I got to preview Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. Darktide is just a few days from release, and players have been fending off the heretical hordes within the depths of Tertium in its pre-release beta. Developer Fatshark moves from the medieval Vermintide games to the sci-fi/fantasy setting of the 40k universe, while still keeping the core hack-and-slash gameplay of Darktide similar to its predecessors. This game also provides a good starting point into the vast lore of Warhammer 40k. The big issues right now are the numerous game-breaking bugs and connection issues, which may dissuade some players if these aren’t addressed by launch.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide will release on Steam on November 30th, 2022 for $39.99. Xbox release dates are to come soon after.
Story: You Are Expendable… For Now
In the 41st Millennium, you are a branded traitor, pardoned from execution in exchange for your skills in battle and lifelong service to the God-Emperor of Mankind. You are enrolled into the Imperial Inquisition aboard the Mourningstar. There, you and other Rejects take on missions to hold the massive hive-city of Tertium on the planet Atoma, wherein you battle the forces of Chaos and corruption.
The first mission has you escaping a prison transport after it’s been attacked by the zombie-like creatures of Chaos. Upon rescuing your former captor, Zola, you are given just enough trust to have your demonstrated horde-breaking skills used for the Inquisition.
Central to the story is your character, which you create and customize. After choosing your class, you can customize not just their appearance, but also their origin. You can choose your home planet, your previous occupation, some significant events that occurred in your life, how you got imprisoned, and more. This all contributes to the dialogue you and your teammates have during missions. Through this dialogue, we learn more about the 40k universe, the stories of Tertium and the Mourningstar, and more.
This serves as an excellent way for players such as myself to dip their toes into the formidable lore of the 40k universe. Along with the visually intriguing expository cutscene you can view on startup, these methods of storytelling combine storytelling and gameplay with few seams. There may even be surprises for veterans of the 40k lore. For example, my Zealot character, upon using his ability, will sometimes shout “Blood for the God-Emperor! Skulls for the Golden Throne!” A friend of mine pointed out that it’s similar to a saying among the forces of Chaos, hinting that my character may be losing himself to Chaos.
Furthermore, the dialogue is to evolve as you progress through the game. At first, you’re seen as nothing more than a disposable bullet sponge, or a suspected backstabber. As you prove yourself through more and harder missions, the NPCs aboard the Mourningstar will start to see more within you, and their dialogue will reflect that. This will also occur between player-characters.
While this game is a great way to start one’s journey into the lore of Warhammer 40,000, Darktide doesn’t seem to explain many of its lore elements in depth. While this can generate the desire to research, those who just want to experience the game itself may find loose ends that only outside material will tie up. Fatshark could fix this by adding something akin to a lore tab, which the player could unlock more of as they earn more weapons, slay more monsters, and meet more characters.
Gameplay: Extremely Fun, Extremely Buggy
Like its Vermintide predecessors, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a first-person PvE hack-and-slasher/shooter. The horde-based combat, objectives, and melee- and gunplay all echo with the legacy of Left 4 Dead. After the tutorial level, the main gameplay loop starts with you matchmaking into missions from the Mourningstar’s hub-world.
Missions have different end goals, such as assassinating a powerful heretic or reclaiming an area or supplies taken by the enemy. From there, you and your teammates push through hordes while completing different tasks. These tasks include defending a terminal being hacked, finding power cells to open a door, holding your ground while an elevator arrives, and much more. Individual missions are varied, meaty, and the player can play them on multiple difficulties.
Enemies are varied in design, and come in a variety of special units. The vast majority will be your standard zombie-like melee combatants or ex-soldier riflemen that go down in one or two hits. However, special units can disperse your groups combat flow. Some can cause massive damage, pin and incapacitate allies, or create suppressive fire. During missions, sometimes mini-bosses may spawn, causing even more chaos on the battlefield. Enemy spawn rates, waves, and types aren’t the same between even two instances of the same mission. This gives great replay value to each mission.
The way health and armor, known as Toughness, works and regenerates encourages teamplay and aggression against the enemies. For example, toughness passively regenerates while near allies, and a small chunk is gained with each melee-kill. There are a lot more minor mechanics that are at play here and add to the gameplay, but I’ll go in depth with them in my full review of the game.
The weapons of the Warhammer 40k universe are phenomenally satisfying, and the classes have their own distinct playstyles. My favorites so far are the heavy chainsword and the monstrously powerful Boltgun on the Zealot Preacher. It’s frighteningly addicting to cleave through and eviscerate hordes of undead and mutated enemies, charging into battle in the name of the God-Emperor.
The UI while inspecting weapons may need some work. Weapons have vague bar-values for their stats. Furthermore, some weapons have descriptors underneath them, such as “Unstoppable” and “Ravage.” The player can make educated guesses, but it would be useful to know what these traits actually do. For example, inspecting a sword or axe may show its alternative action as “Special Melee Attack.” Unfortunately, the menu does not show the properties of the attack. This can encourage experimentation, but it may be difficult to determine the properties through everything going on.
In the general gameplay side of things, the Darktide beta has many bugs and technical issues. The worst offense was when I initially got the game, where I simply could not get past the title screen due to a “Backend Error.” I solved this by messing with my internet connection settings. Players also reported that using a VPN or otherwise changing their DNS settings also bypassed this issue. I hope the day-one patch resolves these issues. Luckily, Fatshark seems to be aware of many of these issues, and are actively working on them.
For other issues, I’ve experienced a notable amount of disconnections from the game. Luckily, it is possible for disconnected players to return right back into the mission via a prompt that appears upon signing back in. Furthermore, performing actions too fast while in a vendor’s menu can lock the game up. Sometimes, the game just crashes when quitting. I experienced other minor graphical and audio bugs as well. The core gameplay of this Warhammer 40,000: Darktide preview is very solid, but the edges do need some smoothing as soon as possible.
Graphics and Sound: Beautiful, Satisfying, and Genre-Appropriate
The game looks gorgeous on higher graphical settings. It’s awesome how much detail went into the environments. Environments are mostly dark as expected due to the setting, but it isn’t all too repetitive to look at. There’s gorgeous sci-fi gothic architecture, apocalyptic encampments in a desert wind, the industrial hellscape of a foundry, and much more. This game is pure eye candy for those with a taste in the Warhammer 40k aesthetic.
There is a catch to those graphics, however. This game is graphically demanding. It’s possible to run it on lower-spec hardware like I am. But the recommended specs for PC call for 8GB of VRAM. With a GeForce GTX 1060 and 6GB of VRAM, I can still run it on lower settings. Although, that 60fps is well out of reach without massively tanking the visual quality. For my fellow PC players, double-check your specs to ensure you can run the game as optimally as you’d want. The graphics settings of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide are fairly customizable, even for a preview, allowing you to increase or decrease different visual aspects to suit your needs.
The music is downright epic, and perfectly matches the visual motifs. Orchestral choirs sing over metallic, industrial melodies and beats, reflecting the environments in which you fight. I’ve had a few instances of music cutting in and out during missions. The sounds of weapons and how they interact with the world feels pitch-perfect. These details aid dramatically in the feel of a weapon. Axes rip and crunch into flesh and bone and a gun’s bolt satisfyingly clicks to chamber a round.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide was previewed on PC with a key provided by Plan of Attack.