Of rats and (rat)men

There has been a conspicuous lack of activity on this blog but I promise you there’s a very  good reason for that. I’ve finally gotten myself a proper graphics card so after, what feels like a lifetime of trying to game on a ten year old laptop and integrated graphics of a desktop computer I built later, I’m finally free to enjoy games again! All of them! And what do I end up playing? Warhammer, again, still… I’ve been playing Vermintide and having poured 54 hours into it, as Steam judgingly reminds me, I should type down a few words about it. Because what good is a blog if it doesn’t contain my never-ending stream of babble?

Oh and you can also observe my attempt at playing the game. I’d think I’m quite good at it but my judgement of these things has failed me in the past, as the internet keeps reminding me. Sorry about the colours but the video doubles as a rendertest and I’m trying to get the colour settings right, unfortunately youtube is struggling with Vermintide’s potato colours.

Here’s a quick description for anyone that hasn’t heard of Warhammer End Times: Vermintide. For anyone familiar with the Left For Dead franchise, Vermintide is basically an improved LFD game set in a Warhammer Fantasy universe, with characters being replaced by common hero archetypes of that setting and the zombies being replaced by RATMEN! By Sigmar’s sizzling sausage, GET ‘EM!

In short, you are a band of heroes played by actual people or bots, whichever you prefer, fighting a never-ending tide of Skaven in order to complete an objective, get to the end of a mission or simply stay alive as long as you can (which is aptly called Last Stand). You’re using a variety of lore-friendly weapons (in first person perspective) against a variety of lore-friendly ratmen enemies. There are items you pick up to heal yourself or your allies or increase your combat potency.

Which doesn’t sound all that interesting until I tell you that you can play as a Witch Hunter, annihilating slave ratmen with shots from double pistols, switching to a rapier to stab some Stormvermin in the head all while looking extremely fashionable (as Witch Hunters are want to do). Or you could be drawn to the Elven Waywatcher, as I was, slender and mysterious, peppering the skaven from afar with her bow then switching to dual swords or daggers to finish off the stragglers. Then there’s the aging but fiery Bright Wizard with her flames, the Talabecland mercenary Kruber and the always optimistic Dwarf Ranger Bardin Goreksson (who won’t shut up about his cousin Okri, we get it!).

The great hammer is something I've been having a lot of fun with lately, especially with Bardin's gleeful laughing everytime he swings it.

The greathammer is something I’ve been having a lot of fun with lately, especially with Bardin’s gleeful laughing every time he swings it.

My first few hours playing the game I enjoyed the elven quickness and guile of Kerillian the Waywatcher (who for some reason has a Scottish accent, much to my amazement since I’ve never seen an elf with it in any setting, although it is strangely appealing and amusing at the same time). Combat felt amazingly fluid, visceral and empowering. But even after a few hours I began to see why the game isn’t widely regarded as one of the best games on the market right now, it gets repetitive. There are only five classes, eight types of enemies and while the amount of maps and areas is quite big, once having gone through them all a couple of times they don’t feel fresh anymore. The leveling system isn’t very impactful as it only supplies a trinket slot every ten levels and some weapon unlocks. I can definitely see why the general public would find the game lacking in replaybility value.

However, I am not the general public, thank Grugni, and found plenty of features to extend my interest in the game. The biggest and most important feature is the weapon system. Each of the five classes has anywhere from 6 to 8 different weapons, that’s over 30 different combinations. Granted not all of them are distinctly different, for example Gruber’s greathammer and Bardin’s greathammer are very similar if not identical and their choices of shield and either blade or mace perform a similar role. They don’t feel the same though, and that is a big thing in this game. If you try to get really good at the game you will be thrown off by switching weapons since the swing timings and hitboxes become different, the amount of targets, the knockback effect and the damage changes, which attacks are the most optimal against which enemy as the damage type and bonuses vary. Not to mention that the trait system, which gives weapons different static or proc bonuses, can turn one weapon into a rat mincing machine with a speed proc or a defensive weapon with a heal proc and block bonuses.

And speaking of getting good, the game might look like it has a low skillcap, I know I was fooled by how quickly I “mastered” the normal difficulty. However mastering hard difficulty it took me twice as long to feel comfortable with playing with other random people, as I am a bit overly internet-self-conscious and don’t like being told that I’m bad (“everyday must be rough for you then” – random nasty gobbo). And that is with only one characters and one weapon set. As soon as I changed my weapons I’d have to go one difficulty back or practice in bot games to not get my ass-whooped and completely embarrass myself. Not to mention other classes, most of which I am still bad with. And so I went, familiarizing myself with all the classes, getting a feel for all the weapons I could get my hands on, and having gotten through half of that I got bored and decided to try some nightmare difficulty games. Boy was that a game-changer, quite literally. Not only are there more and tougher, stronger rats, there’s also friendly fire with ranged weapons, spells and bombs. This made me all but abandon my Waywatcher in embarrassment from being kicked out of a few games. I don’t admit that fact lightly.

Moving on from that particular topic, the combat system is deep. Every character has a “hurtbox”, an invisible in-game representation of where you get “hurt” if you’re hit and all weapons and arrow projectiles have a “hitbox”, a geometric representation of the area where connecting with the enemy will “hit” them. Manipulating those is the way to success by using dodge-kiting, strafe-dodging, blocking, pushing, differentiating between charged and normal swings and more. Then there’s knowing the ins and outs of the maps, knowing what particular weapon and trinket toolset to use for different maps and situations, recognising and reacting to different enemy prompts and being a teamplayer. The latter is especially difficult if you’re playing with random people. A good rule of thumb is to either lead if you know others will follow or follow if you know they won’t. Also splitting up is a very, very bad idea, as if you couldn’t have guessed that, yet it tends to slip the mind of many-a-player.

Naturally, playing as a part of a team includes not shooting your allies. In which case you’ll be happy to be teaming up with a vertically challenged dwarf for possibly the first time in your life as you freely let loose volleys of arrows and bullets right over his head.

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