The PC Gamer team must've collectively slain at least 50,000 poxwalkers by now. My Ogryn's big hands are messy, but once I start swinging his giant combat knife around, it's hard to stop. We've been playing a whole lot of Warhammer 40K: Darktide during its pre-order beta, which ends with the game's full launch on November 30. And we've been having a grand time—but that was to be expected from the follow-up to Vermintide 2, which we praised for its "stellar combat and level design."
Vermintide 2 got even better over the four years Fatshark supported it, through both free and paid DLC and a gigantic free roguelike mode. So when we started playing Darktide, we weren't comparing it to the Vermintide 2 of 2022, not the game that launched in 2018. It has a lot to live up to.
Now that we've had more than a week to spend fighting Darktide's 40K hordes, we've put together a venn diagram (but in paragraph form) of how these two co-op games compare. Darktide doesn't do everything better than Vermintide, but the melee combat is still the best of the best, and the guns? *chef's kiss*
Classes and progression
Sean Martin, Guides Writer: Maybe it's because I'm a bigger fan of 40K than Warhammer Fantasy, but unlocking new weapons as I level up and seeing them appear at the Requisitorium is a real kid in a candy shop experience. I love seeing Ogryns running around with riot shields, or Veterans wielding plasma guns—those weapon unlocks are one of the best parts of Darktide right now.
That said, as of the pre-order beta, progression does feel a little lackluster in comparison to Vermintide 2. I pushed all the way to level 30 and there wasn't much save for a few cutscenes, and without all of the features required for buildcrafting, there isn't a proper endgame yet either. I do, however, enjoy the campaign framing of you being an expendable Reject who works your way up the ranks to be... a slightly less expendable Reject. It feels very in-keeping with the human reality of the 40K setting.
I think it's important to acknowledge that Darktide is Fatshark's first proper live service game in many ways, and it won't have a complete narrative on launch like Vermintide 2 did. It's not so strange to imagine progression evolving alongside the developing story in Tertium. What classes we do have are in a pretty solid state, though there are fewer than Vermintide 2, and I do think Fatshark needs to play around with who gets to use what weapons.
The fact that every class—save Ogryn—can use a lasgun, depreciates the Veteran in my eyes a little. I understand that they want to give every class a means to deal with every situation, but doing that kind of compromises characters having specific roles defined by their class. I think it's fine for classes to have limitations, or to have to come up with inventive solutions to survive.
One thing I have noticed is that ranged combat seems to be the meta for the highest difficulties, and that does bother me as a player who prefers Zealot. I don't envy Fatshark the task of balancing, but it is still early days, and the devs have said that new classes are one of the first things they want to add post-launch.
Philip Palmer, Contributing Editor: It’s felt downright weird to look around in Darktide and see how samey everyone looks when I launch into a new mission. While locking a particular character to one player like Vermintide did isn’t ideal either, there’s something special about knowing your cast more intimately like we did in the fantasy side of Warhammer.
While I absolutely adore some of the voices (in particular, the ‘Professional’ voice for the Veteran Sharpshooter feels like he mumbles lines from the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer in his sleep), the characters personalities and homogenous weapon selection makes me less attached. I had strong feelings for my beloved Victor Saltzpyre and Markus Kruber.
Mission design and story
Jody Macgregor, Weekend Editor: Vermintide 2 has a linear story that plays out over a sequence of missions, but encourages you to jump into quick-play mode for a better chance of scoring decent gear. If you do that you end up experiencing the story all jumbled up, sometimes being dumped into missions halfway through.
I played Vermintide 2 solo my first time through the campaign, only trying out quickplay after. When I returned to Vermintide 2 in lockdown with friends who hadn't played it, they all wanted to do the missions in order too.
Darktide seems to get around this by telling its story in cutscenes unlocked by leveling. The missions in the beta aren't connected to specific plot beats, and the dialogue focuses on characters. Turns out agents of the Inquisition spend a lot of time gossipping about support staff, sharing their feelings about the tech-priest. Vermintide 2's procedurally generated Chaos Wastes DLC is similar, and I think it's a better way of structuring a multiplayer game designed for pick-up-and-play.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: For repeat play, I'm really digging Darktide's mission board; the way it mixes and matches secondary objectives with missions I've done before adds some welcome flexibility and randomness over the linear missions in Vermintide that Jody described. I have to say, though, as stunning as I think Darktide looks—its lighting really helps keeping everything from being a drab, samey gray—I'm already really missing the sense of travel I got from Vermintide 2. In that game I went through abandoned cities, forests, bogs, villages, castles, and stopped to take in a scenic vista in nearly every mission. Right now Darktide's environments are missing that memorability for me.
I'm really hoping some DLC down the line takes us to the surface or to an entirely different world where I can see the sky and the whispers of a space battle playing out a thousand miles above me. Most of the mission locales are just a bit too anonymous.
Jody: There's a moment in Darktide's prologue where you see a wax seal fluttering on an air conditioning unit. That's when I knew they nailed the setting. That mix of industrial sci-fi and olde worlde baroqueness—the idea that somewhere there's an Imperial safety inspector whose job is to check these climate control fans and stamp them with wax like he's writing a letter to the King—is perfectly Warhammer 40,000.
It shouldn't be a surprise. Fatshark nailed it with Vermintide as well, which has Warhammer's sense of humor and love of doomed last stands. Warhammer's in good hands with Fatshark.
Sean: Perhaps an unpopular opinion: I miss the end of mission chests and dice from Vermintide. The Warhammer setting is rich in portents and fate, but also soldiers and vice—people trying to find a way to escape the horrible reality that the Chaos gods have conspired to create for them. Having some kind of luck or gambling-based reward system always felt very Warhammer to me, and I think it would totally work in Darktide. Not that I'm advocating loot boxes that cost real money, of course.
Philip: I’m definitely with Sean—it feels like heresy to miss what passed for loot boxes in Vermintide, but the nature of risking it for just one more Grimoire in the hopes of additional forbidden loot just radiates big Warhammer energy. I really hope more significant rewards of some kind are in the cards for the future, just to add that extra spice back into some missions.
Melee and ranged combat
Sean: At first Darktide lulled me into a false sense of security. Bashing enemies over the head with a shovel felt much the same way as Vermintide 2's melee combat, and it made me think I'd figured the game out. But for every Vermintide player I think there's a moment in Darktide where you suddenly find yourself facing a company of lasgun-wielding soldiers or a ripper Ogryn. They're over there, and you're over here, and as you get shot to pieces you realize your hubris. For me, the combat feel was what I stayed for in Vermintide 2, and Darktide absolutely has it. I'll be lodging my heavy chainsword in heretic faces for years to come.
Wes: I agree the combat feels sublime. Melee is just as good as it was in Vermintide (maybe even better?) and every gun I've tried on my Ogryn so far has kicked and roared like a demon caged in steel. One place where Darktide feels a bit weaker to me, though, is the roster of "special" enemies. As in Vermintide, they're essentially riffs on Left 4 Dead's hunter and smoker and boomer, etc. Maybe due to the increased enemy counts in Darktide or the less-defined character voices, I broadly find the callouts for some of these enemies less clear than in Vermintide—and they're a bit less threatening than I want them to be, too. I'm sure I'll get used to them (and get my ass kicked on higher difficulties) but I think Fatshark had an opportunity to improve on Vermintide in this area and didn't quite get there.
Philip: Playing as the Veteran Sharpshooter really threw me into the deep end of the new ranged combat focus of Darktide, and at first it was a bit frustrating. Like Wes said, the more dangerous elite enemies in Darktide’s roster aren’t always telegraphed as clearly as Vermintide’s, and I found myself being shot regularly by snipers or gunners who I’d been clueless about, and getting frustrated at what felt like punishment for not having cyber-eyes. But over time I got better with my Veteran Sharpshooter, liberally using his tactical ability to ‘scout’ for enemies instead of just confronting the ones I’d already seen (it highlights them). That really made things fall into place.
While I’m still a little concerned about the higher difficulties with the larger volume of ranged combat, Fatshark has at least made me breathe a sigh of relief since it's already confirmed there’s no friendly fire there either.