In the world of cooperative action games, left for dead and its suite occupy an important place. Many games have chased the success of Valve’s zombie horde shooter, but the majority have stumbled, either by failing to capture the spirit or worse, by tying too close to the source material. Warhammer: Vermintidereleased in 2015, as well as the 2018 sequel, Vermintide 2, are two of the few genre examples that have managed to thread the needle. They are structurally reminiscent of the Left 4 Dead series, but nevertheless stand out in one essential way…
War hammers. And axes, swords, maces, flails and halberds; a whole melee suite available to the player. Whether Vermintide has a central and distinguishing characteristic, it is the reorientation of the action in the first person away from left for deadlong-range headshots and spray-and-pray tactics, and towards thunderclaps and concussions and frenzied, close-quarters and personal blows.
Almost half a decade away, Vermintide 2 is itself a shrunken cooperative classic. With thousands of players still matchmaking on Steam, and developer Fatshark about to release its first-person shooter Warhammer 40,000: Darktide (pending further delays) I thought it was worth checking back into Vermintide for one last fantastic game to re-evaluate the game’s successes.
One of VermintideThe strongest features of are its setting. The impact here cannot be underestimated – as a continuously developed world since the early 80s, Games Workshop’s “Warhammer Fantasy” setting does much of the heavy lifting: it absorbs you, from the start, into its slightly whimsical grimdark universe. As I mentioned in my review of Chaos Gate – Demon Hunters, Warhammer’s worldbuilding and lore, having been built around small plastic miniatures, is accustomed to doing a lot with relatively little. Warhammer has an uncanny knack for conjuring up the delicious sense of something otherworldly with a single word. In demon hunters I became obsessed with terms like “astropathy” and “archaeotech”; in Vermintide 2 it’s the “Skittergate” that instantly captures the imagination.
As with the original game, Vermintide 2 focuses on the threat of the Skaven – a species of cruel and conniving rat-men who scurry through the underworld beneath the human realms. It is the Skaven who create the evocatively named Skittergate – a Warpstone-powered portal that leads to the realms of Chaos and is central to the plot of the main campaign. Through the portal come the bloodthirsty Norscans, who together with the Skaven make up the many hordes of enemies in the game.
And Vermintide 2 is truly a game of hordes – mobs, floods and swarms which, like the original left for dead zombies, frolic over architecture, and through doors to surround you and your team of heroes. Pushing back the horde takes on an almost rhythmic quality as you furiously hack through the oncoming traffic of Rats and Chaos Warriors. Swipe left, swipe right, make sure your enemies are in front rather than behind – sometimes combat is a kind of spatial puzzle, more in common with PowerWash Simulator, in which you clean up a mass of clutter and sweep up trash, than anything that looks like a choreographed duel. Ranged combat isn’t completely absent – in some cases it’s a more effective tool for dispatching elite enemies – it’s just more of a punctuation of melee action.
Almost any hero can specialize – the five characters each have four different “careers” (three, in Sienna’s case, as her latest class has yet to be released). Victor Saltzpyre, a witch hunter, who initially feels like a nimble, lightly armored assassin who’s great at targeting unique enemies, can eventually become an armed bounty hunter, or even a heavily armored, hammer-wielding warrior priest. The game’s melee slant certainly makes experimenting with ranged weapons an alluring prospect. But the most important aspect here is the amount of customization: weapons, career abilities, and playstyles.
This flexibility is vitally important to the continued success of Vermintide 2. Although the game offers a mass of cosmetic upgrades (sometimes paid for with real money), paintings to collect and hang on the walls of your central area, and of course, loot, none of this seems to be why people keep coming back to play.
Cosmetics seem particularly unimportant, due to both the game’s visual age and its muted aesthetic. There is a real commitment to Grimdark Gothic in Vermintide 2 – it’s hard to quantify the amount of gray-brown underground caves and mazes you’ll pass through during a campaign. One level takes you from an underground asylum into a sewer, then finally, a catacomb. There are a few outer levels with more dramatic and bucolic views, as well as the ‘Chaos Wastes’ area which makes better use of Warhammer’s bright purples, pinks and reds. But these are anomalies in an otherwise frozen landscape.
Loot is another aspect that doesn’t contribute as much to Vermintide‘s enduring popularity as one might think. It’s a mouth-watering carrot on a string, of course: tomes and grimoires are scattered throughout each level, and carrying them means sacrificing a health potion slot and/or a chunk of life (grimoires reduce your health 30%). These books are a classic risk versus reward mechanic – take the penalty hit and complete the mission with them in your possession, and the treasure chest you receive at the end of each level will offer better loot. Like all multiplayer level athons, looting creates a compulsive loop, but the constant flow of weapons, trinkets, jewelry and charms isn’t what I would consider a game changer. A sword – orange or maybe purple – still works exactly as you expect it to; a crossbow at “power level” 300 behaves exactly like at level 5.
It doesn’t take much to unlock each career and try out the majority of weapons on offer – and yet, with Fatshark’s continued support and a relatively healthy player base despite the passing years, there’s clearly good reason to keep going. to play even after you’ve seen it all.
The biggest change to Vermintide 2 over the years has been the free Chaos Deserts expansion. Introduced as a new “roguelite” game mode, it builds on what many love so much about this type of cooperative action game to begin with – variation.
While the original Vermintide 2 campaigns allowed for many variations, with their own version of left for dead‘s greeted the “AI director”, Chaos Deserts adds even more ingredients into the mix. A sort of randomized mini-campaign, your expedition through the Chaos Wastes is entirely gated and non-permanent – you start with nothing but a basic set of gear, and as you and your As a team progress, you’ll collect coins which can then be turned over to altars to upgrade things like your weapons, or add new passive abilities and talents to your hero.
Chaos Deserts introduces a mass of randomness and unpredictability to your game, changing things as fundamental as level building, certain paths being blocked, or start and end points being moved or even reversed. Loot also plays a bigger role, as the game isn’t afraid to let you become overpowered, or even just weirdly built, with weird combinations of perks. Everything is stripped after completion. This is Vermintide 2the endgame – and its best side. Forget all the cosmetics; forget your “power level”, your specific equipment or your career. Jump into the Chaos Wastes, with friends, and fight your way through the hordes, relishing in the fact that you have no idea what lies ahead. From the beginning, Vermintide 2 had a solid core, capturing much of what makes these types of horde games so popular in an enduring way. But it also turned out, over time, that it has something new to offer, with Chaos Deserts adding some much-needed volatility to this endless procession of fantasy brawls.