Teased in August, revealed in October, and scheduled for early next year, the hype for Warhammer: Vermintide II is steadily building. Like a tenderly reared Hell Pit Abomination, the original game swelled to become one of the biggest indie hits of recent years, with a tremendous two million sales to date. That’s according to Martin Wahlund, the co-founder and CEO of developers Fatshark.
Yet it would be fair to say Vermintide is a little rough and ready, with a few technical and mechanical blemishes. We got the chance to speak with Wahlund and lead designer Victor Magnuson about how they plan to polish that up and add new features in a sequel that promises to be bigger, better, and slicker.
Here’s everything we know about Warhammer: Vermintide 2 so far.
PCGamesN: We hear you are getting rid of easy difficulty – will you keep Normal, Hard, Nightmare, and Cataclysm?
Victor: Yes. We’re getting rid of easy because we thought it was a bit misleading – we can’t actually make the game truly easy. So we’re getting rid of that, but we’re going to rebalance normal to fit more players. We are keeping hard and nightmare and cataclysm. It’s super important to us to have this extremely hard challenge for people to really push themselves.
Something that is raised often by the community is game stability. Are you interested in moving towards dedicated servers at all?
Victor:Yeah, we are building support for dedicated servers. I think from the beginning we will provide them to the players if they want to set that up. We’ve talked to different providers so that they can have them, if people want to run them and so forth. We’re still testing them, and there’s a lot of unanswered questions. But we will have a sort of dedicated server that you can download and set up if you want to run your own. We’ll see how far we can take this.
To be clear then, the default is still peer to peer?
Martin:Yeah. But people will be able to set up their own server if they want, 100%. We haven’t really decided on how much support we are going to provide, like having a server farm and stuff like that. That’s not sure yet.
The original game launched with a few bugs – what is your goal for the condition of Vermintide 2 at launch?
Victor:As buggy as it can be [laughs]. No, what’s really good is that we’re building on Vermintide, so a lot of stuff has been fixed that we had problems with when we launched. So we have all of that in the backbone of [Vermintide 2]. But we are aware that there were issues with Vermintide 1 when we launched it, so, we are focused on being in much better shape this time.
Martin:There were issues, especially around the number of people playing versus our backend for example, and now that’s fixed. We have a different approach that scales much better – the issues we had were not about the game in itself, but more to do with different combinations of hardware and clients, so after running a game for two years we have now found a lot of those kinds of issues. So we’re working closely with hardware manufacturers to test many different setups; we need to try to find all of these kind of weird combinations that people can have. That’s the goal.
We have also built this system to kind of track everything from crashes to stalls, so when we run the game we can see it exactly what’s happening, and we can fix it. The internal version today is looking really stable. We have taken that feedback into account, and that’s why we’re waiting to set a firm release date as well. We want to make sure it’s at its best state possible for launch.
What kind of modding capabilities will users have?
Martin:Good question. We are working a lot on it now, but before I commit to saying exactly what we’re doing, we need to test much more. The key thing is creating different environments – we don’t want anyone [breaking the game by] building a mod where you get ten times XP, so we have set it up so that there are two different realms. One will be the vanilla realm, and one would be the modded realm.
But we want to support it as much as possible within those restrictions. We’re taking it step by step – the first thing we’re working on is making it easy to distribute mods between users. The second part is to facilitate asset creation. The long-term goal would be to be able to create as much as possible: everything from balance and UI updates, to maybe building levels. But I would say that’s further down the line, we’ll see. We won’t release anything until we feel it’s 100%.
Victor:I think the general answer is we supported modding in the first game in an unofficial way, in that people did mod the game. This time around, we’ll support that officially.
Martin:And make it much easier for [players] to create mods. We need to make sure that the tools are easy to use for end users. Right now, some of them are tied into our IT infrastructure, so we need to remove that stuff. If we, for example, would give out a level editor, we need to make sure people can bundle those levels and find a way to get them into the game and that’s what we’re looking into. So it’s all about getting the infrastructure there. For launch I don’t want to say exactly what could be included, because it’s a bit early still – in the middle of creation. But as much as possible, that’s the goal.
Are you considering something like a versus mode, in the style of Left 4 Dead 2?
Martin:We consider it all the time, and it’s something we would love to do. But as with the first game, our focus is still on the co-op aspect. We are not a thousand people, we are still a mid-size company, so we feel like we need to focus on trying to make the best co-op melee first-person game, that’s the primary goal. When we feel like we’re there, obviously that’s something we’re always looking at, but there are certainly no plans to have it at launch.
How will you support the game over its life cycle, and has the success of the first caused you to be more ambitious about longer term support for the sequel?
Martin:A lot of the changes we made between the games were to facilitate updates. We’ve learned a lot from supporting the first game – I think we had 85 patches and 12 or 13 DLCs. The key thing for us now is to build a framework where we can add stuff in a much easier way than we did in the original, so that’s something that we’ve been talking about.
Hopefully we can also add stuff that we couldn’t add in the first game. It’s still early days, everything is focused on the launch of the game, and it’s not like we have the power to do a lot of DLCs and have them ready at launch. Hopefully we have something that’s almost done at launch, we can release maybe a month later or something like that, but the focus is on the base game.
Victor:I think the baseline that people can expect is the same type of support that we did for Vermintide 1, but we have a lot of systems that facilitate us making more fun stuff.
The Heroic Deeds system lets us add really cool things that would not fit into the framework of the base game. In Vermintide 1, if we added new levels they had to be balanced compared to the old levels, since they follow the same set of rules – near the start of the game we had a problem where everybody was playing Horn of Magnus, because it was the fastest level, so it was the easiest way to get loot. So then we added quests and contracts to sort of incentivise people to play other levels and that worked out really well, and now we see people playing all the levels, and it’s a much better sort of community environment. But it does mean that all the levels in the core game have to be really balanced compared to each other, so there isn’t one outlier that becomes the one that everybody has to play.
We now have a bunch of systems in place to make sure that won’t happen in the same way. With Heroic Deeds, we can limit how many times you can play them, so you won’t be able to grind them, stuff like that. We’ll be able to do stuff that is completely against the ruleset without destroying the base game. So I think it’s gonna be really cool for us to be able to listen to the community, and then create Heroic Deeds that cater to what they want to do. That’s going to be really awesome.
There are new enemies in Chaos, and the original five characters are coming back with new career paths. Any chance of a sixth character? I note we are on the border with Bretonnia now…
Martin:We have worked a lot on making that happen. The first game got super complicated when we tried to do new characters – it sort of ended up like this is not really worth it, because it’s so much work and we need to change so much. But for the sequel, we have prepared in a much better way how to handle new enemies and new characters. So, that’s something we can do down the line.
Victor:I wouldn’t expect them out of the box…
Martin:Not out of the box. The first DLC, maybe. But down the line it’s something we want to do. We’ve never promised anything, but at some point, yeah of course. It’s a complicated thing because they have relationships with each other, they talk to each other, a lot of thought needs to go into it. It could be a new character, or it could just be a new career. We’ll see.
We have a lot of work to do before we can do it, but we’re prepared for it now. Heroic Deeds are the major thing, but the systems in the background are much more aligned to updating the game over time. Right now we’re focused on launch.
Will Vermintide 1 owners gets any benefits in the sequel for owning the original?
Martin:It’s something that we’re looking into. The baseline is that if you are on the first game, you will be able to use the character skins from the original game.
Victor:We are looking into how we can sort of do that in a really cool way, we want to do it.
Martin:We want to reward people that played the first game but at the same time giving new players the same sort of chance, we don’t want to have kind of huge differences in gameplay. This is more along the lines of cosmetics stuff, like skins, and maybe there might be some of the achievements done in the first might be a bit… we’re playing around with what we can do.
What has the success of Vermintide meant for you as a studio?
Victor:Confidence is the first thing. It was a big step to take – we’d done some small self-published games – but the message from me to the team was now we can’t blame anyone else. Now it’s only up to us.
One of my key takeaways is that we can control our release date to some extent – small indie studios, they can’t afford working for a very big studio, they have marketing schedules or fiscal years, and slots where they have to release their games. From our perspective, we have a quite a good slot, because we have some funding to be able to build a great game, and at the same time we don’t need to meet any fiscal stuff immediately.
We took a big bet on us: that we could create a really good game that people would love to play, it fell out really well and we were really happy with it, so I think it’s meant a lot from the confidence perspective.
It’s very fun to work with a game for a long time. When you release a game you aim to just make everything you need to get the game good, but usually a lot of the best stuff is what you can add afterwards. Looking at Bretonnians, or whatever it could be.
Martin:Usually when you make a game, you know how to make that game when you release that game. And then you’re best at making that game.
Victor:[There’s a lot we only] realised when we released Vermintide. We saw: OK, this part of the loot system needs some tweaking, the system for this and that needs to change. It’s fun to follow the community and try to address those issues as they arise.
Martin:While we are confident, we also have a lot of respect for that. This time round we know people are expecting stuff from us, and people love this game, so we really need to be careful in what we do, and make sure that we don’t mess up anything that people like, so we’ve been really careful to make sure that changes are in line with what makes Vermintide really good.
Victor:Yep, that’s super important. It’s tough, it’s a challenge to balance the new stuff with the old. Finding the right balance is the key thing.
What is next? Are you growing, and do you see Vermintide as a long-term franchise?
Martin:I think Vermintide will be a long-term franchise, because we love to work with it, and it’s going well for us, I think. Everything right now is very much focused on Vermintide.
Do you see yourselves stepping up from being indie to what might be described as an A-grade, mid-tier studio?
Martin:I totally agree with you. The key thing for us right now is taking us to a new level in terms of what we can do. You can see it in the offers you get from publishers to do cool stuff – you realise what kind of tier you’re in. When you get the biggest [publishers] approach you then you know you’re doing something right. That gives us confidence as well.
Victor:As a company, we’ve always grown very organically. We’re sort of always hiring and never hiring.
Martin:We are slowly growing. People ask me how many employees we have, and I might say ‘OK we have 50’, and then somebody from administration will correct me, like ‘oh no Marty, we’re 55 or 60,’ and I said 60 last week, and now it’s like ‘no, we’re 70’. When we find talented individuals, we try to hire them – that’s it, basically.
That’s something that Vermintide has enabled us to do. We don’t need to be afraid of being out of business next week. If you’re the sort of developers working only for publishers, it might be that you’re out of contract, you don’t have anything, and that’s a very stressful situation. We’re not in that situation, which is good.
Victor:We own our own future, that’s why.
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is due in the first quarter of next year, and can be found on Steam here. For even more coverage, check out our first interview with the guys from Fatshark, back when the game was first announced.