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Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review – Left 4 Demons

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review – Left 4 Demons
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide – serving the Emperor isn’t easy (pic: Fatshark)

The creators of Vermintide switch to a sci-fi setting for their latest attempt at making the ultimate four-player co-op action game.

There is such a dizzying array of Warhammer games released every year, from a seemingly infinite array of different publishers and developers, that it’s very hard to guess which ones will end up being worthwhile (like Total War: Warhammer 3 ) and which will be entirely forgettable (most of the others). It might not be obvious from the name, but Darktide was always likely to be one of the good ones, as it’s the follow-up to Vermintide 2 – except this time with less rats and more guns.

Vermintide is set in the fantasy version of the Warhammer universe, but this takes places in the grim dark future of Warhammer 40,000. This time you’re not fighting off endless hordes of rat people but dealing with a breakout of Chaos demons on a particularly unpleasant looking industrial planet. The government approved way of dealing with such an incursion involves killing everyone involved, in what is a solely multiplayer experience.

If you’ve played the previous games, you’ll know what fun they are, and this appears to be at least as good. We say appears because it’s very much a work in progress, with not nearly enough content as there should be at launch. Given how Vermintide was handled we’re inclined to believe developer Fatshark’s promises about more to come, which means the only real question about Darktide is when to play it, not if.

Vermintide was always a blatant Left 4 Dead clone, which is perfectly fine seeing as Valve long ago abandoned the franchise and unofficial follow-up Back 4 Blood has not quite managed to fill the same niche. Vermintide was arguably always the best alternative, especially as the medieval fantasy setting ensured it was never an exact copy. Darktide’s switch to guns and rockets brings it a little closer to its inspiration but one of the unexpected successes of the game is how well it makes use of the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

You start the game as a prisoner aboard a transport ship, where instead of playing as a predetermined character you create your own in one of four classes. Once you’ve made your choice, including which crime you committed, you’re suddenly attacked by Chaos followers and end up rescuing an Inquisitor who rewards you by commuting your death sentence into helping to fight the cult and its leaders.

The fact that Warhammer 40,000 started of as a satire of fascistic governments and military is often lost in the modern era, but it comes across very clearly here, as you perform your thankless task for your heartless masters.

Although the story, by regular Warhammer writer Dan Abnett, is much more engaging than you’d expect of a multiplayer-only game the focus is still squarely on the action, which despite the change in setting is still primarily melee based. It helps that Warhammer 40,000 itself has always been about close quarters combat, and so while you usually start thinning out a crowd of Nurgle worshippers with long-range weapons you always end up fishing them off with chainsaws and hammers.

This is encouraged by the Toughness system, which is basically a shield but one that is regenerated only by making melee kills or staying close to teammates. That creates a clear rhythm to the action, as you take out cultists from a distance, finish some off with melee combat, then retreat backwards to start the loop again. Rather than being repetitive this adds a great deal of tension and intensity to proceeds, as you try not to break the pattern – since losing your Toughness and having no easy way to restore it can quickly spell doom.

Although it could do with a few more guns – weirdly even the sharpshooter class mostly relies on melee combat – the action is solid and satisfying no matter what weapon you’re using, with a great sense of weight and momentum. Although the gameplay could be described as one note the nuance introduced by the different weapon types and character abilities ensures it never feels that way, and instead the only problem with repetition is the fact that there’s only five maps.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide – space zombies have been a real problem lately (pic: Fatshark)

You’ll constantly be returning to each of them, only with a slightly altered layout and different enemy and item placements. Reusing maps is hardly a new concept for co-op games and this does the best it can to make each foray seem different, with different objectives that range from fixing machinery to taking out particular boss characters.

To vary things further there are special conditions that include fighting in the dark and with a thick fog, although these are the only two at the moment – with others set to be released in the future. That’s the story with all of the content though, with Fatshark promising more maps, characters, and weapons, but only in good time.

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That’s fair enough – it’s not as if the game is completely bereft of content at launch – but there are also balancing issues and some nasty crash bugs. The psyker class, in particular, seems far less useful than the others until you level them up some considerable way, which makes them really no fun at all in the opening hours.

At the moment, Darktide is flawed but highly enjoyable, but in the future we expect to recommend it without qualification. We imagine the bugs and balancing issues will only be a matter of weeks but by the time the game makes its console debut we expect this to be one of the best co-op shooters of recent years.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review summary In Short: Although it feels more like an early access release at this point, this is a promising start for what should eventually eclipse Vermintide 2 and all the other Left 4 Dead wannabes.
Pros: Great action and melee combat, that encourages teamwork in a number of clever ways. New class system is welcome and the graphics and level design are excellent.
Cons: Too few maps and guns, with a general lack of content and variation. Classes seem unbalanced and there are some nasty bugs.
Score: 7/10

Formats: PC (reviewed) and Xbox Series X Price: £32.99 Publisher: Fatshark Developer: Fatshark Release Date: 30th November 2022 (Xbox TBA) Age Rating: N/A

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