A Grimdark Launch – Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review

Good afternoon, dear readers! Amongst the last-minute Christmas rush, I have a game review for you. It’s run a bit long due to there being a lot to talk about. So, without further ado, here is my review of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide!

In 2008, Valve Software’s Left 4 Dead made huge waves in co-op gaming. It might not have invented the 4-player horde shooter, but it certainly redefined it. In 2015, Swedish game studio Fatshark stepped into the genre with Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. I didn’t quite get it at first – it just seemed like a melee-focused, Warhammer knock-off of Left 4 Dead. After a revisit something clicked, and here I am with around 1,000 combined hours across Vermintide and 2018’s Warhammer: Vermintide II. To say I really like these games is an understatement, so when Fatshark announced a Warhammer 40,000 themed entry into the Tide “series”, I was excited.

Set in the titular sci-fi universe where overpriced plastic models do battle on tabletop, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a 1-4 player co-op horde-shooter. As a new entry into a series with a change of setting, Fatshark have pushed Darktide’s combat to be more “hybrid”. There’s a great variety of sci-fi boomsticks to fire back at the new ranged enemies. The game also benefits from a suppression system that works both for and against players. When the hordes get too close, out come the hitting sticks and it’s the same satisfying melee combat from Vermintide II.

Darktide also looks a lot better than its predecessors. While there’s too many dark sci-fi corridors, there’s also some visually impressive areas and the environments, enemies and textures look good. The sound design is just as good as Vermintide II, with each weapon sounding great. Most enemies having distinct audio cues to identify what’s coming your way, and they chatter to themselves, each other or roar in your face as they take a swing. With composer Jesper Kyd back to do the soundtrack, the music is more than just a cherry on top – it slaps harder than an Ogryn.

Unfortunately, almost everything outside of these areas ranges from questionable to abysmal. The performance of the game on launch was awful even on powerful PC systems: It’s been patched since, but the game remains unstable for many players over two weeks out from launch.

Technical issues aren’t the only problem; despite a couple of delays this year alone, Darktide seems incredibly undercooked. The character customisation seems like it might have been added mid- development, and the tedious way weapons are acquired seems artificially inflated (not to mention different to their previous marketing on how it’d work). The lack of interesting playstyle customisation through the talent trees also seems a bit odd. And where Vermintide II had 5 characters with 3 classes each at launch, Darktide launched with 4 characters with 1 class each (further classes are coming down the line, and we might be paying for them.)

The systems for obtaining and improving equipment are doubly frustrating given that the exact same thing happened when Vermintide II launched with a much worse crafting system than its predecessor. Fatshark seem to enjoy reinventing the wheel, but forgetting it needs to be circular to work properly. Darktide’s crafting system is unfinished on launch. This was allegedly due to a very late-stage rebuild of it, as they were unhappy with the previous one, and I get that feeling from a lot else in the game.

What was fully-functioning at launch was the paid cosmetic shop. I’m not a huge fan of these; I could suck it up and just not buy anything. However, you have to buy a middle-man currency, “Aquilas”, and that currency is only obtainable in bundles that leave you with too few or too many to buy what you want (since “fixed”, but still worth raising). That is a shitty practise, regardless of studio size and especially in an unfinished mess of a game.

I suffered through the teething pains of Vermintide; I saw Vermintide II go through similar launch issues and baffling design choices, many of which were addressed but never fixed: Darktide demonstrates that, at best, Fatshark’s management struggle to keep a project on track. They also clearly don’t learn lessons about systems and mechanics from their previous titles. But they can make a game that looks, sounds, and feels good to play.

With all that being said, we get to the big question: Would I recommend you buy this game right now?

Well, the short answer is a “No, unless”: Unless you are a die-hard Warhammer 40k or Vermintide fan, who is willing to play anyway while the developers put some serious work in, I can’t recommend this game. Darktide has the potential to be a great game but I cannot recommend it now with so many shortcomings. Would I be surprised if many issues are acknowledged and never fixed? Yes. Do I have some sliver of hope that they’ll make it an all-around good game one day? Yes. Although, as the saying goes, “Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment”.

So, there you have it dear readers! Plenty to talk about with this game, as I’m very passionate about its potential, but not too happy with the state it’s launched in. If you’ve got some thoughts on my review, or the game, please let me know on Twitter here. And if you’ve got spare change to support my heretical writings, why not drop it here in my Ko-Fi?

Thanks for reading, and may you and yours have a fantastic and restful winter holiday and a happy New Year!

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