With 72 hours in-game, Darktide’s biggest problem is a lack of confidence. What I mean is that the game does not seem confident it can keep players around WITHOUT padding the content and progression in ways that, even to casual players, are easy to notice; they’re just outright blatant.
The randomized weapon shop, for example, is blatant padding, especially with its hourly refresh. I am not the only player unlucky enough to wait multiple level-ups before being able to try out a mediocre roll of a newly unlocked weapon.
The amount of weapons has also been padded out, with half of the arsenal being variants of the autoguns and lasguns and basic close combat weapons like axes and swords. Not that variants are unwelcome, just that the weapon variety is pretty lacking, especially with obvious picks for this type of game missing. The inability to wield a pistol and a close combat weapon also seems odd; there was a rapier and pistol combo in Vermintide 2 and how often do you see anyone in 40k wielding just a pistol or just a sword?
Many of the maps are reused to increase mission variety in what I would say is a pretty clever reuse of assets, but just like the weapon variants is an easy way to raise the numbers. Unfortunately, there is not enough variety in the actual gameplay objectives within these missions. The assassination boss battles are identical as are the minigames, hacking consoles and carrying cryonic rods from point A to point B.
Repetition is somewhat unavoidable in this kind of game, though, so it’s not the biggest deal.
The problem with the game’s content padding is that when combined with its progression padding, everyone is going to realize just how little is actually there as they replay the same levels over and over again. The game does not want you to take your time with it, to get your friends together like you would for Left 4 Dead and then bang out a couple distinct campaigns for the evening.
In these kind of coop horde shooters, being able to alternate between loadouts and playstyles is what makes replaying them so much fun, especially with friends. Left 4 Dead accomplished this by having weapon progression within each campaign. Building upon the genre, progression, perks, loadouts and so on have been included in the Tide series alongside other neighboring games within this genre. This adds increased depth, control, and variety for the player.
But progression systems often hook players into playing for progression’s sake. Since player retention - keeping that player count up - is a metric that can be measured by investors, progression systems have often been ruined by the pursuit of maximizing this hook, dragging out that initial climb up the ladder to a point of satisfying completion.
If Darktide’s game design was more confident, player progression would not feel like such a chore. Progression presently only unlocks the possibility of new weapons, it does not guarantee you’ll get any with good or viable rolls, especially on the higher difficulties. Every weapon has a power level, perks, modifiers, and stat bars that can result in a large variance between rolls, in everything from damage to ammo count.
If Darktide’s game design was more confident, players would progress not to increase their odds of getting the weapons they want, but to work towards upgrading their weapons in ways they can control. But this kind of system must worry the developers or the publishers, as it doesn’t have any of the malicious psychological hooks of the current system.
But it works for games within this genre. Deep Rock Galactic weapons - how you unlock them is clear and easy to follow. Once you acquire them, you can upgrade them, and for the end-game, you can upgrade them with overclock perks that can really change the weapon’s performance. That game does not even have that many weapons, but is very replayable, has little issues with player retention, and does not rely on randomization outside of randomly generating its missions - a far better use of randomization then how we see it employed in Darktide.
Imagine if the game design was more confident. As a Veteran, you’d upgrade your starting lasgun or one of the early unlocks, tuning how it performs and, wow, maybe even selecting between multiple attachments? The current variance between the starting type of lasgun and its later versions could easily be adjustments a player can make through weapon progression. In regards to lasguns, one could work towards a high-capacity, low-energy use per trigger-pull, rapid-fire carbine or a low-capacity, high-energy use per trigger-pull, almost long-las rifle, or anywhere in-between.
I won’t get carried away here, but is it really that hard to imagine a more typical weapon progression system in this game?
Vermintide 2’s randomized weapons and loot system worked better within that setting, where modifications and adjustments aren’t really an option. Fantasy is just a better home for these Diablo-style mechanics. Plus, the chest system insured every mission you completed guaranteed you a roll. And if you worked for it, that roll could be buffed and so on. Plus, the crafting mechanics offered far more control there.
Darktide, however, is meant to be a hybrid combat game of shooting and melee, in a setting where there exists millions of variations of every weapon in the setting.
There’s a serious missed opportunity within the game for a more sane, less deceptive, more PLAYER-CENTRIC weapon progression system. And one that could probably hook into the same malicious psychology as the present system, without being as blatant.
For example, instead of the base weapons being subject to timed random rolls and so on, their upgrades, adjustments, and attachments were?
I don’t think such a system would be unrealistic from Fatshark. Most of the weapons have multiple variants already, based on the same model. These variations could be mix and matched easily in a customization and upgrade system. Maybe they originally were going to act this way, but the game must release, and so they scrapped this.
I enjoy the core gameplay of Darktide, but I have to admit. Despite how much I like this game and hope it evolves into something great, I’m praying that the developers enable mod support as they did in Vermintide. There is a lot of potential with this game as a base for future content. That’s what they want to do with this game being “live service,” right? But the ultimate “live service” games do not lock players into their virtual amusement park; they act as a base for the continued release of both official and unofficial content.