Darktide, the long awaited spiritual sequel to Vermintide 2, has arrived. Coming out on November 30th, the newest ‘tide’ brings us from the chaos of a dark and grungy fantasy world that’s on the brink of collapse (Vermintide) to the chaos of a dark and grungy sci-fi world that’s on the brink of collapse. If you liked Vermintide with its zombie-esque hordes and never-ending waves of foes, then you already know if you’ll be a fan of Darktide.
Except, well, there are a few significant changes to the formula. Darktide isn’t just a change of scenery, but the evolution of a formula into something that feels fresh and exciting. Anyone who pre-ordered the game had early access, and I was fortunate to have a copy gifted to me for my birthday. I knew I’d probably enjoy the game, but my real concern was if the game would hold my interest after the initial gimmicks wore off.
After 15 missions, here’s what I found.
A Very Dark, Very Lived In World
While Games Workshop might have the miniature war game market in a vicelike grip, their attempts to port over their worlds into the digital realm can be very hit or miss. It’s a shame too, because their worlds like Warhammer 40,000 are rich in lore and personality that often gets lost in translation, coming across as generic or stale.
Darktide is not one of those games. From the moment you start creating your own character, it becomes clear this is a game with personality. Choosing your home world, your life story, even the ‘crime’ that got you locked up, it all comes together to give you a sense of the grim, hilariously dark world that awaits you. The game’s marketing calls you a reject, and the game makes it very clear that’s what you are. On death’s door, only a desperate need for able bodies frees you from prison, your missions an attempt at penance to earn a true place in the Imperium of Man.
The moment you are enlisted into the Inquisition’s service, you can see the strange gothic sci-fi mash up that infuses the 40,000 universe. Parts of the ship look to be part cathedral, wrapped in wires and tubes that feel modern-day industrial in size. Yet, you are wielding laser rifles and hammers that hit with the force of a thunderbolt. I’ve always appreciated the strange aesthetic of the Warhammer world, and its great to see that Fatshark has capitalized on the chance to show it off.
The mixture of spaceship and cathedral never ceases to get me to stop and look around.
By the time you are shipped off on your first real mission in the hive city of Tertium, the world feels oppressive; the corruption of the enemy pulses and drips off ruined shanty towns. There are mazes of metal haphazard architecture are strangely beautiful to look at, if you aren’t busy shooting at hordes of chaos cultists. As you turn to look upon century old forges or computers the size of churches, the swell of gothic choirs and distorted drum beats echo around you.
It is a sublime delight to visit the world of Darktide… probably because you know you don’t have to go there yourself. This sort of paradox is a constant theme: the world and what you have to accomplish is downright horrifying, but the game developers have managed to make it an absolute delight to drown yourself in this grimdark world.
A New Type Of Horde
If you’ve played Left 4 Dead or this game’s spiritual prequel Vermintide 2, you have an idea of what you are in for. However, Darktide has mixed up a lot of the elements to come out with something that feels unique and very, very rewarding to play.
I was pleasantly surprised by how robust the character creation system was, letting you choose different personalities and backstories as well as hairstyles.
To start, we should talk about the use of ranged and melee weapons. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead, you are used to having a ranged weapon to absolutely mow down all-melee zombies before you being overwhelmed. In the Vermintide series, you were dedicated to melee, cleaving through absolute hordes of foes while saving powerful ranged attacks for elite units or desperate situations. Darktide has found a strange balance between these two play styles using the fact that various classes focus on ranged OR melee… and the fact that many, many more enemies have machine guns than you might be used to.
Like any horde co-op game, you’ll be absolutely swarmed by foes. Horrific poxwalkers will shamble-run at you to pin you down and overwhelm you from all sides. Smarter cultists will assault you as well, albeit with better equipment and some gunfire. Then you have the traitor guardsmen who are armored and will absolutely mow you down with lazgun fire. On top of all this, you have a constantly rotating cast of elite units that will come your way with bombs, traps, sniper fire, or just in thick heavy plate and a chain axe.
What this all boils down to is that Darktide forces its players to constantly switch up their tactics. You have the typical elite monsters for sure (and the even more horrifying terrors), but just the varying waves of foes will force you to react differently. For example, a player might be forced to return gunfire to an area they can’t reach, but waves of melee monsters are bearing down on you. Do you turn and face the immediate threat? Is your team capable of covering all threats at the same time?
Don't worry - you'll have plenty of large monstrosities to deal with alongside the nameless hordes of cultists too!
The Many Ways To Fight A Heretic
This is where the next element of Darktide really comes into play: its classes. Each has their own strengths, and will thus be better in some situations than others. For example, the Veteran is your classic ‘guy with a gun’ and a great starter character. Their abilities give them more ammunition and ranged damage, with their special buff also highlighting the priority elite targets on the battlefield. This puts you in a great position to go headhunting, or at least call the shots. Of course, you can be overwhelmed by numbers in melee.
Then you have the Zealot, the basic melee class. While you have a gun, your special ability refreshes your toughness and charges you headfirst with some attack speed buffs, letting you thump heads and punish traitors. That rush is especially important, because it lets you throw yourself in the fighting… and ranged gunners will put away their guns when they are close to someone with a giant hammer.
The Ogryn is another melee character, and one that is easily classified as ‘lovable blunt force’. Your ‘guns’ are low in ammo count, but almost always explosive, sweeping an area or knocking elites to the ground. Your melee weapons can be a knife as large as a corgi, or a riot shield so massive it blocks out the sun. Range is not a strong suit, but you have extra health and aren’t easily stunned.
I really enjoy the loading screens for the missions as it shows off your team... especially if you have giant ogryn looking like they've been squeezed inside the dropship.
Seeing an Ogryn would send many people running, but that’s why you have the Psyker. Easily the strangest class, your ‘grenade’ option is replaced with ‘brain burst’, the ability to use psychic energy to pop the heads of almost any foe in one strike. You just need to focus, hold down the attack button, and pop. This is wonderful for catching snipers that like to reposition or eliminate an armored foe.
Of course, you dealing really great damage is balanced out by the fact that your head might explode. All your psychic attacks build up ‘peril’, which if not balanced, will make you fall over and not your foe. What you end up with is a character that is an amazing problem solver against other elites, but is more vulnerable to hordes who get close.
I should state here that this is just the basic summary of these classes. I can already see from unlocking feats and their various unique weaponry that there are more tactics and strategies available within each class that you can combine with your teammates to either make a group that balances each others weaknesses with support… or a hilariously ‘big boy’ squad of ogryns who want to lumber through a whole level with grenade launchers and billy clubs. The choice is yours.
Gallows Humor And Coherent Comrades
During the pandemic, I’ve found myself gravitating into learning all about Warhammer lore. It was weirdly comforting to put on a youtube video that talks about just a few of the mind-scarring horrors in this grimdark universe while dealing with the banality of lockdown. Of course, this level of ‘everything sucks’ can backfire: how do you get the tone right? How do you maintain this atmosphere of dread and suffocating hopelessness and still make a game fun?
Seeing Ogryn trying to use the decryption devices always makes me grin. Just a little.
Honestly, Darktide has surprised me at just how well its managed this, and it’s done so both thematically and mechanically. It all comes down to teamwork, the feeling of being part of a cause. If you can make the team you are playing with feel like a cohesive unit, you have your glimmer in the darkness, that little point of light that makes all the grimdark feel worth it.
Thematically, you are last chancers who are thrown into impossible odds with nothing to lose and everything to gain. The levels you gain are called ‘trust’ rather than experience, signifying you raising your rank with Inquisitor Grendyl’s team. You go from wearing prison rags to armor that slowly begins to collect official badges and purity seals acknowledging your deeds. The cutscenes you unlock make it feel like you are rising through the ranks to become an official part of the retinue: there is hope for at least you in the middle of all this madness.
Still, you are expendable: there’s a Dirty Dozen or Suicide Squad vibe that permeates every mission, and it’s not lost on the voice actors. On various mission starts and elevator rides, one character will ask if the others trust the tech-priest aboard your ship, while another will grumble about being bossed around. Over time though - and I can’t tell yet if this is on purpose - it feels as though the teammates get more voice lines as trust levels rise. It starts off with just complaining about your situation, but the questions get more nuanced, more particular. When you help another person up, you are more likely to be friendly as you do so.
It’s a great touch. Yes, I have heard a few voice lines repeated, but I enjoy how each class has at least 3 voice actors, allowing for teams of psykers not to all just sound like clones. You can have one Ogryn talking about how much they like bashing and the other is just asking when breakfast is next. One of my favorite conversations was when a zealot asked about the nature of ogryn souls, with different teammates rushing to their defense about their usefulness. It was strangely heartwarming in the middle of so much carnage.
One of the funniest things to do is take a team of four Ogryn and go after a traitor captain boss. The image of four lovable oafs just absolutely trashing someone as they try to boast about how tough they are made me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe.
Mechanically, this sense of teamwork feeds into how your team has to rely on covering fire and the ability to free other players from traps, as well as a new mechanic called Coherency. Essentially, players staying close enough together give a supporting buff, whether its ammo generation, toughness, or damage, working as a team is rewarded up and down the scale.
Darktide could have easily been a very good team shooter just based on combat, but the game is elevated by taking the already great atmosphere and making sure the characters you are playing as inhabit that space as well. Everyone loves feeling like part of a team, and this game intrinsically rewards you for acting like you are part of one, whether it's by voice lines or extra damage.
But Is It Enough To Join The Fight?
Time to get to the point: Darktide is worth your money. From games like this in the past, I’ve found that after a dozen or so rounds, you’ll have gotten past that initial fresh-new-game ‘smell’ and really know if it’ll have your hooks in you. Do you want to keep playing, or does it feel like it’s getting stale?
I’m now somewhere between a dozen and two dozen games of Darktide, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
I love the different classes you can play as. Because of the weapon load outs and how their feats combine with coherency bonuses, I can distinctly tell a difference between the characters I’m playing as while also seeing different builds and strategies. I play three rounds as the veteran and have a lot of fun? Great! Let’s switch to Ogryn and absolutely have fun knocking people around in melee.
I’ve already said that the aesthetic of the game is top notch, but it’s elevated to a point of perfection thanks to the music. I’ve loved Jesper Kyd as a composer since State of Decay, but this is his best work yet. He has always been able to convey a sense of unease in his combat tracks, and in the 41st millennium, he has a lot to work with. Listen for yourself, but trust me that when “Imperial Advance” kicks in just as a swarm of poxwalkers descends on your team, it is a thrilling experience that immerses you in the chaos.
There are so many little touches in Darktide that elevate it past just another team shooter into something unique. It draws on years of Warhammer lore: the health stations are creepy lobotomized humans who have been turned into automatons ‘for the emperor’. You find yourself conflicted between feeling relieved as you spot one and feeling guilty as they occasionally beg you to stay and keep them company. That’s just one example: the next mission you try, take a moment to just stop and look around at a hive city that makes Midgar look like a hamlet.
The gunplay feels wonderful, each weapon standing out. Explosive weapons are some of the most satisfying I’ve used in an FPS ever, as they absolutely turn basic foes into puddles, while various melee weapons have their own sound and visual effects to make it really feel like you are wading through the corrupted hordes of chaos yourself. Moment to moment, Darktide is simply fun.
Glitches In the 41st Millennium
Of course, after giving that absolutely glowing review, I’m going to have to give some caveats. Unfortunately, they might be big ones.
First, bugs! So many bugs. For many, “Error 2007” probably haunts their dreams… like my friend who couldn’t get past the first mission for the entirety of the pre-launch beta. While I have been fortunate in being able to play, I’ve also run into a few errors that make me have to try and log in multiple times. I’ve been able to play a few full 4 player games with friends, but one out of every three games, someone crashes out mid-fight.
Graphic pop-in definitely can happen when first loading up a scenario or the main hub, but its the crashing that can really dampen the mood.
With that being said, I will give Darktide some credit: after playing quite a few games where crash-in-a-mission-and-that’s-it is the norm, I’m very relieved to report that Darktide lets friends reconnect to their current mission very easily! It’s odd, because it shows a lot of work has been done, but there’s still a world of issues with connectivity staying stable. I am fairly certain that this issue will be rectified in the first few months, but this might be a deal breaker for buying the game right away.
Secondly, there is a cosmetics shop. It’s always a contentious issue, and while it’s only been up for a day or so, it just makes me sad to see it. Make no mistake, Darktide feels like a $40 game that is going to earn its worth over many, many more missions, but it just makes the cosmetics shop on top feel a bit out of place.
Thirdly, the game doesn’t quite feel finished. Vermintide 2 had five characters with multiple ‘careers’ for each, where Darktide only has four classes. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, because the differences between each class and the game play between the different weapons feels more dramatic in Darktide, but others might be left with a bad taste in their mouth. The crafting station isn’t even fully open yet, and many players have noticed optimization for their various graphics cards varying wildly between patches.
Now, the developers have said how there will be new content every quarter, including new ‘subclasses’; sort of like careers in Vermintide 2. During the beta, we’ve already seen new monstrosities and zones appear in time for launch. Also, many modern games have optimization issues at launch which get fixed early on, especially if a developer is promising more content and is trying to keep a DLC store open.
All of this is to say that Darktide is a really solid game, but there are a lot of initial issues and bugs. Some players are probably going to feel better waiting a few months to jump in, and its entirely understandable to do so.
When Its Fun To Be A Reject
I was fortunate enough to get Darktide as a birthday gift, and I’ll fully admit how much fun I’ve had in this game. Ever since Left 4 Dead really cemented the formula, there’s nothing quite like four friends banding together to take on endless hordes as a team. I’m happy to say that Darktide very much looks like the latest and greatest take in this genre, filling you with a sense of being a total badass while also getting your blood pumping at the same time.
I’m writing this as a ‘first impressions’ and not a full review because I know that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Darktide; Vermintide 2 came out in 2018, and Fatshark continued to create new content and updates for four straight years. By 2024, the experience of logging in and suiting up to save Tertium might feel very different indeed.
What I can say however is that the bones of Darktide aren’t just solid, they are fantastic. Fatshark took all that they learned making the Vermintide series and simply made a game that is a lot more fun through and through. It’s beautiful, it sounds great, and it really does feel like a window into the grimdark world of Warhammer 40,000, rather than just set dressing.
Darktide is worth your money and your time. Wait for a few more months of content or jump in right now, but if you have any interest in this genre and this universe, you are going to find something to like here. Good luck surviving, reject! There might not be hope for the universe, but there’s hope for you yet.