The Skaven are back with a bang in the sequel to Fatshark’s 2015 hit Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. This time around, the Children of the Horned Rat have teamed up with the chaotic servants of Archaon The Everchosen in an effort to raze Ubersreik and bring an end to the world.

Like its predecessor, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a co-op first-person shooter set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy setting. In Vermintide 2, players take on the role of one of five heroes, each with their own weapons and skills, and fight their way through Left 4 Dead style missions in an attempt to disrupt the schemes of the Ratkin horde and their nefarious allies.

Mechanically, the game is not complex, but there is some crunch to sink one’s teeth into. There are thirteen missions filled with enemies, varied objectives, and lootable objects which reward players skilled enough to complete the mission while holding onto them. These objects come two forms: Dice, which improve the loot received upon completion of the level, and books which improve loot and grant extra experience to the character used.

As characters gain experience, they gain access to new skills and their baseline strength increases. Every character starts at the same numerical power-level, but the wide variety of skills serve to define the role of each of Vermintide 2’s characters. Additionally, each of the five characters have two unlockable variants which completely change the character’s role, allowing a player to experience multiple roles rather than being pigeonholed by the time they’ve sunk into that character.  

Unfortunately, gear selection in Vermintide 2 is not nearly as deep. Each character has one stat, called ‘power’ which determines their offensive capabilities. Weapons, trinkets, charms, and jewellery all provide numerical bonuses to this stat, but rather than each item contributing its full value, the calculation which determines a player’s power is as follows:

“(Character level X10) + (The average rating of the character’s gear)”

The formula ensures that a player is never limited by the inability to get a powerful piece of gear, but it castrates the thrill of finding obscure or powerful loot which serves as the stepping stone over a challenging obstacle. Given the current controversies surrounding random loot systems, the decision was a wise one, but Fatshark missed an opportunity for more nuanced builds and a wider variety of stats. Occasionally, an item will offer a contextual buff (such as +5% power against a specific enemy type or a small reduction in damage taken against a subcategory of enemies) but Vermintide 2 has no armour or other defensive stats, nevermind the broader notion of indirect buffs and debuffs.

Simple gear selection makes the game more accessible, but comes at the expense of complex, detail-rich character builds. Beyond this, the gameplay is standard Hero-FPS gameplay. WASD moves the character, left and right mouse buttons are for attacking and aiming, and each hero has a special ability which they can activate with a single key.

A special note must be made on the variety of enemies in Vermintide 2 compared to its predecessor. Rather than merely reskinning models and adding more health, the new boss monsters radically change the nature of any given encounter with the Skaven. Fatshark have gone the extra mile to create dynamic situations with a plethora of enemies who not only challenge the players in new ways, but who communicate their mechanics swiftly and effectively.  The old favourites are all there, such as the Ratling-Gunner and the Rat-Ogre, but new bosses such as the Chaos Beast, which consumes allies to heal, require the players to change up their tactics to succeed.

Graphically, Vermintide 2 is neither noteworthy nor poor. It conforms to the expectations placed by the first game in the series. Some of the enemy animations are a real joy to watch, but they aren’t visually impressive. Vermintide 2’s audio is generally executed well, but falls short in a handful of places. The ambient sounds are wonderful and the audio-cues that warn the players of an incoming swarm of Skaven are poignant, but the cues for some of the special enemies are slightly too flat, which makes them easy to miss in the heat of the moment. Time and skill will ease the problem, but compared to the crispness of the cues in the progenitor of the genre, Vermintide 2 falls short. The narrative of Vermintide 2 opens on a strong note, telling the story of the resurgence of the Skaven after the events of the first game, then leading the player through a tutorial which is short and packed with interesting content. After the opening, however, the game falls flat.

There are only thirteen missions, and while the missions are quite long and offer four difficulties for players to attempt (three of which are locked until players have reached a different power rating), the game is built under the assumption that the players will attempt, fail, and repeat any given level many times. This means that the average player, rather than smoothly advancing through the story, may see the same cutscenes, listen to the same dialogue, and lumber through the same environments to the point where interest in the narrative has been ground away. The plot is interesting, but tedious to consume.

In conclusion, Vermintide 2 is a promising successor to Fatshark’s first foray into the Warhammer universe. Though marred by a handful of design choices, the game shows more polish than Space Hulk: DeathWing and other recent attempts at the genre. The decision to tie the strength of a character to their level, rather than their gear, is commendable, but may turn off some buyers. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 delivers the quality of a $60 game at half the price and with nary a microtransaction in sight.