‘Warhammer 40,000: Darktide’ preview: a gory sci-fi power trip

'Darktide' is a frantic romp through the worst Chaos has to offer

As someone who is largely unfamiliar with the Warhammer franchise – other than being forced to watch a childhood friend paint figurines at a middle-school sleepover – I didn’t really know what to expect with action-shooter Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. Despite that, it took just one incredibly bloody hands-on preview to sell me on Fatshark‘s boldest title yet.

Darktide is a co-op horde management first-person melee/shooter set in a the sci-fi horror universe of Warhammer 40,000. While Darktide is ostensibly founded in horror and tension, we never felt overwhelmed: there was nothing our weapons – a lightning-spewing hammer and an assault rifle – couldn’t make quick, bloody work of. The hammer is a responsive powerhouse of a weapon, while every bullet fired from the rifle packs an emphatic punch.

Everything from the weight of attacks to hitboxes to the flow of levels felt refined. The melee is buttery smooth, and enemies are dangerously sharp, which is impressive with how many of them are trying to carve you up at once. The larger brutes get knocked back and stunned, and the whole experience leads the player to feel an awe-inspiring sense of being a hero — though it was revealed this power fantasy we were playing a pretty easy run catered for journalists.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. Credit: Fatshark.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. Credit: Fatshark.

At most points of the level, which was in a massive, dank facility with a daunting sense of scale and verticality, we would be funnelled into areas where buttons had to be pressed or machines would have to be activated while enemies would flood in from every opening around. Co-operation is crucial in Darktide, especially during these tense moments that require a mini-game-style approach to tackling.

One of these machines involved shuffling symbols up and down rows on the screen of a device, which required another player to carefully watch my back as I figured it out. The final area was a symphony of different types of enemies, items to lug and place correctly, and heads being crushed and exploded by every weapon under the suns. Like my favourite hammer, the grenades feel irresistibly powerful to throw and have a hefty area effect that turns an entire floor into a fiery minefield to trap enemies. You’re always mobile, as bullets and health are finite, and you have to look for new stashes to pull from if you’re running low.

Developer Fatshark’s head designer, Victor Magnuson, tells NME that the game will launch at $40 (UK pricing not yet available), and the developer will add levels and perhaps even classes post-release. After launch, players can expect paid cosmetic content, but Magnuson says that nothing which could divide the playerbase will be locked behind a price tag. Darktide is also structured so that players can play parts of the campaign separately, but can still jump in for individual missions. This means that being able to team up isn’t reliant on how far along each single player is in the campaign.

No matter which class you pick — you can select a personality to attach to your character. Characters will progress as you play more missions, and dialogue will change as you chug along. Fatshark has emphasised the massive amount of recorded dialogue, with characters offering nearly endless patter, depending on which classes are paired together and how far along the personality has progressed. The studio added that it wants to support Darktide – and maintain a playerbase – for years, and judging from the strength of this preview, that could indeed be the Emperor’s will.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide launches for PC and Xbox Series X|S on September 13.

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