Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is worth revisiting after a year of updates

I’ve recently returned to Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, one year after the grimdark Left 4 Dead ’em up launched and eleven months after I stopped playing. It was always fun to tear through the grubby guts of a Gothic industrial megacity with your chainsword, but it became repetitive and its whole loot-o-crafting mess sucked. A year on, the loot and crafting still suck, but I’ve really enjoyed the variety added by new levels and weapons and the polish from a year of tweaks and quality-of-life changes. If you played Darktide on Game Pass (or bought it), consider another look.

I’ve played Darktide most days since the two-part launch of its anniversary update, The Traitor Curse. The game has reached that important point: I can play regularly without growing weary feeling I’m just doing the same thing over and over. It has enough variety of missions, settings, weapons, enemies, and surprises that I sink right into wonderful Left 40K Dead ultraviolence for an hour or two then still want to return tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Mostly it’s the new missions.

Missions added since launch explore places including a vast library and, most recently, a murky nightlife district inspired by Victorian London. To be clear, you’re still largely be doing the same stuff. You still fight through linear-ish paths to reach a point where you do one of the objective tasks—schlepping cannisters, scanning for doodads, purging infestations, or holding a point while waiting on a hack, door or lift—before fighting to another point to do another of those tasks or maybe killing a boss and then escaping. I’m fine with that. Darktide is plain fun to play. It’s Left 4 Dead in the ridiculous world of Warhammer 40k with all the mucky and weird spectacle I crave, and that’s great. It always was. It just needed more.


Grimdark ultraviolence in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.
My current favourite character is the Zealot who (with a setup cribbed from the Darktide build site) has an arsenal of survivability and maneuverability tricks to pull off clutch plays and saves, and does it all wearing scripture as handwrapsImage credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fatshark

The new area and new missions added with The Traitor Curse give me hope for future updates too. While the two full-length missions are mostly built around the usual beats, they spice those up with events like a low-visibility ambush in a smoky room, creating doors in walls using breaching charges, and busting up a drug lab. I’m always here to destroy giant scientific glassware bubbling with lurid green demon drugs. The update also brought a brief live event where cannibalistic cultist twins would drop into random missions to cause trouble before escaping. This led to a new mini-mission which culminates in a huge arena rumble against both twins at once, plus a horde of drugged-up terrors, plus toxic clouds you must avoid (not to mention the toxic mines one of twin tosses). I’d be dead pleased if developers Fatshark do more of this.

Even playing old levels is often different now. Over the year, Fatshark have expanded the ‘Conditions’ which can alter missions. These are effects such as flooding the level with smoke or making the AI director spawn more of certain enemy types. My favourite of the Condition additions and changes is ‘Maelstrom’ setups which turn several on at once. I recently faced the combination of a powercut reducing visibility to two metres, the spawnrates for Specialist enemies cranked up, annnd a chance for Specialists to spawn as weaker Monstrosities. A great time bumbling through a pitch-black maze with Chaos Spawn and Plague Ogryn rampaging all over. Fatshark have also added loads more dialogue options across the years, reducing repeated conversations. A few new enemies have arrived too.


Grimdark ultraviolence in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.
My go-to Veteran build buffs the squad by shouting out targets and swearwords, then whips out a plasma gun to casually pop big lads | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fatshark

Even if the mission were exactly the same, you might be quite different. An update earlier this year added a full skill tree you fill with points earned every level (up to the cap of 30). replaces the boring series of three options every five levels. The trees include whole new abilities and enable whole new playstyles, and the branches split and rejoin so you’re not forced down one single path. Effectively, it now has distinct but semi-freeform subclasses. I also appreciate that you can reach each skill branch’s final node before level 30, leaving you a handful of points to pick utility perks or lean harder into your build. Good skill trees. I’ve enjoyed exploring different builds, which are easy to swap between now that Darktide has loadout slots saving your gear, skills, and—praise the Emperor!—fashion.

I’m still not enjoying the craft-o-looting mess of random rolls for weapons and trinkets, mind. I enjoy the endpoint of having weapons customised with just the right perks and bonuses to suit your build, but it’s a miserable process—and a miserable journey. Starting a new character after hitting level 30 on others, I was surprised by the contrast of how terrible every weapon I found felt, even those I adored on other characters. You start finding weapons with higher stats and better perks as you level up, see, and many weapons feel absurdly unwieldy and impractical with low rolls. The Omnissiah would consider it heresy that your first experience with 40k’s iconic bolter is tempered with disappointment. Reliance on a good roll also discourages experimention, which is frustrating when many weapons came in numerous variants with different movesets (Fatshark keep adding more, too) and you really need to feel them to understand which suit you. While you can bumble through lower difficulty levels using whatever you find, having good gear feels great and can be vital in the tougher challenges—and those hard parts are hugely satisfying.


Grimdark ultraviolence in a Warhammer 40,000: Darktide screenshot.
Fighting the twins in the new special mission | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fatshark

Like too many live service games, Darktide could comfortably remove at least three steps, resources, or limitations from its gear systems. The tangle sprawls to include random stat rolls, random perks, rarity tiers, quality tiers, unconnected tiers of each perk, four currencies (one earned by playing, two picked up around levels, and one awarded by weekly quests), dismantling items to unlock perks for future crafting, a hard limit on how many times you can alter each item, two merchants whose limited stock changes with the passage of real-world time, and more. It’s miserable insecurity.

Games like this fear they are not fun or engaging enough, so they add chores and grind to keep us distracted and busy. Except Darktide is fun, and it would be more fun if it didn’t want me to do busywork to earn rolls on a slot machine. I think Fatshark expected the gear guff to provide long-term draw and satisfaction and counterbalance the repetitiveness. More than failing to do that, it actively pushed me away. So while the gear faff is still rubbish, Darktide has solved draw and satisfaction for me by adding a load of new stuff.

I’m not saying Darktide has become a game of infinite variety, but it’s enough. Fatshark have done enough. If you also bailed and planned to return once they’d added more, hey, now’s a great time to return. Might give you a good few hours of gut-ripping grimdark ultraviolence.


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