In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
I think it’s fair to say Warhammer 40,000: Darktide hasn’t put its best foot forward. Ahead of launch, it had an early access beta for anyone who preordered—hopefully producing lots of helpful data for the dev team, but also giving a buggy first impression to hordes of fans who seemed to take it as the finished product. And then, when the full launch did arrive, it still left core progression and crafting feeling unfinished, and introduced an immediately controversial microtransactions shop. Its Mixed review status on the Steam store page is testament to a community rife with concerns about the game as it stands today.
Do I share some of those concerns? Sure. Does any of that matter when I’m down in the hive, chopping up heretics by the score? It does not.
Even more so than the Vermintide games, Darktide overwhelms you. Enemies descend in ludicrous numbers, with absolutely monstrous specials stalking the sidelines to keep you forever off-balance. Every match is a desperate fight for survival, supremely satisfying to overcome—but it also sings in every swing of your weapon and squeeze of your gun’s trigger. It might be the best feeling game of the year, its chunky sound effects and brutal animations perfectly blending into a ballet of grimdark violence.
When I’m out there, feeling that, reveling in the chaos, worries about loot tables and crafting requirements are washed away in a flood of mutant gunge. I’m playing not to unlock the next weapon type or talent slot, but just for the pure love of it—which, despite anything else, is an excellent state for a co-op game to find itself in.
The thing is, we know Fatshark is in this one for the long haul. Vermintide 2 was a transitionary game for the studio—though it has supported it for nearly five years (and has committed to continuing to do so), it wasn’t built in the mould of a modern live service game, still more tied to the template of the one-and-done first game. Darktide is a different beast, designed from the get-go to benefit from regular updates that push the action and the narrative forwards.
OK, so it’s never going to be Destiny with chainswords, but that long-term commitment does put my mind at ease—it means there’s plenty of time for those systems round the edges to be refined, improved, and expanded, and with the benefit of community feedback. For now, it’s all ephemeral, and all that really matters is whether the core experience is a solid foundation for that work. And it is, because, like, it feels good when you hit the little men with your sword, you see.
The icing on the cake is that what is also well in place is the game’s sense of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. At a time when fans are speculating frantically about the announcement of TV shows in the setting, it’s worth appreciating quite how well Fatshark has nailed its adaptation. While the actual story is oddly thin, there’s a wonderful authenticity to the hive city of Tertium and its many horrible inhabitants. Sharp and funny dialogue, delivered with gusto and a grab bag of regional British accents, infuses the oppressive, gothic environments and dystopian character designs with delightful personality, and while the Dan Abnett-penned lore behind your adventures is rarely explicitly stated, its presence is clearly felt in how it underpins everything around you.
From the tattered uniforms of the traitor guardsmen, to the dusty hangars of the lifeless outdoor zones, to the computational arrays made out of a thousand wired up human skulls, Darktide performs a magic trick precious few Warhammer games achieve: it makes the setting feel authentic without diminishing its ludicrousness. The grandiosity of 40K is reinforced by its utter, bleak seriousness, but also undercut by its ridiculous excesses and tongue-in-cheek satire. Tertium, home to an endlessly churning war both vital to humanity’s survival and blackly funny in its futility and impossible scale, is a perfect monument to that tone. One minute it invites you to look up in awe at one of its ostentatious set pieces, the next you’re chuckling at a gallows humour one-liner from your character. Those working on these upcoming TV projects could learn a lot from a few matches.
All of which is to say, I think this really is the best Warhammer 40,000 game yet—and it’s all the more exciting to know this is just the start of its journey. If you’re annoyed about your Penances, struggling with your weeklies, and counting down the minutes on your shop timer, I’m with you. But just have a little patience and it’ll all work itself out—want to do another Heresy level run with me to pass the time while we wait?