Warhammer 40,000: Darktide PC Review
I played Vermintide 2, Fatshark’s previous Warhammer-based first-person co-operative action game, at a particularly strange time in my life. It helped me through a pretty rough patch, actually, just giving me a thing to work on some days, and I absolutely loved it. Probably a little too much seeing as I burnt myself out maxing each class way before any of the many awesome-looking DLCs dropped, meaning I never got to try them out. I’m sure I’ll end up getting to now though, as Darktide, more than anything, has me yearning to go back and play the much better entry in the franchise. For now, at least. Whilst the bloody thrashing of hordes combined with coordinated take-downs of elites is just as fun as ever, and the need to work as a unified force elevates the challenge meaningfully (at higher difficulties, anyway), there’s still a lot missing from the title and much that was promised is not ready at release. On the positive side, the biggest change to the visceral combat is the addition of guns, which are used as a means to add an extra layer of depth – literally. This latest endeavour as such blends the head-smashing melee core with the ability to pick off new and stimulating enemy types at a distance. And it does an excellent job of it. The different classes also manage to stand out on their own in terms of capabilities, weaknesses, and strengths… after about 10 or so hours of levelling them.
Sadly, everything else supporting that main gameplay loop is underwhelming. This includes the variety, or lack thereof, of expedition types. Scanning bodies, delivering objects, and resetting terminals gets old quickly, but it’s made even worse by the fact that the available stages are randomised. This makes whole sessions blend together into forgettable blobs of time with no clear boundaries. They are simply fodder used to grind up levels in order to hit the next threshold and be rewarded with a cutscene plus some sort of upgrade or equipment slot unlock, etc. See, the narrative focus has been pulled out of the individual maps and into the overworld. A few things about this don’t work. Firstly; the husk of a story is hardly worth experiencing and never reaches any sort of climax because how could it? That would mean there would need to be a fundamental shift to the player’s position in the world but because everything now resolves in the hub we’re painted into a corner, as, just like a sitcom, everything needs to basically reset after each episode in order to allow people to continue playing. Secondly; the shortage of a climax within the tale being told and the way that players are now given an arbitrary handful of missions to choose from at any moment means there’s also no build-up gameplay-wise. No difficulty ramp, no big boss at the end of an act, no final showdown to overcome, nada. This is probably the most disappointing thing of all for me.
I mean, there are ‘bosses’ at the end of two of the eleven or so current expeditions. At least I think there are. They were honestly so similar and uninspired that there may have been more shielded big dudes or even just the solitary one? What a shame after Vermintide 2’s colosseum face-offs, special to each world and their theme. Actually, that’s another unfortunate comparison – the absence of structured motifs that affect both the visuals and gameplay. Each ‘zone’ in V2 is unique and easily distinguished, whereas Darktide’s mish-mash of terrain within each engagement may at first seem interesting, but it quickly devolves with heavy re-use of setting and samey environments. It’s almost impossible to look at a shot of gameplay and know which assignment the players are working on even if there are stripped metal constructions, huge (and frankly tremendous looking) majestic temples, or shanty desert patches, as in a single outing you can traverse all of those and more. Of course this only works to further diminish the sense of growth or advancement.
The progression in every sense of the world is a real problem, clearly. Not only within the narrative thread and stage selection/combat evolution, but also within weapon acquisition and upgrading. Long gone is the excitement of loot chests and instead we have ourselves a real ‘live service’ type of deal and all the awful connotations that come with that particular buzz phrase. Complete with overbearing weekly goals, a rotating inventory on a real-world timer just like how encounters are presented, and DING! DING! DING! an exclusive in-game currency that can only be obtained by spending real money for purchasing cosmetics. This isn’t exactly shocking these days but when cosmetics are otherwise terribly awkward to secure and the core experience is still so riddled with issues, it’s understandable that the community wouldn’t be too happy about the order of priorities here. Besides the awful load times, which is admittedly my own fault for playing on a HDD when it’s clearly recommended to be played off of a SSD, I’ve still seen more than a fair share of crashes, mission-ruining bugs, and awful connectivity troubles.
All of All of these details come together to form a fairly lifeless game – one with all the fixings and foundation of another epic showcase but without any of the polish or love that is so evident in the team’s previous undertaking. Now I know for a fact this game is going to be incredible. I have confidence in Fatshark; they’ve earned that by showing how much they care about their work and their player base. But, right now, in its current state, there’s simply no way I can call it a worthy successor. The gunplay is wonderful and I’ll no doubt continue to dip in here and there, but longer sessions quickly become dull and there’s no real hook, no grand finale, to motivate me to push on. I can’t wait to see what it’ll become but, in the meantime, I think I’ll take a look back and revel in the masterful predecessor, Vermintide 2, and all of the juicy extra content I never got to dive into. TL;DR Age of Sigmar > 40k.