PC, Xbox Series X
November 30, 2022
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is the long-awaited new release from Fatshark, most famous for developing Warhammer: Vermintide 2. I got to play through the pre-order beta, and I came away both invigorated and fatigued.
Darktide follows the now well-established style of 4-player horde mode games that Left 4 Dead popularised, where a team of 4 players venture out to complete various objectives whilst fighting an impossible number of enemies along the way. Whilst there are slight differences with Darktide, it does little to advance the genre or bring anything genuinely new to the table. That is not to say it is a bad game, far from it, but the repetition can wear thin with lengthy play sessions.
Your team is tasked with saving the Hive city of Tertium as it is being overrun by the Hive and a sinister new force that seeks to destroy all in its way. Serving the Inquisition, you are sent out to put an end to this threat at all costs. The beginning prologue chapter sees you learn the combat basics before arriving at the Morningstar, where you are dressed in prison garb and given your orders whether you like them or not. There is a character creation mechanic here, but I found the options to be lacking and didn’t enable me to truly create a character to my liking. However, there is a surprising amount of backstory options that provided plenty of variety to give my character a tortured history. I settled on an enlisted military veteran that was discharged from service due to going against orders given by his superiors.
These kinds of horde games live and die on two main principles – online play and fun factor. Darktide is not a game to be enjoyed solo (a solo mode is forthcoming), it really benefits from playing with a group of friends as slashing through hordes of zombie-like enemies always provides both a sense of euphoria and stress. When things really heat up, it can be enthralling to work as a unit and decimate your foes, but it is also quite easy to be overwhelmed if you do not work as a cohesive team and utilise your abilities together.
Missions are standard fare for the most part, generally revolving around getting to the end of the level alive and capturing zone-type missions where you must defend your position. The game will also have you gather intel or fight your way to a beefy boss with an incredibly long health bar. These can lead to a feeling of repetition as the variety is lacking, but during the beta, I only had access to 8 missions and 4 zones, so this will likely improve over time.
It is essentially frowned upon to go lone wolf in this game, with some mechanics even outright attempting to prevent this. For one, your shield can be recharged by performing melee attacks, but the more effective method is to remain close to your allies as the shield will then regenerate over time, faster with the more allies that you stand near. Getting downed is also another area that relies on remaining close together as it does take some time to revive a downed ally, so if you have a lone wolf player that has ventured far from the pack and sees themselves downed, it can be difficult to fight your way over to them in time or even get there alive yourself. If a player is downed and not revived then they are captured and held prisoner, which provides a last-ditch effort to go and rescue them if you can defeat the enemies standing guard over your team.
“Utilising a mixture of attacking, dodging, and blocking is always entertaining. You can at times feel like a god smiting your foes with every hit“
The gameplay is the showpiece here. It is clear that much was borrowed from the visceral melee combat of Vermintide as each swing of a sword or axe elicits heavy blood spray from enemies, every hit feeling impactful, even allowing you to dismember any body part you hit. The sheer amount of gore is impressive, but not for the squeamish. Utilising a mixture of attacking, dodging, and blocking is always entertaining. You can at times feel like a god smiting your foes with every hit, but it can also be very easy to be overwhelmed especially on your own.
Gunplay is a little less polished, with the guns lacking that sense of “oomph” that you may find in the likes of Call of Duty, but they are serviceable, and switching back and forth between melee and ranged attacks never ceases to be entertaining. One small detail that I liked was how foes switched too their melee weapon from their guns when you get close. The lack of vastly different guns made me yearn for more versatility and variety, but there is said to be 60+ coming with the final release. As you gain further trust, you will get access to customise and upgrade your weapons in various ways with a surprising amount of depth using materials gained during missions.
Ammo is also surprisingly scarce, often leading to melee combat being the go-to as you will run out of ammo pretty fast, and with the ammo drops not being universal you will need to coordinate with your team as to who needs the ammo the most. Thankfully there is a tagging feature so you can pin ammo that you come across but don’t need so others can pick it up.
Weapons can be purchased from a shop at the Mourningstar – essentially the game’s hub world, but I often found little improvements worth investing in during the early stages. Higher levels allow for advanced weapons to be purchased that admittedly carry far more exciting features and designs, but there is a grind to get there and the starting weapons leave much to be desired.
The Mourningstar hub is where you will spend time outside of missions, similar to most online games these days. You will see other players jumping and running around, visit various stores, and also access the mission terminal where you will select your next mission. The terminal offers a fairly intuitive and clean interface, and I found it easy enough to select my next mission, adjust the difficulty, and find matches.
There are currently 4 playable classes to choose from in Darktide, with each having its own unique traits, abilities, and buffs:
- The Psyker: Psykinetic is an excellent pick for those who want to take out enemies with powerful, ranged, psychic AOE abilities.
- The Veteran: The Sharpshooter of the four classes, useful for taking out enemies from afar with precision. They’re an ideal all-rounder and an excellent choice for players who want to take out enemies from afar.
- The Zealot: The CQC master of the four, specialising in fast-paced melee and ranged combat.
- Ogryn: The tank-like non-human equipped with a devastating Ripper Shotgun.
Darktide is a gorgeous-looking game. The muted colours and overall darkness of the levels do detract from this somewhat, but there is no doubt that plenty of work went into giving this world life and a unique aesthetic. The floors are covered in all manner of blood, dirt, and other disgusting elements, and the structures are metallic and feel oppressing with many layering elements to behold as you look up and down in these dystopian worlds.
The drawback here is performance, which at the best of times impeded my playthrough. Darktide was still in beta when I played it, so some of the following may be ironed out upon launch, but I encountered frequent mid-game crashes with no obvious explanation for the abrupt end, along with wildly varying framerates. I played this on a 2070 Super – an older, but by no means outdated video card – which still saw me dipping well below 60 frames when the action really amped up. Dialling the settings back and enabling DLSS did aid this, but stutters were still frequent, likely owing to the multitude of bodies on-screen during serious horde moments.
Fatshark has made promises to fix these issues with coming patches, along with improving the matchmaking experience
The music in the game is amazing. The synth-wave soundtrack knows just when to ramp up, feeling dark, chilling, and moody as you wander about to the next zone of enemies. When you begin fighting a horde is when the thundering synths and booming bass kick in at just the right moment, elevating the visceral combat and making you feel like a true badass slashing your way through foes with little care other than what part of their body you will slice off next. I have to commend the audio team for this title, the sound effects and music do a lot to add to the overall experience.
If you are a fan of horde-like games then Warhammer 40,000: Darktide will no doubt scratch that itch. Whilst the gameplay can become repetitive and the grind seems to offer little value at this stage, I cannot deny that I had a blast playing it with a group of friends. Some incredible “oh crap” moments occurred during combat when we were overrun by a horde of enemies and had to work together to stay alive. It’s moments like these that keep you coming back for more. As this is a games-as-a-service title, we expect many more improvements and features to be added with time to enhance the experience and features.