It has been a few years since we first became acquainted with our quintet of heroes in Ubersreik, and it's now time for Fatshark's sequel to the excellent Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide. What has Fatshark done to build on Warhammer: Vermintide 2, and is it everything we were hoping for?
The short answer is: yes. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is an improvement on its predecessor in virtually every single way. We see more of the characters we love, more depth in terms of their abilities and skills, more loot, lots of new enemies and bosses, and last but not least a new home base. The End Times (as we'll call it from now on) may have been a great replacement for the Left 4 Dead series, but this sequel really feels like the next step in the development of this wonderful concept.
The game begins with our heroes in a bit of trouble. Captured by Skaven - the rat men we slaughtered infinite hordes of in the last game - they witness the formation of an alliance between their old plagiaries and the newcomers of the game, Chaos. These northerners are not as straightforward as the rats, however, as most of them are capable of absorbing a lot more damage, but with the help of some old friends the heroes succeed in escaping to their new fortress, the ruins of an old castle.
After this ordeal we encounter the game's first major difference. It's the same as last time around in the sense that you can choose which of the game's five characters you want to play as, however, this time it's a choice that carries slightly greater weight than before, as in Warhammer: Vermintide 2 you'll be levelling up individual characters, not your player profile. It's certainly not a problem to change your hero later, but being low level and without cool new weapons is a noticeable handicap, so it's best to choose the hero you really want to play as from the get-go.
Each hero's individual level is important for two reasons. Firstly, every fifth level you unlock various passive talents that you can customise, which can be anything from wearing more ammunition to dealing more damage or even just moving a bit faster. The second reason is that at levels seven and twelve you unlock the characters' second and third "career". These careers may not equal the difference a brand new character makes, as you can still use a hero's weapon regardless, but they have unique abilities, passive bonuses, and their own skill trees with talents. For example, if we look at the Elven Kerillian, you'll get her first career, Waystalker, which offers the ability to quickly get a bunch of targeting arrows and slowly regain some health. Meanwhile career number two, Handmaiden, gives you the ability to burst through a bunch of enemies and damage them, extending the distance you travel as you dodge attacks.
The different careers allow you to customise your characters according to how you want to play. If you feel that shooting from a distance isn't really your thing, for example, the dwarf Bardin's Slayer career is perfect for you since it draws you away from ranged weapons. If you prefer to stand back and pick enemies off before they even notice you, though, then the soldier Kruber's Huntsman career is probably the one for you. It's probably for the best that we stop here before we get too deep into the different abilities of all the characters, as we don't want to spoil the game for you, but we should hammer home that this sequel is way deeper than the first, and richer in content too.
The characters we're playing as might be familiar, but the Chaos are new. It's no longer just hordes of little rat men you need to worry about when it comes to bad guys, but also crazy bears, armoured goliaths, and angry wizards. All the new enemies are well-designed and play different roles, which takes some getting used to since we almost only killed rats in The End Times. Skaven now have tanks which come in the form of huge, muscular super-rats, for example, and the Chaos faction's new wizard is a cheeky bastard that, with his magic, lifts players up and drains their health.
You can take on all of these enemies in the game's three acts, each of which has its own story and consists of three regular levels and one final boss. It doesn't matter which order you tackle them, but once you finish all three you unlock a final boss level. Each act also has its own unique style of surroundings, from the ruined mountain town of the first, to the wilderness of the second and the idyllic pastures of the third. In addition to the changing surroundings, the various levels offer a plethora of end goals, as one gives you a mission to escort a wagon filled with gunpowder, while others have you trying to free prisoners. At one point you'll even have to make a stand against the enemy's horde-like attacks for a specific time.
Slaughtering droves of enemies, be they Skaven or Chaos, is still as fun as it was in the first game, and now the amount of weapons you have at your disposal through the different classes means there are a lot of different ways to hack, club, and shoot your enemies. The swords, daggers, spears, axes, hammer, guns, rifles, bows, crossbows, and magic wands you get during the game makes planning every new mission feel like the scene in The Matrix when Neo and Trinity equip themselves before wreaking havoc in the lobby - you know the one. Do you want a slower weapon with greater range? Do you want a shield? Do you want to shoot poison pills? Everything is possible if you're lucky enough to get the right loot.
If you're in the mood for more loot and an increased challenge, the levels also offer some secrets in the form of Tomes and Grimoires. If you get your hands on these you'll be rewarded with better loot at the end of the level, but they come with big disadvantages, as picking up a Tome for instance replaces all your healing objects, and picking up the Grimoires drastically limits the health bars of the players. It's up to you and your co-op friends to determine whether the rewards are worth the risk, but both are a really fun way to raise the level of difficulty without just going to the menu and flipping a switch.
Tomes and Grimoires aren't the only added challenges you can take on, as there are also so-called Heroic Deeds. You can get these as loot following missions, and they let you play through a certain level with various enemy bonuses, naturally with improved loot as a reward. This can involve a greater number of enemy waves, more special enemies, or things like player health continuously dropping, making every potion count. We learned the hard way that these Heroic Deeds aren't something you should tackle at the beginning of your quest, since they require experience, loot, and a high level to conquer, so in order to stand a chance you'll need to equip your finest gear, like armour-piercing weapons for instance.
In terms of design Vermintide 2 is epic and exaggerated, just as it should be in the Warhammer world. The Chaos warriors look really brutal in their crazy armour, for example, and overall Fatshark has created a terrific entry point, especially for those who want to learn more about the Warhammer universe and all it has to offer. Technically speaking, the game is mostly very polished, even when your screen is full to the brim with enemies, gas clouds, and explosions, however, it's worth saying that we encountered the game freezing up for a second sometimes and other minor technical problems.
As we said, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a near-perfect sequel, and Fatshark has improved the recipe in almost every way. Everything we loved in the first title remains, but there's more of everything from enemies, loot, activities, weapons, and much more. Slaughtering hordes of enemies in the Warhammer world has never been as entertaining as it is here, and whether you're a fan of Warhammer, Left 4 Dead-inspired co-op games, or even if you simply liked the first one, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a must-buy.
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