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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (311)

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Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 3/5
Diluvion 3/5
Seiken Densetsu 3 ( Sec... 2.5/5
Titanfall 2 2.5/5
Treasure Hunter G 3.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: Br... 4/5
Shadow Warrior 2 4.5/5
Treasure of the Rudras ... 2/5
Oceanhorn: Monster of U... 2.5/5
The Bard's Tale ( 2004 ) 3/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 4/5
Spore 3/5
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdo... 4.5/5
Warhammer: End Times - ... 2/5
Super Mario Odyssey 5/5
Live A Live 3.5/5
Odysseus: Long Way Home 1.5/5
Windward 3/5
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 3.5/5
Vertiginous Golf 4/5
Doki Doki Literature Cl... 3.5/5
Quest for Infamy 2/5
Neutopia 4.5/5
Divinity: Original Sin ... 5/5
Infested 4.5/5

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Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide   PC (Steam) 

Holy Shitman!    2/5 stars

The cumbersomely-entitled “Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide” (“Vermintide”) is a team-based First-Person Shooter Combat game by Fatshark, the same Swedish development team that came up with the ill-conceived “Krater.” Based on the venerable and internationally-known Warhammer Fantasy universe of tabletop wargames and RPGs by the U.K.’s Games Workshop, Fatshark had plenty of extant material to work with, yet ultimately delivered a shallow, unpalatable experience.

Presentation
Because the Warhammer Fantasy universe started the whole Dark Fantasy fad, and has only continued to double-down on bleakness, despair, and decay with each passing revision (at the time of writing, the tabletop game is currently in its 8th Edition since 1983), “Vermintide’s” visuals embody the often-mocked modern videogame critique of ‘Brown and Gray.’ While the character models and environments are competent enough, nothing in the world of Warhammer Fantasy is attractive, appealing, or colorful. Everything is drab, ugly, and near monochrome (the sole exception being the green glow of Warpstone, which signifies that something bad (worse?) is about to happen). Thus Fatshark did a fantastic job of capturing everything visually lacking about the Warhammer Fantasy universe. Of course, the polygon engine used by Fatshark manages to inject a bit of levity into the original GrimDark Fantasy setting through ridiculous ragdoll physics and death animations which frequently see enemies embedded/impaled in walls and with comically elongated/springy necks/limbs that jiggle inappropriately.

Audio is a wholly forgettable experience. I can’t say I remember a single piece of music playing in “Vermintide.” The voiceacting, however, is well-done, though rather limited. The Barkeep who gives out missions at the stage selection hub gives a brief verbal synopsis of the mission at hand… and that’s really all there is for narration. Each of the playable characters spouts a variety of quips and one-liners throughout the course of gameplay, including announcements of special enemies or pick-ups, which is handy, as I found the characters did a better job of spotting these things than any of our MeltedJoystick Crew.

Technically, “Vermintide” is not without issues. We had a number of instances where the game would suddenly drop out of full-screen and force a restart in order to return to full-screen. “Vermintide” is also one of the incredibly distressing breed of online-only games, as it – much like “Battleborn” – must connect to a remote server to do… anything. Not only does this dependence on an external server mean “Vermintide” has a built-in expiration date, it also makes me wonder why a game that doesn’t do anything significant on my local machine takes up 40GB of space! The only real upside of “Vermintide’s” technical aspect is that it includes native Xinput support on Windows.

Story
The ‘End Times’ in the Warhammer Fantasy universe are addressed in a large number of novels and tabletop gaming sourcebooks. It’s an incredibly long and convoluted soap opera of battles, invasions, death, destruction, and ruination upon the ‘civilized’ world (if you want to give the benefit of the doubt to the Warhammer Fantasy universe to even call it ‘civilized’ in the best of times), involving every faction and nation struggling to survive in the face of a full-scale invasion by the forces of the four Chaos Gods (actually demons) and the impact of a twin-tailed comet upon the world’s surface.

“Vermintide” scratches, ratlike, at the surface of the full Warhammer Fantasy lore by covering the emergence the Skaven – a humanoid rat-folk – from deep underground to lay waste upon the very Germany-flavored Reiklands in the middle of the Empire.

At that’s really all there is to it.

While I got my start in Fantasy and RPGs with Games Workshop (and Warhammer Fantasy) products, I ultimately didn’t fall in love with the setting. I know, it’s shocking, as most people seem to obsessively love the first thing they experienced in relation to any given hobby (it’s almost like the imprinting that certain species of animal babies do). I haven’t kept up with the lore and backstory of the Warhammer Fantasy universe, and I must say that the entire canon of events and people is incredibly overwhelming, even with the help of a fan-drive Wiki to summarize everything. You wouldn’t know it, though, just by playing “Vermintide,” as the game’s small series of 13 missions (along with 6 DLC missions I regret purchasing for the group) don’t touch upon the broader context of the End Times at all. These missions can be played in any order (though some of them are locked as parts of meaningless ‘Acts’), as they are all simple busywork that doesn’t really tie into a broader context. Even the villain is a one-dimensional take on Skaven leadership who appears only in the mission where killing him is the objective. As a one-time Warhammer Fantasy Battle player (way back in 4th Edition), I’m familiar with the Skaven and their quirks, so I was able to recognize the different types of enemies, plus I was already familiar with the archetypes of the 5 playable heroes (a Reikland Soldier, an Imperial Witch Hunter, a Wizard of the Bright College, a Dwarf, and a Wood Elf). However, I never once glimpsed any attempts at connecting the events of “Vermintide” with a wider, global scale series of catastrophes.

I think “Vermintide” feels so shallow from a narrative perspective because it leans entirely on the ‘Tell, Don’t Show’ method of storytelling… the exact opposite of what writers are taught to do. There’s an in-game lorebook that players can consult to read some facts about people, places, things, and Skaven types, but it starts out almost completely empty, requiring players to find and collect the missing pages during gameplay. And reading about these things in a lorebook is a poor substitute for experiencing them as part of the game’s narrative action.

The only thing about “Vermintide’s” story elements that save the game for me is the interaction between the cast of heroes. It’s very obvious that the Witch Hunter (whose catch phrase provided the title of this review) and the Bright Wizard (essentially a witch) don’t get along, and constantly sling barbs at each other’s philosophies. Likewise the Elf and the Dwarf exchange constant racially insensitive banter. These dialogs are random and can get repetitive, though, but they are very authentic and evocative of the Warhammer Fantasy setting. It makes me wish the game’s story had been assembled atop an entirely different underlying gameplay structure to give it a chance to… exist.

Gameplay
I’ve frequently heard it said that “Vermintide” is like “Left4Dead,” only with rat-men instead of zombies. All I can say is that my desire to play “Left4Dead” went from Zero to some humongous negative number after playing “Vermintide.”

“Vermintide” is ostensibly a First-Person Shooter. However, with the limited amounts of ammo for most characters (the Bright Wizard has unlimited ammo, but shooting fireballs too quickly makes her overheat, which can lead to self-destruction), the vast majority of enemy-killing that happens over the course of the game consists of melee. As we all (should) know, first-person melee combat isn’t particularly fun, thanks in large part to the difficulty in judging distance and the fact that cover doesn’t provide any protection. “Vermintide” also takes far too many pages from old, terrible FPSes of the past, with quiet enemies that consistently spawn behind the player’s team (‘good’ old Monster Closets), leading to plenty of cheap ganks. Then there’s the pair of special Skaven units who exist solely to take one character out of action instantly, whether it’s a Gutter Runner assassin or a Packmaster with a Thingcatcher (mancatcher, for those who don’t speak Skaven), it’s far too easy to be focused on the Skaven swarming in from the front while a silent threat comes up from behind and instantly cuts the team by one member.

And “Vermintide” is emphatically a team-based game. This isn’t a coop game where friends all play together in pursuit of a common goal. This is a coop game where a team plays together. Period. Even playing a single-player private game, the player is accompanied by a team of three AI allies to fill-out the roster. The team absolutely must stick together, as other players (or AIs) are the only thing that can stop a Gutter Runner or Packmaster from ruining everything. Splitting up or allowing a member of the team to wander off seems to attract these special enemies, resulting is a game that can only really be played in one specific way: The Correct one.

“Vermintide” isn’t even a trial-and-error sort of tedious game where repetition and memorization help, as it features dynamic randomized spawns for both enemies and item pickups. As if it weren’t bad enough that there is no regenerating health and no way to save oneself from death without an ally, the number of first-aid kits/health potions scattered through each mission are incredibly stingy and randomly placed… and the only times these pick-ups didn’t seem to be incredibly stingy were when the game would randomly put a whole bunch of them at the beginning of a mission (when nobody needs them) leaving none for the end (when the players have been beaten up by everything in the mission).

As if the focus on melee, cheap enemies, stingy health pickups, and forced circling of the team’s wagons weren’t bad enough, “Vermintide” also features the world’s stingiest loot system. There are no actual loot drops during missions. Instead, the players each get to roll some dice at the end of a successful mission (failures get nothing), with the number of ‘hits’ on the dice improving the random item received. Since each character has specific melee and ranged weapons they can equip, getting loot for a class someone else on the team plays is a kick in the nuts, doubly so because players can’t trade items with each other. These loot items follow the standard ‘Diablo’ color scheme of White, Green, Blue, Orange, with significant (hidden) performance gains between the rarities, as well as additional magical properties that do a variety of things ranging from knock-back to health steal. Players have the opportunity to combine 5 items of the same rarity to get one item of the next rarity up, but we never managed to get past Blue (and most of us only got Blue loot from the Holiday 2017 login event where loot was given away simply for starting the game every day). Even more unfortunately, this loot system is really the only way to change the way any given class plays, as the arsenal of weapons available to each character have options that are objectively better than others, but are incredibly tedious to actually acquire.

All of these design decisions culminate in making “Vermintide” a hideously unbalanced and un-fun experience. We had to drop down from Normal to Easy difficulty just to struggle through. Though apparently, according to the warped fanbase, the game doesn’t even start until Nightmare difficulty (which comes after Hard but before Cataclysm) which introduces friendly fire to the mix of ‘fun’ mechanics.

Overall
Playing “Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide” reminded me why I used to wholly hate First-Person Shooters. The fact that playing alone with AI companions was easier than playing with the full MeltedJoystick crew also left me gobsmacked: How is our teamwork actually that bad? Regardless, this is some of the least fun I’ve had with a FPS and with a coop game in a long time. I can’t believe it’s getting a sequel.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 1/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5

 

 


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