Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Slayer Bardin fighting against Chaos

In my eyes Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is the best kind of sequel. It doesn't drastically change the core gameplay that made the original so enjoyable, but what it does do is improve upon it in nearly every way. It offers three new specializations per hero in order to keep things fresh and interesting, numerous new weapons and stat combinations to tinker with, a variety of new and gigantic maps to explore, and perhaps most importantly, an entire menagerie of new enemies to casually annihilate!

If you're wondering how all of this translates into actual gameplay, as well as where Vermintide 2 slips and falls straight on its face, allow me to share my thoughts after spending around 50 hours with the release version, 10 of which I've put almost exclusively into the incredibly tricky Legend difficulty. That said, let's start with the most important aspect of Vermintide 2 - the combat!

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Kerillian in action

It's amazing how much a couple of new enemies can freshen up the whole experience

The combat in the original Vermintide has been extremely solid from the very beginning, and as such it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that it has become even better in Vermintide 2. All of the swings feel meaty and impactful, the enemies recoil and split apart with every blow, and since almost all of them die within a couple of hits, every encounter is delightfully fast paced. The sheer speed and brutality with which you can carve through the enemy numbers gives off a great feeling of power, so much so that I've frequently witnessed new players go entirely berserk in search of more rats to slay... with the end result usually being their untimely demise.

You see, while you can blaze through vast quantities of Skaven and Norscan warriors with relative ease, you are often outnumbered to such an extreme that you simply cannot survive by brainlessly button-mashing. Instead, you will have to use a variety of moves such as strong and light attacks, dodges and blocks, as well as pushes and parries in order to even the odds. These moves and their underlying mechanics are about as simple as they get, but don't mistake this for a lack of complexity as Vermintide 2 has one heck of a learning curve, especially when you add other players into the equation!

I just wish Vermintide 2 would actually show you how to play as a team (or in general), because outside of a basic tutorial you're pretty much stuck looking through online guides in order to learn most of the nuances. For example, it is nigh-mandatory to block while resurrecting your allies as otherwise you're just going to join them on the floor, but at no point will Vermintide 2 ever tell you this. If the mechanic made more sense I could understand Fatshark wanting players to learn on their own, but blocking with your bum while you're lifting your friend onto their feet is not exactly the most famous of combat maneuvers. Mind you, this isn't the only situation where Vermintide 2 intentionally withholds vital information from you, but we'll deal with that a bit later.

The final thing worth mentioning about the combat mechanics is that they are entirely skill based, and that this by far the most compelling aspect of Vermintide 2. When I first started out I was taking damage left and right, just constantly getting thrown onto the floor by even the weakest of enemies. Now, after around 50 hours of gameplay, I am almost capable of clearing out entire missions without taking more than a couple of hits of damage... and yet, despite all of this, Vermintide 2 still remains challenging! As I grew in power and knowledge the difficulty level rose up to match me, but it did so by always letting me feel like I'm far stronger than my enemies, even while I was losing mission after mission. This might not sound like a big deal, but being able to act like a demigod on the battlefield while still being adequately challenged is a very rare thing indeed, and yet this is a trick that Vermintide 2 has managed to pull of with impressive results!

Vermintide 2 screenshot of Chaos Warriors

Early on a single Chaos Warrior is a threat. Later on you'll blow through entire regiments!

The one area where Vermintide 2 has deviated significantly from the original are the new hero specializations. Early on they all play pretty much exactly the same, but as you gain more gear and talents their differences start becoming quite apparent. For example, the default Waystalker Kerillian is a great all-rounder with plenty of ways to keep her bow stocked with ammo, while the Shade specialization sacrifices some of the Waystalker's sustained damage for the ability to absolutely decimate bosses with its backstab passive effect. The differences between the heroes and their specializations aren't so major that I felt like I'm playing an entirely different game each time, but they were still unique and interesting enough to keep me coming back for more as there was always some sort of new playstyle and weapon combination to check out.

While unlocking these new toys is always a great deal of fun, it's also one of Vermintide 2's biggest issues. In order to unlock all of the specializations for one hero you need to spend a considerable amount of hours playing something you might not even enjoy since the early levels are rather generic. The problem is then further exaggerated by the fact that you have to unlock each set of specializations individually, which means that swapping between characters is needlessly time-consuming. To be fair, some of the items do transfer over between characters so you're never really starting from ground zero, but the first dozen levels are still relatively boring as you don't have access to what truly makes your chosen hero unique.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Sienna in action

Sienna starts out slow, but once you get that fire started it's near impossible to quench!

What I mean by this is that most of the specializations have been designed with late-game talents in mind, and as such they are noticeably less fluid to play during the early levels. This is especially apparent with Sienna, the lovable Bright Wizard, as her first 15 levels are an absolute nightmare to go through. She is not only less powerful than the other heroes during this period, but her unique mechanic is so restricted that it simply doesn't feel fun to play with. On the positive side, once you do get a few talents under your belt Sienna becomes as unstoppable and flashy as a volcano, so there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel if you're willing to endure the trip. I just wish there wasn't such a rite of passage in the first place since I would love to constantly swap between the heroes, but alas I simply can't as I don't have the time or willpower to get more of them leveled up and ready for the higher difficulties.

As for the talents themselves, I found them to be a bit on the boring side. Pretty much every specialization I've played has talents that are leagues ahead of their competition, so instead of choosing from three equal but distinct options, it's more like trying to figure out which one is the overpowered one. It also doesn't help that the last two talent tiers are just about identical across all heroes, which somewhat reduces the excitement you get from finally reaching a high level. None of this is too big of a deal in the grand scheme of things since Vermintide 2's core gameplay is immensely satisfying, but I really do hope that Fatshark will find the time to rework some of these talents in a future update as leaving them like this would be an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise great idea.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Pyromancer Sienna's talents

Plenty of talents, but very few choices

Even though I had a great deal of fun with the original Vermintide, after a while it became fairly predictable and surprisingly easy even on the hardest difficulty setting since there was only so much the game could throw at you. All you really needed to learn is how to deal with Stormvermin patrols, hordes and the occasional Rat Ogre and you were set. Thankfully, Vermintide 2 has decided to tackle this problem in a way that heavily reminds of Left 4 Dead 2 - by adding a whole bunch of new Special enemies that have been designed to prevent camping and cheesy strategies. The Warpwind Sorcerer prevents players from stacking up inside a cupboard, the Berserkers and Plague Monks punish those that rely on simply spamming attacks, while the new boss variants such as the Bile Troll or Chaos Spawn require you to fight in wide-open areas in order to avoid their powerful attacks.

None of these new enemies are difficult to deal with on their own, but it's their combinations that make a compelling challenge to overcome. For example, the bulky and slow Chaos Warriors can be brought down with relative ease if they're isolated, though if you ever encounter one charging through an entire horde of Norscans then the situation is quite different! Suddenly you can't focus on the Packmaster that's slowly dragging away your tank because there's a towering bundle of armor and rage attempting to embed you into the ground with a gigantic axe. This is just one out of a hundred similar examples, and it is exactly these sort of interactions between the various enemies that make Vermintide 2 so addicting to me. No matter how much I play it, and no matter how good I become, there's always going to be plenty of situation where everything goes to hell in a handbasket and the whole team needs to either pull of some grand heroics or die miserably. It's a bit harsh, sure, but it also makes for some thrilling gameplay!

The only major piece of criticism I can give about the new enemies is that the Warpstorm Sorcerers are far too cowardly. Instead of attacking you directly, they tend to stand around three kilometers away while channeling their spells, and if you don't kill them within a couple of seconds they'll just teleport to an unreachable part of the map while still continuing their vortex spell. They're not oppressive or even hard to deal with, but they're just downright infuriating, especially when they decide to waste your time by blocking your only road forward and laughing behind your back!

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the Warpstorm Sorcerer

It's no wonder they have such a smug and punchable face...

As of right now there are 13 maps in total, each of which takes around 15-20 minutes to complete, which combined with all of the difficulty levels and secrets you are incentivized to gather makes for quite a lengthy 'playthrough'. However, while Vermintide 2 has what is essentially a campaign, it's not the type of game you just play though once. Instead it is more like Left 4 Dead, a playground you are meant to return to over and over again because you enjoy the core gameplay. While this might sound terribly grindy, due to the "AI director" spawning random combinations of enemies in random places at random intervals, each of the maps has a far greater lifecycle than you would expect at first glance.

The maps themselves are quite similar to some of the best examples from the original, by which I mean they are open enough to encourage exploration, but enclosed enough to constantly keep you pushing forward. The four difficulty ratings also help keep things fresh and interesting as the altered enemy compositions and increased aggression drastically shift the flow of each map, thus extending their lifespan even further.

None of the maps are very complex or hard to navigate, but with five secrets spread across each one there are plenty of reasons to snoop around every nook and cranny. At least at first anyway, because the moment you move on from the first two difficulty levels your entire team will probably know every secret on every map, thus making the whole exploration aspect somewhat redundant. Still, there is definitely a certain level of challenge in obtaining all of these loot-rewarding secrets, especially since some of them drastically reduce your maximum health, so I really can't complain too much.  

I can complain a little bit though, and that's mostly because of the boss levels! It's not the difficult bosses themselves that make me shift nervously every time these maps come up, but rather the fact that you're not rewarded in any way for undertaking such a challenge. It doesn't matter if you complete the very first map or the insanely difficult last one, you're still getting rewarded based on the amount of secrets you collected throughout the level, secrets that are much harder to justify carrying around when you know you're facing off against a boss at the very end. So while I absolutely adore the "Into the Nest" map, I have not once managed to get people to play through it on Legend because everyone would rather bail and try some easier map instead. A real shame since I think "Into the Nest" has an amazing layout that's a blast to venture through.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the Chapel of Sigmar

"Righteous Stand" is another one of my favorites. Simple, yet still highly engaging

The maps are also quite the sight to behold as they manage to successfully channel the Warhammer aesthetic and atmosphere. In terms of visual fidelity they are somewhat behind the curve as there are quite a few low-quality textures hiding around, but I don't really consider any of this to be much of a problem. After all, a strong art direction and an immersive atmosphere are vastly more influential than the quality of the rock textures, with the latter being something only nitpicky curmudgeons like me actually go and hunt down.

As far as performance is concerned, I've encountered absolutely no dips in framerate or crashes of any kind. Regardless of the map, location, or enemy numbers I've consistently hovered around 60 FPS with all settings on high/extreme, so from my point of view Vermintide 2 appears to be damn well optimized. That said, I've heard numerous people complain that the final map is a buggy mess that's also prone to crashing, so I might just have gotten off lucky. The worst bug I've personally managed to encounter is an invincible Ratling Gunner shooting from beneath the ground, which while annoying, is at least possible to avoid through a bit of teamwork.

All that praise aside, I do have one extremely ginormous problem with Vermintide 2's presentation, and I'm afraid this one isn't a bug of any sort. What I'm talking about is the adaptive light system which changes the brightness of your screen depending on the amount of lights present in the area. In theory this is supposed to imitate the human eye's ability to adapt to sudden changes in lighting conditions, but in reality all it does is artificially darken or lighten the image in times where it makes no sense.

For example, if you're outside in the middle of daylight and you have a couple of fires nearby, your screen will actually become darker despite how in the real world the light would be so overbearing you would probably be squinting constantly. This is especially noticeable when you're playing as Sienna the Bright Wizard since her constant stream of fire effects has the annoying habit of making your light levels randomly go up and down. I can only hope that Fatshark will give us an option to disable this setting in the near future because once you start noticing the radical lighting shifts you won't be able to stop... ever!

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of some atmospheric caves

 When used correctly the lighting is straight up gorgeous, but when it stumbles, it really stumbles hard

The loot and inventory system in the original Vermintide has always been a bit of a mess, even after Fatshark released an entire patch aimed at fixing it. If you were a serious player you pretty much needed a community mod in order to make the most of your hero, which is why I was wishing that Vermintide 2 would take all of the lessons learned throughout the original and then improve upon them even further. The actual result, as you'll quickly see, turned out to be a complete mess.

First of all, the good part. Instead of receiving a random item upon completing a mission, you now receive a chest containing 3 random items that increase in rarity depending on the amount of secrets and randomly-spawned loot dice you've managed to collect. You can then open this chest on any character in order to get personalized gear of an appropriate power level, so regardless of which character you're playing you're always going to be progressing your account as a whole. This is an incredibly change, and one that I am fully in favor of as it makes Vermintide 2's character progression much more natural.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the loot boxes

The only way you're getting these loot boxes is by kicking the game's butt. Money won't help you here!

However, while the loot distribution is better than ever, the actual inventory/stat system is one of the very worst I have ever seen. Besides a couple of minor traits that each weapon or trinket posses, you have access to absolutely no information about your hero. You have no idea what your health is, you have no idea what your critical strike chance is, and you have no idea what your attack speed is, yet you're still expected to pick and choose talents that synergize with these stats.

Numbers without context are utterly meaningless, and Vermintide 2 offers absolutely nothing in terms of context. All Vermintide 2 gives you is a completely bland Hero Power number that increases the amount of damage you do, how many enemies you can cleave through, and how much you stagger enemies with each hit. If you're looking for more details I'm afraid you're out of luck as that is literally all you get! You can try and test your weapons against the training dummy in order to gleam a couple of pieces of information, but the dummy doesn't seem to be affected by half of the talents and it artificially inflates your numbers for no reason, so it's basically as useful as asking your dog.

I genuinely have no idea why Fatshark decided to obfuscate the entire "RPG" part of this action RPG, but I can only hope they will correct this in the near future as, much like the talent system, it's an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise extremely well thought out game. To do anything else would be a also be a damn shame since there is a decent degree of complexity to be found within these items, a complexity that players could use to even further differentiate the various heroes and their specializations.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of two 'different' items

The left sword has 100% cleave while the right sword has great anti-armor damage, but good luck figuring that out

Closing Thoughts

As I've mentioned early on, I truly believe that Vermintide 2 is the an exemplary sequel. It really does improve upon the original in nearly every respect, while also adding enough new and diverse content to keep the whole experience fresh and interesting for many months to come.

It is slightly repetitive as you'll be expected to fight across the 13 maps a fair few times, but since each map is huge and Vermintide 2's price point a rather reasonable $30, I feel I can comfortably recommend it to anyone that's even remotely interested in co-op focused action games. I certainly had a great deal of fun with it, and despite already playing 50 hours I am more than eager to dive back in!

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