Winds Of Magic is the "first" expansion for Warhammer: Vermintide 2, the melee-focused Left 4 Dead-inspired first-person co-op game from developer Fatshark. Winds Of Magic adds new enemy types, a new level, new weapons, and a new season-based mode to the game, refreshing existing content and giving players a reason to come back and grind. Weaves are an exciting addition to the game with tons of potential for future seasons, unfortunately, some questionable design choices have left the unmistakable feeling that Vermintide 2: Winds Of Magic falls just short of greatness.
Winds Of Magic follows the Ubershreik 5 on their ill-fated missions to postpone the end of the world. A meteor has crashed down in Reikland and the beastmen of the forest have rushed to it to claim it as their Herdstone, a megalith with the power to crumble the empire. The heroes of Vermintide must fight back the hordes of beastmen, skaven, and chaos to protect what's left of the world from total destruction.
Dark Omens Is The Beastmens' Red Carpet
The new level in Winds Of Magic, Dark Omens, begins in a familiar forest setting where the team is investigating some suspicious dead skaven. As they make their way through the forest, whacking rats like it's their job, they eventually come upon a dead rat ogre with a crude sword embedded in his back. Interacting with it brings out a hoard of vicious Beastmen that, as you might expect, would like to rip you to shreds.
Beastmen fight with long-reach melee weapons and spread out to attack you from all sides. There's some awesome variety between the enemy types too, including armored enemies that will charge and knock players off cliffs, archers that can teleport around the battlefield, and Bannermen that plant destructible standards on the ground which provide a buff to all enemy beastmen in the area. Fighting the beastmen feels new and exciting, and seeing these units mixed in with the other enemy types on different levels adds a surprising amount of variety to the game.
As the heroes make their way toward the impact site of the meteor, things become increasingly intense and chaotic. The power of the crash has left the land surrounding it decimated and treacherous, and the beastmen have wasted no time turning it into the religious epicenter for their nihilist ways.
The level is absolutely breathtaking, especially if you have the good fortune to be able to play it on the highest video settings. The crash site has a mesmerizing swirl of energy extending into the sky that becomes more and more captivating as you make your way closer to it. The final battle around the meteor is an exhilarating display of the beastmens' full power and builds into the most satisfying bass-drop moment. While I would have liked to see a boss fight (and more than one level added to the expansion) I enjoyed Bad Omen and am happy to see it added to the rotation.
Weaves Are Vermintide's Greater Rifts... Sort Of
The real meat and potatoes of Winds of Magic is a totally separate progression system available in the new game mode, Weaves. Weaves are mini-levels with random elements and infinitely increasing difficulty. Progression resets at the end of each season, so it's useful to compare them to the Greater Rifts of Diablo 3. While Weaves offer a lot of variety and a different kind of progression that may appeal to those who like to experiment with builds, there are some questionable design decision that may keep Weaves from breaking through as a killer new feature.
Everyone begins with level 1 weapons on the 1st difficulty level. Completing a weave grants essence, which can be spent to level up weapons, character level, and level of store. Leveling up increases strength and unlocks passive bonuses that can be mixed and matched to create unique builds. These passives are fully refundable and can be changed at any time. The missions are sections of older missions, about 1/3 in length, and are played backwards with new art layers that really make them feel familiar, but fresh. There are no loot boxes to open or rerolling for weapons; simply spend your essence as you see fit and customize your weapons and character however you like. Each mission you complete offers increased difficulty and essence from the one before it, and a leader board keeps track of the highest difficulty achieved by groups of 1-4.
While it feels great to upgrade after every run, the issues present themselves when one tries to grind essence or switch characters. After completing a mission and earning essence, repeating the mission offers only a small fraction of the first reward, even if you switch characters. This means that the character you start with is semi-locked and if you get stuck or want to switch characters, your only option is to grind an unreasonable amount of regular quickplay, which also strangely rewards essence.
Furthermore, if you don't have a group of friends to play with, you're going to have a really hard time getting into a lobby. There is no quickplay for Weaves, and with almost zero incentive to replay already completed Weaves, finding anyone that happens to be on your same difficulty level is next to impossible. It's a strangely limiting system that I suspect will be altered in a future season, but for now, the best experience possible is to commit to a character and play with the same group of friends, progressing together as far as you can go. When you get stuck, go back to quick play until you've earned enough essence to level up.
Bashing Rats Hasn't Changed Too Much
During the beta, Fatshark introduced a swath of balance changes, progression updates, and stagger mechanics that were designed to make the game more challenging and nuanced. The community was fiercely opposed to these changes because suddenly, they were unable to solo speed-run the hardest difficulty, it made them feel like they were bad at the game. Fatshark reverted pretty much all of these changes and what we have now is the same old Vermintide with some added variety.
That isn't a bad thing necessarily, as long as you don't expect Winds to be a total game-changer. It remains to be seen if Weaves will have the draw to bring players back season after season. It has the potential, but they need to figure out how to streamline progression for multiple characters and not fracture the matchmaking queue so hard. Winds of Magic is well worth the price of admission even if it doesn't fundamentally shake up the game. It's still about bashing rats, and they're just so much fun to bash.
4 Out of 5 Stars
A review copy of Winds of Magic was provided to TheGamer for this review. Winds of Magic is available now Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.
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