I’ve come away from every Warhammer 40,000 session with the following impression, despite the suffocating darkness of the grim future of Warhammer 40,000: Nonetheless, Darktide reenergized. This four-player cooperative first-person shooter from developer Fatshark frequently has me grinning like an idiot, whether it’s the bloody but darkly comedic melee brawls or the head-bopping synthwave tracks playing during intense shootouts. Sluggish performance issues are the only thing that has dampened my excitement for Darktide’s full release next week. However, even those issues do not diminish the glory that comes with chain-swording heretics in half. Darktide is still receiving updates and new content during its pre-order beta window.
The beginning of Darktide is reminiscent of many of the wonderfully over-the-top Warhammer 40,000 stories before it: with a legion of traitors who worship Chaos and cause trouble. As a conscripted convict, you’ll joyfully slaughter tens of thousands of misshapen, rift-powered boss monsters in Tertium’s massive hive city, which is filled to the brim with zombie-like Poxwalker hordes, gun-toting preachers who preach the blasphemous gospel, and a wide variety of misshaped boss monsters of all shapes and sizes. As of this review-in-progress, only six missions are available in the beta. I cannot yet evaluate the overall story, but the cheeky banter between squadmates has been pretty sharp so far.
I’ve come to adore the tank-like Ogryn Skullbreaker, a tall brute who can easily eliminate dozens of enemies with a single lumbering swipe, out of the four playable classes. Because Darktide’s shockingly deep melee combat will consistently test your hand-to-hand martial prowess, that muscular stopping power also never goes out of style. Combining light, heavy, and special attacks yields fantastic outcomes. To quickly sever a dozen Poxwalkers into pieces and then block an overhead two-handed hammer swing from one of the more intelligent enemies before pushing them away is an endlessly satisfying experience. Even better, you’ll probably smile when you dart into the range of an armored enemy to knock off their shoulder pad, exposing a weakness, and then run away before they can respond. Darktide isn’t shy about tongue-firmly-in-cheek moments like this, and I even let out a good belly laugh after loping off some poor sod’s arm because he examined the bloody stump before falling over as if this were a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner scene. Ogryn’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” routine is hilarious, but I’m not sure if it was planned.
Sadly, Darktide’s poor performance is revealed when one enters those intense close-up discussions. Although my admittedly old RTX 2080 is no longer a top-tier graphics card, the framerate should slow down to near-slideshow levels when bodies start piling up. Yes, Darktide can be pretty at times. From Tertium’s seedy underbelly, I like to look up at the elaborately detailed superstructures above. However, while every visual toggle is set to low, it is not a technical display that would melt the majority of contemporary personal computers. Fingers crossed that Darktide will run better when it leaves beta, as Fatshark has stated that it is well aware of the widespread demand for improved optimization.
Fortunately, once you begin eliminating undesirables from a distance, things tend to stabilize. Even though Darktide’s firefights are less intense than its melee battles, they are just as thrilling because of the way its suppression system works. Most of the time, enemies who know better than to recklessly shimmy into bullets will run for cover when they are shot at. Their return fire becomes sloppy as they keep up the barrage, usually causing projectiles to miss you by several feet. However, considering that they can also suppress your team, it is fair enough. Suppression has a great risk-reward aspect that forces you to either retreat and regains control of your gun or fir a melee weapon while rushing toward the shooter. Goodness, it never gets old to cave in on a mutant’s orbital bone after they make it nearly impossible to shoot them, especially when the occasion is marked by a catchy metal clang-filled synth track with a John Carpenter-like sound.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t spend 18 hours playing a limited pre-order beta that moves so quickly, but Darktide is hard to put down. Even though the majority of the campaign hasn’t been released yet, the thunderous melee battles, tactful exchanges at the range, and that ever-so-delicate balancing act between those two methods of murder keep pulling me back. Although I’ll have my final scored review shortly after release regardless, I have high hopes that Darktide will maintain its exciting momentum as all of the content is unlocked in the lead-up to its full launch and that the worst performance issues are addressed.
Warhammer 40,000, a four-player cooperative action game, takes you deep into the bustling city of the 41st Millennium to face hordes of enemies you’ve only seen in your nightmares.Darktide.As they get up close and personal in visceral clashes between the Imperium and Chaos factions, players won’t be able to hide behind deadly ranged weapons. Instead, they will need to combine FPS and melee skills.