Rather than overhaul gear and crafting systems, Darktide should rip them out
Planned changes sound better, but still tedious and uninteresting
The makers of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide have laid out their plans to improve the co-op shooter's shopping and crafting systems. The gear system changes, due to arrive in the next patch, do sound like improvements to the current state of things. These plans do not sound better than entirely ending the tedious grinds of random rolls and making numbers bigger. Why improve when it would be better to remove?
Darktide is a fun Left 4 Dead-ish cooperative FPS (as our Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review will tell you) with two flaws: 1) not enough levels; 2) a wholly uninteresting grind to get better random rolls of weapons and make numbers bigger. Progress on #1 appears slow, though largely because Fatshark haven't talked much about it so we don't know what's going on. Progress on #2 is frustrating because their plan is to rework it, not remove it.
In a blog post last night, developers Fatshark explained they have been interally playtesting the rest of Darktide's crafting systems (it launched without most) for a while, having finished making their functionality in December. And after playing with them, they "were not happy" releasing them in their current form.
"Throughout the launch period for Darktide, we began to receive feedback from players playing the game in its entirety," Fatshark explain. "One of the loudest feedback points we saw was exposing issues in our acquisition methods for items. We identified that these issues for item acquisition would be further compounded by the Blessing crafting features we had implemented. It would result in a frustrating experience for players. We decided to hold back the additional crafting functionality while we revisit our item acquisition systems to alleviate the would-be strain on the crafting system."
You can read the blog post for full explanations but I'll run through the big points. The main item shop, which sells a small stock of random items that refresh every hour, will "improve the selection of items in the hourly catalogue in both the base item rating range and their potential." You'll also always be able to buy a basic rubbish common version of any weapon type your character has unlocked. You'll now earn a random item after completing every mission, and get fancier rolls for facing tougher challenges. And the contracts which give tokens to spend in Sire Melk's Requisitorium (another item shop) will require less work to complete and offer larger rewards, while the quality of his stock will be improved too.
The post also explains the shape of all the crafting systems, which together will let you boost weapons to higher rarities, randomly reroll perks on gear, break down gear to permanently unlock perks for future crafting, and apply specific unlocked perks to other gear. This still sounds a chore. It all still sounds a chore.
The item shop will still refresh hourly. You will still need to grind contracts for the fancier items in Sire Melk's Requisitorium. You will still need to grind collecting crafting materials. You will still need to do all this for a system of randomised items which have never, ever, not once in my 60-ish hours of play ever offered me interesting decisions to make.
The random perk selections offer small and uninteresting bonuses. The random stats are largely uninteresting, though sometimes very noticeable when a bad roll on one stat makes an otherwise-good item feel horrible. I never agonise over which weapon I should pick. I never feel like a roll opens new tactical possibilities. Some rolls are good and some are bad and most are, like, fine. It's boring busywork. I don't think these systems are redeemable.
Focus on overhauling and expanding these systems feels like missing the forest for the trees: the whole idea of number-embiggening and gear-grinding in a game like this sucks, and Darktide would be better off without it. Rip it out.
You cannot ignore all this junk and just play Darktide. Refusing to engage with the grind and guff will leave you undergeared to tackle the mid-to-high difficulty levels, which I find far more interesting. I am reminded of the frustration I faced in Destiny 2, needing to grind to play its most satisfying challenges, like Grandmaster Nightfalls. A fantastic FPS ruined by a rubbish MMO. I eventually stopped playing Destiny, and I've barely played Darktide since December.
Or if you're geared and levelled but your friends aren't, playing Darktide together feels weird. While they fight for their lives with bland weapons, I can tear through hordes like tissue paper. Sometimes I hang back so they can face a satisfying challenge, and I only swoop in raining bolter fire if the mission falls into jeopardy. That feels unfun and a bit patronising, like I'm an uncle who tries to play football on the level of his nieces and nephews but cannot resist punting it between the jumpers from across the garden when he wants to declare victory then retire in glory to the patio with a tinny and a scotch egg.
The presence of this junk misdirects your attention too. Big numbers and special colours and artificial scarcity and hourly refreshes and multiple crafting systems make it feel important, like something you should pay attention to, and should want to pay attention to. At the very least, it suggests this should feel rewarding. I fell for this at first, or was curious to explore the systems. Then the more I played, the more rolls I saw, the more high-level loot I found, the less I cared about any of it. It's a waste of my time, expressly designed to waste my time.
Darktide's loot grind is a manifestation of a terrible desire some modern multiplayer games have: to monopolise your gaming time. Too few games are willing to be things you play, enjoy, then put down until you're in the mood again or a new update or expansion arrives with exciting new things to check out. These exhausting games want you to keep running dailies and weeklies and grinding and unlocking items and levelling up your characters and levelling up your battle pass and hey, while you're here, doesn't this £9 skin look cool? These treadmills can create the illusion of satisfaction but ultimately they are hollow and disappointing. It is unpleasant to pay money for games which echo some behaviours of grody free-to-play games because they're ravenous for my attention, and maybe my pocket money too.
I know such treadmills are sometimes partially intended to occupy those vocal players who always expect more from a game, but their appetites can be vast and chores offers little sustenance. Games are made worse by it and few players feel contented with it.
The worst part is that Darktide is really fun beneath this! As I've said before, at heart it's a weird and shouty and mucky Left 4 Dead which embraces the spectacle and silliness of Warhammer 40K's grimdark future. I might happily play Darktide on and off with pals for yonks if only it weren't trying to force us to do chores and homework.