Darktide Closed Beta: Goonhammer’s First Impressions

After a long week trapped in an industrial labyrinth, fighting off corruption and hordes of heretics, we were finally able to escape the Goonhammer Corporate Offices and spend the weekend playing the closed beta of Darktide – here are our hot takes!

Many thanks to Fatshark for sending us keys to the closed beta of Darktide.

In Darktide, you and three friends take the role of unwashed convicts in jumpsuits, armed with the grungiest of scrap weapons, and are tasked with beating industrial workers to death for trying to affect change in their work environment. Granted that change is of the daemonic corruption variety, but have you ever worked in an industrial factory before? Would a little daemonic corruption really be so out of place?

Developer/publisher/really cool people at Fatshark provided us with some keys to the closed beta, and so we were able to spend the weekend together – bursting brains and taking names. Some of our Patrons were even lucky enough to get their hands on Darktide keys, and unlucky enough to deal with us as teammates as we chatted on Discord while playing.

We’ll hold off on a proper review until the game is released, but for now let’s do that thing that we here at Goonhammer do so well: get a bunch of weirdos together and talk about our baseless opinions, knee-jerk reactions, and first impressions.

Enemies have subtle sound queues. If you listen closely, you can hear the ear-piercing staccato string work. Credit: Pendulin

Pendulin: I love a good co-op shooter, and Vermintide 2 reigns supreme in that genre for me. When I heard that Fatshark was following it up with a similar game set in the 40k universe, I became the hype. And my first impression of the beta is that Darktide has the potential to become my new goto co-op shooter. But despite their many similarities, comparing Darktide against Vermintide 2 is tricky when the latter has four and half years of expansions and polish.

I dipped my toes into each class, but dove headfirst into the Psyker. I loved hearing the pilot light ticking of a distant Tox Flamer, only for me to chuckle and remark that it made a crucial mistake: it brought a non-psychic-brain to a psychic-brain fight.

Click click boom. Credit: Pendulin

Almost every part of this game clicked for me. The combat, character customization, graphics, sound, it was all great. But it wasn’t perfect. The game crashed for me a decent number of times throughout the weekend, and there were some pretty obvious bugs that kept popping up – localization issues, a typo here or there, and sometimes icons showed up in the wrong location (imagine the icon for “Health Here!” except it’s 10 feet to the left of the health pack).

Fortunately, the issues are minor enough that I’m not worried about the quality of the game on release. This felt like a truly honest beta. Not a dumb marketing stunt to brand a finished game as “beta” to milk the preorder market. There’s clearly work to be done before release, but software is like that. It looks rough right up until the eleventh hour. And if what we saw was the quality at the tenth hour, then I’m very impressed.

Josh: After already clocking in a stupid amount of hours in the two days I’ve had my hands on the game, I can say that Darktide rocks. It’s the same, fun melee system of Vermintide spiced up with chunky ranged options that manage to feel as powerful and heavy as the blunt clubs and sharp sticks you’re repeatedly swinging into some poor heretic’s face.

Of all the four classes, I found my favourites to be the Ogryn and the Psyker. Nothing beats the thrill of bull-rushing through a horde, knocking them all over like bowling pins, and then beating them all to mush with your ogryn-issue lead-pipe … or channeling a brain-burst into a tough-to-kill mauler and watching it drop.

“What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?” No, but you can grab them out of the air like a sicko. Credit: Pendulin

Visually, the game is phenomenal. The transitions from wide-open manufactorums where you can barely make-out the ceiling into tight, cramped maintenance tunnels is awesome. It captures the industrial terror of Hive Worlds very well, though I won’t quite say it compares to the absolute grunge of Necromunda: Hired Gun’s environments. You can recognise the inspirations from terrain & model-ranges all over as well, which I annoy my non-ham friends with endlessly by claiming oh, that’s from a kit, or, oh hey, I have that bit in my bitz box.

And the music. It slaps. On the mission to assassinate the magistrate, my favourite, the chorus/chanting tune at the end just gets me each time.

This is the mission terminal – effectively the game’s main menu. Yeah, it looks that good. Credit: Joe

Crab-stuffed Mushrooms: This game needs a dance emote.

Pendulin: Nothing says grim darkness like watching an Ogryn floss.

Crab-stuffed Mushrooms: I love the sound effects in this game: Every headshot sounds like an exploding melon. Each class allows you to select from several voice actors and they’re all ace as f*ck (can I say that on a family site)? I was looking forward to trying out the chainsword and the developers did not disappoint:

That on-screen prompt says “Left click to Eviscerate”. A good tooltip for any game, really. Credit: Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Joe: Like Pendulin I’m a big fan of Vermintide 2 and also love shooter games, which means I have been eagerly waiting for Darktide ever since it was announced. Happily the game seems to largely live up to my expectations, and I had an absolute blast clicking heads and swinging swords as Beefknob the Veteran Sharpshooter, Hero of the Imperium. The gameplay definitely has that familiar Vermintide feel, with the melee/ranged balance tweaked just the right amount for the 40k setting (though some FPS fans may wish it was a bit more weighted toward ranged). The atmosphere is excellent across the board, and it’s clear that they put a lot of effort into really nailing the feel of the setting.

Just another day crackin’ skulls. Credit Joe

Most of my complaints boil down to annoying enemies (those dudes with the electrified nets can fuck right off, and enemy snipers hurt perhaps a wee more than is strictly necessary) and some fairly glaring technical issues that I am reserving judgement on until the game actually releases because some jank is to be expected from any beta build. If the release build addresses all, or at least most, of those technical issues I’ll no doubt sink an unhealthy number of hours into this game come release.

Josh: For me, it’s not that the enemies are annoying or difficult, but a lot of them just don’t have the same level of telegraphing Vermintide had, which makes them much more hellish to deal with. An unnoticed trapper next to a mauler can straight up be a respawn, and the snipers. God damn those things.

Falcon: What can I say? I’m in love. I’ve managed to dig deep into the game now and it is everything I wanted so far, ie Vermintide but 40k. The firearms have a haptic feel I thoroughly enjoy, from the pistols to the shotguns each one feels good. Standing atop a platform and laying down headshots from downtown is glorious.

I’ve spent the majority of my time with the psyker and I too can attest that squishing the heads of your enemies as they barrel into your party is just swell, though the class REALLY excels when you’re with a group of like-minded individuals and not just any pick up group, unlike the other classes which I found could reliably wade into just about any situation.

Right there, you can see the bones. You don’t want to be able to see the bones. Credit: Pendulin

The graphics are great and the game runs very well on my RTX 3050 on high settings across the board. It’s a real treat to watch chunks of heretic fall away as your force sword slices through them or your stave bludgeons them into the ground.

Pendulin: Even on my old 1070, the game looks great. Sure, I had to turn on upscaling and turn down the effects to get a solid framerate. But the stellar art direction meant that, even with some fuzz around the edges, the game looked as pretty as a disgusting industrial nightmare could look.

Norman: I’ve been waiting for this game for the past few years and I gotta say as a fan of the Vermintides, it doesn’t disappoint. Most of my time has been spent playing as the Ogryn (because the biggest party member is always the strongest, unless there’s a significantly smallest party member as an option) and it’s been a consistent blast. Shooting, bonking and charging dudes feels incredibly satisfying and the lethality of stuff (both incoming and outgoing) feels just about right.

There’s a couple changes to the formula that some may find polarizing, chief among them being the new coherency auras. For those who are not aware, your health pool is divided into “Health”, which is your standard HP bar, and “Toughness”, which acts kind of like a Halo style shield. The kicker is toughness doesn’t replenish unless you either kill enemies in melee (just enough to keep you alive while in a fight) and being near allies. This combined with other buffs you get from coherency means you NEED to stick together if you wanna survive. Now, I really love this because it means you’ll be more incentivized to stick together, which was already a necessity since you’ll die to special enemies if you’re on your own. That said, it’s way more punishing when some rando runs off on their own and goes and dies in a hallway somewhere because the rest of the team’s healing is significantly diminished. Basically if you have a group of like minded hive scum to play this with you’ll have a great time so long as you communicate, but if you’re matching up with random people from Online you may have a more frustrating play session.

The only thing more brutal than electric nets is matchmade teammates. Credit: Pendulin

Pendulin: The coherency system is a really solid bit of game design – it’s all carrot and no stick. It doesn’t punish you if you run off on your own, but instead it gives you perks for sticking together. As you level your character up and gain access to perks, you can customize what benefits being in coherency gives you and your squad. It’s a good example of “make it fun to do the correct thing” design, and I’m excited to see what options are in the full game.

Keewa: One of my favourite things about Darktide is the preponderance of British regional accents. Vermintide was similar, of course, but it’s so very unusual for a videogame to stray outside a certain set of stock voices (Essex/London, a sort of neutral Scottish, and Received Pronunciation). It’s so unusual to hear, for example, a Birmingham or Belfast accent in a media property that isn’t explicitly targeting a UK audience.

The individual characterisation is not, perhaps, as strong as the Vermintide series (allowing players to name their characters means that voice lines will never mention characters by name, only by type. Characters will refer to others euphemistically, calling the Ogryn “big man” for example), but it does somewhat make sense that the player characters are prisoners thrown together from a pool of convicts rather than a pre-existing band of fire-forged friends.

Nonetheless, the voice lines interact and intersect nicely, two particular standouts include a conversation between the Ogryn and the sharpshooter, in which the sharpshooter remarks what a good soldier the Ogryn is, and how he’s honoured to be at his side. The Ogryn replies by offering to share his beloved rations to the soldier, who demurs – despite the Ogryn’s insistence that it’s not so bad “once the squirming stops”. Yummy.

Quick shout out to this Ogryn melee animation. You the real MVP. Credit: Pendulin

In another voice line standout, the mad Zealot tells the group that her Beloved (hinted to be the Emperor) has told her how beautiful Felinids are, and how she’d love to see one. This reference to the race of cat-like abhumans is a classic piece of relatively obscure 40k lore that will go right over the heads of perhaps 90% of players, but as a little easter egg it certainly raised a smile from me.

The soundtrack absolutely kicks arse, there are some vaguely Vangelis’s Blade Runner hints that slowly build during the game before ramping up at the climax of missions into a blistering assault of heavy 80s synth music. Given the overwhelming demand for anything related to 40k to include a deluge of gothic choral music and latin chanting, I was pleasantly surprised by the slight change in direction, avoiding the bombastic orchestral music in favour of something more earthy and dirty.

Gameplay is fundamentally the same as its fantasy-inclined predecessors, with some further complications in the form of “coherency”, but the main concern for me after playing the beta is that plenty of aspects are not well signposted, or are not signposted at all. In spite of that, it’s fairly intuitive to just slip into and learn the intricacies through play.

Perhaps a common criticism could be “It’s just Vermintide in a 40k skin!” to which I would say “it absolutely is, and that is precisely what I was hoping for.”

That wraps up our hot takes on Darktide’s closed beta. I want to thank everyone who contributed, as well as all the great Patrons who joined us in-game and on voice chat on Discord. Y’all are great. I also want to once again thank Fatshark for providing us with beta keys, you’re great too. Fatshark’s stated goal of this beta was testing the server infrastructure, but I found that it also tested my patience – as I now have to count the days until Darktide’s full release on November 30th.