Vermintide 2 shamelessly wears its influences on its sleeve. A love letter to both Left 4 Dead and Diablo, the game casts you as a party of characters fending off an invading army of rat-men (called Skaven), orcs, and all sorts of nasty beasts that want to tear the world to shreds. While that pitch might sound generic, strong multiplayer systems and enjoyable combat make Vermintide 2 a blast as long as you’re playing with other people.
After a short prologue, you pick your hero. Each one is essentially a class, and all of them fall squarely within fantasy tropes; the dwarf swings a big axe, and the elf snipes foes from afar with her bow. However, all the characters have well-defined personalities, and the exchanges between them as you roam the levels of Vermintide 2 are amusing as they bicker, comfort, and even compliment one another.
Each hero’s skills are unique and make the different classes feel distinct, even if you are mostly just chopping your way through hordes of monsters. My personal favorite is Kerillian, the dual-blade wielding elf who also regenerates health and fires homing arrows that can do massive damage. I also like jumping between the Battle Wizard, capable of showering foes in disintegrating flames, and the pistol-wielding Witch Hunter Captain.
Each character also has two subclasses, giving you ample opportunity to develop your style of play further. My Kerillian flirted with being a close-quarters, stealthy character capable of stalking foes to deliver devastating backstabs. However, I didn’t care for that playstyle, so I switched back to her original focus on archery. Vermintide 2 offers enough flexibility and variety here for most players to find a character they’ll like.
(Please visit the site to view this media)
Vermintide 2 has a large stack of levels, all of them taking about half an hour to finish, with the goal being to get from one end to the other to accomplish some objective. Sometimes that means freeing prisoners from cages, while other times it’s solving a puzzle or taking on a boss. Every environment is varied and pleasing to the eye, so I never felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. My favorite section took place in a destroyed village on a mountainside, with parts of houses and interiors being suspended over a great chasm.
At the end of each level, you earn a set amount of experience (even if you fail, which is nice), as well as a lootbox. Vermintide 2 has no microtransactions, but the lootboxes contain random pieces of equipment. You can upgrade the the quality of loot with tomes and grimoires, which boosts your stats and damage-dealing properties. However, the objects need to be carried to the end of a stage, and they make the game harder (like cutting down everyone’s health bar). This creates a satisfying metagame of risk and reward for players who want to play levels over and over to earn the best loot.
The combat is satisfying enough to kill the boredom of repetition from doing these levels repeatedly. The bodies of your foes fall realistically and gruesomely, with sideway slashes tearing apart limbs and heads, and you can almost feel the thunk of an axe as it splits a rat in half. When hit by fire, enemies screech and turn to a pile of ash. Occasionally, you have the horde of weak enemies descend upon you, and if you’re together as a group, it’s easy to cut through them and create this disgusting (but highly entertaining) blender effect with bodies and blood flying in every direction.
Vermintide 2 is a hell of a time, especially if you’ve got a dedicated group. You can play with random players and still have a great time, as the lootbox design of the game rewards players for working together and teaching one another how to play, but Vermintide 2 shines the most when you’re working with a skilled team who know where all the secret items are and have strategies ready to go to take down the nasty bosses. In these moments, the game goes from being a fun, dumb romp to a thrilling experience that requires tactics and cooperation to earn your party a victory.
However, the intensity of the matches can be thrown off by wonky difficulty scaling. Bosses are the biggest problem. In every level, there’s a chance you’ll encounter one or more bosses. Sometimes it’s a bullet-sponge creature that deals heavy damage; other times it’s a fragile monster that’s capable of downing you in a single hit. One of them is particularly nasty: the Spawn of Chaos. This monster not only has a ton of health and takes little damage, but is also capable of grabbing one of your party to feast on them and recover health. While it’s fun and intense to scream panicked orders and pleas, the game has a habit of stacking the odds against you in a frustrating manner.
Unlike the Director A.I. technology that made Left 4 Dead’s dramatic boss fights feel well-placed and satisfying, Vermintide 2’s equivalent is more random. One time, my party used up all our potions and supplies defeating a Spawn of Chaos, only to turn a corner and find another one waiting to kill us. Another time, we proceeded through a level and didn’t fight a boss at all. The randomness felt more like it detracted from my experience than added to it, with a number of my matches coming to an end that felt unfair.
Even more disappointing than that lack of balance is the lack of consideration for those who want to face the Skaven alone. Vermintide 2 has bots that take the place of your fellow players, which is useful if you only need one to help draw away the horde. But playing with a full set of bots is not recommended. They’re just not smart, and are often incapable of being there when needed. You can probably get through earlier levels with them but in the harder stages, you essentially need other players to help you.
Vermintide 2s’s co-op delights are gruesome fun, especially if you have a dedicated group of friends to take on the horde of monsters and level up your characters. The bloody thrills of working with fellow players to shred entire armies of foes into meat makes this grisly battlefield surprisingly fun (if unsettling) place to spend time.