Ver mi­tide RE­VIEW

Glee­fully gory com­bat in Warham­mer: Ver­mintide II .

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Steven Mess­ner

The rats are back, and they’ve brought friends. Steven Mess­ner takes up arms in our lead re­view.

Ver­mintide II’s ‘AI di­rec­tor’ is sadis­tic. With a lum­ber­ing Chaos War­rior al­ready at­tack­ing us, the AI sum­mons an ar­mored Stor­mver­min am­bush from be­hind. They quickly knock out Bardin the dwarf, Kru­ber the mer­ce­nary and Si­enna the fire mage, leav­ing only me, the nim­ble elf Ker­il­lian, to save us. If I can just get to one of them, I can re­vive them and turn the tide back in our favour. Then, out of nowhere, the AI sum­mons a Chaos Sorcerer. Usu­ally th­ese spe­cial en­e­mies like to hang out at a dis­tance and sum­mon tor­na­dos that scat­ter us to the wind—an at­tack I can eas­ily dodge— but this Chaos Sorcerer wants to make it per­sonal. He tele­ports to me and be­gins suck­ing the soul out of my body, ren­der­ing me com­pletely help­less. A party mem­ber could save me, but that’s pretty hard to do when they’re all al­ready in­ca­pac­i­tated. It’s a cruel end to our ad­ven­ture, made even more sin­is­ter when, as I’m slowly be­ing dragged to the sorcerer, a Chaos War­rior storms up and fin­ishes me off with a coup de grâce, even though I was al­ready as good as dead. I half ex­pect the AI to start teabag­ging me.

Ver­mintide II can be mad­den­ingly dif­fi­cult. One or two of my team­mates will be in­ca­pac­i­tated, sur­rounded by ver­min, and it’ll feel like it’s game over. Then my ham­mer smashes in the skull of the last Rot­blood, and my tun­nel vi­sion widens. It’s over. We sur­vived.

As good as Ver­mintide II is at cre­at­ing epic scenes of ten­sion (even if it some­times goes too far), it’s di­min­ished by a frus­trat­ing mul­ti­player setup that can steal away what valu­able agency you have over that ex­pe­ri­ence. Fat­shark’s se­quel to Ver­mintide is chal­leng­ing and thrilling, but it can also be frus­trat­ing as hell when the mul­ti­player fails.

Not my kind of grind

Like the first game, Ver­mintide II is a Left 4 Dead- style, four-player co-op first-per­son ac­tion game in which your party wades through treach­er­ous lev­els fight­ing off hordes of Skaven rat­men, who have now al­lied with the Rot­bloods, a clan of vi­cious Chaos raiders. Set dur­ing Warham­mer’s End Times, Ver­mintide II’s apoc­a­lyp­tic fan­tasy set­ting is dis­turb­ing and mar­vel­lous. Its 13 lev­els tour ru­ined cities and treach­er­ous bogs that are each as gor­geous and moody as the last.

With each mis­sion last­ing about 30 min­utes, you’ll end up re­peat­ing them. That might sound bor­ing, but each level is ex­pan­sive enough that re­vis­it­ing them never feels repet­i­tive thanks, in part, to the AI di­rec­tor mix­ing up spawns. It’s a sys­tem that mostly works, though some ar­eas of each mis­sion do bleed to­gether be­cause fight­ing a group of Skaven doesn’t feel all that dif­fer­ent from fight­ing a group of Rot­blood raiders.

This un­cer­tainty of what en­e­mies spawn, and where, has sur­pris­ing ben­e­fits. In one se­quence, my party es­corted a minecart through a pitch-black stretch of an aban­doned mine. The first time I played this mis­sion we had a ter­ri­fy­ing fight against a troll that came charg­ing at us from the dark. An­other time we were am­bushed by a horde of naked Clan­rats. Dur­ing my third playthrough, noth­ing at­tacked us at all. The si­lence put me on edge for min­utes, though.

Un­like Left 4 Dead, how­ever, Ver­mintide II is wear­ing lay­ers of RPG un­der­wear. It’s a lot to take in at first, but I’ve come to love the nu­ances each char­ac­ter ca­reer (a kind of sub­class) of­fers be­cause each plays a sub­tle but cru­cial role in a party. The five char­ac­ters have their own spe­cial abil­ity, pas­sive bonuses, un­lock­able skill trees, and weapons. Once you level a char­ac­ter up a bit, you’ll also un­lock new ca­reers that of­fer vastly dif­fer­ent playstyles.

Bardin the dwarf’s Iron­breaker ca­reer is prob­a­bly my fa­vorite be­cause it trans­forms him into the clos­est thing Ver­mintide has to a tank. When my spe­cial me­ter fills up, I can un­leash an ear-split­ting roar that draws the ire of ev­ery nearby en­emy. For­tu­nately, this abil­ity also grants me un­lim­ited stamina for the next few sec­onds that I can use to block

I can un­leash an ear-split­ting roar that draws the ire of ev­ery nearby en­emy

at­tacks. With all eyes (and swords) on me, my team can quickly carve through the bad­dies.

You’d think a loot sys­tem would be rea­son enough to keep playing, but it’s the thrill of sev­er­ing Skaven limbs or sur­viv­ing an all-out rush by the Rot­blood horde that keeps me playing. De­spite only us­ing the left and right mouse but­tons to at­tack and block, there’s a sat­is­fy­ing depth to com­bat. Each of the 50-ish weapons has their own tim­ing, at­tack arcs and reach, and the fight­ing never feels clumsy or tech­ni­cal.

Bardin’s Drakegun is a flamethrower that can ig­nite dozens of en­e­mies when fully charged, while Ker­il­lian’s As­rai hunt­ing bow is ba­si­cally an as­sault ri­fle that shoots ar­rows. Each of the melee weapons is sim­i­larly var­ied, and just when I think I pre­fer large, slow weapons, like Kru­ber’s hal­berd and its abil­ity to de­cap­i­tate mul­ti­ple en­e­mies in a sin­gle swipe, I try out Ker­il­lian’s dual dag­gers and fall in love with how rapidly she can dice wimpy rat­men.

Dodges, par­ries, and charged at­tacks are a lot more dif­fi­cult to mas­ter, how­ever. Ver­mintide II feels es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult in the first few hours. De­spite an en­ter­tain­ing tu­to­rial, it’s ter­ri­ble at ex­plain­ing how to use th­ese dif­fer­ent moves prop­erly. Now that I’ve mas­tered the ba­sics, though, I love how chal­leng­ing Ver­mintide II can be at higher dif­fi­cul­ties, where a sin­gle en­emy at­tack can nearly kill me. That level of mor­tal­ity turns even a small fight into a tense dance of slash­ing and dodg­ing. And if I re­ally want to amp the chal­lenge up, each mis­sion has hid­den tomes and gri­moires which take up valu­able in­ven­tory slots and lower the party’s over­all health in ex­change for bet­ter loot. I do re­sent how manda­tory they feel when the party is al­ready strug­gling to sur­vive, how­ever.

A good team is just as nec­es­sary as good re­flexes, and Ver­mintide II shines when you’re playing with a group of friends. Spe­cial mon­sters like the Skaven Pack­mas­ter will slip be­hind my party dur­ing a fight and will try and yank one of us away, re­quir­ing the group to move quickly and save our friend. That’s not nearly as bad as when a green cir­cle ap­pears at the party’s feet, herald­ing a deadly tor­nado from a Chaos Sorcerer. Th­ese mo­ments are so com­mon, but al­ways sur­pris­ing, that each ses­sion feels like a bru­tal gaunt­let. There are times when the whole party dies and the sense of shared frus­tra­tion is pal­pa­ble, but those mo­ments when we do sur­vive are so sat­is­fy­ing.

Winn er loot all

While I like Ver­mintide II’s loot, I hate how I re­ceive and man­age it. The in­ven­tory screen is poorly or­ga­nized and rarely dis­plays in­for­ma­tion that is ac­tu­ally use­ful. Char­ac­ters can also share and equip the same trin­kets and charms, but there’s no ‘equip all’ but­ton. I have to painstak­ingly switch char­ac­ters to update their gear and free up their cur­rently equipped items for sal­vaging. It’s a night­mare.

As­ton­ish­ingly, Ver­mintide II lacks a menu that shows even the most ba­sic stats like health or stamina. I’m all for RPG sys­tems that de­vi­ate from the norm, but it’s frus­trat­ing how ob­tuse Ver­mintide II is with its un­der­ly­ing math­e­mat­ics and stats be­cause it makes mean­ing­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. Why in­clude weapons that up my chance of scor­ing a crit­i­cal hit if I can’t de­ter­mine what my base chance is? Even the mean­ing of Hero Power, the to­tal mea­sure­ment of my char­ac­ter’s prow­ess, is hid­den be­hind an eas­ily missed tooltip.

The mo­ments when Rot­blood raiders and Skaven have my party sur­rounded are thrilling, but if the party dies, I’m of­ten feel­ing like my time is wasted. It’s not that los­ing in Ver­mintide II can’t be fun, but that there are so many vari­ables that can create fail­ure beyond my con­trol. If the party leader (and host of the match) dis­con­nects, all the progress I made in a mis­sion is erased and I have to start over. There’s also no in­di­ca­tor of who is speak­ing via the in-game voice chat, mak­ing it hard to iden­tify which of your com­pan­ions is call­ing for help. Even la­tency is hid­den. I can do ev­ery­thing right in a mis­sion and still lose due to things I can’t con­trol. Add in the fact that loot is only awarded when you beat a mis­sion or gain a level and Ver­mintide II can feel stingy for all the wrong rea­sons. It’s not fun to be de­prived of loot needed to tackle harder dif­fi­cul­ties be­cause the host quit.

It’s frus­trat­ing that a se­quel would still strug­gle to nail such ba­sics, and the RPG pro­gres­sion doesn’t en­tice me the way it does in sim­i­lar games. But Ver­mintide II suc­ceeds on the mer­its of its stel­lar com­bat and level de­sign. Af­ter 40 hours, that Rot­blood warhorn sig­nalling a Zerg-like rush of raiders, or the sound of a Gut­ter Run­ner as­sas­sin chat­ter­ing in the dark­ness, still turns my blood to ice.

There are so many vari­ables that can create fail­ure beyond my con­trol

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