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Warhammer 40,000: Darktide

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide

Written by Elliot Hilderbrand on 12/6/2022 for PC  
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I’ve been following Warhammer 40,000: Darktide for a while. My group of friends and I played through developer Fatshark’s previous Warhammer titles, Vermintide and Vermintide II, a handful of times. Fatshark took the four-person party shooter and turned it on its head. Instead of focusing on ranged combat, they decided to prioritize melee combat. Now that they’ve made the jump to 40K I expected them to drop melee for the use of ranged, space weapons. Guns are here, but there are still plenty of melee bloodbaths to get into.

Darktide begins with your escape from prison. As you make your escape, you save the life of a government official, putting you back in the good graces of the empire, now just don’t screw it up. Everything you do from there only puts you up higher. While the missions are not linear, every so often after completing a mission you’ll get a cutscene further pushing the plot of Darktide. If you’re someone who reads the novels, or plays a lot of Warhammer-specific titles, there is plenty to see and experience to wet your appetite. If you just want to play Darktide, you can skip most of the cutscenes to continue your bloody rampage in the name of the God-Emperor.

My biggest concern for Darktide came in the visuals. I wasn’t worried about the game looking terrible, I was worried about being able to see the game. Warhammer games are a bit notorious for taking place in the dark abyss of space. Everything is gritty, soiled, and dark; that’s how Warhammer is. I’ve played plenty of 40K games where lighting is an issue. Darktide does have some dark levels, and lights on your weapons are a requirement, but dark levels are not the only levels available to play. Plenty of levels take place outside or in areas with plenty of light.

Fatshark’s previous Warhammer titles, Vermintide and Vermintide II, take place in Warhammer fantasy, where a bow and arrow is a high-end ranged weapon. Warhhammer 40k has light guns, hand cannons, and explosives. The Vermintide games were mostly melee fighting affairs. I was curious how Darktide would handle the switch, as it turns out not too much has changed. While ranged weapons play a much bigger focus in this title, they are not the only form of combat. I’m not even sure I would say ranged combat is the primary form. I found myself shooting when enemies were far away, and using my melee weapon more often than not. Shooting hoards as they are running toward you is one thing, shooting them when they are standing at arm's length is another. Darktide also makes finding ammo challenging, especially at higher difficulty, making it rely heavily on the perfected melee combat it created in the first two titles.

Darktide has four classes to play as; Veteran: Sharpshooter, Ogryn: Brute, Psyker: Psykinetic, and Zealot: Preacher. Most of those names do a good job of explaining what kind of class they are, the Zealot being the one most can’t figure out by its name; he’s also my least favorite. He’s not as powerful with ranged weapons as the Veteran, not as great at being on the front line as the Brute, and can’t take down priority targets as well as the Psyker, but he’s decent at everything. The Zealot does have the most personality of the four classes, often screaming something religious, or mocking anyone who doesn’t feel the same about the God-Emperor as he does. Zealot was the first class I played with, mostly during the beta a few months before release. I found myself playing the Psyker more than any other class. I found the ability to have psychic powers made up for not being able to find ammunition as I played. All four classes work best when accompanied by the other three.

Online play works well. I was lucky enough that I typically play with two or three friends, so picking up one or two strangers wasn’t a bad experience. Playing with a full group also allowed us to each play one of the four classes. I found that if I played by myself I was frequently in a group with only two of the four classes represented. Darktide works best when you’re playing with people you know. The voice chat is great, but the communication needed at times with party members falls by the wayside when playing with strangers. I find that’s the biggest hurdle with heavy co-op games, the game itself can be great, but if you’re playing with people who aren’t as into the game as you are then the overall experience can be a mixed bag.

I’ve been lucky enough to play Darktide with a core group of friends, all of us playing on PC. While I love that Darktide is available on a multitude of platforms, I was less than happy to hear that there is no cross-play, or save progression between platforms. If I wanted to hop onto my Xbox and play because it’s available on Game Pass, I have to start from scratch. After doing a little more digging, I have learned that these are features that developer Fatshark does want to implement.

Speaking of implementation, Fatshark has been drip-feeding us Darktide for a little while now. If you pre-ordered the game, you were able to join in playing three weeks ahead of time. While I love the idea of playing before it’s officially released, I’m unsure how I felt about the way Fatshark handled it. In the first week, I could only play four missions across four zones. In the second week that jumped to eight missions across four zones. In the third week, I could play ten missions, and finally, when the game was live, I could play all 13 across all the zones. By the time the full game was available me and my friends had seen over 75 percent of the game already. While I liked being able to finally see everything, I felt like I had replayed a lot of missions leading up to the full unlocking. Seeing most of the game nearly a month ahead of time made me a little less excited to grind out the same levels again and again once the full game had been released. There were new in-game events to help, and thankfully level designs in Darktide are excellent.

Darktide has done a great job on level designs. Some are dark, narrow bloodbaths, others take place in giant outside areas full of light. I’m not sure if I enjoyed seeing the massive hoards coming or liked it better not knowing they were right around the corner waiting to ambush. I rarely felt confused on where to go next, but also never felt like I was being pushed down one path, even though I often was. The other part I loved was the timing. A mission rarely took more than a half hour, perfect when trying to play a game with three other adults, who also have lives outside of video games.

The character creator feels like it offers a lot of different playstyles, but it really comes down to creating the personality you want you character to have during the cutscenes and the frequent chit-chatting you do with companions. Missions are time perfectly for someone who wants to feel like they accomplished something, but doesn’t have a full hour of free time to devote to getting things done. Levels look great whether in the dark, or in the bright light. I couldn’t mow through enough hoards in this grimey sci-fi setting.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a true successor to Fatshark’s previous Vermintide series. If you were afraid the jump from fantasy to 40K would ruin the experience, fear not, it’s even better. Darktide feels less linear than the previous takes, the story takes place between cutscenes of missions. Levels are linear, but do a great job of hiding that fact. Loadouts are a great improvement, along with a wide array of weapons to specialize and unlock. The only unfortunate part is that Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is still best enjoyed with a full party.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).

While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).

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