There is little else as satisfying as vanquishing heretics as a hulking trans-human Space Marine, cleaving and gunning down any and all opposition in the name of the Emperor. However, you won’t be suited up as one of those walking tanks in this particular Warhammer 40,000 game. Fatshark has given us a grizzled, more frail set of rough ‘n’ tough heroes, a term I use quite loosely — you will soon understand when you see the hardened faces of the criminals leading the charge. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide pits a group of felonious rejects against the insurmountable hordes of monstrosities, including Poxwalkers and mutant abominations, plaguing the hive city of Tertium. It’s no easy task, and backup is nonexistent; an unsurprising set of conditions for expendable law-breaking scum (at least in the distrustful eyes of your handlers).
The band of misfits donning prisoner jumpsuits can be customized to a surprising degree. Tragic backgrounds can be pieced together to compliment the scarred visage of your character. Once your beautifully hideous miscreant has been formed, it’s off to fight alongside other labeled ne’er-do-wells to thwart the imminent threat present in Atoma Prime’s Hive Tertium. The player characters on offer come in one of four class varietals: Veteran Sharpshooter, Zealot Preacher, Psyker Psykinetic and Ogryn Skullbreaker. The final of the four is the only one to break the mold of the basic human form, sporting a massive frame (and even bigger armaments). That’s not to say the rest are uninteresting; it’s quite the opposite, in fact.
The four classes currently at the heart of Darktide are distinct and adhere to specific roles within the group. The Sharpshooter best serves the team by picking off distant threats, such as the high damage-dealing snipers perched in the shadowy corners. The Skullbreaker, to no one’s surprise, fills the tank role. The Ogryn’s massive shield can block incoming damage as the team moves up. The Preacher can charge into the fray and hack away at the enemy’s numbers, all while dropping some holy one-liners. The Psykinetic break away from the rest, opting for psychokinetic abilities rather than traditional weaponry. They are essentially the mages of the bunch, popping heads and blasting foes with ethereal flame from a distance; all while they attempt to manage their Peril, lest they explode.
To further differentiate the classes, each comes with exclusive weapon types as the player levels. The Zealot Preacher, for example, can wield the iconic chonky Bolter and electrifying Thunder Hammer. Little else feels as good as charging a Thunder Hammer with electricity before bouncing it off an enemy with incredible force. Or you could opt for a more brutish approach, leveraging the Ogryn’s Grenadier Gauntlet to simultaneously punch and explode all which stands before you. There is no shortage of brutally distinct horde-eliminating options at your blood-soaked fingertips.
While each class has its strengths, their fullest potential is realized in close proximity to their team members via the Coherency mechanic. Sticking close together is key, as no one is truly a one-man army in Darktide. The fragility of each player is highlighted during hectic fights wherein special enemies, such as charging Ogryn Mutants and acid-spitting Nurgle mini bosses, appear. Remaining close to one another provides additional benefits that improve as players invest in their class’ skill tree. A skill point is awarded every five levels and can be allocated to one of three nodes per column as rejects rise to the current level 30 cap.
Of course, all of the active and passive skills serve to highlight the wildly engaging combat, which feels like an evolution of that which we last spent countless hours with in Vermintide 2. The melee combat is gory, impactful and all-around satisfying. Swinging Power Swords and revving Chain Axes never get old. The ranged combat manages to elevate to the same level as the close-quarters carnage. Lasguns and Autoguns hit with punchy ferocity, diminishing heads into pulpy messes of red. There is virtually no wrong choice when it comes to the player’s loadout; everything feels great. And it is further amplified by one of the best, most fitting soundtracks in recent gaming memory.
Now that I have spent time beyond the confined of the pre-order beta, which drip-fed new content over the course of nearly two weeks, I am ready to render my final assessment. It was odd to see systems still labeled as coming soon, despite being in full release. At least I was able to utilize the Consecrate option at a nearby vendor to upgrade the rarity tier of my weapons, of which there is a constant flow. It’s too bad that the progression system barring access to certain weapon types is such a grind to get through in its current state.
Those that managed to progress far, or even max out a character (or two), in the pre-order beta may find themselves a bit lost when it comes to understanding the roles of the different vendors scattered about the Mourningstar hub. Introductions and cinematics were not all present during the beta phase and that means anyone who chose to go full speed into the available content is likely missing important context related to the different kiosks. But, hey, at least the premium shop has made itself known for anyone looking to spend real-world money on in-game cosmetics for their gruff soldier.
Performance wise, Darktide has made some notable improvements since the rocky beta phase. Sure, the optimization won’t win the undying praise of the internet, especially since the new Nvidia 4090 powerhouse can’t manage 60 frames per second at 4K without the assistance of DLSS 3. Still, improvement is improvement. And the game manages a decent outing at 30 frames per second on the Steam Deck. You know, for anyone looking to take their gunning, cutting and smashing on the go.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Review Verdict
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide: There is much promise for Darktide as is, even with its flaws. Fatshark's lengthy support for Vermintide 2 and commitment to evolving Darktide's storyline over time has given us faith in the long-term presence of the addictive co-op title. The live service nature may help smooth out the rougher edges over time as it provides even more reasons to dive into Darktide regularly via new modifiers and levels. And let's not forget the soundtrack. It's the perfect pairing for ripping and tearing your way through the hordes of heretics. – Joshua