Warhammer: Chaosbane official artwork and logo

Warhammer: Chaosbane, much like the Diablo series from which it draws a great deal of inspiration, is a fantasy hack and slash that's all about mowing down large hordes of enemies, messing around with a variety of abilities and classes, and naturally, collecting more loot than even the over-the-top Warhammer Fantasy races could ever hope to carry.

If you're wondering what all of this looks like in gameplay terms, as well as how Chaosbane compares to the rest of the genre, allow me to share my thoughts after playing through the Closed Beta. Before we begin, it is important to mention that Chaosbane is a work in progress, so don't judge its faults too harshly as the developers still have a few months to get everything squared up and ready for launch.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of a co-op battle

I hope you like killing demons, because there sure is a lot of them

As its name would suggest, Chaosbane is a Warhammer game through and through, and nowhere is this more apparent than in visuals and overall atmosphere. Just about every single location and building is oversized and ornately detailed, to the point that even the sewers feel like they were designed for giants rather than men. Combine this with the Empire's love for skull-shaped iconography, as well as Chaos's tendency to leave all sort of demonic nastiness behind them, and you've got a set of environments that feel distinctly Warhammer. So even though the visuals aren't incredible from a purely technical standpoint, the art style and atmosphere are more than capable of carrying the whole experience.

The same extends to the characters and music. While the dialogue itself isn't exactly inspired, the performance for most of the main characters seemed to be pretty solid throughout the beta. I have to give a special shoutout to the High Elf Mage here as he felt just insufferably smug enough to make me believe he's a proper High Elf noble. As for the music, it ranges from being atmospheric, action-orientated or even just foreboding chanting, all depending on what you're doing. It's not something you'll hum on your drive home, but it certainly helps enhance the mood, and once again, reaffirm that you are indeed playing a Warhammer game.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of heroes fighting in the sewers

There's nothing quite like hunting Nurgle followers through a sewer

When it comes to the combat, however, Chaosbane is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, playing as the High Elf Mage has been an absolute blast, and I mean that quite literally. Not only are most of the spells highly explosive in nature, but they all synergize together to create an immensely satisfying playstyle. It's all about raining down fire upon the enemy, giving them the tiniest of hopes that they will actually reach you, only to then dash all of that by either teleporting or using a shockwave to slam them into the nearby walls. They're not exactly the most original of spells, after all they're just an assortment of fireballs and magic missiles, but it is a proven concept and one that works great in Chaosbane as well.

Where Chaosbane does innovate is in the High Elf Mage's passive - the ability to control your spell's trajectory. This might sound like a minor detail, but in reality it significantly increases the depth of the High Elf Mage's playstyle, adds a whole bunch of new synergies to build around, and perhaps most importantly of all, looks pretty darn awesome in action! For example, you can choose a talent that makes your fireball leave a trail of fire as it flies, and then simply control its path so that the enemies never have a chance to actually escape its effect. And that is just the simplest of tricks you can use!

It does get a bit hectic trying to control the direction of your spells while constantly pumping out new ones, but it's a challenge I was more than willing to undertake because of how powerful it made me feel. After all, very few things scream "all-powerful mage" more than being able to consistently push enemies away with a giant tornado while simultaneously raining down fire and brimstone upon anyone that makes it through!

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the High Elf Mage breathing fire

Also, did I mention you can breathe fire!

Where the High Elf Mage was a lovely mixture of challenging gameplay and sheer spectacle, the Empire Swordsman was the very epitome of mediocrity. Instead of being able to blast enemies limb from limb with a variety of spells and abilities, the Empire Soldier mostly spends his time hitting enemies with a sword, hitting enemies with a sword in a slightly different way, or just to mix it all up, hitting enemies with a sword while shouting. There is a chance some of the later talents could improve the Empire Soldier's playstyle and bring him to the level of the High Elf Mage, but as of right now, it is a hero that was sadly just not that fun to play.

Besides his abilities, the Empire Soldier also suffers from some of the clunkiness inherent in Chaosbane's combat system. Unlike Diablo 3 from which it has clearly taken some pointers, the enemies in Chaosbane simply do not have a reaction to being hit, which then makes all attacks against them feel weak and ineffective. For the High Elf Mage this is no problem at all given that the spell effects often blanket the entire area in fire so you don't even notice this, but for the melee-focused Empire Soldier that is sadly not the case. As such, you'll spend most of your time swinging at the enemy that just kind of stands there and stoically takes it on the chin.

This could all just be a beta issue given that Chaosbane is still a couple of months away from its release date, but if it does end up in the final version, it would be a rather massive problem given that both the Empire Soldier and Dwarf Slayer are "in your face" kind of fighters. With that in mind, I do hope the developers will be able to fix up the melee combat so that it can stand proudly next to the High Elf Mage and the excellent spell system.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the Empire Soldier in action

The Empire Soldier does look pretty cool, so hopefully he'll become a bit more interesting

Besides the various items which I will discuss later, Chaosbane has two distinct ways of customizing your character: a classic talent tree where you spend currency to gain minor bonuses, as well as a skill point system that lets you pick and choose from a variety of spells and upgrades. Out of the two, the classic talent tree is about as standard as it gets, and while I can certainly appreciate it being there, it wasn't something I was overly excited to explore as most of the bonuses were fairly inconsequential.

However, the way you choose spells and spell upgrades definitely caught my interest! Instead of simply picking the very best spells and then spamming those ad nauseam, Chaosbane only gives you a certain amount of spell points to mess around with, and as you might imagine, the better versions of spells cost a lot more to equip. So if you're like me and you love going for the most bombastic spells available, you're going to have to sacrifice some of your utility and use cheap spells you would otherwise ignore.

This is obviously a great thing as far as build diversity goes, but it is also an excellent way of encouraging players to move out of their comfort zone and experiment with some of the spells they would simply never choose if given complete freedom. Naturally, you can just take a couple of super-powerful spells and try to make only those work, but sooner or later you're going to start wishing you had some additional utility, at which point the numerous low-cost spells will become a rather attractive option.

While messing around with them you might discover some new combo, or just find yourself enjoying the basic spells as well, after which you'll have to once again decide which spells to upgrade, which to downgrade, and which ones to skip out on entirely. Chances are there will still be a couple of 'meta' builds everyone will flock to in the end, but as far as the leveling process is concerned, I was quite happy with the amount of choices and playstyles offered to me.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot showing the talent system

A simple yet highly enjoyable talent system

What I was not happy with was the amount of choices given to me throughout the first dozen quests. Instead of showcasing everything the Warhammer world has to offer, Chaosbane's first chapter constantly seemed to find ways to send me back into the sewers, to the point that I became intimately familiar with its entire layout. There were a couple of times I left those dingy hallways and got to explore something new and interesting, but soon enough one of the main characters would start rambling about demons in the sewers and send me back in there again.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind a bit of repetition in my ARPG, but unlike Diablo or Path of Exile, the level randomization in Chaosbane was seemingly extremely basic. I would constantly encounter the exact same pathways, with chests in the exact same place and enemies pretty much chilling in exactly the same corner. This is a gigantic problem, especially since there are so many missions that send you into the same environment, but thankfully it's not a problem that cannot be solved by the time launch rolls around. Even the dreaded sewers had plenty of 'level blocks' that only appeared for a single time, so if those could be brought out and better mixed with the rest, I have a feeling the level design would be much more interesting as a result.

Since I'm already talking about things that are likely to get fixed, it's also worth mentioning that the player pathfinding in the beta was a bit of a mess. For whatever reason, my character would constantly get stuck on random corners, use their ability at the wrong spot, or just shoot into an invisible barrier that sometimes extends from random walls. This is obviously one of those early beta issues, but much like the level design problems above, it is something I feel is very necessary to fix by the time Chaosbane reaches completion.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of a problematic wall hitbox

Sometimes the place you're aiming at is more like a suggestion for your spells

On the positive side, some of the random dungeons I explored after the story content was done were a lot more interesting. They still used the same tileset, but there was a fair bit of variety to them, which along with the new random events made for a significantly less repetitive experience. How exactly all of this will pan out in the end-game once players have done these randomized dungeons a hundred times over, I'm afraid I don't know, but there is at least a decent bit of potential here.

The same applies to the one boss I've been able to fight so far, a boss that was more complex and engaging than any of the early bosses in Diablo 3 or Path of Exile. Not only did he do a decent chunk of damage so I actually had to play carefully even on the normal difficulty setting, but there were also ways to mess up the fight so badly it would become insanely challenging to complete because of it. That might sound like a strange thing to complement, but any boss that can add complexity without simply increasing the numbers, as well as give you a chance to completely avoid all of the negative effects through good play, is a positive inclusion in my book. After all, a greater demon is not supposed to be a simple loot piñata!

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of a Great Unclean One boss

A strange choice for a first boss, but an excellent fight regardless!

As far as the loot itself is concerned, I'm not exactly sure what to think, mostly because my characters were locked to a fairly low level. Pretty much all of the loot I've managed to find contained some mixture of main and secondary stats, with very little in terms of special or unique effects. It is entirely possible this is because I only got access to the early game and thus all of the loot was incredibly basic, so until I get my hands on the full version, I don't really feel comfortable saying much more about the items themselves.

What I will say, however, is that the PC UI still requires a decent amount of polish. Like any good ARPG, Chaosbane showered me with loot from the very beginning, but unlike Path of Exile or Diablo 3. it was really difficult to browse through all of my items and figure out which ones were good and which ones were pure fodder. The reason for this is most likely Chaosbane's beta status, but once again, it's something I would like to see corrected as quickly as possible since fighting with the UI is significantly less interesting than wrestling with demons.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the items

Hopefully the items get more interesting later on

Closing Thoughts

Warhammer: Chaosbane is currently at a crossroads. It has enough interesting ideas and abilities to make for a truly engaging ARPG, though there is also a significant amount of problems that rise up from its current lack of polish. Some of these like the UI problems or the giant invisible walls will be easy to fix, while the melee combat and level design will require a fair bit of work in order to bring them up to par. 

So if you're like me and you're intrigued about Chaosbane, I would recommend keeping a close on eye on it, but also keeping your wallet closed for the time being. Chaosbane really does have some genuine potential behind it, but for now we simply must wait and see if the developers will manage to realize all of it. I certainly hope they will because I'd love to spend more time juggling fireballs around!

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