As my strike team traverses the innards of an Imperial factory, a horde of Poxwalkers begins charging at us. It would be a terrifying sight if I wasn’t a hulking Ogryn, ready to meet them head-on. With the press of a button, I crash into them like a battering ram. Bodies fall to the ground. Some of Nurgle’s minions die on the spot, while my team wipes up the rest with swift slashes and precise lasgun shots.
When you’re in the thick of it, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide does a stellar job of both empowering you and making you feel hopeless, often within the span of a single mission. Fatshark’s well-established first-person co-op formula remains as intense as ever but has seen some shifts this time around, resulting in more variety during missions. You still juggle light and heavy attacks with blocking, shoving, and dodging, but ranged weapons and psychic abilities now play a much bigger role.
Guns like the Ogryn’s twin-linked heavy stubber or the autopistol excel at culling hordes without getting anywhere near Nurgle’s servants. Lasguns and autoguns allow you to quickly eliminate pesky snipers or flamethrower bearers who can decimate your defenses and restrict movement.
Although they feel similar, to an extent, each of Darktide’s four launch classes has its own flavor and role to fulfill, making it an asset to any party. The lumbering Ogryn might be slower, but its weaponry can both suppress foes and pack a heavy punch from up close.
Charging right through an enemy horde feels amazing
It can also equip a massive shield and enter defensive stance, which turns you into a (mostly) impenetrable bulwark. This allows you to protect the rest of the squad from damage while advancing through a street filled with ranged foes or when fighting a horde near a chokepoint.
The more fragile Psyker compensates for its lack of physical strength by bringing several psychic abilities to the fight, alongside more traditional weapons. It can pop enemy heads in a very gory, satisfying manner, making it a perfect tool to eliminate certain special enemies from afar. You can end up relying less on ammo pickups, but need to keep an eye on the Peril meter, lest you end up spontaneously combusting.
The Veteran is another ranged specialist, although he trades magic for good old lasguns and grenades, while still being able to whip out a shovel or sword when things take a more personal turn. Lastly, the Zealot is all about risking everything to dish out large amounts of damage, being able to charge in – although to a less dramatic effect than the Ogryn – and ignore armor.
I spent most of my time with Darktide playing as an Ogryn called Punchie. Words aren’t exactly his forte, but this dagger-wielding beast eventually turned into a shieldbearer whose heavy attacks sent helpless enemies flying through the air while also applying a bleed effect. The latter is caused by one of the Feats unlocked while leveling up. The system itself might not be extensively deep but still lets you specialize your character.
No shortage of dismemberment here
Most progression elements – including currency and weapon unlocks – are tracked separately for each character. Leveling up grants access to stores on board the Mourningstar – the game’s hub area – alongside different weapon families, expanding your available arsenal.
While the Ogryn’s strength ensures it has access to exclusive weaponry, there is some overlap between that of the remaining three classes. Both the Psyker and the Veteran can equip lasguns, although only the former has access to the force staff, which gives it single-target and area-of-effect ranged psychic attacks.
Excellent sound and visual design makes weapons incredibly satisfying to use, and I couldn’t help but feel disgustingly gleeful each time I swept aside several enemies with a heavy attack from my shield, cleanly cut off enemy heads using my axe, or turned them into a fountain of gore with the ripper gun. The distinct crackle of the lasgun made me feel like I was almost the one pulling the trigger, driving home the point that Darktide’s consistently kinetic and brutal combat doesn’t disappoint.
The pool of special opponents is also bigger in Darktide, requiring you to be on your toes, especially if you play on higher difficulties. Charging mutants lock onto a character, delivering swift punishment before throwing them around and picking other targets.
One of several examples of Hive Tertium's imposing architecture
Fast-moving hounds leap at you and pin you down, while trappers render you helpless to fight back with their electrical nets. Dedicated sound cues when spawning, approaching, and attacking help inform you about what you’re dealing with or when to dodge an attack without making the enemies any less terrifying. These foes and the deluge of regular baddies emphasize the importance of cooperation, as going off alone for too long can easily get you killed.
The game’s bosses are less interesting but still clearly mean business. The Beast of Nurgle vomits goo that slows you down and can swallow you whole, corrupting your health. This effect blocks you from healing a portion of your health bar until you reach one of the few medicae stations spread across the game’s handcrafted maps.
The Plague Ogryn is a straightforward brute that punches, charges, and stomps, while the targets of Assassination missions are rather bland, shielded melee fighters.The Daemonhost is Darktide’s equivalent of Left 4 Dead’s Witch. Its distinct cries easily let you know when you’re approaching one and, if it’s not right in your way, you can avoid the encounter altogether.
If you do startle it, however, the cracks in its design begin to show. The Daemonhost locks onto one target and stubbornly hacks away at it until it falls. It then casts an uninterruptible neck snap attack, after which it either targets another player or, sometimes, outright bails out to do Nurgle’s bidding elsewhere.
The smelters going off add to the intensity of this final stand
An Ogryn with a shield trivializes the fight entirely, since it can block all of its attacks. A party without such an Ogryn had better hope it boasts massive damage-dealing potential and, even so, at least two members are often guaranteed to go down. I get what Fatshark wanted to do here, creating this ruthless opponent you’re better off avoiding, but the uninterruptible execution and guaranteed deaths make it feel rather cheap.
Bosses and special enemies are often accompanied by droves of rank-and-file cultists, some of which have ranged capabilities. Although often fragile, they require you to shift tactics, depending on your squad’s composition, especially if you’re playing on higher difficulties. They can, by themselves, outright savage a party that doesn’t work together and uses the proximity-based Coherency bonus to more quickly regenerate Toughness, which acts as a shield.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide also delivers what’s possibly the best depiction of the grimdark universe in a video game to date. From the massive industrial machinery in the bowels of Leman Russ tank production factories, to the filth-filled shanty towns, and imposing Throneside area with its saintly statues solemnly standing watch, Hive Tertium makes you feel insignificant by comparison.
Dreadful, dirty, and oppressive, the levels through which you move as you beat back Papa Nurgle’s minions portray locations in which you’d rather not spend too much time – and not solely because of the plethora of Plague God followers hunting you down.
Darktide has multiple ways of blowing up heretics
But where its fights, sound design, and environments prove that developer Fatshark is capable of evolving what makes its co-op slaughterfests great, everything else in Darktide is either shaky, disappointing, or outright missing at launch.
While it does create a credible environment where you’re treated as an expendable convict who seeks to find absolution in an ever-growing pile of corpses , the game’s poor attempt at a narrative literally involves chaining together a few cutscenes that feel separated from everything else.
Their predictable climax neither establishes the Inquisition as a ruthless organization nor makes you feel anything for the characters involved, making even the short amount of time spent watching them feel like a waste.
A particularly major sore spot at launch relates to how stingy this loot-centric game is with post-match rewards. I only saw a handful of them during the 40 hours I played, the only other options for obtaining gear being two stores with randomly generated, periodically refreshing inventories.
Staying too close to this big boy can get you eaten
The armory sells items in exchange for Ordo Dockets – a currency you gain from missions – and resets its stock each hour, although there’s never any guarantee that anything on there will be of interest. Sire Melk’s Requisitorium has its own separate currency obtained by completing weekly contracts. You can then spend it on either high-quality limited-time acquisitions, which reset daily, or gambling on random items of questionable quality.
The amount of currency required for the high-quality gear is restrictive, and the whole system makes playing missions, especially once you hit the level cap, feel less rewarding than it should. While leveling, you might be looking for new weapon types to uncover and try out. The endgame, however, is supposed to revolve around refining stats, which you cannot do efficiently, because a large part of the game’s crafting system is not implemented yet.
At launch, you can only upgrade your gear to a higher quality, which doesn’t change its stats but adds random perks and blessings, offering additional random bonuses in combat. These would ideally synergize with your build but, right now, the lack of control you have over getting the right ones leaves a lot to be desired.
There’s also a cash shop that stands out like a sore thumb thanks to how stingy the game is with regular rewards. The cosmetics you can purchase using Ordo Dockets are low-effort recolors of the same boring uniform, alongside a few basic types of camouflage patterns for weapons. You can also gain a few additional armors and profile icon frames via Penances – in-game challenges that vary in difficulty/time they take to complete.
The calm before the storm
But if you’re willing to purchase bundles of Aquillas – Darktide’s premium currency – you can give your Ogryn aviator glasses and turn the Psyker into a magic-flinging astronaut right away, as long as you purchase the items during their limited window of availability.
They’re optional and do not affect gameplay, yes; in-game cosmetic stores are, sadly, industry standard now, yes; but given the state of the game’s regular progression at launch, the store’s inclusion left a sour taste in my mouth.
Although it did deliver on its promise of dedicated servers, Darktide also lacks private lobbies at launch. Its approach to missions as separate engagements that don’t follow a certain order doesn’t help it support its thin narrative, and you can no longer play any mission you want on a difficulty of your choice at any time.
The pool of available missions resets regularly, admittedly offering a decent spread of difficulty levels, so this is a relatively minor issue. Sometimes, you get modifiers that increase or reduce the number of enemies, decrease visibility, or add grimoires or scriptures to collect as secondary objectives, keeping things interesting. But I ended up missing being able to select a mission I was keen on doing on a certain difficulty and just going with it.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1440p, Warhammer 40:000: Darktide’s performance was all over the place. Within the same mission, the frame rate would go from 70 up to 90 and down to 40 or even 25 with DLSS turned on (most of the time on the quality/balanced settings), high settings, and ray tracing turned off. The latter is guaranteed to slash at least 20 FPS when kept on, so there was no real reason to keep it turned on.
The performance tends to get reliably worse on the higher difficulties, where the number of enemies also increases. Switching to low settings helped somewhat but didn’t completely remove the frame drops. During the same level, I’d have some horde fights running at 60 or slightly above, while others completely tanked my frame rate.
Only two or three of my deaths were caused by how choppy this was, but the lack of continuous fluidity is very disappointing to feel and does take away from the experience.
WARHAMMER 40,000: DARKTIDE VERDICT
In a month or five or twelve, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide may reach the state it should have launched in. In a month or five or twelve, it may become a co-op game that’s easy to recommend. But while I undoubtedly had fun during the missions I completed over 40+ hours playing both the pre-order beta and full versions, it’s clear that we’re dealing with yet another title whose potential isn’t allowed to fully shine through at launch.
Darktide’s incomplete crafting system doesn’t allow you to efficiently refine gear. Its rewards are scarce and unsatisfying, especially going into the endgame. Optimization is not great, while its cash shop holds hostage any remotely worthwhile cosmetic upgrades so far.
It’s a real shame, because all of these missteps cast a dark shadow on its excellent, visceral combat – that evolves Fatshark’s addictive co-op action formula – alongside what’s quite possibly the best depiction of the grimdark universe to grace video games to date.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Charging into an incoming cultist horde as the Ogryn never gets old.
Visceral, gory combat
Richer enemy roster that emphasizes cooperation
Excellent depiction of the 40K universe
Barebones crafting systems with missing features
Optimization isn't great