Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide Review

Title: Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide
Developer: Fatshark
Publisher: Fatshark
Released For: PC (Windows 7+) , PS4, Xbox One
Reviewing: PC (Windows 10)
DRM Versions Available
Released On: Oct 23, 2015
MSRP: $29.99 Steam Link
Copy Purchased

Sitting here in hindsight, I’m trying to figure out what exactly lurched me into wanting Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. For one, it’s not a world I’m familiar with or really care that much about. That should have thrown any theoretical dice right out the window. For two, I don’t think the ‘Left 4 Dead’ style of game really holds up that well without community support or friends to play it with. Three, I’m not into games trying to be something else, because it’s hard to make yourself a new identity as a game, if you’re busy trying to be something that already exists. All these issues (and more) should have led to me to anything ‘but’ Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Yet, here I am, with a recommendation (with caveats) for the game, all from someone who doesn’t really like the Left 4 Dead formula. And with the sequel announced recently, what better time to look at the game?

Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is for lack of a better term, Left 4 Dead. I don’t mean it’s like Left 4 Dead, I mean that Vermintide tore the skin off of Left 4 Dead, mixed in some of Killing Floor 2’s body parts for good measure, borrowed lore from the Warhammer universe, threw in some rats, mixed in some questionable game design with some unique levels, and tried to pass itself off as just a fancy haunted house. If there is a genre, there is a Warhammer game in that genre somewhere.

Trust me, that’s totally a commandment somewhere in the Bible and you’re just not looking hard enough to see it.

Well I’m on to you Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide!

And here we see what a city looks like on fire.

Warhammer: End Times Vermintide is essentially Left 4 Dead in the Warhammer universe, except that the zombies are now rats. It takes just about all the good things in Left 4 Dead, refines them, then adds odd RNG mechanics so ingrained that you’ll go and look for where the non-existent microtransactions are. The story follows you as one of the main heroes of something too uninteresting to matter, and it’s up to our five heroes to stop the Vermintide or, in laymen’s terms, a massive invasion of Skaven. Who are they? Why are they here? Unless you want to read the lore book filled with enough lore to probably be an actual book, you’ll never know. Then again, it’s the Left 4 Dead analogy, where there’s slightly more story, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter all that much. In the game, you have the choice of five heroes, including a Witch Hunter, a Dwarf, a tall-version of the Dwarf known as the Empire Soldier who has the almost exact same set of weapons as the Dwarf so why is he even here, the Elf, and the Fire Mage. With our surprisingly sparse cast of characters out of the way, our heroes are off to save the day, get drunk, and kill some good ol’ Skaven. Probably not in that order. You’ll play through a series of levels in Left 4 Dead style, complete a mission with AI if you want to die repeatedly or without AI if you want to remind yourself why you hate the human race, get loot including costume accessories and new weapons via a literal dice roll, not get the loot you want, and repeat the same process until you wonder just how Vermintide managed to attract more pricks than Counter Strike Global Offensive.

Once you start up the game and pick your hero, you’ll be put in a pub. In the pub, you can select a mission or game mode, swap out your weapons, combine weapons and different kinds of currency into new weapons, reload your partially random stats on your weapons into new partially random stats, and melt down your weapons for currency to unlock the randomized traits on your randomized weapons. Once you select one of the thirteen missions (fourteen between the two game modes) in the base game, search for players or play with bots, and you’re off to fighting hordes of rats. After completing a level on one of the five difficulty levels, you’ll be taken to a stats screen to see how terribly you’ve done compared to everyone else. Then, you’re taken to a pot filled with dice. A roll of the dice will determine the one of several possible items you could get, all scaling in rarity by their color scheme (and in return, the currency you could get by melting them down). These items vary from costume items with bonus stats, to weapons. At any one time, the player can carry a health potion, a bomb or firebomb, and a strength or speed potion. It’s enough to keep the player moving forward, but I wish there was some more variety into the potions than just strength or speed. The player will also be given less and less of these special items on the start of each level based on the selected difficulty. Traps also wouldn’t go amiss, considering the hoard like mentality of the majority of rats. I personally would love to see a bunch of Skaven get caught in a bear trap for example.

Speaking of the rats and combat, the combat itself is about as solid as can be. The rat enemies are nearly carbon copies of Left 4 Dead. Commonly infected are now the Clanrats, Infected Hordes are now Rat Hordes, The Hunter is now the Gutter Runner, The Spitter is now the Poison Wind Globadier, and The Tank is now the Rat Ogre. The closest new and unique enemies are the Rattling Gunners, who fire a gun. It’s basic, but it’s not terrible by any means, and slaughtering them is all the more fun with the melee weapons. Thanks to the collection of weapons, combat feels a lot more solid than it’s now skinless twin of Left 4 Dead. Every swing feels gratifying, and the bow and arrow (used by the Elf) particularly has a solid punch to it.

And here we see the Digital Dice Gods and their magic randomness. Does doing better at the game effect your reward? No, no it doesn’t.

The only weapon that doesn’t have a lot of punch in a twist, is the flintlock or gunpowder weapons used by the Witch Hunter, Dwarf, and Empire Soldier. They feel solid, but the guns feel either too accurate or not accurate enough. Despite the Empire soldier’s higher tier guns being more powerful, they feel about as powerful as pea shooters. They just don’t have enough visual kickback to make them look as powerful as they feel. Despite the large collection of weapons, there’s nothing that strays far from the roots of fantasy.

Swords, bows, flintlock, and magic weapons are all abound for the player to eventually get, and while the starting weapons the characters have are dull, many of the better weapons are in the blue-tier category over higher rarity categories because of their design or stats, so it’s not impossible to get better weapons early on. Such as one of the blue tier shield and mace combos having a smaller shield so you can see past it.

If a hero is downed, the player has a certain amount of time to save the character. Each time a character is saved, they’ll bleed health (but not all the way down) until they gain health or use a health potion equivalent. If a hero dies, that hero is then moved somewhere ahead of the players where he or she can be rescued.

For the most part, the characters all largely play the same with minor differences in between. The Empire Soldier and Dwarf are the only two with shield playstyles for example, and the Fire Mage doesn’t use ammo, but she’s limited to how much fire she uses before it starts ticking away at her health bar. They’re not large differences, but they’re different enough to warrant using each hero’s special weapons to his or her advantage in combat.

Level design wise, the levels are mostly well designed. Each main area of a level has a handful of different ways to explore, but each still leads to a single hallway or chokepoint. The player will go through abandoned docks, creepy ruins, and abandoned farms. Along the way, the player will find randomly placed loot, which could be anything from health items to ammo dispensaries. You can also give the majority of these items (minus ammo and special items) to other players. So if a player or AI is wounded, you can give them an extra health potion you find. All the levels start to sort of blend together, but a few like the mage’s library stand out as particular favorites.

[From a DLC level]: Those rats walking away in the sky? Wish I could be as bugged out as they are.

My only big gripe with the level design is the color pallet. All the characters are terribly dark, and considering ten of the thirteen basic levels consist of really dark greys, blues, greens, and blacks, it’s really easy to accidently hurt other players.

Oh that’s right, you can hurt other players, on an online co-op focused game. Sure, it’s only on difficulties nightmare and cataclysm (the two highest difficulties), but that should never be an excuse for sloppy game design choices. Because the amount of matches are limited, the player’s limited with who and on what map they play with and on. Since Nightmare difficulty is basically impossible with the terribly dim AI, and all the good loot generally comes from Nightmare or higher difficulty, the player is basically forced to play with people after the first 3-4 hour run of the game. That’s also generally where all the fun will be had after all, with other people. But taking into account of things like latency, it’s ridiculous to let players be able to hurt each other on higher difficulties. I’ve had at least a dozen matches where the host (yes, there’s no dedicated servers either) had such a terrible connection, we’d end up all hitting each other because other characters would just teleport in places. This is far worse when the amount of US matches can dwindle from fifteen, to maybe three or four. So between being able to hit other players, the majority of maps and players having really dark color pallets, and the AI being as thick as the walls around my grey little heart, Vermintide is just dying for players to get annoyed with each other.

This doubles because the terribly small online presence is filled with people either just starting out, or people over level 100. There’s little in between. There’s also mods available for the online that will automatically kick people below a certain level from joining your game. Sounds great, until you realize that mods for online should never be allowed that change the core functionality of a game. I’m fine when it’s a mod I put on for my games, but not when I didn’t choose it. I’d be fine if this was for custom maps (something that doesn’t exist here), but things that edit core functions of my experience are a no-go in my book.

It’s not like the host choice menu in the game, acknowledges the mod either. I actually wouldn’t mind a level requirement option when you host a game, but not when it doesn’t tell you if there’s a requirement or not prior to joining. It means joining a game, waiting through a loading screen, play for 2 seconds until the mod kicks you out, another loading screen, and then back to the pub. That’s a lot of wasted time even on an SSD, let alone time that I didn’t choose to waste. Considering VAC isn’t in Vermintide, and mod support isn’t officially even recognized, it means taking a chance wasting tons of time unnecessarily.

Speaking of grinds, if RNG has a picture in a dictionary, burn that dictonary, make a new one, and replace the image associated to RNG with Vermintide. Between the multiple currency types, random loot drops, dice to increase chance of better loot in random loot drops, armor to increase chance of better loot in random loot drops, missions of the day with keys that you can put towards unlocking an item, Vermintide is screaming microtransactions. Yet, despite that, good luck finding any. They don’t exist, but all the useless and tedious grinding still does.

Three of those four areas aren’t available unless you purchase DLC. Good to know that Fatshark is living up to its name.

All of the loot the player will find during matches is loot that increases your chances during the random dice roll for guess what, more random loot. It’s like if a free-to-play game and Destiny had a baby, and it’s by far the worse thing about the game. In some cases, I love grinding for things I want. But it’s not like you’re ever earning the things that the player is grinding for. If you think of a roleplaying game with a crafting system, the game says you need X materials or X dollars to get the item. So you go to earn the cash or materials to get said item. It’s the most basic way to encourage repeat gameplay. But because the loot that the player gets is random, and the reward for beating a mission is random, and the stats on the said reward for completing a mission are random, and you have to spend in-game currency to constantly re-roll your weapon’s bonus stats until you get the ones you want, you never feel like you’re earning what you’re getting. Randomness and RNG should be used for things like bonuses, not the main loot that the player is grinding for. A reward doesn’t matter if everything is dependent on the roll of digital dice, and what you get from the digital dice gods vary from the equivalent usefulness of a spatula, to a tank.

It’s not like you can just get these items either. Most of them (minus a few) are held behind the barrier of digital randomness, so it’s not like you can just melt down all your orange/yellow tier weapons to eventually get a red either. Think of the real world, except everyone’s only job was to play a short obstacle course where, at the end, the player would play a game of “yatzee” that they can’t technically lose, and the prizes vary from random toasters and microwaves, to a new car. If you don’t get the microwave you want, you can either play the obstacle course again, or throw dice at your microwave until it gets the right specifications you want. What’s worse, is once you get the right microwave with what you want on it, what are you supposed to do with the other 34 microwaves you’ve “earned” beyond melt them down for a currency that no longer has a use, because you already have what you want out of microwave one?

Visually, the game looks fine. Ignoring the previous color pallet complaint, the levels look fantastic, and I love the art style the game goes with. The game runs well, but I did notice too close for comfort texture pop in on certain levels.

As for the audio, it’s acceptable. I can’t remember any tracks, but nothing stuck out as atrocious or out of place. Weapons sounded meaty and heavy, and the bow sounded quick. Standard stuff.

As for the controls, the game supports a controller and keys are rebindable. The ability to change the FOV was nice, and it’s what you come to expect from a solid PC game at this point.

Overall, I found the game enjoyable (to a point), despite RNG mechanics that a freemium mobile game would be proud of. Vermintide’s combat is heavy and satisfying, it’s levels are fairly well designed (though more variety wouldn’t go amiss), the character’s banter between one another is fairly on point, and the game is just fun to play. However, without friends to play with, the game got boring after a while. It might be different for you, but without mod support, the lack of level and level variety (even with the DLC) just makes the game feel like it’s missing content. I got my time out of the game and I’m satisfied with the time I spent, but the RNG really hurt the overall experience for me, and I’d rather it just not be there. I’d probably toss a hand at the game with a discount, especially if you want the Left 4 Dead experience in a new setting with a bunch of things tweaked. If Left 4 Dead isn’t your thing, this game isn’t going to change your mind, but if it is, I’d check it out if for no other reason than as a break from the norm of Left 4 Dead. It probably won’t replace Left 4 Dead for most people, but it’s a nice break from Left 4 Dead. If that sounds appealing to you, you might just like Vermintide.

Good

  • Visual style
  • Fully rebindable controls / FOV slider
  • Satisfying, meaty combat
  • Plenty of replayability
  • Banter between heroes

Meh

  • Lore books (I’m not a fan of text dumps)
  • No custom mod support (which is a big reason for people to still play Left 4 Dead)

Bad

  • Lack of truly memorable levels
  • RNG up the wazoo
  • Small(ish) player population

 

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