Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide Review: Left 4 Rodents
[Honestly, the story for the game is pretty thin, so there are no spoilers in this review. You may proceed.]
Contrary to Gabe Newell’s recent affirmation that they are still working on games, I think it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that we’ll ever see anything from Valve again given that the money they make from Steam is a persuasive disincentive. In that light, Vermintide is likely the closest we’ll ever get to Left 4 Dead 3. Obviously there are differences between the two, but the core gameplay is pure Left 4 Dead (L4D). 1-4 player co-op, with BOTS filling in for absent players, that lets you fight your way through hordes of enemies while always vigilant for specials on the prowl. Granted the enemies are hordes of ratmen known as Skaven, and not zombies but the similarities are undeniable – especially when you see the Rat Ogre running around exactly like the Tanks in L4D. Now if this were just a straight clone of L4D that might not have been enough to make the game anything special, but Fatshark manages to bring some extras to the table that make very noticeable alterations to the L4D formula.
The Warhammer setting is probably the most drastic difference which brings with it more antiquated weaponry. While there are still bows, crossbows and single-fire guns, primary combat is melee-based. Because of this change they added the ability to block which makes a stamina meter appear onscreen that will deplete as you take hits, but the damage is 100% prevented. Probably the best addition that stemmed from the weaponry is the loot system. After a successful run through a level you get a random chance for loot and that loot can have traits to help you kill the hordes. There’s even a very limited crafting/upgrade system for levelling weapons that isn’t very deep, but it’s still a great step in the right direction. Better still, loot isn’t always weapons as there are equipment slots devoted to trinkets, some of which are game changers. For example the trinket that allows the wearer to consume a health potion that also gives a small amount of health back to the rest of the team.
The drawback is the loot system is a 100% RNG nightmare. Once you’ve completed a level, you’ll be given a number of dice to roll. On the right side of the screen will be a loot table with random weapons, trinkets and helmets stacked on top of one another. Whatever you roll, the table will count from the bottom and you’ll unlock whatever item is highlighted. Unfortunately, this means you can go for quite some time before getting anything useful. Granted, items can be broken down into crafting tokens or combined to make a higher-tier version, so it’s not really like anything is completely useless. It’s just really frustrating to watch as you miss stuff you want by 1 or 2 spaces and get something you don’t need which will happen a lot. Again, this is still a great step in the right direction even if it clearly needs some finer touches. Having said that, they’ve added a free DLC called Quests & Contracts that helps in this regard because you’ll be shown what item you’ll get as a quest reward for completing it. However the quests change each day so the random factor is still there.
The other major change is in the characters themselves. While L4D gave you the choice of 4 characters, the only real difference between them was the skin they wore and their voice actor. Otherwise they all handled the weaponry exactly the same. Vermintide actually has 5 character classes that each have different weapon sets and skills. The Dwarf and the Imperial Soldier use sword & shield, while their distance weapon can consist of fireball shooting pistols and a blunderbuss respectively. The Waywatcher has dual swords or a sword and dagger, and uses a bow for distance. The Bright Wizard uses a sword and a Fire-based staff. So ultimately you’ll have to settle into which character you’re more proficient at playing rather than just selecting one’s gender and/or ethnicity.
The music and graphics are surprisingly good as well. The fire effects in particular are well done and several of the landscapes have a very Dark Souls-y, oppressive feel to them. The characters are very well detailed and the models will also display the trinkets you equip them with. The opening theme music in particular is perfect for the game. Even the Skaven are well done with very unique looking models for all of the different specials along with unique sound signals when they enter the level.
The achievement list is pretty straightforward, but there are a few rough spots and a few are very, very grindy. While your character completes unlocking your last trinket slot by around level 32, there’s an achievement for reaching level 100 which is just a massive, boring grind. Especially given that the levelling system is completely cosmetic. Sure, when you reach a new level you’ll receive as a gift a low-tier weapon that you won’t use, but other than that levelling gives no bonuses to your character whatsoever. There’s also an achievement for collecting 200 badges in the game’s Survival Mode, and it is also a giant grind. The Karak Azgaraz DLC adds one that tasks you with getting the Dwarve’s pick weapon from the random loot table and then killing an enemy with one blow that can take a while just acquiring the weapon alone. But the coup de grace will be completing the game on Cataclysm difficulty. This is no small feat, and when I finally found someone to help me get through it, I’d discovered I was going about playing the game incorrectly up until then. Bottom line: this game is not an easy completion.
Despite any of what I’ve said negatively, the game is a blast to play, especially if you’ve got a good team together. Hell, I got this the same day as MAFIA III and I liked it so much that I ended up playing it instead and putting MAFIA III off for over a month. And if you already are a fan of L4D, this game should definitely be on your radar.