Left 4 Dead is either one of those games you love or hate. It’s definitely one of the best co-op shooters available if you want something fun and easy, but a lot of people are turned off by its repetitive nature and lacking variety. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide (mouthful isn’t it?) is a game that takes the Left 4 Dead formula and adds likable characters, gorgeous settings, fun combat, and RPG elements to create something that could very well be one of my favorite games of the year.
As is obvious from the title, Vermintide takes place in the original Warhammer universe (During the End Times), which is a more dark fantasy setting as opposed to the sci-fi setting of the mega-popular Warhammer 40k universe. Five heroes, a Witch Hunter, a Rogue, a Dwarf, a Soldier, and a Wizard are traveling together to the city of Ubersreik only to find out it has been taken completely over by a race of rat creatures called Skaven. It’s up to the heroes to find allies, gather resources, and beat back the Skaven menace.
Vermintide is what I can only describe as Left 4 Dead with rats and more enjoyable gameplay. You play through 13 different levels with various objectives and hoards of enemies blocking your way to victory. The common enemies are fairly weak and can be killed with a few simple blows with your weapon, whereas several special enemies are harder to take out. These enemies copy the Left 4 Dead special enemies almost entirely. You’ve got the Poison Wind Globadier who acts as the game’s Spitter, the Packmaster who acts like a Smoker, the Gutter Runner which acts like the Hunter, and the Rat Ogre who acts like the Tank. However, there are a few other enemy types that are more original such as the Ratling Gunner and the Commanders\Stormvermin. All of these enemies, while most of their mechanics are pretty much copied straight from Left 4 Dead, have original designs and add variety to the game. Every enemy in Vermintide poses a threat, including the normal Skaven rats that attack you in hoards. They’re easy to take out, but they can pack a punch if you’re not paying attention.
One thing that I have to mention about Vermintide is its difficulty; It’ll kick your butt. I would highly recommend getting some friends to play this game with because it’s not easy in the slightest. Even on the easiest difficulty, my friend and I had trouble beating the game by ourselves. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing–in fact, I think the immense challenge adds to the fun–I do wish that the game was a little more forgiving with less people. Not everyone will want to play with random players and not everyone will have 3 extra friends to tag along, and they should be able to get through the game without being punished too much for that. This isn’t helped by the absolutely atrocious friendly AI. Most of the time they would simply stand around and do nothing instead of following you, or run away to go be by another player when you’re surrounded and dying. It was quite annoying.
Even so, the combat is incredibly addictive and satisfying. Hacking up the Skaven was a blast, and the various weapons you can acquire allow you to devise different strategies for different enemies. Certain enemies are heavily armored and will go down easily if you use a blunt weapon, and certain enemies are weaker to ranged weapons. As I said, every enemy, including the common rat foes, pose a threat to you. Blocking and counter attacking is really something you need to learn how to do. Hacking and slashing everything nonstop will get you killed; this just isn’t a button mashing game.
Something that Vermintide does that Left 4 Dead doesn’t is RPG elements. After every level you will gain experience and, depending on what difficulty you play on and what special items you collect, you will get dice to roll for a weapon of varying rarity. The more die you land face up, the better your drop. You also have access to a forge in between levels which allows you to smelt down weapons for resources to upgrade weapons, or smelt 5 weapons of the same rarity together to make one new weapon of the next rarity level.
The special items you can find are tomes and Skaven Grimoires, books that will give you extra die to roll and increase your chances of getting better loot. There are 3 tomes in (most) levels, and 2 Grimiores. However, there’s a catch to these items: One person can only hold one tome at a time and it replaces their healing item, and the Grimoires will decrease everybody’s health until it’s dropped again, with both Grimoires decreasing everyone’s health by about 75%. This adds a mentality of risk versus reward in the game which I think is very clever. Every tome and Grimoire is in the same spot in every playthrough, but they are often well hidden. The challenge lies within finding the items first, and then deciding if you can survive with them through to the end of the level.
While I love the idea of getting loot every time you finish a level and level up, sometimes I could’ve sworn it was rigged. I would almost never get good loot or loot for classes I played as, and one of my friends would constantly get white (common rarity) items even when we would get both grimores in a level. The Grimoires give you special die that, if they land face up, will guarantee you a green (uncommon rarity) item. It became very frustrating at times because we felt like we were getting nothing out of playing through the levels (some of which are very long, by the way) aside from the experience of playing the levels.
And while on the subject of levels–holy cow. These levels are gorgeous. The level design, the art design, the everything in Vermintide from a visual perspective is just so atmospheric, foreboding, massive, epic, and just downright beautiful. There wasn’t a single level in which my friends and I wouldn’t pause almost every 10 minutes and say “Whoa…” The developers did a fantastic job of making a fantasy city that was not only grand and epic, but also one that was believable. Although I’m not someone who judges a game by it’s graphical competence, you’re just not getting the full experience if you can’t play this game on Ultra settings, it’s too amazing to miss out on.
So while Vermintide is a bit too punishing at times, the friendly AI is awful, and its loot drop system can be irritating, it’s more than made up for with the challenging and addictive combat, the magnificent levels, the RPG elements, and the overall atmosphere of the game. There’s plenty of replay value added due to the loot system and the multiple difficulty levels, and the developers have already confirmed that new characters and levels are in development. With that in mind, I’m hoping this game gets a good, long lifespan. If you want a great action co-op game but you’re tired of just playing Left 4 Dead, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide could be your answer. While it takes a lot of ideas and mechanics from Left 4 Dead, it’s not to the point where it’s distracting, and I think it’s definitely worth every penny.
A PC copy of Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide was provided by Fatshark for the purpose of this review