to a specific one will bring constant disappointment when rewards are not for your hero of choice. Loot uses the familiar RPG colour schemes of white, green, blue, orange, and red for the recently released update that added an additional 40 items. The higher the colour usually means better stats and bonus traits, but the best rewards will be found on the higher difficulties, as the reward list drops a tier as the game gets harder, removing the god awful whites that are only useful for combining on the anvil to create a new weapon. Collectable grimoires, tomes and randomly hidden loot dies give more chance to successfully roll a win, but they take up item slots, where tomes take up the healing space and grimoires take up the potion space while also reducing health by 33% in exchange for a 100% winning roll. These are risk-reward options if one wants to go for the best winnings possible.
Five difficulties are available through all 13 stages and each one feels more of a challenge than the same setting in Left 4 Dead. Even easy held a few deaths for me until I got the hang of the game. Normal offered a tiny challenge, but hard is where things begin to up the stakes, as the AI becomes unpredictable with its spawning of special rats and health is drained faster thanks to the harder hits from the rats. The two remaining settings, Nightmare and Cataclysm add friendly fire and should only be attempted once you have found some worthwhile gear, otherwise, it’s rat food for most people attempting to get through Cataclysm with their sanity still intact. It should be clear that this game is aimed to be played with human players. While the AI is fine to have during easy and normal, taking them any further will result in frustration as there is no way to command them or get them to pick up helpful items. It’s the norm here, just like for any other cooperative game that includes AI companions – they are serviceable but do not replace a human player.
Running Vermintide on maximum settings requires horse power for the best performance. It’s certainly a looker with an aesthetic that is familiar yet unclean, giving a very potent visually style that looks great. There is no SLI/Crossfire support, so it’s down to one card to do the job. Running at 2560×1400 on an Titan X, the game mostly kept over 60fps, but during high rat packs where physics are working hard to simulate all this mutilation and death, the frame rate could drop into the 40s. This performance hit is noticeable, but thankfully it does not tank enough to cause issues with the gameplay. Dropping some of the settings will help less powerful cards, and anyone with a mid range GPU should be able to have a jolly, bloody time with Vermintide.
It is very easy to simply dismiss Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide as a Left 4 Dead clone and leave it at that, but in reality, this is a great cooperative game that uses Valve’s zombie game as a base, but then built its own personality on top of what Left 4 Dead had originally brought seven years ago. With great feeling melee combat, gruesome action, solid level design and brutal difficulty, this game is a hell of a lot of fun and is ideal for anyone looking for more first-person action to cure an itch for cooperative fun who doesn’t mind grinding on the side to impress the rats with their better gear.