A few days ago we caught up with the Fatshark team and chatted with them about Vermintide 2, the latest iteration in this Warhammer world. With expectations running high who would have the mettle to run us through the Skaven hordes?
Who is carrying me through this run and what else do you do in Vermintide?
My name is Mats Anderson. I am a game designer heading up the action team. So I focus on weapons, enemies, abilities. All the gory and impactful stuff that happens in the game.
What’s new in Vermintide 2?
At its core, it’s a continuation of the story of the heroes of Ubersreik in the first game. What we’re doing is introducing the Chaos faction as another part of the enemy hordes. The Skaven has allied themselves with a Chaos Norscan tribe, which are these like rough Viking marauders type guys that are completely corrupted and almost zombie esque.
We’ve also introduced a much more granular, and smoother, progression system. In the first game, we gave you new weapons in order for you to find new weapons, but that was kind of the extent of it. Here we have talent trees and we have a much more granular approach. You get more loot and do more stuff with it.
Beyond this we also wanted to prepare Vermintide’s core systems for the future, to allow us to keep working on it for much longer.
Loot was one of the core criticisms of the first game, was that something you took on board when approaching Vermintide 2?
For sure. I think we were we quite honest and aware what the limitations of our games. So when we looked back at Vermintide 1 we knew how massive, or not, the loot system in that was. We definitely wanted to do something that gave a stronger sense of progression and gave a smoother ride for the most part.
You have to look at progression from different perspectives. You have both the initial player and the journey to kind of reach your peak, wherever that is. That could be the end game or if it’s playing through normally, it needs to meet halfway. You need to have a way of introducing new mechanics and have a way of tuning your playstyle to account for that.
Then you have the end game balancing that allows diversity. This is important, especially since Vermintide is a four-player co-op game and it is a team effort. So, you need to have that discussion like ‘ok, I’m going to get myself like this and you can do that and I’m just going to meander around myself’.
Although the Skaven are great, why choose to introduce Chaos? Did it provide an opportunity for greater variation in the types of enemies that we are going to see in Vermintide?
So there is a simple answer to this. Anders, the game director, likes Chaos. I do think that the reasoning went further though. As you said, the Skaven are the Skaven and while we are bringing in different Skaven units for Vermintide 2, we also wanted to take another part of Warhammer and bring that to Vermintide. We wanted to get that kind of variation in gameplay because having something that is quite different, in this case, these big tough guys rather than small weak rats, gives us an opportunity to challenge the player in a different way. You have the combination of different enemies, and rather than just slicing through hordes of enemies, somewhere down the line you go THUD, your weapon stops, and you realize the Chaos are here. It helps to change things up.
It has been a big challenge to get that gameplay because we want to keep the same core game as near to Vermintide as possible but more fun and with completely different enemies. It was really tricky but I think we got it right. Now we can mostly mix and match things how we want and the gameplay just comes together because of that work.
During our hands-on time, we’ve been wandering around a bright open environment. It’s a drastic change to the claustrophobic town of Ubersreik. Was that also a deliberate decision to mix things up?
There are two answers to this really. One is the game design and level design side of it. With the topology of these levels, we wanted to create a more expansive feeling and introduce more variation in there, which kind of goes hand in hand with a variation of the enemy types. What we want to do is create this thing where levels have clearly separate typologies, and different parts, where you can go into an expansive forest and then go into a town to get that contrast.
The other part of it is just we have a great team they are just super awesome at what they do. You can go to them and ask for something like this and they just constantly astound you. So, the time we spent working with them on Vermintide 2 allowed us to create more subsets of the different environments. A lot of the DLC work we did for Verminitde’s DLC gave us the know how to do this. For some of the expansions, we built snow levels and open spaces which gave us the ability to start to bring in that variation here.
So it is the same engine that the game is using this time around?
Yes, we’re basing it on the same kind of engine and code base.
How does that impact the way you create the game?
A lot of that goes into the workforce. As you build the teams in the studio, we become more efficient and better understand how everything works. It allows us to build iteratively. We can change stuff on the fly. For example, we can slow down the game in the middle of an enemy attack, go into the code and write a new function for things, because I might want an enemy to follow me a little more closely before coming up here and hitting me and make the camera tilt down. The result would be that the impact would feel really massive. That allows us to do a lot in a very short time frame.
Talking about how things feel in the world, how do you keep the career abilities from spiraling off into the realms of high fantasy?
I think a natural sort of thing happens when you talk about career abilities because people might jump to the conclusion that all this is an ultimate, and an ultimate sounds epic. It can lead to people thinking that it should be a case of pressing a button, watching the animation, and everything dies. The thing is, Vermintide 2 is a co-op game and even though it has a slight air of fantasy, we want it to be grounded and grim. We wanted it to be meaty, so what we did was we tried to ingrain this into the combat system by making careers another subset of tools in the game.
For instance, take the knight’s charge. We want that to be something that has a clear use, but you should have multiple uses for it depending on a situation. So we put it on a fast cooldown, allowing you to use it to charge through hordes of enemies or maybe to get to a fallen teammate. You can use the charge to stagger a big boss or just to run away and complete a level as your teammates lie dead around you.
We have three careers for each character in the games. So, there are fifteen of them, which allows you to have a sense of choice. Each of them come with the unique special ability and a talent tree that caters to these special abilities so you have can use a number of different play styles.
How do these unique careers impact the narrative of the game beyond giving players a shiny new way to beat Skaven?
Careers definitely allow for a narrative exploration of the different fates of each character. Warhammer has such a massive lore, with such a huge selection of characters to pick from. In a perfect world, we would like to take all of them and just put them in the game, but there are technical limitations. So the solution we come up with is just take the existing characters, because we certainly don’t want to get rid of any of them, and give them different fates after what happened at Ubersreik.
Take Barden for instance. We can continue being the ranger Barden and carry on his narrative, or you can explore what happens if he returns to his roots and becomes an Ironbreaker. You even get to explore what that would be like, and what he would be like if, after Ubersreik, he takes the Slayer Oath because of his failures. So you can play as different variations of Barden. They’re still all Barden at their core, but they have different narratives, different voice lines, etc.
How crucial is it for a player to have played that narrative in the first game to jump into Vermintide 2?
I don’t think necessary at all. We have this thing where we want to have something that’s immediately nice to play We try to keep the entry barriers low and still provide that sense of mastery if you really want to push yourself. You should be able to pick this up and wield a two hundred pound hammer and go, ‘Thunk! that’s nice!’. We are absolutely fine with people enjoying Vermintide like that. If you want to pick it up and play through the levels with friends all weekend and just have a blast, then great. Absolutely do that!
How important are weapons in Vermintide 2 progression?
I think they are less important to the progression than in Vermintide 1, although the playstyle is still going to be defined by the weapon and what attacks you have. We haven’t moved away from that system. An axe is an axe and it has some natural limitations, as well as some perks to it. What we did was we took a lot of the statistics from the weapons and tweaked them towards other parts of the progression systems. This allows you to, for example, do more damage to single targets, to get faster attack speed or get better at dodging. You can absolutely make that choice. You can decide if you want more ammo sustain or more health sustain using systems like careers and trinkets to change your options. The way we changed that allows this to come from several sources and it’s not all defined by the weapon and the stats you are stuck with.
When can we get a glimpse of all this?
The game is releasing on March 8 and the pre-order Beta is on February 28.
If you want to find out more keep a close eye on our coverage of the closed beta weekend, beginning on February 22, or you can head over to the official website.