Warhammer End Times: Vermintide is a new FPS from developer Fatshark, who are perhaps best known for their Medieval combat game, War of the Roses.
The game takes place in the Warhammer fantasy universe (the lesser-well known sibling of the futuristic Warhammer 40k), both tabletop games from developer Games Workshop. While perhaps not everyone’s favorite Games Workshop IP, Warhammer fantasy still brings rich lore and fun gameplay mechanics to the table. Unlike Warhammer 40k, however, Warhammer fantasy has traditionally not translated as well to the electronic medium.
Vermintide heavily pays homage to Left 4 Dead, with four adventurers fighting through swarms of Skaven- evil humanoid rats with a hatred for mankind in place of zombies. Much like L4D, there are several “special” enemies that have different abilities than the average Skaven.
This is where Vermintide begins to fall short, with the unique Skaven being almost complete rip-offs of L4D enemies. For example, there is an enemy called the Packmaster which hooks players and drags them off (much like the Smoker from L4D), and a Hunter-esque enemy called the Gutter Runner, which leaps onto the player and pins them down while stabbing them. Vermintide even features a direct rip-off of L4D’s tank enemy called the Rat Ogre. Other than the unique Skaven that clearly rip-off L4D, Vermintide’s standard enemies are just plain boring. Hordes of rats run at you much the same way the standard infected in L4D do, with no regards to their own personal safety. That would be fine if every level didn’t include these same enemies either standing around doing nothing or blindly rushing at you like crazy Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday. After a while, players will find it almost becomes a chore simply cutting through the same enemies over and over again.
Vermintide’s other big problem is the optimization. Sudden frame rate drops, random bugs and crashes plague Vermintide at random intervals. Even the best machines it seems have sudden frame drops for no apparent reason.
Other than optimization issues, Vermintide’s bugs can make the game range from absolutely hilarious at times to down right frustrating. Many of these bugs happen when one of the game’s special enemies attacks and include players being launched into the sky where their allies can’t save them, or pulled through walls by the Packmaster’s hook. Enemies sometimes even seem to spawn out of nowhere and/or teleport with no explanation as to how. Certain levels also contain easily exploitable designs, making the threat of certain enemies (such as the Rat Ogre) completely moot.
Vermintide’s loot system (while innovative) also fall short. Players may customize their chosen hero with different equipment from weapons to trinkets which add special abilities. At the end of each level, a number of dice are rolled to determine which piece of loot the player receives for winning with higher dice rolls netting the player rarer and more powerful items. These dice rolls can be augmented with pick-ups throughout the level, which add more dice that have a better chance at higher rolls.
Unfortunately because it is completely random, even with the best dice there is no guarantee the player will receive a rare item. This can be very frustrating, as pretty much the only way to beat higher difficulty levels and ultimately receive rarer loot is to outfit yourself with rare items.
Combat can also be very tedious. Each character is equipped with both a ranged and melee weapon and while some of the weapons are fairly unique, the fighting itself is very straightforward and standard.
For a game whose primary focus is close-quarters combat, Vermintide’s melee combat is just plain boring, usually turning into button mashing as you cut down hordes of enemies. There are no combos and only two different types of attacks – regular “light” hits and heavier “sweeping” hits for crowd control (performed by holding down the attack button briefly). There’s also a block button, but enemies can break your block after just a few hits (more or less depending on the enemy), rendering blocks mostly useless.
One aspect in which Vermintide does well is the playable characters. There are five heroes to choose from, each of which brings a unique gameplay style and a role that they fulfill within the group.
The Soldier for example, uses mostly large melee weapons and powerful muskets/blunderbusses, makes for a great heavy hitter and also can use his huge sweeping attacks for crowd control. The Witch Hunter is almost a hybrid class with a good balance of quick melee and ranged attacks. The Elf Archer is pretty standard, providing ranged support with the quick-firing bow while also able to provide quick melee strikes. The Dwarf Ranger makes a great tank, as his default weapon is an ax/shield combo allowing him to form a living wall in the small corridors and alleyways the players often traverse. Rounding out the list is the Battlemage, who is perhaps the most unique hero of all. While having a fairly week melee attack, the Battlemage can use powerful and fast ranged spells to utterly blow away hordes of Skaven. The Battlemage can also charge up her ranged spell and fire an explosive shard that deals massive damage.
Unfortunately, where Vermintide goes right is not enough to redeem the entire experience. This very well could have been a great game. It has all the right elements: unique characters, a great IP to work with, an innovative loot system, and tons of replayability. Unfortunately, it falls short in far too many of these areas to make it the next big thing. Vermintide becomes far too grindy and predictable after only a short period of play. Perhaps with some time, developer Fatshark will add content to the game such as new levels and enemies that will make the experience more interesting but until then, Vermintide remains just another mediocre FPS.