Warhammer: Chaosbane Review — Face the Horde
Warhammer: Chaosbane brings excellent class design and interesting builds, but forgets the variety in enemies, environments, and loot.
Warhammer: Chaosbane is an action RPG from developer Eko Software and publisher Bigben Interactive. The game takes place in the storied Warhammer fantasy universe. Chaosbane immediately calls to mind genre staples like Diablo and Path of Exile. As a seasoned Diablo player myself, it’s hard not to compare the two games; however, I will do my best to keep the Diablo talk to a minimum.
Chaosbane starts up right after Magnus the Pious has stopped the armies of Chaos and cut off the head of Asavar Kul. The Chaos army stands defeated, and the city of Nuln appears safe.
Unfortunately for Magnus, the threats to his throne are not finished with their machinations. A sorceress calling herself the Harbinger enters his throne room, kills his guards, and locks Magnus into a static field that he cannot break. The game begins with the player fighting his or her way to the throne room and discovering Magnus’ fate. From there, you are tasked with finding a way to free Magnus and stop the Harbinger.
You have the choice between four different characters classes: the Empire Soldier, High-Elf Mage, Dwarven Slayer, and Wood Elf Scout. Each class feels very different, and you should easily find one that suits your play style.
For my main playthrough, I chose to play as the Slayer. After all, I have somewhere north of 1,000 hours played as a Barbarian between Diablo II and III. I figured I should check out what Warhammer’s version had to offer. That being said, I tried every character out and, with the exception of the Soldier, found them all fun to play.
Obviously, each character has a number of specific skills that only they can use. However, I think the best addition is giving them all different archetype skills that you can activate with your right stick. The Slayer has a hookshot that he can use to quickly jump from one combat encounter to the other. It also lets you jump out of the area of effect of the spells that some enemies cast. The Scout has a tactical roll that lets you create space between you and a horde of baddies.
The Mage has arguably the coolest archetype skill as he can control his spells after casting them. This means you can take one of your orbs and use it to hit an enemy over and over again. The Soldier has a shield charge that can stun enemies. I felt this was the most boring of the four but I can see how it would come in handy in co-op if you’re playing as the team’s tank.
These archetype abilities are one of the many choices the Chaosbane team has made to try and stand out from other action-RPG games. You also gain access to what the game calls God Skills. These are unlocked by collecting fragments from fallen enemies and spending them in a secondary skill tree.
Think of the God Tree as kind of a hybrid between Diablo’s Paragon system and Path of Exile’s open-ended skill tree. You’ll use the tree to unlock new skills and various passive stat bonuses. The fragments carry over between characters, so if you max out one God Tree, you can still use any fragments you collect with that character on one of your others.
I really like how Warhammer: Chaosbane handles your skills. You can take any of your basic or God skills and map them to any of the six buttons on your controller. However, you’re only given a certain amount of skill points. So, if one skill costs 18 points to use, you’re going to have much less space in your build. This sometimes forces you to take lesser versions of abilities so that you can fit them in under the cap. I loved how Chaosbane made me make some tough decisions in my build but also allowed me to very easily change a build that wasn’t working. It encouraged constant creativity, while also not making everything too easy.
Every character also has access to the game’s Bloodlust meter. Some enemies will drop red orbs, which you can (and should) pick up. These will give you some health and build up your Bloodlust. When you get in a particularly sticky situation, you can activate your Bloodlust and just destroy everything in your path. It is a very powerful ability that makes you feel like nothing could possibly stop you.
So, all of this sounds really great. The classes are varied and (mostly) fun. You’re given interesting choices in builds and encouraged to constantly be tinkering. And Warhammer often gives you an opportunity to feel immensely powerful. What could be wrong? Unfortunately, while I think the team at Eko have absolutely nailed their character and skill design, I didn’t find much else to like.
One of the big draws in action-RPG games like Diablo and Path of Exile is the random loot drops. You’re constantly getting new items to try out, and many of them have unique properties that can completely change a build. Maybe I’m just incredibly unlucky, but I’ve hit the level cap with the Slayer and have done a number of Boss runs at Chaos II difficulty and have not found anything resembling a Legendary item in Diablo.
Instead, I’ve just found different versions of essentially the same seven or eight axes. It is completely possible that I need to keep playing to find loot that will change the game. However, one of the great parts of Diablo was finding a Legendary item at level 15 and getting a taste of what was coming in terms of end game loot.
Warhammer doesn’t have that. What you see at the start is basically just a slightly less cool-looking version of what you’ll have at the level cap. It makes picking up loot boring. Sure, there’s the option to use fragments to bless your items, but even that lacks the gravitas of seeing Bul-Kathos Solemn Vow drop in Diablo III.
And it’s not just the weapons that get boring quickly. The enemies are fine in design, but there doesn’t seem to be much diversity. It feels like there are maybe 20 different enemy types. The game’s website claims there are 70, but I don’t see how that is possible.
There are also only about six different types of environments and each of them mostly feels the same. The team attempts to offset the lack of areas with a number of game modes that change things up. The story mode is fairly standard (though the storybook cutscenes are beautiful) and you’ll blaze through in 10-12 hours. Then you open up Expeditions, Boss Rush, and Relic Hunt.
Expedition Mode is trying to be the game’s answer to Diablo III’s Adventure mode. You go to one of the game’s maps and run through it. Along the way, a few random events take place. These are pretty basic but do change things up a bit. I did, however, wonder why these events were given their own mode and weren’t just wrapped into the main campaign. Throwing in a few random events on every map would change things up and help the maps not feel like a slog.
Boss Rush puts you in the room with whichever boss you choose to fight. There’s not much else to it, but it does give you a good way to test your skills in the higher difficulties. Relic Hunt is basically Greater Rifts from Diablo III. You spend a bit of money to open up a new map. After you battle to the end, you’ll fight a mini-boss and be given a chest full of items. Of the three end-game modes, I thought this was the most fun.
All in all, this feels like a really solid B-game. Something I could easily throw on and play with my friends. Warhammer: Chaosbane is fun to play, but you don’t really need to pay much attention to what’s happening. The gameplay is incredibly solid, and I really want to jump back in and play more as the Mage and Scout.
It may not knock everything out of the park, but the gameplay foundation is there, and I could easily see this growing into something people will love. It just needs more content, variety, and much more interesting loot. For now, if you’re looking for an action-RPG, I would probably still suggest getting Diablo III or Path of Exile first. That said, give it six months and that tune could easily change.