Vermintide : Hands On At Gamescom

Running late for a meeting can be disastrous. Never mind how it affects relations with the developers and PR kind enough to arrange the meeting, imagine being dropped into the hot seat on a new game having missed the first few minutes of explanation and introduction.

Fortunately this is my jam. This was Warhammer. The End Times are upon us and while I apologise profusely to Fatshark for running behind on things, this was the Vermintide.

Point me at the rats.

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BURN

Let’s get a little bit of shorthand out of the way. If you have played, for example, Command and Conquer, you have played Warcraft 1. If you have played Doom, you have played Quake. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead, you have played Vermintide.

Does that mean it is bad? Not for a second. Does that mean it is derivative? No. To be perfectly honest my time playing Vermintide at Gamescom was my favourite playtime out of everything I got my hands on. There are games and settings that are just meant to be together, two great flavours that just go together. For me, Vermintide is one of those things. It had all the familiar mechanics of Left 4 Dead when I dropped into the hot seat on the Bright Wizard. Two weapons to swap through, a health kit to use, a slot for a bomb. Nothing wild or unusual there, just the perfect combination of setting and familiar play mechanics that meant that I could get right into what was on the screen.

To completely spell it out however, do not assume that just because you have played something mechanically similar before that there is nothing new or wonderful to experience here. The battle for Ubersreik just feels so utterly perfect. Warhammer games have been hit and miss down the ages, this though. This takes the cake for me. Brand new favorite. All hail the Vermintide.

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MAIM

Despite being comfortable with the controls, I will admit being dropped into the action was a little disorienting. The particular mission we were undertaking required the party climbing to the top of a tower in Ubersreik and destroying the Doom Bell that the Skaven had in place. You don’t want that sort of thing hanging over you when you are trying to survive an absolute tide of Skaven.

So who did I get first? The Bright Wizard.

Sienna Fuegonasus is fun to play. This is the Warhammer world where the men are men and the women are women…. and absolutely every single man, woman and child will destroy you in a heartbeat. Sienna wielded both her Bright Wizard staff and a mace. Any unfortunate Skaven that popped up was free game for a mace to the head. Who needs whack-a-mole?

The real fun and frolics came when I swapped to Staff. There are different weapons that the heroes will get access to throughout the campaign and through crafting at the inn. This particular set up had me able to throw fireballs at Skaven and immolate them in a single shot. So everyone should hide behind the juggernaut of the Bright Wizard right? Eh…. magic isn’t free in Warhammer. Use too much magic too quickly and like any proper self respecting Bright Wizard you will catch hell for it. You can and will hurt yourself if you rely totally on magic to clear the Skaven scum from your path. It’s about picking both the right weapons for yourself and using the right weapons at the right moment for the mission. A Bright Wizard who turns herself to ash before finishing the mission is utterly useless to the party.

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FASTER MANTHING

While everyone swapped terminals for another mission and to see how things work, lets talk about some of the systems that Fatshark is building into Vermintide.

First, lets talk about the bugbear of online gaming. People dropping out. If anyone drops out of your game, a bot will take over the character for you. There’s no need to stand around and agonise about going back and trying to get someone else on board. Press on and be assured that the bots have your back. If someone wants to come in and unseat the bot? That’ll happen as well. There is an incentive for people to jump into games in progress. The closer a mission is to completion, the closer the party is to rolling bones for the loot. Some people may leave, some people may leave you hanging, but there is a genuine reason for others to come to your rescue and try help you over the finish line.

Regarding loot, naturally as punishment for being late the dice Gods gave me the absolute worst roll possible. I got a green ranked sword as I recall. Pretty boring stuff. There are activities in each mission that can increase the chances of critical rolls and better loot. One that I saw in the second play through required carrying books of magic. Of course those books just happened to take up the same slot that your health kit does. Risk versus reward. Are you good enough to get through the horde without mending your wounds just for the better chance at better loot?

If you aren’t, don’t worry. Between bouts of Skaven stomping, our intrepid heroes return to an Inn in Ubersreik that is just so beautifully done. Honestly, if I had the money I’d finance an Oculus Rift port of the game just so I can get that little bit closer to being in the Warhammer World. The Inn comes equipped with storage for your loot and a forge. If, like me, you only ever get rubbish loot… you can reforge it into something bigger and better. Bad rolls are of course a disappointment but they aren’t a barrier to newer and better weapons for your characters.

Everyone was about to move clockwise around the room for the second play test. I had to know. I had to ask

“Which one is the Dwarf?”

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KILL KILL

I love Warhammer Dwarfs. I love their society, I love their viewpoint. I love the fact that playing the Dwarf, the camera view is actually further down. Skaven appeared smaller for me on the Bright Wizard, but then I got shorter. This was more of an eye to eye thing.

Bardin Goreksson is a Dwarf Ranger. For this play through he came equipped with an axe and shield a his primary weapons and the Grudge-Raker as his secondary. What’s not to love about a fantasy setting that looks at a Dwarf and says “He needs a shotgun.”?

If you can think of something not to love about that, keep it to your damn self.

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Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is easily and without a doubt the title I am most looking forward to from Gamescom this year, so much so in fact we gave it the Most Anticipated award in our annual Gamescom Awards. It’s not even a competition in my mind. Vermintide was just fun to play. Sure we died that second time. Sure it was up to the Wood Elf to try and save the day. Sure it didn’t pan out quite that way.
None of that mattered. This was a more powerful old Warhammer world feeling than Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. This was not a passing sense of familiarity, this was Warhammer. It dripped the tone of Warhammer, it was steeped in the style of Warhammer. I could talk about the Poison Wind Globadiers. I could talk about the Packmaster dragging people off to be killed elsewhere. I could talk about that bloody Gutter Runner. They’ll have to wait till next time.

Day one, I’ll be there on the Dwarf Ranger. Sometimes the right properties and the right ways of playing in them come together and make something wonderful.

Vermintide is that, it is wonderful.

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About Jonathan Doyle

Once long ago Westwood made a space game. Earth And Beyond was the start of the journey. From there, through Paragon City and to the fields of Altdorf, there were battles. Westwood brought me to MMOs. City of Heroes refined my love for them. Warhammer brought me to writing about them. He loves all things space, sci fi, Warhammer or heroic.