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Warhammer 40K: Darktide review: brilliantly grisly co-op

Big up telekinetic space witch Barbara

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is not for the squeamish. Fatshark’s spiritual follow-up to Vermintide and Vermintide 2 is ferocious, violent, and involves a whole lotta gore. It’s a grisly co-op multiplayer where instead of brawling your way through torrents of gross rat humanoids, you and your rag-tag team are now up against hordes of scabby zombies all in favour of a Imperial fascist overlord.

Several of the RPS Treehouse folk have jumped into the fray, carving their way through Darktide’s industrial world of Gothic factories and towering cathedrals. The verdict? Uninspiring progression systems and short, repetitive missions aside, Darktide still remains a bone-crunching gorefest best enjoyed with pals. Preferably ones with strong stomachs.

Cover image for YouTube videoWarhammer 40,000: Darktide - Launch Trailer

James: I was actually braced to bounce off this, in the same way I bounced off Vermintide 2 and its monotonously melee-focused ratman slaughter. Nope – I’m 22 hours in and not even close to abandoning interest in my greasy crew of Imperial screwups. I think it might be because Darktide strikes a finer balance of slicing and shooting? Like there’s more of a dynamism to horde fights when you’re switching between the two. It rarely feels like I’m just swing, swing, swinging, unless I have a new Power Sword I want to try out.

Alice0: Who’s your main herbert? I adore my big Ogryn lad from Yorkshire whose greatest hope is that he’ll do murder well enough to earn an extra-big dinner when he gets home. And whose chunky grenade launcher fires such big grenades that enemies die simply from the impact of getting clunked in the face, let alone the explosion which will clear up their pals after donking off their forehead.

James: Wonder if he’s related to my own Yorkshire Ogryn. But my primary lad is a permanently bemused, if hardly shouting-averse Veteran Sharpshooter. The least mechanically interesting class in the game? Perhaps. But you can give him a Boltgun, the most mechanically devastating firearm in the game. It looks, feels and sounds like a WW2 railway gun, and the only thing I don’t like about it is that better versions so rarely pop up in the randomised loot shop.

(Some cracking British and Irish accents in this, by the way. Shout out to the merchant lady from Space Bristol.)

Alice0: By the Emperor, that boltgun! In a game full of chunky, finicky weapons which ooze personality with every rattle and jump, the boltgun truly is a wonder. I, too, wish I had a good one for my own Veteran Sharpshooter. I, too, don't have one because the game's loot system is time-padding garbage.

Fighting a giant Plague Ogryn in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.

Ed: Just popping in to say that I'm playing as a Psyker-person called Barbara who's like this telekinetic witch. I thought she'd be quite cool, but it turns out that she can only pop one head every two seconds? I do like my hefty laser pistol, though. Cor, the zing of it. I'm just hoping that my dear Barbara will like, develop the ability to pop several heads at once? To be honest, I feel like powering up is quite a slow affair, or maybe there's a menu I haven't discovered yet.

"Fatshark have absolutely nailed Grim-Space-Britain in a way few other 40K bits have managed over the years."

Alice0: Good news, Ed: your wizard can indeed learn get new magic spells if you level up to unlock new magic wands, and then get lucky enough with the random shop to find them, and get lucky enough with the random stats to find one which actually feels good to use. Fun magic flamethrowers and magic lightning and magic explosions, all waiting for you to level up then get lucky. Heaven forbid you enjoy being a wizard from the start.

James: The Horus Heresy? More like the Ed ‘Eresy. But nah the mess of stats and RNG is a bummer. Especially since it all seems so unnecessary? I feel like I could have an equally good time if I just had one, completely stock Bolter.

Ed: I'm very happy to hear that I'll need to draw on the magic of luck in order to up my magic (I am not happy, this was a joke). But class aside, I do adore wildly slashing packs of feral bog-men down with all the gnarly clunks and chunks that come with it. And yeah, it's a shame that rewards for good bashing are mired in numbers. I find it very difficult to tell the difference between a bolt gun that is level 137 and another that is level 145. I know that there's some brilliant guns on offer, but man, surely there's a better showcase than a percentile yawn?

Alice0: I don't want to get lost in the grumbling just yet (though I have grumbled plenty) so: it is some lovely Left 40K Dead beneath all that though, isn't it? Quite transparently L4D, but wonderful. What if Left 4 Dead was set in the weird future of humanity where we're trapped in eternal war with aliens and demons and barely holding on inside a fascist regime which worships a man who was quite adamant that he was not a god? Well, you'd have a grand old time creeping through towering Gothic factories and bursting heretics with your pals.

Admiring a grand view in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.
A group of zombies getting pulverised in a gothic cathedral in Warhammer 20k: Darktide
Cutting through hordes in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.

Liam: As someone who has always coveted Warhammer figurines from afar, I must admit that I’m thoroughly enjoying wandering through Darktide’s various Cyber Cathedrals and pointing at all its crumbling statues of blokes in cloaks. Fatshark have absolutely nailed Grim-Space-Britain in a way few other 40K bits have managed over the years.

Alice0: I laughed aloud the first time I saw the radio which is just a boombox with a human skull jammed in.

Liam: The use of skulls is so good! I am absolutely convinced that if I lived in the 40K universe, I’d immediately be stuffed full of wires and popped into a big metal bin to live out the rest of my days healing the cast of Darktide as they potter about doing their various tasks such as shooting dudes and carrying containers down corridors.

Ed: I think Darktide has some of the best grates in games. Lovely grates. Lovely sheets of metal too. Good patina, is that what they say in blacksmithing school? A class act.

Liam: It’s an extremely good looking game, which is a good thing considering you spend so much of your time wandering through the same locations…

Can we grumble now, Alice?

Alice0: Hey it's your execution, heretic.

Liam: I think I’m a little cooler on this one compared to you and James. It’s a solid Left 4 Dead-like, but one that fails to reach the highs of Valve’s zombie shootin’ classic. Ignoring the loot system and the in-game store that sells dusty body armour for real world cash, I think the biggest flaw of Darktide is its mission design. It’s extremely repetitive and I never quite felt like it gave me a huge amount of time to actually get stuck into an activity. Assassinating a big lad after he steps off a train is exciting! But it’s over and done with before you know it. Did anyone else feel the same, or have I succumbed to the chaos?

A weird cyborg healing station in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.

Ed: Let me in on the execution too, as I'm also not as hot on the game as I'd have liked. I don't know what I expected, but I hoped that it might've built on Left 4 Dead in some way, or at least games of that ilk. That's not to say it hasn't in some big ways, but if you're after much, much more than chopping board levels filled with demonic folks to slice and dice, then you might be a touch disappointed. Maybe I've gone too hard there, or maybe I'm being a massive diva - or both.

James: I see Liam’s point about samey missions; maybe I’m just so into the tactile pleasures of horde killin’ that I have a higher tolerance for repeating the formula. Again, much more so than I did with Vermintide. But I will not hear one bad word about that particular boss fight, partly because it’s accompanied by the best track in a stormingly, stompingly good OST.

"A single mission is too short for a satisfying play session with pals, and getting kicked back to the hub after each to find a new mission means a longer session isn't as satisfying as a single Left 4 Dead chapter."

Liam: The soundtrack is a strong contender for the best of the year, to be honest. It’s a body bag full of bangers.

Alice0: It's not divided into good portions, is it. A single mission is too short for a satisfying play session with pals, and getting kicked back to the hub after each to find a new mission means a longer session isn't as satisfying as a single Left 4 Dead chapter. Especially if you let matchmaking pick the map and it sends you back into one you just did.

See, I was happy to play the same handful of Left 4 Dead (and L4D2) campaigns over and over. It was a beautiful blank slate for ultraviolence and chat with my pals. Maybe Darktide is too involved. It doesn't flow as effortlessly when you're repeating the same few 'wait here and shoot them’ and ‘time for the TV remote minigame’ or 'now fight the big one' objectives. Maybe having to do something specific and uninteresting over and over is worse than doing nothing in particular over and over. Too much video game in this video game.

Liam: Yes! That’s precisely what’s leaving me cold, I think! Left 4 Dead is a simpler game in comparison, but you can fill that void with your own fun! Back 4 Blood had a similar issue to Darktide. Not enough confidence to leave some corners empty, maybe.

Selecting a mission in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.
A fleshy wall of eyes peers out of a sewer wall in Warhammer 40k: Darktide
A misfit squad stride out in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.

James: Perhaps a different class, Ed? I loved both Left 4 Deads but I don’t know how much I could replay them now, with their zero functional distinctions between characters and their completely straightforward weapon designs. I see Darktide as almost more like a Deep Rock Galactic without the dwarves: each mission can feel fresher because you can wield a dramatically different toolkit per run. And have a fun new accent.

Ed: Yeah, maybe I do just need to switch away from Barbara and become an absolute tank of a Yorkshireman. I think this would vastly improve my enjoyment of, well, everything. Although I do want to become an uber-powerful wizard. Gah.

"On high difficulty, class roles and weapon choices form a complex interdependent mechanism."

Alice0: Has anyone ventured deep into the higher difficulty levels much yet? I have cautiously dipped my hairy toe in, and enjoyed being megamurdered. The amount of caution, teamplay, responsibility, and trust needed is quite satisfying. On lower levels, different classes and weapons are functionally some interesting and colourful choices of different artwork and noises for doing murder. On high difficulty, class roles and weapon choices form a complex interdependent mechanism. It's quite good. You'll want to level and gear up for the higher levels, mind, which means engaging with all that.

James: I’m currently only a level three difficulty baby (five is the max), so will have to see. I will say that I hoped team composition would be a more important factor than it is at lower difficulties – I’m always a bit embarrassed when I form 25% of an all-Veteran team. On that note, why can I only change classes before I see who my matchmade squadmates will be? That’s no good. I need my comp data, Fatshark.

Alice0: Not to be a grass but: Liam, you told me last week that you liked the equipment stuff. Explain.

Liam: Well that’s kind of the most damning thing I can say about the equipment system. Even I, someone who likes to play skinner boxes because it feels good when the numbers go up, thinks Darktide’s loot system is a bit much.

Burly men raise weaponry in a dark corridor in Warhammer 40K: Darktide.

James: Nope, too late Liam, you evidently said you liked it and that Darktide is great and you agree with Alice and I that it’s ace. Ed is also here. Actually, Ed, why don’t you start playing us out by giving us your favourite mad witch voice line?

Ed: There's some fun interactions between all of the characters, with the Sharpshooter saying something like, "I do not know what to make of our Tech-Priest," to which Barbara replies, "Does her genius intimidate you, perhaps?" delivered in this thick German accent. It's proper sassy and I love it. What rounds it off nicely is when there's an Ogryn who says, "Stop talking now," with the energy of a tired infant. Some great bants all round, I'd say.

James: Sometimes bants are all we have. Mine has a few variants that pop when my Sharpshooter spots certain special enemies – he’ll forget the Latin-tinged codenames that Imperial Guardsmen are supposed to learn for these foul traitors and belt out a version of “Traxis…something…something… kill it”. As someone who forgets names and faces almost instantly upon turning away from them, I empathise.

Alice0: Let’s scarper and get some scran before the Tech-Priest repurposes Liam’s skull for a camcorder. I’ve been stockpiling the extra rations I earned by being the best boy. Swap you rations for a good bolter roll.

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