The quarrelsome Ubersreik Five are off on a new bloodsoaked adventure next week, with the launch of Vermintide 2's latest expansion: Chaos Wastes. This trip into a realm warped by dark gods won't feel entirely unfamiliar if you've played its predecessor, Winds of Magic, but that's also given developer Fatshark an opportunity to address some of the criticisms of the beastmen-themed expansion. And crucially, this time it's entirely free.
Despite the absence of a price tag, it still seems pretty substantial. Unlike Winds of Magic, there's no new faction, but there is another new game mode, and within that mode are the greatest treasures of all: new maps. A lot of them, too. As you make your pilgrimage to the Citadel of Eternity in search of divine power, you'll encounter 15 new areas, rich in Chaos and, once you're through, corpses.
All of these locations are specific to the 'roguelite' Chaos Wastes mode, though they don't look worlds apart from the places you're probably used to slaughtering rats in. There are caves and forests and ruins a plenty, but the ominous lighting and signs of Chaos ensure they feel distinct. And it will surely be a nice change of pace for veterans to not know exactly what's around each corner. It's probably going to be more rats, but you never know!
Your objective in each of these locations is what it always is: kill loads of shit and get to the end, with occasional breaks to fight tougher enemies or endure waves of them while you wait for a gate to open. Most of the time, you'll be doing stuff you've done countless times before, but those things are still a lot of fun. The more dramatic change comes instead from the roguelike-inspired systems and the magic of the Chaos gods themselves.
Expeditions into the Chaos Wastes aren't meant to be jumped into lightly. To complete an expedition, you'll have to fight through multiple missions, and if you give up or die before the end, you'll sacrifice some rewards and important progress. All the new locations can be visited from the expedition map, though you'll only experience a handful of them in any single expedition. Before you rush back into the meat grinder, you'll have to pick your path, with everyone in the party getting a vote. While Winds of Magic required a human party, in Chaos Wastes you can also play solo, with AI companions backing you up. This is particularly convenient if you don't fancy arguing over your route with friends or, worse, strangers. The map conveniently lists the properties of each mission, so you'll know what enemies you can expect to face and any special quirks before you make a decision.
Fatshark's upcoming 40K spin-off, Darktide, will also feature a map where you can choose what missions to hit and get all the vital information beforehand, so this feels a bit like a trial run to get some feedback on the system. And I really dig it. Just having a map to look at makes a huge difference, making me feel more like I'm on an epic adventure instead of just hopping from battle to battle. Being able to actually plan that journey and steal back a bit of agency makes it even better.
One of the criticisms of Winds of Magic was that it had a separate, bespoke progression system where you had to start from scratch, which can be a bit dispiriting when you hit endgame and are looking to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Chaos Wastes also has its own take on progression, but it doesn't feel like you're just starting all over again. When you start an expedition, you stay at the same level and keep all of your talents, but your weapons are reduced to their standard quality. To make up for this disadvantage, you'll need to spend Pilgrim coins at shrines and complete trials to power up, most of which takes place within missions.
In-mission character progression and mucking around with gear seems like a mistake for a game that's normally blessed with a relentless, aggressive pace. Not needing to stop to upgrade your gear or swap weapons is a massive boon. But Fatshark decided to have its cake and eat it too, and it seems to work pretty well. Every shrine has a specific purpose, like giving you a buff, upgrading one of your weapons, or replacing it for something new and more powerful. If you've got the coins—found scattered throughout missions—you either choose to buy the upgrade or save your cash. There are decisions to make, sure, but not agonising ones with loads of options. Powering up, then, doesn't interrupt all the murder.
Finish a mission with lots of coins still in your purse and you might be able to spend that at one of the special campaign map shrines. Because you're between fights, there's a lot more choice, letting you purchase boons just for yourself—like an extra talent—or miracles that buff the entire party. Everyone has individual bank accounts, so feel free to be a selfish bastard and not spend a penny on the rest of the party. It's up to you.
Completing missions will give you a buff, too, which you'll be able to see before you start the mission. I anticipate a few spirited debates when one player really wants to improve their attack speed, while another is adamant they should go for the stamina bonus. There will be debates, there will be bargaining, and there will be some broken friendships.
Glutton for punishment
After you carve a bloody swath through the hordes of Chaos worshippers, you'll unfortunately learn that the princess is in another castle. You'll have to prove yourself on three expeditions before uncovering the path to the Citadel of Eternity and, fingers crossed, some kickass divine powers (no promises). Thankfully, your next expedition will be different, not just because you might choose different paths, but because all the locations will be rearranged on the campaign map, and they'll have different modifiers.
Like the titular winds from the last expansion, Chaos magic warps the world, changing it depending on the god in question. Expeditions have a specific god causing mischief, but individual missions can also be manipulated by the other deities. Sometimes you'll have to run through a mission while slowly dying, or killing an enemy will spawn a smaller version of them. With all the miracles, boons, and Chaos magic, a lot can change from mission to mission.
When I was done, though, my victories felt a little hollow. Progression in Chaos Wastes is different enough from the regular game so that it doesn't feel like retreading old ground, but after completing an expedition it all just goes away. Everything you fought to earn vanishes. You're just left with a chest based on your score, as per usual, and maybe a portrait frame if you've completed some challenges. At the end of such a big adventure, I was hoping for something more. Maybe there's something more impressive waiting at the end of the Citadel of Eternity, but I have to confess that I died right before I could find out what it is, putting me in a foul mood for the rest of the day. Bloody roguelikes.
Though I wish it left more of an impact on the base game, the new mode is shaping up to be an enjoyable experiment, and I can't wait to dig into the rest of the new maps. I love the beastmen, so I'm disappointed that there aren't at least some new Chaos monsters to fight, but for a free update it already adds so much. This could have very easily been premium DLC. Fatshark's plan was always to make it accessible to everyone, however, in an effort to keep the playerbase together. And there's still the possibility of more enemies down the line, so we might end up making some new friends in the Chaos Wastes in a future update.
Chaos Wastes will arrive as a free update on April 20.