Warhammer: Chaosbane PC Review
One thing the PC isn’t short of is Warhammer titles or action RPGs. The former has had a influx of releases over the years, with Games Workshop seemingly letting go of its strict use of the IP, allowing many developers to create titles in the Warhammer universe. The latter is a popular genre on the platform, which even in 2019 has seen a few key releases, such as the constant updates to the free-to-play Path of Exile, expansion packs for Grim Dawn and the classic Titan Quest Anniversary Edition, while some titles due later on are currently in Early Access, Pagan Online and Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem to name a couple. It was only last year the PC had an Action RPG using the Warhammer 40,000 license with Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr. Now it’s time for the original Warhammer to get its own entry in the genre with Eko Software’s Warhammer: Chaosbane.
The opening video sets the place for Warhammer: Chaosbane as it introduces the Chaos invasion of the land of the Empire of Man, a battle that raged on to become known as the Great War. This fight has finally been won, thanks to the leading efforts of Magnus the Pious, who rallied the people of Nuln and fought back against Chaos, defeating the opposition leader known as The Everchosen and bringing some peace back to the domain.
As the game begins, your hero is in a chamber with Magnus, but it’s not long before this is interrupted with a surprise attack from a small Chaos assault, killing his defenders and leaving Magnus in suspended state unresponsive to the world around him. The blame is quickly aimed at the player from a high ranking Witch Hunter, until High Loremaster of Hoeth, Teclis, talks some sense into him, giving the hero the opportunity to help investigate what has happened and find who is responsible for this devious trap. It’s a thin story that feels flat, it just can’t manage to inspire excitement, used as a vessel to piece together the various locations, a reason to take down Chaos fanatics worshipping their four gods, splitting the game’s four acts into one for each of the gods.
Four classes are available, all familiar for anyone with knowledge of the Warhammer universe, and each one is portrayed as a named hero, having their own reasons for wanting to participate in the war against Chaos. This does mean that there is no way to customise the looks of the heroes, since you are unable to make up your own named character. Bragi Axebiter is a Dwarf Slayer, Konrad Vollen is the Empire Soldier, Elontir is the crowd controlling DPS High Elf Mage, and the character I spent most time with, Elessa, is a Wood Elf Waywatcher, a range damage dealer. These are stereotypical roles seen in action RPGs, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a character that tries to push itself away from the conventional classes the genre is known for, which might have helped with one of the weaker elements of Warhammer: Chaosbane, its repetition.
Combat is a major aspect of isometric dungeon crawlers, so if you cannot get that to be exciting, then there will be a problem. Warhammer: Chaosbane gets the base controls right; holding down the left mouse button on an enemy to attack, while holding shift will force attack without the need to highlight the foe or objective. I mainly used mouse and keyboard, as it’s what I am used to for this type of games on PC, but there are some interaction issues with the left mouse button, since it acts as both move and attack, causing my hero to move towards the enemy, rather than stop and attack. This is where the use of the shift key helps to force the character to stop moving towards the enemy (note; controller works well with this game, like they were aiming for getting the console version accurate before focusing on PC devices). Each hero has a one special trait. Elessa had the ability to roll out of the way of damage, giving her a short window of invincibility to get out of trouble. Lastly, the right mouse button and numeric keys are used to assign skills to cast them.
Skills are limited at lower levels, but more are unlocked as the character gains experience and levels up. These abilities require skill points to be equipped. Skill points are a limiting factor that stops players being able to equip all the best abilities, meaning there is a decision to be made between the various categories of skills – active, passive and boosters – to reach as close to the limit as possible. Active skills require energy to cast, and just like Diablo III, performing basic attacks fills up the energy sphere. Lastly, a special limit breaker-esque move, dubbed Bloodlust, is an orb that fills up by collecting blood orbs from defeated enemies. When filled, Bloodlust can be activated with a button to boost the speed and damage of basic attacks. These are unique for each character; for my Waywatcher, this meant a wave of red energy arrows released at high speed to cause a huge damage per second over a large arc – a cool looking effect that added flair to my hero.
There is one last area related to character building, God Skills, which have their own section in a specialised skill tree known as the God Tree. This God Tree is full of glowing points that can be unlocked to gain permanent stat increases once a hero hits level 15. Placed around the God Tree are active and passive God Skills, which are unlocked once the prerequisite path towards it has been connected from the starting point. These paths contain the points that store the stat increases, but to unlock one requires a certain amount of coloured fragment types that drop randomly from enemies. This means that not only is there a requirement from points from levelling up, but also the amount of fragments dropped. There are times where you have the points to move to the next node, but the fragment cost is stopping the progression.
The options available seem aplenty to offer different build types for heroes, but the combat doesn’t support this push for experimentation. This will probably sound weird complaining about repetitive combat in a isometric action RPG, but games like Diablo III, Path of Exile and Torchlight 2 manage to make the combat engaging through great enemy and level design, and the impact of the combat itself, it just feels good to participate in it with those games. In this one, though, it feels I was never challenged to change the play style with the Waywatcher since the early parts of act 1. I would stand and shoot, roll when needed to avoid damage, cast my tree summon and spam my AOE arrow shot. This was my combination for about 95% of the game. Since some skill unlocks are just improvements of existing ones, I kept with them for the extra damage.
Past the basics of the combat is where Warhammer: Chaosbane trips up over itself. Problems begin with the enemies and their lack of variety. As mentioned, each act focuses on a chaos god, but for each of the acts, it feels like there are only five or six enemies coming for you. Sure, the game can flood the screen with a crazy amount of bad guys, which is cool to see them all explode in gore when synchronised death happens, but nothing they do altered how I approached each fight. Going from act to act and seeing the new enemy designs is cool – Warhammer is a style that I do love – but they do not alter up how they attack, feeling like re-skinned clones of already existing foes. The only time I felt I had to be on my toes were with the boss fights, where they do offer a good challenge and make use of unique abilities that require one to do more than just stand and shoot to overcome.
Level and environment design suffer the same fate. Each act seems to suffer from lack of themed locations. For example, act 1 switches between sewers and the skirts of a castle/city wall, but for about 70% of the time, you are stuck in the sewers, and it’s a drag seeing the same tile-set repeated so much. A positive is that the visual detail does look good, I just wish there was more of it.
The world feels disjointed. A title like Diablo has a connected map; you walk through a doorway and you appear in a place that feels joined. In Warhammer: Chaosbane, walking from the central hub to exit teleports the player to the location required after the load screen. This makes the game feel as if it is made up of stages, rather than being a fleshed out world. It also doesn’t help that the mission structure follows the same steps across each act. It boils down to talking to the main central hub character, go to door to teleport to level, do quest, return and repeat until the final boss of the act. It feels too much like I am ticking off a side quest list rather than been given a interesting story to discover.
Loot is a mixed bag. On one had, the game is great at constantly giving improved gear. I must have been switching equipment every few minutes from loot that dropped from chests or enemies. While this is a nice way to keep people rewarded, the other end of the scale is the problem with gear design. This is mainly stat changes, because there aren’t many armour and weapon designs to switch from, each one looking familiar with a slight design or colour change – there is no wow factor with gear, which they should be when the rare stuff drops. All these issues make me think that the game was on a short time frame and had to be out for the release date, which would be the reason why the game is so full of repeated level tile sets and item designs.
Cooperative play does help alleviate some of the game’s shortcoming, I mean it’s not often a cooperative feature makes the game worse, since everything is better, or at least more entertaining, with a friend or three. Four player cooperative play is available online or locally, and it works well. I did have lag in some of the online games, mainly seeing myself jolt position as the lag catches up, but it was nothing that was concerning enough to warrant a major criticism.
Playing through the story on the standard difficulty took me around 12 hours. Once the campaign is beat, the options to carry on with your hero through three other game types – expeditions, boss rush and relic hunt – are available, plus there is always the option to tackle the higher difficulties, all the way up to Chaos 5. Think of the difficulty increases like the Torment mechanic in Diablo III. Expedition takes on the idea of replaying a dungeon map, but throws in random events instead of the standard story mission. Relic Hunt offers the chance for better loot by using money to open up a map with a higher chance of dropping rarer items after the boss is defeated. The last one, Boss rush, is rather self-explanatory. They might hold interest for a few runs, but It’s nowhere near as polished as the adventure mode in Diablo III, which is where I feel the developers were trying to craft with these additional modes. There is a season pass that can be purchased, which promises new story content by adding a new act, so maybe the developers will see the criticism and spice up the design. They are already adding free content with the recent invasion mode, which is a chart filled of mini challenges to overcome and a new tier class of items, but these seem to be super rare compared to the constant drop rate of standard items.
In the end, I can’t help but feel Warhammer: Chaosbane suffers from being a budget action RPG, taking shortcuts to save cost, which has caused the game to succumb to the issue of being rather unoriginal, uninspiring and repetitive. When games such as Path of Exile and Diablo III can keep hold of their players with great gameplay loops, Warhammer: Chaosbane trips over trying to do this, with only the Warhammer licence helping it offer some sort of original design. Things can change with updates, and maybe this will happen to Warhammer: Chaosbane, but right now, while the game isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do anything great in any category, leaving it to be a rather run-of-the-mill dungeon crawler that will probably make you bored soon after it ends with its recurring level and enemy designs.