Warhammer 40,000: Darktide—gameplay, trailers and everything we know

Vermintide 2 is one of our favourite co-op games, but with Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, Fatshark is switching from fantasy to Games Workshop’s sci-fi setting. 

That’s right, it’s time to pick up a chainsword and do battle in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. Expect to fight hordes of enemies in the claustrophobic depths of a hive city alongside your friends, while enjoying banter and a story co-written by best-selling 40K author Dan Abnett.

When is Warhammer 40,000: Darktide’s release date?

Darktide will release on September 13. While initially scheduled for a 2021 release, it was yet another game pushed back by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have a responsibility to deliver the best game we possibly can, and frankly we need more time to accomplish this goal,” Fatshark CEO Martin Wahlund wrote. “It is no secret that building a game during a pandemic is a challenge, and we are not immune to this.”

The subsequent delay, from Spring 2022 to its current release date of September 13, was explained in a press release as being because “To us here at Fatshark, it’s paramount that we deliver the best 4-player co-op experience possible.”

You can sign up to a newsletter on the official site, and it’s currently available to wishlist on Steam. It will be coming to GamePass on day one.

Who are the player-characters?

Darktide’s gameplay trailer debuted at The Game Awards in 2020, and gave us a look at four characters: an ogryn (an oversized descendant of humans sent to harsh, high-gravity worlds generations ago), a hammer-wielding religious zealot who may well be a confessor or some other servant of the Imperial faith, and two soldiers who seem to be veteran members of the Imperial Guard. One of them wore a face mask like the kasrkin, elite storm troopers from the planet Cadia. We got a closer look at them in the release date trailer.

In an Edge magazine feature we saw another class: a psyker who draws psychic power from the warp, but may well explode if they rely on it too much. That article also mentioned Darktide will have a character creator, and the classes can be customized, with different faces and loadouts, though their dialogue retains personality and each has their own likes and dislikes.

Fatshark have been tight-lipped about the playable characters. We know they’re agents of the Inquisition sent to investigate heretical goings-on, but how many classes will we be able to choose from?

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Either way, we know from our interview with co-writer Dan Abnett that we’ll be starting the game as essentially a prisoner, “an unwilling recruit into this life of serving the Inquisitor. You’ve got everything to prove, and I suppose everything to lose.” The warband will also include NPC professionals who “are kind of using you as cannon fodder.”

Inquisition Acolytes serve as lowly assistants to Inquisitors in 40K fiction. Acolytes are great for a game because they come in many archetypes, and there’s an acolyte hierarchy (acolyte, proven acolyte, trusted acolyte, throne agent and so on) that would serve nicely as a progression system. We know from Edge’s feature that Darktide will indeed contain leveling up, and that characters’ dialogue will change to reflect how seasoned they are.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Who are the enemies?

Uh oh, it’s Nurgle. The Chaos god of pestilence, who has a surprisingly good sense of humor, tirelessly experiments with new strains of disease with the ultimate aim of inducting everyone into Nurgle’s garden: a festering organic plane of existence in which everyone and everything is subject to Nurgle’s experiments. You do not want to go to Nurgle’s garden.

In Darktide we’ll be facing a cult of plague-worshippers called The Admonition, who seem to be thriving. The hordes in the trailers are poxwalkers, the zombie masses of 40K, and make sense as low-level fodder in a Left 4 Dead format. We also see well-armed cultists, some of whom can be identified as traitor guards given the autoguns they’re carrying and the armor they’re wearing, though they have modified it with spikes because of course they have.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

There’s a glimpse of a hulking boss at the end of both the gameplay trailer and the writer reveal, a one-clawed creature with a long tongue and its guts hanging out. That could be a daemon, an infected ogryn, or a Chaos spawn like those in Vermintide.

A dog leaps out of the darkness in the trailer, presumably a Chaos hound. There are plenty of other servants of Nurgle from 40K that would work in Darktide too. The roly-poly Nurglings would be good fodder, and hilarious. Plague Marines would make good bosses. A Great Unclean One could serve as a big campaign finale, though it’s unlikely a squad of plucky Acolytes would stand any chance against one of those large, large lads.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Just tell me about the weapons

Fatshark excel at melee combat, and the gameplay trailer shows some familiar animations for that. One of the veterans wields an iconic 40K chainsword and the other a power sword, the zealot has a thunder hammer, and the ogryn a real big knife. That last one may sound underwhelming, but it’s a blade the size of an ordinary human being. The psyker apparently gets access to a force sword.

Darktide has more of a focus on ranged weapons than Vermintide, however, and it seems like we’ll be modifying our loadout with plenty of those. Multiple characters in the trailers have autoguns for continuous fire, and there seems to be two lasguns, one a sniper’s long-las. There’s also some kind of shotgun or perhaps just a real heavy-duty autopistol. The ogryn’s sawn-off grenade launcher also doubles as a melee weapon, which is nice. One of the other characters hurls a frag grenade to break up a horde at one point as well. 

We know from Edge that plasma guns will feature, and given that it’s a 40K game, boltguns are a dead cert for inclusion.

“As we’ve seen in Vermintide, players really enjoy tweaking their loadouts,” creative director Anders De Geer told us. “And since we have a lot of great modders, they also want to tweak individual weapons, talents and other stuff. So we are working with a system right now that will allow players to have way more freedom than they had in Vermintide to customise their toolkit when they go into a mission.”

(Image credit: Fatshark)

The hive and the hub

Darktide is set in a hive city called Tertium. Hive cities are awesome. They’re vast, layered cities populated by a diverse population of warring gangers, corrupt diplomats, and a few billion hardworking folk who tend to die quite quickly. Planetary governors and senior Imperial agents enjoy good living at the top of a hive city’s spires, while in the tangled underhive corridors that form the bowels of the city, citizens form gangs and battle for territory.

Among Tertium’s locations are an underground water market, well-lit habzones where the billions huddle close together, a much less well-lit prison, service tunnels that connect the guts of the hive, and the gothic walkways that span its heights.

It’s a good place for Nurgle to do his work. A Chaos-instigated pandemic can take down an entire planet if allowed to fester, so the stakes are high in Darktide. As a location to explore, hive cities risk being eternally dingy, but there is potential to mix up the architecture a lot, from grandiose and gothic Imperial buildings, to more utilitarian spaces reminiscent of Alien.

The maps will change, too. Return to a friendly corner of Tertium later and a gas leak may have driven out the inhabitants, or they might have been replaced by the Admonition.

Between missions we’ll be returning to the Inquisitor’s starship in low orbit to collate the clues we’ve gathered, tinker with our gear, talk to NPCs, and select the next mission from those available.

“You’ve got a place that you can talk to the other members of the team and the other characters,” says Abnett, “the important members of the warband. And also improve yourself and get new kit and get briefed and all those sorts of things that you would expect to be able to do in a game.”

It’ll also have players beyond those we’re grouped with in it. “The starship is much bigger in the sense of player count than the Vermintide hub,” game director Anders De Geer told us. “It’s more of an actual hub with NPCs and people to interact with, but also other players of course.”

Will it tie into the 40K lore?

Fatshark is used to close collaboration with Games Workshop from developing the Vermintide games, and has Abnett on hand to keep the lore straight. In addition, the writing team includes a bunch of other names 40K readers might recognize: John French, Sarah Cawkwell, V J Hayward, Mark A. Latham, Jude Reid, and creative consultant Matthew Ward, who also wrote for both Vermintide games.

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