Warhammer: Vermintide 2 sold over 500,000 copies in its first week of release, and it is probably safe to say that the majority of its players are very happy: it is a fantastic game. But it is also rather different to its predecessor. Yes, it is still a game about hacking the limbs off giant rats, but there is something new here. While the original game felt like Left 4 Skaven, Vermintide 2 is akin to a Warhammer-themed MMO raid.
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Vermintide 2 is hard. Like, really hard. The torrents of Skaven scrambling over each other to tear you apart with tooth and claw feels relentless, even more so than in the first game - and this time they are backed up by stronger, hardier Chaos forces. More often than not, these packs of enemies are reinforced by deadly special units, too: the noisy Ratling gun, the Gutter Runners who can incapacitate you in a single leap, and Rotblood sorcerers who trap you within a swirling tornado of lurid green magic.
And then there are the bosses; colossal beasts with seemingly bottomless health bars that are a nightmare to topple. They punctuate the steady flow of weaker enemies, although they are more of an atomic hand grenade than a full stop in the action. Stormfiends - the product of encasing the already formidable Rat Ogres in steel plate and strapping warpfire cannons to their arms - set fields ablaze and soak up all but the heaviest sword swipes. The terrifying Bile Troll blinds you with spit and knits its wounds back together. Fleshy Chaos Spawn beasts relentlessly trample and maul any hero that dares stand in their path.
The composition of a Vermintide 2 run feels orchestrated by a team who admire MMO raid design. A classic raid is almost like a song: floods of standard enemies make up the verses, while multiple formidable and memorable boss encounters act as the chorus. Vermintide follows this pattern, with hard metal being its genre of choice. The verses are relentless waves of Skaven, with AI routines that do everything possible to tear you away from your teammates, isolating you for an easy kill that you can’t be rescued from. Then the heavy, guitar-shredding chorus kicks in as a Stormfiend bursts through a barn door and tears your party to shreds. This rhythm of this structure is different with every performance, meaning the moment-to-moment experience of each mission poses more of a tactical challenge than repeated clicking.
What Vermintide 2 offers is a far cry away from the casual brutality of its predecessor. After a dozen matches I have come to realise that victory is an anomaly. Failure is the default outcome. This means that the smallest of wins - crawling one area further through a level than last time, overcoming a boss creature, or keeping everyone alive through a fight - is a triumph in its own right. The sight of a health potion always comes accompanied with a sense of deep relief, and every refill of your ammunition pockets means an extra precious few seconds in the fight.
My repeated failures in Vermintide 2 have proven to be intoxicating rather than oppressive. They also run parallel to my experiences with Destiny and its raids. As the hardest content in Destiny, I go into raids without any expectation of winning. Each room and boss conquered provides euphoria, but only after repeated retries and replacing my weapons over and over with newer, better upgrades. It is a slow climb to the top, but it always feels worth it; I have truly earned these victories. Vermintide 2 offers this, but it is not an optional mode: the whole game is a raid.
Those Destiny parallels run deeper than the challenge, too. A failed Vermintide 2 mission still rewards XP, meaning every defeat contributes to building and improving your character. Levelling up unlocks new passive skills and, later on, whole new career paths. And with a little extra power that first mission becomes achievable. Victories reward loot - better weapons and stat-enhancing trinkets - which further boost your potential, and increase your chances of further successes. The MMO mentality is obvious.
The raid-style challenge and emphasis on grinding for experience, loot, and power does not make Vermintide 2 an MMO. It is still a co-op smash-a-thon at heart, but rather than a casual fire-and-forget, Vermintide 2 feels built for longevity - a game that will offer challenge and reward for a substantially lengthier period that its predecessor. This is not something to unwind with; it is a challenger to your hobby game. There will be some fans of the original for whom this new direction will feel like a betrayal, but it seems like Vermintide has found what it wants to be. This is a plague of rats that will take more than a dagger-weilding Pied Piper to take down, and I’m happy to lend my absurdly large axe to the fight.
This feature was originally published on March 21, 2018. Read more about Warhammer: Vermintide II.