FatShark are back with the (perhaps) inevitable 40k iteration of their wildly successful Vermintide game, delivering a four player co-op shooter with some serious atmosphere. When Darktide is at full steam, charging you with hordes of plague-infested heretics as a transcendent Jesper Kyd soundtrack ebbs and flows around every pulse of violence, it is glorious. It needs so little explanation. Here’s a bunch of heretics. Go annihilate them or die trying.
This has a little bit more packaging than Vermintide, which was barebones in places. You walk through a surprisingly deep character creation, where you flesh out your character’s background and personality. There are plenty of character customisation options, but this being Warhammer 40K, don’t go expecting anyone who doesn’t look like they’ve been rammed through a meat grinder on steroids. There are four classes, each with their own special skills and talent trees, but the game doesn’t do the best job of explaining the differences yet. You’ve got Sharpshooters who specialise in critical hit damage, Zealots who excel at melee crowd control, Psykers for elite damage, and hulking Ogryns to fulfil a tanking role.
What’s unusual is that you aren’t locked into filling each role for a map like before. You’ll assemble your team from any combination of the four classes, which can affect the flow of a run quite drastically at times. A party stacked with crowd-controlling Zealots will fare well against hordes but struggle to put down bosses and elites, for example. The ambient dialogue characters share is great – there’s a constant back-and-forth kept fresh by the mix of personalities you can select for your class.
I broke out in laughter when my grizzled veteran sharpshooter accidentally clipped a Zealot, who, reasonably enough, yelled out ‘Mind where you’re shooting!’. He yelled back ‘If you don’t want to get shot, get out of the way’.
Darktide is absolutely packed with moments like these that keep maps feeling fresh even after you’ve run them 3-4 times. Which is definitely something you’re going to do if you get drawn into playing long term. There’s a decent enough variety of maps currently, but even sinking a couple of long sessions into playing currently will see you revisiting content. The runs stay fairly fresh – especially with special modifiers like fog to adjust the atmosphere – but Darktide needs to grow if it’s going to stay engaging.
It’s rough around the edges, that much is true. There’s a few graphical gripes and performance issues common with horde shooters like this. The overall design and atmosphere of the game is absolutely fantastic, though. The Mourningstar hub area particularly stands out, an aggressive fusion of a gothic cathedral and rust bucket space ship. Characters drip with personality, even if that personality is the typical 40k blend of misery and sardonic commentary, and almost every interaction has something that builds a picture of the world we’re fighting through.
The missions themselves are straightforward. You get one big goal, which will be different really in name only but really boil down to just a few final objectives. This is usually killing a boss, reprogramming something, or clearing a particular daemonic invasion. And you’ll always, always have to fight your way through absolute hordes of heretics to do it. You can choose your mission difficulty out of five possible levels. There’s a real sharp jump between the second and third difficulties. After easily clearing a few missions on Uprising difficulty, I assumed I’d be able to cope with the increase. I was very wrong.
This isn’t like Left 4 Dead – weapons have their own stats, which can be upgraded or replaced entirely as you gain experience and cash. There’s a solid variety of Warhammer favourites – las-guns, auto rifles, bolt pistols and chainswords galore. These are all faithfully recreated and generally employable by every class, presenting players with lots of options for glorious violence. The more you play, the more you unlock – but the balancing here feels a little off. You have to put a lot of time in to progress right now, and that feels like an artificial technique to drag out the relatively small selection of maps available.
Sure, you can acquire and upgrade weapons at a fairly nice pace (although I wouldn’t recommend wasting the somewhat scarce upgrade materials on early levels). But feats unlock at a crawl. Cosmetic items are few and far between unless you spend money on micro transactions, which is a little bit crappy considering the game’s price. Most characters, for quite some time, will be clad in simple prison rags unless they pay real money.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that 90% of the game’s cool cosmetics are locked behind micro transactions. This is fairly ruthless monetisation from what is otherwise a very enjoyable co-op shooter. You can earn some cool stuff, sure. But it takes a massive time investment and Darktide’s cosmetic system is clearly skewed towards getting you to spend more money. And that’s once you’ve already dropped £33 on the game itself. But once this is tuned and expanded a little bit, it’s going to be great – the atmosphere is incredible.
Warhammer 40K: Darktide overall thoughts
Darktide is a great game backed by questionable morals. Much like the Imperium seeks to exploit you and your fellow Rejects, Fatshark and Tencent want to milk you dry. You can play it without spending anything more than the £33 entry fee. And you’re not losing out on any gameplay features or advantages by not indulging in micro-transactions. But more or less every single option to make your character your own is locked behind them, and that, my friends, is the grim dark future indeed.
I highly recommend Darktide if you’re looking for more of that co-op horde shooter fun. It does all the basics right, and captures 40K’s atmosphere flawlessly. There isn’t a tremendous amount of content available yet (and that’s being kind) but there are a plethora of different difficulty modes to progress through – with appropriately scaling rewards. If Fatshark‘s previous track record is anything to go by, this will be an excellent multiplayer game… in about a year. Hang in there.