The Warhammer franchise has been on a bit of a roller coaster recently. Due to the fact that Games Workshop has in effect allowed anyone to make a Warhammer title if they apply for the rights, a ton of licensed Warhammer games have been released in recent years, most of them mediocre. Vermintide thankfully breaks this trend, to delightfully bloody results.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is a grim affair. The world is ending, and seemingly only five adventurers can save it. Each of the five adventurers are unique and fun to play, fitting all manner of playstyles, from the Dwarf Ranger to the Imperial Soldier. The gameplay is similar to Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, with its half-hour or so missions with multiple objectives, but its combat more akin to Torn Banner Studio’s Chivalry. It’s nothing special per se—everything seen in this game has been done before—but it is done well enough so that the player is continually engaged.
Each of the five characters can be summarized in a glance by how they fight or by how they even act, but Vermintide proudly wears its tropes on its sleeve. The way each of the characters play is quite similar, although the wizard, not unexpectedly, primarily fights with spellcasting. The other characters can be played in different ways, but it is clear that Fatshark intended each of the characters to conform to the archetypes that can be assessed to them at a glance. The Imperial Soldier is loyal to his comrades and his duty, the Witch Hunter is zealous in his persecution of those the Empire unworthy, and the Waywatcher is an Elf who is dismissive of other races. The way combat is utilized in this title is quite simple: a single left-click of the mouse is the regular attack, holding the left-click is the special' attack, and to block incoming strikes you right-click. Despite this simplistic control scheme, Vermintide's combat succeeds based upon the fact that it is in first person and the fact that the blows feel and sound satisfyingly meaty, giving the combat enough heft to pass muster.
Another reason that the combat is great is not just the actual combat itself, but the verbal interaction between the characters. The way that these charcaters banter between each other during the missions - especially from the voracious Dwarf and the darkly sardonic Witch Hunter -can actually be quite amusing. While these characters are cardboard cutouts, Fatshark at least made them entertaining cardboard cutouts.
As hinted at by the title, the primary foes that one will face in Vermintide are Skaven, who are essentially rat-men. There isn’t much of a variety in terms of what you will be fighting, but most of them you will be too busy being overwhelmed by the amount of enemies on screen to really care. Besides the variety, the actual design behind the creatures is very well done, as well as the locations that these creatures inhabit, from the dank sewers to the claustrophobic wizard’s tower, it actually feels like a place, which is a testament to Fatshark’s world building.[caption id="attachment_60653" align="alignnone" width="1920"] It's a pretty world too.[/caption]
Before each mission, the player starts off in a tavern, where one can prepare for battle by fiddling with their inventory or using the Forge to create, destroy, and update weapons, which is a great idea and encourages further play after the missions are completed. While one can play Vermintide alone with bots, you probably won’t get very far. The bots, while capable in combat, are selfish, claiming all the glory while almost never reviving their fellow teammates or completing objectives, making the single-player experience a chore.
Each mission has a group of four characters completing the main objective with some side-objectives on the way, from collecting food to clearing out the sewers of Skaven to ensure that the smugglers can, well, smuggle supplies into the city. During the course of these missions, expect to die frequently if you do not have a committed team, because Vermintide is hard, and it has built-in game mechanics to make sure that players don’t run off and try to save the world on their own.
This isn’t always a good thing, though, as Vermintide sometimes has massive difficulty spikes that really drag down the experience. One egregious mission in particular has players trying to collect six sacks of grain from a farm. Sounds easy right? Not even close, as the open-ended nature of the level seemingly dares players to run off on their own, which along with the literal horde of screaming vermin that descend on the player is a recipe for disaster. This level also seems to be the buggiest as well, from flying characters to the level randomly restarting for no reason. That isn't to say that the game is bug-free aside from this level, but for this level alone it seems as though it was rushed out the door before release.[caption id="attachment_60654" align="alignnone" width="1920"] They have a cave troll.[/caption]
Speaking of screaming vermin, the sound design of Vermintide is fantastic; Fatshark has done an incredible job with literally everything that makes a sound in Vermintide. From the snarls of the vermin, to the distinct thrum of the elven bow and to the echoing boom of the shotgun, nothing sounds out-of-place, and it all fits the world perfectly. It is arguably the best part of the title, and that is not a bad thing. Even the grim soundtrack and sometimes haunting is great, and with a good surround system or decent headphones, your ears will be extremely pleased.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is a title that does not set the world on fire, (although in-game it certainly tries) but it doesn't have to. What is there is incredibly entertaining, and as of launch there is enough content to see players happily slaughtering thousands of Skaven for weeks to come.
Disclaimer: Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on Steam.