Vermintide 2 is grimdark ultraviolence at a spectacular scale

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We’re planning on a full review next week, but seeing as the weekend, and with it the tortured paralysis of what to play, looms so close, I thought I’d share some initial thoughts on the newly-released, Warhammer vs Left 4 Dead rat-splatting sequel Vermintide 2. In short: it’s the same co-op survival formula, but now writ very, very large and very, very bloody.

The biggest change to this first-person co-op survival action boogaloo is that, where the first Vermintide could feel overly-murky and sometimes claustrophobic, the sequel often lifts the roof off. There’s still no shortage of blood-red Skaven eyes glinting from dark corners, but there’s also an awful lot of daylight, and with some spectacular backdrops, like these Misty Mountains-alike:

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The actual space you get to run around in probably isn’t any bigger than V1’s, and there’s still a vaguely irksome element of having to discern a very particular door or set of stairs from the mountains of viscera and gothic rubble in order to progress. Nonetheless, this sense of a vast world wrapped around you makes a surprising amount of difference.

The abandoned fortress-themed map I’ve spent most of my time in also evokes Dark Souls’ architecture quite strongly, with its long rampart runs and oppressively towering walls. I’ve already suffered at least one death because I was too busy looking around admiringly. You definitely don’t need to be a Warhammer gonk to appreciate it: it’s simply some top-notch dark fantasy set-dressing in its own right.

The scale of battle also feels amplified, not least because we’ve now got Chaos in the mix as well as the Skaven, the ratman cover stars. This means there’s simply more big guys on the field, a greater sense of visual threat as well as variety. I really noticed the sound design too, the furore of combat and the gruesome sounds of rending flesh. Vermintide II, despite its heavy debt to Left 4 Dead, is primarily a melee game, and the sequel amps up that sense of being walled-in by ‘orrible beasts and having to physically carve yourself an escape route. It’s gruesome to behold, but the sound really ramps up the ick factor. Good work, say I.

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Where the sound doesn’t work so well for me is the continued semi-story of Verminitide’s various hero characters, who return to offer a steady but rather banal stream of toothless bickering and stiff-upper-lip arrogance.

Character depth has rarely been a hallmark of Warhammer’s wild excess, of course, but the trouble here, as with the first game, is that sneaking suspicion that it thinks it’s got the combined force of personality of Tom Baker and Brian Blessed. It’s serviceable, and we’re certainly not talking David Beckham bad here, but the necessary alchemy of writing and acting required to really pull off a game quite this character-led doesn’t quite come to pass.

But clearly the true star of the show is the co-operative combat against remarkably relentless monstro-hordes, and I’m glad to say that Verminitide II feels very, very good in the hand in that regard. The distinct but complementary skill sets for each of the characters means it never feels like just four soldiers soldiering, and the intensity of some of the setpiece fights is such that you, as much as your character, will really feel the need for a moment to recover afterwards.

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I do have some concerns about longevity, about how this is going to feel once I’ve gawped at every titanic sight and faced down every mega-monster, once going through the same doors and standing on the same pulley-powered elevators feels too familiar. There’s a fairly fulsome reward system in there – presented, inevitably, as boxes full of mystery loot – designed to overcome that with a drip-drip-drip of new goodies, while levelling up gains you access to new versions of the characters with new abilities.

So yeah, I’ll be back for more without a doubt, but I don’t know if I’ll still be saying that a fortnight from now. All being well, I’ll give a better sense of that mid-way through next week.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is out now.

22 Comments

  1. mcnostril says:

    Hopefully you touch on the technical side of things in the review, but it’s a little odd that most Vermintide 2 articles around don’t mention the stupidly broken HDR settings (which can’t be turned off).
    The game seems to adjust the lighting exposure based on the cursor position, which results in very distracting constant large shifts in exposure.
    Here’s one a gif from the beta:
    link to giant.gfycat.com
    They’ve toned it down a bit since so it doesn’t go pitch black anymore, but it’s still very jarring (especially if you use certain weapons).

    • haldolium says:

      Its not “HDR”

      The eye adapation is broken. And that is mainly because of the broken SSAO option which makes it horrible on “Ultra”. The (bad) shadowing that SSAO creates and constantly changes are very influencing on the eye adaption.

      Dirty workaround: set SSAO to “medium” (high is just terribly ugly) and turn gamma up to somewhere between 2.6 and 3. That should improve this issue massively on the cost of some image quality.

      Maybe turning it off and use external solutions yield even better results.

  2. Imperialist says:

    Ok, i gotta butt in for this comment alone.
    “Character depth has rarely been a hallmark of Warhammer’s wild excess, of course, but the trouble here, as with the first game, is that sneaking suspicion that it thinks it’s got the combined force of personality of Tom Baker and Brian Blessed.” One, that Warhammer is host to quite a few really well written characters (and stories) that are, admittedly hard to discern from an Outsider’s glance (all that Eternal War and Bolter Porn tends to hog the spotlight).Regardless, i found VT’s characters to have alot of chemistry, and have some pretty memorable lines. The problem is they say them…too much.

    And Two, the combined personality of Tom Baker and Brian Blessed? Thats…something i never knew i wanted so badly in my life.

    The game is quite good, and despite my LOVING the first, the second has outdone it in literally every single manner possible, without reinventing the wheel.

  3. Jaykera says:

    I liked the gameplay of the 1st one but there are a few things that I couldn’t stand :

    Since it’s a loot based game, players would exploit bugs to cheese combats (magnus horn) again and again. I’ve been kicked from games because I refused to exploit bugs. At some point it was even hard to find a game other that magnus horn.

    I despise the “difficulty on the fly” system with the tomes. You would always have a super hero picking tomes when you were already in difficulty, then wipe, then loosing all reward after 30 minutes of play. (which would not be a big deal if this game wasn’t based on loot) Is that present in the sequel ?

    • The K says:

      Bad news first: Grimoires have returned, and its exactly as you say..some random schmuck always takes them when you are already in dire straits.

      Good news: I DESPISED the Magnus Horn map for that exact reason, which is why i love one particular change: There is an option for “Quick Play” that takes you to a random map and gives vastly better rewards than selecting a singular map, so everybody does Quick Play, thus ensuring a nice map variety.

      • DeepFried says:

        The spamming of particular maps for loot efficiency in VT1 was largely fixed later on with the contracts and quests mechanics. That effectively made all of the maps relevant, and was something the game desperately needed.

        Unfortunately VT1 released in a very rough state with some significant flaws and a lot of people judged it in that state and moved on. It did get substantially better later on as they updated it regularly and effectively kept developing it with new mechanics and balance changes etc.

    • Pohjanmaalainen says:

      Loot system is light years ahead of the first game. And as the new loot system is basically loot boxes, that tells very, very much about how sucky the original loot system was.

      You get loot boxes from gaining levels to your characters and completing missions. Each box gives 3 items depending on the quality of the box. Boxes from gaining levels always give high quality items and boxes from missions have several tiers based on amount of tomes, grimoires and loot dice picked up in the play and a random modifier. The difficulty in which the box was gained also affects the quality of loot.

      Beside the old tier system of quality for items (white-green-blue-orange-red) there is also this new hero power stat for them, which affects your overall hero power that in turn is a multiplier for damage, stagger and stuff. Boxes from 2 of the easiest difficulties are locked to 100 and 200 hero power respectively, while other boxes can drop the maximum 300.

      The grind element of the game is raising your hero power limit to the maximum. You start with items dropping with hero power of 5 +/- 10(?), but each time you open a box, it rises by some small number (1, I think). Eventually you will get items of 300 +/- 10 hero power, where numbers higher than 300 will be just 300. Hero power limit of items will not rise above 100 from opening boxes gained from recruit (easiest) difficulty, for example, so there is an insensitive to move to higher difficulties eventually. Difficulty level also limits the actual hero power used in the game in easier difficulties; any hero power multiplier being 200 at the most in recruit.

      Loot boxes will also give items only to the character which you have selected when opening them. This allows playing elf, for example, and then switching to with hunter for sole purpose of opening the boxes, ie. you can select which character gets new items, that character doesn’t have to get those items him or herself and even level 1 character can get 300 hero power items without going to champion difficulty being called names by “better” players.

      Also, playing a random map (quick play) gives you a 50% of a box tier upgrade on a successful run, which is an insensitive to play random maps.

    • DeepFried says:

      I have about 400hrs in VT1 and I can’t think off the top of my head what bug exploits you could be talking about. Perhaps you only played an early version of the game? there was significant development for years after release, greatly improving stability and reducing bugs. VT1 at release cannot be compared to VT1 as it stands now.

      Speaking personally I quite liked the tomes and grims mechanic, but i think your problem, rather than being specifically with that mechanic may just be with the nature of random queue coop play. Always queue with at least one friend, coop with randoms isn’t nearly as fun and can often be frustrating.

      • grizzledgamer says:

        I think he’s talking about the spot in the horn room where you can get to under the platform into the wooden frame. If you went under there the skaven couldn’t get to you. Pretty cheesy. If I’m not mistaken, they did finally fix that.

        • DeepFried says:

          I don’t think I started playing the game until long after that was fixed, I never encountered it. Frankly the ending with the horn is one of the easier map endings anyway, not sure why anyone would need an exploit, just get your teams backs to a wall and stay there.

          But yeah, VT1 improved dramatically over time, so I can’t really comment on the buggy mess that the game launched as, its not even really the same game. The DLC added a huge amount, and as I said above, the contracts and quests mechanic more or less fixed the loot problems and map spamming issues.

      • Jaykera says:

        That’s the spot I had in mind indeed. I played the game at launch and I was done with the game before it was fixed. It took weeks at least.

        About your advise to basically play with friends, I have a very personal principle that if the game is not fun with randoms then it’s not a good game. Anything is fun with friends. I could sit in a couch watching ads with friends and have a good time.

        • DeepFried says:

          Thats fair enough, and i’ve had some great times with vermintide with randoms. Its not that you _have_ to queue with someone for the game to be fun, what i’m saying is if you find the difficulty spike that can come from playing with randoms who don’t know what they’re doing frustrating, then the simple solution is queue with someone.

          Personally I actually quite enjoy carrying noobs, its like a handicap that adds extra challenge. And then there are the rare occasions where you get a group together that does know what its doing, and that is wonderful in itself.

          • vahnn says:

            I have the opposite problem. I love playing games with my friends, but they’re all… let’s say “less than proficient” at the games we play together.

            When I want to Get Things Done, I queue with randoms.

      • Astrophizz says:

        I played with some friends starting some time after launch and through the second to the last set of levels released. One big exploit I remember was the ability to jump up the geometry of a wall in the final area of Cursed Rune, which lets you entirely skip the big fight triggered when you place the keystone. I don’t believe it was ever fixed and I think it and other exploits were a big reason one of my friends – who was our most active member – stopped playing. Playing an exploitable level with just one friend isn’t enough as your random 3rd can refuse to participate in a skippable sequence.

  4. DeepFried says:

    “concerns about longevity”, thats an odd statement to make about a vermintide game. Admittedly I haven’t played VT2, but VT1 had a huge skill ceiling that ramped up with the difficulty levels. The characters also played very differently, and even the individual weapon types took dozens of hours to master.

    There was a large contingent of the VT1 player base with hundreds or even thousands of hours of gameplay.

  5. DeepFried says:

    What I would personally like to see changed in VT2 are the controls from VT1. The controls were extremely unergonomic, from having to click repeatedly for weapon swings rather than holding the button, to having to hold a mouse button for extended periods to block, and having some weapons that required several mouse buttons to use.
    All of that added up to RSI hell for anyone prone to carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome – especially as its a horde mode style game which means you’re basically always in heavy combat.

  6. Stevostin says:

    To me the fist game was finished in name only. The released version was a cheesy beta at best. Couldn’t make one game without flying skavens, teleporting skavent, various ridiculous clipping etc. Even when working as supposed to the Skavens would pop up sharing way too much of the same place, playing ridiculously similar animation from start to end no matter what. I lacked any of the physicality I expect from any melee game. The simple fact that players have no ability to block each others strikes me as a huge design flaw.

    From what I’ve seen VT2 is more of the same. I should be a sucker for this but… thanks but no thanks.

  7. Hyena Grin says:

    I’ve been enjoying it immensely. I got.. pretty far? With the first game? Not right to the end in terms of difficulty levels, but I had played most of the content, done a lot of up to Nightmare. It always felt like it could’ve done more, but the bones of a good game were there. Just needed more meat on them bones.

    Vermintide 2 is exactly that; the same bones that form the framework of a good and entertaining gameplay loop, with more content, more variety, more polish, better audio/visuals, and a lot of the annoying bits snipped off or replaced with something less obnoxious. It feels better to play in basically every way.

    It feels like the game Vermintide 1 could have been with more time, resources, and love. It’d be easy to say that this is ‘more of the same’ but I guess you could say that about most sequels. They genuinely did add enough content to make it not feel like just an upgrade patch with new levels. The number of enemy types has grown exponentially; they could have just thrown in some Chaos equivalents of the Skaven units, but they didn’t. There’s a lot of new Skaven units, more ‘elite’ units (as opposed to specials), and four ‘boss’ units where there once was only the Rat Ogre.

    So they didn’t skimp. There’s a lot of love and effort here and I’m appreciating it.

  8. MushyWaffle says:

    it’s fun, till I realize how much of a grind it is. First, I don’t mind grinding. But the difference between completing the level and not is major. Maybe it should be that way, however, out of 10 matches with Rando’s, only a single level was completed. The other 9 times you get either nothing or a paltry 100-300 exp depending on what was done. Since there are no “checkpoints”, the levels are an all or nothing thing. What this means is I played for several hours without earning squat because we could never finish a level. I tried with different teams, still same thing.

    There seems to be 2 types of people. First are your mad rushers who want to run from A to B as fast as possible and basically avoid fighting as much as possible. The second, are the people that want to explore and stick together and help one another. The mad rusher people drive me nuts.

    I would say the vast majority of the times we didn’t finish the levels is because people weren’t sticking together. There was virtually no communication. In fact I often thought nobody had mic’s or the chat was broken, till the end of a level someone says something. I was like, WTF weren’t you communicating if you have a mic. So this throws me back to comparing this to FPS shooters where you are a team of individuals… THIS game requires teamwork, without it, it’s just wasting time.

    • DeepFried says:

      If my experience from VT1 holds true then the lack of teamwork is largely a feature of the lower difficulty levels and newer players. Don’t get me wrong you do get poor teamwork at higher difficulties too, but its more the exception than the rule. Plus, you will be able to carry and compensate for poor team mates much more as you get better.

      Personally the ‘grinding’ analysis doesn’t really hold true, if you don’t enjoy the basic game loop of running the maps, then don’t expect the loot and experience rewards to make it fun. The loot and progression should just be the icing on the cake, not the main point.

      As for people not using mics, you will find that a lot of players the queue up in pairs or 3’s will be using discord outside the game.

  9. dorobo says:

    For me the L4D comparisson without there being a VERSUS mode just doesn’t hold up )

    • DeepFried says:

      Its a lazy analysis, they’re basically in the same genre but thats where the comparison should end. I suspect it doesn’t because before now there haven’t really been any other games in this genre. There are horde mode games like payday and killing floor, by they’re not generally a linear run through of a level like L4D and vermintide, they’re mostly about holding a position.