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Review

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Review

In the grim darkness of the far future, quickplay with randoms is still a nightmare

Co-op horde shooters are a very specific breed of title. Each can be radically different in aesthetic and tone, but there is a niche expectation of what players will feel entitled to. Swarms of grotesque beasties need to surge forth and be cut through like hot butter while you and your allies stand shoulder to shoulder against such an impressive tide – the desperation uniting you all against the insurmountable odds. It’s an atmosphere best experienced with mates, creating stories that will be remembered forever. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide comes from a fine pedigree, given that developer Fatshark has already trod this path with their previous Vermintide titles, so how do they fare this time around?

The 40k universe is one of oppression – a miserable place where even death is hardly a respite. Darktide is quick to establish this, given that your player character starts the game in a locked cell, with NPCs debating whether it’d simply be easier to execute you now. You instead find yourself conscripted to work as part of a strike team of similar rejects taking care of gritty issues that feel more like a prolonged execution than a day job. This is the core experience of Darktide – you are scum that refuses to die, and will pour your meaningless existence into proving that you have purpose, no matter how menial.

Why yes, that is a big ol’ dookie demon

This state of affairs does a lot to breed attachment to your sad little avatar. From the game’s four classes, you’ll craft your very own reject to drag through hell and back. I personally started by playing a Psyker, a fragile caster that leverages dark witchcraft to disrupt enemies and occasionally explode their heads. This comes at a price however, because there are dark powers lurking at the fringe of your mind that edge ever closer to claiming your sanity if you are not careful – at times you will legitimately need to ‘reload your brain’ to avoid exploding. I quickly came to realise that the subtlety of the class depended on a tempo that is hard to manage with random teammates, and so I came to the obvious choice: become a lumbering oaf.

The Ogryn is the sci-fi equivalent of an Ogre, massive in frame and resilient. I immediately found myself channelling my dad-power into being as protective as possible of my lesser squad mates, throwing my bulk between them and the scarier beasties within the game – from chainsaw wielding nutbags, to enemy ogroids, and eventually massive slug beasts that can quite literally swallow you whole. This was more my speed – cosplaying Hulk Hogan being hired as a babysitter.

Rounding out the motley crew of misfits are the Veteran and the Zealot. While neither is as uniquely ‘out-there’ as my Big Friendly Giant or Psyker, they serve to supply playstyles that will feel familiar to most – specialising in ranged blam-blam and melee respectively. You can happily try each class and find what best suits your own depressing existence in the slums where you’ll be spending much of your time.

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This is getting out of hand, now there are two of them

These slums are better known as Tertium, a hive-planet that is over-populated and has long become an industrial nightmare. A maze of gantries and dark corridors house threats that are slowly tearing this world apart like a cancerous rust. Each mission will see you and three other losers dispatched to take care of a myriad of problems, from assassinations of key cult leaders to repairing ancient, enigmatic machinery, or even following a robot skull around rooms as you scan bits and bobs. All these will be saturated with the misshapen hordes of fanatic worshippers of dark gods, eager to throw their life away trying to end yours.

There is an ugliness to Tertium and its residents, rendered in beautiful clarity. Scrutinising environments only cements the immense sense of scale that surrounds your tiny, insignificant self. The amount of detail found in the gothic environments does wonders in rendering the tabletop world of Warhammer 40k as a living, breathing – decaying – place. Your numerous foes are also gruesome to look at, with the twisted forms of cultist and creature alike exhibiting a slavish understanding of the ruinous powers that bleed through the fabric of Warhammer lore. The graphical fidelity is also shockingly robust, marking the first time in a long time I have questioned my PC hardware and found a new benchmark to consider a worthy upgrade point.

While the game looks gorgeous, there are things rattling beneath its hood that are concerning. While I admit that my PC is not going to be sending anyone to Mars, it more than met the requirements to run the game in a gorgeous state. Investigating the frame drop and occasional slow-down that badgered my gameplay, I found many that spoke of memory leaks and numerous config file tweaks that could work to make the game run far better. It was even confirmed that some visual options within the game perhaps would not apply themselves as you intended, with recommendations to apply some changes while the game wasn’t running. While frustrating, it has to be mentioned that the communication and transparency from Fatshark on these issues is to be commended, indicating a clear intention to make sure its newest baby grows up big and strong.

Sometimes the mosh pit can get a bit crazy

There are two clear sides of the difficulty coin (and it is not something unique to Darktide), that is the challenge of the game and the abilities of the teammates at your side. It’s all fine and dandy to be up to your neck in the shit, drowning in a torrent of blistered baddy buttholes – but if your ally, xX_WeeDLorD_Xx, is 30 metres away ignoring your burbling pleas for help, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Like I said in my opening paragraph, the landscape of a co-op shooter is best traversed with mates, or at least trustworthy acquaintances – which makes it brilliant that Fatshark have included an option to rapidly group with people you may have enjoyed playing with at the end of a mission.

If you were to strip everything else away from Darktide and only focus on its sound design, you’d still find yourself in awe. Every auditory experience within the game bleeds quality, from the ambient sounds to the enemy chatter that makes the world feel alive and believable (especially the outstanding player character banter). It’s amazing how well the developers have woven modular conversations together from a myriad of voice actors, each with their own distinct personality. I am quick to grow tired of repeated dialogue, but there really is a staggering amount of conversation variety – hearing an opening line of a longer chatter string energises me to hear how it could differ this time.

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This is without even mentioning Jesper Kyd’s incredible music. I may be biased given his amazing work on the Darksiders II soundtrack, but truthfully Jesper has created a soundscape that defines the grim darkness of the far future. Dark, harrowing synth is paired with thumping percussion that feels oppressive and terrifying, instilling a fight or flight response from the player. High pressure moments within the game feel engaging as a choir swells at the edge of your awareness – you have become immersed in Darktide’s bleak reality, and it feels awesome.

What a fantastic spot to catch up on my reading

Final Thoughts

If one were to look at Darktide as a foundation for Fatshark’s newest co-op shooter legacy, you’d be impressed at the sheer girth of it all. This is a title that comes with a fat promise of more great things to come, while already awash in a sea of great things to see and do. Short of some critical failure on Fatshark’s part, I really can’t imagine a future where Darktide doesn’t establish itself as another fantastic team shooter experience for fans to enjoy for years to come. It is a great many things – gorgeous, fun, rewarding – but one thing it is not, is lacking ambition.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Review
Rejects Have Risen For Less
Darktide is a game that has atmosphere seeping out of every orifice. Its design brings a crushingly depressing and oppressive aesthetic to life in new and exciting ways, transporting the player to the grimy underbelly of Tertium. The most shocking realisation is that you don’t want to leave.
The Good
Visceral combat
Good lord, the music
Characters and classes are unique and fun
Replayability is exceptional
The dark Warhammer 40k fantasy is spot on
The Bad
Further optimisation is required
Progression is quite slow
Random queue if you dare
8
GET AROUND IT
  • Fatshark
  • Fatshark
  • Xbox Series X|S / PC
  • November 30, 2022

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Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Review
Rejects Have Risen For Less
Darktide is a game that has atmosphere seeping out of every orifice. Its design brings a crushingly depressing and oppressive aesthetic to life in new and exciting ways, transporting the player to the grimy underbelly of Tertium. The most shocking realisation is that you don’t want to leave.
The Good
Visceral combat
Good lord, the music
Characters and classes are unique and fun
Replayability is exceptional
The dark Warhammer 40k fantasy is spot on
The Bad
Further optimisation is required
Progression is quite slow
Random queue if you dare
8
GET AROUND IT
Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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