It's a good time to be a Warhammer fan at the moment. From the upcoming strategy-masterpiece-in-the-making Dawn of War III, to the tactical team shooter in space, Space Hulk: Deathwing, whether you like your Warhammer to be more swords and sorcery or 40k sci-fi, there's something for everyone at the moment - with games that are good enough, you can get stuck in even if you're not really a massive Warhammer fan. If you've ever set foot into a medieval fantasy role playing game like Skyrim or Oblivion, the chances are the slightly awkwardly named Warhammer: The End Times - Vermintide may have caught your eye, with a very similar look and feel, from its bustling harbours to quiet countryside on show. However, despite how much it may look like a fantasy role playing game, Vermintide actually plays out rather differently - as we found out, when we went hands-on at gamescom.
Instead, Vermintide plays out more like a Warhammer take on Left 4 Dead, with fairly linear levels, lots of enemies, and an emphasis on co-operative play between you, and a group of friends or AI companions. Taking on the Skaven, the rat-men "vermin" from the title, it's up you to hack and slash your way through a series of 13 levels, each of which is around 40 minutes long. As an added bonus for console players to make up for the delay (the game's been out on PC for some time), the console version will include the Drachenfels expansion free of charge, which features three all new levels set in a dark and brooding castle, and which set PC players back £5.99.
As a four player co-op adventure, the developers have been clever here, and have included five playable character for you to choose from, each of which with their own strengths and weaknesses. Why five? Because in a four player game, one will always be the last to join the session - and the team wanted to be sure they'd have a choice too, a nice touch for a game that's designed to be played with friends. Although one disappointing thing we should note before carrying on - there's nothing in the way of split-screen (boo!)
Of the five characters on offer, it was the Bright Wizard we played with the most - and she's also one of the most interesting characters in the game. Although all characters will have a melee and a ranged attack, the Bright Wizard's ranged attacks are a little bit different. While guns will have ammo, she instead uses a magical staff to shoot fireballs at enemies, effectively giving her unlimited ammo. Well, almost. The more you use her spells, the more a bar at the side of the targeting reticule will fill up - if it gets to the top, your Bright Witch will be overcome by the fire she channels, and explode! In actual fact, it turns out you can even use this as a valid battle strategy - what better way to clear out a room of particularly tough enemies than by detonating yourself in a blaze of glory? Just be sure you have a friend nearby who can resurrect you... On easy, you have unlimited revives - but when playing on hard, you'll be proper dead after a single resurrection.
No matter which character you choose, though, you'll always be playing alongside a team of four players, with computer controlled characters filling out the other slots - something the team told us is essential to how the game plays out. As a lot of effort's been spent on building enemy AI, your foes will do all they can to divide and conquer, splitting you up, and using intelligent strategies against you - so it'd be a bit unfair if you had to fight back on your own. One, the fantastically named Ratling Gunner will target one player relentlessly, forcing you to work as a team to take him down. Meanwhile, the team also boast that their "director driven" AI will see how you play, and actively try to use it against you, exploiting the weaknesses in your strategy.
However, there is one part of Vermintide that's set our alarm bells ringing - the developers have been keen to play up the game's difficulty. One of the options for customising your characters is the game's collectible hats - however, these are only available on the hard difficulties, which seems a bit unfair for those of us who are less gaming-ly challenged. Luckily, the game will also be receiving a regular stream of weekly quests, some of which may reward you with a hat for your trouble.
Set for release on the 4th October, Warhammer: The End Times - Vermintide promises to bring a solid co-op challenge to consoles. We'll bring you a full review nearer the date.