Warhammer: Vermintide 2 exists in a sub-genre that I wish was more popular. While there are some co-op focused games with linear levels, they’ve largely given way to the dominant modern design that focuses on competition and open worlds. Vermintide 2 still retains some contemporary elements, but carves out its own niche nonetheless.
A prologue and introductory narration provide context to the world and the tasks at hand, but it’s largely an afterthought. While some true Warhammer fans may get something out of this, it adds little for the uninitiated. I don’t know who the Skraven Ratmen or Warriors of Chaos are, but I enjoy hacking them up all the same.
More importantly, a game like Vermintide 2 relies heavily on its core combat system, and I’m happy to say that it nails this aspect. Attacks feel weighty and satisfying, which serve to make every character enjoyable to use. Greatswords and hammers have a slow but powerful heft to them, while smaller swords and rapiers are appropriately swift and precise. While there are no complex combos, light and heavy attacks spice things up a bit. Heavy attacks are naturally powerful, but require more time to swing. Most classes can be interrupted while charging these attacks, so they’re a poor choice for moments where you’re being swarmed by enemies.
Different weapons have altered stamina levels and angles where they can block or push. A sword and shield, for example, is far more effective at blocking and pushing than a lone axe or dagger. The stamina system places a limitation on these specific actions, but your movement and ability to continue swinging is thankfully unrestricted. Correctly timed blocks result in a parry that saves stamina, and gives you a reason to not perpetually swing wildly at the horde of enemies in front of you.
The added gore and dismemberment is consistently an enjoyable spectacle, and contributes to the overall feel of the game, particularly with regards to melee combat. While there is no deep system to accurately direct attacks, they are varied by default, which leads to some amusing moments of bloody spectacle. Still, a more intricate system for directional and timing-based attacks would have elevated the combat above its simple yet effective design. Ranged weapons have limited ammo but also carry appropriate stopping power. There’s a good balance between bows, crossbows and guns that utilize various strengths. Some have armor piercing properties and high volume, while others reward accuracy with high damage. Moreover, the ranged options complement the melee weapons very well. It’s a joy to crush shields with a flail and then blow heads off with well-placed pistol shots.
Classes are organized into five base categories, and leveling up one unlocks branching variants of the existing characters, for a total of 15 different classes. These classes cover the basic roles commonly seen in RPGs such as tanks, ranged/melee DPS, and a pseudo-healer. Naturally, this lends itself well to multiplayer, which allows your team to coordinate and use complementary characters. Many classes have some crossover in their weapon selection and general playstyle, but there are enough differences in their passives, skills and talents to differentiate them. The Huntsman is a long ranged class with ammo regeneration from headshots, which encourages a more methodical style of play. In contrast, the Bounty Hunter has increased ammo and faster reloads, which emphasizes volume over accuracy. At first glance, the melee-focused classes are pretty similar, but their signature skills matter more as you increase the difficulty. Talent trees provide various bonuses related to your chosen class. Most are simply stat increases, but some carry unique effects, like the ability to boost your existing skills to have additional properties. An AOE buff and temporary health boost can be upgraded to additionally revive teammates, for example. These talent selections are not locked in, so you can swap between them after missions to try out new combinations.
Loot drops are the game’s core method of progression. Inherently, this leads to occasional moments of excitement, but most of the time, drops are fairly mundane. Your mileage will vary based on your luck. On the plus side, there are salvage and crafting systems that complement the loot system. It’s a quick process to trash and remake whatever you want, which cuts down on the tedium of amassing an endless collection of random loot. Innate bonuses can also be added or removed, which allows you to tweak your otherwise random equipment.
Enemy placement is somewhat randomized, with elites and bosses being shuffled every time you play. While this does a bit to mix up individual encounters, the levels themselves lack differing pathways, and collectibles are always in the same locations. This is an area where randomization would have helped, because exploration quickly stops being rewarding. To its credit, the environments in Vermintide 2 are visually very distinct, so the repetition is less noticeable if you aren’t actively replaying the same levels. Luckily, Verminitide 2 is aware of its limited mission structure, and includes a built-in shakeup to the formula called the Heroic Deeds System. These deeds can be acquired through loot drops, and provide modifiers to existing missions. For example, the deed may increase enemy health, remove supply drops, or make getting knocked down result in instant death. In practice, some are exciting changes, whereas others are simply tedious.
Although Vermintide 2 is a game that necessitates communication, the in-game characters do a decent job of not only informing players, but adding to the banter. Discovering pathways will prompt your character to vocalize that you’re going in the right direction, while using a potion to top off your health will result in party members remarking that you’re wasting resources.
One of the interesting features in multiplayer is the quickplay bonus, which incentivizes playing with random groups. This bonus is massive, and increases your reward at the end of a successful mission. With that being said, a host quit or disconnection boots everyone out. A frustrated or petty host can ruin the game for everyone else by quitting, and this happens far more frequently with randomly selected party members. While all co-op focused games are better with friends, it feels almost mandatory to consistently have fun, extra loot be damned.
Disconnection in general is another serious issue. One instance in particular left a bad taste in my mouth. After a hard-fought boss fight, our team needed only to escape to successfully complete the mission. As we approached the exit, we all simultaneously jumped into the portal that would lead us home. Yet I landed inside alone. Confused, I turned around, only to see my teammates frozen in midair. It would take about 20 seconds for the game to notify me of what I was already aware of: We were disconnected a literal second before finishing the mission, effectively making the past half hour pointless. Instances like this may not define Vermintide 2, but it certainly adds an extra bit of annoyance that can turn an enjoyable experience into a tiresome one.
One of the most interesting features of Vermintide 2 is its Twitch and Mixer integration. Viewers can actively participate in your stream by voting on what they want to spawn next. These votes can result in difficult enemy encounters, helpful boosts and general events. It adds some interesting scenarios for the player to overcome. As a viewer, it’s consistently amusing to sabotage or help the player on a whim.
Overall, Vermintide 2 suffers in the minor aspects of its design, but its core combat and basic structure is strong enough to make up for most of the frustrations. Not every implementation is well executed, but it succeeds in the areas that it needs to.