Darktide review - a grizzly guardsman

Warhammer 40,000: Undertide review

Warhammer 40,000: Undertide review


need to know

what is it? The 40K-based spiritual sequel to Fatshark’s co-op action series Vermintide.
Expect to pay: $39.99 (Steam), $9.99 (Xbox PC Game Pass)
Developer: fat shark game
Publisher: fat shark games
commented on: Windows 10, i5-12400F, 16GB DDR4 RAM, RTX 2060
multiplayer game: up to four players

Warhammer 40K eats people. I’m not saying it will drain your life, or that your home will be taken over by countless models that you don’t have time to draw – although those are true. No, I mean the scenes themselves are fueled by corpses – whether it’s Astra Militarum soldiers dying in endless crusades, Home Office clerks toiling on ancient documents, or even criminals being Wrapped in a machine and forced to serve a life sentence.

It’s a fact that Warhammer 40K: Darktide understands; whether it’s you or the Poxwalker you’re about to split in half, you’re just meat in some god’s army. In a not so different life, that medical servant, tending to the wounded while permanently encased in a machine, might have your face. To put it bluntly, being human or Ogryn in 40K sucks. You probably told some sergeant you were tired of eating corpse starch, and now here you are, an Inquisition prisoner, sent to liberate Hive Tertium with a shovel and some old lasguns; burn you on the altar of a silent god s life.

(Image source: Fatshark)

It’s easy to see why playing a Space Marine would lead to better power fantasies, but like Vermintide before it, Darktide has nothing to do with the most powerful character in the scene. That’s not to say it doesn’t make you feel powerful, but it’s a measured strength. A handful of space marines might be able to liberate Tertium before lunchtime, but, alas, it’s up to you and your band of misfits to save the hive; or there’s nothing to save anyway.

long story short

First, it’s important to acknowledge how Darktide differs from Vermintide. The game represents a shift in Fatshark’s approach to storytelling – where Vermintide 2 charted the past exploits of the five at Ubersreik, in Darktide you’re part of a developing narrative. This was Fatshark’s first game at launch to feature a live service-style story, which will change as the Hive Tertium situation unfolds. Black Library author Dan Abnett, who helped Fatshark create Tertium and Atoma Prime, describes them as “places for interesting things.” The setup is meant to support an ongoing story, so if you’re optimistic about the possibility of new classes and enemies, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see them.

In a game centered around the perspective of 40K people, I wanted to talk to some regular 40K people.

As it stands, Darktide feels more like a prologue or chapter one, introducing you to the hive and not-so-friendly face of Rannick’s Inquisition band. I love the Hive Tertium itself – how the claustrophobic corridors lead to the huge gothic halls, or how each area has its own sense of identity and backstory, from the flooded torrent, to the blazing furnace of Metalfab, to the hourglass shantytowns. It does sadden me that there aren’t any hive based characters like planetary governors or some guild bureaucrats, since Tertium is still inhabited. There are some signs of life in the hive; where fugitives have apparently overslept, or sheltered from heretical invaders, but the hive is not currently habitable. In a game centered around the perspective of 40K people, I wanted to talk to some regular 40K people.

One thing Darktide sorely lacks is a tangible antagonist, or even some hint of what the Heretics have planned for Atoma Prime. But I guess the message is about trust, and the game makes it clear that no matter what you do, no one trusts you. It’s really a tattered story in typical 40K fashion, but I hope Fatshark finds a way to add more narrative elements to future missions.

Your rejection is never beyond suspicion. (Image source: Fatshark)

Light hands, big guns

For those familiar with Vermintide 2’s skull-splitting melee antics, Darktide will feel like chatting with an old friend until that friend pulls out a laser gun and vaporizes your face. As you happily kill your way through Tertium’s narrow corridors and shadowy halls with a platoon of 40K weapons, you’ll eventually come face-to-face with a squad of Heretic soldiers armed with guns. They’ll be just out of your striking range, and when you try to get close and get hit, you’ll understand the Darktide’s challenge.

Dealing with enemies at a distance and at a distance is the most important obstacle in the game, but there are various ways to deal with this problem. A seasoned sharpshooter might take out ranged units from a distance, or an Ogryn might use their riot shield to block incoming fire for the squad. My personal favorite is Zealot, charging at enemies between volleys and bringing them into melee.

Darktide is Fatshark’s most comprehensive co-op combat iteration yet: fast and fluid in point-to-point, threat-to-threat movement.

You can also suppress ranged enemies by firing at them, though in practice it does feel a bit pointless when you can usually just shoot them straight. What is death if not the ultimate form of repression? It’s not that there’s a shortage of ammo: there are too many bullets now, and there might even be too many. After Vermintide 2’s stingy ammo economy, I didn’t feel right about leaving ammo behind, but sometimes my gun just went full. Still, it’s nice to be able to use ranged weapons for things other than taking out special enemies.

At first I really hoped the full introduction of hybrid combat would feel terrible, but Fatshark does a fantastic job. In terms of its chaotic combat and weapon feel, the core is definitely there—accelerating my chainsword to split an enemy champion is exactly the kind of 40K experience I crave. Ranged weapons are great, too: dropping a light round on a sniper’s head, or pointing an Ogryn grenade at their head is very satisfying.

With more variables in terms of ranged threats, special enemies, and the tools you have to deal with them, Darktide is Fatshark’s most comprehensive iteration of co-op combat to date: fast and fluid when moving point to point, threat to threat. : Point-to-point, threat-to-threat moves quickly and smoothly. Squads also feel like they have a definite advantage, and introducing buffs and shield regeneration near your squad is a welcome motivator for team-based play in matchmaking missions.

While combat is certainly better, the lack of a full crafting system at launch is a step backwards for Vermintide. You can currently upgrade your weapons, so crafting isn’t entirely impossible, but that’s not the best way to showcase Darktide’s amazing arsenal. However, since the pre-order beta, the UI has been overhauled significantly, making it easier to understand how weapons actually work and what they’re good for. If you enjoyed Vermintide’s combat and were happy to wait a little longer for certain mechanics to be implemented, then Darktide will suit your needs.

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Special weapon moves add a lot of versatility to combat (Image credit: Fatshark) Darktide’s environments really set the mood for 40K (Image credit: Fatshark)


Another big change is that Darktide lets you piece together your characters, crafting backstories of betrayal and heartbreak, and sculpting their gruesome visages from a selection of tattoos, scars, and gray faces. You can choose their personality and voice, an alternative to Vermintide’s much-loved joke. Psykers who believe that everything that happened was just a horrible dream are very relatable, but personally I went with the hipster zealot, who is an unstoppable off-hand jerk.

Between firefights and skirmishes, I occasionally cracked up with some screaming voice overs, but overall, I felt like there was too much connection to Darktide’s rejection. Whereas Fatshark’s previous games have established characters with unique backstories, the quality of Darktide’s banter depends a lot on the random party mix you end up with. For example, the four fanatics seem to basically agree that racism is always good, and that arguments and rivalries are often at the heart of the best jokes. The introduction of premium cosmetics does help with personality, but I’m not a huge fan of their current implementation.

What annoys me the most is that currently all the free cosmetics seem to be skins you earn through penance in the main game, with no way to get more advanced, more advanced skins. Most online service games have some kind of currency that doesn’t cost money, like bright dust in destiny 2, which allows players to get weird premium items, and I think Darktide needs it, especially as a game that isn’t even free to play . I know good cosmetics help fund Darktide’s further development, but it wouldn’t be the best to see them appear until we have a full crafting system equivalent to Vermintide or proper social features in the player hub.

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While the system isn’t the best, cosmetics can give your rejects some extra personality (Image credit: Fatshark) Each class has its own unique strengths and playstyle (Image credit: Fatshark) Darktide does have crafting, but Very limited right now (Image credit: Fat Shark)

That said, Darktide does seem to have a much better setup than Vermintide 2 in terms of allowing Fatshark to add and play with stuff. Added features like real-time “condition” events or random Daemonhost boss encounters are a good example of this. Whether it’s the lights going out across the hive, or crashing into a Poxwalker that transforms into a demonic nightmare, these modifiers are a great way to add variety to a quest you’ll play time and time again. While things are still far from perfect when it comes to crashes and stability, Fatshark has clearly been working hard and listening to player feedback in terms of optimization and getting things back on track.

It’s hard to underestimate what a negative experience this can be for some players. My setup wasn’t high-end by any means, but my time with Darktide was smooth, while others with better gear suffered poor performance and crashes that made the game nearly unplayable. It lets players experiment with various settings(opens in new tab), and even create mods(opens in new tab) to help make things smoother, but so far there hasn’t been a comprehensive solution.

Darktide also suffers from a lack of endgames, mostly because the crafting system is not yet fully implemented (opens in a new tab). Sure, you can upgrade weapons, but when you can only upgrade weapons, it does limit your building potential and your ability to access the highest difficulty content. For some, difficulty itself is an improvement as they strive to get better at the game, but building crafting goes hand-in-hand with this improvement, and once you start trusting it, you don’t need to target yourself for specific upgrades or Materials and effort 30, you will soon have nothing to do.

But despite that, I think Darktide’s combat is better than Vermintide 2’s, and strong enough to hold the game together. I also think Fatshark has nailed the feel of Warhammer 40,000. The fact that I started playing some tattooed hive gang or cute ogryn rather than a space marine brought me a lot of joy, especially since 40K’s human perspective rarely airs outside of Black Library novels. Does it need more work? Yes, but Darktide is a solid foundation. Like the previous Vermintide 2, I…

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.