In August, Warhammer 40,000: Darktide developer Fatshark gave me an early look at an update that the studio didn’t think players were expecting: a complete change to the leveling system, adding RPG-style skill trees unique to each class. That update went live today, replacing the old, much simpler progression system with a more flexible array of abilities and bonuses. The patch also includes a list of balance changes so long it had to be split across two posts on the Darktide forums. 

Players on the Darktide subreddit, who were extremely down on the game at launch last November, seem delighted with the update, and Darktide has hit its highest concurrent player numbers since January. 

I spent some time playing with the new skill trees on my veteran and ogryn characters and am already excited by the different playstyles that seem to be opening up. For the veteran, I first specced-out a build that should be ideal for close-quarters combat with shotguns, which was always an option but didn’t really have many unlockable feats that encouraged it. Now I’ve taken perks that will significantly buff my allies’ toughness and make them stronger while I’m nearby, and criss-crossed the skill tree to end on a branch that awards me 30% extra damage in close combat. That didn’t exist at all in the earlier skill tree. It seems possible to build a veteran as a dedicated support class too, with an optional skill that lets you revive your allies just by shouting at them. 

The ogryn has seen some big changes, too, like the introduction of a cooldown-based rock he can throw instead of a grenade for high single-target damage, as well as a taunt skill for playing tanky and a skill for buffing ranged weapon damage that I think minigun players will especially love. I skewed my first new ogryn build toward dealing heavy melee damage, but next I want to play around with the skills that will buff playing defensively with a shield and tanking for the rest of the team. Lower down in the skill tree the Ogryn has a passive skill that will taunt enemies just by blocking or shoving them, which feels like a powerful way to flex crowd control on big mobs and get your squishier friends out of a jam.

In a patch earlier this year Fatshark added the ability to create and save up to five different character builds per operative, which thankfully carries over to the new skill system. That means you won’t have to mess around re-speccing between every run; you can set up five archetypes and swap between them with a click. While in a matchmaking lobby, you can also see the key skills other players have picked to get a sense of how they’ll be playing.

Each skill tree has dozens of passives and modifiers, so I’m not going to list them all here. But I will call out some of the other additions this patch brings, because the skill trees apparently weren’t enough by themselves:

  • Adjusted most enemy health pools, hit mass values, and stagger thresholds to be a bit higher overall, with higher increase on Monstrosities, with the goal to match the overall increase in power output from players.
  • Added more ways for the Conflict Director to spawn hordes. Hordes can now spawn in different ways to respond to player behaviour, including coordinated strike with Specialists, mixed in Elites with the horde, push from behind while ranged enemies spawn ahead, bigger ambushes with more spread and more.
  • All weapons now have weak spots as sweep hitzone priority.
  • Base Bleed damage buffed from 40 to 200.
  • All melee blessings that rely on ‘chained hits’ have been tuned to be more easily used. You’ll no longer drop the buff when being staggered/suppressed/etc, only if you drop the combo (stop attacking) or if you miss an attack.
  • Lowered the time where inputs were locked after sprint-jumping. This should make it possible to more quickly aim or shoot a secondary weapon after jumping off a ledge.
  • New interface user setting: Center of Screen Dot. Shows a dot at the center of screen for weapon actions, if no crosshair would otherwise be shown.
  • New input user setting: Separate mouse sensitivity sliders for non-ranged weapons, ranged weapons, and aimed/braced ranged weapons.
  • New input user setting: Toggle ADS/Brace: Toggle Aiming Down Sight (ADS) and Braced aiming instead of the default hold to aim.
  • New input user setting: Always Dodge: Always perform a Dodge regardless of directional input.

One of my favorite touches in the patch actually isn’t based on how Darktide plays—it’s pure flair. Fatshark has added six new short cinematics for when you first walk up to the points of interest around the hub world, like the mission terminal and the armory, that show off a bit more of the ship and its characters. Darktide’s threadbare story was a real disappointment when it launched last year, and more connective tissue like this goes a long way towards giving it the personality it deserves.