Welcome to the 11th installment of the Game Design Spotlight, a weekly piece where I examine the design elements in multiplayer titles, such as in-game color filter presets that make the game beautiful and immersive quest design. Last week, we looked at the chaotic player usage of battlecry in Chivalry 2 and its flavorful importance for the game. Today, I'm guiding us through Warhammer 40K: Darktide's hybrid combat and its crazy-good execution during last weekend's beta test.
"Vermintide with guns" is what I believed Warhammer 40k: Darktide would be when announced at Summer Game Fest 2022. Developer Fatshark even spoke about the comparison at length in a blog and how their focus on exceeding that notion would be a tough challenge with no reference point.
After playing Darktide during the first large-scale beta test last weekend, I firmly believe the hybrid combat supersedes that misconception Vermintide players might have. Swapping between melee, ranged, and items/abilities felt great with the Vermintide model of multiplayer missions and is a fulfilling cycle; packed with horde-infested combat situations that brutally force players to adapt where necessary for better or worse.
Beating You To A Bloody Pulp
As someone outside of the Warhammer 40K fanbase, I can't speak on Fatshark's accurate implementation, yet Darktide was visually stunning in its grittiness. Locales inside the hive city of Tertium were oppressively grim, with seemingly unsafe machinery and crumbling architecture naturally giving players the sense that dangers lurk everywhere. And oh boy, they do.
You'll hear the hurried naked feet of zombie-like adversaries swarming toward you in the next room over, get ambushed when turning corners and opening doors, and suffer an unsuspecting bomb rush by fleshy beefed-up goliaths that'll ragdoll you across the arena. The safest place is always next to your teammates with your paltry equipment, but hiccups will happen, leading you to get beaten to a bloody pulp and peeled off the floor for the umpteenth time by one of your mates.
The difficulty of the beta test felt fair, though. Carelessly burning through my ammo as if Darktide was endlessly throwing it my way created issues when dealing with pesky ranged enemies, and madly in-your-face threats overwhelmed me if I didn't use my melee weapon. Eventually, I noted the hybrid combat inspired players to think through its chaos because of how easily you can put yourself in a hole.
A hole where you feel like you're a one-person army because you chose Zealot: Preacher and let your character gas you up with their epic quotes (okay, that might just be me). The point is, Fatshark wants you to feel like your back is against the wall by yourself, and teaming up is essential. That methodology is clear as day when looking at the type of game Darktide is, but it's easy to get overwhelmed if everyone isn't on the same page.
Building Player Autonomy
The same feeling of teamwork feels just as present when optimizing your weapon kit, inspiring you to find ways to use them as a team of tools for various situations. A mixture of enemy types, the kind of mission you signed up for, and the group of classes you run with contribute massively to the rotation players will settle in when swapping weapons.
I found partying with Veteran: Sharpshooters made me feel comfortable preserving my ammo for when they went empty because they're specialists in ranged combat. Shielded enemies pushed me to maneuver through mobs of enemies with my gun and axe to reach their weak spots. Sectioned-off objectives during the mission, whether holding a location or dealing with a mini-boss, always kept me on my toes as Darktide kept my team in enclosed spaces or vast areas where mobs poured in.
The moment-to-moment gameplay naturally builds player autonomy as you get the hang of it, yet will consistently smack you down when making the wrong call. Fitting the nature of a strike force, Darktide truly sells the vibe of venturing into the depths of some horrid mechanical dredge to fish up your objective, and any bad or good move can shift the mission's success. For me, it feels like one heck of a great cycle.
A Formidable Loop
Darktide isn't mindless fun - in my eyes - but instead a progressively fun title that gets better the more you understand its nuances. Of course, that's just from my perspective after playing the beta, but the wheel it has going requires more brain energy than chopping away or gunning down enemies. The game verbs accessible to players are like a tool belt - albeit with fewer holding slots but fitted with tools shining best with how players use them.
Fatshark's implementation of Darktide's hybrid combat stays true to co-op experiences and feels layered with a formidable loop with many roles/choices in play. It is fun, panicky, overwhelming, and hard to master, but overall fulfills the excitement of jumping back into the fray to try again and get better with your teammates.
That concludes another week of the Game Design Spotlight! Were you able to test the hybrid combat in Darktide last weekend? If so, what elements of it were your favorite, and do you have any feedback for the devs? Let us know below! Also, feel free to comment on games or features you would like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!
About the Author
Anthony Jones is a gaming journalist and late 90s kid in love with retro games and the evolution of modern gaming. He started at Mega Visions as a news reporter covering the latest announcements, rumors, and fan-made projects. FFXIV has his heart in the MMORPGs scene, but he's always excited to analyze and lose hours to ambitious and ambiguous MMOs that gamers follow.
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