Darktide is here! Sort of. Fatshark’s FPS follow-up to Vermintide 2 is technically out on November 30, but anyone who pre-orders the game between now and then can jump in early to play a pre-launch beta, which currently offers four somewhat-randomized missions across four somewhat-randomized levels, aka “zones.” It’s not the full game, then, but you can play all four classes and level up and unlock weapons with no limitations.
Now that we’ve had a day to get ourselves situated, here’s what we think of Darktide—and its changes since the October beta—so far.
How do the classes feel?
Fraser Brown, Online Editor: I’ve mostly been playing a Psyker and while I’m very much enjoying Darktide broadly, I’m less enamored with the class. It was hit with a big nerf and now feels a bit hobbled as a result. That said, I’m still finding myself grinning like a maniac every time I pop a brain or send a horde of enemies reeling thanks to my psychic shockwave. Even when I’m just slicing up a hundred poxwalkers with my shitty sword, I’m having a blast. And it feels just different enough from Vermintide that I don’t feel like I’m retreading old ground.
Judging by the heavy-handed changes to the Psyker, though, balance still feels very much in flux right now. The tutorial and tool tips haven’t even been updated to reflect all of the most recent changes. So yeah, still very much a beta. Fatshark has already warned players that changes are to be expected, and couldn’t promise there’d be no wipes, so don’t get too attached to a build.
Sean Martin, Guides Writer: Though the start of the beta has proven a sad time for Psykers, it’s only cemented the love I already had for the Preacher class. I know I’m just playing Slayer all over again, but the joy of hunting pesky ranged units through dimly lit corridors and ventilation shafts as they try to escape me is sublime. The whole breach-and-clear Preacher playstyle of hurling a stun grenade then charging a bulwark of ranged enemies to hack them to pieces feels like a new iteration of what the Slayer was, and I’m very much here for it.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: I’m having a real good time with my big Ogryn boy so far, but I’m eager to try a Psyker too—just not until Fatshark’s had some time to tweak it. Fraser’s Darktide classes guide offers a good overview of the strengths and weaknesses for each at launch. I love my survivability as a giant, but I admit I was a bit disappointed by the limited options in the character creator. I wanted to make an Ogryn pretty boy—a true 40K Gaston—but the set of bulbous faces and raggedy haircuts didn’t give me a lot to work with. Still, I’m chuckling every time there’s a cutscene and my character has to take a knee just to be at eye level with whoever’s talking.
Progression is slow at the start
Wes: One of the most significant changes Fatshark’s made from Vermintide 2 is going the create-a-character route, instead of having five preset characters. I’m excited for the change—I loved Vermintide 2’s banter, but I like that this approach frees us up to have a bit of roleplaying and more personally crafted characters. I assume Fatshark will be doing a lot more with cosmetics and customization than it did in Vermintide 2 for the first couple years; but right at the start, I’m kind of missing that game’s simpler approach. I’ve played three hours of Darktide, and I still don’t have a single piece of cosmetic gear to show for it.
Why am I still decked out in my prisoner garb at level four? Why can’t I at least buy, like, a skull-emblazoned baseball tee for my big ogre boy? At least every character in Vermintide 2 looked cool off the bat.
I can’t start equipping Curios, the stat-buffing accessories like Vermintide’s trinkets, until level eight. Completing missions earns me a bit of cash I can spend at a shop on slightly better gear, but the options just give me choice paralysis. I didn’t love Vermintide 2’s loot chest system, which relied on finding specific items in each mission to get decent gear, but those chests did just give me stuff to mess with as soon as I started playing, and it felt good to have some incremental upgrades and weapons to try out with no risk of a bad investment. These complaints will probably be moot after spending more time with Darktide, but it kinda sucks playing a game with a cosmetics system and not getting any cosmetics for several hours.
There are also some beta issues making progression more confusing: currently none of the missions I’m able to select seem to have secondary bonus objectives. I think those are just… broken, right now? Or they simply haven’t been added yet? At this point I’m not sure what features are missing in the beta that I don’t even know about.
Performance and stability are still rough
Fraser: Even with my 3080 Ti, I’ve only been able to get an acceptable performance by kicking ray tracing to the curb, which is a shame, since it’s why I got the card in the first place: all those lovely reflections. My older CPU is partly to blame, though not exclusively. It’s certainly better than it was during the last beta, though.
Wes: Trying to play with a friend last night was a bit fraught. The first time we launched a mission, her game crashed immediately. When she rejoined… crashed again. We thought drivers could’ve been the culprit, so after she updated to Nvidia’s latest we tried again… and my game crashed, breaking Nvidia Broadcast’s mic input in the process. And I was already on the latest drivers. Finally, our third match worked, and neither game crashed, which felt like luck more than anything. I have a feeling there’s a lot of frantic work to be done on crash fixing between now and November 30.
Performance has been pretty good on my 3070 with RTX on low and DLSS enabled—well above 60 fps at 1440p—but I’ve seen a lot of complaints from other players. We’ll definitely be digging into performance more during the beta.
Sean: I had a few disconnects due to crashes, but one thing I must say is that I managed to rejoin every single game that I dropped from, and that definitely wasn’t the case in the previous beta. Darktide does have its fair share of bugs right now, though, such as when a charging mutant tackled my teammate through a wall and kept running into infinity.
40K vibe check: it’s as grim as I hoped
Tim Clark, Brand Director: Due to yesterday’s PC Gaming Show I’ve only managed to play just past the prison break prologue, but Fatshark has nailed the 40K setting far better than most of Games Workshop’s licensees. No surprise, given the quality of Vermintide’s take on the fantasy version, but Darktide feels like it’s going to be the kind of proper triple-A game us nerds are always hankering for. From the shambling animation of the pox walkers as they barrel (distressingly quickly) towards my face to the satisfying CRAAAAK of my Veteran Sharpshooter’s las rifle, it instantly feels right. My hope is the campaign is going to be like being transported into a particularly combat-porn Black Library novel.
It’s also no surprise that so far the melee combat feels better resolved than the ranged model does. By which I mean, this feels like a game from a studio that has specialized in chopping through gibbering waves of enemies. The initial gunplay is a little basic. I’m also not entirely enamored with how clunky and heavy my character feels. There’s a good chance that’s because I’m thousands of hours over-familiar with Destiny 2’s double-jump bounciness, but I’m keen to see whether that weightiness changes as I unlock more abilities and weapons.
Honestly though, for now I’m just excited to spend this weekend exploring such a gorgeously bleak and detailed 40K world. Plus the head chopping tech is really *chef’s kiss*.