Saturday, November 21, 2015

Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide

Die, die, man things...

Warhammer Fantasy comes alive in Warhammer: End Times...

...but you may not survive!

I've been playing on and off for a couple of weeks, and have a basic understanding of the dynamics of the game. If you are like Warhammer Fantasy, is this a game for you?


Let me explain further. 

I'm coming from the perspective of someone who loves the "fluff" (as the culture and background of the game is called) as well as many of the various races and societies brought to life in the Warhammer universe (or at least the old universe, before it was all destroyed). 
I'm especially fond of the Skaven, that sub-human race of giant rat-men who intend to take over the world from all man-things, and the Elvespointy-eared, arrogant protectors of the natural world order.
"Fluff" however, is not just the denizens of the world, but where the world itself is actually as important a player and as big a factor in the game as the various factions. It influences the game and the imagination. It is gritty, desperate and dark. This is reflected in the literature, stories and rulebooks. The environment that each race inhabits or struggles to control is admirably realized in every aspect of the game.

I'm also a big fan of FPS (First Person Shooter) games, where you play the game from the viewpoint of the protagonist, usually fighting off overwhelming odds in the pursuit of a defined objective. (Reviewing the 50+ games in my PC games library, the vast majority of them are FPS.)

For me then, "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide" brings these three areas together extremely well. From those perspectives the game is in some ways a triumph. Ubersreik stretches before you

It's atmospheric: 

You'll fight as a small band of freedom fighters through a variety of missions on the dark, dirty, mean streets of Ubersreik, a city almost lost to an invasion of the insidious rat-men and their twisted creations. Every major location is lovingly presented in grime and filth and littered with the bodies of unfortunate townsfolk and guard. Torches flicker in the darkness, the squeels, whispers and roars of the rat-men all around you drive you on (and prompt frequent glances over your shoulder...)
Case in point, The Garden of Moor. This is a lovely model that graces any battlefield, but fighting through the mist and fog of this massive graveyard in first person view really brings it to life.

It feels "right":

Your band is composed of four fighters, drawn from three of the major races and multiple classes of the Warhammer world.

  • Empire (humans): Witch Hunter, Wizard and Soldier
  • Elves: Waywatcher
  • Dwarves: Ranger

These are iconic races, but what makes them fun to play is the witty (pre-scripted) banter between them as you go through the levels. Each is true to their archetype and this comes through in the voice acting and interaction.

It also comes through in the meaty amount of weapons options available. Again, these fit nicely with Warhammer world. Even better, each blade, axe, hammer, bow or black powder weapon has suitable heft and impact. Laying about yourself with axe and shield is a satisfying act of carnage (and that's before your enemies are incapacitated, gutted and beheaded in often explosive fashion).

Bardin Goreksson: Axe n' board wielding bad ass.

The Skaven LIVE!:

If (like me) you have spent hundreds of hours painting a Skaven army for the tabletop seeing the evil but ingenious race of rat-men come "alive" on screen is a real joy. You'll be beset on all sides by the every order of the scurrying ones and their evil creations, from the lowest of the low (Skaven slaves) to great leaders (Grey Seers) and everything in between (Clanrats, Stormvermin, Packmasters etc.)

Adding to this, each kind of Skaven feels true to the fluff.
Clanrats emerge from anywhere, trying to overwhelm you with sheer numbers.
Well-armoured Stormvermin (unusually for Skaven) march in rank, and are disciplined and tough.
Gutter Runners (Skaven assassins) whisper threats in the dark before leaping onto the most isolated of your team, stabbing with their poisoned blades.
Weapons teams, like the Poisonwind Globadier and Ratling Gun, assault you from afar.
And finally, the enormous Rat-Ogre alerts you to his (its?) presence with a bellowed roar before barreling into your team, a suitably terrifying experience.

From this... this. RAT OGRE INCOMING!

So what's not to love?

Why did I say you might "possibly" like this game earlier?
Despite all the positives, there are a few things that make Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide more of a "dip in" game than one I play obsessively.

The missions, although there are a lot of them, can become repetitive quickly. The developers have done a good job of trying to overcome this for the most part - you never quite know where the most feared enemies will come from, and the loot collecting aspect gives the whole thing a "just one more try before bed" feeling - but you can only play a particular mission so many times before boredom sets in.

Being an online multiplayer game, you may not always be able to play with a decent group. By decent, I don't mean "good" players (I'm a noob, so most people are higher levels than me) but rather a team that wants to play the mission, rather than play for loot. 
To give an example, in the Horn of Magnus, the final fight is supposed to be climactic, desperate battle against the clock - defend your position against ravening hordes of varied enemies until you can escape. Unfortunately though, many teams will get to this stage and then exploit the map design by taking a position where they can't be touched.

Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with this as such, but unless you have a PUG that agrees not to do this, you might be disappointed when you get to that point (or when you die, inevitably overwhelmed by the vast hordes arrayed against you!). 

Overall though, this is a very well-crafted game.  It should be well-crafted because it is almost an exact copy of co-operative Zombie slayer game Left 4 Dead, but it takes that legacy and beautifully grafts the world of Warhammer End Times onto its forebear to make for an exciting (if occasionally frustrating) romp on (and below, and above!) the streets of Ubersreik. 

If you are a Warhammer fan you owe it to yourself to take a look.

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