arhammer 40,000: Darktide flings you headfirst into a war-ravaged distant future where humans are losing the fight to armies of the undead.
The depraved enemies that lurk in this industrial hellscape range from giant bile-spewing slugs to menacing horned apparitions that appear and disappear in a plume of green smoke. Then, there are the hordes of zombie foot soldiers that attack in a sprawling mass of rotting flesh. Upon hearing their caterwaul, you better drop whatever it is you’re doing and prepare for battle – and hope to God you haven’t run out of grenades.
To give you a sense of the game’s prolific body count, developer Fatshark said that more than 405 million enemies (known as “heretics”) had been killed in the first 24 hours of its release.
Luckily, you’re not alone in battling these monstrosities. Darktide plops you in a squad of four players, which will either be composed of random solo gamers, or you can team up with your pals. If you’ve ever played the team-based horror Left 4 Dead, or Darktide developer Fatshark’s Warhammer: Vermintide 2, you’ll know what you’re in for. If not, think first-person shooter and melee gameplay that pits players against waves of marauding enemies. Played in refreshingly short bursts, it can make for a nice change of tempo between the massive RPGs in your current rotation.
Yet, Darktide brings plenty to the table to help it stand out as more than just a clone in new battle fatigues.
The game boasts an immersive narrative with rich lore taken from Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 tabletop games. The story plays like a nihilistic space opera with a dash of 2000AD’s sardonic wit (there’s even a Rogue Trooper-style helmet you can purchase from the in-game armoury). The introductory cut scene also throws in a bit of Lovecraftian cosmic horror for good measure. While gamers may spot elements of Killzone and Wolfenstein in its battle-scarred depiction of a dystopian future.
Set in the 41st millennium, Darktide puts you on the front lines of a conflict over the hive city known as Tertium. There are four playable classes to choose from, including sharpshooters, psychokinetic sorcerers, hulking brutes known as Ogryns, and gung-ho religious zealots.
After creating your character, you’ll romp through a mercifully quick intro in which you accidentally get busted out of prison and end up recruited by the Imperium. Your new home is the cavernous spacecraft known as the Mourningstar; a vessel populated by weapons and cosmetics merchants, dark-art experts who can enhance your arsenal, and a “barber” who looks more like a maniacal butcher.
The harder the mission difficulty, the bigger the payout, the more gear you can buy, the more enemies you can slay. Rinse and repeat.
You’ll earn different types of credits to spend on items by completing missions. These typically entail assassinating a boss, derailing the enemies’ infrastructure, or ridding a site of a toxic, living virus. The main challenges themselves aren’t that tricky or complex, it’s surviving the enemies that can prove an insurmountable challenge. Die in the heat of battle and you’ll require rescuing by your teammates from another part of the level. But, if you lose multiple members during a wave, you can kiss your chances of winning goodbye.
The harder the mission difficulty, the bigger the payout, the more gear you can buy, the more enemies you can slay. Rinse and repeat. That may sound monotonous, but it’s surprisingly addictive, thanks to all the guns, bladed weapons and perks obtainable. In particular, the Star Wars-style laser blasters and Doom-style chainsword (a mix between a sword and chainsaw) are maliciously fun to wield. New enemy encounters and limited-time challenges also keep things fresh, with more bosses and hordes lying in wait on higher difficulties.
Notably, some alluring cosmetics require real money to unlock, unless you complete side tasks within the main missions. Monetising a game that you’re already paying for may be a bit divisive, but bear in mind that Darktide costs less than some new releases (at £33), and is also available to PC players on Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service.
Darktide isn’t without its faults, however. The external environments can sometimes look flat compared to the vivid, industrial innards of the bunkers, smelters and factories you’ll frequent. There is also the lingering question of longevity. Though Fatshark has promised to develop the game’s storyline and missions in the coming months, it’s unclear how this will pan out.
But even the game’s quirks are part of its charm. The unpolished start menu graphics, which look more like Games Master than a modern AAA video game, and the cartoonish voice cast with exaggerated British accents only add to its appeal. Ultimately, Darktide offers a blast of propulsive action that should appeal to Warhammer fans and deranged newcomers alike.