Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Anniversary Update (2023) Impressions

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide finally feels like a worthy Vermintide successor, albeit still a little directionless at times

I’ve spent the last three months playing Warhammer 40,000: Darktide on the Xbox Series S|X consoles – first delving into the “Class Overhaul” mechanics delivered in Patch #13 and subsequently The Traitor Curse “Anniversary Update” content. It’s been a transformative experience, as while I found the original PC launch in late 2022 had a solid framework and satisfying combat, it also felt incoherent and aimless. Returning now at the end of 2023, Darktide has finally evolved into a worthy Warhammer: Vermintide 2 successor, though it can still feel a little directionless at times.

Darktide The Traitor Curse Part 2

One element that has not changed is Darktide’s lack of a structured narrative, limited situational storytelling, and the inability to just play missions solo with bots to soak up the atmosphere and explore incredibly detailed environments (you can now enable private lobbies but can’t start without at least one teammate). That said, Fatshark has made strides in providing more character introduction cutscenes, expanded in-game mission dialogue from handlers, and added tons of banter between both different classes and those running the same class – much of it humorously reinforcing their diverse and clashing personalities. With The Traitor Curse content, you also get a new cinematic and two new missions set in “The Carnival”, which finally feature the traitorous captain of the Moebian 6th Regiment seen in the prologue a year ago (along with some new weapons and “stimm” consumables that provide temporary buffs).

That said, there’s still no clear campaign structure that provides an escalation of events toward some grand finale. You’re still just picking missions with various difficulty modifiers from a rotating list, with several objective types that can slightly tweak dialogue and the route you take through a half-dozen lovingly crafted locations. You slay so many heretics, mutants, and abominations it’s hard to believe any loyal citizens are left in Hive Tertium and, as you level up, you’re periodically summoned to meet new operatives and experience hints of a backstory that you have no direct impact on. Similarly, the new NPCs and services you unlock also provide a flashy introduction before reverting to a menu-driven interaction. There is plenty of character, style, and magnificently ridiculous Warhammer 40,000 architecture on display, but little sense of narrative progression.

Darktide Xbox Series

Of course, many wouldn’t bother critiquing the story or narrative context when Darktide is primarily about grinding increasingly harder missions, ideally with friends, to increase your operative level and gear score. In that regard, Darktide is a much-improved game, even if the focus on cosmetic rewards paid for using an optional currency is still there. Some developers seem to forget the majority of the player base doesn’t have the time or inclination to hit level 30 across all operatives in short order before starting the grind toward the perfect build but, thankfully, Fatshark has catered to both groups.

There are high-risk, high-reward Auric missions but simply getting each operative up to level 30 still provides a satisfying sense of progression for casual players. The flexible class system – with three specialty branches per operative and one skill point earned per level – allows you to mix, match, and reassign points to your liking as you craft your optimal build. Similarly, the gear system and an abundance of basic resources encourage you to frequently buy, sell, and upgrade class-specific melee and ranged weapons – allowing you to find your perfect combination to focus on enhancing later.

Darktide Class Overhaul

None of which would mean much if Darktide was not fun to play. The good news is it always had a solid foundation that has been refined and expanded upon over the last year. At its core, it’s still the Warhammer: Vermintide formula in a Warhammer 40,000 skin, so you’ll be moving through lengthy and often convoluted levels, completing numerous sub-objectives on the way to the main mission objective, all the while scrounging for supplies and fending off hordes of heretics, mutants, and warp-spawned abominations.

A dynamic “AI director” controls the flow of enemies and supplies based on your chosen difficulty, modifiers, and your team’s overall performance, so only a handful of scripted sequences ever play out the same way – and even then you can never be sure when a Chaos monstrosity will appear and ruin any defensive plan. Enhanced by the new class system, it’s a mission design that encourages teamwork as operatives stick together and play to their strengths – be that leading from the front with a Chainsword in hand, bursting the heads of elite enemies with psychic power, or holding off a horde from the rear with a twin-linked Stubber and several hundred rounds of ammunition. When playing with randoms, you still have to deal with the odd arsehole that charges ahead and pings maniacally, but thoughtful teamplay feels more common.

Wrapping up my current thoughts, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide has evolved into a much better game since launch and is easier to recommend, especially for those looking to move on from Warhammer: Vermintide 2 or those that just want a grimdark sci-fi alternative that captures the look and feel of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It lacks a clear narrative trajectory but the core gameplay loop and in-game banter – elements first pioneered by Left 4 Dead over 15 years ago now – makes for a dynamic co-op experience that always feels great to play. On top of that, you have flexible character- and gear-progression systems that feel rewarding even if you don’t have dozens of hours to sink into it.

As for my thoughts on the future, some sort of coherent story playlist mode for private coop parties and solo players would be nice, and maybe a rogue-like mode inspired by Vermintide 2‘s The Chaos Wastes.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide was played on Xbox Series S|X consoles using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and Game Pass.

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