Fatshark pretty much came out of nowhere a couple of years ago with what is arguably one of the greatest PC games ever developed. It also had one of the silliest names when it came to overblown pomposity.
Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide.
It was a tie-in to the End Times event that saw the Warhammer tabletop game morph fatally into Age of Sigmar, and a damn fine take on gameplay pioneered by Left 4 Dead. Four adventurers, hordes of the Skaven rat-men, and lush, challenging levels to negotiate from point A to point Z.
Vermintide II - the Warhammer moniker is still there, but the End Times have now pretty much come and gone (look, the Warhammer timeline was always pretty damn fluid, but over the last ten years it's gotten downright sloppy), but the adventurers remains, and now there's a whole new blasted city to fight over, in, and through.
In a lot of ways, the heart of the game hasn't changed at all. Before every session you start in your hidden keep, where you can indulge in a bit of light crafting, play around with weapons and gear, and queue up for a fight. You can seek a Quickmatch, or get more detailed with game modes and difficulty, and as other players join your session, you pass through the mystical Bridge of Shadows to wherever the next fight is. This could be in a forest of towering trees and choked ravines, the undersewers of Helmgart, or in its fields and streets. The variation in setting and terrain keeps the game fresh, and with only four slots for five different adventurer classes, the game's quite adept at offering a lot of replay value.
Each match offers waves of villains, singular bosses, and every combination in between. Watching a horde of Skaven pour out of a sewer or over rooftops, or a mob of chaos foot soldiers storming up a hill, provides a singular thrill, and a constant sense of barely hanging on. Every one of the five characters has both ranged and melee modes, and watching your supply of arrows - yes, I always play the elf, what of it? - run out faster than the bodies you're trying to shoot down is pretty epic. Then you just draw your sword - or spear, or daggers, or... - and wade on in.
Each character now also has a special ultimate style ability, but there pleasantly underpowered compared to games like Overwatch. They're still useful, but they're not game-winners.
There are also more ways to customise your character than before. There's more equipment to fuss over, and each character now has three archetypes they can further specialise in, each with their own special ability and cosmetic look. And on top of that, there are talents to invest in and unlock as you level up.
All in all it's a richer, deeper experience.
But, then again, that pretty much describes the bugs, too.
Fat Shark is a small development outfit, and while they're very good at what they do, Vermintide 2 feels a much less polished product than its predecessor. Connection issues are always going to be present in a game that's built around a host/client model, but in this game it seems particularly fault-prone. If the host drops, it's impossible to switch to a new one, and so disconnects are pretty fatal. And I've been getting a lot of disconnects.
On top of that, the various bosses in the game - giant skaven, chaos spawn, trolls, and all manner of large beasties bestowed with a huge supply of hitpoints - are ludicrously hard to take down. It's doable, but the effort seems massively out of proportion - it's like the exist only to make sure you run through every potion and explosive you have, so the next normal fight is that much harder. Just hammered away at these monsters for minutes on end is kinda boring, and if you have even just one bot in your team, it's nigh impossible. On top of that, the complex terrain these fights can happen in further add to the frustration, as you get stuck on a slim vertex of architecture and pound to death by a character animation that's phasing in and out of the game.
The game still offers just as many moments of sheer, over-awed and joyful panic, but the 'just one more game' draw of the original is tempered by the fact that the next game could crash your entire buzz.
I've no doubt that Fat Shark will overcome these issues, but for now... I think I've made my last effort to save Helmgart.