I’ve spent the last three hours playing Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Which is to say I’ve spent the last three hours getting groin-stomped by throngs of scary humanoid rats. It may just be me, but Vermintide is incredibly difficult. I’m also really, REALLY enjoying it. Let me tell you why.
Vermintide is a 1-4 player cooperative first-person action game, and even though I haven’t spent much time with it, it’s already abundantly clear that developers Fatshark have been playing an awful lot of Left 4 Dead lately. It follows an almost identical formula to Valve’s zombie shooter, but crams in just enough new stuff to make it immediately interesting in its own right. For one thing, it’s full of rat people (aka Skaven), who are functionally identical to L4D‘s zombies, except they’re covered in fur and have more of a need for extensive dental health plans. There’s also all the Warhammer Fantasy stuff. I’m not exactly an ardent follower of all things Warhammer, but Vermintide appears to be pretty Warhammer-y to me, and what I’ve seen of the game’s artistic direction has been fantastic.
It’s got a healthy obsession with chunky, chaotic melee combat, and that’s always a plus. You’re able to choose from one of five characters, each representing a different way to approach the Skaven threat. I’ve only played the Bright Wizard, who in her vanilla form has access to fiery spells that can rapidly obliterate groups of weaker enemies. She’s lots of fun. Each of the characters uses a mix of melee and ranged attacks to dispatch foes, and I’ll have more to say about them once I’ve given them all a go.
There’s a progression system in play, which sees you unlocking new stuff as you gain player levels. The stuff you unlock ranges from new headgear and weapons for characters to use, to new features like the forge. I’d just unlocked the forge before I stopped to write this, so I’ve not had a chance to properly use it, but I had a quick look at it and it allows you to craft new items by combining existing ones, and it also lets you upgrade your favourite items if they’ve got the capacity for it. You can also salvage items for components. I’m excited to head back in later and tinker with all the crafting stuff.
The flow of the game is practically identical to L4D, although it’s clearly not as meticulously polished. It’s divided into a set of 13 levels, each of which is a deadly marathon through a sea of angry ratmen. There’s an overall objective to accomplish in addition to smaller, nail-biting crises to overcome on your way to each level’s finale. As in L4D, there’s an AI director being a total dick in the background, randomising the placement of ammo resupplies, health packs and other items. The director’s also constantly setting up ambushes along the way and spawning waves of enemies if you dawdle in an area for too long.
It’s actually hilariously brutal, and I don’t think it’s quite so elegantly balanced as L4D, but it sure makes for one hell of a thrill ride as you fumble your way through the town of Ubersreik. I’ve only played with bots as my allies, and I’m sure that’s adding to the difficulty – especially since the bots are about as useful as a fork when you’ve got a bowl of soup in front of you – but given that every level also carries multiple difficulty levels, it’s safe to say this game offers a strong challenge. Add in the fact that there are boss Skaven (many of whom deeply resemble the boss infected from L4D) who’ll pin you to the ground, drag you away from your friends and generally just be unforgiving assholes if you stray too far from your team, and you’ve got a recipe for constant, agonising disaster.
Three hours in, I’m really liking Vermintide. I’ll hopefully have a full review up sometime next week, but so far it all looks positive. Its aesthetic is great, and it delivers a satisfying cacophony of half-controlled chaos. I’m eager to explore more of it with friends. If you’re already sold and don’t want to wait for my final verdict, grab it from Steam.