Warhammer 40,000: Darktide October Beta

Maybe This Bun Needs More Time In The Oven Until It’s Grimdark.

The Warhammer 40k Darktide closed beta for October finished last week and there are a lot of opinions coming from all sides.

I got to play around 10-12 hours of the game myself and I enjoyed myself with friends, though as someone who’s meddled in game development I aim to be objective and be a bit more critical. Instead of writing this article instantly (I actually wasn’t going to write one at all initially) I figured I’d just kinda sit and reflect upon the experience as a whole and sort through what stood out to me most. Then take my time writing out my thoughts in a cohesive manner.

This was running on Windows 10 for the duration of my playthrough, as while some got Darktide to run on various Linux distros I had issues getting the game fully loaded and didn’t want to add further issues to this beta.

In addition to the previous statements, I will also be comparing this game to the studio’s predecessor, Vermintide II as a reference. While there are some changes, the gameplay loops between the two don’t feel like an altogether different game. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the changes in things like gunplay vs melee amongst other facets of the game, but I find that Darktide in this state at least, feels more similar than different to Vermintide II.

What I Liked

The Setting

I adore Warhammer 40k’s Grimdark setting of the 41st Millennium, in fact, one of my first exposures to this space fantasy setting was a game I played as a kid, Warhammer 40k: Chaos Gate. It was only years later that I was exposed to the entire 40k universe as a whole by some friends.

The setting is no different here, you get massive gothic architecture combined with industrial additions and overly complicated sci-fi machinations combined with skulls and religious purity seals or scrolls. A combination of what is a blind fanatical Cathlolic faith to man that who’s closest resemblance to our world is if Jesus himself rolled all 20’s on a D&D character sheet and was the height of a female giraffe. And nothing but inconceivable numbers regarding the deaths of those who serve in the ‘Imperium of Man’.

Did I mention this man is 14 feet tall?

You are one of those soon to be tally marks, instead of wasting away in a prison or being executed, you join what’s essentially a souped up penal battalion instead. You take on missions to redeem yourself and be as useful to the Emporer of Mankind as possible, even if those missions, no especially if those missions mean you won’t be coming back alive.

Weapon Selection

Certain weapons do better than others in some regards, I really enjoyed the different weapons for the various classes and while some have overlap, it seems like FatShark is definitely leaning towards what they did in Vermintide II where most classes will have some specialty weapons.

There’s just something about bulky guns that really pulls my goat’s beard.

I will state that I quite enjoyed the amount of varying options, even if right now, there’s clear winners and losers as of the beta. As in, there’s some weapons that function much better at most tasks compared to others that struggle in comparison. I expect these weapons to get ironed out in a balance patch or two however, so I wouldn’t be put off by that.

As a sidenote, I really enjoyed the staged reloads for each weapon, it’s not something a lot of games do yet, but I do appreciate Fatshark’s candor regarding weapon animation details.

Character Customization

You can actually make a guardsman in this game, I was actually kinda surprised at the amount of customization that Fatshark provided players. The systems that are in place, while definitely skeletal, show that they are in place.

They really nailed the charm of 40k armor, which isn’t surprising given their previous work.

The cosmetics look nice, you can see that Fatshark definitely made sure to sit down and do their homework for this one. Nothing really looks out of place, with maybe the beginner prison garbs being the only things that are quite ‘meh’. This of course is a miniscule nitpick and not worthy truly paying attention to.

What I Disliked

The Custom Characters & Repetitive Dialog

I’ll be honest, it’s not something I figured I’d write about, but here we are right after I said I liked ‘Character Customization’, personally I like to make people think I just do it to piss off some people.

To put this into perspective, I was actually looking forward to having a new set of characters from the Darktide trailer with their own wit and banter like the previous games. In fact, I think some of my most memorable experiences of Vermintide II was when we heard a new snippet of banter and went “Wait. What!?” We STILL comment on the well voiced dialog and make references to these characters, which shows just how important it is to have characters with passions, with real ugly emotions and connections to one another.

You need these in order to ground your players in the world and get them invested. I still hold that Vermintide II has some of the best interpersonal character designs of any game I’ve played by a long shot bar, none. And I don’t make claims like this almost ever.

This is around 10% of Markus Kruber’s various battle chatter (not including interactions) from Vermintide II.

Darktide by comparison still has some of that wit and charm… But it’s really struggling when it comes to those same interpersonal connections that made us connect with the previous titles.

The writing is there in some places, but maybe having something like 10-12 different personalities is a bit much to ask of the writing team. A lot of the dialog fell completely flat in my honest opinion, very few times was I actually enjoying my Zealot conversing.

Some responses even fell into that squinting territory, where I couldn’t quite tell what the reference even was or to whom it was to.

Was really itching to get something like the Ubersreik 5 4 (It doesn’t matter) in Darktide.

I’m hoping that Darktide really pulls this writing depth off again with multiple personalities. With this being the Beta, even if it is out of date by 3-4 months, that’s not a lot of time to record a hefty amount of dialogue for these characters.

Areas Feel Samey

I’m just gonna come right out and say it, a lot of Darktide’s areas just feel a bit samey to me. And I don’t think it’s exactly all Fatshark’s fault either to be completely honest.

Ah, yes… Sci-Fi fight area number 4, truly a classic. If you told me that this was a Unity asset or from the Unreal Engine merketplace, I wouldn’t of batted an eye.

A game like Darktide is extremely hard to make and not have some of the levels blend in with each other. It’s something we have seen so many other studios struggle with over the years of making SciFi games. But the problem is still there and it should be addressed in some fashion.

The only way I can currently think of fixing it is maybe through adding better setdrops for the various areas. My buddy Matt, told us about how you were actually part of a larger scale fight in one of the levels and you could see Valkyries fighting overhead and for the first time I looked up and saw a couple ships shooting into the distance.

My first questions were as follows:

  • “Why aren’t these closer and taking up space in the player’s vision?”
  • “Shouldn’t we be ducking for cover?”
  • “Why didn’t they make these into some sort of environmental danger?”
  • “Or even just a larger narrative device?”
  • “Could we get a cool once-off airstrike or strafing run?”

The idea of having stuff like that interact with you in a game like this is massively appealing to me. It would actually play into a more wire open area in which you can call a Valkyrie in to soften up defenses so your squad can progress without getting turned into mincemeat.

And I’m not saying that it’s all of the areas, there’s some cooler areas which I like, but there’s altogether too many hallways that just blend in together and I just think that they could do better.

I actually had an art friend of mine look at a lot of these areas and explain that she’d probably darken up a lot of the shadowed areas, putting more emphasis on lights throughout the level and add more color variations to the palettes of the various levels.

The lights do kinda blend in with the backgrounds with how little contrast is present due to the fog.

It almost got be really thinking that maybe someone could sit down and hammer out a custom config for ReShade or something for the next beta and see what they could do.

Too Many Open Areas

I’ll keep this extremely short and simple, as others have talked about this as well. For a game that is trying to put so much emphasis on taking cover from shots and returning fire while suppressed, you certainly traverse a lot of wider hallways and areas that lack any kind of cover whatsoever.

Honestly, it’s a simple solution, either add in more cover that both sides can use, spread out and thin said cover to maintain balance, or add in destructible cover to stop squads from turtling up and forcing them to make more risky plays that would be suiting for what’s essentially a penal squad.

You Feel Slow & Gunplay Feels Meh

This is probably my most major gripe with the game, I can deal with your graphics being potato, I can look past some pretty meh writing, but when your gameplay has issues, then I have issues with your game.

So… Let’s talk about the 800 pound Ogryn in the room shall we?

Your character feels like they’re frantically wading through warm solidifying butter and it doesn’t feel good. The crouch slide feels utterly useless and honestly I even forgot it was there a lot of the time. No matter what I did, if I was diving for cover and one ranged attacker hit me, it was almost assured that at least one other shot was doing the same.

Thrice during the beta I turned a corner and was met with some weird kind of Fist of The North Star flashing before being shot repeatedly to the point of activating my Zealot’s passive so I didn’t go down immediately. The Veteran and the Psyker would’ve gone into a downed state right there and then.

To be completely honest, you don’t have really any amazing gap closers, which, fine. If you want us to play tactically, I’m alright with that. But when you’re pressured to keep moving because of the hordes behind us or when a Plague Ogryn shows up, you’re forcing the player’s hand to play aggressively.

Plague Ogryns are full teamkillers in their own right if not handled right and dealt with immediately.

See, that I don’t have an issue with, it adds a fun and challenging dynamic in which you balance covering fire and keeping the mini boss in check. However, when you’re punishing the players for moving across these areas with little to no cover, which is even harder when your character gets slowed by every shot they take, it becomes less like a challenge and more like rock-paper-scissors, except you’re the sucker that always choose paper and they always choose scissors.

When you slow a player’s character like that, you’re removing their agency as a player by limiting their options of response. I think that’s the issue many players have, that through what feels like luck of the draw, they themselves don’t have control over the situation placed in front of them, or at least in their immediate area.

Now, you can of course say “Just don’t get hit”, but I attribute that to the unhelpful adage of “Git Gud” or some other similar idiocy spewed by people that either lack fundamental capacity in their frontal lobes or were constantly beaten after school by their older sibling in Smash Brothers Melee and now feel they need a rightful outlet for that rage by posting unhelpful advice. Much like how my father answered to me many times when I was a child asking about how to do something correctly with “very carefully”.

The machine pistols sound and feel right at home in Darktide, it’s too bad that they’re not nearly as effective as the other weapons.

As for the gunplay itself, I wasn’t particularly wowed by it. I can see a rough outline of what they were trying to achieve, and by merit, I do think it’s a good idea. The real issue I see is either the implementation or execution of the idea in general. Partially this also falls back on what Darktide identifies itself as now, primarily a FPS ‘hack’n’slash’ with shooter elements, or a FPS shooter with ‘hack’n’slash’ elements.

I think that it also falls back to how the weapons operate and the beta is just a good feedback agent for Fatshark to tweak damage values and how weapons feel.

What Needs Some Love

The Graphics

I never actually like writing about graphics for games like this because a lot of the time it just seems to piss people off. While that isn’t my intention, I still feel the need to talk about this.

On one hand, Darktide almost feels like slipping on a nice pair of gloves that are already broken in, made by the same person who made your previous gloves. They’re familiar, functional and utilitarian by design, which in a way, adds to their aesthetic.

Snapshot from GameTyrant’s review
Vermintide II ingame

That’s how I feel about Darktide’s graphics. Fatshark’s graphics have this feel to them that I can just look at and go “Oh, Fatshark worked on this” and it’s not a bad thing at all. But compared to Vermintide II’s graphics, I honestly don’t see the huge major crazy jump in fidelity that I think others are only experiencing via the highest grade placebo juice injected directly into their corneas.

Now, please don’t take this as me hating on Darktide’s graphics, but something needs to be said when I look at the game and don’t see it as a clear upgrade from Vermintide II when I hear others say that it looks so much better.

To be sure on the matter, I did run the game at max settings for one level (Got down to 2 FPS I did) and the game didn’t look like night and day. Objectively, I feel like the environments and 3d props have more definition and detail to them. The volumetric and post processing effects do look like they’re finely dialed in a bit better than Vermintide II’s as well, but that could also just be my subjective opinion on the matter.

Overall though, I feel like at least for the beta and everything I’ve seen, the game looks like it will be just fine and dandy when the release hits here.

The Classes

Overall, I just feel like the classes in My Little Grimtide need some work in the way of skills and their specials. The Zealot just felt cast to the wayside compared to the other classes. The Ogryn’s dash forward knocks everyone to the side and you know that he’s getting in there.

The Zealot’s ability is to… Dash forward and gain a singular critical hit against one enemy. That’s it. Now, it’d be amazing if that crit had something like a 400% damage increase which would encourage you to dash in, knocking smaller enemies aside and smashing an elite in the head doing a bunch of damage in a very short amount of time.

The only real complaint I have about the Psyker is that the feedback seems a bit weak for exploding someone’s head via mind microwaves. This is 40k, the mainstream GrimDark. If I’m not able to paint half of the hallways with the blood of my enemies, then what am I even doing here? Speaking of…

The Violence

One of my all time favorite sit down and de-stressing games is Doom, but not regular doom, I play stuff like Brutal Doom, Project Brutality, etc. Where I have heavy metal jamming my eardrums in between the earth shattering rounds of my double barreled shotgun confirming yet another crater where a demon once stood.

I was kind of, no, I was very disappointed in the distinct lack of excessive violence in this Grimdark fantasy setting. While there was some blood and guts, I felt like there could’ve easily been more.

This is what I expect the shotgun to do to my enemies up close.
And this is what I expect Ogryns to be capable of.

And I’m not just talking about the actual gore itself, but also the absolute visceral dictation of the violence being displayed. I’m talking about more sparks flying off of enemy armor, shards of concrete and metal when grenades explode. Add more of it, make it excessive and badass, just how I expect Warhammer 40k to be and just own it.

Honestly, it almost feels like Fatshark and other devs are too scared to push envelopes because of how it might be perceived by either their fans or AAA game peddlers game journalists.

The UI & HUD

This one I’ll keep brief, there’s not enough numbers and data on the HUD for me to keep track of everyone easily enough. Some icons blend together, I have to squint to read it like my father reading type 14 font, they just need to scrap the old HUD and redo it.

Sound Design & Music

I’m attributing this to the beta more than anything, but audio cues and music were missing 90% of my playthrough. I was told that there was in fact some audio cues for certain elites, but to be honest, I didn’t hear them

The hound is a pretty cool enemy when it’s not jumping on you from 20 feet away as you hear someone’s 56k modem dialing out.

The enemies are far too silent as well, we should be hearing them sprinting across the various metal surfaces, screaming and ranting, weapons clattering. It’s just not there, and to be honest I think this only contributes to that half-baked feeling I got from this beta.

Conclusion

The October Beta for My Time in Grimdark® is middling to me at this time looking back and it comes down to this:

If at the end of the beta, I don’t really feel like going one more round with my friends and then I also hear one of said friends who got me into 40k say “Naw, you know, I think I’m done.” I think that there’s a problem, not with the graphics, not with the setting or the bugs that kept popping up.

I think there’s an issue with the identity of the game coming into question, which is honestly a serious issue to have. Now, we’ve been told that this beta is something like 3-4 months old at this point, which could mean that many of the issues I’ve listed could be moot.

But I also don’t see the point in that being true at least for the reasoning that was given to me. Having players get a free weekend of your brand new game coming out in 2 months and you give them a couple month old demo? Being so close to the release date, it just doesn’t make sense since you wouldn’t be able to get realistic crashdumps if your game build is several patches newer and you’d also want to build a lot of hype for your product you’re hoping to sell.

The image that sold a lot of people on the hype

I dunno, it’s just my $.02 on the matter, I could see Fatshark cutting out content for the demo, but not give us an older build when it could make or break sales in the future.

Either way, many of the smaller issues should hopefully get ironed out, but I hope that for a lot of the bigger stuff that Fatshark gives some serious thought about how they move forward with this game, because in all honesty, it looks like a lot of the lessons learned in Vermintide II’s trial by fire have been forgotten or ignored for Darktide.

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