Darktide, the upcoming Warhammer 40k tie-in from Swedish studio Fatshark, is scheduled for release this year, pandemic permitting. So far there’s an announcement and a trailer, which you could argue is a mere sliver of the game, but it’s more than enough for me to get very excited and speculate wildly – but in an informed way – about.
Fatshark has confirmed that Darktide will build on its Vermintide franchise. It makes sense: Vermintide 2’s game as a service approach has been very successful, with Fatshark claiming five million players across all platforms, and Warhammer 40k is a natural place to extend Vermintide’s gameplay loop. Managing hordes and bloody melee combat fit into the gothic ruins of the far future perfectly, while grinding for gear will suit Warhammer 40k’s ludicrous arsenal and sumptuous gothic bling. Any changes that Fatshark makes to Vermintide’s co-op baddie-bashing formula will be an evolution, not a revolution.
So we already have a good guess at Darktide’s gameplay, but what about characters, weapons, and loot? Well, drawing on two years spent studying Warhammer 40k to write a non-fiction book, I’m going to tell you. You may call it guesswork. I call it journalism (Editor: it’s guesswork).
Brutal, bloody melee combat is integral to Warhammer 40k’s futuristic feudal age, so we’ll start there.
Fatshark already has a great melee system. Vermintide’s combat is at a real sweet spot: arcadey and accessible, but with plenty of depth when you try to master it. You only have a few actions to think about in a given moment, with an attack, charged attack, block, push, and dodge, but different classes and their various weapon sets are well distinguished, from the horde-threshing zweihander to armour-cleaving greataxe. It feels good too, with carefully tuned animations, consistent player movement speed across an attack cycle, and crisp sound effects that combine to create a sense of immediacy and carnage. That will all work beautifully in Darktide.
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We’ve already seen a power sword in the trailer, which is basically a dieselpunk lightsaber, but you can expect power versions of just about everything, with the most ludicrous being the power fist. The big chap you see in the trailer is an ogryn, and his oversized armoury will include a steel bat the size of a lamp post and a riot shield.
Meanwhile, the religious zealot (identifiable by the red cape) has already shown off a Thunderhammer, which is a sledgehammer with a forcefield-powered detonator in the head that will be the source of some truly explosive charged attacks. I predict she’s also going to have a two-handed chainsaw with an underslung flamethrower. That’s right; flamethrower-chainsaws.
But 40k is about much more than just melee combat. As soon as it was announced, it was always likely that Darktide would embrace its setting’s equally over-the-top ranged arsenal – it’s a logical evolution on Vermintide and a necessity to properly represent 40k – and as expected we’ve seen plenty of evidence for itThe trailer shows lasguns (lasers), autoguns (assault rifles), and an ogryn-sized grenade launcher that looks like an M79, all making an appropriate mess of the enemy.
Those are among the subtler Warhammer 40k firearms, but there are plenty more options Fatshark can choose from, including rifles that fire ionised plasma, or the ‘meltagun’, a short-range heatray with the energy output of a nuclear meltdown. Of course there’s the iconic boltgun, a pistol-grip semi-automatic with the calibre of an elephant gun that fires self-propelled explosives. Balancing that lot while giving it all the appropriate feel is going to be tricky.
As you level characters in Vermintide 2, you unlock different career paths to switch between. This gives players an opportunity to specialise in a build with passive buffs and active skills they like, and if like me all that nuance is lost on you, you can enjoy changing which hat and coat your favourite character is wearing. Obviously this will continue in Darktide, for what is Warhammer 40k if not a game of dress-up with extremely surly dolls?
I predict the massive ogryn will have a tankier bullgryn (bulwark ogryn) career. Wearing discarded tank treads as armour he can pull aggro and soak damage for the whole party, and he’ll have a bullrush ability on cooldown to shove him into the heart of the action. Meanwhile a little feature from Vermintide 2 that notifies you when an ally saves you from damage will be repurposed to greater mechanical effect in the ogryn’s bodyguard career.
Before you start reeling off Warhammer lore at us, no, I don’t think the woman with the bowlcut and hammer is one of the Sisters of Battle (nuns with guns). From the iconography on her armour, it’s just as likely that she’s an Inquisitorial acolyte. But I do think at least one of her careers will be inspired by them. I predict that what we hear at around 45 seconds into the gameplay trailer is a preview of a Fervent Preacher career, which buffs the party’s offensive capability with fittingly violent prayers. Alternatively, we could see her as a masochistic Penitent, which strengthens her as she takes damage, and/or a Hospitaller, who retains her support role but brings defensive and healing buffs. All three would call on the divine light of the Emperor to smite their foes or bolster their allies as their cooldown abilities.
And how’s this for a prediction? One of the two Imperial Guard soldiers from the trailer won’t make it into the final game. One quasi-modern soldier provides an understandable archetype for a player new to the setting, but two is unlikely to be fun for co-op games.
The smart money is on an Imperial assassin as the replacement, with a slender silhouette and deadly-but-delicate playstyle that appears to be absent from the current roster. Expect careers inspired by Warhammer 40k’s famous assassin temples: the shapeshifting Callidus, sniper Vindicare, and psychopathic bioweapon Eversor.
And I think there’ll be a fifth character we’ve not seen at all yet – a psyker. These psychics channel the reality-shaping powers of the Warp to unleash streams of lightning on their foes. The Warp is a hell dimension stuffed with daemons, so using Warp energy is extremely dangerous. In Vermintide the wizard Fuegonasus explodes if you use her powers too much. Darktide might copy that, or even use updated tech to go one step beyond, adding dynamic corruption effects to the environment as the psyker builds up warp energy, or unleashing daemonic entities through warp-breaches if all that power gets out of control.
Multiplayer games and unlockable tat are a match made in heaven. Warhammer 40k is less tacti-cool than it is baroque, grotesque, and covered in skulls. So expect the following instead of dog tags and patches:
- Cyborg skulls
- Floating, cyborg skulls
- Cyborg cherubs
- Witchfinder-general hats
- Drippy candles
- Drippy candles on top of hats
- Robotic prosthetics
- Rubbish prosthetics
- Purity seals (scraps of parchment stuck on with wax)
- Metal bolts drilled directly into the cranium
- Double-headed eagles embossed on everything
In fact, bookmark that list now for a drinking game when the second trailer hits. We’ve definitely got more predictions, like Genestealer Cults as a DLC faction, but at this point we’re probably straying a tiny bit too far from what can be confidently inferred from the gameplay trailer.