Review by JayArcher

Reviewed: 11/15/16

Left For Dead With Ratmen

Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide finds players taking control of one of five heroes in the human Empire city of Ubersreik during the End Times, a time in the Warhammer setting where the forces of Chaos begin to overrun the world in an attempt to destroy the remaining forces of Order. One of these forces of Chaos is the Skaven, a race of Ratmen determined to sacrifice everyone to the Horned Rat, their Chaos God. Players can take on the role of three citizens of the Empire or two members of allied races who are charged with defending the city of Ubersreik from the Skaven horde. These heroes are Victor Saltzpyre, a Witch Hunter tasked with eliminating the corrupting forces of Chaos within the Empire; Sienna Fuegonasus, a Bright Wizard trained in the art of Pyromancy; and Markus Kruber, a soldier of the Empire who is the sole survivor of his unit. They are joined by Kerillian, a Wood Elf Waywatcher who now travels the lands of the Empire and Bardin Goreksson, a Dwarf Ranger experienced in fighting the Skaven.

This background is probably as much story as you need or will get in Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide. The game consists of 13 missions which see you taking up the defense and survival of Ubersreik and the only real plot that you will get are short briefings you receive before each mission giving you your goal. Despite this lack of story, the characters themselves have a fair bit of personality and as you fight through the missions they bicker and banter with each other creating friendships and frustrations as they face the Skaven horde, giving you a feeling of camaraderie with this group of seemingly random individuals thrown into this deadly scenario. As a guy who loves both Warhammer and story in games in general, it feels like a bit of a waste not to utilize Warhammer`s vast history and setting more within Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide`s story, but it`s apparent from the start that the focus is on gameplay rather than plot.

Thankfully, the gameplay is more than satisfying enough to make up for disappointment over the bare bones plot. If you`ve ever played Left 4 Dead then you have a good idea of what Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide plays like. The player and three partners, either co-op or with bots, choose a mission and have to hack, slash and blast their way through the city to their goal. The sheer amount of Skaven that populate each section of Ubersreik is overwhelming and the vast majority of them are coming to kill you and your friends. Unlike Left 4 Dead, melee combat serves as the go-to way to murder your way through streets full of rat men, with flintlock pistols, longbows and fireballs serving as limited attacks best used to face off against the special Skaven that randomly show up during missions. The first person combat feels intense and visceral and there are few situations that feel more satisfying than hacking and slashing your way out of a horde of skaven and watching heads and arms fly off left and right.

Even though none of the characters have unique skills, their weapon sets cause combat to feel suitably different when switching between characters. Kerillian`s dual blades and longbows make combat feel fast and exciting as you switch from Skaven to Skaven, while Kruber`s big hammers and greatswords let you hack through large groups with slow powerful swings and pound down on armoured foes. Victor is a jack of all trades, with his choice of quicker rapiers and hatchets as well as larger greatswords, not to mention his deadly flintlock pistols. While Gorekkson`s weapons tend towards the typical dwarf choices of axes and shields, his viewpoint being placed a couple of feet lower to represent his smaller stature makes playing as him feel completely different from the others. My personal favourite, the Bright Wizard Sienna, wields swords that are somewhat lackluster in both power and range, but also wields her pyromancy staves. The staves require no ammo and can fire both devastating bolts of fire as well as having the ability to create huge fireballs or explosions. This comes with a price though, as continued usage will fill up an overcharge bar which when full causes Sienna to blow up, knocking her out instantly. This overcharge can be vented, possibly causing damage or will lower slowly while using her melee weapon, but it adds a necessary balance to an otherwise overpowered character.

This variety in characters is nice as a lot of Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide longevity comes from playing through missions on multiple difficulties to gather loot in the form of new weapons and trinkets to equip. Vermintide features 13 missions set throughout the city and its surrounding environs. About half of these missions are longer, storyline missions that can take up to an hour to finish while the other half are shorter, half hour long side missions. While these missions all take place near Ubersreik there is a surprising amount of variety in the levels. You'll find yourself taking the fight to the Skaven horde in the marketplace, the docks, caves and mines, towers and even the nearby swamps and farmlands. Unfortunately the goals in these areas are a little less varied. Most missions feature variations on a couple of different gameplay goals. The most common of these are carrying and setting explosive barrels to blow up gates and supports, or tossing bags of something into a carriage or boat. While these repetitive goals are fine the first few times in a game where players will be repeating levels several times for loot, it would be nice to have a little more variety. Fatshark has mentioned plans for DLC in the future, both paid and free, so hopefully these will bring more variety.

The other issue with these goals has to do with the AI companions. The AI in Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide is great when it comes to combat, but much like in Left 4 Dead, anytime something important needs to be done it has to be a human player that does it, such as carrying barrels or opening gates. This is fine for the majority of people, such as myself, who will play Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide as a co-op game, but for those trying to save the city single-handedly, it can add an extra layer of difficulty to be the only one who can carry things. Sure my AI companions can slaughter Skaven with the best of them, but if I have to carry 8 barrels to a boat one by one that’s a lot of extra time to get assaulted by Skaven hordes, Rat Ogres and other special Skaven. Again, this likely won’t be an issue for most people as Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide features match-making for co-op, but there is the ability to tell your AI companions to pick up health, why not extend that so they pick up a damn bag of grain as well?

Once you do manage to survive a mission the real fun in Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide beings. Loot time! Each time a level is completed you are given a chance to roll for loot. Depending on the mission and difficulty different loot is offered based on how many successes you roll with a set of die. This makes it harder to get good loot on easier difficulties and encourages testing yourself on the higher difficulties. Also hidden throughout the missions are tomes which can be picked up, taking up the healing item slot, and if kept until the mission ends upgrades one of your loot dice to increase the chance of success. These tomes are a double-edged sword as you only get this shot at loot if you succeed in the mission and you may not survive without the healing items you can no longer carry (though you can switch the tome out, immediately heal and pick up the tome again). These chances for loot keep you facing mission after mission and scouring areas for tomes in hope of getting a better weapon and it gets rather addictive.

And that’s really the key to Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide. It is enjoyable. The game is fun to play and gathering new loot to slowly build up your team of heroes is addictive. For a game that feels so much like Left 4 Dead, it manages to keep the feeling of standing side by side with friends and facing down a horde, but while bringing its own feel and style into things. A lot of people seemed to have low expectations for Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide, which is unsurprising considering Warhammer’s gaming history, but Fatshark has delivered a solid co-op hack and slash experience and shown that all you need is a couple of friends, a lot of weapons and a horde of rat men to have a fun time.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide (US, 10/23/15)

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