It’s been nice, seeing Warhammer getting more attention in the mainstream sphere. Tabletop miniature games have their niche, but they sit somewhere near the top of the nerd totem pole. Usually, Warhammer 40k gets all the attention; I mean, who doesn’t like Space Marines? Every once in a while though, Warhammer Fantasy Battles gets its time in the limelight. Warhammer: Vermintide II is the latest release by indie studio Fatshark, and it does it’s best to carry the Warhammer torch.
Sigmar, the man for whom Age of Sigmar is named. Also the dude who had dreams of rats destroying the world, apparently
I know the question on everyone’s lips is, “isn’t this just Left 4 Dead with rat-men?” Fundamentally, yes, it is. Four players move through a series of environments, each having a self-contained story. Hordes of enemies – composed of both Skaven and followers of Nurgle – block the players’ way, including special enemies that will feel pretty familiar (even if you haven’t played the first game).
The special enemy types you’re used to are all present. Guy who grabs you and pulls you from your party? Check. Guy who jumps on you and tears you apart? Check. Guy who makes clouds that damage the player and guy who’s hard to kill and knocks you around? Double check. But, to Fatshark’s credit, they move beyond the L4D template. There are some unique bosses and special enemies that add character to Vermintide II and try to differentiate it from what has come before.
Watch out, Nurgle likes green wind apparently.
Before we get into the criticism, I want to say outright that I enjoy this game. It is fun to play. And it can be fun to see how much more powerful you get (this translates to just making a little number get bigger, for the most part) between missions.
The classes do not play terribly differently; fortunately the core game mechanics – having a melee weapon and ranged weapon, different weak and powerful attacks for each, consumables and grenades – make the game fun to play regardless. The Skaven and Northmen are both fun to fight and clog the map equally well. Objectives vary substantially, but even without them the game would stand well as an endless survival game.
How it feels to chew 5 gum.
Unfortunately, some of the things that Vermintide has tried to do to separate itself from games like L4D only serve to slow things down and made me feel as if my progress was being actively hampered. Character progression is done in two ways: loot boxes which drop both universal gear (such as trinkets) and character specific weapons. On top of that, character leveling is further broken up into abilities obtained every 5 levels, and specific sub-classes – 3 per character.
These sub-classes are level-gated like the abilities, but as far as I could tell in my 8 hours of playing, these sub-classes do not make substantial differences in how the game is played. In fact, which character you choose to play as does not make much of a difference in how the game is played. As such, the small changes that you make through progression seem almost artificial and quite unrewarding.
The character select screen is pretty okay, actually
Loot chests in particular make progression interesting but can lead to some obnoxious side effects. For example, I was playing as the human footman character for a few hours. From levels 3 to 6 I did not receive a single ranged weapon. This meant that I could use some of my carefully horded crafting materials (more on that later) to make one, or I could keep praying for a good loot roll.
Because three of the five total equipment slots are passive buffs, getting a loot chest like the one pictured above can be a little disappointing. There’s little enjoyment to be gotten from equipping a slightly better necklace, while an entirely new weapon might change the feeling of the game entirely. That said, it is a step up from the loot system in the first game.
A pretty good loot chest result, for the level I’m at
The crafting system in Vermintide II is one that only really makes much of a difference when you’ve got more loot than you know what to do with. Most items I was getting at the levels I had my characters at (5-7 for the most part) were only good for basic materials when salvaged, and in order to craft anything worth while, you have to melt down some pretty okay stuff. It seems taking your chances on loot boxes is the best way to get quality gear.
Special enemies are pretty generic and don’t add much to change the somewhat monotonous killing of endless waves of weak enemies. What does consistently change things up is when they throw big guys at you. There are four kinds of these boss-type enemies: Bile Trolls, Spawn of Chaos, Rat Ogres, and Stormfiends. Simply put, Bile Trolls vomit and regenerate health, Spawn of Chaos have a tentacle arm, Rat Ogres are big dudes who knock you around, and Stomrfiends are Rat Ogres with flamethrowers. At the level I am currently, Spawn of Chaos pose a consistent threat, while the other three are simple to defeat. The AI director doesn’t seem to be consistent in when it spawns what, which means you might not see a Stormfiend for several hours and only ever see Trolls and Rat Ogres (as I did).
My first look at the crafting menu. It doesn’t get much more interesting
The difficulty difference between the bosses reveals a core flaw with the game: It’s simply too difficult for new characters. It wasn’t until my first character was level 3 that I began to win, and then it was only because I was carried by higher level characters. It was nice because I began leveling faster, but I felt like I’d somehow cheated the system.
And this was on the easiest difficulty, so I don’t want to think what it would have been like even one step up. There is also no clear line you cross when it’s time to increase the difficulty. While I may be doing consistently well on one difficulty, there will occasionally be moments where my party is completely slaughtered through no fault of our own.
Push the cart, they said. That’s all you have to do, they said.
My final serious gripe with the game is just how poor the characters are. They have unique personalities, which is nice, but Jimminy Christmas if you don’t hear the same lines of dialogue about how awesome your party members are over… and over… and over. Don’t even get me started on how often the elf uses the words “mayfly” or “lumberfoot” to describe her non-elf party members. After leveling the elf to level 7 I was about ready to jam a pencil in my ear just so I could be free from her “banter.”
The game is not all bad, though. The story, while jumbled, is a great jumping off point to get into the Warhammer tabletop game. The environments can be pretty impressive, and it’s a fun romp for an hour at a time. The dismemberment is satisfying and it’s enjoyable cutting a swathe through enemy waves. The classes, while quite similar, provide enough variety in weapons that it’s easy enough to overlook how similar their abilities all are.
Some of the environments are really quite cool looking
Is Warhammer: Vermintide 2 worth $30? Yes, I think it is. Though I may be suffering a little from looking a gift horse in the mouth, I do enjoy this game and I plan on playing it for enjoyment after this review goes up. I think Fatshark did a good job following up Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide, but I would have liked more of the kinks to have been ironed out. It seems more like a major patch to gameplay and map DLC than a full sequel, but I appreciate the work that went into it. All in all, this may not be the game for everyone, but it will certainly be the game for some.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A rousing return to Vermintide
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Plot/Character - 6/10
Design - 7.5/10
+ Fun basic game mechanics
+ Pretty environments
+ Unique enough classes
+ Good introduction to the world of Warhammer
- Repetitive "banter"
- Progression is a slog
- Poor matchmaking
- Enemies provide little challenge above "stab it more" or "don't get too close"
- Lacks a coherent story