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How Vermintide 2 made loot boxes fun again

Loot doesn’t have to be painful

A duel in Warhammer: Vermintide 2 Fatshark

Loot box” has become a dirty phrase in gaming after so many publishers have used borderline abusive economies to urge the player to spend real-world money on random items to get ahead. But Warhammer: Vermintide 2 relies on loot boxes for the majority of its economy, and it does so without angering players or hurting their progression. It’s refreshing to see a game handle this topic with so much grace in 2018, without backing away from its roots as a loot-based brawler.

The most important aspect of the game’s economy is that you can’t spend real-world money on loot boxes. There’s no option to do so. You gain loot and power by playing the game, and the lack of real-money purchases means that the economy is closed. You can’t buy your way to a high-level character or play a virtual slot machine until you unlock the best loot. You gotta earn it, and the system to do so is rewarding.

The economy and player progression system isn’t the most intuitive, and you’ll want to spend some time figuring things out. The best way to do so is to simply progress through a few rounds of the game. You’ll gain levels and unlock a good number of loot boxes in the early game just by attempting — and likely failing — missions with bots or the other players.

Vermintide 2 takes cues from Destiny by giving your character a Heroic Power level based on your weapons, armor and other items you have earned in the course of your travels. The higher difficulty levels are gated by your Heroic Power level, which gives you another reason to jump on the treadmill.

A giant rat attacks in Warhammer: Vermintide 2 Image: Fatshark

Play the game, level up, get better loot, get powerful enough to play on the higher difficulty levels, repeat. The lack of microtransactions makes the whole thing feel like a first-person Diablo game with a modern skin. The progression is the game, and you progress by playing and getting better as you go. As our first look at the game pointed out, the different classes make the co-operative experience feel like a version of Left 4 Dead where you’re building and owning your character.

There’s also a risk/reward system at play, since you can collect tomes and grimoires from each level to increase the quality of the loot you get at the end of the mission. But picking these up almost feels like increasing the difficulty of each mission — they take up inventory slots or decrease your maximum health — but you’ll be rewarded for taking on the extra change with improved loot.

While much of the economy is still based on luck, it’s understandable luck. Everything seems tuned toward rewarding your skill and the amount of time you put into the game, not how much you pay for loot boxes.

And ultimately, the game itself is fun, and that’s going to keep you coming back on its own. And so the loot boxes are more like a visceral bonus, complete with the slot machine-style visuals as you open each one.

The game continues to sit on top of the best-seller list on Steam at the time of publication, with a Very Positive average rating from 9,436 player reviews. The developer has also announced that the game has sold over 500,000 copies in its first week of release. And that’s before the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions.

Creating a system that uses loot boxes without turning off players isn’t quite as easy as turning off microtransactions, although that’s a large part of it. Giving the player at least limited control over the quality of loot and offering multiple options for progression is a big part of why the game feels fun instead of insulting. I feel like I’ve been rewarded with something every time I sit down and play.

Vermintide 2 may have given its loot visuals that look like modern loot boxes, but its approach to character progression feels almost classical in 2018. And that’s a very good thing.