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Warhammer: Chaosbane

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Developer: Eko Software
Release Date: June 4, 2019


PS4 Review - 'Warhammer: Chaosbane'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 20, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Warhammer: Chaosbane is a hack-and-slash action/RPG set in the Warhammer Fantasy world.

Buy Warhammer: Chaosbane

Action-RPGs in the vein of Diablo are a difficult thing to do well. It looks easy on the surface, with lots of enemies to kill and lots of loot to collect. However, it's difficult to find the right balance of variety and create the sense of ever-increasing power. The halls of gaming history are littered with would-be Diablo contenders, and even the originator has had some serious missteps. Warhammer: Chaosbane is the latest attempt to show exactly what makes an action-RPG fun, but unfortunately, it's also the latest example in how clever ideas can falter due to basic mistakes.

Chaosbane begins after the emperor Magnus has defeated the evil forces of Chaos. This would be a short game if all evil were eradicated, so Magnus is promptly attacked by a mysterious Harbinger who locks the emperor in a magical force field from which there is no escape, dooming him to a slow death. The player takes control of one of Magnus' four soldiers and sets out to find the attacker and save Magnus.

If you're familiar with the Diablo style of game, you know what to expect. Go into a hub world, get a mission, go into a dungeon, murder every moving thing you see until swords, armor and gold pop up. Repeat, sometimes with friends via multiplayer. The core gameplay is very familiar and controls well. Chaosbane does an excellent job of making the game feel smooth and uncomplicated when playing on a controller. It doesn't do the best job of explaining some mechanics, so some familiarity with the genre is assumed, but you can puzzle things out with trial and error.

At first blush, Chaosbane makes a positive impression. You can choose from one of four characters: a wood-elf archer, high-elf mage, dwarven slayer and empire soldier. They're all fairly classic adventurer roles, but each functions differently. The soldier is a powerful, slow, durable tank who can smash through enemies and form a powerful frontline. On the other hand, the mage is a glass cannon who can obliterate swarms of foes but doesn't do well when someone punches him in the face.

Each character has a different archetype skill that's controlled with the right analog stick. The archer has a roll that allows for quick movement away from enemies or out of danger. The slayer has hookshots that can be used to draw them to enemies; this skill is useful to continue living up to their name and also get out of enemy attacks. The soldier can stun enemies with a bash attack. The coolest of the lot is the mage, who can use controllable magic spells that make them feel even more powerful.

As with any good action-RPG, you can customize your character with a setup of skills, including active and passive abilities. You have a certain number of skill points, and each skill costs a certain number of points. Your build is restricted by how far you've leveled. Sometimes, you'll want a wide variety of skills, forcing you to take weaker versions that cost fewer skill points. Other times, you'll want to focus on a single powerful skill to optimize it.

While I can see the potential strength of this system, I didn't like it much. Skill points weren't plentiful enough for the majority of the game, which led to feeling underequipped. Either I was using worse versions of abilities, or I had empty skill slots because I didn't have enough points to get what I wanted. You can swap builds relatively easily, but it doesn't change the fact that it never felt like I was optimizing my build, just scrounging for what the game offered.

As Anthem learned recently, loot is central to a loot-based game. You can have a fair amount of excess trash as long as players get the occasional moment of satisfaction from some interesting loot. The loot in Chaosbane is boring. There are minor stat differences, and there aren't even interesting cosmetic differences among the loot. There may be high-end loot somewhere in the game, but if so, it's so rare that it may as well not exist.

More than anything else, the loot sours the experience. A game can be a mindless monster-basher if the right carrot is dangled at the end of the string — an increasing sense of power, neat artifacts that change the play style, etc. — to push you through the repetitive gameplay. Without that, the game loses anything that makes it fun because you're certainly not playing it for the complex combat or genuine challenge.

To the Chaosbane's credit, it takes a while for this to sink in. The early game feels solid enough as you blow through giant hordes of enemies with magic or muscle. The game is strongest early on, and it quickly devolves into repetitive gameplay, lack of loot, and a lack of interesting environments. Rather than the endgame being the beginning as it is in Diablo, it felt like a chore to push through the challenges that are unlocked in the endgame. The developers have said there are updates coming, but we can only judge the game as it is now, and it is still lacking.

Chaosbane is an average-looking action-RPG. The characters and enemies are clear and easy to read, and the spell effects are fancy, which is most of what is needed. The environments are too redundant, and while they initially look fine, they quickly wear out their welcome. Likewise, the enemy variety feels low, although that may be due to foes looking very similar. The voice acting is a mixed bag. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, and some of it is just annoying. It isn't anything that turns me off specific characters, but it feels remarkably inconsistent.

Warhammer: Chaosbane isn't noteworthy. If you're a fan of the franchise, it might meet your need for Diablo-style beat-'em-up action. If you're not, there's little to recommend it over the horde of other available games, especially since this is selling at full price. Like Diablo III, perhaps Chaosbane can eventually update enough to fix its mistakes, but until then, it's a game for Warhammer faithfuls only.

Score: 7.0/10

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