Warhammer: Vermintide

A critique of the prologue – Fatshark’s wrongheaded approach to tutorials

warhammer 3 - A critique of the prologue - Fatshark's wrongheaded approach to tutorials
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Today I was doing my usual sunday Legend runs when I finally had the opportunity to learn a critical mechanic of the game for the first time: Medical Supplies heals your wounds if you heal another player. You might scoff at this and just chalk it to me being a "bad player", but I complete Legend missions regularly on 4 different characters and this situation (me being wounded healing another player) by some random chance had never happened before. So I simply never learned.

It was not my first time being surprised by a new basic mechanic and I suspect many of you might have experienced the same. This made me start thinking about how information in relayed in this game. For the most part, I'd say, Fatshark is very elegant about it. My favorite aspect is how they eschew text in favor of communicating through dialogue and using the opportunity to build up the characters. But this approach also leaves a TON of blank spots that I'd would guess are the main causes of many party wipes.

The first thought that came to my mind considering this was: "I must have blazed through the Prologue without paying attention." So I decided to replay the only section of the game explicitly designed to teach players how to play. Boy, it was lacking…

Let me lay it out:

For starters, the first thing you see when it begins is a… rockface. You can't look away either. Evidently someone at Fatshark played the dreaded Skyrim intro and thought "I like this, but it's too exciting." Anyway, I would understand if they made you stare at a wall to make sure you pay attention to something else (eg, narration or text) but nothing important is happening and it just makes you lose interest.

After this the standard fare of action game tutorial starts. You learn about WASD, clicking to attack, etc. There is an argument to be made whether this very basic "gaming literacy" is still necessary or if it should give space for more advanced stuff, but I do think it's important for complete beginners. The only thing I'll point out here is that if you rebind your controls the tutorial railroad kinda breaks. For instance, I had rebonded my dodge key and the tutorial simply would not progress unless I pressed the keys the game wanted me to, even though they did nothing. This isn't a big problem cause I doubt anyone will rebind keys before playing the Prologue but it kinda shows the low priority this section of the game was given.

Another thing you notice as a veteran at the very beginning is how the level design is different from the main game. It's much more linear. This is understandable because you don't want new players to get lost, but I remember the first time I entered Athel Yenlui and how completely disoriented I was by the open spaces (relative to the Prologue, of course). The Prologue does a good job showing you can jump over crevices, drop down holes, etc., but it gives you no inkling about the large open arenas tied by entry and exit points that compose much of the game. More crucially, there is no emphasis on exploration and literally no mention of the books you are supposed to gather in the main missions (I get it, they are theoretically a secret, but at least say that something like that exists).

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The Prologue proceeds to introduce you to the basics of combat: light/heavy attacks, dodge, block and push. However, it is incomplete. Of course you can't include everything here (animation canceling is too advanced for this section, for instance) but they miss some very basic stuff. There is no mention of push attacks or how the stamina and block systems work. You only use one melee and one ranged weapon throughout so you leave with little concept of combos. Tagging is completely ignored and so are most other aspects of character control that involve interaction with teammates. You don't learn about friendly fire, you don't learn how to use quick text messages, you don't learn how to control bots, and, of course, you don't learn about Medical Supplies… This is a team game first and foremost but you wouldn't know it from the Prologue.

Then there are the enemies. In the Prologue you fight skaven slaves, rotbloods and the odd stormvermin and mauler. A Chaos Warrior appears and you learn that it's armor is impenetrable to light attacks from some weapons but you don't really fight it (a cave in kills it, something that never happens again in the game). No specials appear, despite the fact that they are arguably the most mechanically complex enemies other than bosses. Berserkers too are absent. Concepts such as horde attacks and ambushes, which are admittedly more abstract but that make up the meat and bones of the game, never show up as well. Other than teaching you how to fight different enemies, some introduction to terminology here would be immensely helpful too. If you are ready to explain to a player what WASD is, why not also tell her what these enemies are usually called so they can understand other players speaking? Yet another instance of the Prologue ignoring social aspects of the game.

Finally, there is no attempt to explain the meta game of chests and item crafting. However, I must say that this omission isn't as bad since this is fairly easy to pick up by simply playing, in my opinion. Some of this stuff (not all) also appears in loading screens but is it wise to leave it all to the chance of the player paying attention to those?

Here is an instructive distinction between the meta game and the main game: you have all the space and time in the world to experiment with crafting and builds, but missions hurry you along and you have little opportunity to learn during them. This is for good reason too, cause you shouldn't bog other players down. This distinction also reveals what is at the core of the problems with the Prologue and the way Fatshark teaches you the game: it treats Vermintide like it is an average single-player action game. I think it deserves more.

You can tell that the devs want you to stop worrying and love the warp bomb. That's why the UI has no numbers and you can't easily tell how well min-maxed your build is. Strip it down and relax, the rat hordes are stressful enough. But it seems to me that they went too far in that direction and don't really acknowledge the complexities of their game. The aim was, clearly, to not scare new players away. But I'd argue that having a party wipe 30 minutes into a match because you don't know what push attacks are scares more players away than a few numbers.

Anyway, forgive me for this long-winded rant over a goddamn health pack lol. But I love this game and wish to continue playing it. Since we have had some bad news lately as far as content goes, I fear for it's future. The first step to keep it going is to grow the player base and currently I think Fatshark could do a better job teaching players in a way that does not frustrate them. How do you guys think they could improve?

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