The original Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide borrowed heavily from the Left 4 Dead series, creating a stellar co-op adventure based around the Warhammer fantasy universe during its apocalyptic final days. It had a few major issues, but still improved on the games that inspired it enough to be a worthwhile successor to Valve’s forgotten franchise. Now Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is here, with welcome refinements and new content – but a few of the same old problems.
The End Times are a prophesied apocalypse that will result in the destruction of the Warhammer fantasy world, as depicted in a series of novels and role-playing books. Dark portents are everywhere, with massive armies of Skaven rat-men and other monsters marching against the civilized Warhammer peoples. Whether the citizenry likes it or not, all they can do is fight to forestall the inevitable.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 takes place shortly after the first game. The single-player cinematic prologue/tutorial starts with the original five heroes having been captured by the vile Skaven. As one of their captives, you’ll witness a Skaven wizard’s failed attempt to activate the Skittergate (a Stargate for rats). When things go awry, you’ll seize your chance to escape and rescue the other heroes. It’s an even more exciting single-player mission than the first game’s tutorial.
That story-focused prologue might make players wish for a more cinematic campaign, but Vermintide 2 still tells a passable story throughout its 13-mission co-op campaign. A lot of the narrative is confined to the narrated pre-mission loading screens, but you still feel a greater sense of progression and urgency here than in the original game – especially with each of the four acts ending with a climactic boss battle.
The damage-sponge boss fights are just one improvement over the first Vermintide. Enemy variety has also received a significant boost. Whereas the original featured eight or nine types of rat-men to slay, the new game adds several new Elite Skaven and a new six-unit enemy faction, Chaos, to contend with. The Bile Troll, (Skaven) Stormfiend, and especially the hulking Spawn of Chaos are all large, dangerous minibosses that can quickly bring an end to a team’s run. The first game’s entirely rat-based enemy population was its own strength, because what other game pits players against nothing but rat men? Still, the Chaos baddies offer some welcome combat variety. But perhaps the balance of Skaven enemies should be higher than it is.
Whereas the scale has increased a bit in Vermintide 2, the game is still a four-player online co-op game with five playable characters. If the team lacks one or more players, a bot will automatically fill that slot until a real player arrives. Only one person can play as each hero, so if your character of choice is taken, you’ll have to choose someone else (or get thrown into a random character in match-making). Class variety itself is improved upon here thanks to the introduction of two variants for every class, unlocked by reaching experience level milestones with the core classes.
The basic game structure involves a progression between thirteen missions spread across four acts. The loading times are a bit brutal on console, but that’s the nature of AAA games like this. Missions can be played on four different difficulty levels, each with greater XP and item chest payouts. Unlike the first game, access to higher difficulties is restricted by the power levels of everyone in the party. Thus, seasoned players can’t carry a rookie through higher difficulties, for better or worse.
Besides completing every each on each difficulty and leveling up the individual classes for fun and Achievements/Trophies, long-term progression comes from the quest and loot systems. From within the hub area/multiplayer lobby, players can access a tome filled with Okri’s Challenges. These include both general and daily quests. General quests involve completing various milestones, defeating enemies in specific ways, and other tasks. As for daily quests, you get a new one each day and can have up to three at one time – just like in Fortnite. The reward for completing quests is loot chests.
Don’t worry; Vermintide 2 doesn’t sell chests or currency as microtransactions. You’ve got to earn your loot here. The loot system itself is greatly improved over the first game. At any time in the lobby, players can press a button to access their equipment, traits (selectable skills that unlock by character level), and the crafting menu. No more having to walk around the hub looking for where to do what – it’s all in one handy menu.
Earning loot chests when you complete a mission, quest, or level up is always a pleasure thanks to the loot system. Each character can equip five different types of items, all of which boost stats and provide useful bonuses. Items come in several rarity levels, and some even have unique skins (called Illusions) here. This sequel offers so much more loot to find and streamlines equipping and crafting to such a degree that finding and crafting better equipment is genuinely compelling.
The original Vermintide was a great game, better than Left 4 Dead in many ways. One problem that held it back was the need to always be online to play. If you ever experienced connectivity problems, you’d simply be locked out of the game. That has been partially fixed in Vermintide 2, which now offers the choice of playing online or offline at start-up. Offline progression is totally separate from online play, so you can’t bounce between modes like you would in Diablo III or most other games. But at least playing offline is now an option, even if a clunky one.
The one big issue that has seen no improvement in the sequel is that of host migration. Should the host player quit, get disconnected, or simply crash, the entire team will get kicked out of the game. Nobody gets any XP, items, or mission progress when this happens. Considering that host migration has been a standard online multiplayer feature for years, it continues to be utterly inexcusable for the Vermintide games to omit it. I rarely run into issues with the host, but it’s frustrating when it happens. Why not at least give everyone some XP for their time, like the game does when the team fails a mission?
Finally, the lack of in-game communication tools in the console ports is still a drag. Communication is so vital in co-op-focused games like this, so you’ll want to wear a microphone to fully enjoy the experience. Players without microphones can highlight items or enemies for the team, but they are otherwise incapable of communication. Vermintide 2 would greatly benefit from text chat or at least a few voiceless communication options. Since the PC game already supports text chat, implementing it on consoles isn’t asking too much.
Despite the annoying host migration issue and lack of non-voice communications, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is still one of the best games I’ve played all year. The beautiful artistry at times rivals Dark Souls III, and the Xbox One X enhancements look particularly gorgeous. The addition of more daytime missions and a greater variety of environments keeps things fresh and interesting as well, especially with the occasional huge set pieces and big bosses to battle. Toss in fifteen playable classes and a genuinely good loot system and Vermintide 2 becomes one of the best co-op games around. Let’s hope Warhammer: Vermintide 2 doesn’t represent the End Times for this stellar successor to Left 4 Dead.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is available now for $29.99 on Xbox One and Steam. It’s also currently included for free with Xbox Game Pass. A PlayStation 4 version will presumably be released at a later date. This review is based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher for that purpose.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2
- Tight first-person cooperative gameplay that’s endlessly replayable.
- Gorgeous graphics and a beautiful world on the brink of apocalypse.
- The improved loot and quest systems will keep players coming back for more.
- No host migration. Yes, on a game released in 2018.
- The lack of voiceless communication options puts microphone-less players at a big disadvantage.
- The Xbox One version suffers from occasional glitches like events failing to trigger and full-on crashes.