Warhammer is a massive franchise in the table-top role-playing and strategy game world, but its video game adaptations have unfortunately been of varying quality. We have seen mostly first-person shooters, tactical war games, and traditional RPGs but none of them have been particularly outstanding in their respective genres. Last year, Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor - Martyr proved that a Diablo-style action-RPG works well with the license. Warhammer: Chaosbane adopts the same outlook for the franchise’s fantasy iteration. Making a Diablo clone is often a tricky ground to trod on because of, well, Diablo itself that reigns as self-proclaimed king of its genre. There’s only so much you can do with hacking, slashing and looting that Blizzard hasn’t done in the Diablo series. Still, Warhammer: Chaosbane is brave enough to enter the ring and while many of its design choices stem from its modest budget, they mostly manage to work in the game’s favor.
There’s always an ever-lasting war going on everywhere in the Warhammer’s world as the chaos horde fancies dethroning the Emperor and subjecting everyone under their vile rule. In Chaosbane, the empire is just dangling a sweet taste of victory after successfully defending Nuln, the bastion of the South. As always, the joy is premature as the forces of evil are gathering again under the command of Harbinger, a powerful witch. She seeks out new allies to overcome Nuln for once and for all. Four heroes who proved themselves in the battle for the city are called upon to thwart Harbinger’s plan. Of course, the story and the narrative, told plainly in a dialogue between heroes and their allies, is nothing more than a bonding agent to glue together four chapters of the game that take place independently. There’s no singular world as each chapter is centered around its own hub, usually a town or a village, with accesses to quest locations. Once hubs are unlocked, you can also fast-travel between them though it’s mostly futile as they share the same facilities, like That Guy who takes all your unwanted items to free up your inventory space.
There are four character classes to choose your hero from: an Empire soldier with his sword and shield, a spell-weaving High-elf mage, Slayer, a berserk dwarf weaving dual-axes, and as the only female character, Wood elf scout who’s a nimble archer. Go on, those who might know my gaming preferences by now, make an educated guess who I chose to play as. Yes, it was the scout all the way! Each class has basic and special attacks. The latter eats up energy that is gained back by using basic attacks. It transforms fluently into a rotation of basic and special attacks with face and shoulder buttons of the controller. Killing monsters and completing quests gains experience points to level up that grant new skills and upgrades for them. Turning in quests also rewards money and colored fragments (both of which are also dropped by monsters) and extra skill points that define what skills and how many of them can be equipped at any given time. Color fragments, in turn, are used to unlock nodes in a God skill tree to give the character more attack power, defense, health or health regeneration.
Warhammer: Chaosbane can be played either solo or as local or online co-op. Naturally, the local co-op play requires several user accounts so that each can play with their properly leveled-up characters, as guest user gets only a weaponless and armourless level one character who is of no use at all. Online play, where you can either make your session public or join someone else’s game on the fly, is a noble idea. In practice, though, players are most likely running around in different areas of the map as the matchmaking doesn’t seem to take level and quest differences into account. And then there’s almost an obligatory disconnect bound to happen, no matter if you’re hosting or joining a game, taking you back to the start screen. As of writing, the game serves were anything but stable. Luckily, the game is perfectly soloable as it scales nicely whichever way you play it.
If you have played any of Diablo games, or at least have heard of them, you can pretty much figure out how Warhammer: Chaosbane plays out. However, there are a couple of neat touches to make some difference. There’s no fog of war, so instead of wiping off darkness when you venture off to uncharted areas, you can seem them plain and clear. Also, there’s a nice sense of volume and space to the surroundings that reach out beyond playable paths. I didn’t have the same distressing claustrophobic feeling I had in Diablo games when playing Chaosbane. Overall, the visuals are neat and clean with some nifty, if gruesome, details like blood-soaked streets of war-torn Praag. A fully orchestrated score, especially with its ominous brass section, creates an effective ambience throughout. Then there are some areas where the modest budget gets in the way, like the voice acting. Heroes and villains alike are so horribly under-or overacted that it’s in fact hilarious. It really doesn’t lend a sense of dread you’d like to have in such a warlike franchise as Warhammer.
The crawling chaos horde with its devoted followers and monsters you meet up and fight in each chapter becomes a bit too familiar as there’s no a real variation to enemies. It also doesn’t take much else than using you attack rotations effectively to thin out their clustering ranks. Once in a while the road further is blocked up by a bigger representative of chaos but disappointingly, no matter what each of them looks like, they behave and attack in a similar manner. You really don’t need to cook up a new strategy after beating one of them. Each chapter escalates in a boss fight where the story culprits offer themselves as blood sacrifices to the chaos gods and turn into horrible deformations. It’s a good idea to have all your skills up to date and God skill tree specced up to your personal preferences, not to mention wearing the best items you can afford at the moment. Boss fights are more like endurance tests where you need a healthy health pool and a good amount of its regeneration. Also, you can use the environment to your advantage to avoid bosses’ periodic attacks and swarming adds. It’s better to save Bloodlust, a super special attack period filled up by collecting blood clots dropped from cleared out enemy waves, to the boss fights.
Itemization, from looting, equipping and managing equipment, is nicely straightforward and hassle-free. The difficulty level you can change on the fly not only makes enemies more absorbent or resilient but it also affects the loot quality. However, the game’s hook is not about loot but more like its satisfying gameplay. It’s so unpretentious and comes off easily, with a meaty hit impact, complete with ripping sounds and bursting particle effects, accompanying the rewarding combat. Still, even amidst all the addictive action, you can’t help but notice how the game recycles its assets. In the absence of a bigger picture, the game reuses its surroundings and level lay-outs until a new chapter brings newfound zing to the proceedings – for a while, that is. When each chapter is completed, you can go back to them in expedition and boss rush modes to grind experience points. Thankfully, though, the basic progress in the campaign is enough to keep the character up with the challenge.
In the end, Warhammer: Chaosbane is more about its satisfying gameplay than being an accurate and respectful representation of its franchise. Here, Warhammer is actually a mere coating to a competent Diablo clone rather than being an essence of it. In many ways, the game has budget title sentiments to it when it resorts to simple narration and recycling assets but still it’s sold for a full price. That’s a fact, in addition to the lackluster performance of the online game, that drops Warhammer: Chaosbane from an essential purchase it would definitely have been as a mid-price title. Wait for a sale and you’re probably happier with what you get.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.