Part of me still can’t believe we have gone this far without a Diablo-inspired Warhammer game. The franchise is practically made to be a dungeon crawler; Thousands of monsters, heroes, and daemons spread across a multitude of factions who have distinct personalities, looks, and cultures. A truckload of lore and books and anecdotes to draw from. Honestly, there are few franchises that are better suited for this style of game. Luckily, Chaosbane is here to finally fill that gaping void with some good old fashioned monster-bashing action.
Chaosbane is bound to look and feel familiar to anyone who ever laid eyes upon a Diablo game before, especially if it was the console port. It’s top-down, takes place in a dark and brooding world, you have a wide array of death-dealing skills, and you have direct control over your character.
The skills are generally divided into two categories, normal attacks that deal damage and generate energy and more powerful attacks that consume said energy. For instance, the soldier starts out with a normal slashing attack that will hit a single enemy and then gets a sweeping attack that will hit enemies all around him. Again, very familiar, but Chaosbane does bring some of its own quirks to the system as well. The wizard’s controllable lightning balls are something I haven’t seen before, for instance. Hopefully the final game will have more of these kinds of quirks as you progress further in the skill tree.
Speaking of skills, you do see some uniqueness in the way it is structured compared to other crawlers. As you set out, progression is more or less linear – you gain a level and you gain access to a new skill. Later on, however, there seems to be a lot of room for customizations and tailoring to your playstyle. Once you gain a few levels you will have to start engaging with the skill points pool. In essence, each skill you unlock also cost a set amount of points to equip and map to a button. This means that if you want to unlock the next level of the slash attack skill to make it stronger, it will also cost you more to equip into an active slot. If they balance this right it could lead to some really interesting combinations towards the endgame. It at least suggests that you might need to forgo equipping some skills in favor of others.
Another thing that makes it stand apart is the divine blessings system. Basically, it works as a secondary non-linear progression system. As you murder your way through dungeons and sewer, you accumulate divine favor points and gems. These resources let you unlock nodes on the divine blessings grid — think the sphere grid in recent Final Fantasy games or Path of Exile. While I was not able to unlock much of it in the beta, the skills there seemed to be very powerful indeed, like the one I unlocked for my soldier, making flames swirl around him, dealing tons of damage and incinerating anything which came near.
The little I could engage with the story also looks promising. I never expect an action RPG to have much in the way of a story, but Chaosbane sets out to have more than most. I especially like the cutscenes that play out from time to time, they not only look great in the game itself but also manages to capture the art and style you see in the Warhammer rulebooks.
The prologue starts with your character joining a crusade to beat back the latest Chaos invasion coming from the Northern Wastes. After some trials and tribulations, Emperor Magnus emerges victorious. Chaos never gets put down for long though, and when you return to the City of Nuln, The Emperor gets attacked by a mysterious sorceress. Soon you stand accused of high treason and regicide, which puts you on the very, very naughty list of The Inquisition. Luckily it turns out Magnus is not quite dead yet, and in an effort to clear your name, you agree to start hunting down the cult behind the attack and deal with them. Turns out that old uncle Nurgle, Chaos Lord of Decay and Pestilence, is letting some of his minions fester in the city sewers. This provides your first clue and off on a murdering rampage you go.
Already in the beta, I could see the seeds of a classic Warhammer tale being planted. You have The Inquisition hunting heretics and doubting everyone, you have Chaos cults running around causing mischief and there are plenty of opportunities for betrayals.Characters also interact with each other a lot more than you are used to in action RPGs and there is a good amount of dialogue. It all looks very promising and is set to offer a lot more on this front than many other similar games have done in the past. Although I feel that I have to mention that the voice acting is middling at best from what I have heard thus far.
While Chaosbane looks fine in terms of its graphics, I have seen little that made me take note or feel impressed as of yet. Why must these games always start with a sewer or old musty tomb? Preferably with green neon lights? It all looks fine, but is just starting to feel a bit stale at this point. Luckily I did see a few maps which at least hints at things being a bit better in the full game. I’m talking about the more Warhammer inspired elements in Chaosbane, which indeed manage to stands out in a good way. The chaos corruption and the filth it leaves behind add splashes of color to the otherwise drab environments, for instance. In other areas, such as the throne room, the game plays around with camera angles and perspectives to show off some impressive looking art design.
Of course, you could argue that the world of Warhammer is meant to be dark and brooding. While I agree with this, there is also a very strong aspect of satire and silliness throughout all of Warhammer. Take the Chaos Warriors, for instance. They are spiky and look menacingly heavy metal in a way you don’t often see outside of 80s album covers. However, they are also ridiculous in their body proportions. They are what would happen if Gregor Clegaine from Game of Thrones could spend millennia beefing up at the gym, but somehow always ended up missing leg day. I’s heavy metal as heck, but also very silly. I did see some glimpses of this at the end of the beta. As you finish out the main questline, you stand face to face with The Great Unclean One for a final showdown. The fat, bulbous Greater Deamon doesn’t even bother to stand up and fight you, instead opting to plump down on a throne of filth while taking lazy swipes at you. It all looks quite cool and silly at the same time, which is in line with what I expect from this franchise.
Chaosbane is also trying to shake things up a bit in terms of level structure and make it easier to play with friends in co-op. A dungeon will have three ways for you to engage with it. The main quest follows the storyline, but aside from that you also have a free exploration mode and a boss rush mode. The beta had limited access to modes other than the main quests but it looks like it could be a fun way to jump into some co-op and not have to deal with the plot. Having discrete levels and maps to explore as opposed to a big open map is also something that might make playing multiplayer a lot easier and fun.
The only thing that really set off my alarm bell with the beta was the loot and equipment. It seems like each character only has one type of weapon. The soldier has a sword and shield and the wizard has a staff and a short sword. Hopefully it was just the beta that was limited in this way and we will have access to a lot of different types of weapon in the final game. If not, it is a serious blindspot which might kill the joy of finding loot in the long run. As loot is the blood which keeps these games going, it could be a big issue.
All in all, Warhammer Chaosbane looks interesting and if you have any interest in action RPGs or Warhammer, you should keep an eye on this one. For me, I really look forward to seeing how they make use of the license as they have such a rich universe to draw from. An expansive encyclopedia has been promised and it’s one of the things I am looking forward to seeing the most.