Warhammer – Vermintide II: It’s a grimdark bash

Vermintide was a pleasant delight to get in 2015; a co-op horde wading game similar to Left 4 Dead, set in the End Times variant of Warhammer Fantasy. It surprised me for two reasons: Fatshark was a relatively unknown developer to me, and Vermintide looked fairly ambitious for said unknown developer. Vermintide II had quite a lot to live up to in order to be a proper sequel, and I’d like to explain why first before I talk about the sequel proper.

Game: Warhammer - Vermintide II
Developer / Publisher: Fatshark / Fatshark
Platform(s): Steam (Xbox One & PS4 releases slated for 2018)

Vermintide is a game that successfully intrigued me with its trailer, which I give credit for because I generally try not to get enticed by marketing for games. I thank Crackdown’s sequel for starting me down that path. Regardless, Vermintide’s trailer sucked me in with an exquisitely sounding narrator explaining the context for the events of the game in less than 6 sentences.

The trailer reminded me of Left 4 Dead’s trailer of the Survivor’s journey to cross just a single street. Characterization is brief but succinct. The Witch Hunter is very nimble marksman despite his frailty, the Empire Soldier is a powerhouse, the Elven Waywatcher is a savant by human standards, the Bright Wizard is a bloodthirsty pyromaniac, and the Dwarf is a jolly soul who laughs as he brings a heavy hammer down onto a Skaven head. The Skaven are cunning, numerous, and calculating; the Rat Ogre is just their opposite. There was tension, darkness, and an oncoming sense of dread. I was sold.

The state of Vermintide’s release was pleasant for gameplay, but other elements showed their rough edges. The most glaring of these were stability issues, crashes, and optimization. Inventory growth and loot acquiring was another thorn, as a really hard-won mission could reward you with absolute crap. With later updates, more avenues of item acquiring were added, but most of the remaining player-base just kept doing the same missions over. The gameplay was solid, after all.

The good and the bad all culminated in the demand for a bigger, better sequel. Vermintide II has a lot to live up to, and a lot of new expectations to fulfill. With the time I’ve spent with it so far, I’ve come out with a few points that I knew I would have to note. I can happily report that some improvements have been made. I can also report that the gameplay is still satisfying. There’s just more to take in or go around.

The best thing I can say about Vermintide II’s gameplay is that the carryovers of game mechanics from the first game are essentially the same. One welcome addition is a follow-up attack after pushing the enemy away if you hold the push key. It’s a gamble, “can you push all immediate dangers away to allow the follow-up attack to be worth it, or should you continue blocking?” It’s a simple sounding addition, but the depth it adds makes combat quite a bit more manic. Hell, sometimes it allows the player to make a sweeping attack at will (Bright Wizard’s Mace). A very welcome addition.

The second addition to gameplay is the addition of character abilities. Vermintide II brings back the five charming characters, each now with three careers (classes) to choose from. Each has a passive ability (Passive); an active ability (Active); career traits, which are additional passives; and career talents. The kind of Actives in Vermintide II include movement abilities, team or character buffs, and additional attacks; and are limited in use by a cooldown bar that skips ahead when your character has eliminated the enemy. Not all Actives are equal, nor are the careers.

The Careers are one of the additions to take in or go around. Each is centered around a central way of play. For example, Bardin the dwarf’s three careers can be essentially boiled down to generalist marksman, sustainable tank, and melee enthusiast. If you can’t find an ability you like, I recommend looking at the career traits and choosing off of those. I find those impact me more than some of the passive abilities. Careers can range from decent to godly; it depends on how you make use of them.

Before…

For example, I have a build I call the Eternal Immolator. As Pyromancer Sienna, I use a mace that increases damage towards any attacker I block, a Flamestorm staff with a heat-sink, a charm that increases the length of my potions, and a trinket that increases damage received by any target after I throw a bomb at them. I incinerate a flank so my allies can focus on another, use my Active to throw a seeking fireball to specials, and block and bomb boss enemies to increase the damage they take from all sources. Then I pop a purple concentration potion and send five or six fireballs at the poor thing that decided inordinate size had some intrinsic merit. Not many people like the Flamestorm staff, but I quite enjoy incinerating an army of man-sized vermin and Northlanders.

…and after.

For your horde destroying pleasure, chaos worshipers from the northern wastelands have made a pact with the Skaven. The Northlanders come from a society that emphases strength over discipline, their worship of chaos compliments their ranks with magical practitioners of blight and decay. Their elite units are often the opposite of the Skaven’s; wearing armored helmets, but stubbornly leaving everything between the torso and the neck exposed. Which is stronger, a rapier, or rotten pecks?

With the game being solid, I find the only things that sour my opinion are fairly minor, except for one. To touch on the minor irks, the decision to hold up in a remote fort away from the town loses the game some charm the first had. In Vermintide 1, you were in the town as it was besieged, seeing the town as another character as it falls apart. I was invested in Ubersreik as every every mission took place or benefited the city. The maps in Vermintide II are slightly less memorable by comparison, although some are warming up to me. The fort siege mission is damned good.

In contrast, I’m still feeling cold towards the career talents. Every 5 character levels grant you a talent point to spend, one per level of the talent spreadsheet. The problem is that these skills are either very beneficial effects that you can perceive, or bland stat increases. The problem with bland stat increases is that their effects aren’t readily seen by their user, thus feeling like they’re not even in effect at all. This combined with a lacking in explaining certain stats and what they do or what their default values even are is a problem that I hope is corrected in future game patches.

On the upside, the new loot system is a vast, vast improvement over Vermintide 1’s launch and post-launch loot system. Completion of a mission will guarantee you with a chest, and the contents of the chest are catered to the hero that opens them. Saving chests for your other characters is a valid strategy. You can also improve the quality of the chests by collecting tomes, grimoires, and loot dice found in the missions; alongside a gift from the god of luck Ranald. Just keep in mind that Ranald is indifferent, and doesn’t care if you benefit from his gift or not. I’m still bitter about being a bloody millimeter away from getting an Emporer’s coffer 20 game hours ago.

You’re never really safe.

Vermintide II has seen improvements in most areas where they were needed. Hell, even the bots are good. I saw a bot 1v1 a chaos warrior and hold their own. I was genuinely impressed with that improvement. For people that are looking for a game that caters to its core audience, Vermintide II recognizes where its successes came from, and I heavily recommend you consider buying it. Just wait a couple months.

Yes indeed, it’s a recommendation with a catch. If you missed the minor hints I’ve been leaving like stale breadcrumbs, there is one thorn still left in the game. If you do some abstract math, subtracting V2 from V1, you’re left with essentially performance issues. Great.

What would otherwise be a heartfelt recommendation is soiled by the performance issues that have been around since launch. Let’s treat my list like a used car dealer ad. Performance drops? We have them! Boss creatures in different states for each player? Quite possible!  Unexplained crashes? We’ve got many different kinds! Soft-locks? No problem, just restart your game! I hope these are ironed out in the future because I’ve heard conflicting accounts from other people praising the stability, while my case met many mid-game crashes. I wish I could help by stating what happened, but I honestly have no idea.

With major patches coming in April, with dedicated servers; and mod support sometime later, I can look past these issues. I’m noticing that the crashes are happening less and less, which is always a good sign. One thing I’m looking forward to with the mod tools is hopefully the ability to change Saltzpyre’s pistol sound effects. Off all the things to nerf, they nerfed his pistol sounds. It truly is a tragedy.

I’ve been having a great time playing the role of an amateur exterminator with a flamethrower. For its faults, the gameplay is still solid and immensely enjoyable. If you decide to give this game a go, you will enjoy bashing in rat skulls.

 

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Cody Poirier

Cody Poirier is an Entrepreneurship major, and is the Lifestyle section editor, business manager and a critic for the University Chronicle. He wastes his time so you don't have to.

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