Acrid smoke hangs in the air, your lasgun heavy in your hands. You can hear the hordes scrambling to get closer to you in the distance, and you know that they’ll be here soon. You can already hear your team in contact nearby with the enemy, torrents of hostiles pouring into the area around you. As the roar of bolters fill the air, you must push on, for Tertium is surely lost if you do not. May the Emperor protect us all from the Darktide.
Warhammer 40,000 Darktide is a co-op FPS developed and published by Fatshark, well known for their Vermintide series of games set in the Warhammer fantasy universe. Darktide, however, is instead set in the brutal Warhammer 40,000 Universe, where mankind faces the ever-present threats of xenos, heretics and the warp. In Darktide, you’ll play as a penal recruit brought to the hive world of Tertium to combat the ever present and insidious threat to the Imperium of Man, the hordes of Chaos. Heretics, daemons, and traitors will be your opponent, and with blade and firepower you will smite the insidious enemies of mankind.
The Emperor Demands Your Service
To begin with, you’ll start off in Darktide’s character creator and need to decide what class you want to play as (Veteran Sharpshooter, Zealot Preacher, Psyker Psykinetic, or Ogryn Skullbreaker). Each class has their strengths – sharpshooters are great at ranged combat and are typically seen deploying large amounts of ranged fire into the midst of the enemy (although they can also dish out plenty of damage in melee). In comparison, the Ogryns ranged damage isn’t as strong and they have less choice in weaponry, but they are an extremely useful support character that can carry objects more quickly, revive downed players with less risk, and have a huge pool of hit points to call upon to soak up damage.
Zealots are a more melee focused characters, able to deliver large amount of damage in close quarters. Psykers can just pop enemies heads at range easily, but must carefully control their warp use to not risk death, Once you have decided your class, you’ll then need to decide on the backstory of your character as well as their aesthetic. Then, it’s off to prison for you as you’ll need to decide what your character was ‘guilty’ of. One of my characters spoke badly of corpse starch rations within earshot of a commissar… woops.
Once suitably designed, your character starts as a lowly penal recruit with nothing but prison rags and scrap weapons to your name, lucky to escape the clutches of a chaos strike on the ship you’re imprisoned on. Through fortuitous means, you fall into the service of an Inquisitor and are thrust headfirst into battle against heretics as you try to save Tertium from chaos. Tertium is the main hive city on Atoma Prime, and the capital of the Moebian Domain on the outer edges of the Imperium. The factories on Tertium are crucial to the war effort and it is crucial that the hive, and indeed the planet, doesn’t fall under the sway of chaos and remains firmly in the control of the imperium; this is where you’ll come in.
With the prologue completed, you’ll enter the bridge of the Inquisitor’s ship you’ll be based on between missions – some initial training teaching you the basics of the game will need to be completed before you can choose what missions you want to complete. From there on, it’s time for you to decide how to weaken the grip of chaos upon the planet, with several different mission types available. Currently, these consist of the following – strikes, raids, investigations, espionage, assassination, repair, and disruptions. Each have different objectives – assassinations, for example, will culminate with you eliminating an important commander of the traitor forces, whereas investigations will task you with using an auspex to scan the plague infecting areas of a derelict area.
All missions will have smaller sub objectives which will guide your path – some will require you to use a data interrogator to open doors, others to wait for an elevator to arrive and survive until it arrives. There are also options secondary objectives to collect grimoires and scriptures which are randomly placed in the mission and give additional rewards at the end of the mission if successful. These rewards are ordo dockets which are used to buy equipment, and experience to level up more quickly.
The Hordes Of Chaos Await
In Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, you’ll enter a mission with full health points, full ammunition, grenades and toughness. Enemies will swarm against you as you try and push through to complete the mission, inevitably managing to find purchase on you at some points with their vicious weaponry. If they do, they don’t hit your health points to begin with – instead they’ll reduce your toughness. Toughness is like a shield – it regenerates slowly over time, or by completing certain actions such as killing enemies in melee or killing with weak spot skills such as a headshot with relevant classes. Toughness soaks up all ranged damage until it runs out, but if hit in melee some damage will bleed through and cause health damage. In addition, certain enemies or large enough damage will cause injuries which stop you healing fully until you next use a medicae servitor to fully heal.
If you do go down, you’ll have chance to be revived by friends if they can reach you but wait too long and you will die. Finally, your health bars are also split into chunks, called wounds, and when revived you will lose one wound, up to the point where if you’re already down to your last wound you can’t be revived if you die. Dead people aren’t permanently dead and can be found and brought back into the fight over the course of the mission after a suitable amount of time has passed. Finally, stamina is present and used to block and dodge, an important part of the game as you can’t just tank damage especially on higher difficulties – running out can be fatal.
The enemies you’ll be facing in Darktide come from two groups – the traitor guardsmen of the Moebian 6th and the crazed cultists of the Cult of Admonition. All worship the chaos god of decay and disease, Nurgle. During missions, you’ll need to deal with the plague gods minions – some are civilians infected with a plague, turned into ravenous poxwalkers and roaming the map in hordes: individually easy to take down but in numbers pose a very real threat.
The traitor guardsmen of the Moebian 6th, on the other hand, run with equipment very similar to your own – clad in flak and carapace armour, and toting enough firepower to bring down any unwary player. They work in squads – generally a few standard infantrymen, supported by specialists such as shotgunners or maulers.
The Cult of Admonition isn’t as well equipped in terms of armour, but generally has slightly larger groups and has specialists of its own to call upon, such as flamers. In addition to this, there are corrupted Ogryns, chaos hounds, and daemonhosts amongst other things to deal with, meaning a good variety of enemies to combat in general, and adapting your tactics to deal with the enemies around you is a necessity.
Dakka Dakka Dakka Dakka
To combat these enemies, the player will have access to plenty of firepower of their own – from the various standard issue lasguns and autoguns, to more exotic weapons such as flamers and plasma guns, as well as the posterchild of the Warhammer 40,000 world, the bolter. All have strengths and weaknesses – weapons feel meaty, devastating, and extremely satisfying to use; whether sniping heads one by one with a lasgun or pulping hordes of enemies in a full auto mag dump with a bolter. This extends to melee combat as well: Darktide pushes ranged combat more than the Vermintide games, but melee is still an incredibly powerful and important option for the player. Swords, axes, maces, chain weapons and so on are all an extension of the players will in combat – the system is similar to previous games of Fatshark.
These weapons have tiers that help to distinguish how strong a weapon is, and what perks it has. There are 5 tiers, running from grey (profane) all the way up to orange (transcendent). Weapons have several stats which are shared across all weapons, such as damage, but some have stats which are only on some weapons and not all – for example, most ranged weapons have damage, stability, ammo and mobility stats but the fifth stat could be stopping power on lasguns, or collateral on autoguns.
To help with this, all weapons have an inspect feature when in the main lobby which you can use to deduce the features of the guns, such as secondary abilities (for example shotguns can shoot a high stopping power shell to push enemies back, or you can rev a chainsword to heavily damage your next melee target). This inspection feature is extremely useful, and a large upgrade compared to many other games – it’s a very good addition and I’m very impressed with the feature overall. Finally, weapons also have blessings and perks which give additional damage to certain enemies or render you immune to some types of damage on a kill – these all combine to make items feel just that bit more unique, but some blessings are far better than others and a balance pass would be welcome to bring things more in line with each other.
The individual classes in Darktide also have unique weapon types only available to them, such as the force staffs for the psyker or the thunder hammer for the zealot. This helps to differentiate the classes more and gives them unique tactical options on the battlefield, as well as making the classes feel a bit more distinct. The three human classes all also have weaponry they can all use, although they’re not shared across characters – all can use basic lasguns, but if you find the perfect gun on one character you can’t swap it to one of your others.
The Ogryn on the other hand has weapons which aren’t used by any other class at all – heavy stubbers, grenade gauntlets and extremely large shovels being too unwieldly for a puny human to equip. As a side note, I absolutely love the Ogryns – they’re loveable brutes and the Darktide community already seemingly loves to roleplay a bit when using them, and I find it really endearing and a fun aspect to the game.
The Emperor Protects
In addition to weapons, there are also curios – these are relics which you can equip to buff various attributes, such as additional stamina, wounds or hitpoints for your character in mission. On top of this, they also have blessings of their own, so can increase your damage to certain types of enemies or increase your resistance to types of damage as well. Curios are fun and add an extra level of being able to adapt your character to your playstyle.
All equipment, from weapons to curios, is bought in a store that refreshes every hour in the main lobby. There is also an alternative store you can complete objectives for each week that you can buy high level equipment from, and finally there is a chance at the end of a successfully completed mission that you’ll receive a gift from the emperor – both weaponry and curios are options you may receive.
That does bring a problem though – it can be very difficult to find the equipment you want as it is completely random, and even at max level when you’ve unlocked every weapon type, you’re often just checking the shop multiple times per day hoping to find the right item with the right stats, as the attributes for each piece of equipment are randomly rolled. There is also an alternative store you can complete objectives for each week that you can buy high level equipment from, but this also runs into the same problem – there isn’t any manner in which the player is able to affect the choices, and I feel this is something that Fatshark need to add in future to reduce frustration – crafting is bare bones.
Even though this is a full launch and not early access, there is an entire area which is just ‘coming soon’. You can upgrade weapons but can’t craft or re-bless your items with different blessings or attribute roles. These all combine to make the player subservient to the whims of RNG, and this can feel very frustrating when you’re unlucky and never get the equipment you want.
The final store you’ll find in Darktide is a cosmetic store, which allows you to purchase various cosmetic items for your characters via microtransaction – you buy aquilas with real money, then spend these to buy cosmetics for your characters. There are some cosmetics that you can earn by completing penances (effectively achievements for each class) but there aren’t too many and some of these are brutally difficult, leaving very little options for the player unless they buy cosmetics. Additional free cosmetics for players to give them some choice would be nice, considering this is a full price game.
Moving on, in Warhammer 40,000: Darktide each class also has access to unique abilities, further helping to make them more unique – from the sharpshooter’s volley fire ability giving more ranged damage, and eventually helping to mark more dangerous targets as you level up, to the Ogryns charge ability knocking down any enemies in their path; all are useful and allow different playstyles to flourish to some degree. Building on top of these are feats which are earned every 5 levels up until the max level of 30, augmenting the abilities and adding options to specialise – my sharpshooter for example would do more damage to an enemy the further away they are, but if I wanted to, I could instead swap to regenerate grenades each minute.
A lot of these abilities are pretty nifty, but some definitely feel stronger than others and some balance changes to bring them in line with each other would be nice. Unfortunately, the systems currently present in Darktide don’t feel as good at making your character feel unique as in Vermintide – there are less options overall, only 18 per character (which is the same as Vermintide), but only 4 classes total which is much reduced compared to the previous titles from Fatshark, even at launch. It was always going to be hard to make player created characters as memorable and unique as the carefully crafted characters from Vermintide but I feel that more could have been done here.
The balance in Darktide is also mixed. Although the weapons in the game feel extremely fun to use, there are some standout weapons – for my sharpshooter, the bolter, braced autoguns, power swords and kantrael mg XII lasguns feel particularly strong. In comparison, some of the more fun looking equipment such as plasma guns and chainswords just aren’t as strong and need tweaking to feel a bit more useful and live up to their status. Next, the difficulty levels of missions range from 1 – 5, 5 being toughest, and difficulty 3 is a huge step up from two and 4 even more so – the game just feels downright unfair on those unless you’re a much higher level and have got the very best equipment.
I think very good players will be fine overall, especially if you manage to find a likeminded group of friends to play with, but for individual matchmaking it can make for a very tough experience. In addition, there are frustrating design choices to deal with, such as enemies being able to spawn directly behind you – most of them do flank, but there are too many cases where they just spawn out of thin air, and on harder difficulties it just feels unfair.
Weakness Is Heresy
Next up, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide does have a story which will play out as you level up and gain trust with the Inquisitor and their acolytes you serve under. Starting at level 1 with nothing, you’ll build your way up over time and gain trust, all the way up to the current max level of 30. There are cutscenes that mark out your progression at certain levels, but overall, the story is weak – there are a couple of great cutscenes early on, but the rest just boil down to how much your commanders distrust you and how you need to work harder.
The worldbuilding, on the other hand, is excellent – I think the characters you work for, when fleshed out, will be good good and the enemies you fight and some of the environmental storytelling is great. Voice acting is stellar, and the snippets of lore you can work out from the conversations you’ll have is great – its not quite as good as Vermintide for banter between characters, but it is pretty good overall.
The graphical design for Darktide is also incredibly good – it truly makes you feel like you’re part of the universe, and hives are brought alive like never before. There are some truly breath-taking views, from the rain beating down on the industrial sprawl of the torrent to the dust swept freight ports, the visuals are stunning, both in terms of fidelity and visual design. The visual design of enemies is great, and the visual design is a whole is a triumph of the Warhammer 40K aesthetic.
Likewise, the sound design in Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is excellent – the music, sound effects and sound design in general is incredibly well done and helps to further your immersion in your missions. From the snap of lasguns to the roar of bolters, the cacophony of noise you’ll encounter when enemies rush you with a torrent of heretics – all are incredible and another highlight of the game.
The Machine Spirit Is Restless
Unfortunately, there are other problems. Performance for me has dropped a little bit since the beta, with stuttering occurring at times, but it has got a lot better since launch. There is the odd crash here and there, but I think compared to many I’ve been quite lucky. In addition, there are also quite a few bugs that have popped up, but again it feels like Fatshark has dealt with the worst of these since launch. Finally, it just feels like the game is bare bones in quite a few areas – crafting and story as an example, but additional classes and weapons would be nice as there none added in full release compared to the pre order beta, and Ogryns in particular feel like they could do with a few more equipment options.
Overall then, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide has the makings of an incredible Warhammer 40k game – the gameplay loop is excellent, with the visual and sound design to match. Unfortunately, a lot of other aspects of the game do mar the experience somewhat, and it does feel unfinished in some areas. That being said, if Fatshark can build and improve upon the existing content, there is potentially a very special game here in future.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is available now on PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this Review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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