The drums of war beat again but are these End Times worth a revisit?
The stench of plague-ridden Vermin is never-ending in the ironically named End Times. Nor, for that matter, is the brutality of the Warriors of Chaos, all metal, teeth and stupidity. Combine these with five wise-cracking heroes that are ready and willing for murder and you get Warhammer: Vermintide 2. In a nut-shell, that is, because this is actually a sequel to Fatshark’s cult hit that pitted teams of players against hordes of dumb rats. Unlike its inspiration Left 4 Dead, Vermintide featured a robust melee combat system, RPG progression with level-ups and loot, and special abilities to further diversify the violence. With Warhammer: Vermintide 2, the formula hasn’t really evolved much. In fact, in many ways there are a few rough edges. But when you’re roaming the countryside of Helmgart or spelunking through caves while tussling with Rat Ogres and being insulted by a Wood Elf, it can be a very gratifying experience.
"Of course, once you hear the war horn and the horde descends, that’s when the raw guts and glory of Vermintide 2 are exposed, quite literally in the former’s case."
Despite its heavy co-op leanings, Warhammer: Verminitide 2 does have a story. Our heroes – Kerillian the Waywatcher, Markus the Empire Soldier, Bardin the Dwarven Ranger and Sienna the Wizard – have been captured by the Skaven. Forget the details of how that happened (Kerillian herself admits it was an embarrassment) but they come across the Skaven and Chaos working together, constructing a Skittergate to shepherd the latter’s forces into Helmgart. Thanks to their magical spy Olesya and Victor the Witch Hunter Captain, our heroes will embark on missions to kill the forces of darkness. That’s more or less the gist of it. You’ll receive little bits of context and pre-mission narrative that flesh out the world while still leaving you to fill in the blanks.
There is quite the variety of locations to visit – you’ll trudge through swamps and dense forests, scatter through farms and Chaos camps, make your stand in a temple and kill hordes upon hordes of enemies. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 doesn’t make much fuss about what you’re meant to do – objectives are fairly easy to discern, from escorting ramming engines to flipping switches. Levels are fairly linear with a discernible path to run through. You’ll find potions, bombs, Tomes, Grimoire and Loot Dice to collect, the last three upgrading the chest received at the end for better rewards.
Of course, once you hear the war horn and the horde descends, that’s when the raw guts and glory of Vermintide 2 are exposed, quite literally in the former’s case. Whether you’re playing as the Waywatcher, skillfully planting arrows into enemy heads, or the Empire Soldier, tanking damage and pushing through foes, the combat is visceral and fun. Different classes have a variety of weapons to equip so if you want Kerillian to chop through enemies with a two-hander or stab them with a spear, have at it. There’s a decent variety of weapons on offer, from glaives, swords and dual daggers to different bows, crossbows and repeater guns, each with their own properties, which we’ll get to.
"Here’s where I feel Warhammer: Vermintide 2 has an interesting balance. The loot aspects are definitely core to the framework but they work pretty differently from other looters."
Vermintide 2 also employs the ability to dodge, block attacks and unleash Career Skills for different uses. Think of them as Ultimates – Victor’s Career Skill can, for instance, raise the critical hit chance of allies for 8 seconds, thus allowing for some boss chopping fun. Depending on the Career – with each hero having two additional Careers unlocked through levelling up – you can have different passive abilities and Career Skills.
Kerillian’s Trueshot Volley is good for clearing mobs and her passives grant health regen, ranged weapon zoom and double ammo capacity when playing as a Waywatcher. Going into battle as a Handmaiden will give her increased dodge distance, a revive that can’t be interrupted and the Dash skill. Each Career has its own set of perks that can be assigned and you earn loot which can affect different stats – like damage against Chaos, stamina regeneration, critical hit chance, etc. Better loot tiers have more bonuses on them, thus incentivizing you to upgrade boxes and revisit missions to grind out levels.
Here’s where I feel Warhammer: Vermintide 2 has an interesting balance. The loot aspects are definitely core to the framework but they work pretty differently from other looters. You may pick up loot that will affect your stats but you’re still going to be killing enemies in much the same ways. The Careers do offer differing play styles and some can be truly fun while others are fairly average with their Skills and passives (looking at you, Handmaiden).
It comes down to how loot is handled – you’re not going to find swords that spew lightning and chain to enemies while having armour with the damage reduction of the Greek Pantheon. The weapon properties are distinct, whether it’s in offering damage over time, quick slashes, extra headshot damage or wide range but there’s no game-breaking, over-powered build a la Diablo 3 or Path of Exile in this loot set-up. Also, it doesn’t help that Fatshark denotes weapons by “Power” and the above properties rather than providing meaningful stats.
"The focus is squarely on the hack and slash action and the combat more than carries the experience. It’s nuanced yet visceral enough to keep you coming back for more."
For that matter, there aren’t any stats to really manage. I get X amount of cooldown reduction from a necklace? Then what’s my current cooldown reduction? What’s my base critical hit chance or damage and how much does it increase with different bonuses? There’s sadly no indication provided. Don’t even get me started on loot being shared between different characters and having to equip each piece separately when choosing a different hero.
Deeper stats aside, the overall quality and selection of loot isn’t a negative against Vermintide 2 per say. The focus is squarely on the hack and slash action and the combat more than carries the experience. It’s nuanced yet visceral enough to keep you coming back for more. However, aside from the positive combat loop, the incentive to keep grinding Vermintide 2 isn’t really strong. Sure, you’ll be able to kill monsters faster and take on higher difficulties (along with Heroic Deeds, which are essentially the same missions with modifiers) but it’s still possible to get absolutely hosed down if you’re swarmed. Your Power level could be in the hundreds but you won’t be soloing a boss at Champion difficulty.
This is where the group dynamic of the game is enforced and it’s not bad. I just don’t feel like the loot grind will attract hardcore action RPG fans, especially when there are other titles that offer consistent rewards at a fair pace. In Vermintide 2, kills, damage done and other achievements don’t really matter. Instead, it’s about whether you complete the missions, how many heroes survived and whether you found any Tomes, Grimoire or Loot Dice. You’re then rewarded with a random assortment of loot from a box (though you also receive a chest of loot on levelling). Don’t go in expecting to fell great foes and see loot explode from their corpses essentially.
"If you’re hankering for some linear but fun campaigns into slashing and shooting, then Warhammer: Vermintide 2 might just be worth a look."
While there’s plenty of praise for the combat, not to mention the presentation which depicts dingy medieval towns and swarming hordes with equal aplomb, the online experience can be a little iffy. Whether it was due to lag or something else, there were times where I took damage even while blocking. Nothing was absolutely broken but I did find these issues to happen every now and again (much less so when I was host). Regardless, co-op is where Vermintide 2 shines – it’s fun to coordinate strikes with your teammates, save them from the odd Assassin or hook rat and just mow down waves of enemies together.
The character voice lines are witty and well-written as is the voice acting – it augments that feeling of camaraderie all the more. Markus’s angry proclamations against his foes, Sienna’s desire to burn everything and Kerillian calling everyone mayflies just never gets old. You’d think it would but it doesn’t (for me at least).
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a fun game backed by strong presentation with the odd bug here and there. The co-op hack and slash gameplay manages a decent balance with the loot grind, even if it still leans closer to fantasy Left 4 Dead than Diablo 3. Though you can expect 13 maps across three acts and a prologue, the story itself is imminently forgettable. Instead, it’s the co-op play, the forays into ruined locales, the wondrous stands you’ll make chopping horrors down with other players, that will drive you. It’s that quick sense of satisfaction that will keep you coming back as you become more effective at killing things in the same handful of straightforward ways. Whether that will carry Vermintide 2 in the long term for all but its most ardent of fans remains to be seen. However, if you’re hankering for some linear but fun campaigns into slashing and shooting, then Warhammer: Vermintide 2 might just be worth a look.
A visceral co-op experience with well-designed settings. Satisfying combat whether it's shooting or slashing. Well written dialogues that are especially evident in character interactions. Decent variety of heroes, weapons and Careers. Significant amount of content for solo fans.
Repetitive mission objectives (though some are handled cleverly at times). Fairly grindy at times. Handling of loot and character builds may not appeal to all looter fans. Online play can occasionally suffer from lag, causing damage to be received while blocking. A few bugs here and there. Forgettable story. Fairly linear stages.
Like comfort food for the hack and slash enthusiast, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is supported ably by its co-op action. Loot/progression dynamics, the odd few bugs and some repetitive action aside, it does warrant a closer look.