Left 4 Dead launched back in 2008 to huge success. Despite not being the prettiest game or having the most depth, its fun and replayable gameplay made it a big hit. Since then, there have been a few games that have tried to imitate the fun and casual co-op based gameplay that captured the attention of the games industry. To that end, Warhammer: End Times Vermintide tries to replicate gameplay based on the idea of a fun romp through its levels with your mates, against a seemingly endless tide of enemies – and some specials thrown in there to mix things up. Vermintide does replicate some parts of the original formula that made Left 4 Dead so great, however it also falters in many respects.
The Warhammer universe is massive and deep, as well as having loads of different parts of the universe within it. Vermintide’s tone focuses on a moody fantasy-gothic time where elves and dwarves exist alongside witch-hunters. The threat in Vermintide isn’t zombies however, it’s the Skaven; giant rat-like humanoids that, like the title suggests, are an endless tide of vermin that will wash over the world killing everything in its path. That is unless you and your group can stop them.
Luckily you have a large arsenal to choose from when it comes to dealing with the Skaven threat. Each of the five different characters have unique weapons that separate them from the others; for example the Dwarf can use a two-handed axe or mace, or a shield and a weapon with the other hand, whilst for ranged fighting he also has access to a crossbow or a rifle. If magic is more your domain then the bright wizard can punish enemies by hurling fire at them with an array of staffs that alter how your spells work. Be warned however, if you don’t vent mana enough as a bright wizard you will eventually self-destruct, damaging you and all enemies around you – although a resourceful player can use this to their advantage when overwhelmed by Skaven.
All the different weapons and gear can be acquired by playing and levelling up when you have acquired enough experience. Each time you level up you get a weapon or gear item for a character. You can also acquire new equipment by finishing levels and at the end of every stage you roll dice to determine what loot you receive; landing more dice on the correct sides can give you better gear. You can also find items in levels to help boost the number of dice that you get at this post-game roll. However this can sometimes lead to random chance meaning you get worse gear several games in a row.
Gear is determined by its rarity; plentiful, common, rare, exotic and veteran. This determines its stats such as damage output speed and how many enemies can be hit in a single swing. Rarer loot also comes with extra perks and traits that can help in battle. The rarer loot usually has the better traits on it. These traits aren’t active until unlocked, and this is accomplished by using crafting materials in the forge. Vermintide does a wonderful job of not just giving you lots of shiny new things, but allowing you to change your fortunes too. Less rare goodies can be broken down to help improve others via crafting materials, or can also be combined to help create a piece of greater rarity and quality. This can help turn all the unwanted white or green items into something useful.
All this unique gear and abilities mean that each character plays differently to any others, and this can lead to them fulfilling certain roles or playing in unique manners. The soldier for example can equip a sword and shield, supporting his team by being near the front and blocking or funnelling oncoming hordes, while others pick off the Skaven from a safe-ish distance. Using different tactics to support your team are vital to success, especially at higher difficulty levels. Simply hacking and slashing wildly at the waves of rat-men will quickly lead to you becoming overwhelmed and defeated. Instead, blocking, dodging, pushing back enemies and creating choke-points are important to ensuring your team’s success in the field.
This is also taken further by the inclusion of different enemies. While the standard Skaven are fairly easy in small numbers, although many can quickly become dangerous, the inclusion of armoured variants called Stormvermin mean you have to aim for the head or use armour piercing attacks to fell them quickly. Specials also make an appearance in Vermintide, a-la Left 4 Dead. Gutter-rats act as an assassin type enemy that can pin a lone player and tear them to shreds if the player isn’t saved, hook rats can drag and isolate players to let other Skaven finish them off, while the rat-ogre is a hulking mass of rat that will require the whole team to bring it down quickly. Close co-operation is essential for the team to succeed and lone players quickly find themselves on the receiving end of a grisly death.
Luckily there are various items to help you through the slog of levels. Healing items, bombs and potions all appear randomly in levels along the path, and sometimes off it too. These items are essential, especially on harder difficulties where they are rarer to find. Unfortunately this is where one of Vermintide’s major issues come into effect – the AI heroes seem to hog all the consumables leaving players quickly in a bad situation. To make matters worse the AI is practically useless. Although they can cut through crowds of enemies fairly easily, they suffer immensely when pitted against special Skaven. When it comes to being rescued by the AI, you’re more likely to get help from the Skaven themselves out of pity than you are from your computer controlled compatriots.
Overall, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide does feel like it takes some of the core aspects that made Left 4 Dead so enjoyable, and it also feels like it adds to them with its unique characters and loot and crafting systems. However this only prolongs the inevitable and eventually the levels do begin to get tedious and repetitive. It suffers from some serious fatigue after a few hours and playing with human teammates is far better than trusting the AI to save you.