Warhammer 40,000. One of the biggest franchises in the world, there are more Warhammer video games out there than hot dinners. Some great ones are out there, including Mechanicus, Dawn of War 1 and 2, the Total War Warhammer series, and Vermintide. November saw the release of one of the most anticipated Warhammer games: Warhammer 40K: Darktide.
Happy holidays from Michael at Grimdark Magazine! Today is a special day for Grimdark Magazine, as it’s our first sponsored video game review! First, I want to thank the folks at Fatshark for the review code and the opportunity to try Darktide out.
So, I have a couple of disclaimers for today. First, this is an in-progress impressions review of Warhammer 40k: Darktide. I played the pre-order beta before the full release. The game is still in the early stages of launch development, so my views are subject to change. My findings may not be accurate by the time this review is live.
Secondly, I’m not the target audience. I’m more of a solo type of guy, and Darktide is a co-op-heavy game. Unfortunately, solo play is currently unavailable in the present version of the game. Still, this should be a good indicator of whether this game will be for your tastes.
Darktide requires some powerful specs, especially on PC. While the game is available on Game Pass and Xbox, PC players will struggle. I originally played Darktide on my laptop, but the requirements made my machine cry. Fortunately, it’s available on the Geforce Now cloud service, which makes for a more playable experience; so my entire time with Darktide is through Geforce Now. With it, I was able to take advantage of the more powerful hardware Geforce Now provides, allowing me to play Darktide and heavier games with better framerates than my laptop. If you’re struggling with high-end games on your hardware and have a solid internet collection, Geforce Now and other cloud gaming platforms are decent options.
Darktide Early Impressions
Darktide introduces the player to its gritty world with a short tutorial; your character is dragged into a brutal civil war and must survive to fight again. There are four classes to pick from in the game’s current build, each with strengths and weaknesses. After having fun with the varied customization options for character creation, I decided on the Ogryn: a big, tanky dude designed for close-quarter battle and tanking.
The player arrives at the world hub, which serves as their headquarters for the game. After more tutorials, the player may enter the main gameplay loop: randomized missions with other players. Sadly, there’s no way to play this solo: it’s multiplayer or nothing, though bots take up the remaining places on the four-person teams. Several locations and missions are available to play, such as assassinating a mini-boss, cleaning an area of plague, and scanning an area. Sometimes tasks have modifiers or mini-quests, like collecting a particular item for an extra reward. One mission might be utterly dark due to a power cut, or other assignments contain enemies in more significant numbers.
Gameplay and Visuals
One of the best things about Darktide is its visual design. The game is breathtaking. I’ve annoyed several teammates by pausing to take screenshots. Nobody can blame me for that because the environments are stunning. Every map is full of detail and little world-building gems, and while the missions have a linear design, they have plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. It’s worth doing because there might be medkits or extra ammo lying around, though I don’t need an excuse to explore the maps. I play missions in Darktide as an excuse to breathe in the atmosphere.
Onto the mission design: while I found the objectives repetitive, they are enjoyable and easy to digest. An average mission can take between twenty and thirty minutes per round to complete, which is great for short bursts. One of my problems with multiplayer games is that I get burnt out quickly, so Darktide’s emphasis on fast, sweeter missions is a significant advantage for me. Missions usually consist of a linear path through a map, with a few small objectives to unlock a way forward, deal with a major enemy attack, and move on. My favorite objective is the Assassination, as the final part requires the least micromanagement. However, I’d like to see more varied objectives and boss fights.
Fortunately, the gameplay itself is a good time with this much repetition. Combat is meaty and addictive; my favorite setup with my Ogryn tank was a shield/mace combination as my melee weapon and a grenade launcher to lay suppressing fire on enemies from afar. Darktide plays like Left 4 Dead and its predecessors in Vermintide, with large swarms of cannon fodder making up the meat shields and specialized, powerful enemies to keep players on their toes. With a broad mix of ranged and melee enemies to fight, it’s crucial to have all ranges covered. While the mobs are weak, they can easily overwhelm teams in large numbers. There’s also a great mix of specialized foes, such as the Trapper’s immobilizing nets, the Bulwark’s formidable defenses, and the Sniper’s deadly attack from long range.
There’s excellent voice acting in Darktide; throughout missions, player characters will comment on the situation with plenty of story snippets and lore, which help the immersive aspects of the game, although there isn’t a concrete story. For example, there’s a rebellion, and your player avatar needs to prove themselves to the organization to develop trust, but it doesn’t go into more critical details. With randomized missions rather than a handcrafted campaign mode, all this emphasis on the story felt slightly out of place.
Things to Consider
For all of Warhammer 40K Darktides’ current strengths, there are several things to consider. The first thing is performance: Darktide is a heavy game to run. Even with the help of Geforce Now’s cloud systems, I ran into occasional frame drops and several disconnects during play.
I also ran into several glitches, such as enemies sticking out through doors and collision errors. None of these bugs were significant for me, though it didn’t help. Several hotfix patches have improved performance slightly, though it’s an ongoing process, and Fatshark needs to keep that going. Currently, there are no dedicated servers or crossplay between PC and Xbox, which is a shame because Darktide is on Game Pass.
Despite a solid gameplay loop, progression in Darktide is a slow, grindy experience. More things unlock in the hub world as you advance in levels, but it’s a slow process, and many achievements often require long-winded methods to complete. If the combat weren’t so fun, I would have a more significant issue with this, but the publisher could do work to improve progression and offer more generous rewards.
At full release, They introduced a cosmetic cash shop that did not appear during beta. This was unpopular with the fans, and I agree; the decorative items are expensive, and there’s a way to purchase the optimal amount of credits, wasting money. (Disclaimer: Fatshark might have a patch addressing this by the time this review goes live)
With only a few classes at launch and a lacking crafting system, it’s frustrating that They prioritized this microtransaction shop over lacking features. The items to purchase are cosmetic only, with no bonuses affecting gameplay, but this is still a concern for myself and many players. Even if you don’t need it, this is a controversial part of the industry and requires more transparency. Fatshark is improving this, so time will tell how the shop will become.
Final thoughts on Darktide
Warhammer 40K Darktide has been in the making for years, and despite the several issues, I’ve been enjoying my time with it. It has a stunning visual design, and the combat is enjoyable enough despite the repetition. As a live service game, Darktide is in this for the long haul, so there will be more content, updates, and DLC. In addition, they should continue to add new maps, modes, and missions to the game while improving the multiplayer experience. While the performance, extensive grind, and questionable cash shop are causes for concern, I still found myself pleasantly surprised. I don’t play multiplayer games often, but Darktide got me interested.
If you’re a fan of Warhammer lore and have the tech requirements, Darktide is a solid pick if you’re willing to deal with some niggles.
Score: 3.5/5: A buggy and grindy experience doesn’t take away from the fantastic visuals and addictive combat, yet it might be worth waiting for more patches before diving in.