It was about time I sat down and wrote one of these. As per the title, I want to present my perspectives on the Halloween event and the recent Chaos Wastes (CW) update. This will be a bit of a lengthy post and at times rather philosophical in nature. Very specific gameplay considerations and suggestions will be noted down for the Grudge Marks in the corresponding Stats and Attributes sections. As far as gameplay goes, everything is to be understood with reference to Cataclysm difficulty.
This is the best event I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience in the Vermintide games. Regarding firstly its presentation, I have to say that much like the Red Moon Inn of the previous adventure, Taal’s Horn Keep has become something of a second home. I am quite happy to just roam the keep, enjoy the music, the nocturnal ambiance and the pumpkins.
As for the game itself, ever since I understood that Vermintide II was to offer a new enemy faction alongside the Skaven, i wondered what it would be like if they had an artifact of their own that changed the way we play. Skaven have their grimoires which gnaw the bearers of their vitality and, in a twist that may or may not be deliberate game design (delightfully diabolical if so, by the way), in exchange offer to the player the illusion of a better reward. The Rotbloods have only really had the Blightreaper so far, an artifact with which we interact very briefly and with little impact on the adventure’s end. But for this event they have something that is even better than a festering tome of their own. A cursed skull that, once taken in possession, greatly empowers all of our enemies, from the rats scurrying for their burrows, through minions and monsters up to the Chaos Sorcerer who took residence in Castle Drachenfels. By itself this change immediately turns the game into a much tighter cooperative experience and, without being overbearing or exaggerated in its proportions, brings combat back to the style that made the original Vermintide so memorable. The heroes need to stay together, manage their positioning and advance with a lot more care. It becomes vital to separate roles between frontliners who keep the hordes at bay and sharpshooters than can quickly eliminate specialist enemies. Weapons that aren’t usually top picks in normal adventures, like shields, dual swords or flamethrowers become invaluable here for their ability to stagger, cut through and burn much more resilient waves of enemies. While in a sense it proves that it is impossible to bring all weapons on (nearly equal) footing in a given game mode for a given set of parameters, it is a fresh and welcomed change. And the skull itself is simply hilarious in that morbid sort of way things in Warhammer Fantasy usually are. For those more contemplative in nature, the mountainside vantage of Castle Drachenfels is a perfect place to gaze at Morrslieb, twirl the skull on the hero’s fingers and listen to its grave tidings.
The Chaos Wastes & Grudge Marks
A couple of by now ancient games like Unreal and Severance: Blade of Darkness share a strikingly similar legacy with each other. They are usually considered as being groundbreaking feats in terms of graphical technology, but otherwise rather lackluster in terms of the gameplay experience. However, the reason why they still have a cult following to this day has less to do with practical aspects and more so with the fantastical and phantasmagorical qualities of video games. A very rare feat in the industry that these games perfectly exhibit is the depiction of a spiritual journey. In Unreal, it is the ascension of a convict from the surface of the planet Na Pali, where their prison ship crashed, back up towards the stars. Along that voyage, this convict takes on the mantle of a messianic figure prophesied to deliver the Nali people from the alien invaders who have enslaved them. In Severance, the journey is very much in the opposite direction. It follows the pilgrimage of a lone hero who seeks the blessing of a goddess, such that they may safely descend past the gates of the underworld and avert an encroaching apocalypse. I bring this up because it is the precise reason why I find the CW expansion to be so compelling. It has less to do with Warhammer in general or even Vermintide for that matter, and more-so with how beautiful and thought-provoking the basic premise is. A selfless and in many ways hopeless expedition within one of the most dreaded places of the world, with every single odd stacked against the heroes, guided only by the vague belief that at the journey’s end there might be a chance to commune with benevolent deities. And assuming further that, should they be willing to listen, they might be inclined to deal a good hand for once. All the while, in the back of our minds we cannot help but ask if the whole endeavor is not some twisted joke or terrible mistake. After all, of the deities who actively oppose our efforts, one is a god of delusions who delights in nothing more than witnessing failure, even that of his own followers, for it reinforces just how much they need him, and the other is the aspect of despair, specifically of embracing despair under the promise that once it is accepted, the accompanying suffering will go away and give room to bliss. As an overall presentation, the entire expansion echoes of Kerillian’s words from the previous game, specifically her mentioning of realms of dream and nightmare. The same tower can be perched by its lonesome, forlorn under the majesty of the night sky, or it can shift between hellish and idyllic reflections depending on whether or not our heroes had the misfortune to draw the eye of the Chaos Gods.
If the players’ goal is to progress in their undertaking, the expedition presents them with a series of very complex decisions. We only know what to expect at the end, but the path there must be decided on the fly by weighing through the advantages and downsides of our options. Not all maps are equal, and there are many risks that need to be accounted for when considering how their layout interacts with the enemies that have taken residence there, how their ranks are structured and whether or not a curse is present. Ultimately, if our goal is to win, we need to find the right balance between minimizing risks and seeing how far we can get away with by gambling on good fortune. And it is rarely a case of making the right decision, as opposed to simply standing by what we believe to be not the worst possible decision. However, what used to happen in practice prior to the update was that players would tend to reduce the process described above to three considerations. Namely, they would look for “+pilgrim coins”, Slaanesh curses in the hopes of those floating things that go wubwub followed by the mandatory question “farm?” and Shrines of Fortune, specifically for the Miracle of Smednir. More often than not, banking everything on greed in public games led to disaster as people would end up on a difficult map with a really bad curse and not much worthwhile in exchange for all the extra coin. No amount of money and boons can really make up if basic skills and game sense are sorely lacking when things get out of hand.
The one great change that came out of the Grudge Marks update is that Chests of Trials have become so risky on their own that overnight people have become willing to at least listen to and process arguments in favor of caution. If we keep the end goal in mind, which is to beat the expedition rather than just the immediate lure of money, sometimes it is worthwhile to opt for a map that has more modest rewards, but certainly provides much lesser risks as well. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy or that things won’t backfire later on, but it’s certainly a very nice change in approach from the monotone hunt for more money. About the concept behind the new monsters, I can have nothing but good words. They remind me of the unique enemies of Diablo II, with their weird names and ever different arrays of enchantments and traits. In the following, I want to give some feedback in regard to their stats and abilities, once again underlining that I am specifically referencing Cataclysm difficulty.
My understanding is that all monsters that are marked deal 20% extra damage, have 50% extra health and have a 70% decrease in knock back distance. The extra damage is fine in my opinion. By the time they venture into Cataclysm, players should know how to avoid most of the attacks of a monster, and if they don’t then they can let the pain be their teacher. In regard to knock back resistance, I would suggest however a slight reconsideration and perhaps a reduction of the value, towards something like maybe 50%. My argument is based on the impression that many maps were designed with monster ledging in mind as a viable strategy. Very often chests are placed along narrow or perilous edges and there isn’t any real option to find more ground nearby for a fight. Skipping a chest in the second half the expedition if the area around it looks too dangerous can be a wise decision, but I think that at the very beginning they are absolutely critical if the expedition is to have any chance of success. As an example, if an early map ends up being the Pinnacle of Nightmares and the chest is found on the edges of those snowy precipices, then if for example it summons a Spawn of Chaos with the Illusionist mark, then if that thing doesn’t fly off the map in 30 seconds, everyone is dead and there isn’t anything to be done about it. It can still be ledged in the current conditions, but it’s extremely difficult and encourages people to specifically put a lot of emphasis on careers that can knock monsters back.
The most pressing problem is in my opinion the extra health. Again, it is fine in the second half of an expedition. By then people have some gear and hopefully between the four of them have gathered enough power and abilities to compensate for that buff. At the very start however, 50% is an extremely punishing value. Unless everyone prioritizes monster damage in their choice of careers and weapons, the fights can drag on forever and sometimes through multiple waves of hordes and specials, while also possibly enduring the effects of a curse. The worst such situation that I’ve encountered so far was that of a rat ogre having the illusionist attribute and who was joined a while later by a bile troll spawned from Tzeentch’s crystal egg. Having 50% extra health and 3 illusions running around simply took an unreasonable amount of time to deal with the ogre, then the troll showed up, then the horde signal was heard and it’s easy to understand what followed. Keep in mind that upon opening the chest the situation was completely in the clear and we had a full timer ahead for the next egg. Would it have been wisest to skip the chest? Certainly, but it was the very first chest of the run and things weren’t going to get any easier later on without it. So, I would suggest to keep the extra health bonus for the second part of the run, but consider either lowering it or outright removing it at least for the very first map. On Cataclysm the health pool alone turns the fight into a complete slog when all you have is basic gear and a power level of 450 units.
All of the marks taken individually range from powerful to extremely powerful. Given the relatively small pool and the fact that they stack in combinations of up to three leads to situations that feel like an extremely steep game of rock-paper-scissors that simply has no sensible solution in terms of traditional gameplay. My very first encounter with a monster having three marks was in the Citadel of Eternity. Of course it would have been wisest to simply skip that chest as no one in the group was particularly powerful and those narrow corridors and terraces don’t offer much space for involved fights, but the rest of the group wanted a challenge. They got in the form of a bile troll having Rampart, Relentless and Invincible, i.e. a monster with respect to whom most group compositions can only answer by running away. No other realistic interaction options are given in a situation where the monster has an ungodly health pool and innate regeneration on top of being impervious to staggers, ranged damage and melee damage periodically. You can’t spend all night chipping away at it in tight chambers getting constantly swarmed by beastmen and disablers. Your only options are either to never touch the chest (which begs asking why does it even exist in the first place in that instance), or touching it only to run away and hope for the best. It’s too much of a risk even for powerful groups and leaves no chance for improvement in the case of more modest expeditions. My second encounter was in the Arena of Fortitude with a Regenerating, Illusionist and Invulnerable rat ogre. Long story short, our bounty hunter died instantly in the chaos and our grail knight held his ground for a while until he was overwhelmed. For the most part, these players spent the event tied up, watching myself as the battle wizard and the moonfire handmaiden continuously dash and firewalk through the arena causing as much mayhem as possible in turn with our fire damage. When the event was exhausted, we managed to free them and we all ran for the portal with the rat ogre and its illusions on our tails. Even just by itself and with such a powerful group, fighting that thing isn’t a reasonable option given the frequency with which illusions show up. It can be done, but it takes way too long and it’s too risky to be worthwhile. Below I will go through all the current marks and present my ideas for tweaking them, the goal being to give players options in regard to interacting with them as opposed to simply shutting down any approach and putting emphasis on careers that can just run away from monsters indefinitely.
Shadow Step: this one feels quite alright to me. It can lead to a monster avoiding damage but it does so in a way that isn’t overly punishing or prohibitive. It promotes a bit of caution and timing of abilities, so all in all I think it’s a really good mark in most combinations. I’ve yet to experience anything particularly aggravating with it.
Illusionist: it’s extremely punishing and many times lacks counter-play. Vermintide Ii is not an isometric arcade game where we have full awareness of our surroundings at all times and the freedom to move about as we please. Very often we are stuck with a limited perspective and are quite constrained in the ways we can move and control our characters. Some can cover distances quickly mostly in the horizontal plane, but no one can make any real, reliable use of vertical motion in order to reposition or avoid damage. As the illusions deal the full damage of the marked monster and also share all of its other marks and traits, I suggest a couple of changes. For example, they could have a single hit point, so they vanish upon receiving a single attack of any type that deals damage to them. Another option would be to have a single illusion that inherits a proportion of the monster’s health and perhaps damage. Three of them warping around randomly, sometimes behind players without any form of warning and dealing all the other mayhem that the original monster can dish out is just way too much for the values of their health pools and the fact that many other things can be happening at the same time (hordes, specials etc.). Dealing with multiple monsters is a daunting task for any group, and without any measure of control on the conditions of the encounter aside of once again never touching the chest it’s just too much.
Relentless: this one is mostly fine in a vacuum. The problem is mainly given by map layouts (tight spaces or narrow edges that present no alternatives) in tandem with synergies along other marks. It could perhaps compound as an additional knock back resistance over the base value (reaching back up to the original 70%?). I would suggest immunity to stagger in specific phases (a spawn’s grab attack, a troll’s vomit hurl, an ogre’s or minotaur’s flurry of attacks and so on), but I imagine that would be quite cumbersome to implement.
Mighty: another overall fine mark. It becomes problematic when compounded in a combination that makes attacks unavoidable, but that is mostly due to the marks referenced later and not so much this one itself. I think the visual cue could be a bit more clear. On a map infected by Nurgle’s miasma it’s sometimes really difficult to make out.
Vampiric: largely as above. The mark is fine by itself, it’s punishing if attacks are unavoidable but while it can make a fight take longer, it doesn’t break gameplay options in any capacity.
Rampart: in the current iteration it completely removes ranged play from existence for the encounter, bar the odd situation of ranged DoTs still applying. 50% extra health alone makes monsters extremely resilient and in my opinion it feels very arbitrary and strange to deem a career alright for the whole rest of the game, but it is not allowed to manifest for one particular encounter. I would suggest for example that instead of damage immunity, it’s simply a high value of ranged damage reduction, maybe 50%. Ranged careers can still make use of their best abilities before having to engage in melee, the fight takes longer and is more involved but it doesn’t degenerate in three people whacking a monster’s butt all night while the fourth keeps aggro.
Invincible: maybe change the name to Resilient and have it, as above, simply be a flat damage reduction of maybe 50%. Therefore, if it compounds with Rampart it does indeed amount to ranged immunity and partial melee immunity for that given time interval, but the players aren’t being taken completely out of the game. The fight lasts way longer, the mark is still relevant, but it doesn’t just reduce to a situation where you can’t do anything at all.
Crippling: I believe that this attribute currently applies even to a successful block, which implies that flurries of attacks from rat ogres, spawns or minotaurs become inescapable if you get touched once. 5 seconds is an extremely long duration and it’s likely to get you killed regardless of what your defenses are, particularly when adding on top of other marks. Therefore, I would consider making it not apply on a successful block (the guard isn’t broken) and also I would consider maybe giving it an internal cooldown, so that a player cannot be chain-crippled into oblivion. You get crippled once, but if you manage to endure the punishment, then you have a chance to escape before getting crippled again. Much like how many talents and traits of the players have internal cooldowns preventing them from a chain spam.
Shield-Shatter: the single most broken mark of the whole selection and essentially a death sentence if placed on a minotaur or chaos spawn. What is most puzzling to me is that it completely removes any distinctions between careers in a game that was built from the ground up on the idea that there exist multiple careers with vastly different play styles. You cannot equalize a pyromancer having a flimsy ceremonial dagger and no investment in any form of defense (stamina, block cost reduction, parry etc.) with a one-dwarf shield wall, particularly when we aren’t talking just about any dwarf, but the right dwarf fully clad in gromril and with a few years of experience in handling shields over umgi with scraggly beards. I would suggest that shield-shatter simply amounts to double stamina damage, with perhaps additional penalties inflicted if the guard is broken. Therefore, characters with weak and moderate defenses get pancaked, but heroes that have invested everything in defense have a reason to exist and can still buy valuable time for their good fellows (or drengbarazi) to come up with something. Otherwise, the only thing to do is play a career than can run away from the monster and hope for an escape once the exit is in sight or the arena timer runs out.
Regenerating: potentially a really strong mark in all sorts of combinations, but again not something to be terribly hindering or prohibitive. I think it’s fine for the purpose of extending fights and putting pressure on the heroes to continuously apply damage, though it can lead to absurd situations as the one described above with the rat ogre.
With this thread I wanted to offer some appreciation for the game in regard to aspects that maybe aren’t always brought up or easily visible from the surface. I’ve also suggested some changes to the Grudge Marks update, the idea being to keep things challenging for the players while also providing them with meaningful options based on their choice of careers and kits. This update was very much needed and has immense potential to change the game for the better, but I feel that at present it is extremely punishing and removes most reasonable options from the table aside of just running away from monsters or resorting to silly things like mass Morgrim bombardments. Which is funny, but I think it’s the sort of cheese that we wanted to remove in the first place. I think that the overpowered (and underpowered, for that matter) boons specific to CW would need some tinkering as well, but as this post has already dragged on for long enough, I wish to end it here and thank you for your time.