The ARPG genre is a challenging one to get right. Path of Exile was a critical success, while Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr didn’t quite pull it off. Not many games manage to achieve the same kind of satisfying gameplay as the genre titan, Diablo. Warhammer: Chaosbane is another attempt at challenging the ARPG crown. Developed by Eko Software and published by Bigben Interactive, Warhammer: Chaosbane is a Diablo-esque game set in the universe of Warhammer.
That said, it’s normal Warhammer, not Warhammer 40K, so no space marines or futuristic technology to be seen here. It’s swords, magic, and fancy hats. Another interesting tidbit is the game was written by Mike Lee, an established Warhammer author. I admit, coming into this review I was a bit hesitant. The quality of games from the series has been spotty at best. However, Diablo fans have been craving a new game after Diablo Immortal‘s disappointing reveal, so let’s see if Warhammer: Chaosbane is up to snuff.
Gameplay for the Gameplay God!
Warhammer: Chaosbane plays similarly to ARPGs like Victor Vran and Diablo 3 with four unique characters to choose from.
Konrad Vollen, the Empire Soldier, plays like the default swordsman character in an ARPG: a basic slash attack to generate energy and a spinning slash to take out surrounding enemies. Konrad has only one ranged attack since he is all about getting up close and personal. He suports allies with a damage buff or a damage reduction buff depending on which you unlocked. Konrad is best for new players and those who want to support others without sacrificing personal survivability and damage.
Elontir, the High Elf, is the Mage class. Focused on long-range combat, his skills deal damage from a distance, damage over time, and crowd control. In addition to skills that burn or electrocute, Elontir can slow or repel enemies. Elontir is best at picking off targets and dealing consistent damage from a safe distance. Elontir is best for players who can work around his fragility and make use of his high damage.
The Dwarf Slayer, Bragi Axebiter, is the character for when whacking something in the face is necessary. Bragi’s skills involve healing and sacrificing health to either deal direct damage or obtain a damage buff. He also generates Rage over time, which increases damage and can influence skill strength. Bragi is essentially a risk/reward Berserker whose is definitely a character for more experienced players.
The Wood Elf Waywatcher, Elessa, is another character similar to Elontir. Less sturdy than Bragi or Konrad, Elessa’s playstyle focuses on three things: ricochet arrows, slow effect, and summoning a Dryad. Elessa’s rains damage upon enemies from afar, hindering them with slow debuffs. Elessa is easier to utilize than Bragi, though she has trouble when enemies get close.
How’s That Gameplay Then?
If you’ve played Diablo 3 then you’ll be right at home. Character movement is click to move, although a controller allows direct control of movement. Opinions will differ on which movement type is best, so it’s nice to have both options. Enemy encounters typically involve walking into an area and getting swarmed. The early sewer levels will see mobs of small Nurglings surrounding a character, with an impressive amount on screen at any one time. There are special versions of creatures, designated with a special color around them, though no enemy names are displayed which is unfortunate. Speaking of enemy names, there is also no Bestiary. A surprising omission, given the variety of things trying to kill you.
One cool feature is the Bloodlust mechanic. Killing enemies can drop red orbs which fill a meter. Filling it allows players to activate Bloodlust, which increases damage of all attacks. It also puts special effects on attacks, such as Elontir’s projectile attacks gaining spinning blades. One small note when attacking, the damage numbers appear before the attack is completed. A minor, yet noticeable issue.
The Flow of Chaos
Missions are handled like other ARPGs. Missions are accepted and redeemed from quest-givers. There’s no automatic mission completion and reward here. Mission length is short, with some having a set time limit to complete an objective. Going over this time limit results in failing the mission. What doesn’t fail a mission is dying. If your character happens to shuffle off the mortal coil, it isn’t the end. Instead, by paying a fee of either Gold or Fragments (both lootable items that aren’t exactly rare) a character can be resurrected at the very point they died. Additionally, enemies are not healed upon resurrection, thus making things a bit easier the second time around.
The Sounds of War
The music in Warhammer: Chaosbane can best be described as “bombastic”. Sweeping scores are heard throughout, with even normal musical tracks feeling dramatic. As an example, the background music for the initial area is a deeply foreboding and ominous chant. Conversely, the music during Konrad Vollen’s character introduction movie was so loud and grandiose that it drowned out the poor narrator. Obviously this is something that is solved by balancing the audio, but as an initial impression it was almost obnoxiously over-the-top.
Thankfully the sound effects are definitely on the better side. Melee attacks that connect with an enemy make a satisfying squish sound that leaves little to the imagination. Enemies all make their own grunts, gurgles. and screams, and they all sound very fitting and suited to the task. There’s nothing that sounds out of place or strange, it all fits together well.
One thing that doesn’t fit too well is the narration. The narrator sounds the part with gravitas to spare, but he sounds like he’s in too much of a hurry. Dialogue ends and is immediately followed by a new sentence as if there isn’t any time to breathe, let alone digest the lore given to the player.
The music and sound effects all sound like they belong in the world and suit the setting very well. Admittedly, there’s not much in the music that screams “Warhammer“, but it’s still a solid fantasy soundtrack nonetheless.
Graphics are a bit difficult to judge in an ARPG as the game is played from a zoomed-out position. Very fine detail is often more difficult to make out, with art direction and general cohesion usually being more noticeable.
Room With an (Environmental) View
Environments are the first and most noticeable thing you’ll see as they take up most of your screen’s real-estate. Warhammer: Chaosbane delivers in this department with each environment looking like they’ve been in the Warhammer world for a long time. The starting castle looks suitably grand and weathered, while the sewers have a grimy and poisonous appearance, fitting their Nurgling infestation.
The only issues with the environments are texture quality, and reflections. For the most part, textures are great but sometimes stonework and other environmental details have muddy textures that look out of place. Regarding the reflections, they’re a little confusing. If it was a sewer surface reflecting with slime or water, then that would make sense, but for normal surfaces it’s a lot less normal. It seems to be the way light is simulated on surfaces that’s giving this shiny look to things, which means it’s probably an artistic choice or an engine design conceit.
It’s All In the Details
Enemies and characters toe the line between really good and not-quite-there. Enemies are detailed enough that a player can easily tell what’s what without enemy names. The character models are all unique and clearly different even from the top-down perspective. That said, when seen up close there are clipping issues with loose clothing items such as tassels and parchment. Textures on the characters aren’t impressive but they do their job. In terms of artistic direction, Warhammer: Chaosbane has it down pat. Everything from the buildings to the creatures and items all look like items you’d find in the Warhammer universe. The commitment to the look really helps the game visually as the cohesive style pulls it all together into an impressive visual experience for a Warhammer ARPG.
Slaughter With Your Friends!
Warhammer: Chaosbane offers multiplayer throughout the game. Co-operative gameplay is there too, both with online players and friends via local play. Multiplayer is drop-in and drop-out, so there’s no requirement to hang around for the entire mission if something comes up in real life. However, staying until the end nets an experience bonus for the mission based on the amount of players present. Additionally, multiplayer scales enemy difficulty to the amount of players, so 4 players is where it’s hardest. Loot drops are instanced for each player, so everyone has something to grab.
Multiplayer also allows for players to combine skills. For example, Konrad has a radial damage buff. Elontir can come along and use that buff to enhance his magic skills to deal more ranged damage. Overall the multiplayer is pretty stable and doesn’t boast anything unique, but it’s solid and allows players wherever they are to play together, and that’s all it really needs to do.
Let’s Do It Again!
The meat of any ARPG is in its replayability. Diablo 3 had many characters and hours upon hours of playtime, with different builds for each character. Warhammer: Chaosbane follows in this vein with having 4 distinct playable characters. Each has their own framing reason for being in the game, and seeing each character’s story to the end should lead to a long playtime on its own. There are also a multitude of skills to consider, and with so many on offer, a few different versions of a single character are viable to play through the game. For Elontir, one playthrough could focus on magical destruction while the next focuses on slowing enemies.
The Final Judgement
I don’t believe Eko Software have made an ARPG before, let alone one based on such a storied franchise, so I applaud them for tackling such a project. Luckily for Eko Software and Bigben Interactive they’re onto a winner. The game looks and feels like an ARPG made by an experienced team, and it’s a more than worthy entrant into the top tier of Warhammer games. There are some issues with music and textures, and the “pay to revive” mechanic does make dying a lot less of a problem.
One thing to note is the Season Pass. Plans include content that enhances characters, thus making the game easier. There is also additional story content scheduled for DLC four. The first two DLC packs will confer new passive skills and a new skill tree to players. Packs three and four will include new companions and story content. As the Season Pass technically allows players to have an advantage over non-paying players, it warrants mentioning. Nonetheless, Eko Software have done a fine job and should be very proud of themselves.
If you’re looking for more reviews from us, check Culture of Gaming out on OpenCritic.
- THE GOOD
- Addictive gameplay loop
- Character variety
- It’s a good Warhammer game!
- THE BAD
- Some musical issues
- Some details and textures aren’t the greatest
- Season Pass is a bit dodgy
A solid ARPG with a few minor annoyances. One well worth buying without delay.