Playing the Warhammer Darktide closed beta in October 2022 left me speechless. It had me thinking for a moment that finally, a game was coming that would save the boring, meager year – that I had a game that I would spend weeks or even months with. Later, there was the pre-order beta, where we were given even more content – my partner and I had a great time, our characters reached the level cap (30) and we generally couldn't wait for the real premiere, which would allow us to further develop them, learn about the story, lore, and simply keep having fun. And then came November 30th, the game released, and it turned out that there was basically no new content and we had actually completed Darktide a week earlier.
The most beautiful Warhammer 40k you'll ever play
But let's start from the beginning. Slowly. The above headline is true – Darktide, even in its "incomplete" form, is an excellent game. The creators of Vermintide 2 have outdone themselves, creating a beautiful world, truly masterful in artistic terms, sonically captivating. If you can manage to launch Darktide (which still isn't granted for some), you'll discover some incredibly designed, breathtaking maps. Art-wise, these are the most beautiful locations I've seen in 2022. And perhaps in an even longer time. When I saw maps like Chasm Terminus or Torrent, I just stuck around like an idiot (putting the whole team at risk) just to admire the view. The architecture, art style, atmosphere, lights, fog and smoke are all combined to create the most expressive Warhammer 40k world you've ever seen. Filthy, flooded sewers, shantytowns, pipes, musty alleys, train stations, huge yards of idle Leman Russ tanks, finally the imposing cathedrals bearing the Imperial flags flying... and the insignia of Chaos scrawled with blood or something equally disgusting. Warhammer fans will be licking these walls to inspect every little detail, because the developers have soared the heights of creativity. And those, who don't know Warhammer will still be enchanted, admiring the detailed skyboxes, strange machines and buildings high above their heads.
- amazing artistic direction, architecture of locations;
- lighting, smoke, fog, volumetric fx create a great atmosphere;
- Warhammer 40k looking as it should;
- excellent soundtrack and sound design of the game;
- engaging, brutal combat;
- great foundation for future development of the game.
- no endgame content;
- no story;
- no lore;
- empty and non-functional hub;
- bugs, crashes;
- system requirements and performance issues.
Then I saw The Hourglass map and decided that the rest doesn't matter anymore – THIS was the most beautiful map in the game – much less corridor than the previous ones, taking us from the darkness of sewers and musty cities to sunny skies. Again, I took breaks from combat to explore, take screenshots, and make inarticulate sounds of admiration. And then... then I saw Throneside, the Warhammer's version of London. And, well, I don't know what limits the creativity of people from Fatshark anymore, because this is one of the most beautiful cities I've visited in my whole gaming life. The Warhammer gothic in Throneside resembles a strange marriage of Bloodborne with Wolfenstein. And it's this map that contains statues of Astartes, Space Marines, hidden in one of the temples.
The best soundtrack this year
A separate paragraph has to be devoted to the music. The score was done by none other than Jesper Kyd (also known from Assassin's Creed series, as well as Vermintide 2) and what the composer achieved seem to elude human comprehension. It was surely the Emperor himself who'd inspired Kyd to write one of the most captivating gaming music scores ever. From choral gothic chants to fast-paced, addictive techno beats, Kyd captures the eclectic spirit of Warhammer 40k like none other. For me, this is the best score of the year, which is saying a lot, because the competition was fierce, as this year we were also blessed by Olivier Deliviere with an excellent soundtrack to A Plague Tale: Requiem, and possibly one of the best soundtracks in the whole history of games. I still have to think about it, but this may even be the best score to a video game ever?
Chopping, slicing and dicing to Kyd's beats elevates Darktide to a whole new level of quality – you'll be impressed, delighted, smitten, and more than once in the middle of a fight, you might catch yourself thinking "By the emperor! Is this really happening?"
Vermintide 2 on steroids
The gameplay doesn't differ dramatically from what we know from the studio's previous hit. It's still a 4-player co-op, where we get to a map and fight our way through hordes of enemies (in this part, these will be the followers of the god of Chaos, Nurgle) to perform some task – fix something, eliminate someone, deliver an item, but most of all – survive. If you've played Vermintide or at least L4D, Back4Blood or Deep Rock Galactic, you'll find your way around this game quickly.
The creators gave us 4 classes to choose from – Veteran: Sharpshooter, Zealot: Preacher, Psyker: Psykinetic and Ogryn: Skullbreaker. Each of these classes has its own skills, strengths and weaknesses, and dedicated weapons. And for example, playing a psyker, you'll be blowing up the opponents' heads (great for boss fights), but at the same time depending on your teammates to cover you. Playing as the mighty and endearingly goofy Ogryn, you'll be fighting on the front lines. Zealot is great with melee weapons – including the famous chainswords. Veteran is a man for special tasks – he can draw the attention of annoying sharpshooters from afar and shock enemies with powerful plasma guns. Ogryn is the only one to have a shield, apart from the ability to block, which lets him tank against the hordes and even against the most powerful boss in the game right now.
A well-coordinated team can handle almost any challenge. The creators wanted to promote teamplay, introducing the Toughness mechanic – i.e. an armor bar that replenishes if we are near another team mate. This encourages players to stick together and... Becomes punishing when one of them decides to go solo.
It's basically impossible for me to find any faults with the character classes – and yes, I'm fully aware that in a game like this, the meta and gameplay style will change from patch to patch. The only thing I didn't quite like was the progression system, which is exceptionally – so to speak – silent. In essence, I didn't feel that getting promoted to a new level changed anything. Nothing changes – or at least I failed to notice it – when we unlock new Feats (i.e. passive skills). Oh, the levels go by, we buy better items, and there surely is a difference between a character at level 1 and 30, but as players, we're unable to see it without a more careful analysis. That's not how it's supposed to work.
There is only war
Apart from that, the game is beautiful, bloody and spectacular. You will also use ranged weapons a lot more in this installment than in Vermintide, and although Fatshark is not Infinity Ward, and Darktide is no Call of Duty, the gunplay was done correctly – heads explode from headshots, limbs get severed, and we usually feel that we wield a lot of power. It may not be the finest element of the game, but it certainly doesn't leave a bad taste.
Melee combat, on the other hand, is deeply engrossing – we wield each of the weapons differently (all have a different moveset); we can use a slender saber twist sophisticated mills and combos, or swing the heavy Thunder Hammer to smash heads (exposing ourselves to attacks). Some weapons are better for crowd control and fighting the horde, while others are great for individual, elite opponents. However, combat simply makes even a pacifist like me suddenly yell: FOR THE EMPEROR. There's gallons of blood spilling, heads and fragments of bodies fly around, something explodes every now and then, and the horde seems endless. In addition, there's undoubtedly a method to all this chaos and madness – you can see a huge difference between players who already know what's going on; know how to counter marksmen, control the horde, react to the suicide attacks, etc. So, perhaps despite appearances, this game isn't a mindless slasher, oh no – to complete missions – especially those on higher difficulty levels such as malice, heresy or damnation – perfect cooperation, well-matched skills and crowd control will be instrumental. Mistakes usually mean wiping the entire team.
Once you've raved, saluted our beloved Emperor, and slaughtered the last wave of heretics to the accompaniment of satisfying symphony of destruction and chopped heads, you'll start to wonder what's next. And the answer to that is, unfortunately, "nothing." Darktide, as it was given to us for a review, is practically a game with zero replayability. As soon as I arrived at level 30, I basically felt that my quest was over. There was nothing waiting for me, no new missions, new maps, new bosses nor challenges. It's not – at least not for the time being – the Vermintide 2. It's a one-time adventure. Or a four-times one – if love it so much that you're willing to complete the exact same set of missions with the 4 avaiable character classes. There's not even the slightest excuse to return to the game after completing it.
Story? Forget it. The first cutscene and (the excellent) prologue of the game introduces some evil devil, but you will never meet or hear about them again. Every few experience levels, you'll be rewarded with idiotic cutscenes that can be summarized as: "We don't trust you," "Wow, you survived, but we still don't trust you," "Okay, you can handle it, but we still don't trust you," and "Okay, we trust you now." There's no storytelling here, not even a story background. I don't know why Fatshark even bothered to hire Dan Abnett to create the story and lore of the game, but I deeply hope that this story is yet to arrive in upcoming patches.
The maps have lots of cool details, but unfortunately non-interactive.Warhammer 40k: Darktide, Fatshark
Of course, if we insist, we can say that the plot exists somewhere, for example in the dialogues (brilliantly performed by great voice-actors) that the characters exchange during the fights. But this is not nearly enough – after the 10th run of the same map, you will know them by heart. All of them, moreover, only tease a story, never exactly revealing it.
So, forget end-game – sure, you can look for new weapons using the shop, which randomly changes weapons for purchase every hour (yes, the crates we've had in Vermintide 2 are no more). However, the drop is so random that you basically have to log into the game every hour to check if something interesting has appeared this time. Crafting? It is "coming soon" – we are not able to change the statistics of weapons, we basically don't have any mechanics that would make customizing the weapons easier.
Forget the story – after all, it's a co-op game, I'd be satisfied with even a dumb, pretext plot – but it just pisses me off that such an amazing universe as Warhammer 40k has neglected the lore! Sure, there is some narration through environment, the details on the beautiful maps I mentioned. But it's not nearly enough for the Emperor's Golden Throne. Definitely not. There is no codex in the game – nothing to browse in-between enjoying the exploration of the vast, addictive world of Warhammer; nothing that would give me even the slightest desire to continue my journey through the same maps. Why is there nothing to read – even in an empty hub, between matches – about the opponents I meet? About bosses? About Chaos? About the gods? About the Emperor? We are not rewarded with anything like that for subsequent runs. We only get some gold, which we can spend in the pointless store.
Fatshark has designed a beautiful game hub – we get to Mourningstar after logging into the game and here – from third-person perspective – we can choose missions, buy weapons, skins for real money, or check again if the developers have already introduced crafting mechanics... There's also a hairdresser and a vendor offering weekly quests. And there's nothing more. Even though you can see other players, you can't interact with them, so everyone just ends up running around the hub. You don't have any emotes, you can't even sit on a bench with others – for a system that has so much to do with RPG, we've been given surprisingly little to make this RPG happen. It looks like Mourningstar was designed as a prom to show off skins bought with real money. Beyond that, I really don't see the point of its existence.
It works, or it doesn't
The game hasn't apparently been blessed by the God-Emperor personally, the game tends to crash and kick players from the matches. It's really annoying when you waste 20 minutes on a level only to end up on the desktop minutes before reaching the evac point.
There are more errors and bugs, but the thing that has been bothering players the most are optimization issues and high system requirements of the game. You can get the impression that the only way to play Darktide on ULTRA settings is only possible with an RTX 5090 (which hasn't even been announced). Using my RTX 3090, with ray-tracing enabled, the game didn't exceed 40, and usually was stuck between 25-30 FPS... And yet, while it's artistically beautiful, it's also not winning a world championship when it comes to technology. It's not Callisto Protocol. Interestingly, however, I managed to run the game on the old, but good GTX 1060. And surprisingly, it worked quite well!
Darktide looks great, sounds fantastic, and even with all my complaining… I've spent 53 hours playing it. 53 hours of the kind of fun that no other game this year gave me. And I'm sure that in six months, or a year, Darktide will be a game that will deserve a much higher rating.
However, I must point out that the developers are actually working on these (and many other) issues and trying to mend them with subsequent patches. Since pre-ordering the beta, my framerate has gone up and the game seems more stable (although it still does occasionally kick you out of the matches). You can see that Fatshark is working hard to bring Darktide to, well, what exactly...? A full version of the game?
And what should I do with you, Darktide?
It's heresy, but after the beta – instead of the premiere – we got an early access. And you see, I have a big problem with this as a reviewer, because we have a rule in Gamepressure that we don't give ratings to early-access games. Darktide resembles such a game – it's a great basis to create a work, but it simply lacks both content and refinement. So, I should perhaps leave the review without a score for now, wait for a month, two, perhaps half a year, and come back to it. But... but the developers insist that it's the full release. And thus, I can't give the game more a bigger score than 7/10.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
Is 7 a lot, especially after so much whining? It depends how you look at it. Because you see, Darktide looks great, sounds fantastic, and even with all my complaining… I've spent 53 hours playing it. 53 hours of the kind of fun that no other game this year gave me. And I'm sure that in six months, or a year, Darktide will be a game that will deserve a much higher rating. But unfortunately – full release is full release. There are rules to follow, Fatshark.
We have received a copy of the game from Fatshark.
Matthias Pawlikowski | Gamepressure.com