What we think of the Warhammer 40K Darktide beta

  • Hypertext managed to play a few hours of the Warhammer 40 000: Darktide closed beta over the weekend.
  • The game takes a similar formula to developer Fatshark’s previous titles but takes a turn towards a dark, foreboding and grimdark future scape.
  • Apart from optimisation issues and a few crashes, the beta was a scrumptious taste of Darktide’s gameplay and we’re optimistic about the game’s future.

The closed beta for Warhammer 40K Darktide ran this weekend from 14th to 16th October.

The latest first-person action game from Swedish developer Fatshark is hotly anticipated by fans of the Warhammer canon and the popular Vermintide games, of which the second instalment sold more than 2 million copies by the end of 2019.

Hypertext was lucky enough to get a code to enter the closed beta of Darktide, and we managed to get a few hours of gameplay in before the end of the weekend.

It is important to note that everything we say about the game comes with the caveat that we played it in an unfinished state with the release date set for 30th November 2022, after several delays.

Waking the machine spirit

Darktide has its own launcher and players are persuaded to update their NVIDIA driver straight off the bat. Fatshark and NVIDIA have signed a partnership to deliver the “definite experience” of Darktide on NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX.

With updated drivers and compatible hardware, players can enjoy the frames per second boosting NVIDIA DLSS, latency-reducing NVIDIA Reflex, and advanced ray tracing effects.

We were desperate to get into gameplay so we spurned most of the graphics tuning. We set it on high and dove right in. This may have been a mistake because for some reason the motion blur was crippling our frame rate, but once we turned it off the game not only looked better but played better.

All aboard to space prison

Right into the main menu, players are tasked to create their “Reject.” The character they will be using to battle the hordes of Chaos. Players can choose up to four classes in the beta build.

The Veteran Sharpshooter is a specialist soldier, armed with the ubiquitous lasgun and a trench shovel for melee. The Sharpshooter’s special ability lets them slow down combat and zoom into enemies for critical hits.

The Zealot Preacher is an Emperor-loving fanatic, armed with an autopistol and an axe. This class’ ability is to leap into the fray, axe swinging brazenly.

Next is the Psyker Psykinetic, basically a spell-caster class but futuristic. This class uses warp-induced psychic waves to literally burst the minds of enemies.

Finally is the Ogryn Skullbreaker. Fans of 40K, especially of the first Dawn of War RTS will recognise these giant mutants who can bulldose through opponents.

An RPG-inspired character creation system has been introduced alongside the classic Vermintide experience and equipment systems. Once a class is selected, we chose Sharpshooter, you have to select your character’s homeworld.

We’re not sure what exactly this changes for your character in terms of skills or attributes, but selecting Cadia as a homeworld unlocked unique glowing violet eye colour for our Sharpshooter.

Then players can choose a childhood, how their characters grew up and what were their defining moments before becoming a Reject, basically a prisoner of the Imperium of Man. Customisation is next.

There are scores of options to choose from but you can’t fine-tune the tiny details like nose size or eye width. You choose from a list of heads, hairs, scars, tattoos and the like. The character design is stylised and your character will look more like something out of a comic book than a real human.

So far the options aren’t as deep as other games with customisation, but there was enough in the beta that most of the other player characters we run into were unique.

Once your character is complete you can choose what crime they committed to get sent to space prison. This option basically only changes the colour of your jail jumpsuit and then you’re off into the world.

The Mourningstar and Tertium

After a quick tutorial on the basics, we were surprised to see our Sharpshooter in third-person.

There is a hub area where players can run around, buy equipment from stores – some were locked behind required experience levels – and select missions from a giant holographic map of the hive city of Tertium.

The hub area is a spaceship called the Mourningstar, and this is where your strike team of weirdos will set off from.

You’re supposed to feel like a rag-tag group of heroes, a similar feeling to the Vermintide games. And your characters will talk to each other quite dynamically. The gameplay is Left 4 Dead style, a four-person team shooting and slashing throngs of monsters that keep coming.

Players rarely have to use the chat function in the game because of the fine-tuned level design that funnels the players towards their next objective organically. The characters will also bark out when they see useful items like health packs and ammo drops, or when an especially dangerous enemy pops up.

This dialogue system, voiced by actors who seem like they’re having the time of their lives, caught us off guard numerous times.

For example, when you shoot another player’s character by mistake, their character can say something like “Hey, watch where you’re aiming, Sharpshooter!” Then your character will say, “Maybe I wouldn’t shoot you if you didn’t flail around so much!” It’s fun and intuitive and makes communication simple for players so they can focus on survival.

The city of Tertium and its twisting dark and putrid tunnels are brought to life by Fatshark’s design team. It seems the transition from the fantasy of the developer’s previous games to sci-fi has not been difficult and they bring the same love to Warhammer 40K Darktide.

Every corner has something interesting to look at. The levels drip with atmosphere thanks to the team’s usage of lighting and exquisite sound design. The music swells into a dark electro thump when your team stumbles into an ambush, but otherwise, the game is silent. Letting you soak up all the foreboding the city of Tertium can muster.

Sound design in the far future

The sound design in the Warhammer 40K Darktide beta is stellar. It brings everything you do in the game to a whole new level. From the frenzied voices of Chaos-mad cultists running towards you, the calm and collected vox calls of renegade soldiers, and the baying of giant hounds (which is very Left 4 Dead by the way) to warn you of their approach, everything is exactly what you would imagine the grim-dark future to feel like.

The sound design, coupled with the game’s distinctly jagged animation makes the lasgun by far and away the best laser in gaming, in our opinion. It feels like you have a volatile experimental laser in your hands, hissing with risk. The cracks and whines it makes as it’s fired accelerate our heart rates.

It makes us not want to switch to our melee weapon, but the melee is the star of the show just like in Vermintide. You will be using melee for most of the missions as you butcher hordes of infected zombies, lopping off heads and body parts.

It’s violent, it’s beautiful, and it’s a Warhammer 40K fan’s dream come true. Though we think there’s enough fun gameplay, characters and weapons all delivered without it being weighed down too much by extended lore that it will attract fans of Vermintide and anyone looking for a futuristic shooter.

If Fatshark can iron out the optimisation issues we encountered during the beta, as well as a few crashes here and there, we think they’ll have a hit on their hands. The game has controller support on PC and is scheduled to be released first on that platform and then on Xbox Series X/S soon after.

[Images – Fatshark and NVIDIA]


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