It’s been a long time since I got seriously into any multiplayer games. I have fond memories of playing a lot of League of Legends around 2012, when I was in college, but that’s about it. The groups I played with gradually dissipated as people got busier or moved on to other games, and I never came across the opportunity to put the same amount of time into anything else similar. It seemed to me like adult life made it prohibitively difficult to organize a team who can commit to playing regularly, and it was no fun playing any multiplayer game with random other people online, because of the risk that they’ll be a bunch of assholes who fancy themselves hardcore gamers and yell at you the whole time. I decided that I preferred the experience of single-player games anyway, and stopped trying. But over the past few months, I ended up trying out the game Warhammer: Vermintide 2 alongside my partner and two of our friends, and I was pleasantly surprised by what a great time it turned out to be, even on days when the whole group can’t get together. This review will provide an overview of what that experience has been like, and why—with a couple caveats—I highly recommend Vermintide 2 if you’re looking for something new to play.
Vermintide 2, a game set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, is mechanically similar to Left 4 Dead, but with more focus on melee than ranged combat. Players can choose between five characters with 3-4 alternate classes each (a few planned DLC classes have yet to be released) in order to team up against hordes of fantastically weird rat-people called the Skaven, as well as occasional other enemies like mages and trolls, and just some groups of angry guys with axes and stuff. The one major drawback of the game is that it takes a while to get into—I wasn’t sure about it at first, and it was only the motivation of having a group to play with that kept me going past some initial frustration and confusion. So much of what makes it fun comes from the varied skills and more powerful weapons you unlock as you level up, so when you start playing for the first time, you might feel overwhelmed and underpowered. But if you’re willing to put in that initial investment, getting the hang of those skills and weapons at higher levels becomes incredibly satisfying. Surviving a horde at low health because I dodged around and timed my blocks well and made good strategic use of my special ability is pretty much the most exciting thing that happens to me these days.
I actually owe a lot of my understanding and appreciation of this game to my partner, who got a bit more into it than the rest of the group and started to try playing a bit on his own. One of the things he discovered was that, despite my anxieties about provoking the rage of online gamers, the Vermintide community seems relatively relaxed. Play enough of it and you’re bound to have one or two bad experiences, but for the most part, players seem to be happy to work together and help each other out. I imagine the fact that it’s a co-op game where you’re all fighting the same enemies, rather than a competitive one where you’re trying to win against other people, might be part of the reason that it’s not nearly as bad as I was afraid of. Communicating a bit with some of the more experienced players he got matched with even helped my partner pick up on more of the depth of potential strategy the game has, and he brought those lessons back to the rest of us so that we could all start experimenting with higher difficulties and having an even more fun and challenging time. I’ve even started braving quick play maps with just the two of us, and sometimes I don’t die! Vermintide 2 is definitely at its best if you can coordinate a full group of four, but playing online with strangers—or just with a team filled out by bots, which is alright too—is a much better experience than I expected it would be. I’d still recommend the game whether you know three other people who want to play with you or not.
The other major reason I’ve developed a lot of affection for Vermintide 2 is the dialogue between the characters, which really stands out from both a writing and voice acting perspective. The developers didn’t have to go this hard for a game that’s not at all story-based, but they did, and I really appreciate them for it. The player characters talk to each other frequently throughout the maps, hinting at interesting lore and bantering about who’s the best at killing Skaven, and it’s all very funny and charming. There are unique voiced lines for all kinds of different scenarios. Once we got comfortable with the first two difficulty levels of “recruit” and “veteran,” we moved onto “champion,” which adds the new challenge of potential friendly fire to ranged attacks—only to discover that the game makes shooting your friends kind of tempting, because the characters will complain about it in a lot of amusing ways that are specific to which other character hit them. You could play more casually and never even hear those lines, but they’re in there to make you laugh once you get far enough to find them. The stand-out performance in my opinion comes from Tim Bentinck, who voices witch hunter Victor Saltzpyre. His voice has such a distinct timbre to it that even short and simple lines like, “It’s nothing. Old memories—that’s all,” have become little group memes that we like to repeat in imitation of him. If I ever get the budget to put professional voice acting in my own games one day, I hope I can make it half as entertaining as Vermintide 2.
However, just like the world-ending cataclysm that looms over the setting of the game, my group and I have started to anticipate the eventual end of our time with Vermintide 2. Some time later this year, the same developers will be releasing Darktide, a follow-up that takes place in the dark science fiction world of Warhammer 40K rather than its variant Warhammer Fantasy. If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you’ll know I’m actually a huge fan of Warhammer 40K, so I was initially looking forward to being able to play a new game that would take some of what I liked from Vermintide 2 and transplant it into one of my favourite settings. But the more that my group and I have started to enjoy Vermintide 2 specifically, the more we’ve started to think about Darktide with bittersweet anticipation that the arrival of something new and exciting might also bring about the death of the multiplayer community we’ve become a small part of. And sure, you can have a chainsword in Darktide . . . and I do spend an absurd amount of my waking hours daydreaming about how incredibly cool chainswords are . . . but I’m going to miss my boy Victor Saltzpyre. My recommendation of Vermintide 2 is therefore one that comes with a warning of a potential expiry date. I’m sure it’s still going to be a great game a year from now, but it might be less popular and less exciting once the new and shiny Darktide arrives.
But if you want to get into Vermintide 2 while the player-base is still active, there’s no better time than right now. There’s a double XP event running until March 14th for the game’s third anniversary, and my partner and I are going ham leveling up as many characters as possible. And even if you read this a bit later and miss out on that, it’s a still a thoroughly enjoyable game full of interesting details in both the mechanics and the lore that will keep you coming back for more. Check it out if you’re interested, and maybe I’ll run into you destroying some Skaven strongholds out there! For the Emperor!