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Warhammer: Chaosbane Is Brutal, Flexible, But Rough Around The Edges

If you’re the kind of player with a penchant to unleash fury on mobs, titles like Diablo feel definitely up your ante. However, given quite the unsatisfactory reception to Diablo: Immortal’s reveal, it’s reasonable for players to itch for a decent hack-and-slash title. Bigben and Eko Software provides such an experience with Warhammer: Chaosbane. Thing is, Chaosbane serves more than a “Diablo clone.”  

I’m more of a Warhammer 40,000 fan, which means I don’t dig the game for the lack of my pals from the Blood Angels. However, Chaosbane offers deep-enough lore entrenched within a unique (and brutal) take on orcs and elves and other fantasy concepts make it quite the title to try out.

Warhammer: Chaosbane seems like your typical hack-and-slash game. Except there’s more than meets the eye.

Warhammer: Chaosbane – First Things First

If you’ve yet to read our first Chaosbane piece, it might help to do so here. However, for the unfamiliar, Warhammer: Chaosbane serves as Warhammer Fantasy’s first foray into hack-and-slash territory. Warhammer franchises have been known for their tabletop wargame aspects. This is why games like Dawn of War focus on being strategy titles. And this may also explain quite the lackluster reception of Warhammer: Space Marine. After all, solo titles involving notable Warhammer heroes might not easily click with players.

Chaosbane tries to take the character-intensive experience up for a twist. Players looking at Chaosbane for the first time will see a ton of similarities with contemporaries like Diablo and Path of Exile, which make sense. Skill-intensive gameplay, a ton of mobs to experiment with, and spacious dungeons do quite scream Blizzard’s Diablo, or Grinding Gear’s Path of Exile.

However, Chaosbane offers quite the fun alternative. Because this time, you can actually play with four (4) friends, as four (4) different characters.

So what exactly does Chaosbane have to offer?

A Traditional Story, With That Warhammer Twist

Chaosbane doesn’t shy away from using a standard fantasy story to introduce core elements of its plot. Regardless of the character you choose, you’re tasked with discovering what secrets of Chaos reeks in places around the Empire. And soon enough, you unveil what appears to be a conspiracy that can send the entire world upon ruin.

The first arc of the game will have you deal with a cult that’s been plaguing the land. And right before the beta ends, you discover the forces of Chaos have begun amassing force across the Empire. If fantasy tropes tell us anything, it’s that your journey to kill a ton of mobs will span across famous and infamous spots known in Warhammer Fantasy.

Cutscenes aren’t that too sophisticated, but it does add that certain medieval “flair” to the title.

In the beta, it’s made clear that characters you choose will pretty much tackle the same “path” the game’s story. It’s really their personal agendas that add a little “flavor” to dialogue. I’ve played as Konrad Vollen and Elontir, both tasked with dealing with the cult, but with agendas of their own. Konrad’s become the sole survivor of a devastating skirmish a few weeks back, and has made it his life’s mission to eradicate the forces of Chaos. Meanwhile, Elontir wants to prove himself worthy of returning to the land of the elves after being exiled for his arrogance.

While the backstories of these characters seem to take a backseat in the beta, I’m hopeful these stories get fleshed out as the story progresses.

Yes, it’s a Warhammer title. There’s going to be a lot of blood.

Warhammer Aesthetic Is Fresh, On Point

Players of fantasy games will likely have a “set” aesthetic in mind for traditional titles. Outside castles and forests are likely forest-dwellings of elves, steel and angular colonies of dwarves. Games like World of Warcraft and other “traditional” fantasy RPGs will likely share these aesthetics. Knights wear bulky armor, mages wear robes – that kind of stuff.

Other games try to be outliers, such as Diablo with its gothic aesthetic, and Neverwinter with their unique and more realistic take on high fantasy. Chaosbane adds a fresh dose of brutality and realism to its aesthetics, which makes pummeling mobs all the more engaging and immersive.

The game branches out of severely dark and grim dark fantasy settings. It presents the world as it is: hopeful, yet brutal. 13th to 14th Century aesthetics fit in this regard.

Whereas Warhammer 40K stands out with its futuristic Gothic and partial steampunk aesthetic, Warhammer Fantasy takes a lot of its visual cues from medieval times.

  • The Imperial army, and notably Konrad the soldier, has this noticeable 13th to 14th Century vibe. Imagine the knights of old ready to march in the Crusades. They rely on shirts, greaves, big shields, and ordinary swords to repel the forces of chaos.
  • High elves, particularly Elontir, wear modified versions of aristocratic dresses and outfits in the past. They were made to be easier to move in, and more “curved” to match familiar elven aesthetics.
  • Enemies, particularly forces of Chaos, don’t appear “traditionally” demonic and monstrous in appearance. They “fright” and “disturb” players by appearing dramatically “realistic.” Worshippers of Nurgle the God of the Plague take on shades of green, release bile and blood upon being hit, and rely on an awkwardly huge stockpile of meat, bones, and blood for their overall aesthetic.
…if this is what you’re fighting, you really will get motivated to destroy it.

Chaosbane makes its fantasy world look as “real” as possible, and the added brutality of it all works. You will really want to rid the earth of these vile creatures.

There’s Power In Trees

A lot of modern RPGs allow players to “maximize” their creativity through skill trees. These allow them to create unique builds based on their class or character’s various strengths and needs in a particular situation.

Chaosbane offers quite a similar option with their God Skills. This is really just an expansive skill tree the likes we see in MMOs and other RPGs. Players can choose to purchase God Skill dots that grant bonuses to statistics. Meanwhile, this also gets them closer to more powerful Favor abilities that offer them new passive and active skills. Divine Favors alone can add a whole ton of flavor to your character.

The God Skill Tree offers a huge and expansive skill-set your characters can tap into. You can focus on entirely different aspects depending on your chosen build.

However, the existing Skill system deviates from traditional skill trees. These abilities can be assigned to the left and right mouse keys, as well as the number pad. This system remains oddly similar to traditional hack-and-slash games. And the use of left and right mouse keys do emphasize the need to carefully tailor your movesets.

This is where customization kicks in, as there really are no “skill trees” outside God Skills. Players only get a “base” set of “skill points” every level. They can “spend” these to have certain skills in hotkeys. Powerful skills need more skill points, which means you may remove a useful spell to have more powerful skills in your arsenal.

Aside from God Skills, you have normal Skills that level up into more powerful versions of themselves. You can mix and match basic skills and their advanced counterparts into hotkeys.

Beyond Skill Trees: Flexible, Powerful Customization

As players level up, they slowly get to unlock base forms of various skills. Players can have up to three (3) base forms of attacks that don’t cost any energy. These make them good ways of preparing for more powerful attacks. Using these base forms and levelling up will also unlock more powerful versions of these spells that cost more energy.

As mentioned earlier, this makes up for a ton of potential to curate your characters to use precisely the kind of skill you need for particular situations. Elontir the mage can just as easily rely on AOE attacks so he can dish out damage with his short sword. However, given Elontir’s weak health, I personally prefer a more long-ranged approach. In fact, he has a decent basic range attack that will have bolts of magic whichever direction I point the mouse in. This works in multiple-leveled environments, and don’t cost any energy.

I actually got to kill a miniboss two (2) floors down with this skill, when traditionally you most likely need to kill mobs while going down the bridges leading to said miniboss. Alternatively, I can just as easily have Elontir get up close and personal with his breath weapon spell, and blast enemies away with an AOE that strikes everyone around him.

The enemy below is a miniboss, and I didn’t even need to take note of my health from where I’m standing.

Rethinking Strategies On The Spot

One of the most interesting aspects of Chaosbane that captivated me would be its skill customization. As teased earlier, the “lack” of skill trees definitely forces players to think more about their current environments and modify their preferred sets of skills as needed. This helps players deviate away from the usual trend of having “combination skills” tied to a hotkey rotation.

Certain enemies may respond to certain spells in ways you expect. And some can even force you in a corner that will make you rethink your approach. Characters even have a ton of ways to get out of sticky situation. Konrad has a shield bash skill that pummels a path through waves of enemies. Elontir also has a quick teleportation spell that gets him out of a bind. There’s only one way to heal outside levelling up, and that’s through a health potion that you can use once every half-minute or so.

Aside from being careful with your energy, you need to be wary of collecting fragments and gold. These “fragments,” which come in different forms, can be used to purchase and unlock powerful Divine Favors. And Gold can also be used to revive your character on the spot.

You have to be careful with resurrections, though, as the game does tie its resurrection option across your characters. The more character deaths you have, the more resurrections cost. And while prices of your first few resurrections remain palpable, getting your resurrection costs up to a few thousand gold will have you be more careful with character life management.

Resurrections cost a lot, and costs accumulate across your characters.

A Downer In Dungeons

The beta has given a preview of some environments players will encounter across the game. Of course, this will most likely be dungeons. I haven’t played my fair share of dungeon crawlers in a while. However, Chaosbane did do impressive work with dungeon design and aesthetics. Its dungeons have a ton of locations to explore, and mobs do litter the place. It won’t easily bore you… in theory.

Chaosbane’s dungeon design is good. Sadly, it can get weary when you see the same dungeon layout almost every other mission. Granted, a huge portion of the beta does take place in the sewers. And, if you suspend disbelief, sewers will likely need a similar structure for the sake of consistency. However, it does get a bit boring when you have to fight the same kinds of enemies to reach an arbitrary objective in quite a huge dungeon.

Dungeons are realistic, but also sometimes too expansive.

And players can easily get exhausted with the kinds of missions the first part of the game’s offered. You will likely need to find people, find entrances and exits of dungeons, and even particular items throughout the map. Sometimes, a dungeon has three (3) paths, and two (2) of them will take a minute or two to get through before realizing you need to take the third path to the mission.

Some parts of Chaosbane’s beta can get exhausting because it can take upwards of five (5) minutes to clear each dungeon path, only to realize your objective is not there. Granted, this does help with training players for more mob-intensive dungeons. However, one can’t deny this aspect can be exhausting to some. Sometimes, I even just run past mobs entirely just to get to my destination.

Bloodlust Is An Interesting Mechanic

Outside skill trees and Divine Favors lies Chaosbane’s other interesting mechanic, which is Bloodlust. This basically serves as a “super mode” that allows players to unleash powerful forms of attacks to enemies after acquiring enough blood points.

This is interesting in theory, as Bloodlust mode does offer an entirely new set of skills attached to hotkeys. Theoretically, if you’re on a high enough level, you can have devastating attacks that can kill enemies in seconds when you normally need minutes to tear through them outside Bloodlust. Theoretically, anyway. In the beta, there’s not a lot of opportunities to use Bloodlust. After all, it does take a ton of enemies to even have blood points to appear.

And the lack of Bloodlust skills in the onset does make it a mechanic you will most likely not use a lot in the beginning stages of the game. Of course, we’ve not been able to explore this mechanic given the short nature of the beta. However, we do hope the full experience will have players make more use of Bloodlust. I personally think it will, as some dungeons do have a ton of mobs that will pose a threat if you don’t get through them quickly and effectively.

Bloodlust has its own separate sets of skills – and they really dish out quite a ton of damage.

Potential in Multiplayer

We didn’t get to play multiplayer in the Chaosbane beta, sadly. We couldn’t get to match with people at the time. Unfortunately, we’re also not sure whether this is due to weak connection, a bug, or lack of players.

However, existing abilities and skills of characters do tease for an exciting multiplayer experience. Characters we’ve tried so far have dynamic sets of abilities that could be used to pull off devastating combination attacks. Not only that, but team survivability does seem to rely on how well players get to synergize their playstyles given how flexible their characters can become.

Multiplayer or no, the game does offer a ton of options for you to deal with enemies in a way you’re most comfortable with.

This not only makes the game more dynamic, but also challenging as well. All the characters seem to possess not just “normal” and “strong” attacks, but also different assortments of AOE (area of effect) and utility spells.

  • Elontir (elf wizard) needs to make effective use of long-range attacks because of his weak constitution. And his teleportation spell does help him when he’s in a bind.
  • Konrad Vollen (human warrior) meanwhile relies heavily on close-range combat. His existing totems allow him to get massive buffs to unleash more powerful attacks. Some of these are skills he can even use to force himself out of situations.

The straightforward nature of their abilities already makes it fun to experiment in single player. However, it’s multiplayer engagements that force players out of their shells and try new forms of strategies that can increase their team’s overall survivability.

Each character possesses a wide array of skills and abilities. And their choice of Divine Favors can make the difference between two players using the same characters.

Warhammer Remains Brutal, Dark, And Relentlessly Hopeful

“Brutal” and “Hopeful” seem like words you don’t normally see associated with Warhammer titles, and for good reason. If you’ve ever encountered Warhammer titles like Dawn of War or even Space Marine, you’d likely notice how dark and gritty everything seems to be. These remain as Warhammer staples, regardless of what Warhammer franchise you’re looking at.

Unlike other fantasy titles – and even unlike other “dark” fantasy titles – Warhammer takes brutal and dark up a notch. As a tabletop wargame, this brutality does add a lot to the imagination. You play as a commander, leading troops to victory against the forces of Order, Chaos, Life, and Death – depending on your faction. Your units rely on you to lead them to survival, and you use whatever is there to get you to victory.

It can sometimes get very bad – but the game always lets you have options on how to deal with a ton of mobs.

You can build and upgrade weapons just as easy as you lose them. Spells have costs, and even faith comes with sacrifices. Outside the story, this makes up for interesting gameplay mechanics. After all, you play Warhammer on a field of your own design, with rulers and dice guiding the flow of battle.

If you’re pursuing a story or a narrative, though, Warhammer does make for a brutal world. There’s almost no end to the war in Warhammer. However, should you choose it, you can always choose to pursue hope. Despite the brutality of it all, there’s always room for light and good to win.

This theme remains ever-present in Chaosbane, as behind you killing mobs of enemies lies a story of fighting against the odds.

Is This Worth Waiting The Release?

Avid fans of Warhammer Fantasy can get their hands on Chaosbane this June 4. And the series of beta tests this March became very indicative of what the game has to offer its players. While the betas didn’t offer a lot to testers, Bigben and Eko Software did provide enough of a comprehensive experience for a decent evaluation. To cut it short: if you’re in for a new approach in a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, Chaosbane might just be the game to meet that itch.

The game offers familiar hack-and-slash gameplay to be a worthy Diablo substitute in an era without a Diablo 4. However, the game still provides an original Warhammer experience to make it quite the gruesomely brutal and fun title. Aesthetics get on point with Warhammer Fantasy’s strong medieval-era visuals, and gameplay remains consistent with meeting the itch to unleash fury on swath upon swath of mobs. What more would you ask for?

Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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