Fatshark's Warhammer 40,000: Darktide (W40K:D) is a 4 player co-op multiplayer looter-shooter, in the style that the same company established with its related Warhammer Vermintide series, which is almost impossible not to compare to when evaluating the game. In this review, that comparison will be made for almost every aspect of Darktide.

The first obvious difference is the setting. We are no longer in the medieval fantasy world of Warhammer, but in the science-fiction (let's not confuse the discussion with terms like science fantasy) world of Warhammer 40,000, the 41st millennium of human civilisation, where the galaxy is in the grip of relentless and unrelenting war.

We are not in Ubersreik anymore.

The lore of Warhammer 40K is vast and inexhaustible, and even the most condensed summary would completely escape any reasonable scope within the W40K:D presentation. Devotees already know it, but more importantly, non-devotees don't need to know anything beyond the narrow context in which the game is set, and explained within it.

We are convicts - it doesn't matter what the charge is, nor whether we are actually guilty. Conviction is tantamount to death, one way or another. The spaceship carrying us is under attack by pirates. This turns out to be very lucky for us, because we manage to escape. As we run away, we save the life of a loyal and diligent Inquisition soldier, and that's enough to give us a second chance as expendable front-line soldiers. Who knows, we may even manage to earn the honor of dying in the service of the Emperor.

Coming up in the world.

In Vermintide, we were dealing with ready-made characters, with clear personalities and interpersonal relationships between them. In Darktide, we create our own characters, through a process that deals extensively with our character's background, and is sure to please fans of the setting. As strange as it may seem, most important to the personality our character will exhibit is our choice of voice - the game doesn't lie when it gives specific characterizations to the available voice-overs.

To conclude with the story, unfortunately, both on its own and in comparison to Vermintide, its existence can only be judged as a pretext. Already Vermintide 2's campaign had significantly looser scenario cohesion than Vermintide 1's. W40K: D goes a step further, and story campaign is practically non-existent. The available missions are not connected to any scenario coherent web. Typically, Vermintide 2's main campaign has four unique bosses with associated lore. In Darktide, a boss in the sense of a story antagonist does not exist at all, and only one of the seven available missions results in a battle with a more powerful enemy.

The graphics are an excellent representation of the characteristic Warhammer 40.000 aesthetic - a marriage of gothic architecture and iconography, with a futuristic science-fictional setting, and a few horror elements for garnish. And it's worth noting that there's a satisfying variety of environments in the various missions - the beta had raised some concerns that we'd go into the claustrophobic, half-lit corridors.

We said the atmosphere is gothic, didn't we?

The background music leaves an excellent impression - especially the theme that accompanies moments of frenetic action, it's epic, dynamic, and never tires, even though it's played quite often. However, the impressions are not purely good in the technical aspect, and that's because the optimization is just bad. The GeForce 1070 I still have has a few years behind it now, and I don't have the requirement to play everything all at huge resolutions with ultra settings. But it is above the min requirements, and the main negative is that tweaking the settings doesn't have the expected results. At classic 1080p resolution, high settings, 40 fps; medium settings, 42fps; low settings, 43 fps. It raises the legitimate question of whether quality presets do anything. In the end the only way to get 60fps is to use upscaling technology, FSR 2.0 to be precise, which fortunately W40K:D supports.

But now it's time to talk about the gameplay. We take control of a member of a four-man team, not exactly heroes as already mentioned, and are tasked with carrying out suicide missions against hordes of heretics. There's a discrepancy here between script and gameplay - script-wise, we're utterly disposable, raggedy pariahs, not even worth spitting on. In practice, however, our theoretically faltering team proves capable of slaughtering hundreds of bloodthirsty servants of Chaos in seconds, and slaying godlike mutants at the knee.

For the Emperor!

The gameplay loop is familiar from other looter-shooters. Frenetic combat against supernumerary enemies, achieving objectives, and in case of victory, being rewarded with better and better equipment, but also empowering the character with additional abilities, allowing for an increase in difficulty level, which gives even better rewards, and not even further.

This core gameplay core is Darktide's greatest asset, providing plenty of fun and "come on, one more mission and I'll let it go" type addiction until the player realizes that it's dawn. Fatshark has a lot of experience in this type of game from Vermintide, and perhaps the biggest surprise is how despite the change in setting, the emphasis remains on melee combat. Ranged weapon options are plentiful, and firefights are more frequent on increased difficulty levels, but the fact remains that there's a lot of clusterfucking going on. And thankfully, the feel of the combat is particularly enjoyable.

Ours but to do, and die.

It would be unfair to compare Darktide to Vermintide in terms of available content, since Vermintide has received a plethora of DLC, both paid and remarkably generous free expansions. But is the same true for quality of life and gameplay features?

Private lobbies shone through their absence at launch, and while they have been added in the interim, they are useless for no reason at all. On a purely technical level, the disconnects phenomenon has not been eliminated, although the situation has improved significantly with the latest patch. They happen rarely, and you can usually rejoin... but not always, and it's particularly frustrating to miss a high-difficulty mission run just before apparently successful completion because the server dropped you. The bots, lacking in AI compared to those in Vermintide 2, and even more annoying, they only carry basic equipment and not whatever the player is wearing. Most importantly, crafting is completely absent, with Fatshark saying it will be added at some point later. Bad tongues are commenting that crafting wasn't ready at launch, but the real money cosmetics store has been working flawlessly since day one.

I smell heresy.

Fatshark has a proven track record of excellent support for its games post-launch. That's good, but it's no excuse for a release that in some respects resembles early access, and an evaluation of Darktide at this point in time can't take into account promises for the future.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide offers plenty of fun, and that's because the core gameplay is excellent, well crafted by a company with almost a decade of experience in a genre (melee-focused co-op shooter) that it practically established itself. But at the same time, as an overall package, the game has problems and shortcomings that can certainly be attributed to a rushed release.

Go to discussion...



Innocence proves nothing

A worthy member of Fatshark's family of Warhammer games, but it needs more polishing and support from the developers until the remarkable core shines.

Νικόλαος Δανιηλίδης

Great Old One, hardware enthusiast, game collector, man of culture.

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