There’s a game on Steam called Bad Rats. For the longest time, Bad Rats was considered one of the worst games of all time. People would buy it as gifts for their friends as a joke–it became a point of pride to actually not have the game in your library. All this, of course, has been completely outshadowed by the mountains of tripe now available on the storefront thanks to Steam Greenlight, but it’s important to remember the legacy of Bad Rats. It was, however, also among the best rat related games on Steam. Rodent fans really didn’t have much to choose from. That changed in late October, when the Swedish developers Fatshark (War of the Roses, War of the Vikings, Krater) released their most recent game, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Despite having one too many subtitles, Vermintide has stolen my heart as maybe my favourite title when I’m in the mood for co-operative shenanigans.
There’s definitely a number of crucial topics that I can’t neglect to mention in this review. Firstly, yes, it’s undeniable that Vermintide takes a lot from the classic Left 4 Dead series. Valve’s zombie smashing games set the benchmark for 4-player co-op games, introducing a number of landmark features including special enemy types, an interesting plot with genuinely likeable characters, and, maybe most importantly, the Director AI.
Vermintide unashamedly draws from many–and I mean many–features in L4D. If you were to just sit down for a couple of missions, one might think that Vermintide is literally just Left 4 Dead 2 with rats (Skaven) modded in to take the place of the zombies. In Vermintide, four players make their way through a linear map completing objectives such as gathering sacks of grain or blowing a massive horn, all the while collecting power-ups and healing items. Teamwork and organisation is crucial to have any hope of finishing a mission. Each time you do a mission, the location and spread of items will change, depending on how well your party are doing and your behaviour. Lingering? Expect a horde of Skaven to punish you for sitting around for too long. Has one dude run off ahead of the rest of your party? He’s likely going to get jumped on by a hunter–sorry, assassin–and stabbed to death while everyone else is out of range to help him.
The specials are almost straight from Left 4 Dead 2, with a few fresh ones and some alterations to the classics. Gutter Runners, or assassins, jump on stragglers or speedsters, stabbing them with sharp knife-claws until someone knocks them off. If they’re not immediately killed, assassins will drop a cloud of smoke and skitter off, ready to strike again. Packmasters are pretty much Jockeys, but instead of jumping on an unsuspecting victim’s head, they put a big Quidditch hoop (yeah I dunno the actual term; a pole with a hoop around the end) around their neck and pull them away from the team. Gas rats throw grenades full of toxic gas to choke out a party and blind them, sort of a cross between the vision impairment of the Boomer and the damage over time of the Spitter. Ratling gunners (lol) are essentially heavily armoured rats sporting a handheld gatling gun, Stormvermin are heavily armoured Skaven that take no damage to anything but a headshot, and the Rat Ogre is the Tank. There are also two classes of the main Skaven army, which took me a lot longer to work out than I’d like to admit–Skavenslaves attack in numbers during Horde ambushes and Clanrats can be found wandering around throughout the missions. The T key allows you to “tag” special Skaven, so that your entire party can see them with a blue outline during an ambush or in a gas cloud.
The main difference from Left 4 Dead 2–I mean, apart from the whole Warhammer thing–is the introduction of different player classes and persistent inventories, giving the game a sort of RPG feel to it when you’ve played it for an extended period of time. There are 5 different classes available to play–with 4 used per mission, it means that you’re not going to get a party make-up that’s total rubbish, but each class is distinctly different and brings its own unique style of squashing Skaven. Most interesting is probably the Sienna Fuegonasus the Bright Wizard, who uses her magical staffs to channel a selection of fiery magic, but risks burning herself if she doesn’t carefully manage her output–that said, all five of the classes are interesting an a unique departure from the norm, except for maybe the Elven Ranger.
At the end of each (successful) mission, you’ll gain experience and get a chance to roll some dice, the number of which depends on your difficulty level and any “loot dice” you’ve picked up as you were killing Skaven. The outcome of the dice roll determines the quality and type of the loot you’re given for completing the mission. Each character has a number of item slots, including melee, ranged, and trinket, each of which have countless options, with special traits that can be unlocked and bonuses to each item. White grade items are common and have the minimum value, while orange grade “exotic” items are incredibly rare drops and have the best traits and stats. This adds a level of complexity absent in L4D, as all of a sudden harder difficulties are impossible without working your way up and getting better loot. Loot isn’t everything, though, as solid teamwork and a thorough understanding of the missions, patterns, and strategies are also crucial. That’s not to say that this mechanism is unfair–some of the missions feel impossible even on the Medium difficulty, and I can only imagine the feeling of satisfaction one would obtain from lasting more than a few seconds on Cataclysm. Vermintide is inarguably much more difficult and strategic than its zombie infected brother.
I’ve been having a blast playing Vermintide with some friends. It’s infuriating, frustrating, and definitely doesn’t lack bugs and random crashes that seem to be almost unavoidable in video games these days, but I’ve still loved almost every second of it. It looks gorgeous, even on lower graphical settings, sounds great (as in, each special is immediately identifiable by noise), and runs smoothly even when there’s a hundred Skaven on the screen. The missions are all incredibly cool and unique, particularly the Wizard’s Tower (just brilliant!) My main concern, however, is with the developer. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed Fatshark games in the past, but they are somewhat notorious for abandoning games before they’re truly finished, and even just forgetting about them when they are. I saw this with War of the Vikings—I loved that game and played a tonne of it on release, but when you release what is essentially a multiplayer-only game you can’t just “stop”, as that’s when the player base dies out. At the very least, modding capabilities must be introduced to keep a game alive. Just look at what Valve has done with, if I must bring it up again, Left 4 Dead 2, and Team Fortress 2–both games released well before War of the Vikings and yet both games that I could jump on and find a game right now if I so desired. That’s not the case with WotV (apparently, the game was rendered completely unplayable by the patch earlier this year. Hmm.) Krater, another Fatshark game which showed promise (read that review from 2012–I said it’d be good when multiplayer was added. It was never added.), was simply forgotten about before completion, almost as if it didn’t exist. To their credit, Fatshark has been fantastic with the launch and early life of Vermintide, so I’m willing to give them a final chance and hope that they keep it up. Hotfixes have been coming out on a regular basis and DLC will be released alternating between free and paid, with the first one called Sigmar’s Blessing available for free in early December.
I could sit here and talk about my own experiences with Vermintide for hours–how, after losing three of my party members and sitting on like 2% health I fluked a rescue of our Waywatcher, and the two of us held off the oncoming horde to revive our two downed party members and complete the mission. Oh, or the time that my entire party got wiped out within about 30 seconds of starting the Black Powder mission by a totally bullshit selection of Special Skaven spawns at exactly the same time. At the end of it all, I probably could’ve gotten away with saying what everyone else is saying: Vermintide is an RPG-esque Left 4 Dead successor set in the Warhammer universe with Skaven instead of zombies, and it’s absolutely fantastic–if any of those things tickle your fancy, then you must play it. While it may have rats, and they may be bad, please don’t get it confused with Bad Rats.
SSM was provided with a copy of Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide for review purposes by the publisher.