Game name: Warhammer: Chaosbane
Release date: May 31, 2019 (Deluxe and Magnus Editions), June 4, 2019 (Standard Edition)
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Eko Software
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
What would happen if someone took the action-packed world of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and mixed it with Diablo‘s loot obsession? That must have been the question that spawned Warhammer: Chaosbane, and that is also the question I’ll try to answer over the course of this review.
The Empire of Man is under assault, with Chaos forces gathering under the command of a mighty Champion who intends to raze the lands of those who don’t align themselves with the Ruinous Powers. Enter Magnus the Pius, a devout man who not only manages to unite the Empire, but also defeats Asavar Kul, the Champion of Chaos just as he was about to achieve victory over the combined forces of order and sanity. Of course, since this is a videogame and we need a traumatic event to start our journey, things don’t go very well for good Magnus right after the opening cutscene (yes, all of that was packed into a lavishly detailed intro video, narrated with such passion that I couldn’t help but feel instantly invested in the story, even if I know the way Fantasy Battles ends). An Inquisitor does what Inquisitors do and tries to pin the crime on our character, but an Elven sage gets us off the hook so we can go murder Chaos cultists and get that sweet loot (oh, and help Magnus, let’s not forget that part).
On a more serious note, while the story is pretty much standard fare for an action RPG, I quite enjoyed the way it was delivered, and I’d like to extend my congratulations to the person who narrated all the cutscenes, as they were incredibly passionate, and totally sold me on the atmosphere of urgency that surrounds most of the events that unfold during the game’s fifteen hours long campaign.
But let’s not kid ourselves, when someone picks up an action RPG they want to get their hands dirty with the blood of their enemies and collect tons of loot in the process. So, how does this work in Chaosbane? Regarding the most basic gameplay mechanics, the player character moves/executes the primary attack with the left click of the mouse, while the right click and the top rown number keys can be used to trigger special attacks, and the spacebar handles each hero’s class specific skill. Users who choose to play with a gamepad will get a different control mapping which favors direct control instead of click to move (a decision which I applaud).
The basic “left click” attack generates whatever type of energy our chosen class requires to execute more advanced skills, and as the game progresses and our level goes up, we’ll not only unlock improved versions of this attack, but can also swap it for different ones that usually change our play-style in subtle but nonetheless noticeable ways. This theme of unlocking upgraded versions of existing skills persists for all the different abilities and passive buffs that we can equip, and in order to prevent us from stacking all the good stuff and becoming Sigmar reincarnated, Chaosbane assigns a number of skill points to each ability, with this number going up for every upgrade. This means that we’ll always have to juggle between different options, since even at the level cap (which is 50 as of today) we only have a limited amount of points to spend which isn’t enough to pick all the upgraded versions of every skill.
Aside from the normal skill tree, which will be completely unlocked by the time we hit level 50, Chaosbane also offers an extra God tree for every character, containing both slight stat increases AND powerful abilities, in the form of both active skills that can take the place of the basic ones we have been using up until now, or passive buffs that can also shape the way we take the fight to the enemy. For instance, while playing as Elessa, the Elf Ranger character, I chose to focus on a summon heavy play-style which relies on dryads that I get from a specific ability dealing damage to my enemies and overall focusing their attention away from me as I pummel them into submission with a deadly rain of arrows from afar. Both the active and passive basic skill trees offer options for this play-style, but the bulk of the work (in my case) is handled by three God skills, two passives that greatly enhance my dryads’ powers, and one active that lets me summon four minions at once, who are also affected by everything I’ve got going on at the same time, and can make quick work of mini bosses and other tough enemies if I’m in a tough situation.
If all of that wasn’t enough, there’s an extra mechanic in the form of Bloodlust, a sort of limited “ultimate” skill that can be triggered once we’ve collected enough blood drops from dead foes (those drops also heal our character, a very useful thing considering that healing is managed through the use of an infinite potion that acts on a cooldown, a mechanic that landed me in tricky situations more than once while facing bosses or tough encounters). This Bloodlust power, while not exactly lore-friendly for the elven characters, adds a nice touch of variation, and an extra option when dealing with seemingly overwhelming enemy forces.
Now that the base gameplay mechanics are out of the way it’s time to talk about the most important part of any Diablo-like, which is of course the loot, that fickle, sometimes disappointing, but always tantalizing thing. Readers who dropped by on March might have noticed that I published a Chaosbane preview which had me cautiously optimistic about the whole thing, but weary of a loot progression system that seemed to be based around feeding the player tons of crappy items that weren’t real upgrades most of the time. Thankfully that is not the case in the full version of the game, and it seems that my fears at the time were unfounded. Enemies still drop enough items to feel like loot pinatas at times, but there’s always a sense of constant progression. As our character grows, armor pieces (or tattoos, in the case of the Dwarf) start dropping as parts of sets that grant us different buffs, and once we reach endgame, those sets can completely alter the way we play the game. As expected from this kind of title, there are different loot rarity tiers, with the best items being dropped by the bosses present at the end of each chapter (which can be replayed without having to deal with all the trash mobs through a nifty “Boss Rush” option).
Aside from weapons, armor, jewelry or tattoos, enemies will also drop cash (that can be used to purchase maps for Relic Hunts that offer boosted drop rates in exchange for gold and some type of debuff or weird modifier that makes that specific run more difficult) and Fragments, which have two uses, the first of which is to unlock God skill tree nodes, and the second, to “bless” items, a mechanic that feels similar to gem socketing, as it further increases the power of our gear.
And don’t be fooled, we’ll need to squeeze every drop of power out of our gear if we wish to tackle higher difficulties. The game can go from Very Easy all the way up to Chaos 5 (there are ten different difficulty settings, all of them offering their own rewards, while at the same time making things extra hard for those who attempt to weather the storm without gearing up first). Since going through the campaign again and again is a great way of getting sick of something, the game lets us run Expeditions, which generate new runs on whatever chapter we started them (and you can fast travel to all the different areas once you’ve beaten the game, so it’s up to you to choose your own setting). If the Expeditions get boring, you can go on a Relic Hunt (which I’ve described in the previous paragraph), or go kill bosses in Boss Rush mode. There’s an extra option titled “Invasion”, but it’s not available at the moment, so I can’t comment on that.
So now we have basic gameplay and loot out of the way, what’s there to talk about? Cooperative play, you say? OK, let’s quickly review our options on this front. Warhammer: Chaosbane has two main ways of playing the game in co-op, which are local play (plugging a controller so one player controls a character with the mouse, while the other does their thing with a gamepad) and online, which works as expected, with players creating an online session that can be populated by friends or random strangers, depending on the chosen setting when the room was created. Interestingly, there’s a third option which involves playing online and locally at the same time, something that I haven’t seen in similar games. Local players load their characters from the ones stored in the host computer, so sadly you can’t bring account Y’s save to X’s house while X is logged in, but that should be expected, since Steam doesn’t work that way. Oh, and you can’t steal other people’s loot, which is really nice (there’s no PvP to solve disputes either).
Well then, I’ve droned on and on and you are probably somewhat bored now, so it’s time to get to the point. Warhammer: Chaosbane‘s attempt to bring the Fantasy Battles universe into action RPG land is a resounding success, as the game takes all the right cues from the giants of the genre while at the same time implementing a few neat tricks of its own. With a meaty campaign and four characters to choose from, anyone who picks up Eko Software‘s latest title will have a great time either solo or in co-op. Just make sure to stop frantically left clicking from time to time, as you can get some nasty wrist pain if the loot addiction sets in!
8.5/10 – Great.