Warhammer 40,000: Darktide mission screenshot
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Last-minute Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Pre-release Beta Impressions

Gav and George played a couple of the betas for Darktide - how does Fatshark's co-op shooty-stabber stack up?

Note: There’s been two betas for Darktide, one a few weeks ago and now the preorder beta. This post primarily refers to the older beta, but has been updated with some bits from the second.

It’s been a few weeks since Fatshark ran the first public beta test for Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, a non-rat-themed 40K follow-up to the Vermintide games. It follows much the same formula as those earlier –tides: Left 4 Dead-ish co-op action, where a squad of four intrepid weirdos wanders around cracking skulls. As it’s set in the 40K setting rather than the Warhammer Fantasy of Vermintide, this entry has more of a focus on shooting and being shot. While you’d think that’s a game-changer, you might be surprised how smoothly the transition between the two is (or, less flattering, how little the formula changes between the two).

Systems and stuff

Gav: Darktide’s got a few new tricks up its sleeve compared to ye olde Vermintide. Character creation, for one, where you can create all sorts of grimy weirdos – no hotties to be found among the prisoners of Atoma Prime, unless you have a thing for Ogryns. No judging. The process is a bit involved, quite RP-heavy, and sort of put me off designing multiple prisoners, which is maybe a good thing. A big change to the combat is the introduction of a sort of Doom-like armour which reduces (but doesn’t negate) incoming damage, which regenerates when you score melee kills or hang around near your pals.

Warhammer 40,00: Darktide screenshot: Lobby
The lobby of Darktide

George: Joining the lobby between games reminded me a bit of PUBG’s pre-match lobbies – a lot of people jumping about in strange and ragged clothing. Usually I’m not too fussed about player cosmetics in multi-player games but given how much of the Warhammer hobby is about the cosmetics of your army I’m hoping the options for player customisation will be expansive. While the digital rags don’t make the game any less enjoyable, driving axes into eye-sockets 40K-ness, kitted out in a Catachan uniform would add a certain je-nai-se-quois.

Beta 2 note: The second beta’s opened up some cosmetics – there seems to be a lot of them, though they are quite horrifically expensive.

The beautiful sights and sounds of the grimdark future

George: From the heroically sculpted models to the library of books describing someone being shot with a bolter or bi-sected by a chain sword, 40k fires the imagination with images of absurd, epic, moreish and syrupy ultra-violence. While Darktide only shows us a tiny slice of the universe, we finally have a game that delivers on what we imagined. From the snap of lasbolts to the Techpriest giving mission updates, Darktide delivers on the ultra-violence 40k . At least the minute to minute action did. The missions we played certainly featured a lot of grotty corridors but nothing distinctly memorable. I remember a few moments in Vermintide that made you stop to look at the views that made The Old World feel alive but I can’t remember any similar moments in the beta. 

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide background screenshot
This background from the second beta is very cool

Gav: Similar thoughts across the board from our party of convicts. There was one map I quite liked, with action through the streets of the Hive City leading up to and through a checkpoint – that one had that nice mixture of Gothic brickwork and austere structures, and a few outdoor spaces that made it pop a little more than most of the others. Most of Darktide’s first beta’s maps focused on indoor spaces; claustrophobic vents, hallways, sewers, and industrial walkways. Some more variation might be essential for the visual side of the game not to get stale. While Hive Cities aren’t the most vibrant places, other 40K games have shown the possibilities in the setting. The audio is excellent, though – from the crunchy melee to the satisfyingly meaty gun sounds to the screams and war-cries of the Chaos hordes, the soundscape of Darktide is all there.

Gav update: I’ve been playing the preorder beta for Darktide, which has since added a few new missions – I can confirm that the newer beta has included a fair few new environments, many of which are quite nice. Some are at the sandy base of the Hive, and others feature more interesting and unique indoor spaces (even if they do occasionally reuse rooms from other levels, splintering off into different directions).

Class Action

George: If we overlook the Ogryn in the corner, the distinction between the classes initially felt subtle. With similar weapon options and only a single tactical ability to set them apart, you’ll need to sink a few hours in before you really start to notice the differences. As we levelled up and cranked the difficulty the team dynamic and class differences feel into place with Zealots and Ogryns clearing the chaff and keeping the Veteran and Psyker safe to pick off the elite enemies. 

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide mission screenshot
Smacking chaos lads in the foundry

Gav: I basically exclusively played the Zealot, in the spirit of mostly playing Saltzpyre in Vermintide. There are some things that are numerically different about the different classes. Darktide’s half-shields half-Doom armour system has different values for each, for instance. There are small features that differentiate them, and I think that this will become more apparent as you earn more talents on level-up. But with so many of the weapons (especially early on) not being class-specific unless you happen to be very large, there’s a feeling that all the lads blend together a bit.

This resolves out as you ascend the levels and difficulties, where different characters need to attend to different roles in combat. Playing the second beta I also noticed a distinct lack of Ogryns. Where are the big boys?

Clicking on Heads

George: A big surprise was the humble Lasgun. Often derided as a ‘flashlight’ in the 40k universe, here it proved an effective and versatile weapon, able to place accurate shots and range while providing decent crowd control when fired rapidly from the hip. I was worried that the shooter elements would play second fiddle to the melee systems that Fatshark honed in Vermintide but Darktide is just as adept at shooting and scooting as it is at hacking and slashing.

Gav: I eventually unlocked a shotgun for my trusty Zealot and basically stuck with that, blasting away – this felt pretty good, like all decent videogame shotguns. I tried a few of the other ones, but the SMG-type thing I kept finding in the loot felt a bit piddly and weak. There’s an extra firing mode for each gun, though; something I only realised later on in our beta play-session. As we moved up some of the difficulty levels, I found this disparity got a bit wider, with the auto options being totally useless against elites. 

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide mission screenshot
The lasgun, pictured, sounds and feels actually quite nice to use

Chopping (on) Heads

Gav: A lot of the time I found myself reaching for my trusty melee weapon, so far usually a sword or an axe; we didn’t get far enough to unlock the Thunder Hammer, which probably would have been a lot cooler. It’s still fun, fast hack-and-slash action against endless hordes, the formula mostly unchanged from Vermintide. Elites interrupt the action and force teamwork-based responses, especially from the Psyker, who’s very good at dealing with them. If you’re a Vermintide veteran the rhythm of combat won’t catch you off-guard, even though the beat is punctuated with gunfire. 

Summing up

Gav: Darktide definitely seems to be iterative rather than revolutionary. The Vermintide formula, largely unchanged since the first game, slots surprisingly neatly into the sci-fi setting. It’s not long until this game comes out, and though I’ve played a bit of both of the game’s betas, I’m excited to see where it goes and dig in to the full experience. I’m a little skeptical of Darktide’s live-service-y model for releasing additional content, but if it can pan out well I can see why they’d aim for it.

George: Going by what we got in the beta there’s a lot to feel excited for. If Darktide can build out what it offers beyond what’s on the end of your chainsword, I think it has a shot at the best 40k game to date.

It’s been a bit of a quiet period here at Bits & Pieces, but Gav recently posted his take on Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, which you can read here. In other demo and beta-related news, Gav played a load of games from Steam’s Next Fest recently, and split up his impressions into post number one and post number two.

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