At launch, Fatshark's game of trying not to accidentally shoot a big friendly ogryn in the back while he protects you from a swarm of people with scabies was missing a few things. Of particular note was that three-quarters of its crafting system appeared to have been left out.
We asked Fatshark why Darktide had placeholder messages in place of the rest of its crafting mechanics at the time, and were told that a different system had been removed at the last minute because it wasn't good enough. "If we release a system and it's in there and people are using it, it's really, really hard to rip that system out and replace it with another system," Fatshark's head of design Victor Magnuson said. "People have already invested in the previous system. And from a backend perspective it's going to be a nightmare. From the player experience, it's going to be really bad. So if we released the game with a borked crafting system and decided we needed to redo it, that's major surgery, and we don't want to do that. It was a really tough call, but I think in the end players will agree it was the right call. Of course, they're never going to know how bad the original crafting system was."
The developers have been working on a new crafting system for Darktide ever since, as well as patching bugs and tweaking progression, even delaying other features to focus on them. In a recent dev blog (opens in new tab), they outlined some upcoming changes that will be coming as a result.
The Armoury Exchange, a store that offers a randomized set of weapons refreshing hourly, will now also let players choose any weapon type and mark they've unlocked and receive one with random item rating and stats based on their level. No more unlocking the boltgun and then realizing there are none available in the shop. As the blog notes, "Acquiring weapons through this new requisition system in the Armoury, will give players a common (Profane rarity) weapon of a varying item rating according to their character's current level. It is worth noting that Profane weapons in Darktide have the most potential of becoming powerful weapons in combination with their base modifiers and via upgrades through crafting."
Meanwhile, those weapons available in the hourly catalog will have their quality improved. And the Emperor's Gift, a random chance to receive a weapon as a reward for winning a mission, will now happen every time a mission is completed, with the reward quality going up with mission difficulty and completion of side objectives.
The quality of weapons offered as rewards for weekly contracts will also be improved, while the requirements for completing them will go down. "We are reducing the amount of work each contract asks of players and increasing the reward (Ingots) players will receive for completing the task. The collection of Grimoires and Scriptures will be collapsed into a single contract for completing these collectible side-missions. We will also add a couple of new contracts for collecting both Plasteel, and Diamantine."
As for upgrading that gear, at the moment when you visit the tech-priest you're presented with options to replace item perks or add new perks and blessings, while the submenu to Combine Blessings is grayed-out and both Earn Blessing and Re-Bless are marked "Open Soon!"
Turns out, Fatshark has decided to scrap Combine Blessings entirely. "Instead, earning a blessing will permanently unlock the ability to re-bless with that blessing at any time. We made this decision as it compliments where we will take blessings in the future, and it greatly alleviates the number of items that one would need to acquire, not only the ability to re-bless but also what you can re-bless with." Further info on the changes coming to this part of the game are still to come. "While we are excited about the direction we chose to take blessings," the dev blog explains, "we will save that discussion for another time."
While it's good to see progress continue on Darktide, which is already heaps of fun moment-to-moment in spite of the unfinished parts, this focus on crafting and gear quality seems like missing the point. The real problem with Darktide is that after a wonderful prologue the plot's abandoned—there are no story missions to break up the flow, and the cutscenes become repetitive and feel like B-team work, building to a climax that comes out of nowhere and means nothing to us. Each act of Vermintide 2 climaxed with a challenging boss fight, but Darktide's only equivalent are assassination missions against random targets. There are no peaks and valleys to its structure—it's all flat plain.
To ignore that problem in favor of focusing on the crafting seems misguided. Every game designer should read the thread on Resetera (opens in new tab) about game mechanics people ignored and take note of how many times crafting came up. Spoiler: it's a lot. Outside of survival games and farm-life sims, crafting systems are usually a box-ticking feature that adds nothing but grind, and most games would be better off without them.
Fatshark's games have grown and moved on from their primary inspiration, the Left 4 Dead series, in significant ways. It feels like one way they're still bettered by the subgenre's originator is the fact you never need to grind for a better cricket bat in Left 4 Dead 2.