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Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide (PC)

Can I tell you a secret?  Actually it’s not much of a secret, but–

This game makes me incredibly happy.

I discovered this game completely by chance at the last LAN I attended.  Some friends of mine there had downloaded it and been playing it a few weeks prior.  This led me to check out the trailer on Steam.  It looked right up my street, so I bought it.  The rest, as they say, was history.  It was the big game outside of the big team games.  After the day’s tournaments were done, we spent the after-hours playing Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide until the very small hours.

So what is this game exactly?  In some places it has been described as a Left 4 Dead “clone”.  I actually wouldn’t use the word “clone” myself, that’s a bit misleading– Whilst Vermintide does have a few features that will be familiar to players of the Left 4 Dead series, this is in no way a detrement to the game.  Sometimes a touch of familiarity is nice.  But what we have here is an FPS (the ‘S’ can either be ‘shooter’ or ‘slasher’ in this game) set in a Terry Pratchett novel gone horribly wrong.  Like Dangerous Beans and friends got hold of some growth serum and would like nothing more than to papercut your throat with that copy of “Mr Bunnsy Has An Adventure“.

There is something that sets this game apart from other FPS games.  It’s a blend of FPS mechanics with RPG-style progression and loot.  With a storyline worthy of an RPG (it is set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe after all) and greater investment in the interactions between the characters.

Like many co-op FPS games, this is one that’s best played with your friends.  You can set yourself up to be matched with a team of random players, which is handy if you need to tackle a mission on a higher difficulty and nobody’s available, but cohesion does tend go out of the window.  I mean there is the text chat, but I’m yet to master the ability to type a coherent message while having my skill softened by a horde of Skaven.  The best kind of setup for me personally is a team of friends anf voice chat.  You can also mix it up a little: Playing with 2 friends and just can’t crack that mission?  Make your game public and get a randomer to join in.

I am utterly convinced that bot AI is designed to make you think “Oh sod this, let’s get some human players together!”  Vermintide is no different in this respect, I feel.  When you play with a team full of bots, you are essentially playing on your own with a bit of covering fire.  If you’re on a fetch-and-carry mission, you can expect to be doing all of the fetching and carrying whilst hoping your AI chums are covering you.  If you go down and start bleeding out, you can only hope that they can dispatch the rest of the enemies quick enough before coming to pick you back up.

Yet this brings me onto why I will still happily play with a team full of bots.  It’s the dialogue between the characters.  As I mentioned earlier, there has been a great investment in how the characters interact with eachother.  The conversations they have with one another (which will vary depending which characters you have in your team) during the missions gives you insight into their personalities and tosses you tantalising little tidbits of their individual storylines.  I always find myself starting up a new mission with bots wondering what I will hear next, or if I will hear some of my favourite lines again.

The play styles of the characters can be roughly divided up into tank (Soldier, Hold Seeker) and DPS (Witch Hunter, Bright Wizard, Waywatcher).  Each character lends themselves to a different style of gameplay, meaning that there is potentially something for everyone.  Better still, each character has a selection of weapon types (divided into melee and ranged) at their disposal to bring further variation to their style of play.  I’ll use the Witch Hunter as an example because he is the character I play as the most: His melee weapons are the rapier/pistol combination, axe and two-handed sword, and his ranged weapons are the brace of pistols, repeater and crossbow.  These can be mixed and matched to create a style that’s most comfortable for you – my current favourite is having the axe as my melee (because armour piercing is a girl’s best friend) and the pistols as my ranged.

Continuing with the RPG flavour, there’s loot up for grabs at the end of each successful mission.  What loot you get is determined by a roll of a handful of dice – the higher you roll, the better your loot.  However there is no guarantee that that nifty loot you need to roll high for is going to be for your preferred character.  There are well-hidden items scattered across the missions which can help improve the success rate of those dice rolls, and what’s on offer gets better as the mission difficulty gets ramped up.

On playing the game for a length of time (at the time of writing I have given over 60 life hours), you do get the impression that Vermintide is somewhat unpolished.  With a console release on PS4 and XBox One planned down the line, it almost feels like those playing the PC version are beta testers.  There are small things amiss that are definitely not game breakers, but still get my attention because I have an over-enthusasitic eye for detail (jury is out on whether this is a blessing or a curse).  There’s a lot of no-clipping going on with the Witch Hunter’s coat; his legs go right through it, and whilst he has nice legs, those legs should be behind the coat.  Some of the spoken dialogue doesn’t match the subtitles on screen.  And whilst the aforementioned loot system is an excellent touch, the way it’s currently set up makes it tough to get an item for your preferred class full-stop, let alone an item for your preferred class!

This being said, Vermintide does not strike me as a game that is content to remain the way it is.  The team at Fatshark have many plans for this game by the sounds of it, and are also working to address the kinds of bugs and niggles mentioned above.  Before Patch 1.02 was deployed, there was a recurring bug where a mission wouldn’t end if you had got all of your AI companions into the getaway wagon and shut the door.  The only way to get around this was to somehow boot your companions out of the wagon before closing the door to successfully end the mission.  This is now fixed thanks to that patch, so I have great faith that mine and others’ tiny gripes with the game will be addressed in time.  Improvements to the loot system have already been earmarked.

On the 11th November 2015, after selling over 300,000 copies of Vermintide on Steam, Fatshark announced their first free DLC for the game: Sigmar’s Blessing.  The DLC will be available on December 3rd, and I for one am unbelievably excited for when it comes out, and am hoping that this will be one of many.

Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is a fun co-op FPS with a wonderful depth to it and bags of potential.  I hope you will understand me when I say that this game really has a soul.  New to the world of Warhammer?  Never fear; I had never had anything to do with Warhammer before playing this game.  The Warhammer Fantasy setting is its own self-contained world, meaning that knowledge of the other aspects of the Warhammer series is not at all mandatory.