"Vermintide" features four-player cooperative fighting through a series of missions against a relentless foe.

"Vermintide" features four-player cooperative fighting through a series of missions against a relentless foe. (Fatshark)

In ages past, four heroes banded together to ward off the minions of destruction. They wielded their weapons with precision and maneuvered with skill or they fell before the oncoming hordes. Their deeds brought cheers from the masses.

But enough of “Left 4 Dead.” A new franchise has risen to claim the mantel of the king of co-op fun: “Vermintide 2,” from the Swedish developer Fatshark.

Much like its zombie-filled inspiration, “Vermintide” features four-player cooperative fighting through a series of missions against a relentless foe. But it’s set in the medieval fantasy universe of the Warhammer games, so the formula is a bit different. Instead of zombies, “Vermintide” features countless ratlike Skaven and their allies, Nordic chaos warriors known as Rotbloods. And instead of assault rifles and baseball bats, the heroes deal their damage with swords, blunderbusses and magical staves.

As the game begins, you find yourself playing as the powerful knight Markus Kruber. You’re being held in an underground Skaven prison where you learn their rattish leader has constructed an enormous device that can teleport the Rotblood warriors into your home territory. Before the opening mission is complete, you break out of the clink, gather your companions and set your sights on destroying the menacing Skittergate.

The game offers five playable heroes, each of whom has three career options. As a result, there’s an option for almost every style of play. For example, Markus can stand in the breach as a knight encased in steel and deliver powerful blows. He can rely more heavily on ranged weapons as a hunter. Or he can balance the two as a mercenary who deftly balances his swordplay with ranged firepower.

The other heroes are the pistol-packing Victor Saltzpyre, the sturdy dwarf Bardin Goreksson, the magic-wielding Sienna Fuegonasus and the nimble elf Kerillian. Each has a melee attack, a ranged attack and a special skill that must be powered up before use.

Each character and each career path is unique and rewarding. For example, it’s just as fun to send Rotbloods flying with the mighty swing of Markus’ war hammer as it is to toast Skaven with Sienna’s fire staff. However, similarities in their basic game play make it easy to switch from one character to another between missions.

Missions generally involve running through a forest, city or cave, fighting off Skavens and Rotbloods. Along the way, several tasks will need to be accomplished, such as loading explosives onto a mine cart, releasing prisoners or destroying some contraption. Missions usually end in a final sprint to a magical portal that takes you back to your keep, where you can count your rewards and upgrade your hero.

Most of the enemies are cannon fodder that can be dispatched two or three at a time with a well-placed swing of a sword. Others are sturdier and require landing a heavy attack or several light attacks. Still others present trickier problems, launching gas bombs, creating deadly whirlwinds, shooting magical machine guns, ambushing heroes or snaring them with a pole and dragging them away. Finally, most maps feature a few elite enemies who have more health and more vigorous attacks.

The combat is quite satisfying, thanks to smooth and efficient controls, interesting weapon options and richly detailed animations. Of course, thanks to the brutal nature of medieval combat, the animations are also pretty gruesome. Expect to see streets drenched in blood as appendages fly and heads roll. The game definitely earns its mature rating.

But no matter how many torsos you cleave and arms you sever, it doesn’t have much effect on how your character advances. Loot and progression are determined by points gained through surviving missions and locating various items scattered across the battlefield. If everyone in the party returns alive and you pick up three tomes and two grimoires hidden throughout the map and gather “loot dice” dropped by elite enemies, you will receive better loot. And better loot translates into more power for your character.

The loot you received is randomly generated so you never really know what you’re going to get. However, if you are dissatisfied with your rewards, you can break them down and use the parts to forge something — possibly better — or upgrade an item you already own.

As you gain power, you can replay missions at higher difficulty settings so the game always has a new challenge to offer.

The battlefields are very impressive. They not only look great — whether a shattered medieval city, lush forest or foreboding cavern — they are well designed. Over the course of a mission, you will experience a wide variety of terrain types that present all sorts of tactical possibilities. The settings also manage to channel the action but never restrict it. For example, if the ground is unfavorable, you can usually duck around a corner or fall back to find a more advantageous spot for your style of fighting.

While the settings look great and the animations are stellar — though gruesome — the game does fall a bit short in some graphical categories. For example, some of the characters’ facial renderings are pretty unappealing. Of course, it’s the Middle Ages, when hygiene and cosmetics were far less common than disease and deformity. But Sienna looks like a meth addict who’s been beaten by a baseball bat. And that’s not even the biggest problem. Her face and those of a few other characters look like throwbacks to an earlier console generation. I also think the bodies of the fallen foes disappear too quickly in many cases. The carnage does seem a bit much at times, but it’s still a bit odd to have a foe evaporate into nothingness before his head even hits the ground.

The only other technical issue that I’ve encountered with any frequency is having most of the team booted from the server when one play decides to leave the game.

PC gamers got to jump into “Vermintide 2” back in March, but console players didn’t get to join the fight until December. The one benefit console gamers have is that they don’t have to wait for the game’s downloadable missions since two were available at launch.

I’ve played a lot of other games that offered co-operative missions over the past few months. Many have been entertaining, but not as fun as “Vermintide.” The best was the zombie mode of “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.” I still think that game is a blast, but it has one big drawback — the time it takes to complete a good run-through. On a recent night, some friends and I spent more than two hours on a single game. I can’t fit that much time into most of my nights. On the other hand, I can squeeze in a match of “Vermintide” almost any time — and have great fun.

Bottom line: A “Vermintide 2” takes the crown as the most fun and wild co-op adventure of 2018.Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation

Fatshark provided a copy of “Vermintide 2” for review purposes.

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