Title: Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide
Platform: Windows, Steam, Xbox One (Q1 2016), PS4 (Q1 2016)

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: FPS, Action
Players: Single player, Co Op (1-4 players)

Written by Whistler 19th October 2015

There are few fictional universes that are plentiful in lore, depth and as depressingly dark while traversing all forms of media as Warhammer. Spanning from its origins as a table top war game to a vast arrange of novels, specialised board games, card games and of course video games. However despite some excellent titles like Space Hulk, Blood Bowl of course the Dawn of War series the catalogue of Warhammer video games is surprisingly sparse. Lately developers of all shapes and sizes have begun to remedy this and one Swedish indie developer Fatshark at the helm of this influx brings us Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide.

Vermintide as you might have guessed, takes place during the End Times arc of fantasy Warhammer where on a scale of zero to well and truly, the forces of good are certainly buggered.

The supreme immortal ruler of the undead Nagash has reawakened set upon fulfilling the quota, there’s an elven goddess manipulating certain events, the dwarven armies are debating whether to get involved or do a Tolkien on us, the Skaven hordes have flooded into the human empire and to top it all off it’s the apocalypse. All of this is just a peak into the hell that is going on during this arc but non-Warhammer fans will be pleased to know you don’t need to play catch up to follow along in Vermintide.

Vermintide instead focuses on the Skaven hordes invading city of Ubersreik within the human empire, you take the role of one of five ragtag heroes fighting off the waves of knives and claws in a desperate attempt to hold out till help arrives (fat chance).

To fight this mass of death though is nothing short of a death sentence, the rat humanoid armies have been known to make cities ‘disappear’, villages gone in a single night, mighty armies decimated without fail, in fact the only reason Skaven haven’t already wiped everyone out is there too busy backstabbing themselves. While their common footmen-er rats can be considered nothing more than fodder the equivalent to zombies, they also have several special rats within their fold. These elite Skaven share similarities mechanically with that of Left 4 Dead’s special undead. These range from the Packmaster, the long lost rodent sibling to the Jockey who can carry off unsuspecting players in a choking hold until another player can aid them. While these buggers are relatively easy to deal with they can spell the end for players who go off on a solo venture and Gutter Runners (Hunters *cough cough*) can quickly incapacitate heroes in a split second where they will continuously sink their claws into the player and can even disappear in a cloud of smoke if your comrades’ aren’t fast enough to land a killing blow.
While both of these can be dealt with so long as you watch each other’s backs there are also the appropriately named Gas Rat cable of chucking gas grenades and even making a last ditch effort by self-destructing.

Then there are the heavy hitters with the Ratling Gunner, who utilizes a rotating barrel gun to lay down a hail of bullets and the Stormvermin patrols clad in thick armour can go toe to toe with the players with the hulking behemoth Rat Ogres serving as the title’s equivalent for a Tank.

To go up against death machine of this magnitude one would need great skill, some guts and a death wish, or be one of five brave/suicidal heroes: Kerillian the Wood Elf, Victor Saltzpyre the Witch Hunter, Bardin Goreksson the Dwarf Ranger, Bright Wizard Sienna Fuegonasus and Markus Kruber the Empire Soldier.
Thankfully however our protagonist’s do not share L4D’s character’s symmetry, instead opting for five mechanically distinct heroes with their own weapons and skills. While each character doesn’t necessarily have a role hardcoded into their skillset like a class would, they help bring their own specialized style to the board. Kerillian’s master bow skills allows her to snipe elite Skaven and quickly shoot down lesser mobs while Sienna can incinerate groups with her pyromancy but risks setting herself on fire. Victor serves as a highly mobile combatant capable of lunging in with precise rapier strikes or pistol burst attacks with both Markus and Bardin interchangeably serving as tanks with steel and shield or 2 handed berserker weaponry for dealing massive damage.

Now as you might have guessed Vermintide’s gameplay can be best summed up as taking a page from L4D’s book. You and up to three others choose a hero each and carry out objectives within scenarios whilst fending off against seemingly unending hordes. Each player is armed with melee and ranged capabilities and can carry a healing item, a buff potion and a bomb where managing these resources will be key to survival. While everything’s relatively straight forward one should anticipate almost utter chaos or at the very least incredibly fast paced gameplay that will leave you with enough holes you could be marketed as Skaven swiss cheese. Due to the nature of the game combined with unpredictable (and depressingly predictable) player reactions you’ll find combat quickly becomes a blur of blades, arrows, gunpowder, fire, blood and a lot of Skaven bodies. Whilst this sounds painfully obnoxious (and it can be) Vermintide is certainly an enjoyment to be had, where playing with others of varying skill levels can offer entertainment on several layers. Whether you’re playing with skilled elites means you get to enjoy precise plans of action as you power through mobs fellowship of the ring style and players who do make mistakes offers up that L4D hijinks into the mix.

Another wrench thrown into the cooperative fps mix is Vermintide’s loot and gear system. Players can equip weapons that better suit their play style, such as swapping out a claymore for a sword and shield set up for a more defensive playstyle or a long bow in favour of short sacrificing speed of damage efficiency.
Where Vermintide’s replayability lies is in the previously mentioned loot system, upon completion of a level each player gets to roll for items of increasing quality where each success on a dice adds up to determine your loot reward. While in most cases most items you can potentially unlock will be geared towards the character you played there’s a chance to get other’s weapons and gear promoting experimentation.
That being said it is very easy to get several misses on the dice rolls and end up with another white grade garbage (item quality is typically set as white, green, blue, then orange and red I believe).
This can be remedied by recycling 5 items of the same grade to forge a potentially better item but it’s another luck of the draw determining what item you’ll which leads me to some criticism. While the loot system for the most part is enjoyable it can be bothersome how long it can take to get decent gear without even taking into account of the bugs that I’ll divulge later. But the forge you can access for recycling items and unlocking weapon traits is far too simplistic to make any notable impact on the game and feels relatively tacked on.

What makes the loot system the most enjoyable though (besides getting new shiny stabby things for the killing and such) is the risk vs reward element introduced into each scenario with tomes and grimoires. These items can located hidden within each scenario each increasing loot reward chance by adding additional dice at the end of the level. Where the risk implements itself is that these items need to be carried to the very end of the scenario and tomes take up your healing slot (though you can swap them to use a healing item then pick the tome back up should the need call for it). A grimoires is another story altogether, while thankfully they only take up your buff item slot, these bastards cut everyone’s max vitality by 25% but a 2nd grimoire will reduce your team to such frailty that even a small pack of slave rats will have you reconsidering your chances in a negative light.  

The implementation of these two object types add a whole new injection of adrenaline as you up the stakes in hopes of glorious rewards but of course risk aiding the Skaven’s new paint job of red with a dash brains on the stones of Ubersreik.

Now sadly there is a somewhat abundance of technical issues plaguing the title, rest assured Fatshark are making frequent attempts to ratify each issue rather diligently. But these issues to range from hideous optimization issues as without getting too technical in what seems like an attempt to balance resource usage, Vermintide puts a heavy load on even relatively high spec machine’s CPUs with even my eight core FX8350 4.33GHz processor heaving at 90% usage despite turning off almost all CPU utilizing graphic options. People hoping to just avoid human contact with single player will also find that the bots are a few pebbles short at the best of times and just outright stop functioning sitting just above Evolve’s criminally stupid partner AI. My biggest gripe however is how Vermintide currently handles multiplayer sessions; instead of utilizing servers akin to TF2 or Call of Duty for example Vermintide uses a peer to peer scenario closer to Monster Hunter and Borderlands. This is a perfectly suitable methodology considering the player sizes expected in this format, however the title seems to be completely devoid of a meaningful host migration set up. Should the host of a game drop out for whatever reason all players currently playing in the session will be swiftly sent back to the beginning of the level where a new host is picked at random. This is utterly deal breaking for myself as it happens far too frequently and I have now accumulated a disgusting amount of time accomplishing nothing in-game having any progress buried bellow network issues.

Despite these issues though I can recommend Vermintide for those yearning for that Left 4 Dead gameplay in a fresh setting, especially when considering despite L4D’s popularity little to no developers have challenged the mantle nor attempted to fill the void in this particular subgenre.

After spending roughly 20 hours in Vermintide’s several closed betas and now open beta (available to those who pre order the game) on only four out of thirteen maps of which only three were available in rotation at a time, I can safely say the title will be blast to play with friends and even randoms.
What will make or break the title will be if Fatshark can make some headway and hopefully completely patch out the aforementioned glitches and optimization issues souring the experience.

There’s certainly room for improvement but with a strong understanding of the foundations already laid down by L4D and an un-denying passion for the source material Fatshark can potentially capitalize on the niche while also offering a fantastic co-op game.

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