Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Bardin as a Slayer against Chaos forces

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is due to arrive next month, bringing with it an assortment of new maps, enemies, and specializations to mess around with. That last part is perhaps the most significant since the already diverse and interesting cast of heroes is getting even more customization options. So instead of just being a 'normal' Dwarf, Bardin will be able to don the immensely heavy gear of the Ironbreaker, focus on ranged weaponry through the Ranger Veteran career, or just grow a giant mohawk and throw himself into the thickest fighting as a Slayer.

If you don't know much about the Warhammer world those specializations might seem a bit on the generic side, but as someone that has spent the last ten or so years fawning over both Warhammer Fantasy and 40k, I must say their inclusion fills me with a great deal of joy. After all, it's not every day that you get to play as a half-naked Dwarf with a serious case of anger management issues!

Speaking of playing, I recently had the chance to explore Vermintide 2's fairly brief demo. Bardin and his lovely mohawk were unfortunately unavailable, but I did get to check out Markus Kruber and his warhammer-wielding Knight loadout, as well as Kerillian's Dark Elf inspired Shade specialization that came with a rather stylish ornate spear. The whole demo took me around 10 minutes to finish, but even that was enough to show me that Vermintide 2 is shaping up to be an extremely solid sequel - one that expands upon the original in a variety of ways, while still keeping the core gameplay at the forefront.

Video version of this preview (~12 minutes)

The one big difference between the heroes in the original and the specializations in Vermintide 2 is that each specialization gets a unique ability that complements their playstyle. For Mr. Kruber's Knight specialization this is a charge attack that lets him displace enemies and put himself in the most optimal position to smash someone over the head with a giant hammer. Kerillian's Shade specialization, as you would expect from the name alone, gives her the ability to disappear out of sight and phase through enemies. On in its own this isn't terribly exciting, but since the Shade's Murderous Prowess passive grants her insane damage when attacking from behind, the stealth ability is a lot more devastating than it might seem on first glance!

While I enjoyed playing as both heroes, I must go with Kerillian as my current favorite. I'm not the type of player that likes to ram his face straight through a horde of filthy rat-men, so the overly-aggressive Knight Kruber didn't really gel with me. The Shade Kerillian on the other hand, that I can work with! Not only does it offer a spear as a precise weapon to slice a Chaos warrior's head clean off, but the stealth has proven to be an excellent tool for supporting my "I don't like getting hit in the face" lifestyle. Add a very Dark Elf themed repeater crossbow into the mix and it should be fairly easy to see why I've decided to side with Kerillian on this one.

That said, all of this is just a matter of playstyle because I didn't feel like I was underpowered as either hero. My opinion might change once I get more experience and test out all of the various weapon and class combinations, but I somehow doubt it because the combat is more focused on player skill rather than the type of equipment. In other words, there's not a problem you can't solve through some well-timed strikes and a bit of good old-fashioned teamwork!

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the Witch Hunter fighting Chaos

Well-timed strikes, teamwork and guns!

In terms of mechanics, the combat in Vermintide 2 is pretty much exactly the same as it was in the original. There might be some minor improvements I missed due to not playing Vermintide in a couple of months, but at the end of the day it's still a combination of dodging, blocking and striking at the perfect time. I would've preferred to see at least some sort of new major move that's available to all heroes, a move such as parrying or tackling, but I really can't complain too much since the combat was and still is extremely solid. 

The one area the combat did significantly in improve in, however, is the enemy variety. Instead of only fighting the Skaven which rely on numbers to overcome their individual weakness, the newly added Chaos forces are vastly more powerful, albeit smaller in number. If you're a fan of cleaving through hordes of enemies, worry not as there are still large amounts of Norsemen and Skaven to contend with, but they are now often intermingled with noticeably more powerful Chaos Marauders, and sometimes even fully fledged Chaos Warriors!  

As you might imagine, trying to bring down someone who has dedicated their entire life to the Ruinous Powers is not exactly an easy task, and this is something Vermintide 2 has managed to successfully translate in-game. The hulking Chaos Warriors are far more durable and savage than their northern brethren, so instead of simply poking them from range you will need to actively dodge their flurry of attacks in order to find an opening. They aren't as strong as something like a Rat Ogre, but when combined with a horde of other enemies they make for some satisfying and potentially even deadly battles!

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of two Chaos Warriors attacking

Oh, and they're also twice as wide as a normal man!

Besides the overly spikey Warriors of Chaos I also had a chance to fight against two other enemies: a plague cultist of Nurgle, and a rather disgusting Chaos Spawn. Out of the two I have to admit the cultist was a much more interesting fight since the Chaos Spawn might as well be a re-skinned Rat Ogre. It technically has different movement and attack patterns, but you have to fight it in basically the same way as a Rat Ogre, so I can't exactly say I'm impressed with what is supposed to be a new mini-boss. There were some even bigger monsters teased at the very end of the demo, however, so there is still hope we'll be able have a proper fight with some of the most vicious creatures found throughout the Warhammer world.

Thankfully the plague cultist, or whatever the abomination is called, was a much more interesting and frequent encounter. More importantly, it was an enemy unlike any other, which made the already hectic fights even more unpredictable. And unpredictable might just be the best way to describe these plague cultists since they take a long time to recharge between each area-of-effect spell, but they compensate for that with the ability to frequently teleport around. That might sound like a bit of a hassle on 'paper', but in my eyes they're actually a good addition since they offer an interesting choice between simply dodging their slow spells or hunting them down so you have one less thing to worry about. They're not the most complex of enemies, but they're tricky enough to keep you on your toes, which is probably for the best since you will be meeting them rather often.

What other types of enemies we'll get to see, I'm afraid I simply don't know, but as long as they follow the plague cultist formula I feel they're going to be a much welcome addition to Vermintide 2. After all, the more diverse and interesting the enemies are, the more enjoyable it is going to be to repeatedly hit them in the face with an oversized hammer! 

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the Battle Wizard burning her way forward

...or just burn them to a crisp, if that's your preference

In terms of visuals the original Vermintide was and still is no slouch. It might not have the raw fidelity of modern AAA titles, but the combination of great atmosphere and art direction made it a treat to explore. With that in mind, I am very glad to say that Vermintide 2 has decided to continue that tradition. This was especially noticeable when I was approaching the burned village that is the centrepiece of the short demo. There was an uneasy haze spreading throughout the whole city, the ground was drenched in ash, and the once tall buildings were all ravaged and left exposed to the elements. It was a very powerful moment, and I can only hope there will be more like it further on as that would make Vermintide 2's maps quite memorable indeed. 

I won't critique any of the visual problems I encountered since I only had access to a very early build, but there is one major issue I do need to discuss, and that is visual clarity. When you're simply looking at the charred city it is truly an impressive sight to behold, but trying to navigate through its darkened streets that are covered in smoke and ash is a bit of a problem. It wasn't until my fourth playthrough that I even realized there's a side-route to take fairly early on, and all of it is because of a lack of any sort of visual guide. Similarly, trying to figure out where black items such as bombs are located is an incredibly difficult task since they easily blend into the background. Some might argue this is intended since these are powerful items we're talking about, but I really don't feel this is the sort of difficulty Vermintide 2 should be striving for.

As such, out of all the potential problems I've encountered throughout the whole demo this is the only one I would consider big enough to potentially dampen my enjoyment of Vermitnide 2. I can only hope the final version will have much better visual clarity since this demo is practically ancient, or at least items that are just a bit more colorful, because running around and mashing the pick-up key is not the most enjoyable of activities.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of the city at dusk

The atmosphere is spot on, but a bit more light wouldn't hurt

Closing Thoughts

After playing through the short demo multiple times now I think I can safely say that Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a proper sequel in every sense of the term. It carries on pretty much all of the elements that made the original good, while also adding a whole bunch of new locations and items to play around with, as well as some much-needed quality-of-life changes. As the old adage says: if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

The one downside to this approach is that if you weren't a fan of its predecessor I highly doubt Vermintide 2 will be able to keep your attention either. On the positive side, if you loved playing pest control in Vermintide regardless of its flaws, then I truly do believe Vermintide 2 is going to be well worth checking out. Whatever the case may be, we'll find out soon enough as Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is set to arrive this March 8th.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 screenshot of Bardin in his Ironbreaker suit

The Ironbreakers might be tiny, but they sure do pack a punch!