When Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide released in October of 2015, it was welcomed by fans as an exceptional addition to the Warhammer universe. Many critics, including Gamer Professionals, thought very highly of the game, and scores ranged from 80%-95%, on average. Fast-forward to October 2016 (one year after the original release), developer Fatshark decided it was time to bring Vermintide to console players. While Gamer Pros has done a review on Vermintide in the past, I am going to take this opportunity to re-asses the game and see what kind of impression the console version of this game delivers.
Having no background with Vermintide, the first thing that stuck out to me was how many similarities it shares with the Left 4 Dead series. I would not say that Vermintide only borrows inspiration from Valve’s cooperative act-based zombie shooter, it takes game specific aspects of Left 4 Dead, then builds Vermintide on them. While Left 4 Dead mainstreamed the co-op horde survival genre (and does not own a complete monopoly on it), games like Vermintide are permitted to try and stand out in it. What is, in my opinion, inexcusable is the fact that Vermintide takes enemy types, key player interactions, and overall game layout from Left 4 Dead and reskins them to fit the Warhammer universe. An example being that the horde Skaven (bypedal rats who are the enemy in Vermintide) archetypes function nearly identically to the horde zombies. Gutter Rats act identically to the Hunter in Left 4 Dead. They will stalk you and then pounce on you, keeping you pinned until your allies intervene, while dealing damage to you. Pack Masters function like Smokers. These rats will grab you from afar, and then pull you closer in an effort to separate you from your group and let the horde of Skaven gang up on you. The Rat Ogre, which is the toughest enemy in the game, is essentially Left 4 Dead’s Tank. Both are a big enemy that gets in close and deal massive damage upon attacking. There is very little fictional distinction between the enemies in Vermintide and Left 4 Dead. For variety, I would have loved to see the Gutter Rat not only pounce on you, but hide in environmental objects (bushes, closest, holes, even in unopened chests!) and strike you while you’re least expecting it. The Pack Master could use his ability to close you into an area while rats jump in to fight you. Perhaps you would only be allowed to progress once you’ve defeated the Pack Rat using ranged weapons, spell, or other tools. The Rat Ogre could throw other enemies at you, destroy passage ways, or knock weapons from your hand. The point trying to demonstrate with these examples is that there are plenty of ways to make these enemies more unique. Instead, Vermintide suffers from a lack of creativity that roots from not bringing anything new to the table, and that causes Vermintide to loose credibility in the genre.
Warhammer: End Time – Vermintide‘s similarities with the Left 4 Dead games are my biggest objection with the game. That being said, I don’t at all feel that Vermintide is a bad game. The level design is smartly crafted, and locations are fully realized. As you’re making your way through a level, it’s apparent that it takes place during the time of war. Not only because rats are everywhere, but locations are war-ravaged and the enemy has marked their territory with graffiti, spikes with soldiers on them, or other grotesque phenomenon. Each location visually fits into the Warhammer universe. Buildings look authentic to the period that the End Times take place. This is what Vermintide does the best. The game utilizes it’s setting to the fullest, and the levels are designed to highlight that.
Vermintide’s story is not immensely deep, and that works really well for a co-op survival game. It does a good job of setting up the background conflict and establishing your role in it. You can choose one of five characters who belong to a group rebelling against the Skaven infestation which takes place in the city of Ubersreik. While the events of the End Times affects the world as a whole, Vermintide keeps its focus on Ubersreik and the events surrounding it. The choice to focus solely on the Skaven assault on Ubersreik was a wise one. While you understand the gravity of what is happening worldwide, the role you take in defending the city feels like it has a significant impact. The story is told through level specific objectives that are housed within three different acts. The objectives are done for the benefit of the city, such as defending water sources or protecting a wizard who is casting a barrier spell. The acts serve as a separation between phases of the conflict. Your initial goal is to save the citizens from the sudden appearance of the Skaven, and each level’s objective throughout Act 1 is aimed at accomplishing that goal. Acts 2 and 3 maintain this same structure. When I began my assault on the Skaven in Act 3, I felt prepared and indomitable. I attribute this to the progression flow in Act 1 and Act 2, and how it communicates aspects of the enemy and how to exploit them. I absolutely love how simple this keeps the story, while at the same time it communicates the gravity of events.
The world is not the only thing that complements the Warhammer universe. Each of the characters draw inspiration from classes made popular by the series. There are five different characters to choose from, and each of them plays differently. Every character has a melee attack that can either perform a normal strike or a power attack. Power attacks are essential when fighting Skaven, and this is especially true when you are going against armored targets. The game pays great attention to where you swing your sword/hammer/etc., and some enemies can only be felled by a precise strike to the head. Other enemies without armor can be taken down easily if you can time (and aim) your power attack correctly. It is incredibly satisfying to swing your weapon and separate a Skaven’s head clean from its body. Your NPC allies even make cracks about how gracefully your attacks are if you execute them in an efficient manner. At the same time, if you perform an attack in a sloppy fashion, they will also comment on that. Each character, in addition to their melee weapon, has a ranged skill. You can equip a crossbow, spell, flintlock pistols, recurve bow, or blunderbuss to the classes they correspond to. Certain characters can even equip different types of ranged weapons, as long as they fit the class that that character belongs to. The Witch Doctor uses dual flintlock pistols by default, but can also use a crossbow, which fits the Witch Doctor class in Warhammer. Whereas, the elf has a recurve bow at the start, but cannot equip a blunderbuss because it don’t make sense for a rogue class character to have such a noisy sidearm. This inclusion makes the character customization feel true to the lore of the universe.
At the end of the level, you are rewarded with the chance to play a dice game to acquire new gear. Depending on your roll, you might receive either a melee or ranged weapon to equip to one of your characters. One thing you should know is that each character has a trinket which can be equipped to increase the chance that the game rewards you with gear specific to your character. Make sure and equip this item as soon as you can, the game does not do it for you. Most weapons you amass have the potential to be upgraded. This can be a time-consuming endeavor since it takes a while to gain the components needed to upgrade weapons. Once you do have enough of these materials for the upgrade, the increase to the stats is usually worth the time you have put into it.
An aspect of Vermintide that is worth mentioning is that it still struggles with technical issues. I often found myself being attacked by an enemy that couldn’t be hit. They would follow my motley crew through the level and either take one of my ally’s attention away from where they were needed, or just be a general nuance by attacking us.
I also ran into a common issue when joining another player’s game mid-match. The game would spawn me underneath the playable world and I would be stuck between objects with no hope of joining my team. Predictably, the only way to fix this was to leave the level. I frequently encountered other issues such as floating enemies, being kicked out by ‘server issues’ at the very end of the level (so you can’t claim your end-of-level loot), and other cosmetic and functional issues. While I don’t like to demerit a game because of technical issues and glitches, Vermintide would have benefited from eliminating more of this issues before being ported to consoles.
All-in-all, Vermintide is an incredibly fun game. Although is feels shamelessly similar to the Left 4 Dead games, you can still play it for hours without realizing how much time has gone by. Albeit that it is bothered by bugs and technical short-comings, updates from the developer should (hopefully) fix the issues that commonly interrupt game flow. For the most part, you can find yourself captivated by the incredible world and finely tuned level design. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is a welcome addition to the Warhammer universe, and plays great on console.