Warhammer: Vermintide 2 - Winds of Magic Review
We've done bloody work this day, but more awaits - depend on it!
Vermintide 2 has long been a divisive beast. From the beta before launch and then all the way leading up to the full launch, along with every update and DLC, the game has constantly changed back and forth between good and bad, easy and hard, friendly and impersonal. That unique existence has been reflected in all DLC, and Winds of Magic is no different - part awesomeness and part lameness - Vermintide 2’s first expansion is set to anger and please players alike.
Meant to be an endgame for the game’s “repeat levels at the highest difficulty over and over again” replay cycle, Winds of Magic cleverly draws from Warhammer lore to create an extra game mode. The Winds of Magic have been separated into their constituent parts, creating 8 Weaves of Magic that affect and mutate environments throughout the world. To restore it, the Ubersreik Five (or more often, four) are sent into the Weaves to gather their “essence” and close each freaky occurrence.
Originally touted as a sort of random level generator that would take portions of levels and put them through multiple mutators for each run, the end result is a very linear and tailored chain of missions, down to the exact same spawn of bosses, elites, and hordes on replay. For the first 40 (forty!) levels, you will run through 5 missions in a row on each of the 8 winds, before going into a mixed playlist from weaves 40 to 120. Each wind brings unique properties to it, such as the Lore of Metal that makes armoured enemies tougher but gives players who kill them a surrounding aura of flying metal, or the Lore of Heavens which periodically drops devastating lightning strikes from the skies.
These additions are much more tactical than they sound, allowing players to handle the unending hordes in a different manner to the base game, but the best part of the update is without a doubt its running time. Since each mission is a small portion of a different level tweaked with new graphic assets and one or two navigational changes, weave missions often take about 10 minutes, and never more than 20 or 25 minutes to complete. That makes it a vast improvement over Vermintide 2’s standard mission length of 40 minutes, and allows for a much more focused and fun experience that doesn’t require you to waste a whole evening just to get half a dozen levels under your belt.
However, the new weave system is far from perfect. The few snippets of levels you play are actually recycled over and over, to the point that you move through virtually the same route with a slight different coloration and a couple of different visual details changed one way or another. Similarly, the progression in the weaves is completely separate from the main game, forcing you to level up your gear all over again from scratch.
The one thing that makes that bearable is the new loadout system, which allows you to upgrade each weapon individually with the gathered “Essence” and pick and choose what attribute and trait you want in each slot of gear. It is a system that is immeasurably better than Vermintide 2’s frankly detestable loot box system, and it’s the direction I would love to see the series going forward from now on.
Luckily, the essence needed for upgrades can be gathered both in weaves and normal levels - but only the first time you play each of the weaves. In an example of intense disrespect for player’s time and a profound misunderstanding of how most people play, replaying any weave grants about 5% of the original reward for it - meaning that if levels get too difficult or you go help a new player do weaves you’ve already completed, your 3000 essence reward will be replaced with something like 90 essence - roughly 1/50th of the amount necessary to upgrade a single item past wave 15. It’s the opposite approach to what a coop game should have, as it actively discourages players from replaying weaves and forces friends to waste their time to help another friend, getting no reward or fun in the process.
The DLC also adds a very good new level that serves as an introduction to the new enemies: the Beastmen. Children of Chaos are dedicated to the destruction of all life, and these new enemies are interesting to fight yet very unbalanced at the moment - small Ungor spear units have melee ranges twice as big as their physical pikes, while Minotaurs and Bestigors feature either super quick or block-breaking attacks that make fighting them a guarantee of taking damage. They also seem to have a few missing sound cues, often making it impossible to hear them when they are behind you, and not playing a horde sound 9 out of 10 times they appear in mass - while the general aggressiveness and danger of Beastmen is fitting in lore, their balance leaves something to be desired at this point.
To fight those new enemies, Winds of Magic brings in one new weapon for each character, unlocked by completing the Dark Omens new level. Kerillian has a shield and spear and Sienna a flaming flail, while Bardin gets a new set of throwing axes. Saltzpyre now has a billhook capable of pulling enemies closer with a charged attack, while Kruber gets access to a heavy spear. These weapons are interesting to use, such as Sienna’s mace that sets people on fire, and aside from Kerillian’s shield blocking half the player’s vision most of the time, it can be a viable alternative.
In the end, Winds of Magic really is the quintessential Vermintide 2 DLC. A fantastic system of customisable weapon upgrades is slightly let down by the linearity of what should have been randomised levels – and very much dragged down by bad balance and overt difficulty. Vermintide – like any game – is meant to provide fun first, and catering to hardcore players is a surefire way to nullify enjoyment for the vast majority of the playerbase. Alas, if you’re a fan of Vermintide and would like shorter missions with a more interesting and varied take than the base game offers, definitely check out Winds of Magic.
What about the combat changes?
One thing worthy of note that isn’t part of the DLC, but actually part of a free update that launched with it, is the new combat system that has been getting a lot of flak from the community. Vermintide’s nigh universally praised combat was changed suddenly, with difficulty levels made harder, enemies stronger, and players’ abilities reduced. The result is the game went from a fun coop Left 4 Dead-like rump through Chaos-infested lands to an exercise in frustration, where enemies hit you twice as hard as you hit them – and often do so as you are hitting them.
The addition of a non-intuitive and unnecessarily complex stagger mechanic killed the flow of combat to a certain extent, resulting in enemies shrugging off damage and being able to attack you even as you stab them in the head repeatedly. It feels like the developers backtracked to the bad balance of launch that we all thought was fixed in the past year, and while that holds no sway over this review’s final score, I am definitely not a fan of the change – but since it is such a big part of the player reception of the DLC, it was important for it to be reflected here.
WARHAMMER: VERMINTIDE 2 - WINDS OF MAGIC VERDICT
An interesting DLC with a fantastic weapon system and concept, but somewhat of a letdown execution.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Triggering Victor’s Animosity skill 4 times in a row while surrounded by over 50 Beastmen.
Good vs Bad
- New Mission and Weave maps
- Greatly improved progression and inventory system
- Concept and lore usage is awesome, and varied Weave effects makes you want to keep going
- Good Essence rewards the first time you play each Weave
- Atrocious, slap-in-your-face rewards if you *ever* replay a Weave
- Very inconsistent base game essence rates
- Beastmen are in dire need of re-balancing