It all started—as tales of woe so often do—with a Hookrat. We were at the very end of a particularly arduous run through Engines of War, which to my mind is the toughest single mission in Vermintide 2. With the Bridge of Shadows practically within sight, one of those bone-clattering bastards dragged me off into some dank corner of the map where I expired. Fully expecting a res from one of my team-mates, I sat and watched in astonishment and then white-hot anger as they all ran for the bridge like Charlie with his golden ticket.
Except they didn't make it. They were overrun by Stormvermin and, in quick succession, downed.
As they bled out and the screen faded to deepest failure-black, I typed a passive aggressive barb into team chat:
"Could have done with an extra person in that last few yards, eh?"
To which the reply came:
"Not if that person was you."
If we're being real, that stung. Because I knew they were right. I wouldn't have saved the day if I'd been alive and upright when they were downed. I'd have run right in, been hit by some unseen rodent force majeure, and lolloped down on top of one of them for the long goodnight. I'd been playing Vermintide for months. I'd nearly maxed my Witch Hunter build. Why was I still so bloody useless at this stupid game about punching bloody rats?
The next match, in a bit of a sulk, I decided on a personal and private objective: I’d go through the whole level without killing an enemy. I'd ride the other players' coat-tails to victory, and XP bounty. That'd show them. Somehow?
And when I did, I realised why I'd been so ineffective at Vermintide 2: prior to this pouty match, killing enemies was all I did.
Blocking and parrying was something other people did while I cleaved away at walls of fantasy mammalian flesh. Character abilities were just a showy distraction from the real task at hand: The wall. The flesh. I'd pop a health potion after an appropriate number of easily avoidable hits shrank my bar right down into the danger zone, but that was as tactical as it got. In short: you did not want me on your team.
But now in this admittedly petulant non-violent mode, it was like I'd taken the red pill. Time seemed to slow down, and as I pranced about in block stance when the hordes descended I could see things I'd never noticed before. Things like the way a good Kerillian times their arrows for maximum crowd control efficiency rather than spraying them off on stragglers in the distance. Or the frenzied movement patterns of expert Bardin players, always at the coal face of the slaughter, but timing their blocks and parries masterfully to stay intact in the danger zone.
I had no other way of repelling enemies, so I started blocking. Finally, I learned to watch my stamina points each time I absorbed a blow and gradually adjusted to a cadence of ducking in and out of enemies' line of fire to give myself that crucial breather and let the stamina shields replenish.
And because I had literally nothing else to do, I became super attuned to the needs of my team-mates. As a Victor Saltzpyre main I could stagger enemies and give my buddies a 25% critical hit chance boost using my career skill without crossing that sacred threshold and actively taking a life. Better still, I could tag enemies and ensure they took an additional 20% damage. When you're not using any brainpower to kill things, you can become prodigiously good at tagging the right enemies at the right time, and rolling out that Animosity skill when the most opportune moment presents itself.
So when the first game that I played in this manner ended—with victory—and I left a sheepish comment like "Doing a vegan playthrough, thanks all" to prepare my comrades for the astounding 0 in my kills column, nobody minded. Quite the contrary. I'd just played what was probably my most effective, co-operative Vermintide 2 match to date. And everyone else padded their kill stats in the process. With their egos stroked, their enemies tagged, and their health dutifully topped up by a benevolent Bounty Hunter every few battles, they had little to complain about.
I have started killing those accursed rats again since then, but I didn't go right back to it. I spent quite a while on that pacifism streak, noseying on the subtleties of other players' approaches in lieu of slashing off tails. And when I finally did let myself back into the action, I was a completely different player. If you've hit the wall with Vermintide 2, or hand on heart never took the time to study its hidden subtleties, I couldn't recommend a 0 kills run more highly.