When the high-priced Winds of Magic expansion released it promised much but, ultimately, underdelivered for many fans. It introduced the Beastmen and their unique elite units, but there was only one new location and one new difficulty. Rather, it focused on game modifiers to keep each run fresh but these soon felt limited given that you were retreading the same locations. Chaos Wastes – a free expansion available now on PC and coming to consoles later – gives us the best of both worlds.
The Chaos Wastes expansion has a rogue-lite structure, the highlight being the ever-changing route stitched together from fifteen new locations. You are required to survive an entire run in order to claim the rewards at the end. These diverse and often stunning locations give players a much-needed change of scenery in which to slaughter the hordes. The four Chaos Gods may curse each location, further influencing the atmosphere and enemy variants you face (in addition to minor path changes that occur regardless).
If you’re a die-hard Vermintide player, there’s a good chance you’ve long since lost interest in the simple narrative and focus entirely on the gear grind (which the Chaos Wastes expansion provides for). However, for newcomers or those returning since launch, the Chaos Wastes expeditions are framed as a “pilgrimage” to the Citadel of Eternity. A mythical location in the Chaos-infested northern wastes, where the Gods will grant aid to the righteous warriors that request it.
There are entirely new conversations and short quips for each hero. They discuss the pilgrimage, the environments they find themselves in, and their individual beliefs. Victor Saltzpyre, who initiates the quest, remains as entertaining as ever. While the other characters irreverently discuss their pragmatic beliefs, he remains as inflexible and judgemental as ever. The dialogue may have no bearing on the gameplay, but solo players will enjoy a bit of additional lore and entertaining character interactions.
These pilgrimages kick off from a new mini-hub – accessible from Taal’s Horn Keep – with a mission table, all the facilities you need, and several shrines to each heroes primary God. Accessing the mission table allows you to matchmake, pick your difficulty, and either adjust the severity of the Chaos presence or the dominant Chaos God (this was unclear in the preview build).
You start on one side of a diorama – your base of operations on one end, the Citadel of Eternity on the other – and travel down branching paths that expand and then converge towards the end. These can be standard combat maps or smaller shrines, each randomly assigned several attributes on each run. The dominant enemy type, elite numbers, Chaos curses, and the boon awarded for completion of the stage are all considerations when you plot your route.
Of course, the core gameplay in Vermintide II has changed little since launch. Select your hero, team up with friends/randoms/bots, cut down everything between the starting point and exit. The new maps and objectives in Chaos Wastes don’t deviate too much from this formula. You’ll still find plenty of stand-your-ground scenarios as you wait for some objective timer, but the greatest threat remains the frequent hordes and annoyingly sneaky elites that can catch your team off guard.
What makes life slightly easier is the linear nature of the new maps. There seem to be far fewer open locations for ambushes, and plenty of opportunities to back into a corner or only cover two directions. Certain elite combinations can make any location a deathtrap, but dealing with basic hordes felt easier than in the base game (regardless of your chosen difficulty).
Another feature that can aid your party on its journey is the ability to collect “pilgrimage coins” and use them on altars that grant random boons or new replacement weapons. These can be weapons with a higher power level than your current one (or just a more suitable weapon type for the hordes), while there are dozens of potential boons that can bolster your team. Shrines can also be used to summon elite monstrosities that’ll pose a hefty challenge to your team – even at full strength – but offer their own set of weapon-based boons that you can pick from.
Any new gear, boons, and miracles are persistent across a single run. Like most roguelikes, stages in the Chaos Wastes get tougher as you progress but simply surviving to receive a new boon can keep you ahead of the difficulty curve. Teamwork, hero power level, and equipped gear remain important, but they’re no longer the only factors to consider. The other motivating factor is completion which, unlike in the prior modes, guarantees high-level gear (the upper power limit dependent on your chosen difficulty)
Visually, the Chaos Wastes look fantastic – tainted by ruinous powers or not – despite the game being 3-years-old now. Each new location is every bit as detailed as those found in the main campaign. As a realm of Chaos, there’s even a lore excuse for the rapidly changing biomes and climates. The visuals, gory animations, and complementary music still make Vermintide one of the most visceral first-person melee games.
I came away from several hours of solo play and one multiplayer session impressed by how much content is on offer and how polished it feels. There were occasions that enemies spawned in the scenery or performed an animation in midair, but this is standard fare for these horde-based games and has little impact on gameplay.
My biggest concern was the lack of any way to “save and quit”, preserving your progress during a run. I’m hoping I missed it because while these levels are shorter by Vermintide standards, you’d still need to find a team willing to play 7-8 stages continuously, over several hours, in order to make meaningful progress with your characters and gear grind.