The suffocating darkness of Warhammer 40,000’s bleak future isn’t where one usually looks for a breath of fresh air, but I’ve come away from each session of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide feeling renewed nonetheless. Whether it’s the vicious yet darkly comedic melee combat or the head-bop-inducing synthwave tracks blasting through intense gunfights, this four-player co-op FPS from developer Fatshark often makes me grin like an idiot. While Darktide continues to receive updates and new content during the pre-order beta window, sluggish performance issues are the only thing that has dampened my excitement for the full release next week – but even these issues don’t diminish the brilliance that comes with the chain. -sword heretics in two.
Darktide opens like many wonderfully over-the-top Warhammer 40,000 stories before it: with a legion of Chaos-worshipping traitors causing trouble. The massive hive city of Tertium is overrun with zombie-like Poxwalker hordes, gun-toting preachers spouting blasphemous gospel, and all sizes of misshapen, rift-powered boss monstrosities that you’ll happily slaughter by the thousands as a conscript. Only six missions are available in the beta as of this ongoing review, so I can’t judge the overall narrative quite yet, but the cheeky teammate is pretty sharp so far, at least.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Steam Screenshots
Of the four playable classes, I’ve come to adore the tank-like Ogryn Skullbreaker – a tall brute that can easily take down dozens of enemies with one hard swipe. That brawny stopping power never goes out of style either, as Darktide’s shockingly deep melee will consistently test your hand-to-hand combat prowess. Light, heavy and special attacks can all be chained to brilliant results. It’s endlessly satisfying to quickly slice and dice a dozen Poxwalkers, then block an incoming two-handed hammer swing from one of the more sentient enemies before pushing them away. Even better, darting into range of an armored enemy to knock off their shoulder pad, exposing a weak point in the process, and then running away before they can retaliate will almost certainly make you smile. Heck, I even let out a good belly laugh after dropping some poor sod arm because he was examining the bloody stump before falling over like this was a Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner bit — Darktide isn’t shy about his tongue fast-in. -cheek moments like this. I’m not sure if Ogryn doing the whole “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” routine is intentional, but it’s still funny.
Unfortunately, getting into the busy exchanges up close reveals Darktide’s performance issues. My admittedly aging RTX 2080 isn’t a top-tier graphics card anymore, but it’s not so far out of date that the framerate should drop to near-slideshow levels when the body starts piling up. Yes, Darktide is pretty at times – I like looking up from Tertium’s sinister underbelly to admire the ornately detailed superstructures above. However, it’s not a technical showpiece you’d expect to melt most modern PCs while all visual switches are on the low end. Fatshark has said that it is well aware of the widespread demand for better optimization and patches are already on their wayso fingers crossed that Darktide runs better when it leaves beta.
Fortunately, everything tends to stabilize when you pick out ugly things from afar. Darktide’s firefights may be less frenetic than the melee, but they’re no less exciting, thanks largely to how the suppression system works. Taking shots at enemies who know better than to wallow in bullets will usually cause them to hide behind cover. Keeping that lock on makes the return fire sloppy, usually resulting in projectiles missing you by several yards. It’s pretty fair though, as they can also suppress your team. It’s this wonderful risk-reward element of suppression that forces you to either find cover and regain a steady trigger finger or pull out a melee weapon as you bolt at the shooter. Gloriously, throwing yourself into a mutant’s orbital bone after they make it nearly impossible for you to shoot never gets old – especially not when a John Carpenter-sounding synth track filled with catchy metal sounds commemorates the occasion.
I wouldn’t sink 18 hours into a limited pre-order beta as tough as this under normal circumstances, but it’s hard to put Darktide down. The thunderous melees, tactful ranged exchanges and the ever-so-delicate balancing act between the two killing methods keep drawing me back even when most of the campaign isn’t out yet. I’m hoping that Darktide will maintain its exciting momentum once all the content is unlocked ahead of full launch, and that the worst performance issues will be ironed out as well, but I’ll have my final review soon after release anyway.