Many years ago, a great evil was spewed forth from the pits of hell (aka San Mateo, California), this monstrous beast lay waste to all that lay in its wake and laid claim a crown that had lain unknown until that very day. He ruled supreme for many years despite the foul horrors that attempted to mimic his essence and fought to free themselves of his all-encompassing shadow. They, however, were too weak, too flawed, or too compromised to threaten his dominion. For over two decades he has remained the undisputed Lord of Terror. Many have come before the Prime Evil seeking authority over the hellscape he created. The Lord Diablo though battered remains atop the near countless corpses of those who have sought to challenge him. But time is ever moving forward, and a new contender seeks the crown. His name is Chaosbane, he wields a mighty Warhammer and leads an army of tiny paintbrush brandishing fanatics, wearing magnifying lenses and fierce expressions. His claim is strong, and his weapon mighty, but alas it seems he is unable to lift it, and his legion of fastidious carpal-tunnelled artisans probably isn’t going to be of much help in the fight to come.
Warhammer: Chaosbane is yet another in a very long line of middle-shelf titles leveraging the once extremely guarded Warhammer licence by Games Workshop. As you’re probably aware Warhammer titles have been wildly inconsistent in their quality and I for one am still nursing the wounds caused by last year’s attempt at the Action-RPG genre; Warhammer 40K: Inquisitor Martyr, which was a frustratingly mediocre game, albeit one with some gorgeous visuals. Chaosbane likewise is quite beautiful and leans fully into the grim-dark fantasy gothic aesthetic, and it’s evident that French developer Eko Software get what Warhammer is and how it should look.
As far as gameplay goes Chaosbane stays very much in the old-school With Diablo lane, which sadly does the game and license no favours. Mechanically Chaosbane is very easy to pick up because you’ve played this game many times before. There really is not much new here, attacking and using your skills feels very much like you would expect, and the on-screen action plays out fast and furiously. But it is not without a few shortcomings. Part of the fun of ARPG’s is feeling like an absolute badass. Seeing a flurry of blood, gore, explosions, particles, and pyrotechnics explode when you smack a pack of creeps keeps your eyes busy and pleasure centre firing endorphins and giving you that sweet, sweet dopamine hit. Unfortunately, Chaosbane never manages to execute this consistently, and despite the heavy-breathing, grunting, and requisite spraying fluids, there is seldom any impact to your attacks, and as a result, combat feels… flaccid. There is a robust and impressive physics engine under the hood, but at no point did any of it translate to anything even close to the kinetic euphoria the best games in the genre reliably deliver.
This is a real shame as the artists at Eko have outdone themselves in bringing dozens of Warhammer denizens to digital life, ripe for the reaping. Every creep, critter, monster, and boss are beautifully rendered and animated, and unlike some other titles in the genre, you’ll not be seeing slightly different coloured critters masquerading as brand-new enemy types. That variety sadly is mostly visual, while there are several monsters with unique affixes and abilities, these tend to be relegated to the end of level bosses and not the masses you’ll be facing most of the time. The real strong suit in games in the genre is how a Rare/Epic/Legendary monster can affect the battlefield by requiring you to deal with their specific abilities while wailing on the waves of soon-to-be-chum as you mow them into gallons of claret. So, while Chaosbane keeps the action frenetic, it’s also very repetitive and frankly far too easy because there is seldom any need to ever change up how you approach an enemy. The bosses offer the only unique challenge in the game, but even the fun of facing off against the behemoths begins to fade due to the chore of endlessly and brainlessly clicking just to get to them.
The repetition is not limited to just how you fight the monsters, but what you fight them with. Gear in the ARPG genre is critical, and here is where I found myself truly underwhelmed. Everything looks the part, but the problem is that even after a few dozen hours, I did not collect a single piece of gear that gave me that satisfying feeling of finding something special. This was something I experienced in the beta, and I thought it was due to the limited nature of that version, but sadly it continues throughout the entire campaign. Sure, some of the items look amazing, but they’re dull and seldom do anything interesting enough to warrant a change to your build or tactics. It’s all flash and no substance, and if you can’t get the loot right in a loot driven game, you need to ask why you’re even bothering in the first place.
I actually came out of the beta with hopes that Chaosbane could do something interesting, but sadly what I experienced was just a second-class Diablo clone with a rather beautiful but completely superficial Warhammer façade stapled on the box. My assumption that the boring, repetitive quests in the beta were due to the team wanting to keep the story under wraps turned out to be completely false. Not only is the story utterly forgettable, it’s also so horribly acted and inconsistent that it becomes a confusing mess while not actually saying anything. So rather than pulling me into the world it actively pulled me out due to its ineptitude and mishandling of the Warhammer property.
With Diablo III still commanding a massive audience, and local hero Path of Exile gaining strength year on year, there really is no place for a shallow, and utterly forgettable title like [Warhammer: Chaosbane. It’s certainly not a bad game, but it also isn’t worth your time.