Vermintide 2 is a visceral co-op slash ‘em up based on Warhammer Fantasy. The original was an extremely janky attempt to reanimate Left 4 Dead’s desiccated remains, but the sequel has hacked away at the fat to leave behind a streamlined and gory experience that will make you feel like Conan or Drizzt.

While each character has a ranged option, what Vermintide 2 does better than any other game is capture that feeling of meat hitting meat. It’s a treat to dive into hordes with calculated abandon, switching between different groups to get the most dice for your slice. Each fight scatters severed limbs and ruined flesh with every backhanded axe swing, in a grotesque display that would smell worse than a crowded Games Workshop in a summer heatwave.

Making both ends meat

Fodder for your unceasing slaughter are the ‘evil’ staples of Warhammer Fantasy. From the ratlike Skaven, monstrous Beastmen, or barbaric Chaos, each come at you with visually and ergonomically diverse troops. Even basic soldiers may have shields or armour, leading to a quick change of tactics to deal with these dense croutons in the soft soup of massed monsters.

Elites appear occasionally to add a little spice to proceedings, or punish heroes who wander too far away. Each has a distinct audio cue to forewarn canny players of what’s coming – which may be a poison gas grenadier, ratling gunner, sneaky assassin or a variety of others. While some do straight damage or are just an inconvenience, others disable characters until a friend can come to their aid.

 

“Sir, have you heard the word of our Lord and savior, Nurgle?”

The biggest nuggets in this party bucket of fun are the bosses. Serving like L4D’s tanks and end of campaign showpieces, hulking rat ogres, bile trolls, chaos spawns and more will drop into the fray with the impact of a pudding tanker hitting a lorry full of bowling balls. Demon Souls-esque health bars will appear to measure how much misery you’ll endure before carrying on.

Compared to other co-op shooters, the depth and width of encounters and emphasis on melee saves Vermintide’s combat from feeling too samey. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose eyes glaze over a little in L4D when shooting into yet another wave of zombies.

Meet the good(er) guys

With intellectual property this hot and musky, it’s unsurprising Vermintide’s cast is as varied and full of characters as a Skaven family tree. Five heroes with distinct personalities are waiting to wail on the spawns of chaos, and reel off reams of witty banter as they do. True to the Warhammer mythos these are no shiny paladins or pure maidens, just a motley collection of bastards who’ve spent far too long fighting.

The dour elf Kerillian and abrasively optimistic dwarf Bardin Goreksson are wonderful inversions of classic fantasy tropes, bouncing off each other well as the only non-human members of the Ubersreik Five. Witch hunter Victor Saltzpyre and fiery mage Sienna Fuegonasus have an understandably tempestuous relationship torn between grudging respect and well-earned prejudice, as Victor was carrying Sienna to her execution. All the while, killer-for-hire Markus Kruber stands in the middle with gruff humour.

Beyond personality, Vermintide has improved on the Left 4 Dead formula by giving each character three careers gained by levelling, as well as a DLC-only one for Kerillian, Kruber and Bardin. These aren’t just cosmetic but drastically change how you play, granting new weapon sets, abilities, health and talents.

Many ways to skin a rat

Straight out the gate that’s 15 possible classes (18 with the DLC) with a different look and feel. Vermintide’s developers looked at this smorgasbord of options… thought deeply for half a second… and shouted “Disappointing!” before slicing the table in twain with a double-headed great-axe.

Weapons let you shape your avatar further to kill the way you want, with each class having access to around eight melee and five ranged. Each has different attributes – swing patterns, speeds, ammo counts and stamina costs… so for a balanced build you might decide on a crowd control / wide sweeps melee weapon for the hordes and a sniper / armor piercing ranged weapon to deal with the elites.

These weapons and all other gear (necklaces, charms and trinkets) can have extra properties and traits too, depending on their rarity. Oh yes, everything also comes in six different rarities with varied power levels and numbers of special qualities.

While attributes, properties and trait all sound like synonyms, each are distinct within Vermintide. Attributes are inherent properties of a weapon, properties are additional (and variable) straight numbers to your stats – e.g. attack speed, stamina, crit chance, etc. – and traits are closer to extra abilities like free blocks or temporary health when conditions are met.

Still no PS5…

If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Vermintide isn’t quite Diablo when it comes to throwing loot at you, but gear is a main method of progression. After every mission you’ll get at least one strongbox with three items inside, and achieving certain feats rewards more. The higher the difficulty you play, the higher quality the strongbox and the better the items inside. Coupled with a robust crafting system letting you break down and recreate weapons, there’s a lot to play with.

Who ordered the Rat Ogre flambée?

Big damn heroes, bigger damn explosions

Steel and shot aren’t your only tools against the forces of Slightly More Evil Than You, though. Throughout the level you’ll find potions which give you straight healing or a bonus to melee, speed or charging of your ultimate ability. First aid kits also appear, trading self-healing speed for the choice to heal an ally instead.

Bombs and incendiary bombs are scattered around the map to be carried on your belt and used to put huge dents into swarms, or help with area control. Blackpowder and lamp oil barrels serve a similar purpose but must be lugged arduously around, unequipping your weapon.

Talent for trouble

Gear and consumables offer generic bonuses and one-off effects that nevertheless help shape your character. They’re the sprinkles on your violence sundae. Talents are the whole banana.

Every five levels you can pick one of three talents from a tree which change how your abilities and gameplay works. While the first three for everyone are the same, offering different shades of shared healing and temporary health, after that it (mostly) gets more interesting.

Yes, I am a newb. No, don’t @ me

Doubling protective auras for Markus, enabled ale drops for Bardin, turning Victor’s sidearm into a shotgun… talents are bigger and grander than similar bonuses, with a larger focus on helping the team. Talents are career-exclusive, too, with 18 per career meaning 324 across all characters. There’s the obvious replication of the first three and some other similar talents throughout, but this is still an impressive number.

A lovely place to visit

Solid fun

My one issue with Vermintide 2 is that some talents feel lacklustre, replicating weapon properties or giving a boringly small flat increase. Theorycrafters may disagree but 5% or 10% doesn’t mean much to me, especially compared to talents that let you dodge through enemies or make you invulnerable. This is a small complaint in the grand scheme of things though.

Vermintide 2 is a solid game for co op play. Like all co op games though, what you get out of it depends heavily on who you play with. I’m fortunate enough to have a solid group to play regularly with, and if you can get your fantasiphilic lads and ladettes together I recommend giving it a shot.

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