by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
WINDS OF MAGIC
It’s been a fair while since we had any content for Vermintide 2 — the last expansion for the game was Back to Ubersreik, a remastered set of levels from the first game, released nine months ago. So I was excited about Winds of Magic which promised both an interesting concept and some re-playability. For the most part I would say it is successful, adding a new mode which grants a new leveling system, and mixes previous maps and difficulty conditions into playable levels which feel somewhat fresh. But there are also a few contradictions at its heart, and I think the mixed feedback the game is already receiving highlights the split at the centre of the Vermintide series.
Winds of Magic introduces the weave mechanic — following the destruction of a crashed meteor in the expansions’ opening level, the Winds of Magic are fragmented into their 8 separate magical components. You must journey into each, fighting your way through wave after wave of enemies, while coping with a set of difficulty conditions based on each wind. The Beastmen are also a new introduction — a race of bestial savages, who now occupy the games’ previous levels as well as the weaves, adding a new dynamic to combat.
But combat isn’t the problem with Winds of Magic — the Beastmen are fun to fight, and with new weapon introductions for each character (throwing axes for Bardin, billhook for Saltzpyre, spear and shield for Kerillian, boar spear for Kruber, and flail for Sienna) the melee combat is as good as ever. The problem comes in the form of the Athanor. When players complete a weave they receive a substance called essence, which they can then use to upgrade their gear. This system of upgrades is very dynamic, allowing for characters to tailor their playstyle, but currently Athanor upgrades don’t carry across between characters/classes. At the same time when a player replays a weave, they'll only receive a fraction of the essence they originally got for playing it. This kind of necessitates a lot of grinding if you want to use more than one class/character.
Winds of Magic is focused around re-playability, but unfortunately this aspect of the essence and Athanor contradicts that idea and discourages players from replaying the weaves. It's a shame, because the levels themselves are great for the most part, and the difficulty conditions for each feel heavily inspired by Warhammer Fantasy's lores of magic. Heavens for example will target players with lightning bolts, but if you are clever, you can use them to kill enemies and bosses instead. Light gradually drains your health, but makes you more powerful as it does. Metal makes armoured units stronger, but if you kill them, you gain a shielding aura. A couple of the weaves like Death are slightly more annoying than fun, having enemy souls target you as projectiles, but for the most part they create fun playable experiences.
RELEASE THE BEAST
The Beastmen are also a great addition, harder to kill and stagger, plus with different attack animations they really change the dynamic of combat. Bestigors are fun to tackle, the new armoured enemy which will charge at players, as well as the Minotaur, the Beastmen's monster, which is hyper aggressive, but also fun to dodge and parry. The new weapons in some ways are uniquely suited to dealing with these new foes — a throwing axe to the face will stop a Bestigor charge in its path, and the billhook can be used to pull enemies towards you, unbalancing them. On the whole the Beastmen are great, and represent the most redeeming aspect of the DLC.
But the overall issue with Winds of Magic can be understood via the split in the series I mentioned earlier — new content and re-playability. New content comes in the form of new weapons, new races, new levels/stories and (maybe one day) new characters, and is what I personally look for in Vermintide's DLC. But on the other hand, there is re-playability, which in Vermintide’s case often seems to constitute reskins/remasters of previous levels. Of course we do also get some new things in Winds of Magic, the Beastmen most of all, and I do understand Fatshark's focus on creating re-playability. But the developing direction of Vermintide’s DLC does make me worry.
Re-playability is good, but not when it comes at the cost of new content. While they did add new elements, both of the last two DLCs have represented reskinned/mashed-up versions of previous levels. Vermintide is heavily modelled on adventure roleplay and that is what I feel the games are starting to stray from. The series needs new adventures, new weapons, new cosmetics, and most of all, new stories. But what we are currently getting is hundreds of hours of grinding and re-playability. Look at the trailer for Winds of Magic, just as in Shadows Over Bogenhafen it draws players in with a really cool Warhammer Fantasy based story cinematic, that isn't really fleshed out at all or representative of the actual DLC. Winds of Magic is decent, but I feel like it unfortunately represents a step away from what makes the Vermintide series truly special.
Great new weapons, interesting weave difficulty conditions, Beastmen are cool enemies
Another re-skin of older levels, DLC based on re-playability but the Athanor and essence system compromise this somewhat