Darktide opens like many beautifully embellished Warhammer 40,000 stories before: with a legion of traitorous Chaos worshipers causing trouble. The massive hive city of Tertium is overflowing with hordes of zombie-style Poxwalkers, weapon-wielding preachers who spew blasphemous gospel, and boss monstrosities of all sizes and rift-powered that you’ll gleefully slaughter by the thousands as an enlisted convict. Only six missions are available in the beta at the time of this ongoing review, so I can’t judge the overall narrative yet, but at least the cheeky one-liners from teammates are pretty sharp so far.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide Steam Screenshot
Of the four playable classes, I’ve come to love the tank-like Ogryn Skullbreaker, a tall brute who can easily take down dozens of enemies with one heavy blow. That beefy stopping power never goes out of style either, as Darktide’s incredibly in-depth melee combat will constantly test your melee martial prowess. Light, heavy and special bindings are all chainable for brilliant results. It’s endlessly satisfying to quickly tear apart a dozen Poxwalkers, then block an incoming two-handed hammer blow from one of the more sentient foes before shoving them away. Better yet, dashing into range of an armored enemy to take down their shoulder pad, exposing a weak spot in the process, then dashing away before they can retaliate will almost certainly bring a smile to your face. Heck, I even had a good belly laugh after slicing off a poor turd’s arm because he examined the bloody stump before falling off like it was a piece of Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner – Darktide isn’t shy about tongue steadfastly – cheek moments like this. I’m not sure if Ogryn doing the whole “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” routine is intentional, but it’s still hilarious.
Unfortunately, getting into those intense close quarters reveals Darktide’s performance issues. My aging RTX 2080 is no longer a top-tier graphics card, but it’s not so outdated that the framerate should slow down to near-presentation levels as the bodies start piling up. Yes, Darktide is cute at times – I really like looking up from Tertium’s seedy underbelly to admire the richly detailed superstructures above. Still, it’s not a technical flagship that you’d expect to melt most modern PCs while every visual switch is down. Fatshark said it is well aware of the widespread demand for better optimization and patches are already on the wayso fingers crossed that Darktide works better when it leaves beta.
Thankfully, everything tends to stabilize once you’re taking out bad guys from afar. Darktide’s firefights may be less frenetic than its melee fights, but they’re no less exhilarating, largely thanks to the way its suppression system works. Shooting enemies who know better than mindlessly staggering on bullets will typically cause them to duck behind cover. Maintaining that burst makes their return fire sloppy, usually resulting in shells that miss you by several feet. That’s fair enough, though, since they can also suppress your team. There’s this cool risk-reward element to suppression that forces you to take cover and regain a locked trigger or draw a melee weapon while blitzing towards the shooter. Good heavens, giving up some mutant’s orbital bone after they’ve made it nearly impossible to shoot you never gets old, particularly when a John Carpenter-sounding synthesizer track filled with catchy metal clangs commemorates the occasion.
I wouldn’t sink 18 hours into a chugging limited pre-order beta like this under normal circumstances, but Darktide is hard to put down. The thunderous hand-to-hand battles, the delicate long-distance exchanges, and that very delicate balance between these two methods of killing keep pulling me back even when most of the campaign isn’t out yet. Hopefully Darktide will keep up that exciting momentum as all content unlocks ahead of its full launch and even the worst performance issues are ironed out, but I’ll have my final review shortly. after release in both cases.