Darktide's feature image

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Review- Gore Galore!

Not for you if:

  • Gore is not really for you
  • You want a single player experience
  • Character development is a must in your games
9

So, it’s Christmas and everyone is filled with that jolly spirit. The weather outside makes the warm room you’re in all the cosier and you couldn’t feel more peaceful. Christmas tree, hot eggnog, stockings over the fireplace… all is as it should. But…something is missing, isn’t it? What if, instead of satisfaction, something else lurks in your heart? What if, instead of making a Christmas cake, you want to take a broadsword and refit it with a small chainsaw engine and sharp metal teeth? What if the fact that Santa Clause will be coming down your chimney fills you with rage and disgust as he is a pagan Chaos god and your house, just like everything else in your pathetic life, belongs to the God-Emperor of Mankind? What if the fact that you’re not putting a plasma bolt through a heretic’s cranium RIGHT NOW makes your hands itch and back muscles quiver in anticipation?

If you can identify with any of these questions then get off your ass corpse starch and open the computer! Leave your tranquillity, empathy, and kindness behind because what I need is your unbridled and unending hate. Purify your plasma riffle, sharpen your chainsword, and rejoice because you’ll be giving your life in HIS service. Get in the Thunderhawk, maggot! We have some heretics to purge.

All images have been taken either in-game or from Darktide’s Steam page.

Darktide screenshot
Glorious day shall it be!

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide review TL;DR

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is more than a video game. It’s a spiritual experience. Welcome to a first person, hack-and-slash, horde shooter where the only thing that stops you from achieving greatness is your lack of willpower and Fatshark’s usual atrociously buggy videogame launches. Darktide’s unbelievable visual/graphical presentation is only surpassed by its insane sound and music design, which makes for a highly immersive experience. The gameplay is immensely satisfying and provides the player with the ability to carry out no-so-insignificant war crimes while being rewarded for it. There are still some technical issues, but by this point, the game is adequately playable. Buy it, play it, indulge in it, and become concerned as to why scenes of extreme gore and violence suddenly bring you happiness.

The story of a War Eternal (Story)

The grim, dark, high-Gothic tip of the iceberg

To talk consistently about the setting would be to talk in deep about the universe of Warhammer 40k. By the emperor, even I am not that mad! So, I will give you my best synopsis hoping that when you play the game you won’t be completely lost. This is, in my opinion, the best way to describe a universe so massive and over-the-top that the fanatical, monotheistic, militaristic, and inquisitorial xenophobes are considered the “good guys”.

“It is the 41st Millennium. For more than a hundred centuries The Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the Master of Mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.

Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the Warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor’s will. Vast armies engage in battle in his name on uncounted worlds. Greatest amongst his soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors. Their comrades in arms are legion: the Imperial Guard and countless planetary defense forces, the ever vigilant Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few. But for all their multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat from aliens, heretics, mutants – and worse.

To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.


-Vulkan, Primarch of the XVIII Legiones Astartes “Salamanders”

Fresh meat

So, now that you know that hope is not just a non-existent concept in our setting, but an idea so far removed from reality that it’s thinking that economic inflation is coming down. You must be asking yourself what is your role in all of this. Well, you my friend start as what we call “the lowest of the low”. Your character in Darktide is a prisoner on board of the transport Tancred Bastion for reasons specified in the character selection menu beforehand. Your future? Trust me when I say that death would be an immense mercy. Thankfully, or more specifically unfortunately, your transport is raided by the followers of the Chaos God Nurgle and during the turmoil, you manage to secure an escape route from your cell. After a bit of fighting, you escape to one of the cargo holds where you find the one that put you in this predicament in the first place: Explicator Zola.

With your help, you and other passengers manage to secure an escape route out of the ship. Seeing the machine of absolute mayhem that you are, a proposal is made. You will either join the Inquisition abroad on the ship Mourningstar and go on missions where the survival rate is an ongoing inside joke on the ship’s bridge, or you will be executed in a way that makes being burned alive a humane way to go. Of course, becoming a martyr while serving the Emperor is the only correct way to die after all so you choose to join the good fight. The mission? Simple, you have to go down to the surface of the planet Atoma Prime and purge the Nurgle cults that have been growing like cancerous tumours in the Hive City of Tertium. Long story short, the city is more of a giant tumour than anything else at this point. You’re going beyond enemy lines and except for the other 3 damned souls that will be with you, there’ll be no other friendlies so ,naturally; fire at will.

If you want to read about a game with a bit more “meat” to its story, then see the God of War Ragnarok review by George Makridis

Four damned souls
Me and the boys ready to purge some heretics.

Oh, the wonder my eyes have seen! (Visuals)

Are you really paranoid when they’re actually trying to get you?

Now, this is important. The Warhammer 40k universe is one of the grandest and most over-the-top fictional worlds you’ll ever see. There is no great catastrophe to be averted, no crisis to be resolved, world to be saved or a happy ending for that matter. A war so large it spans galaxies is all that exists. Humanity has become all that we now would despise and personifies a waste of our race’s infinite potential. Religious fanatism is not only tolerated but extremely encouraged. The motto of the Inquisition, the most powerful policing internal affairs organization in the Imperium is “Innocence proves nothing.”.

The worst part in all of this is…they’re right. Humanity is besieged on all fronts. Chaos worshipers, gene-stealer cults, Drukari slave hunters…everyone is actually out there to get them. Nefarious organisations only require easy prey to grow, and unfortunately, we have plenty of that. A race that hates what it has become but turns that hatred outward as that is the only way it will ensure its survival. Now that you know in what psychological situation our people are in, what do you think their worlds and environments would look like?

Darktide visual
Most of the images look so good you’d think they’re concept art.

The grandeur of piousness

Welcome to the Hive City of Tertium. Hive cities are autonomous behemothic arcologies that exist on planets called Hive Worlds. The population of every hive city amounts at the very least in the tens of billions, a number that unmistakably sounds big until you realise that a Hive World may contain dozens of them. That is the scale that Warhammer 40k operates on. So, as you have imagined, Tertium is, for lack of a better word, absolutely gigantic. And that brings me to one of the strongest characteristics of the game… presentation!

When you descend on your first mission, nothing can prepare you for what lies ahead. The environments in Darktide are not specifically made to make you feel small…nonetheless, they manage it effortlessly. A whole world inside the confines of a city that is so big, it even includes its own sky. Thousands of meters in the air, enormous cathedrals built for the God-Emperor of mankind hang from the massive sky-like ceiling of the hive city, giving you an idea of how dedicated the Imperium of Man is to its God and Master. You can then, for the first time, understand that the world doesn’t revolve around your character. You’re just a tiny cog in the human machine of war… it’s all up to you to see if you break or not.

Beautiful scene
Beautiful

Controlled variety

What does that mean, you ask? Simple, the world that you’re about to experience will have the colour of rust and metal. Industriousness runs these holy halls that you step your undeserving feet upon. My point is that the colour pallets of Darktide are not even closely related to something you’d call bright. From the green, subtly glowing toxic wastes in the sewers that you see in the Underhive, to the bronze shine that the giant statues of the Emperor exude in the High Spires, the game provides light very frugally. You’re not a guardsman taking part in the mayhem of the trench wars. You’re not a space marine boarding and fighting your way through an enemy vessel. You, my friend, are a disposable Inquisition agent fighting the enemy from within. Your battle is in the Hive’s heart, where corruption has spread like a disease. Removing it is all that matters. Now, using a scalpel or a blow torch? That’s all up to you.

The best way to describe the feeling I got from Darktide is a familiar kind of uneasiness. Before your very eyes lie all these wonders, monuments to the effort of the Human collective and yet… they are almost decrepit. Like an 80’s hotel, long after its zenith, you can feel that Tertium exists beyond its glory days. Even for a new player with no knowledge of 40k, going through the halls of the ecclesiarchy in the high spires, you can see the cracks forming in the well-maintained monuments of this fanatical religion. The world looks grand but also gives you the impression of stagnation. Something that though Darktide’s impressive graphic capabilities comes to life seamlessly.

An idea of the vibe in Darktide
Under the glorious surface there exists rot and decay.

Honour his name with the spilling of blood (Gameplay)

What we have here is a gem in the rough. Fatshark studios comes back with its undeniable experience in horde first-person hack-and-slash games, knocking it out of the park. For those that don’t know, I will provide a brief explanation of the gameplay loop to make things come into perspective later. Darktide is a first-person shooting/slashing/(all the other forms of murder you can think of) game. That means when you tear the guts out of heretics with an Eviscerator sword, you need to look them in the eyes while you do it. God, I love this game.

Enemy rushing in at you in Darktide
Better think fast!

The struggle is never-ending

So, you pick one of the four current classes, which we will expand on later, and choose a mission. Your character comes equipped with a ranged and melee weapon, class-specific grenades, and a whole lot of repressed rage. Before deciding on the mission, you must choose a difficulty level ranging from one to five. Level one, being the easiest, is more of an introduction to the stages. The last one, level five, is an experience so horrible that you’re going to be waking up 20 years later, in the middle of the night, full of cold sweat, having nightmares about it.

Darktide is meant to be played in co-op with friends, so when you start loading the level, three more people will be randomly selected to join in the lobby with you. Thankfully Fatshark knows that since you play this game, a lack of social relationships is to be expected, so even if there aren’t enough players, the slots get filled with bots. They’re actually not that bad compared to real players, meaning that your experience will be almost unchanged.

a 40k meme
Happy times.

Darktide’s mission structure is very linear. Spawn with your fellow mouth breathers, follow the objective marker, and pray to the God-Emperor that there’s not an elite patrol right in your path. Darktide encourages you to explore the levels with several missions, having optional secondary objectives for collectables that you will have to go specifically out of your way to find. Though getting lost in these beautifully hand-crafted stages was never a problem, since the game will “nudge nudge” mention the objective and how you’re not doing it by dialogue and stick a big objective marker on your screen just in case you’re deaf.

There is one small problem. You see, the space between where you are and what you have to do is filled with hostiles. Lots and lots of hostiles. Thankfully that isn’t an issue for a naturally talented and overeager meat grinder such as yourself. After all, you will cut, tear, sear, sever, break, rip, puncture, collapse, incinerate, eviscerate, implode, explode, electrocute, liquify, and melt whatever heretic and demon happen to stumble with their unfortunate carcass in your way. My point being, Darktide provides an abundance of variety regarding murder. And as it may also happen, it also provides an insane amount of targets to practise that murder on.

A face only a mother could love
Look at that smile!

Your foes are unending

The enemies of Darktide can be categorised into four categories. Number one is the Horde. They are numerous, they are weak, and they exist to make your life more tedious. You will be killing hundreds of them throughout every mission, but be alarmed; if you get surrounded, they will still tear you to actual pieces.

After that come the Elites. Highly specialised enemies that need to be eliminated swiftly and with extreme prejudice. Each one of them fulfills a precise role, and is the reason you’ll die if you don’t get rid of them in most cases. Gunners pinning you down, Ragers charging you with abandon, and Reapers’ bullets shredding you are just a small example of why the moment an elite is identified, it must be blown to kingdom come.

An elite
For a Nurgle worshiper, his dental hygiene is superb.

Mini-bosses are a thing as well. The moment a mini-boss spawns close to your location, the game starts playing a piece of music that I would describe as “Oh, you’re fucked now!”, a red health bar appears at the top of your screen, and a colossal monstrosity starts charging you with the fury of a Black Friday shopper that just saw a giant TV with a 95% off sale. Killing them needs to be a collective effort of the correct players sharing the aggro and rotating damage positions. I sincerely wish you the best of luck. You’re definitely going to need it.

The last category is Bosses. Strangely, only specific missions have one and that’s the only thing I will mention about them. It will be your duty as a Darktide player not to know the tactics and be responsible for your team’s wipe. Some traditions need to be upheld after all.

The bad, the bad ,the bad and the ugly

For Darktide’s character creation, each class has three different personalities and voice variations to pick from. When the customisation begins, you get to choose some background information about your character that will change some dialogue between party members. What planet you are from, how you grew up, and what kind of crime you committed will vary the interactions and reactions your character has during the missions. Although none of these are really important or plot-significant, there is one that matters. Your character’s personality is tied to their voice. Pick a voice actor that you enjoy listening to because you’ll have to listen to some lines over and over again for a long time. My advice would be to pick your character’s personality first and then try to customise them visually to what feels like that voice would come from.

With this, we come to our rejects. Here we’ll talk about Darktide’s classes and what would better thematically suit you.

Another 40k meme

Veteran Sharpshooter

With the soldiers of the Astra Militarum having an average life expectancy of 15 hours on the battlefield, it’s a miracle this character even exists. They say, “Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young.” and oh boy, is that true. In Darktide, the Veteran is the long-range weapons specialist. From laser rifles and head-hunter auto guns to even plasma pistols, the veteran can handle all types of ranged weapons with versatility and skill. His kit centers around having more ammunition and target acquisition; after all, it’s going to be your job to snipe the elites as fast as possible in the enemy hordes with well-placed headshots. This is the class for those that want a more first-person precision-based combat but also prefer the Jack-of-all-trades compared to high specialisation. After all, what you see is an unending Horde of Poxwalkers. What the Veteran sees is a target-rich environment.

A Veteran

Zealot Preacher

Did you ever think the Spanish Inquisition was a little too tame and vanilla for you? That not coming to church on Sundays should be an act punishable by scorched-iron branding? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then we just found your class. The Zealot is our damage-dealing close-range specialist and takes a very radical approach to the meaning of the word “repentance” and how it can be carried out. Your skills center around punishment and rage. The less health you have, the harder you hit and the more dangerous you become. Of course, the instruments that you will be provided with for this crusade of cleansing shall not disappoint you. The Zealot in Darktide can equip most of the weapons for a variety of playstyles, but the class-specific ones outshine the rest. You can cleave through the toughest of armours using your two-handed Eviscerator, smash heads and splatter brains wielding your Power Hammer and last but not least, the Flamer… the Heavy Flamer. One of the best experiences you’ll ever have in a game, for as the Zealot would say:
“Oh, how they sing when they burn.”

the Zealot

Psyker Psykinetic

Psyker is, for lack of a better term, the magician class archetype in Darktide. They are a ranged damage dealer with a lot of crowd-control capabilities. However, that’s not really accurate either. You see, in most games, the mage/sorcerer has mana or a similar resource. In Darktide, your Psyker channels what is known as Warp. Basically, mutated energy that comes from the Imatirium or, for those unfamiliar with the term, Hell. So the concept of magic here is not one of frugality, meaning that you won’t have to save spells for conserving your mana. The concept is restraint. After all, what you do is reach into this universe’s hell and channel mutated warp energy straight through your very frail human brain… what’s the worse that could happen?

Well, that is an answer for another darker day, but in the game, you simply die. Psykers can equip specialised weapons such as force staffs and force swords that use as a resource, well… technically, your sanity. You see, the more you cast abilities, the more you channel Warp energy using yourself as a conduit. This, by effect, means that you must open the doors of your mind wider to a place that makes the biblical version of hell sound cute. So you may use the Warp with destructive efficiency, but you have no idea what may come in or what effects this process has on your mind.

So coming around to the first point, Psykers use Peril as a meter for casting spells. This is literally the Peril of how long you can go without exploding head first while casting spells. It is measured in percentages and replaces the Psyker’s ammunition need for the missions. So, you want to electrocute a horde of Poxwalkers using your Warp Lighting? No problem, taser away! Just remember, the more you use the Warp the more …things… notice your existence from the other side. And if you can open your mind and draw Warp out of the Imatirium, then something may also sneak in.

a Psyker

Orgryn Skullbreaker

He is big, he is strong, and he has absolute faith in what he calls his “Emprah”. If you take too long to think about your next course of action or believe that cracking skulls with your bare hands is preemptive and impulsive, then you’re in the wrong place buddy. Ogryns are massive ab-humans reaching the height of 3 meters and the muscle mass of a silverback gorilla that knows how to use gym equipment and inject steroids. Darktide’s Orgryn Skullbreaker is a melee-centric class focusing on heavy attacks and tanking unholy amounts of damage. He is durable, honestly scary, and has specialised equipment that can be used to turn a Horde into unrecognisable chunks of still-writhing flesh.

Because of his endowed physical characteristics, he is the single class that does not share any kind of weaponry with the other three. Don’t let that get you down. Though he has a more restrictive variety when it comes to his instruments of mayhem, the ones you do get are special. From the melee catalogue, he can use a Slab Riot Shield, making him by far the most stalwart character from all the other classes, or you can just ironically use a Combat Shovel, pertaining to the fact that there be nothing to bury after you’re done. But of course for ranged combat, with over-developed muscle mass comes excessive firepower. If you ever looked at pictures of Apache helicopters or warplanes and said, “I wonder what it’d be like to manually fire these guns.”, then you’re in luck! The Twin-Linked Heavy Stubber has enough ballistic power to make your most depraved fantasies come true, and the Ripper Gun? It considers concepts such as aiming practical jokes since a pull of a trigger turns any room/tunnel/medium-sized closed space into a butcher shop’s exhibition. At the end of the day, no one can stop you from just using the Granade Gauntle, either. Just so you’re able to give the heretics the good old one-two, one-two, explode.

Ogryn

Holy-sounding litanies

In Darktide, sound and music are not there purely for our aesthetic enjoyment. You see, in Fatshark’s games, sound is vital if you want to survive the gameplay. This isn’t a game where you have music on while leisurely doing the missions. Your and your teammates’ characters will yell about the appearance of an elite long before any of you can see it. There are suicidal exploding enemies in the game that tick the closer they get to you. This is extremely important at the higher difficulty levels of Darktide, where split-second decisions affect whether you get your favourite legendary Eviscerator or waste 40 minutes of your life on a wipe.

Which brings me to Darktide’s music and technical sound. Long story short: absolutely incredible. Darktide uses music sparingly and with vicious effectiveness. When you wander through the levels, most of the time, you only have the ambient sounds and dialogue to keep you company. Until on a specific point, you get your first Horde encounter and then everything changes. For the first time, the music kicks in, and you realise that you never knew how horror, anxiety, and a mechanical drill going through a skull could all be expressed with music before today. I love that about Darktide. Music is used as a tool and not as something to occupy your mind auditorily while other things happen. The first time you hear the roar of the Beast of Nurgle before it blasts through a wall and the music being the equivalent of emergency war sirens, but with more electro, is an experience I’ll never forget.

Who's attending mass?
Mass is in session.

Final thoughts

Darktide is one of the games that has an insane amount of potential. It looks and sounds incredible, but more than that, it has the gameplay loop to back everything up. Although there were some technical difficulties at launch, at this point, the game rarely even has a technical problem worth mentioning. There was also some controversy regarding the in-game, real-money cosmetics shop, but from my experience, Darktide is not one of these games that make you look like a homeless person so you can buy skins. The free cosmetics unlocked through achievements are really good and can easily stand up to the paid stuff. For a price of around forty euros, I can’t recommend it enough since this game guaranteed will offer you hundreds of hours of enjoyment. I want to thank Fatshark for the free game copy and, above all, praise the Emperor!

Jason Dimitratos

Posts published: 14

Teacher and a videogame masochist. Will probably be found dead after playing Monster Hunter for 21 consecutive days. Has realized that for creative output, in the absence of passion, vitriol is an entirely viable replacement.