Welcome to the 11th installment of the Game Design Spotlight, a weekly piece where I examine design elements of multiplayer titles, such as in-game color filter presets that make gameplay beautiful, and immersive quest design. Last week we looked at the chaotic use of the Battlecry by players in Chivalry 2 and its savory importance to the game. Today I walk us through Warhammer 40K: Darktide’s hybrid combat and its insane execution. during last weekend’s beta test.
“Vermintide with guns” is what I thought Warhammer 40k: Darktide would be when it was announced at Summer Game Fest 2022. Developer Fatshark even spoke at length about the comparison in a Blog and how their goal of overcoming that notion would be a difficult challenge without a benchmark.
After playing Darktide in the first large-scale beta test last weekend, I firmly I believe hybrid combat replaces that misconception that Vermintide players might have. Switching between melee, ranged, and items/abilities felt nice with the Vermintide model of multiplayer missions and is a fulfilling cycle; filled with horde-infested combat situations that brutally force players to adapt as necessary to better Where worse.
Beat you to a bloody pulp
As someone outside of the Warhammer 40K fanbase, I can’t speak to the precise implementation of Fatshark, but Darktide was visually stunning in its granularity. The locations inside the hive city of Tertium were grimly oppressive, with seemingly dangerous machinery and crumbling architecture naturally giving players the feeling that dangers lurk everywhere. And oh man they or they do.
You’ll hear the hurrying bare feet of zombie-like opponents swarming towards you in the next room, you’ll be ambushed as you turn corners and open doors, and experience an unsuspecting bomb rush by meaty goliaths and muscles that will ragdoll you across the arena. The safest place is always next to your teammates with your paltry gear, but hiccups will occur, leading to you getting beaten to bloody mush and peeled off the ground for the umpteenth time by one of your comrades.
The beta test difficulty seemed fair, though. Carelessly burning my ammo like Darktide endlessly throwing it in my direction created problems when dealing with pesky ranged enemies, and crazy threats in your face overwhelmed me if I didn’t use my melee weapon. Finally, I noted that hybrid combat inspires players to reflect on its chaos due to how easily you can get in a hole.
A hole where you feel like a one person army because you picked up Zealot: Preacher and let your character wear you down with his epic quotes (okay, that strength just be me). The thing is, Fatshark wants you to feel back against the wall all on your own, and teaming up is key. This methodology is crystal clear when you look at the type of game that Darktide is, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed if not everyone is on the same page.
The same feeling of teamwork is equally present when optimizing your weapon kit, inspiring you to find ways to use them as a team for various situations. A mix of enemy types, the type of mission you signed up for, and the group of classes you lead with contribute massively to the rotation players will settle into when swapping weapons.
I found partying with Veteran: Snipers made me feel good about saving my ammo for when they ran out because they are ranged combat specialists. Shielded enemies had me maneuvering through mobs of enemies with my weapon and ax to reach their weak spots. The separate objectives during the mission, whether it was holding a location or dealing with a mini-boss, always kept me on my toes as Darktide kept my team in enclosed spaces or large areas where the crowds flocked.
Moment-to-moment gameplay naturally empowers the player as you tame it, but will consistently hit you when you make the wrong call. Adapting to the nature of a strike force, Darktide really sells the vibe of venturing into the depths of a gruesome mechanical dredge to fish your target, and any wrong or right move can alter mission success. . For me it’s like a sacred great cycle.
A great loop
Darktide isn’t mindless fun – in my eyes – but rather a progressively fun title that gets better as you understand its nuances. Sure, that’s just from my perspective after playing the beta, but the wheel it has running requires more brainpower than slashing or downing enemies. Game verbs accessible to players are like a tool belt – albeit with fewer holding slots, but equipped with tools that shine better with how players use them.
Fatshark’s implementation of Darktide’s hybrid combat stays true to co-op experiences and feels layered with a terrific loop with many roles/choices at play. It’s fun, freaky, overwhelming, and hard to master, but in the together it fills the excitement of getting back into the fray to try again and improve with your teammates.
This wraps up another week of Game Design Spotlight! Did you get to test hybrid combat in Darktide last weekend? If so, which elements did you like best and do you have any comments for the developers? Let us know below! Also feel free to comment on any games or features you’d like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!