by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I will say that it nails the aesthetic – even if I’m tired of the Sewers.
As a much younger man, I didn’t get into Warhammer – getting into the tabletop game is, as far as I’m aware, still frightfully expensive. I already had one expensive habit (Magic: The Gathering) and adding a second? That’s a pass for me. However, that’s one thing I love about video games: now I can delve into this franchise I’ve always been fascinated by. The grimdark fantasy and science-fiction universes really caught my eye. Warhammer: Chaosbane is “technically” the first Action-RPG/Hack ‘n’ Slash in the Warhammer Fantasy Universe – technically. Warhammer Vermintide and Vermintide 2 came out significantly earlier, and while they do fit the bill of an ARPG (levels, loot, lots of bad guys to kill), they play more like Left 4 Dead II and other survival horror games. So on a flimsy technicality, Warhammer: Chaosbane is the first real hack ‘n’ slash in the Warhammer Fantasy Universe.
You’ll see a lot of areas like this in the first few hours.
Warhammer: Chaosbane is a pretty fascinating game on its face. The Empire of Man is splintered, and the forces of the Chaos Gods are running rampant everywhere. There are plenty of horrific, ugly, fast swarms of minions of Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle and Slaanesh to deal with, and I’ll give them credit – they land the aesthetic of the forces of Chaos 100%. It all looks exactly like it ought to. Warhammer: Chaosbane does not hold the player’s hand at any point in the game. Even on Normal, it’s pretty brutal and cruel. I mean, that fits the setting alright, but it’s not so enjoyable for a new player I imagine. There isn’t much in the way of tutorials either. Want to know how the skill/talent/god-skill tree systems work? Curious about what the various colored gems do, other than being a currency? Even as far as Chapter 2, I haven’t seen very much in the explanation of things in the game. I received a sentence, and that was about it. One thing I learned the hard way as a mage is that you can easily fire off the screen and pull a bunch of extra enemies to fight. As long as you have a slow/stun or teleport, it’s not so bad. Just be aware of it!
Well, that was gross.
It’s important for a game to make a solid first impression – which Warhammer: Chaosbane did not do with its first chapter. I feel like I went into the “Sewers” map no fewer than six or seven times in the first chapter! Were there no other parts of the area that needed to be explored? No? Just the sewers? Okay then. On top of that, the combat is incredibly repetitive, even with the dynamic, flashy powers of the High Elf Mage. While all of the character’s skills look awesome and feel fun to use, I found myself more often than not attacking a few times, walking back down a tiny corridor, attacking again, and walking back again? Why? Slows! It seems like the majority of the enemies above the “tiny” size have a circular AOE they can launch, and if you’re in it, you get slowed. If they attack or charge you, you get slowed. Slows are the bane of my existence in this game, and so many enemies use them that it, for a lack of a better term, slowed the game down immensely. There is one part of the game I loved though – Bloodlust. You can build a Bloodlust meter, and when it fills you can hit a button and hurl tons of awesome magical power at your enemies. They look like humongous shuriken shrouded in dark magic. They bounce off of walls and objects, and you can easily fill the screen with death.
Those blues were replaced with oranges in the very. next. map.
You receive tons of loot, plenty of gold crowns, and exp for killing these massive swarms of enemies. As a High Elf Mage, I was able to stun/slow, teleport, and pull overwhelming waves of enemies together and blow them up, so I could feel like I was actually doing something instead of run, stop, kill, run, stop, kill. While you do get quite a lot of powerful gear, there are four tiers: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Heroic. In Chapter 1, not even halfway through it, I was loaded down with an entire set of Rares without doing anything to earn them other than play the game. When the player is given overwhelming amounts of amazing gear, it feels less important overall, especially in the early game. You can store spare gear in a stash, which can be accessed across your characters. I didn’t expect to have a full set of such rare, powerful gear so early in the game, but it didn’t seem to matter. Enemies still dealt most of my life in a few hits, and the larger enemies would kill me in one.
The most use I had for gold crowns other than the god skills, was getting out of situations like this when I died.
Should you die on a map, you can “give up”, or you can use gold crowns to bring you back to life. This isn’t the worst, but I do think the game lacks an ability to teleport back to town. If you run out of space in your inventory for gear, you can’t go back to town and sell/donate stuff, you have to drop items and pick up the new ones. When in your camp, you can donate gear to build a reputation – but it also gives useful rewards. That’s the only use for gear that I’ve seen so far – no crafting as of yet. While I’m talking about the in-game experience, one thing that would be great is seeing the names of enemies, especially the larger foes, and whatever kinds of flags they have.
Most of my time was spent chasing jerks with flags.
I can use my judgment and assume that the annoying demon with the huge red aura and a banner is running around rallying, but having some kind of concrete idea of what it’s doing would be terrific. While the actual combat is satisfying, and the abilities and enemies all have the familiar Warhammer flair that I expect, it mostly feels very linear. I leave my camp by one of two or three doors (usually one), and head into an area that feels just as linear. The area maps feel pretty similar to each other, and they’re not especially lengthy dungeons. You have a goal, set out to the next bloodbath, and murder everything in your way, which honestly isn’t so bad. But that first chapter feeling like every single map was the same was definitely a downer and made me less vested in the story. You’ll gain levels pretty quickly, and as you do, you can explore a peculiar talent system.
This system isn’t awful, but the set-up left a lot to be desired.
Your skill points can be used on improving your Basic Skills, Advanced Skills, Passive Skills, and another set of “Passive” Skills, “Fan Skills”. It’s not very clear what they are, but what they do is pretty easy to explain. They give passive buffs (increased exp, gold, loot radius, et cetera), or let you use an Emote. That’s right, you can waste a passive slot on an Emote, instead of something concrete. Each Basic or Advanced ability has three levels you can unlock, each having a level and skill point requirement. The passive skill tree is put together in a very odd way, but you’ll get used to it. There are three columns of abilities, and each row has a 4 SP, 8 SP, and 12 SP power. Each row is focused on a particular trait (Fire Damage, Energy Consumption, One of your Skills) but you really aren’t given tons of options. Every few levels you unlock another one of these, and it just feels burdensome more than anything.
Melting things with huge gouts of flame was pretty damn satisfying though.
Since the Passive points are shared with your other skills, the early game leaves you with a split decision of if you want to increase your attack power or get some passive buffs. This could easily be remedied by having these not all share the same point system, frankly. The skill set for each character is pretty shallow, and all you do is slightly adjust these powers; instead of having tons of options to try new skills, you try the same skills in slightly different ways.
We had three ways to gain passives – these were the only ones you can just … have.
Throughout the course of the game, you’ll also unlock the “God Skill Tree”, which serves as a Path of Exile-style ability unlocking system. Most of it is stat bonuses, but there are also additional powers you can unlock through it (Aetheric Storm for High Elf Mage, for example). As you murder hordes of enemies, you’ll receive little colored shards and this is where they come into play. It’s still not clear to me what the colored shards are for, other than that they are used here. The skills unlocked here aren’t free though! You also have to equip them with skill points, so you should also keep that in mind, though the passives are automatic at least. These trees are different for every character as well, so spend a little time looking at them and planning your route.
It’s not a bad game, it just feels very uninspired on a lot of levels.
More Skulls for the Skull Throne: 2.5/5 (Fair)
The biggest complaint I have about Warhammer: Chaosbane is that it does nothing to hook me. The story did not hook me, the constant repetitive stages did not hook me. I’d love to talk about the online experience too, but honestly, it took forever to find even a single online game, and when I finally did, I had no idea who I was playing with, what the difficulty was, et cetera. It wasn’t a very intuitive system at all. Do you know what did feel good though? Using a controller. This game felt like it was made for controller support, and it felt amazing. Picking up the gear was fine, killing things was fine – the controls, in general, felt very good to me. The look, the music, the aesthetic all works for me, but many areas felt just as repetitive as the gameplay did. I expect a bit of repetition in ARPGs since so many of them are grindfests – and I don’t mind that! But one of the things that make other ARPGs fun for me is being able to head back to other areas with great ease, and look for chests/challenges I may have missed.
There are non-main story options in Invasions, Boss Rush and Expeditions, but the main story itself does not feel very long at all. I cannot imagine wanting to do Boss Rush though – bosses in my experience were frustrating and time-consuming. I spent 15-20 minutes on the first major boss, only because I made one false move, died instantly and had to go through all three phases again. I can see the couch co-op being enjoyable, and for a mindless monster-killing fest with your friends is never a bad thing. I don’t think Warhammer: Chaosbane is a bad game, not by any stretch. It just lacks chutzpah. I didn’t feel vested in the story, or the action. The talent system could honestly be fixed by being a bit more clear, perhaps with a different UI couldn’t hurt either.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Warhammer: Chaosbane Screenshots