Warhammer 4k Darktide Preview fight

Warhammer 40K Darktide is not ready for prime time

How was your weekend? Mine was great, thanks for asking. Most of it was spent slaying the hordes of Chaos in the bowels of Tertium, as I got to try out the closed beta test of Warhammer 40K: Darktide. My honest reaction? If what I played is the current build of the game—not an older, obsolete one—then I don’t think Darktide is ready for launch next month. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the fundamentals are absolutely there. It’s every bit as emphatic and thrilling as Vermintide, and builds on that game in meaningful, interesting ways, all of which we’ll get to in this Warhammer 40K Darktide preview.

Honestly, no amount of gratuitous slaughter can hide the fact that this doesn’t feel ready for launch, because of both a raft of technical issues and blatantly missing quality-of-life additions introduced back in Vermintide. I fear a rocky launch ahead for Darktide, and the usual 6-month buffer time to see the game reach its full potential. This is particularly disappointing, especially considering how Vermintide 2 suffered the same fate, which had me hoping Fatshark would avoid it this time around. Now, I’m not so sure.

So, that was a bummer, so let’s talk about what Darktide gets right. Namely, Fatshark have nailed the jump to 40K. The most obvious difference this makes is the added emphasis on firearms, which I worried might be imbalanced on launch; either useless or so overpowered they make futile butter knives out of our beloved swords and hatchets. But I worried for nought: guns have specific utility in the mid-to-long range, but nothing beats a sword for culling the larger, in-your-face hordes. The guns also sound and feel great. My favourite of the lot was the Psyker’s revolver, which makes a thunderous sound akin to Thor stubbing his toe.

Guns having limited utility is just one of the design choices which make Darktide a more tactical, purposeful game than Vermintide. For instance, the four classes offered are more overtly asymmetrical than before, each having a more clearly delineated role to play in the team. The hulking Ogryn is a natural tank, brandishing a heavy shotgun and designed to stay up front and meet the enemy head-on. Sharpshooters specialise in picking off targets from behind with their las-guns, while the occult Psyker and SMG-equipped Veteran thrive somewhere in the middle.

Yes, the game still ultimately revolves around frantic, seat-of-your-pants bloodshed. Those teeming hordes you remember hacking through in Vermintide are still present. But now, a squad of shooters might show up and suppress you, forcing a quick duck into nearby cover to return fire. It’s to Fatshark’s credit that this doesn’t slow the pace of the game; it just trades one kind of speed for another.

Darktide loses none of its visual appeal in the switch to sci-fi, either. Gone are the plush, gob-smacking vistas of Vermintide, sure, but they are replaced by an arresting industrial hellscape in Tertium. I only saw three maps during the Beta, but so far, I’m pleased to see how much variety and grim beauty Fatshark can eke out of what is essentially a planet-sized factory.

This is all to say, Darktide looks and plays as I expected it to, which is really quite well. But that just makes its technical state all the more disappointing. From wildly inconsistent framerate to visual artefacts, lighting and texture bugs, and network issues (okay, that last one is fine, it is just a beta), Darktide needs more time in the oven. If, indeed, the build I played was up to date. Perhaps it wasn’t, and Fatshark have been hard at work ironing out the creases. But after the disastrous launch of Vermintide 2, I’m not exactly holding my breath.