The suffocating darkness of Warhammer 40,000’s grim future isn’t where one would typically seek a breath of fresh air, but I emerged from each session of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide invigorated nonetheless. From the vicious-yet-dark melee brawls to the head-butt-inducing synthwave trails that explode throughout intense firefights, this four-player co-op FPS from developer Fatshark often makes me smile like an idiot. While Darktide is still receiving updates and new content during its pre-order beta window, sluggish performance issues are the only thing that’s dampened my excitement for its full release next week – but even those issues don’t diminish the glory that comes with the chain – sword heretics in two.
Darktide opens like many other wonderfully over-embellished Warhammer 40,000 stories before it: with a legion of Chaos-worshipping traitors causing trouble. The sprawling hive-city of Tertium teems with hordes of zombie-like Poxwalkers, armed preachers spouting blasphemous gospels, and misshapen, rift-powered monstrous bosses of all sizes whom you will happily slaughter in their thousands as a conscripted convict. Only six missions are available in the beta as of this current review, so I can’t judge the overall narrative just yet, but the cheeky banter from teammates is pretty sharp so far, at least.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Steam Screenshots
Of the four playable classes, I’ve come to love the tank-like Ogryn Skullbreaker, a large brute that can easily knock down dozens of enemies with a single blow. That brawny stopping power never goes out of style, either, as Darktide’s incredibly deep melee combat will constantly test your melee martial prowess. Light, heavy, and special attacks can all be chained together for brilliant results. It’s endlessly satisfying to quickly slice and chop a dozen Poxwalkers into pieces, then block an incoming two-handed hammer blow over the head of one of the most sensitive enemies before knocking them back. Better yet, dashing into range of an armored enemy to knock off their epaulette, exposing a weak spot in the process, then dashing in before they can retaliate will almost certainly make you smile. Heck, I even let out a good belly laugh after chopping off some poor turf’s arm because he examined the bloody stump before falling off like it was a piece of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner—Darktide isn’t shy about talking tough—plays up moments like this. I don’t know if Ogryn doing the whole “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” routine is intentional, but it’s still hilarious.
Unfortunately, getting into these close exchanges reveals Darktide’s performance issues. My admittedly aging RTX 2080 is no longer a top-notch graphics card, but it’s not so outdated that the framerate should slow to near-slideshow levels when the bodies start to pile up. Yes, Darktide is pretty sometimes – I like to look up from Tertium’s seedy underbelly to admire the richly detailed superstructures above. However, it’s not a technical showpiece you’d expect to melt most modern PCs when every visual toggle is at a minimum. Fatshark said he was well aware of the widespread call for better optimization and fixes are already on the wayso fingers crossed that Darktide works better by the time it leaves beta.
Luckily, everything tends to level off once you take out the bad guys from afar. Darktide’s firefights may be less frantic than its melee combat, but it’s no less exhilarating, thanks in large part to how its suppression system works. Shooting enemies who know better than to mindlessly dash into bullets will usually cause them to hide behind cover. Maintaining this barrage makes their return fire sloppy, usually resulting in projectiles missing you by several feet. That’s completely fair, because they can delete your team as well. There’s this fantastic risk-reward element to suppression that requires you to either take cover and find a steady trigger finger, or pull out a melee weapon while barreling towards the shooter. Good heavens, collapsing into some mutant’s orbital bone after they’ve made you nearly impossible to shoot never gets old – especially when a John Carpenter-sounding synth track full of catchy metallic noises commemorates the opportunity.
I wouldn’t dive 18 hours into a limited pre-order beta drinking like this under normal circumstances, but it’s hard to put Darktide aside. The thunderous melee battles, tactful ranged exchanges, and that ever-so-delicate balance between these two methods of killing continue to pull me back even when most of the campaign isn’t over yet. I hope Darktide maintains this exciting momentum as all content unlocks in the lead up to its full launch, and its worst performance issues are also ironed out, but I’ll have my final grade soon after the release of any way.
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