Warhammer: Chaosbane Preview

By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)

Choosing to buy a game carrying the Games Workshop licence can be a bit of a crapshoot. You throw the dice and hope. Unfortunately, despite being really excited for Warhammer: Chaosbane, I think the game is more craps than anything else. While the art style is of reasonable quality, that and the fact that it carries the Games Workshop name are about the only things it has going for it. In fact, I think it only nominally even carries the Warhammer theme, and that by relying heavily on tropes, unoriginal storytelling, and name recognition.

In Warhammer: Chaosbane (Chaosbane from here on), you choose one of four heroes to play as in an ARPG that tries to be both Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, but pales horribly compared to either. You choose between Vollen, the human soldier; Elontir, the high elven mage; Bragi, a dwarven slayer; or Elessa, wood elf waywatcher.

The diversity between the characters themselves is one place where the developers over at EKO Software seem to have done okay. Unfortunately, they’re also quite familiar to characters from the Diablo 3 franchise. Bragi, for example, has a sustainable whirlwind attack that is painfully similar to the D3 Barbarian.

Every single time you start using this ability, he lets loose an obnoxious laugh. So obnoxious that I stopped using the skill, despite it being one of the more powerful abilities.

The skill system itself is quite similar to Diablo 3, as well, if given an ever so slightly different layout, and a point based system that’s nothing if not annoying and prohibitive. Each player has a selection of active and passive skills, and a unique class skill. Then there are so called “god” skills, as well as a few skills obtainable by donating items, which, yeah, I’ll rant about that later.

Active skills are, again, similar to Diablo 3. You’ve got energy builders, energy spenders, and then abilities on cooldowns which often don’t require energy to use. Each of the characters does have their own unique skill tree, unique passives skills (unlocked normally be leveling), and the favour tree.

This favour tree is where the obvious Path of Exile influences seem to come in, though it’s not done nearly as well as PoE, and just feels arbitrarily added. It is the favour tree, however, the allows you to unlock the god skills, after the deities of the Warhammer universe, presumably.

Sigmar's Wrath Screenshot

It’s like those miserable psalms. They’re so depressing. Now knock it off!

The part that annoys me most in the skill department is that these god skills that require special allocation of points to unlock, also cost skill points, which your character has a fairly limited selection of. So limited that you have to choose between having a narrow focus of useful skills, or a wide variety of useless ones. This might change later in the game, as I only played through Act I during the second beta weekend, but it was rather infuriating to unlock things and not be able to use them without giving up something else I’d come to rely heavily on.

There are plenty of other things that frustrated me about the game however. One example is the alt key. Now, ever since Diablo 2, the alt key has been the “show all the things” button in ARPGs. Diablo 3 used it, and so did Path of Exile. Chaosbane also uses the alt key, but in the case of this game, it highlights only objects. Not gold. Not shards. Not barrels. Just dropped armor and weapons. I just find this to be lazy, and annoying. I want my gold!

Why do I want gold?! Well… I’m actually not entirely sure. I haven’t found anything to spend it on yet. Yeah, that’s right, I completed the entire first act, 19 levels and 8 hours played, and haven’t found anything I can spend money on, except reviving. Except the only time I actually died was because my cat started yowling like he was dying in the other room, and I ran AFK (don’t worry, it was just the sight of the bottom of his food dish that had him freaked out).

Note: This is one of two times in Act 1 where you’re not fighting in the sewers. The other time is also in this exact same spot.

There does appear to be a locked option at the donation guy for “trades”, but playing through the entire first act, that never unlocked. You can’t actually buy any gear, nor even sell it, in THE ENTIRE FIRST ACT. The only thing you can do is donate it to some random guy in the keep, in exchange for some passive skills: one ups your XP gain, another makes you get more money from drops, and yet another I believe increases movement speed a tiny bit. Thankfully these particular passives didn’t seem to cost skill points, they’re just always on.

The utter lack of challenge contributes heavily to exactly how boring this game is, in my estimation. The fact that I can pretty much ignore mobs is bothersome. Now I get it’s the first act, but some challenge would be nice. Even the “captain” level mobs, which have little glowy bits above their head, or the lesser daemons, really don’t present any major struggle, aside from tedium of having to hit them over and over again.

And the final boss of the first act? About five minutes of attack, dodge big attack, potion, fight boss for two seconds before it turns invincible and a horde of mobs come out. Rinse, repeat. And again. Aaaaand again.

Furthermore, 95% of the first act takes place in the sewers. Not even unique or changing sewers, you actually go back into the exact same sewer sections several times. The sections themselves seem to be stuck together copy/pasted assets in yet another example of just plain lazy development.

I feel the same about the lack of nametags above enemies. There’s a health bar, but no name. It’s not even like they had to name the enemies, as they just took it (loosely) from Warhammer lore. They just couldn’t be bothered to stick the names above the mob’s heads, like, well, every other ARPG out there. Now, again, this could be “well it’s still in beta” talking, but IMO that’s a game feature, and game features go in during alpha. Beta is for getting the bugs out.

Final thing to rant about: the gear itself. Now, the artwork on most of the gear is pretty cool, and some of the gear even has a bit of lore on it. Mostly this has to do with where exactly the gear came from. See, in Warhammer tabletop, you paint your miniatures to look like tribes or armies in companies or dwarven clans, or whatever, and often try to stick to a theme for all the units of a given army. The game has some of those unit collectives named, to give you a basis for painting.

Chaosbane pulls on some of that theme/lore and tags some armor pieces with it, which is cool enough. Furthermore, when you have a complete set of five pieces of the same gear, you actually get a set bonus. This applies to all gear, not just special specific pieces that are set gear. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this balances out the fact that there are only four tiers of gear total: common, rare, heroic, and legendary. By the end of Act I, almost all of my pieces of gear were heroic. This didn’t leave me much to look forward to, and I felt like I was given too much, too soon.

Oh, and also, one of Bragi’s item slots is tattoos. So yeah, you can take off and switch tattoos on the fly. Hair and beard, too. Again, lazy. Just… lazy. They could have given him a static hair and beard length, and color, and then added ornamentation. They also could have given him certain tattoos, maybe even that increased in elaborateness as he leveled, and then added warpaint. The thought of a character changing tattoos though just rips me right out of the immersion and makes me cringe.

The Slayer’s new “clothes”.

Like I said at the beginning, I really wanted to love this game. I love ARPGs, and I love the Warhammer franchise. What I don’t love, however, is how readily Games Workshop allows its intellectual property to just get slapped on any ol’ dumpster fire of a game. I think the folks at EKO were planning on sailing on art direction over game design to carry them, but in my opinion, it’s just not enough.

I did, by the by, try the game couch co-op with my fiance. The game supports up to four players in a match. When we found out it was tethered game play, though (as in all players must remain on the same screen) we just got annoyed and gave it up for a bad job. In fairness, split screen would have made things far too tiny to see. It’s just… not a worthwhile feature, either way you cut it.

Again, this is only the second beta for Warhammer: Chaosbane, and I feel that’s worth of mentioning, but I can’t imagine them doing the complete overhaul of this game that I would want to see before I could recommend it. As it is, I’m recommending that unless you’re just completely desperate to throw your money down the Games Workshop gullet on a tedious ARPG with a Warhammer fantasy skin, to stay away from Warhammer: Chaosbane.

A game key was provided for preview purposes.

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