With Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, Vermintide dev Fatshark takes the Left 4 Dead formula into the far future.
Vermintide 2 is one of our favourite co-op games of all time, so we’ve got a lot of confidence in its developers, Fatshark. With Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, the Swedish studio is switching from fantasy to Games Workshop’s sci-fi setting. That’s right, it’s time to pick up a chainsword and do battle in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium.
Expect to fight hordes of enemies in the claustrophobic depths of a hive city alongside your friends, while enjoying banter and a story co-written by best-selling 40K author Dan Abnett.
We’ve played Darktide, and it’s great. Scroll down for a lengthy gameplay video and some early impressions.
When is Warhammer 40,000: Darktide’s release date?
Darktide will release for PC on November 30. While initially scheduled for a 2021 release, it’s yet another game that had to be pushed back thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have a responsibility to deliver the best game we possibly can, and frankly we need more time to accomplish this goal,” Fatshark CEO Martin Wahlund wrote. “It is no secret that building a game during a pandemic is a challenge, and we are not immune to this.”
The first of two subsequent delays, from Spring 2022 to September 13, was explained in a press release as being more to do with a simple desire for quality: “To us here at Fatshark, it’s paramount that we deliver the best 4-player co-op experience possible.”
Most recently, it was delayed to November 30 on PC, with an Xbox Series X|S launch “shortly after”. This time, Wahlund cited a need to improve “stability, performance, and to mature key systems.”
Darktide was our favorite game of “not-E3” 2022
Here are the highlights of our hands-on with Darktide:
- Objectives are no longer tied to levels, so you’ll be able to play through areas with different goals.
- The loot system has been overhauled. There’s still some random gear, but you can also buy weapons from the in-game shop (not with real money) and set “contracts” on specific weapons you want to earn by playing.
- Objectives now involve minigames like hacking (or rather, skulljacking) into a computer, rather than just holding a button down.
- There’s mantling, and it’s smooth.
- Hordes of enemies are bigger than in Vermintide 2.
- You’ll still be doing a lot of melee, but guns feel excellent.
- Every character class now has a regenerating shield, a necessary counter to the bad guys having guns. Functionally the shields are the same for each class, but Fatshark still gave each one its own little lore-appropriate twist. “For the Zealot [class], it’s her faith in the Emperor who protects her. For the Veteran, it’s his armor. For the Psyker, it’s her warp power.”
Who are the player-characters?
Darktide’s heroes are nicknamed the Rejects, as seen in a trailer from June called Rejects Will Rise. They’re a bunch of criminals and outcasts recruited to become agents of the Inquisition, then sent to investigate an outbreak of plague and heresy in Tertium Hive.
The gameplay trailer that debuted at The Game Awards in 2020 gave us our first look at some of them: an ogryn (an oversized descendant of humans who were sent to harsh, high-gravity worlds generations ago), a hammer-wielding religious zealot who may well be a confessor or some other servant of the Imperial faith, and two soldiers who seem to be veteran soldiers of the Imperial Guard. One of them wore a face mask like the kasrkin, elite storm troopers from the planet Cadia. We got a closer look at them in the release date trailer.
In an Edge magazine feature we first saw another archetype: a psyker who draws psychic power from the warp, but may well explode if they rely on it too much. The psyker reappeared in the Rejects Will Rise trailer.
Edge’s article also mentioned that Darktide will have a character creator, and those characters can be customized with different faces and loadouts. It seems likely the two veteran Imperial Guards are examples of how much the same class can be differentiated.
Though being able to customize them means the Rejects won’t be set individuals like Vermintide’s Ubersreik Five, they will still have plenty of entertaining banter. As Fatshark explained in a dev blog, the voice actors have recorded “thousands upon thousands of banter lines“.
A character spotlight for the zealot archetype made it plain that each of the archetypes will have multiple classes to choose from, each with unique skills and abilities. The example shown was the zealot’s preacher class, who has faster melee attacks and a class ability that lets them charge at a target, locking them into hand-to-hand combat. They also gain more damage the less health they have and can throw a Stumm gas grenade.
While Vermintide had five core characters, we seem to have only seen four so far in Darktide. That’s led to plenty of speculation that a fifth playable character is being held for an announcement closer to release.
Our interview with co-writer Dan Abnett confirmed that each Reject begins at the bottom, as “an unwilling recruit into this life of serving the Inquisitor. You’ve got everything to prove, and I suppose everything to lose.” The warband will also include NPC professionals who “are kind of using you as cannon fodder.”
In the Warhammer 40,000 fiction, acolytes of the Inquisition come in many archetypes, and there’s an acolyte hierarchy (from acolyte to proven acolyte, to trusted acolyte, throne agent, and so on) that would serve nicely as a progression system. We know from Edge’s feature that Darktide will indeed contain leveling up, and that characters’ dialogue will change to reflect how seasoned they are.
Who are the enemies?
The big bad behind it all is Nurgle, the Chaos god of pestilence with a surprisingly good sense of humor. Grandfather Nurgle, the Lord of Decay, tirelessly experiments with new strains of disease with the ultimate aim of inducting everyone into his garden: a festering organic plane of existence. You do not want to go to Nurgle’s garden.
In Darktide we’ll be facing a cult of plague-worshippers called The Admonition, who seem to be thriving. The hordes seen in the trailers are poxwalkers, the corrupted zombie masses of 40K, and make sense as low-level fodder in a Left 4 Dead format. We also see well-armed cultists, some of whom can be identified as traitor guards given the autoguns they’re carrying and the armor they’re wearing, though they have modified it with spikes because of course they have
The big ugly who shows up at the end of several trailers is an infected Chaos ogryn, and the dog who leaps out of the darkness is presumably a Chaos hound.
There are plenty of other servants of Nurgle from 40K that would work in Darktide too. We’ve already fought Chaos spawn in Vermintide, as well as some of Nurgle’s daemonic servants. The lesser daemons called Plaguebearers will make excellent elites, and one of the greater daemons called Great Unclean Ones could serve as a big campaign finale—though it’s unlikely a squad of plucky acolytes would stand any chance against one of those large, large lads.
Just tell me about the weapons
Fatshark excel at melee combat, and the gameplay trailer shows some familiar animations for that. One of the veterans wields an iconic 40K chainsword and the other a power sword, the zealot has a thunder hammer, and the ogryn a real big knife. That last one may sound underwhelming, but it’s a blade the size of an ordinary human being. The psyker apparently gets access to a force sword.
Darktide has more of a focus on ranged weapons than Vermintide, however, and it seems like we’ll be modifying our loadout with plenty of those. Multiple characters in the trailers have autoguns for continuous fire, and there seems to be two lasguns, one a sniper’s long-las. There’s also some kind of shotgun or perhaps just a real heavy-duty autopistol. The ogryn’s ripper gun—a heavy auto-shotgun—also doubles as a melee weapon, which is nice.
We know from Edge that plasma guns will Feature, and given that it’s a 40K game, boltguns are a dead cert for inclusion. One of the other characters hurls a frag grenade to break up a horde at one point as well.
“As we’ve seen in Vermintide, players really enjoy tweaking their loadouts,” creative director Anders De Geer told us. “And since we have a lot of great modders, they also want to tweak individual weapons, talents and other stuff. So we are working with a system right now that will allow players to have way more freedom than they had in Vermintide to customise their toolkit when they go into a mission.”
The hive and the hub
Darktide is set in a hive city called Tertium. Hive cities are awesome. They’re vast, layered cities populated by a diverse population of warring gangers, corrupt diplomats, and a few billion hardworking folk who tend to die quite quickly. Planetary governors and senior Imperial agents enjoy good living at the top of a hive city’s spires, while in the tangled underhive corridors that form the bowels of the city, citizens form gangs and battle for territory.
Among Tertium’s locations are an underground water market, well-lit habzones where the billions huddle close together, a much less well-lit prison, service tunnels that connect the guts of the hive, and the gothic walkways that span its heights.
It’s a good place for Nurgle to do his work. A Chaos-instigated pandemic can take down an entire planet if allowed to fester, so the stakes are high in Darktide. As a location to explore, hive cities risk being eternally dingy, but there is potential to mix up the architecture a lot, from grandiose and gothic Imperial buildings, to more utilitarian spaces reminiscent of Alien.
The maps will change, too. Return to a friendly corner of Tertium later and a gas leak may have driven out the inhabitants, or they might have been replaced by the Admonition.
Between missions we’ll be returning to the Inquisitor’s starship in low orbit to collate the clues we’ve gathered, tinker with our gear, talk to NPCs, and select the next mission from those available.
“You’ve got a place that you can talk to the other members of the team and the other characters,” says Abnett, “the important members of the warband. And also improve yourself and get new kit and get briefed and all those sorts of things that you would expect to be able to do in a game.”
It’ll also have players beyond those we’re grouped with in it. “The starship is much bigger in the sense of player count than the Vermintide hub,” game director Anders De Geer told us. “It’s more of an actual hub with NPCs and people to interact with, but also other players of course.”
Will it tie into the 40K lore?
Fatshark is used to close collaboration with Games Workshop from developing the Vermintide games, and has Abnett on hand to keep the lore straight. In addition, the writing team includes a bunch of other names 40K readers might recognize: John French, Sarah Cawkwell, V J Hayward, Mark A. Latham, Jude Reid, and creative consultant Matthew Ward, who also wrote for both Vermintide games.