Left, not quite for dead...
It's hard not to make comparisons to Left 4 Dead when you play Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide. There's a lot of similar mechanics here, and why not, because for a co-op shooter - Left 4 Dead created a whole new genre of game and there hasn't been anything like it since. I sunk hundreds of co-op and solo hours into the first game and the second.
Yet for all its similar mechanics, Vermintide manages to add a bunch of new stuff to the mix and forge its own path thanks to some neat design by developer: Fatshark.
The Old World, New Game!
I'm a big fan of the Warhammer Old World from the various RPGs that have been released for the pen&paper crowd. I used to play D&D and we stopped playing D&D when Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game out. This Grim World of Perilous Adventure was perfect for the dark fantasy fan that I am. I longed for a decent dive into the Old World and when I heard about Vermintide, the idea of facing off against the evil and insidious ratmen known as Skaven in a Left 4 Dead style game piqued my interest.
So when the fine folks at Xbox popped me a code for the game, well, I couldn't resist. What I found was a great title that has a lot of lore for fans of the Old World, and manages to cleave to the Left 4 Dead formula, whilst not being enslaved by it. Fatshark are also a canny developer who've released a few patches for the game, and a free update that I'll talk about later on which adds a whole layer of end-game play to keep you coming back for more (and more).
If you're familiar with Left 4 Dead you'll find a lot to like here, and a lot to draw you in right out of the gate.
If not? Don't worry, because the game's super easy to get into and a hell of a lot of fun.
You can play it Solo with up to 3 A.I. and for the most part they do a passable job of helping out, taking down the Skaven and keeping you alive. Sometimes they act a little strangely, might have problems with pathfinding. They've actually saved our hide more than once when we've played co-op with a couple of players and 2 bots.
The Xbox version of the game bundles in all currently released DLC as well, so you have the main campaign plus Drachenfels.
It's a dark night, Morrsleib hangs heavy as one of two moons in the Warhammer Old World. A tavern stands between the City of Ubershreik and hordes of blood-thirsty ratmen. You play as one of several heroes ready to take the fight to the dirty ratmen and cull their numbers once and for all.
Witch Hunter: Armed with a sword and a pistol, the Witch Hunter hunts the forces of Chaos and roots out the unclean in the Old World. Witch Hunters can also use 2-Handed weapons, and crossbows. Witch Hunters can also employ dual pistols and rain showers of lethal shot upon their foes.
Dwarf Ranger: Master of the axe and shield, hammer and shield, uses several combinations of 1h and 2h weapons as well as crossbows (and several types of handgun). The Dwarf Ranger is a stalwart damage dealer and can shove enemies hard with his shield.
Elven Waywatcher: She's a nimble ranger type, armed with dual blades, daggers, bows and is best suited to hit and run strikes against the specialised Skaven types. Her bow makes her invaluable for ranged battle and she can handle herself in a fight against superior numbers.
Bright Wizard: One of the harder classes to get used to, since her magic has a cost. The more she uses her fire magic, the more she builds up heat from the Winds of Magic. If the gauge fills, then she'll rage with the fire of magic itself (harming her quite badly). You can use the left bumper to bleed off the Wind and reduce her meter. The Bright Wizard can use swords, staves and maces.
Empire Soldier: A proper tank like character, the Empire Soldier is a wall of steel with his sword or mace and shield combination. He can use several 1h and 2h weapons, including a massive warhammer and is also armed with either handguns or coach guns. He can take a lot of punishment, and dish it out.
Fight the Rats!
Once you've chosen a character you'll begin your journey in the fight against the Skaven through 18 fiendishly designed missions that pit you against overwhelming odds, nasty traps, and a variety of tasks as you progress from mission to mission. Choose to play with bots alone, with friends, or open your game to the public - once you're all set and ready to go, it's time to kill some ratmen!
This is a first person game, best described as a first person hack/slasher with some shooting and fire magic. Whilst the levels are not procedurally generated, the various waves of enemies and special Skaven you can fight are randomised (just like in Left 4 Dead) and there's a random loot. Loot is only given at the end of a mission, so there's incentive here to finish the missions.
Extra incentive comes from Quests and Bounties added as part of a recent update. After you finish the main story missions you'll unlock the Bounty and Quest Board in the tavern hub. Here you'll be able to pick a variety of quests and bounties to help you get that sweet new loot for your chosen character.
Combat in the game is pretty simple, you'll face off against waves of Skaven, using your chosen weapons. Swords, axes, guns, bows, and magic to defeat smaller groups, or the occasional swarm as the rats gather in greater numbers to assault you.
The controls are pitch-perfect and there's not a lot to learn in terms of the control system.
As you progress through the mission you'll come under attack by various special Skaven, such as the Rat Ogre (think Tank from L4D), the Pack Master (A rat that hooks and strangles you), the slippery assassin rat of Clan Skyre (the Gutter Runner) and so on. These special rats all pose different threats and require a variety of tactics to deal with effectively.
Like the AI Director in L4D the game knows when you're slacking off or taking too long exploring, waiting around, so it'll push you harder.
A successful mission brings with it rewards, and based on the difficulty you're playing at, these loot rewards vary. You also level up, which unlocks new things for your character, and new aspects of the tavern, such as the Forge which can be used to upgrade, smelt down, or reforge weapons/items into new ones.
I'm impressed with the visual design of Vermintide. It looks Old World, it feels Old World, and it has a great atmosphere about it. The aesthetic is spot on, Fatshark have really dived into the design of the Old World and the mission areas are packed with character in their very stones, run-down tenements, and shadowy markets. It runs nicely too, hasn't crashed, doesn't lag and the game's multiplayer has been excellent to play so far.
The characters are packed with little design features too, lots of work in their animations, and in their reactions to the various Skaven special attacks. It's also a visceral game, Skaven heads fly off and the rats bleed as you cut them down.
Sounds like a Ratman!
I should also mention the sound design, it's good. The Skaven utter various key lines from the various lore writeups, and the voice actors have done a great job bringing the ratmen to life for the game. The rest of the cast are good, and the in-game banter between the characters is another great thing that reminds me of Left 4 Dead 1 and 2.
Play with Friends
If you want to play with friends or randoms, online is the only option.
Finish the first mission and you'll unlock the wave based horde mode for the game, this is a nice diversion from the main campaign and is another way to gain XP and rewards. It plays in a similar way to various horde based games on the market, and the pacing seems pretty good. It starts of gently and very quickly ramps up to bigger, nastier, and deadlier waves.
A good diversion from the main run.
Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide is a worthy alternative to Left 4 Dead. It has a lot going for it, the tavern hub and unlocks add to the draw/replay value of the game and the random loot system, whilst as mean as a Gutter Runner, is a key feature that sets it apart from Left 4 Dead.
I totally love the game and if you're a fan of co-op play, it should be a no-brainer.