Warhammer: Chaosbane is the newest exploration of Game Workshop’s Warhammer story. Developed by Eko Software, Chaosbane is an action RPG that evokes its predecessors in the genre; kinder people would call it a homage to the Diablo series, while those more critical might refer to it as a shameless rip-off.
Chaosbane doesn’t bring much uniqueness to the table, but in my impressions piece I wondered if it would have appeal for players outside of the Warhammer fanbase. It does, but barely. Enjoy a straightforward plot with simple quests to follow, and continually struggle with monotonous map layouts and fights that doesn’t have any true sense of difficulty. It’s a polished game that plays it safe, which will leave you facing the final moments of Chaosbane feeling accomplished without expending any true sense of effort.
Pick Your Poison
You play as one of four pre-made classes: a Human soldier, High Elf mage, Dwarven slayer or Wood Elf scout. I completed the game with the scout, Elessa. After beating Chaosbane, I went back and replayed a few quests with the Dwarven slayer to see if there was any imbalance between ranged and melee combat. It was refreshing to discover that there wasn’t much difference between the two combat styles in regards to game difficulty. When I started Choasbane, I figured that it might be more difficult to play a bow-based character and that I’d have to rely heavily on map positioning and strategic getaways. That was not the case. While scouts and rangers have a reputation for being support characters, beating the game solo as Elessa was easier than I expected.
Having classes pre-made isn’t a bad thing, and you do have the ability to spec your character into different “subclasses.” The more you level up, the more abilities you unlock and the more skill points you gain. You can kit out your character with the abilities that suit your playstyle. Elessa can be given a mishmash of skills, or honed into a poison-based sharpshooter, a trap-builder, a close-range knife thrower, or my personal favorite, a dryad summoner. As I neared the end, I was summoning five or six dryads to do my dirty work, while I stood off to the side, sniping anyone that came too close.
I did wish for a little more flexibility in terms of the appearance of character creation. There’s no ability to adjust what your character looks like. Instead, there’s a set color palette for clothing, but no option to change facial features and no way to swap genders. While that doesn’t necessarily impact gameplay, not having options to modify character appearance reinforces that Chaosbane isn’t trying very hard to have much more than the minimum features of an ARPG.
The Story of Chaosbane (Spoilers Ahead)
I wrote about some of Chaosbane’s lore in my impressions piece so I won’t dig too deep into the backstory and context. I did mention that I was curious to see if the heavy plot focus continued. While the first area of Chaosbane is heavy on exposition about the Chaos invasion on the Empire of Man, it tapers off shortly after. There are four chapters to the game, each one in a different area of the Warhammer world, with a different set of enemies and overall aesthetic.
Throughout my run, I wasn’t struck by the uniqueness of any particular area until I reached the final chapter. Fighting my way through the realm of Chaos in Chapter Four was probably the most fun I’ve had in an ARPG ever. Chapter One had endless waves of easy-to-kill enemies as you wander through Nuln’s sewers. Chapters Two and Three had slightly less enemies, but the bandits you fight have higher HP and more than one attack. Chapter Four was a better mix, with a huge variety of enemy difficulties, from tiny demons that were sliced in half with a single arrow, to giant flying wyrms that randomly spewed purple fire. There were also periods of peace as you explored the Chaos realm, which was a nice break from constant assault and made any sudden attacks more of a surprise.
I wish that Chaosbane had structured the earlier chapters to match the final one, though it was nice to end the game on a high note, rather than start with strong gameplay that slowly fizzled. Many games — not just ARPGs, though Torchlight II comes to mind — make the levels darker and grittier as you get closer to the final boss. Chaosbane, in one of its few small areas of difference, flips that script. The realm of Chaos is splattered with hues of electric purple, turquoise and gold, and there’s more variety to the area than the ho-hum former levels.
Each chapter has a final boss fight, with some large monstrosity taking up half the screen while summoning waves of smaller enemies to distract you from their attacks, which can often kill you in a single hit. While the mechanics of each fight were a refreshing change from the constant hack-and-slash, the difficulty range seemed imbalanced. The final boss of the sewers in Chapter One took me about 20 tries to finally beat, as he vomited poison all over the screen in an impossible-to-avoid death trap. Chapters Two and Three were almost too easy, with the fight over in less than a minute due to long stretches where the boss just stands around looking imposing.
Yet again, Chapter Four is where the boss shines, at least from a gameplay perspective. With phases that rotate through smaller enemies, bullet hell and a homing laser, it was difficult enough to catch my attention, but not so difficult as to seem unfair. However, from a lore perspective, the final boss reveal falls flatter than flat. Elessa spends days fighting through hordes of goblins, demons and hellish monstrosities to discover that the person behind the attempted murder of the Emperor and destruction of the country is a simple village woman from Nuln named Helspeth Bale. Helspeth was angry that women were not allowed to attend the University, so she joined the army of Chaos to become an evil sorceress, intent on destroying the Empire. You know, as one does. It’s such a boring trope that I literally groaned out loud during the lengthy cutscene where you meet Helspeth and discover her treachery. Besides, I find it pretty hard to believe that Elessa, a female Elf, could be recruited by the Empire’s army to end “an age of lawlessness and despair,” yet she wouldn’t be allowed to attain an advanced degree.
Loot ‘Em Up
Chaosbane has five main items to pick up when you successfully defeat enemies: gold, gem shards, blood, armor and weapons. The amount of gold and gem shards that drop while you play on regular difficulty is almost excessive. The majority of enemies drop a small pile of coins and a shard, plus there are larger piles of money scattered around the maps you explore. There was not a single point throughout my playthrough where I didn’t have enough funds, which took away any fear of death since if you die during any part of the game that isn’t a boss fight, you can pay a few thousand gold to respawn at the location of your death.
Blood looks like glowing red bubbles that you can collect to build up your rage, which you can trigger to unleash hellfire on your enemies. It’s not very exciting, but it makes quick work of mini-bosses surrounded by cliques of minions. Weapons and armor occasionally drop from higher-level enemies, but are more often found hidden in chests that are in good supply. Almost every hallway that doesn’t lead toward the goal of your current quest has a container of loot at the wall of the dead-end. For the first 10 levels or so, pretty much every pick-up is an upgrade, but after that, better items become few and far between. Choasbane’s achievements on Steam mention that there is such a thing as a “heroic” item, even higher than an “uncommon” item. I didn’t find one throughout my entire run. One of the most exciting part of a good ARPG is killing difficult enemies to get fantastic loot, but that rarely happened.
One of the few unique mechanics of Chaosbane is that there are no traditional shops. There are two different merchants that you can visit: a man that will bless your equipment using gem shards to improve their stats, and a man that will take a “donation” of any item that you don’t want anymore. Each object you donate will raise your reputation. Hitting different reputation tiers unlocks new skill tiers, damage boosts and skill points, as well as adds to your growing pile of gold and shards. In other ARPGs, there’s usually some shopkeeper with an overpowered weapon that’s only possible to get if you grind levels multiple times to earn enough money.
These are good examples of my mixed feelings on the game. On one hand, it’s possible to have too many options. Not many people like to sort through complicated mechanics that require background knowledge and research to gain equipment and abilities that make you competitive in a fight. On the other hand, Chaosbane seems to have minimized distractions to the point of linearity; there are no side quests, no shops, only two or three NPCs to talk to and very little character flexibility. I was never bored while I played, but I was never waiting on the edge of my seat.
Nothing Special, Nothing Gained
Warhammer: Chaosbane is not a game that has universal appeal. While it hasn’t boxed itself into a situation where only those familiar with the Warhammer universe would want to play it, it won’t make its mark on the video game landscape. Chaosbane is a short game — it took about a dozen or so hours to beat — that taps into the spirit of high-fantasy storytelling. That might appeal to gamers new to the territory, but probably won’t spark anything in the hearts of seasoned ARPG players. There’s also very little replayability. The story doesn’t change with each character, and multiplayer mode just adds another person to the same quests. While it’s not revolutionary, it’s a decent game that’s perfect to dip your toes into if you want to try out the game’s genre or the Warhammer universe.
Sam reviewed Warhammer: Chaosbane on PC with a code provided by the publisher. It’s also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.