Reviewed on Xbox One; also available on Playstation 4 and PC.
I’ve been given the chance to review a first-person hack and slash action co-op game (with up to four players) set in the End Times of the Warhammer universe. That sounds great, right? Even for a complete stranger to the Warhammer fantasy world like me…it seems the perfect opportunity to learn more about it and maybe find out why so many people still support the board game and little figurines created by Games Workshop more than twenty years later now.
My very first impressions of the game, during the tutorial, were both good and terrible; good because it actually felt like a promising experience was coming up ahead. (My hype was rising even during the loading screens!)
That’s it for the good, suddenly the bad showed up without an invite; the frame rate heavily dropped, the game even froze, forcing me to close it. And that only took facing three of the smallest and weakest enemies in the game. “There you go, you just got your very first combat experience ruined”, I said.
This is a known issue exclusive to the tutorial level which I assume will be fixed sooner rather than later. During the rest of the game don’t expect a stable frame rate lesson from the developers, but at least it’s not a game-breaking experience, just occasional frame rate drops here and there. This is what I would consider a minor issue very common among some games of this generation.
Apologies for my initial aggressive approach but also let me say all this has a logical and fair explanation; that’s just how the game starts, and while it was only a couple of terrible minutes, it lasted long enough to kill the love-at-first-sight possibility and therefore, I had to complain about it. But, as the wisest person in the world once said—whoever it was—“never judge a book by its cover”.
As if it were a premonition, my premature idea of Vermintide as a promising fun game to spend hours and hours suddenly became partially real. On the first mission, I quickly got used to the controls and the game mechanics. Me and three other random players started our quest consisting of clearing waves of enemies, getting to the next point and basically moving barrels from one place to another. This may sound boring but it wasn’t. How could this be a fun thing to do? Well, if this game can offer something, that is satisfying combat.
Every character has both melee and ranged combat options, from swords and maces to pistols and bows, depending on the class or character you choose. There is also a dodge and block system, which will come in very handy since this game takes seriously the waves and horde gameplay style. The amount of enemies sometimes can make you feel overwhelmed, making cooperative teamwork the only key to success. Some enemies have special abilities that will grab, stun and damage players until they are aided by a teammate, and if not, death will be the only consequence. There are very few moments of calm. It’s also worth mentioning that you can’t even pause this always-online game, and most of the time there’s an enemy to fight. I hope this warning helps you.
There are a few secondary—and hard to spot—items that can be picked all over the map, including potions, healing kits and bombs. Potions are the best ones to pick in my opinion, providing buffs such as damage and speed bonuses to the player, not the team. Since every character has range combat weapons, there are also ammunition stacks in specific points of the map. And these are the only elements that may encourage exploration, and that’s very sad, because another great thing about this game is, without a single doubt, the immersive world you are left to explore and battle within.
Regarding how the story is told, the answer is through a single cinematic, during loading times and via narration in the middle of the mission itself. This may be enough for some, but not for me. It’s hard to pay attention to the story without a basic introduction to the background, in order to understand why the cities were massively invaded by Skavens. So I just decided to ignore it and focus on the only thing that seemed fun, the combat.
Overall, the ambience and world presentation is brilliant. It was the dark environments and no other thing that kept me wanting to advance in the levels. It really makes you feel part of the big Warhammer universe. There was a clockwork balance between every location and the soundtrack. Every hit you could take or perform, felt and sounded real, it was glorious. I’m not sure if those horns and trumpets announcing intense battles coming up were part of the game or were just in my head as a consequence of a temporary emotional paranoia, but let me tell you, their timing was just perfect.
After completing four or five missions the game started feeling like some kind of rat slayer simulator, and even worse, repetitive. These rats, known as Skavens in Warhammer, are the only enemies you’ll encounter, in various shapes and with different abilities, but still, just rats. This is a bit disappointing since the Warhammer universe is supposed to be deep and rich and I was willing to discover every faction and their purpose but instead, I was only introduced to Skavens and yet again, disappointed. Doing similar objectives for different missions didn’t help either, monotony was starting to become a serious problem.
At the end of each level, a completely random rolling dice screen kicks in, which is the equivalent of today’s famous packs opening system, but hey, good news everyone, there are no microtransactions! If you want loot, you have to play more, and if you want better loot, you have to play even more and increase the game’s difficulty. This gives the player a good reason to keep repeating previously completed levels, adding some replay value and progression feeling, which is always positive for any kind of game.
Despite my first impressions leading directly to disappointment, there’s a certain replay value offered thanks to the different classes and the solid co-op experience, especially when playing with friends. The amazing combat, jaw-dropping ambience, soundtrack and presentation may cause you to come back for more, or forget about it and move on in your extensive gaming library due to the bittersweet experience that doesn’t manage to wake up any sort of addiction probably because of its flaws. There are many missed opportunities such as the almost useless exploration element, the poor storytelling and unavoidable monotony.