There Is Only Grind

HIGH Sublime presentation of the grimdark future.

LOW Repetitive gameplay across the same locales.

WTF Euw… Nurgle, the Chaos god of disease (I’m a Tzeentch guy)

It is the 41st MIllenium.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide’s opening cinematic brings the familiar chilling maxim of a setting that has enthralled millions of fans over decades — a hopeless far future where humanity withers under the heel of a cruel theocratic regime waging endless war on enemies across the galaxy.

It’s always a compelling start no matter which 40K game someone plays, but in the last few years, Games Workshop has handed the license out like candy to game developers — often to mixed results. However, I am happy to declare the long-awaited Darktide is one of the best realizations of the IP, capturing the grimdark feel of the setting while offering a full complement of its most recognizable armory.

Whether the game is worth playing? That’s another issue.

The premise is that after having fallen out of the good graces of the Imperium, players are given a chance at redemption as a penitent warrior in the service of the Inquisition. The hive city of Tertium been infested with the filth of Chaos-worshippers, and it’s up to the player and their squad of similarly-disgraced canon fodder to blast their way through hordes of heretics, demons, and other filth to return the place to its former — well, “glory” isn’t the right word, but… administrative status? it needs to get back to being another productive cog in the Imperial war machine.

In this first-person shooter, players start by choosing one of four classes with their own special abilities — Veteran, Zealot, Psyker, and Ogryn. Veteran and Zealot start out feeling similar and possessing comparable armaments, but unlock more specialized weapons later on that build on each classes’ strengths — shooting for Veteran, melee for Zealot. The Psyker is the quintessential magic class, slinging the psychic energy of the warp for its main damage-dealing.

Ogryn is the real standout, in terms of feel. They’re abhumans, meaning they’ve evolved into hulking creatures twice the size of a regular human (like an ogre). Players will have to inhabit that size, actually needing to aim below eye level to chop and blast through enemies.

None of these classes are relegated to healing or support and party composition is relatively moot — each can hold their own in most situations, and it’s up to the player to decide which matches their play style. Prompts at the beginning about the background of the character will also determine how they behave in cutscenes — though not important due to the threadbare, almost non-existent plot — and character chatter during gameplay.

Once that’s all taken care of, it’s time to squad up with friends or randoms (the pace is frenetic enough that communication is not an absolute necessity) for a run through one of the five locations.

The presentation here is a highlight — it revels in resplendent renditions of the sublime scale and soul-crushing utility of the God-Emperor’s dominion, the individual dwarfed by massive industrial machines or, more rarely, the theocratic weight of religious architecture.

It’s a good thing this is all so stunning to look at, because with only five locations and just 13 missions running different routes through them, players will end up seeing the same sights over and over again as they repeat the same run-and-guns over and over with little variation.

Here’s the dividing line between those who will enjoy Darktide and those who may not — the grind. The foundational gameplay is satisfying enough, as players chop through teeming masses of undead, trading shots with foot soldiers of the Chaos powers, and focus-firing on more specialized units to free a squadmate or eliminate a serious threat, in addition to the occasional miniboss.

But to get the best weapons and unlock new difficulties (rather than unlocking new locations, I should note), players need to level up at a glacial pace.

Progress is incremental, especially as individual weapons have only modest stat differences. Characters will unlock passive abilities as they progress, but the weapons are key to actually making it through difficulties — but even then, they will be the same missions with little alteration.

Vermintide II veterans will scoff at these complaints, but may have gripes of their own. Primarily, there is simply less to Darktide than its immediate predecessor as it has fewer classes and less varied locations, and it just doesn’t have the content at this time to warrant such a grind.

It took me around 15 hours on my primary Veteran character to unlock weapons good enough to challenge the game on its third (of five) difficulty settings — and even then, my only motivation was so I could gain more experience to finally get the iconic boltgun. By that point, the joy of vanquishing heretics had just about left me.

It’s a shame because the gunplay is so visceral in sound and design — a treat for any longtime 40K fan. The exploding viscera is backed by the music of Jesper Kyd, also the composer for Vermintide II, who absolutely knocks it out of the park with a mix of synths and the occasional choral sweep, usually backed by a strong percussive beat that brings so much vitality to last stands and desperate holdouts.

Darktide has a lot going for it — a beloved IP, crunchy gunplay, and a gorgeous presentation. Sadly, it’s not the endlessly-playable showstopper some had hoped, instead offering a repetitious gameplay cycle made more apparent by slow progression and little mission variation. It’s clear Fatshark has further plans for their latest endeavor and it may yet reach its full potential after a few patches and expansions, but for now it’s best to set expectations.

Rating: 7 out of 10

— Stephen Cook

Disclosures: This game is developed by Fatshark and published by Fatshark. It is currently available on PC and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes. This is a multiplayer-focused game, although solo play with bots is available. The main storyline was not completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is a first-person shooter in which players lead a strike team to take back a city on an alien planet. Players traverse industrial facilities, complete mission objectives, and engage in frenetic combat against various creatures (e.g., mutants, zombies, infected hordes). Players use rifles, laser blasters, explosives, and melee weapons to kill enemy creatures; large blood-splatter effects occur as enemies are killed. Some attacks can result in dismemberment and/or decapitation, leaving large blood stains and body parts throughout the environment. A handful of enemy creatures are depicted with exposed entrails/viscera.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The subtitles can be resized. (See examples above.) Some enemy sound cues are not reproduced in text. Unfortunately, this means that the game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but movement is controlled using WASD keys. Aiming and shooting use the mouse while actions and interactions use the F and E keys.

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