Warhammer: Chaosbane close up screenshot of the Dwarf Slayer

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 cleaving through untold hordes of monsters in search of ever-increasing amounts of randomized loot. A fairly simple formula, yet one that has managed to stand the test of time with resounding success!

So if you're wondering what exactly Warhammer: Chaosbane has to offer, as well as how it compares to the rest of the ARPG genre, allow me to share my thoughts after playing it for the past week or so.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the High Elf Mage burning demons

Welcome to Chaosbane, I sure do hope you like demons!

The most important part of any action-RPG is the action itself, and this is where Chaosbane's dual nature slowly starts to become apparent. I've mostly used the High Elf Mage and Wood Elf Scout, and both those characters have been genuinely fun to mess around with. They have interesting mechanics you need to contend with, their spells synergize to a great degree and allow you to overcome even the biggest hordes, and perhaps most importantly, you can really feel how meaty and powerful their abilities are.

I have to give a special shoutout to the High Elf Mage here as he might be one of my favorite ARPG characters ever. Not only does he have a whole bunch of explosive spells that either push the enemies around or simply light them on fire, but he also has the ability to control the trajectory of the last spell he fired! While a relatively minor feature on first glance, it is one you can actually make entire builds around because of how powerful it can be when mastered. 

Instead of simply summoning a tornado and then watching it fly off in a random direction, you can take direct control of it and use it to crate an impenetrable barrier between you and your enemies, all the while casting a variety of other spells in order to dish out even more damage. While I found this to be incredibly mentally taxing as I was constantly shuffling between three different things in combat, I simply couldn't stop myself from constantly using it as it really made me feel like a master of magic. After all, anyone can chuck a few fireballs around, but only the truly gifted can use one as a bludgeon!

Warhammer: Chaosbane High Elf Mage using his spells to devastating effect

Gather up a group of enemies, control your fireball, and watch those numbers soar!

This is where we come back to the whole 'dual nature' thing I mentioned earlier. While the ranged classes in Chaosbane are a joy to massacre Chaos cultists with, the melee classes are unfortunately a bit on the mediocre side. The first problem is that neither of the two melee classes know any magic, which makes most of their abilities just a different colored variation of "I hit it with my sword". This could still be fun if the abilities themselves were wildly different and thoroughly unique, but alas they're mostly just your bog standard ARPG abilities, which simply makes them less interesting and fun to play than the two ranged classes I mentioned above.

The second issue is that I think Chaosbane wasn't exactly designed with melee characters in mind. There are numerous bosses and enemies that simply bounce you back, or deal absolutely ridiculous amounts of damage if you remain in close proximity to them. Combine this with enemies that have a tendency to swarm all around you and block you from even moving, and you've got yourself a fairly annoying experience as a melee character. A real shame since the idea of a Dwarf Slayer truly did sound amazing to me, but I simply couldn't get into the actual playstyle.

Warhammer: Chaosbane close up screenshot of the Dwarf Slayer

As expected, a Dwarf Slayer looks awesome!

Much like Diablo 3, there is no hard-locked progression system when it comes to your character's stats and abilities. While there are some minor talents you can unlock along the way, most of your power will be coming from spells that become available at certain levels. My immediate worry was that this system would become really stale really quickly, but thankfully that ended up not being the case, mostly because almost every spell and its upgrade had a purpose to play.

For example, your very first ability as a High Elf Mage is a magical missile that deals moderate damage and gains you a moderate amount of energy. It doesn't cost many skill points to equip, so if you're simply in it for the energy, it's a pretty good choice. On the other hand, if you would like to invest a few more skill points, you can transform your magic missile into a miniature fireball that sets enemies on fire while still giving energy. This obviously synergizes with fire-based builds and playstyles that prefer to kite enemies instead of fighting them directly.

Finally, if you spend a considerable amount of points and take the third and last upgrade, you will lose all of the fire properties and instead shoot three magic missiles that now pierce through enemies. Suddenly a spell that was mostly used to gather energy can become the cornerstone of your damage-dealing potential, and that is the sort of stuff I love to see in my ARPGs! Naturally, people will quickly find optimal builds and some of the luster will probably fade away with time, but from a somewhat casual perspective, the way spells work in Chaosbane is pretty compelling.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the spell tree

The spell system is surprisingly simple, yet still effective

What isn't compelling, however, are the items. Even though you can get mountains upon mountains of items thrown at you, very few of them are actually interesting enough to warrant any sort of attention. Odds are you're pretty much just going to be looking at those all-important "damage increased by X" and "defense increased by X" percentages at the very top that summarize the item, all the while completely ignoring any sort of nuance the item itself might feature. None of it ever seems to really matter, not even on the higher difficulty settings, so why bother?

On the positive side, there is a ton of stats you can mess around with, and while I have tried a bit of the end-game, it is entirely possible that there were far more interesting items just beyond my reach. That said, even if it is completely correct, I would still like to see the items play a much more important role throughout the leveling process. It's an ARPG for goodness sake, items should be the spice that ties everything together rather than something that's mostly ignored!

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the item upgrade screen

Even when enchanted the items aren't all that interesting

Continuing on with the whole theme of duality, the bosses that are the source of these items are actually pretty fun to fight against. Not only are they some of the most iconic Warhammer monsters, but they also have an interesting set of abilities that require a bit of thought in order to overcome. The first boss, for example, can actively destroy the pillars you need to use to hide from his poisonous breath. So if you're not careful, you can literally end up in a situation where winning is just about impossible, all because of your own mistakes!

Conversely, you can also perfectly play out every part of the fight, in which case you can even defeat a boss without taking any serious damage. I'm sure that at some point people will figure out how to optimally annihilate these bosses and just mercilessly farm them for loot, but in terms of a blind first playthrough, they offer just the right amount of challenge to make things interesting, though thankfully without ever becoming truly frustrating.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of a boss fight against a Bloodthirster

The Bloodthirster was just teensy-weensy bigger than my character... 

While it won't win any awards for its graphical fidelity, the visuals and atmosphere in Chaosbane simply scream "Warhammer" to me, regardless if I'm running through ash-covered streets of snowy forests. This goes doubly so when all of the various demons start showing up by the dozens, each one embodying everything their their dark god stands for. Nurgle's demons are disgusting and spew poison as they go, the Khorne ones are bloody and overwhelmingly aggressive, while the Slaanesh ones love to prance around and scream at the top of their lungs. A small little detail, but when you combine enough of them, they make for a fairly convincing representation of the Warhammer world!

Once the characters start speaking, however, the illusion quickly breaks. The difference in quality between the voice actors is so absurdly large that I'm genuinely impressed how this even managed to happen. There are characters like my High Elf Mage that are absolutely perfect, especially if you're familiar with the lore. What I mean by this is that the High Elf Mage is a snooty noble who is constantly angry because the stupid little humans are wasting his oh so valuable time. He is a complete douchebag from beginning to end, but it's all played in such a way that it's a pleasure to listen to him berate others or just complain about how he has to do some actual work.

On the other hand the characters like the Wood Elf Scout, or some of the supporting cast, are so bad I felt second-hand embarrassment for them. Maybe I've been spoiled by Vermintide 2's Kerillian and her constant biting remarks, but Chaosbane's Wood Elf Scout sounds more like my mom than a highly trained and extremely free-spirited adventurer she's supposed to be. As for some of the minor supporting cast, the less is said about their attempts to act the better!

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of a fight on a bloodied bridge riddled with skulls

The only way this could be more 'Warhammer' is if every spike was adorned with a skull

The final thing worth mentioning are the levels themselves. Much like the rest of Chaosbane, they are simultaneously brilliant and deeply flawed. The biggest factor working in their favor is the pacing of the action. Chaosbane's levels are absolutely littered with monsters from the very beginning to the very end, so if you're like me and you love playing builds that focus on area-of-effect damage, you will find plenty of opportunities to face off against ridiculously overwhelming numbers of enemies.

On the other hand, the constant flood of samey enemies, combined with somewhat poor randomization, can make some levels feel like they drag on forever. This is especially noticeable at the very beginning since someone decided that the first chapter should keep sending you into the sewers, over and over and over again. This wouldn't be a problem if the sewers were intricately designed and full of secrets, but much like every video game sewer, we're mostly talking about identical tunnels that lead to even more identical tunnels.

Things do become a bit more interesting in the end-game as the Exploration mode uses every single level 'chunk' to create a unique map for you to explore, but even then you're still going to be encountering the same sort of predefined chunks time and time again. Chances are good this is a problem that will become less and less relevant in the future as Chaosbane gets more and more level variations, but as of right now you might want to prepare yourself for a bit of repetition.

Warhammer: Chaosbane screenshot of the Empire Soldier in action

Closing Thoughts

While there is plenty to criticize about it, and for good reason, Warhammer: Chaosbane is not a bad game. I had a great deal of fun playing through it with my High Elf Mage, and even though I plan on taking a break until new content gets added, I am completely open to doing another playthrough at some point in the future. There really is serious potential in Chaosbane, it's just that it currently needs some equally serious polish before all that potential is fully realized.

However, recommending Chaosbane is incredibly difficult because of its price tag. In a world where Diablo 3 and Grim Dawn can be purchased for practically nothing, and where Path of Exile is entirely free, Chaosbane's €50 price tag seems remarkably high given the amount of content on offer.

So if you're looking for some advice, I'd say to wait a few months before giving Chaosbane another look. This will not only get you all of the much-needed patches from the get-go, but you will also likely be able to snatch it at a bit of a discount, which should help ease the impact of some of Chaosbane's bigger problems. 

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