Vermintide 2 Review – There’s Beauty in Loot

Before the vermintide all will be swept away.

That is how it feels to play the newest game in the Warhammer Fantasy world, a game that steals from Left 4 Dead, but applies its own layer of gratuitous violence.
New players might get scared away with it being a sequel, but honestly, Vermintide 2 is not really about the story. Or anything else, really, than it being a murder simulator and a loot fest. Besides a prologue which throws the player right into what little story the game has to offer, it doesn’t focus on much from the first game. There’s still just ratmen to slay.

The gameplay itself is quite simple, even if you haven’t played Left 4 Dead.
It’s a 4 player co-op game against an endless tide of enemies, where you can your 3 friends have to fight your way through the maps, sometimes stopping to do a few objectives so you can continue onto the exit point. They didn’t reinvent the wheel with the map objectives for most of them, though a few does get nice and creative. Not that it would fit with a Layton puzzle in the middle of an action game, so the objectives are usually minor enough to not slow down the action too much, but just create a small break for some nice contrast so the next tide of vermin, let us call it a vermintide, feels that much better.

Along the way there are healing draughts, grenades and power up potions scattered across the map, so you have to sometimes go down an alleyway or into a mineshaft to get a few much needed items.
The only thing which newcomers might not get told is the importance of two items, tomes and grimoires.

These two are collectibles which need to be brought all the way to the exit of a map. There are 3 tomes and 2 grimoirs per map, and if you manage to extract some of them, they each help upgrade the loot box you get in the end, so it gives better items. The loot box itself has several tiers, the lowest one is automatically given if your team survives a match. Playing a random match upgrades it, so does getting each tome, each grimoire and something called loot dice which drops randomly and rarely. And then there is the only actual RNG element here, something called randals gift. It simply just gives a random amount of upgrade. Maybe it upgrades your loot box, maybe it doesn’t. You never know.

Most groups chase these tomes and grimoirs with more hunger than a polar bear chases sweet, delicious seal cubs.

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What we fight for… Loot.

Vermintide 2 has quite a few changes from the previous installment, a new enemy faction, subclasses, more rpg elements, more bosses, more kinds of maps.
Lets break it down category by category.
In the original game there were only skaven to fight against, the ratmen that infested the cityscape of Übersreik in Vermintide 1. They were weak but nigh endless. Just like in Left 4 Dead they had several types of enemies, from weak normal rats to armored soldiers and of course the many elites, including flamethrower rats and crazed rats who threw poison bombs at you.

Now the ratmen are in cahoots with some demon worshipping vikings who love plague and diseases. So no longer do you butcher just rats, but also humans. Evil, demonic humans. They have five new type of elite enemies, two kinds of wizards and three kinds of warriors. The two wizards teleport around the map, harassing you with vile sorcery that stuns the players while two of the warriors are some slightly more dangerous brutes that likes to flail their weapons around.
But the last new elite, the chaos warrior, is a giant demonic knight clad in a bit too much armor. He hits hard and can take quite a beating, and of course he is imposing on the battlefield. It is a delight to run into him, not just because you know that he is to be taken seriously, but also because he fills the screen space with quite a sight.
The normal human troops are vikings and plague zombies, where the zombies are the weakest. Just cannon fodder just like most of the skaven troops, while the vikings can be slightly more dangerous, if there’s enough of them.
The two wizards are visually similar, two bloated fat monstrous creatures that zaps around the map. But it is only the green tornado that truly is a threat, the wizard controls it as long as he is alive, so it is rather important to shoot him whenever the party spots him.
The skavens do actually have a new enemy type as well, the plague monk. They are similar to a Viking type called the berserker. What they do is quite simple, they run at you and flail their weapons around till you are dead.
I never felt that Vermintide 1 lacked enemy variety but Vermintide 2 surely does make you realize how much it is improved with more types of foes.
It is not just with more tactical depth, it opens up for countless new map themes, as it doesn’t have to involve just maps where ratmen can be found. But of course, it adds an entirely new layer of audiovisual style to the game. The brutish sounds of the cultist like vikings are in a neat contrast with the skittish ratmen who speaks in their strange way. And the foes are taller than 1 meter. You can get headshots without aiming down at your own toes for once!
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Then onwards to the subclasses. The same 5 characters return but this time around they each got 3 subclasses, which dramatically change their playstyle.
Each subclass gets at least one major passive and an ultimate, along with several lesser passive abilities.
The passive abilities can be game changing or merely something you have to play around. For example, Saltzpyre the witch hunters second class, the bounty hunter, has a passive where he gains automatic critical hits on ranged attacks every 10 second, or after each melee kill. That is a rather major effect, which cannot be ignored without making him rather useless. But then there is Sienna the firemages final class, unchained, where her passive is that each hit she takes brings her closer to blowing up in a suicide attack. One of them is almost like an active cooldown where the other is something you really want to avoid.
Of course, there are also some effects like Bardin the dwarf which adds more ammo drops. Theoretical that could be a passive which he never gets any joy from, if the other players grab the ammo before he ever gets a chance to.
But passives are not as interesting as actives, and that is where the new ultimates come into their proper right.
Each character can use their ability once their bar fills up completely. It fills up automatically over time, so you don’t have to worry about getting the most headshots or something like that to fill it up faster and more efficiently. Each ultimate fill an important niche, some are tank abilities, some movement, some crowd control and some boss and elite killers. On higher difficulties it is important not to have a party of tanks or only have elite killers, unless you want to get destroyed.
These subclasses are unlocked via character xp. At character level 7 and 14 you unlock the second and third subclass, giving the game a far better sense of progression than the first ever did.
And considering each class has 30 levels, it is not like you need to get that far to get a wide variety of playstyles to choose from.
This, along with the improved loot system that rewards how the group performs, creates a far better game experience. Each match gives you something you can use, always. Something many players felt Vermintide 1 lacked.

But levels don’t just unlock the new subclasses, there is also a new talent tree, one for each subclass. Each fifth level you gain a choice of three different talents like a choice between damage increase while you are surrounded or damage reduction when you are near death.
These talents, together with equipment properties and subclasses can create different builds for different kinds of games. If you want to be better at slaying hordes of foes you can build for that, or if you want to focus on hounding out elite enemies and downing them swiftly that can be your goal.
Sadly, not all classes are made equal. It becomes clear that some are simply just better than the rest. Kerillian the elfs first class, Waywatcher, is miles better than her other two, less so now than during the first weeks.
The strange balance issues is something that seems to permit through most of the game, though it is not as big a problem as some players seems to think.
It is after all not a PvP game so internal balancing is not that game changing, and Fatshark is hard at work at dishing out patches already, so with a bit of patience it seems that these kinks will be ironed out. Not that it can be ignored, of course, but personally all classes are useful. There is yet to be one that is worthless.
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And now its time that we reached something that is very important to me: bosses.

Vermintide 1 just had the rat ogre, a large brutish monster that used its oversized fists to kill you. A copy from Left 4 Dead, they weren’t even subtle about it. But with my countless hours in that game, it got a bit stale with only one boss, so now they upped it to four.
Every time the game decides to spawn a boss, it randomly chooses one of the four bosses, besides the few scripted bosses that exist.
The rat ogre returns, and he brings his cousin the storm fiend who is a metal plated rat monster with  giant flamethrower.
On the viking side there is a plague troll that vomits up acid and if it is not dealt with fast enough it regenerates some of its health.
Finally there is the chaos spawn, a large fleshy blob of tentacles and teeth who dashes around the map, flailing and making some gurgling noises while it devours your dwarf alive.
The two melee enemies, the chaos spawn and the rat ogre, are far easier than their ranged collegues, since a good team of players can parry and avoid their strikes, while the two ranged bosses has some attacks that are almost impossible to avoid.
It makes each playthrough of a map unique, but as not all are made equal, it can create some very bad luck if you are forced to use more resources because the game decides its time for a troll.
But the negative aspect of these bosses are by far overshadowed over the variety in gameplay from the four different types. It was something I wanted from when I started playing the first game, and I’ve only been proven right in how much it improved the game.
As long as the player group saves a few resources and hopefully a character that specializes in killing bosses, it wont be impossible to deal with these monsters unless you are truly fighting it in the worst possible space, while surrounded by a million enemies and a few dozen elites.
But its not just these four randomly spawned bosses that exist. There are also something called Lords, four named boss fights in a more traditional sense.
They have their own map, their own little boss arena and they have a little speech before they join the battle.
These bosses added something I didn’t expect from a game like this, though not unwelcome. If you play a map that has one of these bosses you know its going to be a harder game than if it had been a more traditional map. For there will still spawn normal bosses during the map, it just ends with an extra, harder, fight.
As if the lord boss fights were added on top of a normal map.
It is not wholly strange to have a full party wipe on these lords, but as a fan of boss fights, this just makes the game more varied.

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This boss had a pecular name early in the game. But who am I to judge?

Now its time to talk about the visual side, style and graphics.
The world which you travel through is gorgeous, where every time you hit a lookout over a vista you are almost forgetting the carnage around you to stare out at the world.
And this is not just to make the game prettier, it creates a far better game feel. To look out at a forsaken city from the top of a cliff, taking in all the beautiful details just makes you want to venture down into the ruins to explore. Every level makes you want to play more, to remember, or to imagine, the levels which takes place in the far off locations.
Especially the urban maps create a strong feeling of just what kind of city it is that you are avenging.
The character models themselves are not bad but not the best either. They do look a bit like automatons, some great designs but not the greatest of expressions on them. But then again, this is not a game about cutscenes. The models are just there for you to get an idea of what is what, so you do not accidently put a sword through the back of your friend instead of the rat next to him.
With a few accidents here and there, mainly with the dwarfs size which makes it easy to mistake him for a ratman, the models do their job.
No matter which enemy you face you can instantly see what it is, if it is armored, if it a special enemy, what it can do and what to expect from it. A necessary thing in such a fast paced game where you don’t have the luxury to think about what enemy you are slicing into is. You just need to know it by a glance.

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Again I am not one to judge names, but this is stretching it.

The sound design is equally gorgeous, always giving you an idea of what you are about to meet. If it the assassins whispers, the air bellowing out of a flamethrower or the sizzling of a gas grenade, you don’t even need to look at the enemy to know just what is happening. Luckily, otherwise a first person game like this could get rather chaotic and messy, and not in the good way
Every horde descending on you is heralded by a horn or a storm of roars, which gets the blood pumping. The game doesn’t try to sneak in a horde, it kicks down the door and yells at you that now its time for a million enemies, give or take a few.
The banter between the characters also helps to create a nice experience, with some fun character building comments thrown around during the game.
And a game of this budget could easily fall blunder to getting some quite terrible voice actors to cut corners, but the voices of the five heroes are quite excellent, each giving a strong performance. At times you actually believe that they are indeed standing in the middle of a rat infested hellscape.

Gameplay, graphics and sound all come together to create a real sense of visceral action. Whenever you cleave a rat in two, you can feel it. The sound of it, the blood splashing everywhere, your own action behind the swing. It all comes together in a symphony.

As a finishing note, there are only two major grievances I have with the game. The first is a bug in which enemies can hit you through walls, though its gotten far better since launch.
The second is that enemies can spawn right behind you, or at least so close that you don’t notice them before they have struck you. This isn’t the biggest of problems in lower difficulties, but on the highest a few hits can down you. So having an enemy spawn behind you mid swing doesn’t really seem that fair to me.

Personally, I couldn’t play that many missions in the original Vermintide without getting bored, but in Vermintide 2 I can marathon mission after mission, the variety of enemies, maps,  gameplay options and classes never really gets stale this time around. So if you are a fan of co-op games, hack n’ slash, dungeon crawls or just being a fan of the Warhammer Fantasy universe, this game is honestly a must buy.
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8/10

Even with technical problems, this is one of the best co-op games out there. A beautiful game world, great voice acting, a wonderful game feel and some truly outstanding maps, Vermintide 2 just makes me wish that there was more of it. A great game indeed.

 

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