It’s pretty evident that Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is hugely, HUGELY reminiscent of Left 4 Dead. It is the first thing that every one who’s played it talks about. However, even if you hadn’t read any you would be left with the distinct feeling that Vermintide is ‘L4D, but rats’ after the first Skaven push. But is that a bad thing?
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is two things. It is first and foremost a first person, 4-man co-op melee/shooter, reminiscent of titles like the aforementioned Left 4 Dead and Payday, among others. Secondly, it’s set in the world of Warhammer, one of the universes in Games Workshop’s games, the other being Warhammer: 40k (although one might argue that the world of Warhammer-old isn’t exactly supported, now that it has progressed to Warhammer Age of Sigmar, which is something only the table-top gamers need to worry about). As a Left 4 Dead-type of game, it is enjoyable, but pretty derivative. As a Warhammer game, well, Games Workshop has been more or less throwing its IP at any game developer willing to take a chance, and as Warhammer fans we have seen quite a lot of drek. Thankfully, Vermintide is not one of them.
When news of Wahammer: End Times – Vermintide came out, I wasn’t very hopeful. But now, I’m happy that I changed my mind and decided to give it a try – but it still took until some fellow Warhammer friends of mine bought the game.
I’m not kidding when I say Vermintide is L4D, but rats. You play a group of four, trying to survive and to complete missions. The 13 Maps and objectives are pretty diverse, but the plot weaving each together borders on nonexistent. In each game you battle hordes of Skaven (Zombies, but rats), and their special buddies the Gutter Runner (Hunter, but rat) Rat Ogre (Tank, but rat), Packmaster (Smoker, but rat). Stormvermin (armoured and highly disciplined rats) and Ratling Gunners (Gatling Rats!) are probably the only unique specials of the lot.
The changes are mainly to the characters you play. Rather than four identical humans (who can all choose similar, or even identical weapons), the group in Vermintide play 4 out of 5 specific characters. While some characters can choose similar weapons, the characters generally fall under the rough RPG group dynamic of Tank/DPS/Support (although this is really more like AOE control). Naturally the Empire Soldier and the Dwarf gravitate to the tank role, while the Bright Wizard hovers more around ranged dps/AOE support territory, but this can change based on the load-out you carry.
Each character has a slot for melee weapons, and one for ranged (together with one for heals, buffs etc). Some classes lean more towards melee or ranged, but in Vermintide even the Elven Waywatcher or the Bright Wizard has to be comfortable with turning rats into meaty chunks, because everyone will be stuck in melee at some point in the game. Each weapon also has benefits and drawbacks, which means choosing one weapon over another changes the niche you inhabit within a group. Taking a sword and shield over a two-handed maul, for example, means that you will be able to block hordes of oncoming Skaven (rats!) and even knock them back. But you will lose a lot of damage potential, which means that you might have to rely on your party members to close in for the kill. And the maul has the great ability of bypassing the armour of some of the more dangerous foes. Similarly, the Wizard can choose between staves that fire beams of light, as opposed to fireballs (AOE, less damage, longer charge time). The equipment is the second main change of Vermintide over L4D. A successful mission will grant each party member a chance to roll some dice and get some awesome loots. Volunteer for some debuffs (picking up the tomes and grimoires dotted around the map) and you will get a better chance during the after-mission die roll, but at the very serious cost of party vulnerability. You can even upgrade or salvage your equipment.
This change translates to a very different party dynamic in Vermintide, as opposed to L4D. While both apply the “survive against the horde” mechanic, Vermintide holds your equipment ransom until a successful mission (and even then, a bad roll might get you something you don’t like, or something from another class). And as gamers, we all know how seriously we need our loot. Even though most equipment are more of sidegrades (changing the build of a character) rather than strict upgrades, the fact that ‘STUFF’ is on the line turns Vermintide from a L4D clone to something closer to a short-form dungeon raid. It’s less about the fear and the feeling of the mission than perfecting a map until you can reliably farm for eq, then upping the difficulty and farming some more. To be honest, I’m in two minds about this. I’m not sure what I’d rather have; a fun game with shitty (or no) loot, or a rote Skinner (or Skaven) box with awesome drops.
But where Vermintide shines is in its Warhammer heritage. Warhammer has always been a darkly gothic universe – I don’t mean Dracula by way of Twilight or girls in black eyeshadow, by the way. I mean heads on spikes, flagellants, church spires hewn from dark granite and the threat of death around every corner. Here, I’m glad that the gothic aesthetic got carried over to the characters. Outfits are decidedly medieval/renaissance and utilitarian, with no anime shoulder pads or bikini chainmail. In fact, I had no idea the Wizard and Waywatcher were both female until I read their bios online. Considering the fact that Vermintide is essentially an independent game, Fatshark has hit a home run, at least based on aesthetics. I almost wish we had the chance of a Mordheim (same world and small group, but more RPG/tactical), or even a 40k game by them. I would love for a chance for Fatshark to have a bigger chance to flesh out the world the obviously love and know very well.
It’s true that Vermintide seems a little bit derivative. Yes, Vermintide borrows heavily from L4D, but considering some of its Warhammer gaming brethren, I’d rather play a Warhammer L4D than a Warhammer F2P mobile knockoff, especially when it is pulled off as well as Fatshark did. If you’re a fan of the Warhammer (or Games Workshop) universe, then getting it is an easy decision. And while it is not exactly the best game in the world, it is a pretty good value compared to the cost of some of the AAA titles out there, so I would seriously recommend giving Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide a try.
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is out on PC now.