“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” This quote describes the Warhammer: 40k series at its core, and while this surely means a reality of constant suffering for the in-universe inhabitants of the Imperium of Man, it makes for a great video game setting for those of us separated from the conflict by the fourth wall.
Warhammer 40k: Darktide is the newest game from Fatshark to capitalize on the gritty and violent Warhammer setting created by Games Workshop way back in 1983. With two Warhammer titles already under their belt, Vermintide and Vermintide 2, Fatshark has already shown its chops when it comes to translating the tabletop game to the video game medium. With this being their first time dipping their toes into the sci-fi version of Warhammer, 40k fans were understandably excited when the game was first announced last year.
Looking back to the success of their previous games, Vermintide I & II were so much more than good Warhammer games. Fatshark has held the uncontested status of master of the co-op horde shooter genre, a title last held by the genre-defining Left 4 Dead series. Stepping away from fantasy and into a sci-fi setting only promised to showcase more of their mastery of the horde-shooter genre, as the setting itself gave them access to.. well, more guns.
Strangely enough, guns isn’t something Darktide does super well. All of the firearms in Darktide, with the exception of class-specific Ogryn explosive weapons or Zealot Flamethrowers, feel a bit clunky and unintuitive. At the worst points in the game, they feel utterly useless, even when I was playing the Sharpshooter, whose special ability amps the damage of firearms by 50%.
Part of this could be due to limitations set by the game’s setting. The unfortunate truth about Warhammer 40k is that all of the really cool and fun weapons are relegated to bigger and badder forces than we get to play in Darktide. Strangely enough. the group Fatshark chose for players is infamously known for having the worst gear in the franchise, and that’s by design.
Simply put, in Darktide, you are playing the canon fodder.
While Fatshark does try their best to get creative with the weapons they hand out, this mostly translates to late-game class-specific special weapons, Psyker powers, and melee. You can feel a lot more excitement using a two-handed Chainsword than you can with an Autogun or Lasgun, which is unfortunate since you will have the former with you at all levels of play.
Melee really feels like the focus in Darktide, which makes sense considering the games Fatshark has experience creating. While this isn’t terribly lore-breaking given the setting (melee is used extensively in the Warhammer 40k tabletop game, despite all of the plasma guns and super artillery) I found myself a bit disappointed when I realized it just wasn’t fun to use any of the guns I worked so hard to unlock.
Guns aren’t just weak, they don’t feel satisfying. The loud crack of a Lasgun is titillating at first, but when you realize your slow-firing, semi-auto canon is taking several shots to kill the most basic enemy at the lowest level of difficulty, the power you feel in those loud shots quickly vanishes. The autoguns, which are supposed to trade the “damage” of Lasguns for crowd-clearing ability, have such small magazines that you’ll end up empty before you take out one or two foes.
At any point in the game, it just works better for you to use your melee weapon (aptly named your “Primary”) against foes, even and especially when you find yourself surrounded by a horde. This is something players figured out as early as the beta, and hasn’t yet changed.
My second biggest complaint with Darktide is that it is, at its core, incredibly grindy. The game offers you four unique classes to play, each with their own feats, available equipment, powers, role in the team and even voices. However, the incredible uniqueness of each class doesn’t really come into play until you’ve hit level 20 on them, and until you do you’re basically grinding out the same character mission after mission to get there.
This is especially a problem in a game where you don’t get interesting loot until the higher levels, so you’re delegated to using the same underwhelming guns as you grind out mission after mission, basically being carried by your teammates all the way.
The game isn’t without its charm, though. If you can get past the grind, taking on higher difficulties with a well-developed team can lead to very exciting — and nail-biting — moments of intensity. The game will throw hordes of enemies with swords, shovels, guns and mutations at you mercilessly, and when it doesn’t feel overwhelming you feel like an unstoppable team that could take on the Chaos gods themselves.
Teamwork is incredibly important in Darktide, especially with the Cohesion mechanic that rewards coordinated play. This can make the game incredibly fun with a group, but a little bit frustrating with strangers. I recommend bringing as many friends with you as possible into a Darktide match.
With plenty of mission variety, it takes a while for the game to feel stale and repetitive, and once it does you have the option to take on missions with Mutations, which drastically change the enemy spawns to shake up the experience. However, I recommend avoiding any mission with extra Hound spawns, as these are literal hell and always lead to party wipes in my experience.
The Final Word
While it wasn’t what I expected, Darktide still does Warhammer 40k well, which is all many fans of the franchise could have asked for. While it could stand to improve in some places, I believe Darktide is fundamentally a good game that many players will enjoy, and given time may improve on many of its faults.
Our Darktide review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!