Have you and your friends ever done that thing? Y’know, it’s later in the evening when someone says “man I kind of want to play some co-op games!” Then there’s the inevitable struggle to find something everybody enjoys and, more importantly, owns. Invariably, in these situations one ends up browsing Steam and the web for lists of the “best multiplayer games” so that you can avoid playing hours of Garry’s Mod (which, let’s be fair, tends to only be amusing in short stints).
Every single one of these lists almost always makes some mention of Left 4 Dead and how it is a quintessential multiplayer and co-op experience (both local and remote). So it has always confused me how it seems nobody has really quite captured the same feeling of the games.
Well, look no further friends, because Warhammer *hurrrk* The End Times *hurrrk* Vermintide does actually more than just come close. Aside from the silliness of having two subtitles (when really just “Vermintide” suffices) the game does so much right that I feel the need to say that it is definitely more than just a carbon copy of L4D.
Set in the universe of Fantasy Warhammer, Vermintide follows a team of heroes in the Imperial city of Ubersreik which is under attack by an endless horde of rat men (called Skaven) from tunnels under the city. It is up to you and three others to save the city from certain destruction across a series of missions following a, loose, story campaign.
From the set-up the initial impression of Vermintide does very much give the feeling of being literally a copy-paste job of L4D. Missions are completed in teams of four. You have a primary weapon, a secondary weapon and three different sets of equipment (which includes a healing item, a temporary buff item and a “bomb” item). Your health and the health of your teammates appear arrayed along the bottom of the screen. Each mission primarily involves dealing with swarms of weak skaven which are dispatched easily and quickly, whilst the team keeps an eye open for the special rats like the ogre which essentially is an L4D tank (lots of health and scary amounts of damage) or the gutter runner which is literally an undead hunter (I.e. it pins you to the floor and begins whaling on you until you are rescued).
So, yes, superficially, there is a lot about the game that it is very easy to draw parallels to L4D with. There are a few Steam reviews which seem a little salty about this fact, insisting they’re nothing alike, but trust me it’s definitely true. That said though, this is A. definitely not a bad thing and B. probably almost definitely intentional given just how effective it is.
There are a number of clear-cut differences though, first and foremost is that the choice between characters is no longer just about aesthetic. Vermintide features 5 different characters, each with unique voice-acted lines and interactions with the others. So far, so Valve. However, rather than being completely interchangeable each character has a rather distinct play-style. They all have the same jump-heights, health, hit-boxes, movement speeds and so on (or similar as far as I’m aware), and all have a melee and ranged weapon. However, the choices they can make for these weapons makes them more versatile and varied. You have the bright mage who tends to be best at dealing with large hoards of the weaker ratmen from a range. There’s an imperial soldier who can equip a shield in order to tank damage. The elf ranger has weapons which debuff the enemies, acting as a ranged support.
In short because of, relatively, minor variations in the weapons of each character, they all play fairly differently and a good team will require someone fairly comfortable in one of each of the roles.
Second, one can actually also further alternate the playstyles of each character because the game includes a loot reward system allowing you to receive different weapons and trinkets as you progress. In the example of the bright wizard (the character I spent most time with) there are different magic staves which allow her to shoot powerful AoE fireballs of varying size or a beam of fire instead. This allows you to customise your character based on what your team might need as sometimes it is required to have someone who can deal a lot of damage to a single enemy.
As there is also a tier system of items, this also allows for a measure of progression so one can work from playing on easy and normal up towards the unforgivingly difficult “nightmarish” and beyond. This said the items never really become overpowered in the sense that you won’t ever be killing the hardest guys in one shot, but the improvements are certainly noticeable, meaning the devs managed to hit that fine line of items which are worth getting but which don’t render the game trivial.
The loot system is rather engaging as well. Upon the successful completion of each mission 7 dice are rolled along with seven items displayed at the side, in increasing rarity from the bottom to the top and the item you receive depends on the number of dice which roll a “positive”, where each of the generic dice has a relatively low chance to roll well.
The odds for this can then be improved in a few ways. First, by increasing the difficulty of the level it increases the rarity of the items on offer. While upon completion of a normal mission you will require more than 5 “successful” rolls to receive one of the rarer blues on offer, on hard difficulty one only needs two successful rolls to get a blue with even a remote chance of receiving a legendary orange.
During the game as well, one can randomly find loot dice which replace one of the generic dice and thus slightly increase the chances of a successful roll. There are also tomes and grimoires, the former providing a dice which has a one-in-two chance of success and the latter providing a guaranteed successful roll, however these two increase the difficulty of the game as the tome occupies the space for a healing item while each grimoire collected reduces the entire party’s health by 25%.
On top of this, one can also disassemble items you do not want (duplicates or for characters you don’t use, for example) which provides currency that you can then use for buffing your items further.
In short, there is not only a sense of progression in skill and items but is also a definite sense of encouragement to push oneself further each time. With the chances of better loot increasing the harder you make the game for yourself. It just makes sense and encourages that cycle of risk and reward: “Well I need the item with the best numbers so that I can do the harder difficulty and possibly get an item with better numbers!”
If I may though, I’m now going to go back to comparing the game to L4D. See, Vermintide does suffer from that curse which can afflict so many multiplayer games in that it’s really just not as much fun to play on your own. I imagine one could probably enjoy a few of the easier missions on your own, but this is a game which basically entirely hinges on being played with others. Particularly it is great fun when you play with a group of your friends but would probably just get boring very quickly on your own.
Not that playing on your own will yield much reward. The AI in the game is pretty well renowned as being utterly retarded and so trying to take on the game with three of the stupid bastards is probably one of the more convoluted methods of suicide. Not to mention that realistically you absolutely NEED a fair degree of communication and cooperation even at normal difficulty. I can’t really speak for playing solo-queue with randoms but I feel like a big part of the attraction of a game like this is said communication between teammates, which just won’t be there in a pick-up game.
Playing as a group, as well as just being fun in general, also helps to make up for areas where the game is weaker. For example the plot of the game might as well be summarised as “ratmen invade” and then you go around various different parts of the city where the objective is “get to the end of the mission”. I’ve played through the game more or less twice and not ONCE have I ever sat through any of the briefings. Invariably someone always skips them. So while the story is weak, because it’s multiplayer it doesn’t actually really make much of an impact (hence also why it wouldn’t be particularly interesting on your own). A little more fun is the in-game dialogue and banter between characters, but again this is just something which adds to the fun background noise of the game and is never really subject to much focus because you are playing with others.
Worth mentioning then, because of the high focus on playing with others, that there is a fair barrier for entry with Vermintide in that it’s actually relatively graphically demanding. Sure it’s not going to require a GTX 1080, but it’s not completely basic. Saying this, it’s actually quite a good-looking game. It’s dark and eerie and surprisingly atmospheric despite that you tend to be creeping around while listening to your mates yelling “you fucking moron!” Of course a fair part of this is down to the dark setting of Warhammer itself, but Fat Shark games have done a great job of bringing the setting to life.
In fact I at least once cooed in excitement over the scenes of multitudes of ratmen scuttling straight down massive stone structures towards the ground where you and your party await them resolutely. The entire game feels like a run-through of the Mines of Moira, and as one of LotR’s biggest fans I do not say this lightly.
The city itself has that despairing sensation of a city under siege by evil and the skaven themselves succeed in being both threatening and somewhat revolting in their vermin-like ways. None of which undermines the fun of course.
And “fun” is a fairly central word here and brings me back to what I said about it definitely not being a bad thing that the game so heavily emulates L4D. The simple fact is that fighting endless hordes of enemies is actually just great fun and pretty cathartic as well. Not to mention that the game can also get pretty tactical through usage of the different party members and the inclusion of the harder enemies (the armoured and heavy-hitting skaven Stormvermin in particular can utterly fuck up your day if you are not paying attention). Even when it’s being clever though, you can still grab a spot of land and start mashing your mouse furiously as you swing your sword through a dozen of the wee rat bastards.
The mission objectives never tend to be too complicated (more or less literally being “get to the end” as often as not) but they are also varied enough to be fun and discrete. Some of them are actually surprisingly imaginative as well meaning there is definitely several hours of good times to be had just in one playthrough of the game.
It is, unfortunately, fairly short overall with only around a dozen missions before you complete it and then just have to settle in to replaying things, but this is in keeping with that style of game.
Now the replay value of the game is distinctly bolstered through the presence of the loot system, meaning that there is definitely a fair amount of incentive to keep replaying missions in order to get the lootz for the slootz, but this is a fairly subjective thing and probably the biggest hang-up I have about the game overall. I know that, somehow, Vermintide has succeeded in getting me to enjoy the cycle of repetition and looting where others failed but if you absolutely know this is not for you then you need to be aware the game has really no replay value beyond that.
Another aspect that has been added to try and improve the replayability is that once you have finished the main game once-through, you gain access to a quest board which refreshes daily with challenges such as playing through a mission on a certain difficulty. Some of these provide keys which can be collected to unlock guaranteed epic loots.
A minor criticism I have here though is that the quest system is fairly retarded in that as it updates with the same missions for everyone, sometimes it will feature numerous quests from the two expansions which will obviously not be available to those with just the base game. That just strikes me as a bit of an annoyance which could be fixed to make it feel a little less like the game is sitting on your shoulder going “oh hai, do you like paid DLC, I have some paid DLC for you!”
Really, I’d say that as far as multiplayers go Vermintide is a real winner. I feel though that if there is anything that will really hold it back is that I feel it might be difficult to provide mods for it. I reckon that a big contributing reason to why L4D has been kept alive all these years is that on top of being a pretty stellar multiplayer it has that ever-active Valve modding community to keep churning out new levels and content. Without that I’m not really sure any game can quite compete.
|· Fast-paced, tactical, aggressive and (above all else) FUN co-op gameplay
· Great looks and atmosphere
· Intense action which finds a balance between challenging and cathartic
· Decent level of replayability and progression provided by loot and difficulty systems
|· Almost entirely inconsequential story
· Higher standard of graphics provides higher barrier of entry for potential friend groups
· Solo play is heavily discouraged
· Campaign is relatively short and all forms of replayability rely on enjoying loot-system games