We’ve just had the epic reveal of Warhammer: Vermintide 2, the sequel to Fatshark’s wonderful co-op game Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide. They’ve introduced the forces of Chaos to the game and further expanded the Class and melee combat systems in the game. We caught up with Martin Wahlund, Co-Founder and CEO of Fatshark and Executive Producer on Vermintide 2, and Game Designer Mats Andersson, to ask them about Vermintide 2, Chaos, the difficulty in making this type of co-op game, and, well, Left 4 Dead.
Vermintide 2 is revealed! We have all the details!The Best Mods for Total War: Warhammer 2!
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide, if you didn’t know, was a co-op game set in the town of Ubersreik and saw five heroes go against the hordes of the rat creatures the Skaven. Getting stuck right into things, what has Fatshark changed about Vermintide 2? CEO Martin Wahlund replied, “three core things. The first is Chaos, the new enemy. The Career System, how we treat our heroes. Heroic Deeds system, challenges for friends to take on in a number of different ways. We want to improve on what was good and what we got feedback on, and do the stuff we couldn’t do with Vermintide 1. We want a balance between what made Vermintide successful and make it a fresh experience.”
CEO Martin Wahlund
Being familiar with the first game and the demonic Chaos forces this was good to hear, but what were these Heroic Deeds things? Game Designer Mats Andersson told me. “You can receive these at the end of a level, which you can use to start missions with tweaks, which could make a fast, easy game, or something with more challenge, or maybe even something completely insane! Like perhaps a mission with no health drops, not being able to use melee weapons, or only having Rat Ogres. You can ask friends to join in on those and create mini-events for yourselves. They add a lot of replayability to the game, and will be fun to try out! Some will have rewards attached, others will be just for laughs!”
Game Designer Mats Andersson
So they’re optional, bonus Mutators to give an extra bonus challenge for players wanting to take them on? Sounds cool, but I was surprised there’d be no rewards attached. Martin told me, “they don’t even need to be things that everyone can complete! It’s about a balance. If we give too much reward people might only play with them, but some might be too tough to do that. We’ve seen the community run their own challenges already in the first game, so we wanted to build it into the second.” Ah, so it’s something the community did that they wanted to make official.
Chaos is of course the big new addition. Martin explained about their inclusion. “It’s an iconic thing for the Warhammer universe, and a good contrast to the Skaven. The Skaven are great in numbers, squishy, back-stabbing, the Chaos are about brute-force and power.” Mats injected with what we all suspected, “and he wanted to make my job really difficult! But they bring a lot to the game in terms of varying the experience, because we’re still using the dynamic conflict director. We had trouble doing that with just the Skaven and now we’re really switching things up.”
Martin then told us about some specific new enemies we’ll face. “We have Chaos Spawn, who’s like a miniboss, who can grab the player and use them as a weapon! He’s looking really nasty. There’s the Chaos Warrior too, who’s like a big tough tank. We love the look of them as well. We want to make them tough, and rewarding.”
According to Mats, it’s very difficult to design these new enemies because you always have to think in terms of co-op. “We need clarity of enemies because when you make a co-op game you need to also be aware of what your friends are fighting too. We’ve tried to build the enemies as clear and with a dedicated purpose to enable the co-op to shine. The Chaos Warrior for example, who’s huge and horrible, makes the players focus and switch their tactics. Same with the Chaos Spawn. Building new features, functionality, and gameplay around these new enemies and their challenges in the co-op has been really nice. We can throw more combinations of enemies at the players.”
They’ve got a peace treaty in the game, but traditionally they’re two very different factions. Do the Skaven and Chaos actually get along in Vermintide 2? Both Martin and Mats responded in the most sarcastic voice they could manage, “fabulously!” We laugh.
Martin added, “the Chaos like wrecking things and the Skaven like back-stabbing. But the Skaven do like picking the winning side, which in this war is with Chaos. They just don’t care for each other’s lives!”
Mats suggested that we can probably expect them to kill each other quite a lot. “They’re allies, but they are still Chaos and Skaven! In the first game we had a set goal in making the Skaven kill each other as much as possible. We’ve kept that tradition up with the new enemies! A Chaos Warrior wouldn’t hesitate to crush a couple of vermin. We do have emergent things happening like that. The gameplay is not static. The biggest difficulty is in challenging the players. Players might try to stand in the corner and collect themselves, and as soon as we break that up and create some mayhem in there the game shines!”
My main takeaway from the interview was that Fatshark really valued player feedback. How then was the reception of the first game? Martin said honestly, “it’s been fantastic. Given how hard it is to make games break through these days the reception we got was amazing. We’ve still got an upward trend of concurrent players. Just talking to players and getting fan mail makes us so happy.” Mats had a more specific thing that made him happy. “The first time I saw someone play through the game with White Weapons, like taking the starting weapons through Cataclysm [the hardest difficulty], that was a great moment for me.”
Then Martin brought up a key thing: mod support. “We love that people are building Mods even though we didn’t have proper mod system! Just small improvements and such, like a third-person mode!” If you’ve read our post you’ll know the good news here. “We’ve added modding to Vermintide 2 now, including Steam Workshop. Hopefully people will build their own stuff now we’ve made it easier for them. We’re also adding Dedicated Servers which was something that was requested.” Mod Support via Steam Workshop and dedicated server functionality? Excellent news. Take note, every other game in existence (sigh).
Martin continued regarding the reception of the first game. Apparently while they were very happy with it, the overwhelming fan feedback did create unexpected problems. “When we launched the game we only had one guy running our community support, and we had to get everyone in the company on the helpdesk to answer feedback and questions! We sold like 300-400,000 units in the first week, and even if 1% need help that’s a lot! We were exhausted after two weeks. It took a while for the game’s success to sink in.”
It’s certainly lovely to hear that Fatshark value fan feedback so much, even when it overloads their community support. “All of us here are just so passionate about this and care what the players think about the game. It also drives motivation and it’s easier to acquire talent if people believe in what we’re do.”
He then briefly talked about the post-release content for Vermintide 2. “It took a while for us to get the first DLC out with the first game, we hope to build things more quickly and more confidently this time because people love to get new content. The toughest thing is to narrow down what we do and try to stay focused, not get carried away. I do that all the time!
Then I decided to derail the conversation by dropping a truth-bomb. Is it possible, just by chance, that they may have played a certain Valve game called Left 4 Dead? “I haven’t heard of that game,” said Mats. We laugh. Yeah, right. It’s certainly not a problem as it’s been nearly 10 years since Left 4 Dead 2, but Vermintide was, well… more than similar to Valve’s game in parts.
Martin was happy to admit the influence of Valve’s ultimate zombie co-op game: “We love Left 4 Dead, we played it a lot. Vermintide is very much the type of game we want to do, it’s a dream project, and we saw there were no successors at all to L4D, one of the greatest games of all time. We felt this was a genre that should have a lot more games in it. Just starting Vermintide we wanted a co-op game with hordes of enemies and L4D was a perfect example of that. We took influence from what they did really well and try to add our own flavour to it.”
Mats finally opened up about it, and told us about how there were moments when they actually tried to steer away from Left 4 Dead, but discovered that maybe Valve knew what they were doing. “A lot of the time we’d try to implement a new system, finally get it right, and someone points out that it’s exactly how L4D did it. And then we scream! L4D did a really good job and was a great game, so you reach a lot of similar conclusions when you try to make this type of game. But we also played it a lot and took inspiration from it too.”
Of course there were two major things that Vermintide did do better than Left 4 Dead. Martin explains about the first, “the melee system was the core of Vermintide and that wasn’t the strongest point in L4D. We think of it as a game mode, like how Battle Royale is with PUBG, and we want to expand upon it. We’re going even further with character progression this time for example, as well as playstyle customization. We try to make sure it’s our own identity, and Vermintide 2 is even more different.”
The other major thing was Vermintide having proper character classes and Hero characters. Martin explained how they were improving on this part for Vermintide 2. “People loved the characters and the banter, and we wanted to allow players to change the playstyle of the Heroes. You can pick a career for each of them, which is End Times-inspired. Bardin, the Dwarf, for example can choose between a Slayer, an Ironbreaker or a Ranger, all of which play very different. Kerillian, our Elf, can become a Dark Elf if the player wants, which is a big deal.”
Mats then added, “we have some restrictions on inventory load-outs, so Slayers won’t be using ranged arsenal. Tied into that you have the Career System with all the talent trees and abilities. Every career has unique passive and active abilities which are really cool. When you’re playing co-op games if you can pull off something awesome to save the whole team that feels great, and if it can be characteristic for your Career that’s even better.” Which sounds excellent, and will further distance the game from, well, feeling very L4D. Martin then added, “the talent system is tied into this abilities. You can give yourself a bit more health or a better hit chance and tweak your playstyle, and try and customize parties with friends.”
The one odd choice regarding the game is the fact that despite having 5 Hero characters, you could only have a maximum of 4 players in-game at any time. According to Martin this is still the same in Vermintide 2. How come? “The reason for this is that you should always have a choice. If you hate one character we don’t want you to be forced to play them.” Hmm, interesting. The good news is for single-players, despite what the Steam Store says, Martin confirmed to us that we can indeed play with bots.
I pointed out to Martin and Mats how many Warhammer games are out right now. Do they have contact with any of them? Martin said, “there’s a community around Games Workshop. It’s great to see Total War: Warhammer II doing well, it builds the brand. We love the gameplay and the universe. We talk to Creative Assembly the most, even play with them. They’ve even referenced Vermintide in their games!” We’ve certainly heard the Skaven shout “for the Vermintide! occasionally.
Now, it’s been 10 years since Left 4 Dead 2 and only really Vermintide (and possibly Rebellion’s Zombie Army Trilogy) has attempted to do a game in a similar style. Why aren’t more developers doing this L4D type of game? Martin responded. “There are a few reasons. One thing is that people are afraid to go into Valve genres! It’s a daunting thing, we certainly were in the beginning, going up against the best in the world!” Yes, we can imagine that’s very true.
“It’s also tricky to do. The pacing system is hard, we’ve worked a lot on getting that right and balanced. Q&A is difficult too. You can play a game 20 times and only get a bug on the 21st go. For example on Vermintide just a couple of weeks before launch it crashed several times, because a Rat Ogre knocked over a bunch of rats including a Loot Rat into a barrier, which made the Loot Rat not be able to reach a certain state. It was a crazy, one-in-a-million thing that you can’t easily test for, which happens all the time.”
“Furthermore the AAA teams are looking at the big money-makers like Modern Warfare, and the smaller teams are probably smarter than we are and not trying to do one of the most daunting tasks in the industry and making a melee Left 4 Dead!” He makes it sound so terrifying.
Perhaps the most important thing to the Fatshark team, other than getting feedback, was in making sure that players felt that their time wasn’t being wasted. As Martin explained, “today in games it’s not so much about money, you’re competing with people’s time. You need to make sure the time you take from people was worth it. We can’t just go out and do a good game, we need to be the best in the genre. If we limit that to melee-focused L4D-type games I think we’ve succeeded!”
With our interview coming to a close, both Martin and Mats were very happy with where Fatshark were right now. Mats said, “you just have to look at the growth within Fatshark to realize that we are competing on a world stage with world-class developers, and our team’s found a comfortable place within that now.”
Martin agreed. “In the beginning it’s stressful, but now it’s just cool and we want to do our best. Sometimes that’s not enough but if you’ve tried to make the best possible game, and listened to feedback and criticisms, that’s what’s key for us. ”
Thanks a lot to Martin Wahlund and Mats Andersson of Fatshark for talking to us! You can read and see more about Warhammer: Vermintide 2 in the epic reveal right here, and we’ll have a lot more on Vermintide 2 in the coming months. The game’s set to launch in Q1 2018.