Verdun Review – Stuck in 1916 (PS4)
If there is a decent multiplayer game and nobody is playing it, does it really exist? That was the question I was faced with after playing World War I game Verdun, which recently released on PlayStation 4. Blackmill Games’ first-person shooter is meant to be played in 32-player matches (with 16 on each side), and yet I often found myself in skirmishes that had less than 10 people in them. That’s certainly less than optimal.
Normally, I would say that a solid game not having a player base is very sad, but I can’t really do that here. That’s because the PS4 version of Verdun is a bit of a mess. It has the worst graphical pop-in I’ve seen on the system, with textures loading in while I’m just feet away from them. If that wasn’t bad enough, the game is even ugly once it finishes loading in. Verdun wasn’t really a technical showcase on PC, but it was never an eyesore like this.
Even more disheartening are the other technical issues. I saw the frame-rate often drop during play, and that really sucks in a game where you often die from a single hit. I also had the game crash to the PlayStation 4’s dashboard twice, so I pretty much successfully hit the cycle in terms of issues. All of these issues make it hard to enjoy the core game, and when compounded with nobody playing, it creates a very poor experience for players.
The saddest part about all of this is that I actually had fun whenever I did get to play a full match of Verdun. The ruthless shooter is very difficult due to the long reload times that weapons require (this is WWI after all), and that a single bullet is enough to end your day. It’s all balanced out by the fact that the weaponry is pretty poor, so when you actually successfully shoot someone it’s because of skill. There wasn’t a red dot sight to help me aim, so it was all up to me. This creates a very satisfying gameplay loop, even if my kill-death ratio was rather poor.
There are four different modes in Verdun, with the main mode (and the only one I could ever find a full match in) being Frontlines. This mode has 16 members of the Central Powers battling it out against 16 Entente soldiers. Well, at least in theory. Regardless, it’s a really enjoyable mode where the two sides take turns attacking and defending points. If an attacking team can successfully take over an area, then they gain a point, and naturally, the team with the most points is the victor.
These matches last a long time, and range from anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the map that is being played. I found that it wasn’t uncommon to spend 40 minutes fighting only to end up in a draw. Obviously this wasn’t by design, but I found it rather fitting that there wasn’t a winner. After all, with over 38 million casualties, it’s hard to act like anyone really “won” WWI.
Each team is divided up into four separate squads (each comprised of four players). Each player has a different role to play out, although I found that most players weren’t really acting like a team. That’s not really their fault, as the game does very little to teach players how they should be cooperating or of the different roles they are supposed to be playing as. There is a very short text-based tutorial that happens at the beginning of the game, but it takes two minutes to scroll through and taught me nothing.
The biggest benefit of being on a squad is that your teammates constantly appear on-screen. That isn’t true for the rest of your army, as you have to be looking at them for a few seconds for their name to appear over their character. Since each squad is dressed slightly different (my army had players in several different colors, not just a single uniform) this led to a lot of wasted bullets and friendly fire. Surprisingly, for how ruthless the gameplay is otherwise, friendly fire isn’t lethal. Still, I really wish the game was better at communicating enemies and friendly players. A second of hesitation is a surefire way to die, and while I eventually learned each army’s outfits, it was annoying to constantly encounter friendly fire.
The other modes are shorter affairs, and are pretty commonplace for a shooter. There’s a team deathmatch mode (which has a gimmick where each side has a limited number of respawns), and a free-for-all mode. My experience in these two modes wasn’t exactly enjoyable, as I could never find more than a few people playing either mode. I spent more of my time looking for other players than actually fighting them, and shockingly four players total isn’t enough to make for a fun team deathmatch experience. The modes are designed fine, but they’re not enjoyable since nobody is playing the game.
Finally, there is a cooperative mode called Squad Defense that has players joining together to battle waves of enemies. This was by far my least favorite mode (I even preferred wandering around aimlessly in team deathmatch to it), as the computer controlled foes aren’t fun to face off against. They’re absolutely useless during the early waves, and my team of two players (it goes up to four, but good luck filling out the entire team) easily dispatched them. After about 15 minutes of play, the game starts throwing 20+ enemies at once into the mix and I died due to being overwhelmed. This was more of a relief than anything, as I didn’t want to play any more of that mode anyhow.
Playing Verdun just left me bummed out. While the low player base is terrible for those who bought the game, I’m kind of glad that it isn’t active. If it did have constantly filled lobbies, then it meant that a lot of people bought a poorly optimized game. When everything clicks for Verdun it can be enjoyable, but even then it’s constantly held back by a poor interface and constant technical issues. It constantly left me going, “Well, this could’ve been a lot better,” and that isn’t the sign of a well designed game.
I wasn’t able to find many full matches in Verdun, but when I did I actually had a pretty good time. It’s too bad that most of my play time was spent in matches with three or four people, not 32. Nobody is playing this game because it’s a technical mess, and I can’t recommend it to anyone due to that. If you want to play Verdun, then pick it up on PC. Sadly, the PlayStation 4 version is an inferior version that launched dead on arrival.
Review code for Verdun provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.