I find myself stuck on a prison ship, sat in the corner of a cell, resigned to my inevitable execution at the hands of the Imperials who arrested me. At least the firing squad will be quick. Suddenly, an explosion rocks the vast space barge back and forth as alarms blare, announcing a boarding party of zombies and cultists. Taking advantage of a convenient hole in the wall, I emerge from my cell, grab an entrenching tool, and set about caving in the head of any zombie that crosses my path.
As I make my escape, I catch myself staring at a propaganda poster. Its stark lettering and disturbing message jolt me from the chaos for a moment: “Innocence proves nothing”. To a recently escaped prisoner, this message more than hits the mark. A perfect signifier of the weight of horror and injustice that saturates the world of Darktide. It is relentless. It is unforgiving. It is absolutely and unashamedly Warhammer 40,000 to its very core.
Warhammer 40,000 Darktide is a first-person, class-based co-op shooter from the same team that made the excellent Vermintide – a game in a similar vein but set in Warhammer’s fantasy world. In Darktide you’re pressed into service of the sinister and Machiavellian Inquisition (Warhammer 40k’s secret police) that in turn serve the galaxy-spanning authoritarian dystopia that is the Imperium of humanity.
As cannon fodder for Inquisition, you are sent to Hive Tertium, a sprawling megacity filled with cultists, plague zombies, and all sorts of other nasty monsters. From your base on the Inquisitor’s orbiting starship, you select missions, improve your gear, and await the horrors to come.
During your missions, each designed for four-player co-op, you’ll be tasked with achieving the Inquisition’s objectives across the Hive. These vary from deactivating broadcast towers that spew enemy propaganda to destroying areas of demonic contagion.
The environments make limited but effective use of procedural generation. Missions are assembled from predesigned rooms that slot together in new, unique arrangements, which does a great deal to keep things fresh.
This is a lot to take in, especially for someone unfamiliar with 40k, but rest assured, Darktide wears the bleakness of its setting so fundamentally and unashamedly that you cannot help but bask in the gothic opulence. However, there is much more to the game than its zealous aesthetic commitments.
Darktide's combat is exceptional. Following the tradition set by Vermintide 2, Darktide boasts some of the most satisfying first-person melee combat in gaming. From the moment I bludgeoned my first zombie with an entrenching tool, I noticed my victim’s putrescent flesh buckle and part under the weight of the attack. It’s reminiscent of the way monsters in the Witcher 3 dynamically fell to ribbons depending on where you hit them. On top of this, your attacks are punctuated with a regular rhythm of blocks, dodges, and shoves, all of which feel the right combination of reactive, weighty, and frantic.
The gunplay, which is less familiar territory for Fatshark, also feels rewarding and responsive. Easily on a par with Destiny 2, the rifles feel heavy, and the exquisite sound design gives a sense of the sheer force and violence behind each shot. From the humble Laspistol to the deadly Ripper Gun, the armory of weapons at your disposal is a gift that keeps on giving.
The only downside to the combat is that it overshadows the differences between the four classes, especially in the early game. Within the perfect storm of melee and shooting, the unique class abilities occasionally feel like they get lost.
You’re aware of the different characters, but it comes through their dialogue more than their abilities. The Sharpshooter, the Ogryn (a ten-foot tall mutant juggernaut), the Psyker (a profoundly cursed space witch), and the Preacher do well to evoke distinctive elements of the grimdark melange. The banter between the different characters as they make their way through Hive Tertium is evocative and fun, yet refreshingly grounded in the nastiness at the core of the setting.
Vermintide 2 is a tough act to follow, especially after years of updates and expansions, and while Darktide definitely has optimization problems with older PCs, that does little to dim its frenetic and compelling action. It proves to be a more than worthy successor that stays true to the essence of Warhammer 40k – a feat for which the Emperor is surely proud.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.