Warhammer 40,000: Darktide artwork and logo for the co-op focused action game

[Update]: Warhammer 40,000: Darktide studio Fatshark are suspending new content, microtransactions and the Xbox version in order to focus on much-needed fixes.

Much like the Vermintide series that came before it, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a remarkably enjoyable co-op game that has managed to vacuum up all of my free time over the past few weeks. Its combination of extremely tight and satisfying gameplay, a world that couldn't be more Warhammer 40k if you plastered skulls everywhere, and an arsenal of intentionally absurd weaponry proved to be simply too fascinating to resist!

However, despite recently launching from beta, Darktide is still nowhere near finished. Core features like crafting are barely implemented, some of the quality-of-life tweaks I've come to know and love in Vermintide 2 are nowhere to be seen, while annoying technical issues frequently appear to throw a wrench into the works. So even though there's a whole lot to love about Darktide, there's also a fair bit to criticize!

As such, if you're curious about what sort of things Darktide does well, as well as where it stumbles and falls flat on its face, allow me to share with you my thoughts after nearly eighty hours of gameplay across all of the difficulty levels and classes.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot of a Crusher attacking the player

Character customization

Instead of having five pre-set characters for us to embody like in Vermintide 2, Darktide gives players the ability to create their very own. Because of this you're now able to have multiples of the same class on a mission, which is a very welcome change since it avoids the usual bickering about who gets to be what. It also helps that each character has three different personalities and voices to choose from per gender, so even if you have an entire team made out of Zealots there's a fair chance you'll all be different flavors of raving lunatics.

The downside of this system is that the banter between the characters is a lot less personal than in Vermintide 2. There's still good bits of dialogue and quality interactions between the characters, especially if you have the somewhat unhinged Psyker and Zealot personalities supporting each other, but a lot of it is fairly generic and disjointed since the voice lines have to fit into random conversations between a dozen different personalities that may or may not have met before. 

While I don't personally mind this change in direction, even if it isn't my preferred option, I do mind there being significantly less gameplay options to mess around with than in Vermintide 2. From the very start Vermintide 2 gave us five classes that each came with three unique careers, while Darktide only has four classes to offer with only one career each. 

In theory this would be fine if Darktide's system was more in-depth and allowed for even greater customization than ever before, but that is unfortunately not the case. The new perks are pretty much the same thing as their Vermintide 2 counterparts, which is a rather serious hit to Darktide's longevity since you can't just keep swapping between new and interesting playstyles to keep things fresh.

Warhammer 40k: Darktide co-op action game screenshot showing off the perk tree

The class perks are powerful yet mostly unexciting

Combat and difficulty

For right now, however, maintaining interest in the gameplay is not even remotely a problem as Darktide's combat is remarkably addicting, which should come as little surprise given that it's essentially a spruced up version of Vermintide 2's combat. The fighting is still all about weaving together light and heavy attacks while pushing and dodging nearby enemies, though now everyone is also expected to whip out a gun in order to deal with distant threats.

It's a very simple system to learn, yet there is so much depth to the combos and timings that you can probably spend hundreds of hours on Darktide and not fully master it. Yet despite how long it might take to 'git gud', the personal skill progression is never unsatisfying since there are five difficulty modes to choose from - each one significantly more tricksy than the one before.

Best of all, each difficulty level doesn't just increase enemy health and damage, but also ups the amount and quality of the enemies you have to face. While a horde on the first difficulty might be a few dozen Nurgle cultists, that same horde on the fifth and final difficulty is likely going to feature over a hundred basic enemies interspersed with more elite ones. So in an interesting little twist, increasing the difficulty in Darktide also heightens the power fantasy and makes the gameplay even more compelling!

Warhammer 40k: Darktide screenshot of a massive horde running at the player

The hardest difficulty is a near-constant bloodbath, and I love it!

Weapons and audio-visual feedback

Another reason why the combat works so well is the audio-visual design. Most of the iconic weapons in Warhammer 40k are completely and utterly ridiculous, with the fan-favorite Bolter being an almost unwieldy .75 caliber beast! Instead of trying to bring realism into the equation Darktide fully embraces this insanity, so when you hit someone in the chest with a Bolter they don't just fall over and die - they turn into a fine mist!

Things get even better when you start using some of the more powerful melee weapons like the Eviscerator, which is basically a two-handed sword crossed with a chainsaw. The Eviscerator once again doesn't just kill enemies, it tears them into shreds! When you rev it up and swing into a crowd the first few enemies are going to get obliterated by it, then the blade will get stuck in a bit of armor and visibly slow down as it chews its way through, only to then speed up again once the 'obstruction' is gone. It's disturbingly satisfying to use, and it's only one of the many weapons in Darktide's arsenal!

The same story goes for the sound design as just about all of the weapons sound very visceral, to the point where even the 'boring' ones feel like powerhouses. The best example here is probably the Braced Autogun, which is pretty much just a present day rifle that's still in use in the 41st millennium purely because shooting a lot of bullets in a short amount of time is never a bad idea. So even though it's nothing as monumentally powerful as the Bolter or Plasma Gun, the Braced Autogun's fast rate of fire and crunchy 'BRRRRRRRRRR' sound make it a delightful weapon to use.

Warhammer 40k: Darktide humorous screenshot of a rager being hit by an eviscerator

Even the rager can't believe how awesome the Eviscerator is!

I just wish the process of acquiring these weapons was a bit more streamlined. Instead of crafting them outright or getting them as mission rewards like in Vermintide 2, Darktide expects you to purchase your gear through the in-game shop (not the microtransaction one thankfully). This would be perfectly fine if the store had a healthy variety of weapons to choose from but, once again, it sadly doesn't. As such, getting a specific weapon of an appropriate power level can be a major nuisance, especially for Psykers that don't really want to use random rifles over their iconic staves.

Besides struggling to find your favorite weapons, the only other thing holding the combat back are the various bugs and glitches. These include enemies spawning behind your back without even a single sound, all-important elite enemy call-outs getting buried under environmental noises, specialist enemies abusing impassable terrain in order to snipe you with impunity, as well as enemy melee attacks occasionally extending far, far beyond their reach.

Many of these were also an issue at Vermintide 2's launch, and considering how Fatshark managed to eventually fix them back then, I can only hope that they'll extend the same courtesy to Darktide as well. As it stands right, Darktide's combat is an absolute ton of fun as long as you're prepared to endure a bit of sheer frustration every now and then.

Warhammer 40k: Darktide screenshot of the item upgrading menu

You can only randomly upgrade items so far, which is far from ideal

Presentation and level design

Besides the weapons and the overall gameplay feel, Darktide has also managed to successfully nail the presentation. Every single location, from the rich districts in the upper layers of the gigantic hive city to the decrepit slums at the very bottom, simply screams Warhammer 40k! A lot of it is bulky, utilitarian and overly massive, which gives these locations a depressing yet somehow still grandiose aura, which is exactly what Warhammer 40k is going for. Combine that with some lavishly decorated locations filled with Imperial propaganda and monuments to the Emperor, and you've got yourself a very unique and exciting world to explore.

I also have to commend the music here, because it fits both the Warhammer 40k universe and the game itself perfectly. It ranges from being grimy and droning while you're exploring the shady underbelly of the slums to melancholic and retrospective while you're surveying the devastation that befell the city, and even straight up bombastic while you're fighting against some of the named bosses. Since trying to describe music through words alone is a bit of a pointless task, I'd highly recommend checking out "Imperial Advance" and "Disposal Unit (Imperium Mix)" on the official soundtrack. That should clue you in quite quickly on just what Darktide's soundtrack has to offer.

Warhammer 40k: Darktide screenshot of an amazing upside down church

Imagine being the badass that gets to live in an upside down church!

As for the actual level design, this is where Darktide starts to lose me a bit. Not because the levels are uninteresting, because I've actually found them to be a great deal of fun to explore and eventually ruin, but rather because their elements get recycled too much. In Vermintide 2, for example, it was very rare for two different maps to have the same sort of objectives and setpieces. One required you to align elven glyphs, one wanted you to push a mine cart while being assaulted by hordes of enemies, and one even had you dance around in a ritual circle in order to make the enemy sorcerers lose their concentration and explode.

Meanwhile in Darktide there are exactly fives different setpieces that are repeated across all thirteen maps: scanning plague residue, defending while a terminal works its magic, destroying fleshy Nurgle bits, carrying things around, and naturally, fighting a boss. While these objectives and concepts are perfectly serviceable on their own, they just aren't quite as exciting or memorable as what we got in Vermintide 2. As such, I can only hope future maps will go for a more unique approach and have us do something a bit out of the ordinary like hijack a train while it's in motion.

The final thing worth mentioning about the presentation and the maps is the story connecting all of them, or what little of it there is. For whatever reason, despite having the veteran Warhammer 40k author Dan Abnett on board, Darktide's storyline never really advances past the very simplistic "Chaos bad, kill Chaos" premise. There's simply nothing of substance to latch onto, which really is a shame since Darktide has otherwise the best portrayal of the Warhammer 40k universe I've seen in quite a long time.

Warhammer 40k: Darktide screenshot of the assassination mission boss

The bosses are a fun distraction, but currently a bit too simple

Bugs and performance

While I'd love to end everything on a positive note, I'm afraid it's time to discuss the performance as this has been Darktide's biggest issue for me. While I've thankfully managed to avoid crashing unlike many of the people I've played with, the performance has been all over the place with my FPS going from being perfectly stable to dropping into single digits for seemingly no reason. I've been able to fight untold numbers of enemies in close quarters and not drop a single frame, and then have the game completely seize up while walking into a small empty room.

My favorite combo is when Darktide stops responding right when I'm near a pit, because despite being unable to control my character the game will quite happily continue with my last input and keep walking forward until I launch myself straight off the map. Hilarious when it happens once, not so much when it occurs again in the same mission.

Needless to say, this makes playing in the higher difficulties an occasionally frustrating experience since not only do you have to deal with extremely challenging enemies, but also the whims of the machine god himself. The good news is that most of these issues appear to be a result of some sort of bug as Darktide's performance is otherwise remarkably solid on my 3060, so with a bit of luck one of the upcoming patches should sort this nonsense out. Until then, your best bet is to utter a prayer to the Omnissiah before each mission, just to be on the safe side!

Warhammer 40k: Darktide screenshot of a crash that removed three players from the game

Nothing is as disheartening as a crash taking out your entire team at the same time

Closing thoughts

Much like Vermintide 2 back in 2018, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is a brilliant game that needs a bit more polish to truly shine. If you're willing to forgive some of the flaws and just revel in the endless carnage, then I'd heartily recommend picking it up. Darktide might not be perfect by any stretch, but it's still one of the best Warhammer 40k games I've ever played.

On the other hand, if you have a low tolerance for bugs or balance issues I'd recommend giving Darktide a month or two before checking it out again. At this point most of the technical problems will likely be a thing of the past, as will most of the serious gameplay flaws, so you should be able focus on what truly matters - using an oversized chainsaw against hordes of Nurgle worshipers!

Either way, I'd definitely keep an eye on Darktide moving forward as it has genuine potential to become one of the best co-op games out there.

[Note]: I've also taken the opportunity to create a beginner's guide covering some of the basic concepts and combat strategies. So if you'd like your first run through Darktide to be as nice and pleasant as possible, I'd welcome you to give it a look.