2015’s Holiday Season is absolutely jam-packed with AAA blockbusters! Halo 5: Guardians, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Fallout 4…it’s a little nuts. So nuts, in fact, that we run the risk of overlooking some of the better low-visibility games out there. Let’s try and remedy that to some extent by talking about a great multiplayer experience that could use a little bit more love among the madness: Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide.
What we have here is, at heart, a Warhammer-themed ripoff of Left 4 Dead. This isn’t really an indictment; we’re running drastically low of original ideas these days so reskinned clones and HD remasters are what we’ve got. Gosh darn it, we’ll learn to like them. You’ll get a bunch of pals together and go on dark fantasy adventures that primarily involve chopping up the Skaven, vile ratmen that are plenty of fun to chop up. Warhammer fans are bound to love this one solely because of its adherence to the series’ style and lore – it’s dark, it’s gritty and Sigmar knows it’s gory.
There are five rat-slayers to choose from, each of which wields their own unique weaponry. The Witch Hunter is a Warhammer classic who uses a combination of powerful melee and ranged gear to stop the Skaven from any distance; this guy’s my personal favorite thanks to his highly customizable loadout that allows you to deal with a variety of situations. The Bright Wizard is a fire mage that’s primarily good at range and doesn’t have to deal with ammunition, but who risks overdosing on magical power and exploding. The Empire Soldier is a melee-focused tank who typically carries a shield and protects the rest of the group, while the Dwarf Ranger is strong in close range and effective at smashing through armor. Finally, the Waywatcher is a nimble elf with a bow who’s great at sniping and managing crowds.
Each player can choose one of these, but a party can’t contain two of the same class, so it’s best if you learn how to play several classes in case your favorite is taken when you join a game. Along with picking a class you’ll also need to select your gear; each class can use several ranged and melee weapons, though as mentioned there’s typically a focus on one or the other. These can drastically change how your character plays. For instance, the Witch Hunter’s starting weapon is a giant two-handed sword that’s great at dealing with crowds, but you could also use a light rapier that not only speeds up your attacks but allows you to use a pistol in your other hand.
You’ll earn new equipment as you gain levels and complete missions; equipment that you’re done with can be fused to create a random new item or salvaged to create parts for upgrading existing gear. Climbing up the gear ladder is one of the main points of Vermintide, as higher-level weapons will help your team deal with more difficult levels later in the game. Later finds might include the odd trinket or two, special accessories that give you unique powers like duplicating consumable items that you collect during a mission.
Once you’ve got a team together and you’re all geared it, it’s time to go kill some rats! Hell, even if you haven’t got a team together, you can still venture forth with an incredibly stupid bot or two in tow. This isn’t recommended, as they are in fact incredibly stupid, but the option is there! Each stage is your typical Left 4 Dead type adventure where you progress down a relatively linear path and complete objectives while fighting off various baddies; at the end, there’s typically a climactic setpiece where you’ll have to blow a horn, smash a bell or some other such activity that’s bound to slow you down and give the rats time to catch up. In the meantime you can also collect Tomes and Grimoires, magic books that don’t do anything but take up your precious inventory slots until the mission is over, at which point they’ll give you a chance for better loot.
Said rats come in a variety of forms, ranging from your typical hordes wielding makeshift weapons to the mighty Rat Ogre that shows up to hand your entire party a beating. Learning how to deal with the various special Skaven without getting chewed to pieces is key to victory, especially given the limited quantity of healing items and ammunition available. The best way of doing this is to stick together, as wandering off on your own is bound to get you killed, and this game isn’t kind to its players.
When you’re winning, however, it feels amazing; the Skaven are slashed to ribbons, gore flies everywhere coating the walls and floor, loot flows like water…well, a trickle of water at least, but what is really good in life that isn’t rare and precious?
Simply put, Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is Left 4 Dead, which makes for a good time if you can get a solid group together. Coordinating against the rats with voice-chat not only gives you a better shot at success but guarantees a much better experience. However, dealing with bots or with random public players means you’ll probably enjoy the hunt less as you’ll have to try and herd cats along with dealing with the hordes of Skaven. Your purchasing decision, then, should be based largely on how many others you can convince to pick up the game as well. It’s always better to hunt in packs.