Vermintide 2 is “not 100% there, but closing in” on the difficulty sweet spot

Kerillian's High Elf-inspired Handmaiden Career

It’s now been roughly two months since Vermintide 2 launched on PC, and three weeks since developers Fatshark confirmed it’s shifted a million copies – a huge feat for most games on our platform, let alone by an indie developer, and so quickly. 

We checked in with lead designer Victor Magnuson and producer Robert Bäckström to talk about how their hard-won community has received the sequel and their plans for its ongoing support, as well as co-op gaming more broadly.

For more scraps with friends, check out the best co-op games on PC.

PCGamesN: Vermintide 2 sold a million copies just five weeks after its release and hasn’t even hit consoles yet. What’s your reaction?

Magnuson: We knew we had a better game on our hands. Vermintide was successful, and we felt that this game was better than the original – there’s a lot more to it, and we had already built a community, all that work had been done. So we were hoping that we would do better, but this is way past expectations, of course!

What explains that success?

Bäckström: There are a lot of factors you can’t take into account, such as the timing. You can’t be certain.

Magnuson: We were confident that we had a better game, but you just never know if it’s gonna resonate with the community.

We didn’t give up on the first game, we just kept at it – we kept releasing new features, new DLC, new maps, new systems, and we kept fixing and patching it. So I think we built a following, and a reputation of being a game that’s worth your money.

That really helped us when we released Vermintide 2 – if we looked at comments on Facebook or Reddit, when we released a trailer or something, if anybody said something negative there was instantly someone else defending us, saying: ‘no, no, no, you don’t know what you’re saying, these guys are awesome, Vermintide was awesome’. So that was time and effort well spent – to really invest in our community and make sure that we had a product that people liked.

Bäckström: Since the beta of Vermintide 1 there’s been constant communication with the community – back and forth, back and forth – it’s always been together. And some things [they wanted] were new features that we couldn’t just shove in the first game. But [thanks to that feedback] there’s a path that goes from Vermintide 1 into Vermintide 2 that’s been pretty clear to us for a while.

Magnuson: Keeping our ear to the community during Vermintide 1 helped inform our decisions on Vermintide 2. And I think what we did really resonated with them, because we delivered a lot of the features they had wanted in the original, but which we couldn’t really do because of decisions we took while making it. But we could start fresh on Vermintide 2 so we just put all that stuff in the sequel instead.

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You emphasised the game’s difficulty in the lead-up to release, then one of your first patches tuned it down. What was behind that decision?

Magnuson: It is supposed to be a really difficult game. Well, not difficult – a challenging game, because challenge is important for cooperation. If it gets too easy people stop cooperating – they just start running in, and there’s no fun.

So it should be challenging, but it is really important for us to find that fine edge where it is accessible, so new players don’t feel like ‘ok I’m not good enough, I can’t play this game’, while still being challenging. So we’ve been tweaking it to get to the right place. We’re not 100% there but we are closing in on it. And maybe we’re going too far – Legend should be really, really, really tough, it shouldn’t be for everyone, really. It should be the thing to aspire to. So if we’ve made that too easy, maybe we have to make it harder again, I don’t know.

Also now we have Heroic Deeds as well, which we can use if we make Legend too accessible – though I don’t think we really can – but there’s always the next challenge, which is Heroic Deeds. That is something that we will put more effort into, to make sure there are new and cool challenges.

So it’s a balancing act, and we are working with these random systems, so it is really hard to be 100% sure. You have to play the game a thousand times before you know if a change did exactly what you thought it would do, at least consistently, so it is really hard. We will probably be balancing back and forth, but we are getting there, I think.

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Bäckström: Releasing the game is just one step. Continuing to support the game is next – continuing to adapt to the current meta, adding new types of challenges, or if something comes overpowered or broken, whatever. We need to be constantly tweaking those and reacting to it.

There’s no way for us in development to foresee which direction the game or the meta will take, where it becomes too difficult or too easy. We’d rather react after than guess before. We do guess, but we know we will have to tweak it.

Magnuson: Hopefully that also keeps the game interesting and fresh. We often talk about seasons in Diablo and stuff like that, where they change the meta around just to make the game interesting again, and give players a reason to come back. Or like Overwatch, where they are always changing stuff like that. Part of it is fixing problems and making the game work as we wanted, part of it is also keeping the game interesting.

The version 1.04 patch nerfed ranged weapons pretty hard, for example.

Magnuson: Yeah, I think we saw that the ranged weapons were turning into the only option, especially on Legend, and that’s not where we wanted to be. It’s really important that it is a combination of melee and ranged. We don’t want you to not be able to use ranged, we just wanted to get it balanced. I’m not sure if we went too far; we’ll have to see what the reaction is. I think the knee-jerk reaction of some players is ‘oh you’re trying to remove ranged from the game’, but that’s not at all our goal – we’re just trying to make it so that’s balanced. It should be 50/50.

Warhammer Vermintide 2

How have your hardcore players reacted to the change in difficulty? We’ve seen some fans saying even Legend is too easy now.

Magnuson: The problem there is that they were already so damn good at Vermintide 1 that it’s hard for us to create something that could be viable for new players and also keep the veterans happy. But that’s where we hope Heroic Deeds will be able to fill the gap, and we will be doing more stuff with Heroic Deeds going forward, where we can create those challenges. We have stuff in the pipe, we will add more things for those players that feel that maybe it’s too easy. I don’t know if I agree that it is too easy – I can’t finish it myself!

Bäckström: There is always going to be a small percentage of the playerbase that are going to beat your game, and defeat it. By adding Heroic Deeds – before they had to rely on mods to do it – but now we are trying to offer something players who aren’t into modding, and to console players too, to access that game plus.

Magnuson: Even the equivalent of going to a forum and reading ‘maybe I should try doing it like this’. It’s a balancing act; we will have to keep working on it. We want to make as many people happy as we can, and we do really care about our hardcore community. We don’t want to make them disappointed.

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What’s next in terms of new content? Your roadmap mentions two new maps are due for release soon.

Magnuson: We have a content update coming soon. What I can say is that before you get those maps, which will be paid DLC, you will get something for free. We can’t say more, really, but it will make the game more rewarding.

With games like Earthfall, Strange Brigade, and even Overwatch’s Retribution event, there’s been a bit of a surge in horde games lately. What do you make of it?

Magnuson: The genre’s been quite sparsely populated. There have only been a few since Left 4 Dead 2, so it’s natural that it’s coming. I think it’s good in a way – every single game is not for everyone, and we’re quite confident in our game.

Bäckström: We have our own strengths to lean on – our melee system, the Warhammer IP, and how we portray that, that’s unique to us. I think it’s awesome, we love these games, we’re just happy that there are more people making them. It’s going to grow the community, too, so hopefully it’s just a positive for everyone.

Vermintide 2 Ironbreaker

Is gaming going through a co-op renaissance more broadly?

Magnuson: Definitely. Look at A Way Out, which just released, that is 100% co-op. Everyone’s playing online, everyone’s playing with other people all the time, it’s natural that you’d want a co-op mode. It’s so easy now to play co-op, you don’t have to go home to somebody else and sit on their couch anymore, you can just play. It works really well with Discord, too. I think it’s a natural development from what’s going on.

Bäckström: Co-op play is definitely more accessible now you don’t have to do it the old way, like joining a clan. You’re seeing more games where you just seamlessly end up in co-op play, unless you actively work to resist it.

Magnuson: The best way of making a game constantly fresh and interesting is adding other people – that’s the reason PUBG is so great. You put 100 people in a map and leave them to do whatever they’re gonna do, and the match is going to be interesting. You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s the same for co-op – put four people together, and there’s four people who can make things interesting at a level beyond what the game actually does.

Bäckström: It expands the post-game experience, too – you’ve got someone to discuss things with: ‘hey, did we just do this together?’.

Magnuson: Yeah, like why do you go to the cinema with other people? You’re sitting there basically alone in the room, but afterwards you want someone to talk to. It’s the same thing – you want to have a shared experience. Co-op games are the pinnacle of that desire.

Bäckström: You see it reflected in the success of streaming, too – people want shared gaming experiences. It’s the future.

Vermintide 2

What role has Discord played?

Magnuson: It’s not like you’re this elite raider in World of Warcraft who has teamspeak. Everybody has Discord, or an equivalent. Look at how fast it took off – it’s insane! It became a household thing very fast.

We also spoke with Fatshark about why the coming Vermintide 2 console launch will be good for PC players, and what it’s like working with Games Workshop. Vermintide 2 is on Steam here – check it out to scratch that Left 4 Dead itch.