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

 Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
(Image credit: Fatshark)

Vermintide 2 is one of our favourite co-op games (opens in new tab) of all time, so we've got a lot of confidence in its developers, Fatshark. With Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, the Swedish studio 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.

We've played Darktide, and it's great. Scroll down for a lengthy gameplay video and some early impressions, as well as information about release date, and getting access to the pre-order beta before launch.

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

The Darktide release date is November 30. The game will be available on Steam (opens in new tab) and on Xbox PC Games Pass (opens in new tab) from day one. While initially scheduled for a 2021 release, it's another game that had to be pushed back due to 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 first of two subsequent delays, from Spring 2022 to September 13, was explained in a press release (opens in new tab) as being more to do with a simple desire for quality: "To us here at Fatshark, it's paramount that we deliver the best 4-player co-op experience possible."

Most recently, it was delayed to November 30 on PC, with an Xbox Series X|S launch "shortly after". This time, Wahlund cited a need to improve "stability, performance, and to mature key systems."

The early access beta is open to all versions of the game

Usually with pre-order early access for a game, you'd have to buy a more expensive or advanced edition, but Fatshark announced in a blog post (opens in new tab) a few days back that anyone who buys the game early will have access to the pre-order beta (opens in new tab). Though it won't be feature complete or the full game until it releases on November 30, it does let you play the game early starting from November 17. It's unclear whether beta progress will carry over to the main game, but according to Fatshark, any progress wipes are likely to happen early on in the beta.

Here's a full Darktide mission: 21 minutes of gameplay

Here are the highlights of our hands-on with Darktide: 

  • Objectives are no longer tied to levels, so you'll be able to play through areas with different goals.
  • The loot system has been overhauled. There's still some random gear, but you can also buy weapons from the in-game shop (not with real money) and set "contracts" on specific weapons you want to earn by playing.
  • Objectives now involve minigames like hacking (or rather, skulljacking) into a computer, rather than just holding a button down.
  • There's mantling, and it's smooth.
  • Hordes of enemies are bigger than in Vermintide 2.
  • You'll still be doing a lot of melee, but guns feel excellent.
  • Every character class now has a regenerating shield, a necessary counter to the bad guys having guns. Functionally the shields are the same for each class, but Fatshark still gave each one its own little lore-appropriate twist. "For the Zealot [class], it's her faith in the Emperor who protects her. For the Veteran, it's his armor. For the Psyker, it's her warp power."

What's changing after the beta?

October's closed beta was popular, and Fatshark's statistics (opens in new tab) show that participants killed 532,438,345 enemies of the Imperium over its course. They also died 704,323 times, but that seems like a fair trade when you live in an empire of a million worlds.

Fatshark has said it's taking the feedback received into account and we'll notice some changes in the final release. Players "looking to fine-tune their mouse sensitivity, the ability to call out a 'Sniper' in the chat, or those having general performance, frame rate, or crash issues" will apparently be pleased.

Who are the player-characters?

Darktide's heroes are nicknamed the Rejects, as seen in a trailer from June called Rejects Will Rise (opens in new tab). They're a bunch of criminals and outcasts recruited to become agents of the Inquisition, then sent to investigate an outbreak of plague and heresy in Tertium Hive.

You can create your own Rejects using the character creator, and those characters can be customized with different faces and loadouts. Though being able to customize them means the Rejects won't be set individuals like Vermintide's Ubersreik Five, they will still have plenty of entertaining banter. As Fatshark explained in a dev blog, the voice actors have recorded "thousands upon thousands of banter lines".

There are four archetypes to choose from: the ogryn, veteran, zealot, and psyker. Each archetype has its own classes to specialize in. During the beta, we saw one class per archetype: the ogryn skullbreaker, veteran sharpshooter, zealot preacher, and psyker psykinetic.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Each class has unique skills and abilities. For instance, the zealot's preacher class, has faster melee attacks and a class ability that lets them charge at a target, locking them into hand-to-hand combat. They also gain more damage the less health they have and can throw a Stumm gas grenade.

Our interview with co-writer Dan Abnett confirmed that each Reject begins at the bottom, as "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."

In the Warhammer 40,000 fiction, acolytes of the Inquisition come in many archetypes, and there's an acolyte hierarchy (from acolyte to proven acolyte, to trusted acolyte, throne agent, and so on) that would serve nicely as a progression system. Darktide will indeed contain leveling up, and characters' dialogue will change to reflect how seasoned they are.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Who are the enemies?

The big bad behind it all is Nurgle, the Chaos god of pestilence with a surprisingly good sense of humor. Grandfather Nurgle, the Lord of Decay, tirelessly experiments with new strains of disease with the ultimate aim of inducting everyone into his garden: a festering organic plane of existence. You do not want to go to Nurgle's garden.

In Darktide we face a cult of plague-worshippers called The Admonition, who seem to be thriving. The basic horde enemies are poxwalkers, the corrupted zombie masses of 40K, and make sense as low-level fodder in a Left 4 Dead format. They also have plenty of 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)

Mutated pox hounds can be heard howling in the distance, and charge when they get close. Plague ogryns enjoy getting into melee range as well.

More daemonic servants of Nurgle include the lesser daemons called Plaguebearers and the greater daemons called Great Unclean Ones. They 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 Darktide includes some familiar animations for that. Iconic 40K melee weapons like chainswords and power swords are included, as are entrenching tools. The zealot can wield 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 gets access to a force sword as well.

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. Autoguns for continuous fire (including Graia-pattern autoguns, named after the setting of Relic's Space Marine), and shotguns that have a surprisingly decent range. The veteran begins with a lasgun as you'd expect, and though the zealot seems pretty melee-focused, they can use a flamethrower. The ogryn's ripper gun—a heavy auto-shotgun—also doubles as a hand-to-hand weapon, which is nice.

If you like throwing grenades, there are frag and stumm varieties to choose from.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

"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."

Want to know which weapons got the most kills during the beta? The top three was made up of the Brunt Special Mk 1 club, Kantrael MG 1a infantry lasgun, and the Catachan Mk 1 Devil's Claw sword.

The hive and the hub

Darktide is set in a hive city called Tertium on Atoma Prime. 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.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

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 Mourningstar, 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."

Here are the Darktide system requirements

Recommended system specs:

  • Operating System: Windows 10 (64 bit) / Windows 11 (64 bit)
  • Processor: Intel i7-9700K (3.70GHz) OR AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (4.2GHz)
  • Memory: 16 GB RAM
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 / RTX 2060 OR AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT
  • Storage: 50 GB available space

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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.