The battle was raging, blood painted the stone tiles crimson and foul sorcery filled the air. My Dwarf Slayer hacked and hewed with both his axes at the monstrous boss before him. Alas, the Greater Deamon of Slaanesh was too quick and employed devastating auras, rendering the flesh and draining life. This was not a foe to be beaten in hand-to-hand combat. Nonetheless, my dwarf fought bravely until the end, draining two of the daemon’s life bars before he got disintegrated by magic projectiles. I had lost.
This was my first real setback in Warhammer Chaosbane, a fast-paced action RPG in the vein of Diablo and Grim Dawn. In fact, there are few new things that Chaosbane brings to the table that we haven’t seen before in those titles. Playing as one of four heroes, an Imperial Soldier, a Woodelf Ranger, an High-Elf mage, or a Dwarf Slayer, you visit different places across The Old World in order to beat back the latest Chaos threat to the land.
This time, a powerful sorcerer has managed to put a powerful curse on the Emperor and, being the sole survivor, you are implicated in the deed. In order to restore your good name and stave off the Witch Hunters’ pliers and knives, you set out to catch the real culprit. What follows is a campaign which takes you to four separate locations dealing with the four Chaos gods of the Warhammer universe.
As you travel across the Empire and beyond, you will kill thousands of enemies and pick up a million pieces of loot from the slain minions of Nurgle, Khorne, Slaanesh, and Tzench. It can be very satisfying to wade into a gaggle of cultists and daemons and just rip and tear until it is done. Fighting is as fast paced and action packed as you’d expect and any battle you enter is likely only to last a few seconds before everything is dead on the ground, with only their shinies remaining.
Speaking of which, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for a game which has equipable beards (with stats), but the loot in Chaosbane can be a bit on the dull side. There are still a ton of different things to pick up but the variety just isn’t there. For instance, my Dwarf slayer can only have dual axes and wears tattoos on his body instead of armor. There are a ton of axes and tattoos to pick up but it will always be axes and tattoos. You will never find two-handed axes, swords, maces or clubs. Only dwarven axes. Likewise, you will never get any armor, nor helmets or anything of the sort.
The lack of loot variety is unfortunate as part of the joy of these games is seeing your character develop and look meaner and nastier at the end than he does at the beginning of his journey. In Chaosbane, you will largely look the same throughout. Sure, the tattoos are different, but from the distance you view your character, you can’t really tell. It like they refused to or weren’t allowed to stray from how the miniatures look in the tabletop game.
While oddly reverent to the table-top game in some ways, Chaosbane seems to completely disregard it in others. This is made clear very early on as the first boss you encounter is none other than the daemon prince of Nurgle himself. Yes, you fight the Great Unclean One as your first boss.
While it is a rather cool fight, it completely undersells the significance of such an encounter. The Greater Daemons of Chaos are essentially living gods and are all but immortal — they kill thousands and even millions when they tear their way into physical reality. The problem with fighting one as your first boss is that it is a bit like bashing the brains out of Diablo in the first act of Diablo 3 — there just isn’t anywhere else to go from there. The stakes can’t really get any higher. .
Additionally, it is sad that there is no way to see what it is you are fighting. Enemies have no names on them and the only way to know what it is that you are fighting is to come into the game with the knowledge from the tabletop game. Having some sort of wiki or way to inspect the enemies you murder would be most welcomed, not least since each and every one of those enemies has tons of lore and stats written about them over the years.
Sadly, it isn’t the only way in which Chaosbane disappoints. While there are some really cool enemies, you also encounter a lot of palette swaps. Likewise, a lot of the randomized levels and dungeons look and feel very similar to one another within the same chapter. It all makes the world and what you are doing a bit repetitive by the end of the game.
What Chaosbane does well, however, is the overall combat design. All characters feel mobile and the gameplay promotes using different skills and abilities throughout. This is also due to the fact that the skills system is very flexible. When you level up, you increase your pool of skill points as well as unlock new abilities. Each ability cost skill points to activate and can be upgraded in three steps in accordance with your level. So, say you unlock the higher level ground pound ability but don’t yet have enough skill points to activate it, you can then deactivate another skill or lower its level in order to get enough points. It’s fairly easy to understand and makes you able to change up your class on the fly. For instance, in the fight against the Slaanesh daemon I previously mentioned, I could swap out my skill in order to gain a boosted ranged attack, which made the fight a lot smoother.
Chaosbane is also designed to be played co-op together with others and it is clearly the way to play the game. Instead of having an open world to run around in, the dungeons in Chaosbane are discrete levels. As you progress through the story you unlock the ability to do side activities and boss rushes in the area. This makes it easy to just pick up and play with a friend as running through a mission can take 20 minutes or less. This, together with how flexible the combat and progression system is, makes for a really fun game to play with other people.
Chaosbane has good to great visuals for the genre and is sometimes prepared to play around a bit with the perspective in order to look quite stunning. Some areas might zoom out really far to let you take in the scope and breadth of the place, while others pull you in close to admire the details. Playing Chaosbane served as a sober reminder that it has been a long while since Diablo 3 was released.
That said, I did run into some technical issues. During dialogues, the voices can sometimes cut out and a couple of times the voice was a step or two ahead of the dialogue boxes that were displayed. I have also been able to go out of bounds in the game world, specifically in the more cramped boss fights. On the PS4, the load times are also not great: Some levels take a good while to load into and since the game design is built upon going in and out of levels a lot it can sometimes be grating.
Chaosbane has some great ideas about how it handles combat and skill progression. It also has a set of really fun bosses to fight against, especially in co-op. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite enough to pull it all the way to the finish line.
Fun combat and great co-op do their best to mitigate the shortcomings Chaosbane has with its serious lack of variety.