Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide Beta Impression

Image property of fatsharkgames.com

We were guzzling down a few pints at the Red Moon Inn, mulling over the grim darkness parading around outside. We took our turns rifling through a chest chuck full of weapons, helmets and dead fish. Our Dwarven comrade studied the markings on the map with all the giddiness of a drunken child, and decided that traveling to the massive horn in the middle of town would help bring about a proper end to the night. The bartender praised our decision, and we were on our way. The vermin outside welcomed our presence and wondered, in their little rodent brains, how hard it might be to chew through dwarf bone.

A sample of my imagination for the beginning of Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. A time of exciting adventures, heartwarming triumphs, soul-crushing failures, and first-hand research on the many different ways one can become rat food.

A list of Pros and Cons, and a verdict will be at the bottom of this post for you impatient types. Otherwise, buy the ticket. Take the ride.

What is Vermintide?

For those of you wondering what the hell I’m talking about, Vermintide is an upcoming cooperative first person action title being developed by Fatshark Games. Vermintide is set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, specifically in the Imperial city of Ubersreik during the End Times arc. The game follows a rag-tag group of five “heroes”, who represent the best chance the city has for overcoming an invasion by the Skaven, a race of greedy humanoid rats with a penchant for cheap tactics, and a taste for human flesh. The heroes, overcoming their natural dislike for each other, must succeed in several missions to give the city a fighting chance and push back the invasion. If they fail, Ubersreik will become nothing more than a mountain of rubble and bone.

Although Vermintide releases on October 23rd, Fatshark recently released keys for a beta running from October 5th to the 7th. A friend and I got our hands on that sweet loot via Razerzone.com, and had a go with the beta build together for roughly twelve hours. The following sequences of words, commas and periods will convey my very best effort to give my first impressions of Vermintide.

Comparisons to Left 4 Dead

Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

We’ll go ahead and get the implied “negative” out of the way first.

Yes, this game feels a lot like Left 4 Dead. The mission structure is very similar. Special enemy types already have fun nicknames like “Not Spitter” and “Not Hunter” because of the obvious influence of Left 4 Dead enemies. Players are “downed” before they flat-out die. Some items could even draw a fair comparison to L4D counterparts (healing draughts, first-aid kits = pills and….first aid kits).

I don’t consider this a negative. Left 4 Dead had a winning formula and for Fatshark to follow it, unconsciously or otherwise, isn’t an inherently bad choice for design. There are plenty of instances where their personal touch gives this game a unique image.

Classes

Screenshotted from vermintide.com
Screenshotted from vermintide.com

Unlike Left 4 Dead, who you choose to play as is not simply a matter of aesthetics. Each character has a different feel from the others, and, although weapons can completely change the way a class plays, each of them promotes a certain playstyle out of the gate.

The Dwarf Ranger is a tank born of flesh, blood, metal and beard. He has heavy armor, an axe and shield to start with, and a crossbow for range. He’s a tiny terror with great killing power, and easily the most enjoyable character in terms of personality. He acts like he’s drunk and having the time of his life. Both of these are probably true.

The Empire Soldier starts with an incredible mustache, a great hammer, and a Coach Gun (basically a blunderbuss). His out-of-the-box playstyle revolves around single target damage, as the great hammer can penetrate armor even on normal swings. His charge attack with the hammer is a sweep, which moon shots smaller Skaven in all directions.

The Waywatcher, or Elf, is lady Legolas. She uses a bow as her ranged weapon, and fires incredibly quick. Her starting melee weapons are dual daggers with very high swing speed and a strong, double stab charge attack. She functions best getting sneaky kills from range and assassinating strong, single targets.

The Bright Wizard is a pyromaniac’s wet dream. Fireballs galore. Using too much magic in a short amount of time will cause the wizard to explode, however, so managing her heat meter is vital to spitting out constant crowd control and single target burning. She remains competent in melee with a sword, though most engagements will see her in the back, flinging fire on mangy vermin. Ballsy players could also use her explosion as a sort of kamikaze in desperate situations, as it only downs the Wizard instead of killing her outright.

The Witch Hunter is the odd one out. In my limited experience playing as him, he didn’t fit any particular role. His rapier seems effective against armor, and his dual pistols are occasionally useful against crowds, but it seems like other classes do a better job in these roles than he does at first. I’d say he starts out as an all-around party member, excelling at nothing but being capable of everything. His speaking lines are top notch, head and shoulders above everyone else except the dwarf. He’s a vicious asshole, and his scathing comments (especially towards the non-humans and mage) will bring out the laughs.

I should point out, once again, that the traditional roles I have placed on classes revolve solely around starting equipment. Different load-outs can completely change a character’s abilities, although some classes will always be better than others at certain aspects due to the types of items specifically tailored to them.

Melee Combat

Melee combat is executed wonderfully. During my time with the game, I felt the weight of each blow. Hammers would careen down with full force and squish rat-heads. I felt like a murderous Gallagher, projecting the image of a watermelon onto beady eyes as I did my dirty business. Certain weapons would behave as you might expect them to in reality. Swords slice, slash and stab body parts gracefully. Hammers and axes won’t fly all of the way through an opponent as in some games; you can visibly see (and almost feel) their weight colliding with a body part. Limbs and heads turn into mush, or sail through the air depending on the type of strike.

Combat requires active thought; wading in while rapidly tapping the left mouse button won’t get the job done consistently. Stamina is in play, a defensive bash can be used and weapons have a set amount of times they can block before a defensive meter will need to recharge. Sword and Board style will give more opportunities to shield yourself than trying to stifle blows with a two-handed hammer, the obvious trade offs being damage and reach. Each weapon also has a charge attack. Charge attacks come in several varieties including heavy strikes, stabs, sweeps and shield bashes. Weapons have their own stats for speed, damage, number of targets hit, knockback and range. These vary from weapon-to-weapon, and can completely change play-style.

While many of these felt lovely to use (Trusty Handgun for them nasty headshots, baby), some weapons were a bit underwhelming. My friend received a “Repeater Pistol” loot drop for the Witch Hunter. He was excited at first, only to find that it failed to perform well against mob type enemies as one would expect. Another disappointing weapon, for me at least, was a poisonous bow for the Waywatcher. Given that we played on Hard difficulty for a large portion of the time, it could be that these weapons didn’t scale up well to the higher health pools.

Though some bugs were present (i.e. rat heads occasionally rubberbanding into the stratosphere when hit by a blunt weapon) the melee combat remained satisfying throughout.

Pickups, Loots and Challenge

Image courtesy of maycontainspoilers.co.uk

The game has several pickups which will look familiar to gamers. There are bandages, which heal practically all damage, and healing draughts, which give a smaller shot of life back into the health bar. Two types of potions were available in the beta: speed and strength. Both of their effects should be apparent; speed makes you move and swing your weapon faster, strength makes you hit like a Terminator. There are also Incendiary and Explosive bombs, as well as improved versions, that can inflict massive damage.

The loot system is unique, and pays homage to the tabletop game through its inclusion of dice. Upon successfully completing a mission, a dice game called “Ranald’s Bones” will be played. A pool of dice in the middle will be rolled, with the icons for potential rewards sitting on the right hand side of the screen. Depending on the amount of successful dice rolls, rarer items will be unlocked.

The loot rarity ranges from plentiful and common items to rare and exotic. The higher the rarity, the more modifiers an item will have. Modifiers provide bonuses to the performance of the item or proc special effects based on conditions being met. One example is Scavenger, a mod that adds a chance for every kill to replenish ranged ammunition. Stats may also be better depending on rarity, but some reviews, like this one by TotalBiscuit, have stated that stats are consistent across that specific item. This means that a plentiful axe and exotic axe may have the same stats, but the rarer item will have more modifiers.

Tied into the loot system is a.) the level of difficulty the mission is set on, and b.) items available for pickup throughout stages.

Completing a mission on a higher difficulty offers greater rewards in the dice game. This gives an incentive for players to push themselves in order to get better loot. Exotics typically won’t show up after winning a normal difficulty game. Finish a level on Nightmare, however, and you might be rolling dice for a number of exotics. It should be made clear that increases in difficulty are no joke. Hard is pretty damn hard, as it should be. Nightmare was a very special hell. We never made it to the final difficulty ourselves, but, rest assured, the difficulties leading up to it will push most gamers plenty.

Tomes and grimoires are two kinds of books that can be picked up on levels. They fill an item slot, and have certain conditions that apply to them. Tomes take up a slot for healing items, but can be dropped and picked up at will. A die roll granted by a tome has a higher chance of success than regular die. Grimoires take up the potions slot, will disappear if they are dropped from your inventory, and confer a 20% health decrease to the entire party. However, a grimoire is a guaranteed winning die roll upon completing the level. This adds into the level of challenge and the risk-reward factor that will entice so many to their doom.

Enemies

Image courtesy of noelshack.com

The Skaven Horde is no joke. Missions would have waves of roughly 50-70 Skaven all attacking at once. This was a regular occurence, and, even on normal difficulties, treating common Skaven like pushovers will cost lives. One complaint about them, however, was on the pacing with mobs. There were times, especially on the prologue level, where hordes would have been welcome but showed up at times where they weren’t a concern. Having more frequent spawns or bigger groups could have spiced it up. I noticed this more than once. Despite this, the fights and frights I had were solid. Perhaps selfishly, I wanted a little more.

Special Skaven draw a lot of influence from L4D special types, albeit with their own particular style.

Globadiers are comparable to Spitters. They fling poison bombs around that disorient and damage players. If they take enough damage, they’ll try to martyr themselves for the cause.

The Gutter Runner is like the Hunter, but much, much more dangerous. Gutter Runners can teleport, use smoke bombs to obscure vision, and take a surprising amount of damage for being a little guy. Very particular about when and where they strike. Ranged characters beware.

Ratlings use gatling guns, and focus on doing single target damage to one member of the party. They disregard all others, including their own kind, in their hunt for this player. They are the ultimate team killing assholes. They’re also armored everywhere but the head. They aren’t too tough to bring down, but they can be extremely difficult to deal with if other specials are taking up the group’s attention.

Packmasters are similar to the Smoker in that they snare single targets. The difference is in mobility and behavior. Packmasters can grab their target, and carry them even further away from the group. Once they find an ideal spot, they’ll hang their prey up for the rest of the rat pack to tear apart. They jump right back into the fray to secure more prey afterwards.

The Rat Ogre is the Tank. Not much of an explanation necessary here. He hits hard, takes a team effort to take down, and can launch players to their death if there are steep cliffs nearby. He can be blocked and dodged, but timing can be tricky as he has a multitude of windups for his attacks. A block will also deplete you of all stamina.

Another enemy worth mentioning are Stormvermin. These are heavily armored, tall, and bulky Skaven who are a cut above their contemporaries. They aren’t as powerful as regular specials on their own, but, at least once per level, a group of Stormvermin will go on patrol. Marching around in cadence, they will attack players on sight. This is not a fight that you want. Given that there are some light stealth elements available in Vermintide (taking out targets from afar before they know you’re there, Line of Sight, etc.), it might be best to avoid these guys. I can’t even count the number of times, even over two days, that Stormvermin turned my party into bloody chunks of meat.

For all of the comparisons to L4D, I feel that Vermintide improves on those inspirations in their development of enemy types while also making them unique.

Atmosphere and Aesthetics

Image courtesy of vermintide.com

My PC is garbage. Plain and simple. It’s outdated, and I expect to be a bit behind the 8-ball when it comes to how pretty things are. That being said, Vermintide looked nice. It isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water visually, but it doesn’t slouch either. Model designs are crafted very well. Enemy variance is solid enough. The environments are unique and immersive, although the water runs a bit like gloopy snot(could be my PC, who knows?).

I also suffered from quite a few instances of dropped frames. My friend, playing on a much stronger PC than mine(specs available upon request), said he was dealing with similar issues. This points to some work needed in optimization, but the issue didn’t make the game unplayable.

Sounds are extremely satisfying and really drew me into the environments. The foreboding, busy, yet quiet forest level with hooting owls, rustling bushes and the occasional hissing vermin really makes you feel as though you’re living the nightmare. Thunder and rain, present in a level set on Ubersreik’s walls, boomed and showered much like a storm outside of my house. The cracking of skulls, the joyfully over-dramatic voice acting, and the snarling insults of the rats put the cherry on top of a delicious sound sundae. A tasty treat for the ears served up by the sound team at Fatshark.

The Devs

Fatshark Games Logo, property of Fatshark Games

Gamers have a right to be concerned about developers. Consider the recent accusations leveled against Star Citizen, the complete train-wreck that was the Rome 2 release, and numerous failed Kickstarter/Early Access titles that are now synonymous with cash-grabbing and money grubbing.

It says a lot that I am even considering Fatshark as part of the review, but I feel it necessary. This beta lasted an entire two, maybe three days. With that time frame, I wouldn’t expect an average developer to invest time polishing a beta of all things. Bugs would be bugs and that would be that for the duration, right? They just check it out for now and then iron it out later for release? Right?

Wrong. A game-crashing bug on Day 1 of the beta? Fixed within hours. Other game crashing bugs, or glitches? Fixed by day two. A potential CTD bug from using the forge? Identified and announced. Fatshark really impressed with how they continued to provide support to players throughout the beta. I know the whole purpose of the beta was testing and bug fixing, but how many times have devs/parent companies said that only to do nothing during the beta, OR EVEN AFTER RELEASE. It should be expected from all devs to do this, but it can be a fairly rare occurrence. I felt it was worth mentioning.

This kind of approach, to make a two or three day beta a complete experience, gives me great optimism for the post-release future of Vermintide, both in continued support and future content updates. Big ups to Fatshark.

Closing Thoughts

This was a beta. This isn’t indicative of the final product. There are a few issues. I feel as though some weapons needs to be given a second look. In my limited sample time with the game, I felt certain weapons may not be viable on higher difficulties. Optimization was something that needed to be addressed; although my PC’s poor performance can be explained, several others, with exceptional PCs, had the same trouble. Bugs and other hiccups need to be corrected. There’s still some work to do.

But on the whole?

I’m extremely optimistic for this game. It may not get the attention that AAA-titles are getting, nor does it have the same budget, but it has all the makings of a great game. This is primed to be the spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead series, while walking it’s own path all the same. If release goes well, I can see myself, and many others, pouring countless hours into Vermintide for at least the next year or two. It all hinges on Fatshark’s continued commitment to development and post-release support. Given what I’ve seen from them in the beta, I feel like this will be their best game yet.

Pros
– Great co-op setup, reminiscent of L4D in terms of enjoyment and replayability
– Melee combat is satisfying, feel the weight of each strike, bloody good fun
– Loot system, higher difficulties keep things fresh
– It’s fucking Warhammer Fantasy. Super dramatic, quirky, and ridiculously awesome.
– Voice acting is great. Hilarious, intentionally and unintentionally.
– Devs actually want to Dev.

Cons
-Optimization needs work
-Some balancing for weapons, viability across difficulties a concern
-Mob spawns felt infrequent at times. Pacing was a bit hit or miss because of this.
-Not enough time for an in-depth look. May have missed some issues.

Final Verdict

Strongly consider this title. It has serious potential and looks like it will deliver in every sense of the word. Praise Sigmar.

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