Vermintide II is the unsurprisingly named follow up to Vermintide – it was originally released in 2018, along with a host of DLC packages, but does Fatshark‘s fantasy take on Left 4 Dead still have any life left in it?
Warhammer games are usually strategy affairs. We’ve been treated to a few 40k action games – 2003’s Fire Warrior and 2011’s Space Marine – enjoyable titles in their own right, but they never made any sort of lasting impact. Vermintide is that especially rare creature – not only a Warhammer action game, but a Warhammer fantasy action game, pitting players against the endless Skaven horde instead of the chaotic perils of 40k space.
The likeness to Left 4 Dead is overwhelming. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – in typical Valve fashion, the classic co-op shooter was released, adored, and promptly unexpanded on as a formula. This takes everything solid about its inspiration and builds on it, adding loot, a persistent levelling system and built in cosmetic systems. As a result, Vermintide II feels altogether more fleshed out, and equally rough around the edges at times. The carnage is fun but clunky, and though this is a significant visual upgrade over the first instalment, the gameplay itself is a few years behind what you might expect.
There is one area where it definitively pulls ahead, and that’s playable characters. These are all unique people, each embodying a classic Warhammer unit with individual backstories and intertwining histories. Each hero – a word used very loosely here – has different weapons available to them, along with talent trees and individual loot tables. I played as Bardin, a magnificently stereotypical dwarf, who seemed just as happy plonking away at range with a hefty crossbow as he did in the thick of combat with axe and shield. Though nothing was quite as classic a horde survival experience as thinning the crowd with his shotgun, which I was loathe to replace.
Despite having released two years ago now, there seems to be a decent amount of players still blasting their way through the Skaven horde. At the earlier levels the group finder always lumped us with a bot or two, and Vermintide II really isn’t the same without a proper party. If you still have three friends, it can make what can otherwise be quite a grindy experience a thoroughly entertaining one (especially when three of you don’t have much of an idea what the f**k is going on, and the fourth is desperately trying to keep control of a rapidly unwinding situation). You need friends and voice chat to get the most out of it.
The Warhammer fantasy backdrop is fantastic, a sprawling dark wealth of source material, portrayed through bleak, infested temples and ravaged countryside. In one sense or another, this world is basically always on fire. Fatshark have made fantastic use of the IP, adapting powerful creatures from the source material into unique enemies which spice up the endless rush of rats. These unique enemies will force co-operation or a change in tactics as they focus incredible damage on one member of the party, or take them out of action entirely. Then there’s the boss fights – towering trolls and grotesque spawns of Chaos incarnate.
Boss fights are a great addition to the Left 4 Dead formula, usually because they’re dumped on you when least expected, after a good deal of exhaustive slaughtering and surviving. Just when you think you might get a moment of reprieve, boom – some bastard with a multitude of tentacles and far too many eyes is chokeslamming Victor Saltzpyre into the ground like he owes him money. They require an intense concentration of damage to bring them down before they do drastic harm to the group, and as ranged ammo is intentionally limited, you’ll have to go toe-to-toe with them sometimes.
Melee feels fine against smaller targets and hordes – a swing of a blade will sever limbs and heads if aimed correctly, and nothing really has enough health to stand up to much. Against the bigger targets, it’s more like trying to stab an elephant with a toothpick, there’s no real weight to it, and this is where Vermintide II’s combat starts to feel a bit wonky. Once these flaws reveal themselves, they’re much easier to notice, which leaves an otherwise solid melee action game feeling a bit hollow.
Warhammer: Vermintide II overall thoughts
At its best, Vermintide II feels like a perpetual, glorious last stand – the odds are usually overwhelming, the ammo dwindling, the numbers stacked so titanically against you that it seems as though you might drown in the sheer amount of blood spilled. It is visceral and desperate, and regardless of the sometimes clumsy feel of gameplay, Fatshark deserve a lot of credit for their use of the Warhammer lore. Darkly comic, incredibly violent, there aren’t really any good guys, and the fighting never ends.
In my opinion, Vermintide has still yet to reach its full potential. This is a huge upgrade over the first, character customisation and loot upgrades go a very long way towards making it the definitive co-op action game it could well be. But the combat at its core needs some tweaking before it achieves real greatness. If you’ve got friends – and you want to murder twisted rat-men with those friends – Vermintide II is still very much worth some time.
Warhammer: Vermintide II was developed and published by by Fatshark. It’s available on Steam (at time of publication on sale for £5.94), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Check out more of our game reviews here!