Played on Windows.
Also Available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Warhammer and Warhammer 40k are some of the largest gaming lores around. They span over 50 titles and expansions and is probably closer to 75 if one took the time to count them all. We’ll be looking at a sequel to a major hit in the franchise, Warhammer Vermintide 2. Can it be an interesting take on its own or will the knowledge of the missing lore hurt it?
I’ll admit, Warhammer games get me into a fight or flight response. The monolithic lore is massive and quite often I’m not sure how to even approach some of these games. Blood Bowl works well on its own, though Space Marine and Dawn of War felt like I was scraping on the outside of a much bigger product.
Vermintide 2 feels like someone gave an elevator pitch of “It’s Left for Dead, but with Warhammer, and Rats!” It might sound like an oversimplification and in some ways it is, but really at the end of the day, Vermintide is a four-player co-op PVE game with a focus on slaughtering millions of rats and some zombie-like creatures.
Vermintide 2 looks great, it’s based on the Warhammer Fantasy lore, and it feels like it. You have giant castles, big walls, and magic galore. This is high fantasy and definitely has a Tolkien style feel to it.
Vermintide 2 doesn’t do much with its locations outside of leaving places for players to search. Locations have houses, barns, and more, but really it’s there for you to progress through. There are also no friendly NPCs in the levels and just hordes of enemies. Though, most locations are named so if players wanted to understand out the lore, or potentially attach it to the larger lore they would be able to.
The Hordes of enemies look good. I love watching hundreds of enemies rushing me and just wading through the lot. Often times I feel pushed back to a wall making a stand, hoping I could hold out. But even with most of the enemies looking similar the game still can dazzle the player as they overwhelm them.
In addition, there are some major enemies as well and they feel unique but still fitting with the motif of the game, since the name is Vermintide, almost every enemy is a ratman of some sort, known as the Skaven of Warhammer lore. There’s also Chaos Marauders, and this is where my understanding of the lore starts to elude me. Basically, you’ll fight rat looking enemies mostly and there will be a few humanoids as well.
Here is one of the larger “Monsters” of the game, and man they look great.
The characters you play look great as well. Vermintide 2 has five characters and the players will choose four for each match. The five characters are arranged in five classes, or “careers” with three tiers, and I’ll talk more about them in the gameplay, but really they all have great character models though they can blend in with the enemies in large battles.
The game does look good though and there’s always some action going on so it’ll always be about the fighting rather than the location. When there are down moments, players will usually be forced to scavenge or move forward quickly and the game allows that.
The story in Warhammer Vermintide 2 is a bit strange. It appears to be taking off after the events of the first game, which I haven’t played. There’s a rat mage, and a Skittergate that seems to be at the core, but most of this is quickly dropped to the side.
Vermintide 2’s story has a problem. It’s a similar issue to the division. With a multiplayer game, either story or gameplay will eventually suffer for the other. Vermintide 2 seems to ignore most of the story. While characters will refer to stuff and you can follow the actions of what the player is doing in each mission, the overarching story doesn’t work as well.
The big reason for this is that players are able to play any of the 13 missions of the game in almost any order. There are three acts, and each act has to be played in order for the players, but I almost beat the third act before I had played two missions in the first act. If you choose a quick play game which is the best way to play the game, the story order will feel disjointed.
The levels themselves are interesting and replaying a level is cool, though they don’t change. The locations feel comfortable and you start to recognize them. At the same time, the characters have a lot of voice lines between them talking about what’s happening and what they’re doing.
One character chided me about topping off my health by drinking a health potion for almost no damage, as I was grabbing a second potion to replace it. Vermintide 2 has small moments like that which really bring the characters to life and make me want to work in the group.
I do have to go back to the fact that I don’t know much of the Warhammer lore so it’s possible that our party traipses through areas that are major for fans of the series. The races and areas and more seem important but since I haven’t dived deep enough I’m unable to tell you how important the locations here really are.
These are the Chaos Marauders, I believe, but there are always enemies willing to run up and attack you face to face.
Really though with the speed of the gameplay, and the lack of story moments, the focus of Vermintide 2 is about the gameplay rather than the narrative surrounding it. So ultimately we need to look towards the gameplay for the reason to play.
I said earlier that this is Left 4 Dead with Warhammer layered on top of it, and in a lot of ways that’s pretty much it. It’s a great mashup. Still, there are a lot of nice additions that make the game work better.
You start the game choosing a hero from five characters. There are a Warrior, a Witch Hunter, A Dwarf, A Rogue, and a Mage. Each character looks different, has a different special ability and more, but I’d be lying if I said it mattered that much. You end up with four very typical fighter classes in a game. The fifth class, the mage, is the only one that’s really unique, and it’s unique due to the fact that she has a recharging range attack, though she will still fight with melee as well. The other characters have different ranges of weapons, from guns to bows to crossbows, but each needs ammo so they have some limitation.
Vermintide 2’s characters play very similarly for most of the game. They have unique special abilities and intrinsic abilities, as well as their own talent tree and more, but at the end of the day, you’ll attack enemies in almost the same way no matter which class you are. There are also tiers, each character has 2 more advanced versions of their class, that become available at level 7 and level 12.
Each mission has your party enter with four different characters out of the five. If you don’t have enough players, AI will be provided as well. The AI is reasonably intelligent and sticks around the players, but the game is definitely better with more human players, though teamwork is important here. If the party wanders off some players can get isolated, and that makes them easy targets for enemies.
One change Vermintide 2 has from the Left 4 Dead formula is that the missions have a little more focus on story elements. In Left 4 Dead the players are trying to get to the end of a level, basically to the next safe house. In Vermintide 2, the goal is a bit deeper. It can be anything from guiding a cart full of black powder to an altar the team wants to blow up or taking down a major boss, to knocking down bells that ring out over the land. There are actually a lot of different goals for the missions and it’s fun to play every mission to see what will happen next.
The level layout for the missions though is a bit weak. The more you play the missions the more you’ll recognize the maps but when joining a game in progress you might not have a clue to which direction to go. It doesn’t help that the players will sometimes move on from where you are while you join in progress, but in addition, the level layout doesn’t always make it clear where you just came from or where it intends you to go, which requires a lot of looking for the next move.
The locations are quite well made and there’s a ton of design in each area. Even if it’s hard to follow a path.
Vermintide 2’s UI doesn’t help in this situation, and there are a number of paths that loop back upon itself. It’s not the best experience at first, but eventually, players will learn the traps and mistakes. In addition, the game doesn’t really show you where your team is at times. There’s a green outline around the characters, but I couldn’t suss out the logic behind when it shows up. Is it a distance issue, a targeting issue, or something else that makes it appear? It just becomes a strange and annoying feature that was intended to help the player.
When you’re near someone it won’t appear but it’s common to see friendlies fade into the melee all around them so it’s important to have some level of communication and to stay as a group. You’ll want to work as a team.
Vermintide will also use a version of the Director logic from Left 4 Dead, in that large waves of enemies will be slung at the characters at different times. The game rarely seems to pile this on when players are already engaged in a battle, but often times you’ll hear the horns signifying a new wave of enemies is coming and players will ready themselves for another big brawl.
Of course, Vermintide 2 also has special enemies which are somewhat similar to what you would expect from the formula. They can cause issues and require more than one player to neutralize effectively. Then the Monsters and Bosses step in as well. These enemies are almost like Tank Characters which can absorb large amounts of damage, but in addition, they have health bars so players can know how much damage is left to do to them. In addition they each have their own move sets, including teleports or large attacks. It’s a great addition that works well with Vermintide 2’s systems.
A big piece of those systems is melee combat. As mentioned above, out of the five classes, only the mage has infinite range attacks, though with her own system to limit that power. The other four classes have limited ranged ammo, usually around twenty to forty shots depending on their equipment.
Players are intended to get up close and personal with the enemies and fight for their lives. Only a couple of enemies have ranged attacks, so for the most part hand to hand combat is the name of the game.
Vermintide 2 also has a great dodge mechanic to avoid damage and fighting those large bosses one on one is engaging. Even when working in a group, it’s exciting to have to dodge attacks than just tank them, though early both techniques are possible, dodging plays a bigger role as you go up in difficulties.
I’ll be honest, melee could have been awful for an online game, and I’m sure there is some behind the scenes trickery to the game itself but it feels so satisfying to slaughter wave after wave of enemies, and I didn’t notice any lag or issues with the gameplay.
When I do say the characters all play the same, there is some difference in weapon choice and each character has a few weapons to choose from, both in the range slot and the melee slot. These make minor changes, possible faster reload, or a large amount of ammo carried. It allows a little more customization on the characters beyond just choosing some gear.
Here we have one of the “Special” enemies blasting me with his flame of death.
I think this is one of the reasons the tutorial only shows you the first character because all five characters play so similarly it would just be the same thing five times over. I would have liked a little more tutorial on the rules of the game, such as how many downs players are allowed to get, or just the finer aspects of each of the five character’s special abilities, but that comes over time.
I do have to praise Vermintide for one major feature. The Join in Progress system does almost everything right. While it does spawn the character at a point where other players may have gone on ahead without them, there is a lot more that works here. I’ve joined at a number of games, from the first area of a map to the final moments. There was one mission I joined and within one minute, the team had won the map. I ended up getting a full reward, all the experience points and all the loot that the rest of the team got for doing absolutely no work. There was no negative for me to join a game that was completing, in fact it was preferable in my opinion.
Failure will happen in Vermintide. It uses the down system most of these team-based PVE games have, where other players can assist teammates who have run out of life. In addition, if the player ends up “dying” they can be rescued at points in the map. Still, if all four players fall, the missions end in failure. At that point, the characters are sent back to the hub and given some EXP rewards for their time. It’s still a negative to fail, but the experience offered allows players to potentially level up or come back ready for more. Though the awarded loot boxes for a mission is only for completion.
Vermintide 2’s loot boxes are important and I will say they are loot boxes done right. They easily show what happens when there aren’t microtransactions getting in the way. Fatshark, the team behind Vermintide 2 did a number of things that make them enjoyable.
Every time you open a loot box you get gear for your current character. While they do play with tiered characters, some loot will be for a different tiered character, the current chosen character’s “Career” will get them. If you earn a loot box as the dwarf and switch to the rogue, there’s no problem, the rogue earns the loot as if she did the work.
The math behind the loot box is a little complicated. There’s a single best item you’ve received over all the characters. This is your base item. If it’s gear score 144, you’ll get an item that’s between 10 points above and 10 points below. So the range there is 154 to 134. You’ll earn a random item in that range.
That might seem complex but there are a number of good systems included here. This is the best item of any class, so starting a new character means you start earning gear based on how much you’ve played the game, not just that character. In addition, if you earn a 150 gear score item in that box, that becomes your new base stat, and from there you’ll move the range to the 160 to 140 range. This means you always are moving in a positive direction with the quality of gear.
There are a rarity system and a couple of limits based on difficulty, but the base idea of the loot box is an amazingly positive experience for the player and gives the player a reason to continue to play the game, rather than try to find a way to get more money out of the player. It’s refreshing from a consumer standpoint.
Every item on the left contributes to the eventual strength of the loot box. But that’s only for rarity.
In addition to the loot boxes, there’s a forge system that allows player to recycle their gear into better versions, and while I didn’t play too much with those systems as I hadn’t reached the max level of the gear, it’s great to see more features that allow players to work with their items instead of just relying only on a couple of random number games.
The loot boxes and the forge are all part of the hub world for the player. The host of each team shares his hub with the players. Sadly there’s not a lot of personalization in a player’s hub, and no trading is allowed, but still, it’s nice to see a hub rather than a stale interface between levels. It also provides a place for players to try out new equipment.
Ultimately though, after a player reaches the end of all thirteen missions, with the final mission being a capstone for the entire game, the player is expected to then replay the game over and over at higher difficulties. It’s not a bad game to go back and play again, but after about 15 hours I felt fulfilled.
If you enjoy the game there are four difficulties, with each difficulty being harder, and expecting higher levels and gear score. The game even limits entry into each difficulty to ensure players are properly prepared for it. There’s always going to be more gear to find, and more gameplay to tackle.
I actually enjoyed Vermintide 2 quite a bit. I don’t really have many negatives of my time with the game, while the level design could be better, and maybe a slight amount of UI, I also have to admit, the exploration feeling is there, and the UI would ruin that aspect of it. Vermintide 2 is a great game for random players or groups of friends. It has the same enjoyable experience that Left 4 Dead has, and yet differentiates itself that it can stand alongside it. Honestly, it’s one of the few Warhammer games I’ve played that doesn’t feel to be struggling to introduce new players to the lore.
I am giving Warhammer: Vermintide 2 a
If you don’t know Warhammer’s lore, don’t let that deter you from this game. Though it is a four-person melee heavy PVE multiplayer game. It’s still a fun adventure and new fans will find it inviting.
Final thoughts: Left 4 Dead in the Warhammer: Vermintide 2 universe. It’s an engaging game and has one of the best loot box implementations around. The melee in the game as well is fantastic.
Stats: 16 hours played 12/26 achievements earned.