Review: Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Has Fantastic Combat, but Suffers from a Rough Launch
Before I start, I should mention that I love 4 player, Left 4 Dead style co-op games. I get together multiple times a week with different groups of friends and play games like Deep Rock Galactic and Warhammer: Vermintide 2. Needless to say, my group and I have been excited for the release of Darktide, and now that it’s finally here and I spent a good amount of time with it (nearly 100 hours by the time of this writing) I have a few things to say about it.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide (or just Darktide) is a first person game with an emphasis on cooperation. It’s reminiscent of developer Fatshark’s previous two Warhammer games, except this time it’s set in the grim dark future of the 40K universe. In it, you play as a “reject” on the Hive City of Tertium, on the world Atoma Prime. The forces of Chaos have rooted themselves deep, and it’s up to you (and three of your friends) to work your way through various objectives, defeating hordes of enemies as you go. While Darktide uses a lot of the Left 4 Dead formula, it seems to have copied some of its ideas from Deep Rock Galactic, for better and for worse. But the biggest issue plaguing Darktide is the fact that it’s just obviously not finished.
Before I dive into the bad, I want to emphasize the good: the combat is phenomenal. That isn’t much of a surprise, since Vermintide 2 is a game I consider the gold standard for first person melee combat—and the shooting felt pretty damn good, too. It’s strange, then, that Darktide feels just slightly different than Vermintide 2. Its melee is phenomenal, but those hoping for a 1:1 translation from Vermintide 2 might be disappointed. But that makes sense, since Darktide has a much higher emphasis on ranged encounters. Combat in Darktide still feels fantastic from the melee to the shooting—just a little different than Vermintide 2.
The enemies in Darktide are also great. You don’t have the variety between the three different factions like in Vermintide 2, but variety of specials in Darktide is great. You have your usual gamut of special enemy archetypes—like the one that jumps and pins you, or the big one that tosses you around, etc. There are “monstrosities” that act as boss (or mini-boss) monsters and even an enemy type that (sort of) mimics the behavior of the Left 4 Dead witch—you can avoid it, but if you accidentally (or intentionally) startle it, it could easily cause a wipe under the right circumstances. There are enemy types that resemble those from Vermintide 2, like the Tox Flamer and Gunner, but with slightly different behaviors. The Gunners, for instance, are sometimes embedded along with other ranged enemies, and will do their best to get into cover and avoid confrontation until they have a chance to shoot from a distance.
I’ve seen some that don’t like the added ranged element to Darktide, but not only does it fit the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Fatshark really did a good job of making these weapons fun to shoot. Ranged enemies are something that haven’t really been at the forefront of a Left 4 Dead style game like they are in Darktide. Ranged enemies can add an extra layer of danger to every encounter, especially if you’re trying to make your way across an open area or are getting attacked by a horde while trying to kill ranged aggressors.
Darktide not only excels in combat, but it does a fantastic job with sounds and world design. I’ve never played a 40K game that made the universe feel so real. Punctuating this is an amazing soundtrack by Jesper Kyd who previously did the soundtrack for Vermintide 2 among other games.
Not only are the environments amazingly detailed and sufficiently grim dark, the level designs are also fantastic. Darktide encourages exploration through its placing upgrade materials through the levels but the level design encourages teams to break off and regroup when paths meet back up.
While Darktide does take a lot from Fatshark’s previous games, there is also a bit of Deep Rock Galactic thrown into the mix, especially when it comes to mission availability—and this is where Fatshark made some questionable decisions. Not all missions are always available; instead they rotate randomly. This makes finding specific missions for challenges (like weekly contracts and penances) frustrating. What’s worse, is that you can’t choose the difficulty level for the mission, instead, it’s already assigned to that mission when it pops up.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many different ways to play on release. There are only four classes available and no clear picture of when more will be available. And if they release each class one at a time, you’ll have deal with the inevitable surge of people wanting to play the new class throughout the game’s lifetime. The classes also feel pretty same-y, but that could be because there are no designated roles to fill beyond the Ogryn which is great at carrying heavy objects. I would like to see more variety in classes going forward—and some new classes sooner than later.
Progression can also feel a bit uneven. Currently, as you level up you unlock new skills every five levels. But the real draw is getting your hands on different 40K weaponry, which is locked behind an RNG gate: there’s a timed shop that rotates items out every hour. There are more than one way to obtain weapons, however, as there is a chance upon mission completion to grant weapons, and weekly challenges bestow a unique currency that can be used to buy new weapons, or to gamble at a chance to get a weapon you want. Still, having every option of obtaining weapons through some sort of RNG feels annoying, especially with most crafting features being unavailable at launch.
There have been some rumblings online about Fatshark’s decision to include a cash shop at launch, even despite crafting not being complete. While I agree to this in principle, it appears as though the real money shop isn’t even complete as of this review. And as long as the shop only offers cosmetic upgrades, as it did in Vermintide 2, I have no problem with it. I would like the option to buy the items straight without having to deal with a premium currency, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.
I know Warhammer 40,000: Darktide will be the game everyone wanted it to be at release—eventually. In the meantime, I’ll probably keep playing because of its absolutely fantastic combat mechanics. I trust Fatshark to fix the problems with the launch—but I expect it to be a year or more before everything is where it should be. For now, Darktide is a fun and beautiful mess of a game that I hope will get its shit together.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is available now on Steam.
Steam keys were provided to us for this review