Darktide: The Goonhammer Review

Up and at ‘em Reject. Do you wanna live forever?After a few teasing delays, Darktide has been unleashed and is available to the public after two very exciting beta periods, and I couldn’t be happier.

If you’ve never heard of it, Darktide is a blood-pumping hack’n’shoot ‘em up that has you seamlessly shifting from blowing the heads off of heretics and mutants with your trusty stub-gun into acting as a living lawn mower to the horde of plagued, zombie-like citizens of the Hiveworld with your chainsword. It’s got that L4D formulae of 4 players traversing through levels, hordes, and special enemies to get to the end, spiced up by a satisfyingly crunchy melee system and all the grim-dark set dressing you could ask for.

To put it mildly — this game rocks. Darktide is more than a worthy successor to Vermintide, and whilst there is a lot pulled from Vermintide (as one could expect, its literally got ‘tide in the title), there’s also plenty more that makes Darktide a unique entry into the ‘tide series that holds its own.

Pop! Pop! Pop! Screenshot by Summer!

Let me say right off the bat: things have only improved since the first impressions from the beta, the game’s notoriously stinky stability is being addressed in every patch, downright silly decisions like obsfuscating weapon stats have been completely reversed and overhauled, and bugs are being ironed out with every patch.

Some issues remain lurking in the background, drawing attention away from the game, but I’ll address those later. Right now, I want to focus on the fun, and there is a lot of fun to be had.

As expected from a ‘tide game, melee is chunky, fast-paced, and with enough depth to keep your mind engaged as you adjust your strategy on the fly — from chopping down hordes of pox-infected ex-citizens to blasting away at staggering amount of elite enemies that plague your way.  You’re presented with a wealth of options for dealing with enemies with melee alone, with kiting, crowd-control, and pure, carnage-driven death-dealing all being viable roles to play when the enemy starts pressing down on you. After fourty-five hours or so, I’m still finding fun in the challenge of clearing higher level runs with different weapon & class combos.

Melee is only a single spice in the variety Darktide offers. It also embraces the wide variety of ranged death-dealing options the 41st millennium has to offer.  Both you and your enemies will trade bullets, las-bolts, and grenades down cramped maintenance hallways, across massive, wide-open gothic auditoriums, and everywhere in between with about as much frequency as you’ll rev up your chainsword.

You’re expected to manage suppression, a new back’n’forth mechanic, where enemies are forced to flee and find cover as they break under your teams continuous fire, allowing your more melee-minded last chancers to sprint at them unchallenged to deliver the killing blow. On the flip, you’ll find yourself forced to zip’n’slide behind boxes and barrels as enemy infantry squads line up to spray you with bullets or las-bolts (depending on their preference.) It’s a struggle sometimes to tell if you’re suppressing an enemy, but when it works, it feels great. Seeing enemies cower in place as your team blast away with their bolters ‘n’ fully-automatic autoguns does not get old.

Managing suppression and emptying an entire box of ammunition in one trigger pull often mean the same thing in the 41st millennium. Screenshot by Summer

Where it feels less great is when you’re suffering being shot despite how close you are to the enemy, despite a core mechanic being getting into engagement range of the enemy disables their ranged attack, or when you’re simply stunned by multiple gunners mercilessly laying into you. It’s a real feels-bad, and it’s been lessened over the last few patches, but it still can be a bit frustrating. (Spoiler: a bit frustrating is going to be the reoccuring theme with the games problems.)

Everyone on the team contributes meaningfully to both melee and ranged, though some classes skew one way or the other. Guard Veterans skew one way, whilst the Zealot skews the other. Regardless of class, the types of weapons you equip determines your skew just as much as your class — you can rarely pull out your gun to deal with the hard to reach elites, or you can use it constantly to mulch hordes and save your oversized hittin’ stick for the big boys.

Visually, the game is gorgeous and perfectly suits the grim atmosphere of 40K. Weapons look exactly like their codex illustrations, and there are plenty of teeny tiny details that they’ve taken liberty with as well – a dedicated inspect button lets you really admire all details of all the wargear you can equip (including your own hands if you’re playing as the psyker). Peering into the breach of a boltgun to see the fat, monster shells in there is really awesome, and so is seeing the whurring teeth of the eviscerator as it rattles around in your hands.

Cathedral districts and bolter guns, oh my. Credit: my good friend Boplite.

Tertium’s environments are varied and wide, and perfectly capture the idea of a Hivecity. It’s not Necromunda levels of stylised, but it doesn’t have to be, and wasn’t aiming for that. It’s really cool to see all the models pulled from GW kits, like the Mechanicus railings or the thermo-furnaces. All the environments range from the squalid conditions of the ‘Torrent’, a waste-processing centre with a shanty town built around it, to the outskirts of the Hive where you can step outside briefly into the horrid, sandy ash wastes.  It’s packed with detail and flavour, and there are several landmark locations you retread in several missions that have been afforded extra detail to make them memorable.

Darktide seperates it’s environments into zones, where missions take place in the same districts of the hive, delivering similar visual motifs whilst also retreading those common landmark areas. It never manages to feel same-y if that makes sense, it just makes the hive itself feel more characterful. There’s plenty of areas unique to individual missions, but seeing the one or two familiar sections that you have to cut through adds to the atmosphere, in my opinion, rather than takes away from it. A lot of the time it’s a cool ‘hey, this is bridge you defend in another mission’, rather than ‘ugh, this bridge again?’

A glimpse of the setting sun on the outskirts of the HIve. Credit: my good friend Boplite.

Speaking of adding to the atmosphere, all of the environments are backed up by an incredible soundtrack by Jesper Kyd (a long time indutsry veteran whose done games from Vermintide to Assassin’s Creed 2.) that you’ve no doubt heard blasted since the closed beta. It goes hard. Bassy, industrial synth whines in the background to the percussion of bolter fire and explosions. And fuck, the track Disposal Unit that plays when you take on an assassination target is such a banger, and you’re a damn liar if you didn’t bang your head when the choir kicked in.

I wish I could end the review here, with a fun summary of how you should play the game right now… but there are some key issues that really detract from the games overall enjoyment. (remember that key phrase – a bit frustrating.)

Darktide’s gameplay loop is hampered by its drive for engagement metrics, with a weekly contract system that’s more about sucking time away from you rather than rewarding you for effort. Most of the weekly objectives are downright obtuse or arbitrarily long. Completing 25 missions sounds great, until you realise that’s at least 8 hours of gameplay if the missions don’t take too long. (and they can easily last 30 minutes each if you’re on a team that’s limping along.) Completing secondary objectives in specific hives sounds all fine and well, if the missions weren’t randomly generated so you have no way of ensuring you can get the map location, secondary objective and difficulty you can handle at the right time.

That isn’t even addressing secondary missions aren’t worth the effort a lot of the time, either because the reward is so minor compared to the effort you put in to complete them (and most PUGs won’t even bother, making it even harder.)

Players who can only get a couple of games a day after work struggle hard, and it sucks. It’s downright sisyphean, crawling through most of the objectives but running out of time in the end to never get that sweet, sweet weekly reward that actually lets you buy something outright from the high-tier shop.

It stings a little harder when you see there’s a fully functioning cosmetics shop that operates on Imperial fun-bux (that is, in-game currency you purchase in set amounts with real-world currency) and a crafting system that is still yet not fully implemented.

It truly sucks, because I love playing the game, but all these little frustrations build up to steal that fun right out of it for me over time.

Whilst the performance is a priority in the patches, and it’s definitely gotten better, some people are still simply unable to reliably play the game with how often it crashes for them. Those on Windows 11 are having a particularly hard time of it right now, having to go through workarounds and then praying those hold up in the mean time.

Moving into more subjective nitpicks — I’m really bummed they didn’t choose to go with dedicated characters for this game. Vermintide grabbed me for its gameplay and its characters. Darktides character creator is cool, but man, you just don’t get the same banter as you did with the old crew. It’s not as fluid. I understand the choice, but I don’t like it, it robs a little bit of charm from the game that I really would have appreciated.

Some other issues lurk aswell, like the UI in some places being messy, the hub being a bit overly large, but the worst of these have already been patched out already. The weapon stats screen was truly abysmal, with unlabelled bars with vague notions of what they might mean. Now, the amount of data you’re presented with is perfectly clear and handily helpful.

It took Bandai Namco two years to add frame data to Tekken as paid DLC. A few weeks over a beta is pretty good turn around on a total redesign. Credit: my good friend Boplite.

One of the biggest points of contention from the closed beta, the lack of transparency with weapon stats, was overhauled so massively that it gave me a strong faith that any similar faults that I could write about now won’t exist in the next few months.

For me, that’s enough to give me faith that the frustrations I’m facing now will melt away as time goes on. I don’t like it, but that’s the gaming landscape right now. Fix as you go, games-as-live-service. We are long gone from the time something would release and you would expect it to work properly.  Fatshark are hardly the only company using this approach to games, but it still gets my goat regardless.

In spite of all the micro-frustrations, I would still recommend that even if you don’t have a passing interest in 40k (which would be weird, given you’re reading this on Goonhammer) that you should give this game a try if you can. I think the mechanical gameplay loop is great, it’s satisfying, and even with those faults you can find a great time for hours and hours, alone or with friends. (though it’s always better with friends, even if they do all pick ogryn and walk in front of your gun barrel like they’re magnetised to it.)

Final Verdict

It’s a fun introduction to the world of 40K, and I can see this bringing in a lot new fans in the same way Vermintide brought a lot of new fans into fantasy. (And without the bitterness of finding out the new setting they think is cool has been blown up for some time.)

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