In the six years since Left 4 Dead 2, there hasn’t really been anything to fill the void left by the co-op shooter. Some have tried, sure, but all have failed. Turtle Rock Studios went and, for want of a better phrase, cocked up with Evolve, and so it was left to melee combat specialists and War of the Vikings veterans Fatshark to move in with Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide.
In terms of its aping of Left 4 Dead, Vermintide is pretty brazen about the whole thing. The big hulking Skaven Ogres are substituded in for L4D’s Tanks, while you guzzle potions rather than pop pills for healing. You even get that ominous soundtrack change as a fresh wave of enemies is set to pile in. At times I almost expected to see slack-jawed zombies begin climbing over the walls.
It seems a little reductive to call Vermintide Left 4 Dead with rats, but it’s a solid baseline if you want to get the gist of this. Set within the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Vermintide is all about teaming up with co-op buddies to take down wave after wave of the rat-like Skaven, bludgeoning your way through the impressive Gothic environments of Ubersreik and making use of your classes’ unique skills.
There’s a total of five different character classes to choose from, ranging the quick and lethal Witch Hunter through to the axe-swinging Dwarf Ranger and long-ranged bow antics on the Waywatcher. Each comes unique abilities and weapons that could be levelled up over the course of a campaign. And they’ll all have to be on top form if you’ve any hope of making it through the 13 mission campaign. If you don’t fancy playing with anyone else then you can fall back on AI team mates, but they’re not exactly the smartest bunch and it can become a bit tiresome being dragged around with them.
Rather than lumber you in a specific play style, each of the five characters is capable of both ranged and melee combat. This helps break up play a little and means your team isn’t over reliant on one or the other. While some ranged skills are quite limited, you can whip a weapon out and take down a few of the horde before they mass around you. It also means you don’t need a specific group, and any particular setup can work cohesively.
Despite the ranged skills, the bulk of your time is going to be spent up close and personal. Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide is bloody and furious. You’ll be swinging that axe as fast as your well trained index finger can handle, because make no mistake, those Skaven do not stop coming at you. They are absolutely relentless, and sporting some of the most braindead AI in existence. Claret is splattered everywhere and at times it can feel like there’s absolutely no sense of control over proceedings. To a large degree that’s entirely true, but other than mashing attack you can block swipes with a well-timed button press. Don’t go in expecting a great deal of mechanical depth though, this is more about chaos management than moments of individual brilliance. It’s often thrilling but it can be draining. It’s not long into a session when the novelty of incessant killing wears off.
The campaign itself is loosely tied together with a fairly run of the mill plot involving total destruction unless the Skaven hordes are wiped out. Over the course of the 13 levels you’ll trek through the dank streets of Ubersreik and beyond, to swamp-like Skaven camps and below to the sewers. Each offers something a little different and there’s plenty of variety to be found here, with some memorable moments found from fighting against overwhelming odds. Generally though you’ll be moving through from point to point, clearing out waves of enemies until a rush to an exit point. Throw in a few mid-level bosses and a tough encounter at the end and that’s the basic formula.
Complete missions and you’ll roll for some new loot. These new weapons provide an opportunity to switch up your playstyle and expand on what your character’s capable of. You could switch a longer range crossbow for an up close and personal shotgun-blast style staff, for example.
Playing through Vermintide’s campaign was just a little too relentless for my taste. There’s no sense of pacing and it takes those slow moments to appreciate the franticness. IT equates to hours spent slashing away at your bloodthirsty foes, with teamwork relegated to swift revives. It’s hard to see any deep layer of strategy entering into this, other than the most crowd management we’ve all become very accustomed to in Left 4 Dead. For some this may tick all the right boxes, and if you’ve got three mates up for it then it could definitely be a laugh, but Vermintide just doesn’t have the legs of its shambling precursor.
Performance wise, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when Vermintide works, it works pretty well. It looks fairly slick and it can maintain decent frame rates. The problem is, I couldn’t get Vermintide to work on my rig at home at all. It’s not like I’ve got an unusual set up either. In fact it’s the exact same specs as the recommended Oculus Rift requirements so there’ll be plenty out there with it. I’m packing an MSI GTX 970, Intel i5-4670K processor and 8GB memory.
Prior to launch Vermintide wouldn’t boot whatsoever. It would just crash out with an error message. Fatshark subsequently rolled out a patch, and now I can see the intro cinematic. Well, most of it anyway, before it crashes yet again. Trying it on a different rig with 750 Ti and it’s fine however, so this is a bit of an odd one. Well worth bearing in mind if you’re hoping to pick it up, but Steam refunds should at least have you covered here.
Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide is by no means a bad game, but the sense of over-familiarity makes it difficult to recommend to all but the most ardent of Warhammer Fantasy fans. The workings are here of a good game, but prolonged play reveals it's overly chaotic and often repetitive, despite moments of genuine fun. If you've got four buddies after a co-op game then that's probably a different story, and there's enough in Vermintide to keep you hacking and slashing until the credits roll.