Warhammer games have a habit of either being excellent and extending the love of the tabletop universes into the video game world, or middling examples of how almost all of the elements can be brought to the table, but something special is missing. Chaosbane, sadly, falls into the latter camp. As the hours weighed on, I couldn’t help but feel really bored.
Warhammer Chaosbane follows a lot of the design philosophy of Diablo. Even the character equipment screen looks a lot like the console version of Diablo 3, with icons in a circle around the character. It is hard to not look at any hack-and-slash game without considering Diablo at some point, and Chaosbane definitely covers the basics. There are four classes, each with their own skills, special tricks and playstyles. As you kill enemies you level up, unlock new skills and get better gear. You fight bosses after killing hordes of weaker enemies. All that stuff you expect in a hackyslash.
Except there are problems which make me feel like the true takeaway from why people are drawn to these games was missed. Gear choices are simplistic and boring, with no single item causing a change in playstyle. You can’t change your melee character to ranged and vice versa, you won’t get an item that encourages summoning over another skill family, or make you weigh up the pros and cons of a weapon that does bonus damage but drains your skill resource. The gear all just boils down to similar looking stat sticks, with little impact on how you play the game besides making your health number go up a bit, and your damage numbers bigger.
The gear all just boils down to similar looking stat sticks, with little impact on how you play the game besides making your health number go up a bit, and your damage numbers bigger.
Another example of this is the pacing of the various quests you embark on. 90% of the game happens in long narrow corridors, with you just killing a mindless horde that rushes towards you, all from the same place. Besides a T-junction or two, the areas you play in don’t offer much in terms of exploration. You just kill everything in your way in a corridor until you hit a dead end or the end of the level. Elite and champion enemies don’t have any special abilities or randomised prefix/suffix combinations, they just have more health to whittle through. Those moments of dealing with a pack that can teleport, poison the area or create illusions that make you panic or kite for a while? Just not present here.
Even enemy variation is low. Regardless of which Chaos God’s minions you are fighting, you end up fighting the same enemies with slightly different skins. There is hardly any tactics here, just kill kill kill. There are some human cultists, small demons that rush at you, big slow brutes that explode on death and flag-bearers that buff up the enemies. Considering how different each Chaos God is, I was hoping for some variation in how I fight and deal with threats as I moved through the game’s four acts, but everything devolves into ploughing skills down a narrow corridor. Yes the corridors are beautiful and seeing the corruption of Nurgle or Khorne affecting an area is masterfully done, but it is still just a corridor.
Rage and right-stick
Where Chaosbane does do something different is the use of the right-stick for each hero. For the ranged Wood-elf, your right-stick is a dodge button, letting you get out of combat or cover ground quickly. For the Imperial Soldier, however, right-stick is a shield slam which can stun enemies if it is charged up, which happens when you use your skills. It adds something different to how you play each class and it makes sense that the heavily armoured soldier isn’t going to be doing dodge-rolls all over, but the Wood-Elf in leathers could do so rather easily.
Another change is the Rage meter. It takes a while to get the feature, but it makes enemies have a chance of dropping a red orb that quickly evaporates. These orbs heal you a bit and add to your Rage. Unleash a full orb of this and your abilities change to impressive, overclocked versions of your skills with high lifesteal, letting you wipe out large groups easily. This really helps for a big pack pull the last elite of a quest, but it is disabled during boss fights, probably because it is so powerful.
Cultists oh my
While it isn’t the case for every hero you can play, I happened to pick the Elf Scout as my hero and her voice made me want to just let evil win. The voice acting of some of the characters, like the crazed cultists you face, is so on the nose that it is hard to care or take seriously. Characters ask questions as if they didn’t hear what someone just said, and many times I would hear another hero’s voice respond to a situation while I was playing alone. This isn’t the back and forth banter and lore-heavy chatter of Mechanicus or Dawn of War and characters feel more like flat objects who can barely grasp things from moment to moment.
The voice acting of some of the characters, like the crazed cultists you face, is so on the nose that it is hard to care or take seriously.
The game is split in a way that you follow this pattern: You get a quest from someone, which lets you go through one of several doors in a town to the quest area. You kill things along narrow corridors, possibly find a champion or elite enemy near the end, pick up a bit of loot and leave through a door. The story progresses, you get some XP and get told to come back when you are ready. This loops until you reach the big boss of the act, which are these multi-health bar monstrosities that require you to dodge patterns of attacks between bouts of whittling their health down. Once you beat the boss you unlock Boss Rush and Expeditions modes for the act, letting you run down more corridors free of story, or fight all the bosses in quick succession for a chance at loot. There are no big areas to explore and no store to buy a weapon or gamble for better loot. In fact the “vendor” is a place you donate your unwanted gear and you might unlock a passive skill or two, with all your currencies going into a God Skill Tree which offers a bunch of passives and a few new active skills.
Warhammer Chaosbane’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t offer something that can’t be found in Diablo already and at some point, you will wonder “why am I not playing Diablo instead?”