As soon as Fallout 4 came out, all motion stopped and all eyes turned toward Bethesda. We all told ourselves the same lie; “I can quit any time I want.” We are here to assure you that everything is fine and we ALL did it. To assist in your recuperation, may I suggest a game for multiple players? Single player experiences are great, but wouldn’t it be nice to play a game that requires teamwork and communication with another living breathing human being? They might be one PC mod away from falling off the wagon and putting another seventy-five hours into a post nuclear RPG. They need you just as much as you need them. So let’s scratch that itch with this mouthful of a title, Warhammer End Times: Vermintide – hereafter referred to as Vermintide for purposes of brevity.
Vermintide is capable of surprising depth and, if you can cooperate with a team, has the potential to be a very rewarding experience. The game takes place in the rich, deep, and very much pre-established fantasy world of Warhammer (of Games Workshop miniatures game fame). For those who are unfamiliar, think Dungeons and Dragons where skull imagery is EVERYWHERE, even on one of the moons. Everything is dark and grimy, and every benefit has a steep cost. It’s very familiar to someone who doesn’t know the lore well, but refreshing to see the little ways it’s different. For example, players may take control of an axe wielding dwarf, or an expert elven archer, both reasonably standard fantasy archetypes. You’ll even see a mage with command over the element of fire. The twist is this: the fire she throws at enemies can eventually turn on her and cause damage. More on that in a moment. The point is that you don’t need to know the Warhammer universe to enjoy this game.
The game itself plays like the Left 4 Dead series with some tweaks. You and 3 teammates complete a mission objectives tied to the level you choose, then escape. Each stage takes place on it’s own map which does not change; enemy placement and semi-random occurrences of special enemies are randomly generated throughout to keep you from memorizing anything more than vague patterns. Many of the stages also have hidden items that can earn you bonuses at the end of the mission and encourage you to seek them out in the darker corners of each level. There are a relatively small number of missions, but working on higher difficulties and finding hidden items breathes just enough life into the game to keep it from getting too stale too quickly.
You have the option of playing as one of five characters, and your team may not have more than one of the same character on board at a time. This is where playing with your own crew helps because getting an opening as your favored character in the matchmaker can be a real pain.
Each character is offered the same statistics and basic abilities. There are no real stats to speak of (bucking conventional fantasy wisdom that might indicate that the dwarf hits harder or is tougher than the fire mage, for instance). Instead, the dwarf will never see a bow and arrow, unlike the elf who gets lots of those. The witch hunter may get access to a rapier that can deal pinpoint accurate killing blows to a single enemy, where the human mercenary can swing an array or martial weapons to knock over whole crowds of beasties. The fire mage cannot wield firearms, and so her ranged attacks are more versatile flame attacks that do not require ammunition. Instead, she can basically overheat or downright explode to offset the usefulness of not needing ammo. All of these differences and abilities are tied not to the character directly, but rather to the weapon they elect to use (which is determined by your character, so in a round about way… ah hell, you get the gist).
My biggest complaint about this game are how it handles collecting loot. There has been a big update in the form of a free DLC that helps solve it’s loot problems, but doesn’t quite solve it completely. Allow me to try to simplify it for you. At the end of every level you literally roll a handful of dice. Instead of numbers, the dice have successes or failures on them (standard dice have 2 successes on their 6 faces, with bonus dice having more successes on their die). The total number of successes you roll contribute to a gear ladder that has randomly selected bits of loot. Sometimes it’s for your favorite character, other times you will collect a plain ol’ rifle for the witch hunter who you may not play as often as some folk.
Remember those items you scavenged high and low for? Here’s why you want them. On each participating level, there are three “tomes”; little books that take up a slot usually reserved for a healing item. Each tome supplies you with another die at loot roll, and to make it sweeter, the dice you earn have higher probabilities for success. Opening chests or killing loot bag toting rats can sometimes yield a bonus die as well, so keep your eyes peeled. These bonus die are added to your pool at the end of the level, and can help you get that legendary orange crossbow at the top of your gear ladder (you know, the one you were drooling over).
There is another way to secure bonus loots: Grimoires. These are more sinister than the tomes, but serve a similar purpose. Getting one takes place on your potion slot which would normally hold a utility potion (to add strength or speed, for instance). The grimoire is cursed however, and will reduce everyone’s maximum health by twenty-five percent. Find the second one in a stage and your whole party will have half the health it normally would have. The dice earned for this feat are serious. For starters, they roll successes every time, so getting two guarantees a leg up to reach higher loot. Second, the rarer categories of loot have their thresholds pushed downward for each die (replacing 1-2 white “starter” gear pieces with green, blue, or even higher quality gear). This makes more valuable versions of loot more obtainable, albeit at great cost.
Gear can be salvaged for materials and you can eventually build gear (at punitive prices), but unfortunately this is where things feel unnecessarily difficult to get. Missions can be twenty minutes long, and when your only reward was a flaming sword for a character you don’t play as, it can be a little disconcerting. Essentially the game wants you to grind a lot or get lucky to unlock better gear (or play all of the characters equally, haha). That being said, when you finally craft that shield and mace you’ve been eyeballing, boy does that feel good.
Mission objectives range from linear maps that end with something simple, like blow up this or defend that, to less linear stages with one big objective, such as collecting powder kegs, or surviving waves of chittering enemies. Each objective is very clear and well conveyed, so you shouldn’t be left scratching your head trying to figure out what you missed.
Combat in this game it what it is all about. You are fighting hordes of rat-men called Skaven, and while you have a ranged option, ammunition is somewhat rare, and many guns are slow to reload. You’ll be swinging swords and shield bashing your way through the majority of the skittering masses. Combat is simple and effective and varies depending on the weapon you have. For example, the dwarven axes cause tons of lethal damage to single enemies, where hammers deal wide spreads of damage across the mob. Shield bashing can knock over whole crowds of verminous villains, allowing you push them over the edge of the castle walls for quick kills. Essentially there is a weapon out there for every playstyle, and every swing feels great. The physics engine Vermintide uses to flail bodies around makes you feel weight and power.
Vermintide’s presentation certainly sets a high bar. The settings are dark and rain slick, the Skaven have enough variances to keep them from being too monotonous, as well as sound cues that tell you exactly what’s going on. There is an audible cue whenever a special rat enters the battlefield, warning the astute as to what to prepare for. If you manage to miss the wheezing breath of the gas bomb lobbing globadier-rats, fret not; your characters all banter between themselves, and will point them out, as well as important power ups and mission objectives. Each character has an archetypical personality that expresses what actions they take while giving them an edge of entertainment. They call out compliments to each other, taunt each other, and provide glimpses of their back stories through bits of otherwise unimportant dialogue.
So let’s recap, if you liked Left 4 Dead but wanted more RPG in your game, this might be right for you. If you are tired of fighting zombies, take a look at this. If you need a good, somewhat noncommittal multiplayer game to coax your team out of Fallout 4 (even if it is just for a little while), consider Vermintide.
Most importantly: if I don’t see you before The Big Day, Merry Christmas and I hope you all have a great time seeing Star Wars.