When I talked to various teams that were doing games in the Left 4 Dead lineage, each had unique ideas about why the game works and the resulting genre. But they also echoed a similar thought: rhythm reigns supreme. Horde shooters, like Warhammer 40K Darktide, can live or die depending on the flow of their co-op missions. With the help of an AI director, missions need to be tuned to reliably challenge, but not necessarily overwhelm the player. Surprisingly, Darktide gets this aspect of its grim missions perfectly fine, though the ways the game adds new layers don’t work as well.
Darktide isn’t just a Left 4 Dead, it’s also the spiritual successor to Fatshark’s previous series in the genre, Vermintide. Taking the Warhammer base world experience into the far, grim future of Warhammer 40K comes with a major cosmetic and mechanical makeover. The biggest news comes in the form of an arsenal of firearms that have no place in the harsh fantasy of traditional Warhammer. But in the 40K era, things like hand cannons, assault rifles, and electrically infused projectiles not only fit the bill, but also drastically alter the flow of combat by adding more range-based considerations.
This massive change is well implemented as enemies will match you hit for hit. If you’re fighting from a distance, they’ll trade shots and take cover, and if you or they are able to close the gap, they’ll quickly switch to melee. When this happens, Darktide leans into the still excellent crowd control elements first seen in Vermintide, where both nuanced sword fighting and mindless hacking and slashing are often viable techniques, albeit on higher difficulties, the former naturally becomes more crucial.
Gunplay is a bit uneven, but I suspect that’s intentional at times. The recoil on some low-tier weapons, like one I was given in the tutorial, is tremendously powerful, but it feels like a deliberate penalty for having such a mediocre weapon, though it’s also an odd first impression. Other weapons, like a revolver that I equipped as my witch-like psychic character, was easier to wield but much less powerful, but also features a ranged spell attack that is meant to disable or even decapitate single enemies at once. time, giving him more than a way to sacrifice the rank herd.
Every class comes with trade-offs like this, requiring you to buff your allies with your own strengths to cover their weaknesses, as great games of this type should emphasize. Cleverly, your armor doesn’t replenish unless you’re close to your allies, which adds a great novelty to the way this game type punishes lone wolves.
For the freshest experience for those coming from Vermintide, the Veteran class is best, as they are more skilled with weapons and therefore feel the most different from the archers and ax throwers from Fatshark’s predecessor series. . Fortunately, no class lacks melee abilities, as the combination of ranged and melee combat is key to making the game’s combat loop work so well.
Darktide isn’t shy about genre tropes that have worked before, like enemy mini-bosses often fitting familiar archetypes. This includes a beast that lunges at you and immobilizes you, or another large brute that charges after you and slams you to the ground. There is even a tank analogue, which is the toughest of the mini-bosses. Due to the firefight, some newer mini-bosses also appear, such as one that fires explosive rounds at you and your “Rejected” team.
In each case, whether novel or cliché, they work because their arrivals into the fray are timely and they adhere to the game’s exemplary pacing which is also demonstrated in the constant stream of common enemies, appearing by the dozens at a time. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for gamers versed in the genre to recognize some of these enemy archetypes. Mechanically, their ability to immobilize players or dismantle team cohesion is critical, so there seems to be few directions in which to take minibosses when designing a game like this.
Where Darktide adds its own depth is in its metagame of leveling up your created character (or characters). You don’t just give them a long backstory which helps contextualize their story for you, but also colors the way the squadmates talk to one another, sparking banter among the strange bedfellows as they slice and shoot their way through each horde. That’s a fun detail that some players might not even realize, but no one could miss the loot system, which adds layers you don’t normally see in games like this.
Completing quests and challenges will earn you money and materials, and with them, you can buy new weapons, even drastically altering your character build by switching to new weapon classes (you can only equip two weapons, after all), which works well in conjunction with the abilities and perks you’ll unlock as you upgrade each character to level 30. I created a very satisfying build that allowed me to ignore ammo pools entirely, since neither my ax nor my staff, which fired projectiles that relied on my psyker powers depended on ammo.
This allowed me to lead from behind as I cleared out hordes and targeted mini-bosses before they got close. Other times, and with another character, he would go more in the direction of firearms, with high-capacity firearms and fast swordsmanship that invited a style where he was more front and center with the hordes, tearing through them quickly. and firing them at deliberate bottlenecks. When paired with creative teammates, the game’s tactical elements really shine. This works well even if your party features some class overlap, but it works best when one of each character class is represented, as you’ll have the full range of strengths available to you, masking weaknesses almost to the point of non-existence.
But never mind the roster, the game really relies on such cohesive squads, as simply jumping into a game with random teammates makes anything above normal difficulty a struggle. Damage taken skyrockets, so it becomes a situation where you almost have to operate like a well-oiled machine or else you won’t get very far. So, as is often the case with games like this, it can be satisfying with friends and frustrating with strangers. This problem is compounded by the lesser rewards you unlock at lower difficulties. Without reliable gear, you might be better off playing on normal or easy, but the currency and other rewards you’ll get for completing missions on those difficulties aren’t generous enough and drag the unlock and upgrade system down. At least when I’ve had enough money or supplies to upgrade my character’s inventory, the changes have been apparent, dishing out that reliable feeling of progress and improvement that video games are built on.
The price of free cosmetics obtained in the game is noticeably out of whack. For about the cost of two or three weapons that are better than the ones you’ll start the game with, you can buy, say, an alternate color scheme for your pants. This creates a two-part problem where the prices are too high and the rewards are not as desirable. There are other cosmetics as well, but so far they are mostly mediocre. The best stuff on offer is in the real money store, and there, prices are pretty much what you might be used to: complete head-to-toe sets will run you $8-12. However, those prices are usually seen in free-to-play games, while Darktide is a full-priced game that currently has very few interesting cosmetics available for free. The game is intended to be a live service game, and in its defense, many live service games open with very few attractive cosmetics, but the price of what’s in there complicates the issue.
Speaking of cosmetics, the look of the game as a whole isn’t appealing, though I admit your mileage may vary, as this sentiment stems from my personal disinterest in its source material. Warhammer 40K is an ugly world, both morally and aesthetically speaking. Fatshark manages to give the levels an overall sense of scale and atmosphere that I hope is true to the IP, but the combination of ubiquitous rusting steel in vaguely church-like locations, albeit a tidy juxtaposition of metal music video greatly enhanced. original music. , fails to separate one mission from another. Therefore, they all mix quickly. Missions are selected on an overworld map within a shared social hub à la Destiny, or you can jump into quickplay according to your difficulty setting, and several times when thrown into a mission it took a surprising amount of time. time to realize that. I had already played a particular level before. Outside of the main pieces, none of them do well to stand out.
This also affects the story as you are likely to play it out of order due to matchmaking seeming indifferent to your story progress, although you can override this by choosing specific missions with possibly longer queue times. As a result, the story feels like little more than backstory, even as the game likes to throw you into cutscenes at times. For players who bring the Warhammer zealotry to the experience, I bet you’ll get more out of it, but for others, it will feel out of context and skippable.
Darktide feels like the natural progression of the best parts of Vermintide, as well as an example of some growing pains in the world of live service. Things like combat, pacing, and team building are all expertly considered and crafted, but metagame elements like chasing after loot and cosmetics have some issues that are certainly common when a team is trying to create a new game with a long tail. It’s both a promising Left 4 Dead and a buggy live service, but its problems are fixable, and Vermintide’s growth suggests Darktide will also enjoy a long lifespan as one of the best games of its kind.