Vermintide 2 official artwork for the Winds of Magic expansion

The Winds of Magic expansion has now arrived, bringing with it the largest amount of new content Vermintide 2 has ever seen. It added the Beastmen as a brand new enemy faction, Weaves as pre-set and highly challenging new mini-levels, an absolutely brutal Cataclysm difficulty setting, five new weapons to explore, as well as one new Beastmen themed map.

There really is a lot of content on offer, though the big question now is whether all of that content is actually good enough to stand under scrutiny. So if you're wondering just where Winds of Magic succeeds, as well as where it falls flat on its face, allow me to share my thoughts after spending a week getting repeatedly stabbed by the Beastmen!

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of Beastmen beating down Saltzpyre

Get used to being knocked out, because the Beastmen are terrifyingly strong

As you might imagine, out of all the new additions, the Beastmen are by far the most noticeable. And how wouldn't they be, given that their preferred method of attack is to scream and charge head-first into the fray! It might sound like an easy thing to thwart, but such an attack can quickly get out of hand as the Beastmen are not only individually stronger than most Chaos and Skaven forces, but they don't seem to be any less numerous either. So even though they only have one special unit, the Beastmen are by far the trickiest faction to deal with, though not so much that I found playing against them to be annoying.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. Given their high damage and the standard bearer's special ability to create a banner that whips all nearby Beastmen into a frenzy, playing against them is a refreshingly different and significantly more challenging experience. Unlike the Skaven hordes where splitting up can be beneficial, the Beastmen require a fair bit of coordination to defeat. You need to stay together in order to avoid getting annihilated by stray Gors, yet the frequent threat of the standard bearers forces you to move forward and push through enemy ranks, over and over again. A bit of a stressful situation, to be sure, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you finally find yourself standing victorious on a mountain of charred Beastmen!

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of Sienna and the Beastmen

Thankfully, the Beastmen burn just as well as the rest of the Chaos hordes

On the other hand, dealing with the Minotaur boss is far too simple given how powerful the beast is supposed to be. Sure, it may charge around on occasion, but you can pretty much fight him in the same way you would the classic Rat Ogre. So while the Stormfiend spews fire, the Bile Troll pukes at his enemies and regenerates health, the Chaos Spawn relentlessly pursues anyone in front of it, the Minotaur just kind of swings his axes around. He does a lot of damage and attacks quickly, but there's nothing particularly special about his moveset, and that's a shame given how terrifying Minotaurs can be in games like Total War: Warhammer. 

The relatively minor Minotaur quibble aside, I do have one real problem with the Beastmen, and that is just how dark they are. I don't mean this in the sense that their overall lore is particularly messed up, no, I mean this quite literally - the Beastmen are sometimes so dark I can only really see a black blob with glowing yellow eyes. This makes it somewhat difficult to see what they're doing on many of the darker maps, which is a serious issue as the Beastmen can really pack a punch if they catch you off guard. So while I do genuinely enjoy playing against them, that enjoyment would be a lot higher if they were just a bit easier to decipher while in large hordes, especially the Gors with their immensely powerful headbutts and axe swings.

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of the Beastmen in the dark

Now imagine there's an entire horde of them trying to stick an axe in your face

The second major feature in Winds of Magic are the Weaves - pre-set and rather challenging levels influenced by the various winds of magic. Levels dominated by the wind of life have enemies leave dangerous brambles that slow and damage players, the wind of heavens creates thunder strikes that can be used to obliterate large quantities of enemies through careful positioning, while the wind of metal greatly increases the armor of special and elite enemies, but also gives players that kill them a powerful damage aura. It's a fairly simple concept, and one that I've seen used successfully in many ARPGs before, so I'm very happy to say that it works wonders in Vermintide 2 as well.

Similarly, I have to praise Winds of Magic for what it has done with the Weave levels themselves. Not only do they genuinely look beautiful and otherworldly, but they have all been designed by taking various bits and pieces from different maps and gluing them together, all without making it seem like we're just retreading the same ground.

Sometimes this was done by completely redesigning an area and making it almost indistinguishable from the original, other times it was achieved by inverting the map and adding a few new pathways, and there were also moments where simply connecting two entirely separate areas created levels that were more enjoyable than the sum of their parts. This sort of level shuffling ended up working out so well I can only hope we'll get a truly randomized mode at some point in the future as well! 

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic artwork showing off the Weave visuals

Even small changes can completely transform an area into something new and interesting

Things do start to get a little bit shaky once we move to the progression within the Weaves themselves. Instead of transferring your characters and items, Weaves start you at level one with absolutely no gear. From there you have to complete missions in order to acquire essences, with which you can then purchase and upgrade your weapons and hero. It sounds like a bit of a chore, but honestly, it's a pretty good system! 

Instead of spending twenty minutes re-rolling your items like you would in the normal game mode, Weaves allow you to directly customize every aspect of your gear. Early on you will only have a couple of options, but as you upgrade your weapons and amulet, you will quickly end up in a situation where you can change your entire playstyle on the fly, all without having to rely on any sort randomness. Once again, this ended up being such a good system that I really, really, really, really want to see it make its way into the rest of Vermintide 2! 

There is one thing the Weaves have kept from the main mode in terms of customization, and unfortunately it's something I complained about even in my original Vermintide 2 review - each hero has their own separate progression. So if you're like me and you love each and every single hero, playing Weaves is going to be a bit tricky since you can only really invest your essences into one hero. Spreading them around on multiple heroes will simply leave you too weak to tackle the higher levels, and that is a real shame since Vermintide 2 is at its best when you have tons of options available to you. 

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of the Athanor

This is how Vermintide 2's crafting should've been done from the very start 

While I hate to continue on with a negative note, there is still one gigantic problem left with the Weaves, and that is the simple fact that they are incompatible with Vermintide 2. With pre-set layouts, difficult challenges and no rewards for repeat playthroughs, Weaves are something that only really appeals to the purely challenge-seeking part of the playerbase, and that's not exactly a numerous bunch. And since you can't skip Weaves or use bots to help you out, you can very easily end up in a situation where you simply cannot proceed. 

Despite trying multiple times throughout the closed beta and after the launch itself, I've not once managed to have a full Weave group. At best I've had two other players, and that was only for the early Weaves. After that I've either been alone or with one other guy, and while that has worked perfectly fine initially, the higher I climbed the more annoying it became to play with that kind of handicap. In the end I actually gave up on the Weaves entirely, because even though I loved the gameplay itself, I just couldn't stomach the long queues only to end up with imbalanced games anyway. 

That said, the Weaves are not without hope. The map randomization and customization options are both excellent, as are the wind-specific events, and all of that can be brought into the standard mode. How exactly that would look, I'm afraid I have no idea, but it would be a real shame to have all those beautifully crafted Weave maps simply rot away, only to ever be played by the most dedicated of the dedicated. 

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic artwork showing off the Beastmen

Weaves have serious potential, but they also need some serious changes to achieve it

Speaking of dedication, that is exactly what you'll need to play the new Cataclysm difficulty mode. As the name would suggest, Cataclysm is brutal from the very start, highly punishing for scattered teams and often straight up overwhelming, yet it's also some of the most fun I've ever had with Vermintide 2! As long as you have even a remotely decent group, Cataclysm is an absolute blast to play since it requires a healthy dose of both coordination and communication, while still offering plenty of ways to showcase your own skill and tricks. By its very nature it's not going to appeal to everyone, but if you're like me and you love to test yourself against what feels like an impossible challenge, then the Cataclysm difficulty is well worth checking out!

I just wish there was a bit more support for it, because there is pretty much nothing you can gain by beating some of the hardest content Vermintide 2 has ever put out. You don't even get a new loot box for beating Cataclysm maps, just the one you get in Legend games. Would it really be too much to ask for a couple of cool cosmetics to celebrate an epic victory, as well as to give aspiring players a reason to push themselves to the limit? I know it's not the most pressing of issues, and it doesn't ruin the game mode for me either, but it truly would've been nice to have something unique and exciting to strive for. 

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of Cataclysm gameplay

Things go wrong frequently in Cataclysm, but that's half the fun! 

In terms of new 'standard' maps, Winds of Magic has only added one - the Beastmen themed Dark Omens. With plenty of hills and high ground areas for Ungor archers to shoot down upon the players, Dark Omens is in my eyes one of the harder maps out there, especially on Cataclysm difficulty. However, in terms of design, I'd say it's somewhere squarely in the middle. It's significantly less annoying to traverse than the root-infested forests of Athel Yenlui, though there are very few notable areas or spectacular vistas to make the whole experience memorable. So while Dark Omens is not bad by any stretch, it relies a bit too much on rocks and trees for my tastes. 

However, while most of Dark Omens is fairly linear, the very beginning offers one of the rare few diverging pathways in Vermintide 2! You can follow the usual route and end up facing off against a Beastmen ambush, or you can go through the secret mountain route in order to take a longer but less defended path. Either way you'll end up at the same place, but I do love having these kind of choices available to the players, and I hope it's the sort of thing we can expect to see more of in the future. This goes doubly so if the pathways end up being randomized so you would never fully know what you're going to get!

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot showing Bardin staring at the Beastmen

Just watch out for the Beastmen ambushes as they can get very deadly very quickly 

The final thing worth mentioning are the five new weapons, each of which can be obtained by beating the Dark Omens map with the appropriate character. Kerillian has received a High Elf themed shield and spear, Kruber found himself a large spear of his own, Saltzpyre now has a billhook that can be used to draw enemies in for a hug, Sienna has decided to set her newly found flail on fire, while Bardin has finally learned the secret art of chucking his axes directly at the enemy! 

Most of the new weapons are variations on a theme, and while they may lack a bit of a 'wow' factor, they do their jobs quite admirably and are more than pleasant to use. Bardin's throwing axes, however, are in an entire league of their own. Not only do they deal a significant amount of damage and require a fair bit of skill to properly aim, but their 'ammo' pool is essentially limitless, which as you might imagine, makes them particularly fun to massacre hordes of Skaven with! 

As is turns out, Bardin is a fully fledged Jedi and is capable of recalling his axes back to his hand, no matter how far they may have been flung! It doesn't really make much sense, but let's be honest here, it's a lot easier to bear than having to rummage through piles of Beastmen corpses in order to find the one you nailed with an axe a minute ago.

Whether these weapons are fully balanced for the higher difficulty levels, only time will tell, though so far I haven't had any real trouble with them. So while they might not be the fanciest of additions, I do appreciate having a few more combat styles to explore, even though some of them might not be a perfect fit for my 'push forward until either you or everyone else is dead' playstyle. 

Vermintide 2 Winds of Magic screenshot of Bardin throwing his axes at Beastmen

Nothing feels better than nailing headshots with the axe, time and time again! 

Closing Thoughts

While Winds of Magic is certainly Vermintide 2's biggest DLC, it's also by far its most niche one. The Cataclysm difficulty is always going to be reserved for only the hardcore few, while the Weaves require a lot of dedication and an equal amount of waiting in order to fully experience. As such, if you're a casual player that only hops in every once in a while to smack some rats around, Winds of Magic might feel like it's a bit short on content.

So if you're wondering whether Winds of Magic is worth grabbing or not, I'd say it entirely depends on what kind of player you are. If you're like me and you're willing to go out of your way to find like-minded people to do challenging content with, then you'll find that Winds of Magic has a plethora of new stuff for you to mess around with. Conversely, if you mostly spend your time in Quick Play and don't particularly care about pushing your limits, then you simply have to ask yourself whether you're willing to buy the entire DLC for what is essentially just the Beastmen.

Either way, I can only hope that future Vermintide 2 expansions will not go in such a polarizing direction, and will instead add content that the entire playerbase can enjoy together.

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