It was EGX in the U.K. last weekend, and I was on hand to bring you all the news, reviews, and previews as I got my grubby little hands on them (and then got my grubby little hands on a keyboard). Next up, Warhammer: Vermintide (the “End Times” is silent).
We’ve already previewed Vermintide from its trailers, but I was lucky enough to sit down with Daniel Platt, the lead level designer on Vermintide, and play through the first of what will be 13 acts. The level finds our intrepid heroes trying to warn the local Watch about the sudden appearance of the rat-like Skaven.
As soon as you start playing, the similarities to Left 4 Dead are apparent. To their credit, this is a point that Dan and the team at FatShark take on board. In fact, they consider this an under-explored genre and were eager to blend L4D’s hectic gameplay with the brutal combat of a game like Skyrim. When this eclectic concoction is poured into the Warhammer setting there is the potential for real magic.
The Skaven also act as a brilliant counterpoint to those who treat this as just a Left 4 Dead mod. Where the zombies, despite their occasional special units, all blended into a more or less faceless horde, the Ratmen come in a truly hideous array of shapes and sizes. They suffer from mange, have hideous growths, and in general are an unpleasant bunch to face, even more so for working together against you with a hideous rodent intelligence. Luckily, they go down pretty quick when you start swinging your weapons.
The combat is appropriately brutal for a Warhammer title with heads, limbs, and blood soon coating every surface. While each character (Witch Hunter, Dwarf, Wood Elf Waywatcher, Pyromancer and Empire Soldier) has their own particular kind of mayhem to dish out, it’s when you combine them all together that things really start to get bloody. Interestingly, while teamwork is an absolute must to survive, there aren’t the same restrictions here that most Fantasy games impose. All characters have both ranged and melee weapons, and the Wood Elf is just as likely to stab a rat as the Soldier is to shoot it from range. This opens up the tactics and keeps play fluid against the endless hordes.
The setting is note perfect, with the rain covered streets of Ubersreik lovingly detailed in all their shabby glory. Like Left 4 Dead, the story of why these events are unfolding is not immediately clear and is possible to play through a mission without learning any new information if you don’t want to. However, as Dan says; “It’s there if you look.”
Alongside the atmosphere of the setting, you’ll find that the characters in Vermintide are a chatty bunch (even more so then in Left 4 Dead), and much of the story is delivered in these conversations and banter between heroes. This seemed to be working pretty well, and certainly it was fun to listen to during my playthrough, but I hope the writing maintains this quality or I can imagine it getting old before the end.
The characters were definitely one of the highlights I took away from playing. It was easy to get attached to my Empire Soldier as he blasted and fought his way through the plagued city, and I quickly got used to him and how he fit into the team dynamic that the game relies upon. There’s some good news on that front as Dan confirmed a certain amount of persistent growth for the characters”
“While Characters don’t level up, they do gain loot and trinkets as a reward for completing missions. These can range from weapons through to magic items that give special powers to the character and, once you have them, they stay with that character.”
Those weapons will come in handy to, as the combat is absolutely brutal. Heads are severed, limbs crushed, and bodies pile up in no time at all. Things reach a peak during special events (at least one per level), where your team needs to work together to overcome an obstacle. In my playthrough it was carrying explosive barrels to a door which would blow if the character was hit. So while I ran defence my teammates piled the gunpowder up until it finally exploded. It was a great set piece and I’m looking forward to see what else FatShark has for us as the game gets closer to release day.
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