'I don't think players expect this': Warhammer 40K: Darktide is adding RPG-style skill trees full of new abilities to its 4 classes

Darktide new class system
(Image credit: Fatshark)

Nine months since launch, Warhammer 40K: Darktide sits on Steam with a "Mixed" review score, both in recent and all-time reviews. There were more than a few criticisms of Darktide at launch—the unfinished crafting system, the cosmetics store, crashes and performance issues—but one of the most common and consistent I've seen is that Darktide has only four character classes, compared to its predecessor Vermintide 2's five characters (with multiple subclasses apiece). Though Darktide does offer some nicely varied skills as you level up and weapons that dramatically change your play style, it was hard not to look at the class system as a downgrade from what Vermintide 2 players were used to.

In October, developer Fatshark is addressing that criticism in a big way by rolling out a complete revamp of Darktide's class system with full RPG-style skill trees for each class, leapfrogging the Vermintide-caliber specializations players have been asking for.

"We wanted players to get a bit more agency into the classes, a bit more experimentation, support a lot more different play styles," Darktide game director Anders De Geer said in an interview with PC Gamer. "We felt like the fantasy of the Ogryn was not done. The story of the Psyker was not done. So we wanted to add more. Basically what we've done is reimagine what a class in Darktide is. This is our huge update: we've expanded the talent trees, added a ton of new options and abilities, passives and actives."

Under Darktide's original class system, you unlocked a new perk every 5 levels up to the cap of 30, and had three options to choose from at each milestone. That system is going away, being replaced with a more RPG-esque skill tree peppered with those same abilities and a ton of new ones. Fatshark says that each skill tree has three main branches, with one branch essentially representing the existing options and the other two representing new ways of building out each class.

In between the major nodes are passive skills and modifiers, and you'll get a point every level to work your way down the tree. If you carve a straight path down one of the branches, you'll hit the bottom before spending all 30 points, encouraging you to experiment.

"It's a plethora of new avenues that players can use to not only choose how they want to play, but express themselves as a player and their playstyle," said executive producer Juan Martinez. "It's a cooperative game, so any increase in options, you multiply that by the synergies you create with other players."

A few examples of the new skills Fatshark showed me:

  • A new shield ability the Psyker can deploy (further down that branch, this two-dimensional shield can be upgraded to a full-coverage dome)
  • A more crowd-controlling Psyker branch lets you blast out psychic shards instead of brain bursting (think the whistle-controlled arrow in Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • Instead of brain burst or the shards, the Psyker can also go full Sith with a Force Lightning-esque smite ability
  • The Ogryn can now choose to throw a "Big Friendly Rock" instead of a grenade box (with the advantage of the rock going on cooldown, rather than requiring an ammo pickup)
  • The Ogryn also gets a gigantic grenade as a second alternative
  • Ogryns can now pick a taunt over upgrading their charge attack, or a big reload/fire rate buff designed for mowing down hordes

"When you launch a game and you have a rocky start, you have to start to reprioritize everything and reassess the situation," De Geer said. "Some problems are easier to fix and some are harder to fix, because in a game all the systems play off each other. So some things have been cooking for a long time. We reacted fast, but it takes time to actually do it. And I don't think players expect this fix, but it's a good fix." 

Development of this skill tree actually started before Darktide launched, but some classes were further along than others. The system just wasn't ready last year.

(Image credit: Fatshark)

"We worked so intensely with it, and we experimented a lot," De Geer said. "Some of the things you will see in this we actually started playing around with [before launch]. But we felt they hadn't reached a quality we needed to be in the game. That is part of why we still felt that we need to do this. Everyone on the team wanted to do this. We felt this would improve the game a lot. We didn't find the right way to get it into the game at launch, and then we kept working on it."

Fatshark didn't give me an exact date for the update, but it should be arriving this October. With the one-year anniversary arriving a bit later, on November 30, I hope that means there's one more big update in store for Darktide before the end of the year.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).