In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war — and war often means grunt work, the absolute worst gigs where it’s a wonder anyone’s left standing at the end. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is all about these deadly missions, and the doomed souls forced to navigate them.
Darktide fits snugly in the Left 4 Dead-alike genre, much like developer Fatshark’s previous games, Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide and Warhammer: Vermintide 2. Four players are tasked with working their way through a level so they can restart a cooling mechanism on a crucial factory, kill a rebel leader, or otherwise purge the heretics and Chaos demons that have settled in the depths of the massive hive city of Tertium. There are endless hordes of mutants, as well as more powerful enemies like Trappers, Tox Blighters, and Snipers, that threaten to overwhelm the heroes.
Hero is a relative term here. Before you dive into the joy of mowing down waves and waves of heretical filth with a righteous flamer, you need to make a character. Darktide sticks with the formula of four players, made up of four classes: a powerful Psyker; the pious, flamethrower-wielding Zealot; a deadly sharpshooter Veteran; and the hulking Ogryn.
Half the fun of Darktide is giving the characters a spin and choosing your favorite. Every class has a grenade slot, for instance, but they manifest differently. The Psyker can pop the skulls of her enemies from afar, the Veteran has a standard explosive grenade, the Zealot prefers stun grenades, and the Ogryn just throws an entire case of grenades at enemies. Everyone also has a melee weapon and a ranged weapon with varying strengths. The Veteran obviously touts a pulse rifle, while the Psyker just uses a simple revolver, for instance.
However, unlike most Left 4 Dead-alikes, which usually feature predetermined characters with their own scripts and abilities, there’s room to maneuver within those boundaries.
Before you jump into the action, there’s a prelude where players select their home world, some life-path choices, and one of three archetypal personalities. Is your sharpshooter an embittered veteran, a tired patriot, or a loose cannon who definitely did some murders? This isn’t a Mass Effect-style RPG where your character makes a massive impact on the world around them. They are, in fact, a tiny and forgettable cog in a massive system built on endless war.
Despite their relative unimportance, though, it’s still refreshing to be able to pick their name and past and not be stuck with a static cast. Some characters are martyrs and victims, but others deserve to be on this horrible prison duty because of their cruel deeds. My Psyker did everything right in her life, but when she started to hear the clamorous voices of the Warp, she was declared a witch. My Zealot, on the other hand, stumbled upon a cult and tried to bring it to her superiors’ attention, only to be betrayed and banished.
With four classes and three archetypes, you have 12 possible personalities to bounce off one another with barks. A particularly harsh Zealot won’t be nice to anyone (since they’re all heretics) and an Ogryn can be a brainless brute or a good friend. These combinations lessen the tedium after you’ve cleared a level dozens of times. There are also times where two members of the same class jab at each other. It’s tough to get along in the world of Warhammer 40K, especially when some of your party members can summon demon lords with their terrible powers.
Unfortunately, the aesthetic options aren’t all that varied — they always tend to result in rough-faced, short-haired people with deep facial folds and textured skin. Players start in rough prison wear, and it takes a few matches before you start to unlock some more sophisticated threads. This is very in line with the Warhammer mythos; we’re not exactly on a spa day. But the visual options are still a letdown after navigating the surprisingly complex backstory selections.
It’s also not clear if any of these fun character creation options pay off down the line, or if they’re just here for flavor. Either way, I’m excited to dive back into Darktide when it launches on Windows PC on Nov. 30. I already miss my Psyker, and even if there’s no grand fate in store for her, at least it’s fun to pop brains and blast away my foes.