When Chaosbane was initially revealed, I was thrilled at what I saw. Being a huge fan of isometric hack and slash games such as Diablo, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard, and Path of Exile, as well as from various other games across multiple decades and platforms, it seemed like another solid entry into the genre. Sadly, that just isn’t the case as Warhammer: Chaosbane is as generic as they come, adding next to nothing to the genre and is a very short lived experience overall, given its repetitive content and shallowness to its core systems.
Chaosbane takes place after the Great War of Chaos, an epic battle that saw much bloodshed until a nobleman from the south, named Magnus, defeated the chaos horde and executed Asavar Kul during the battle at the Gates of Kislev. This act then led Magnus to become the newly crowned emperor and united the empire once more. Some time later, during a secret attack, Magnus is then cursed, and while you are initially blamed for his apparent “murder”, you are then tasked with seeking out the evil forces at play and save Magnus before it is too late. You’ll choose from four classes that are very typical of the genre; An Imperial Solider, High-Elf Mage, Wood-Elf Scout, and the Dwarven Slayer. While there are a vast assortment of skills to mix and match between them, they all tend to play exactly as you expect, with several attacks and abilities you’ve seen elsewhere.
While the premise is interesting enough and gives you solid material to work with, Chaosbane just doesn’t do anything with it and fumbles at much of the story that follows. especially the final chapter, which feels far too rushed and surprisingly thin on its narrative. Nearly every chapter is based around almost catching someone, attempting to find them, and then when you do finally confront them, they will transform into some supernatural being and you’ll do battle. This process is pretty much how every location plays out and while there is future story content eventually being added, if it’s just more of the same, then it’s hard to really get excited for it.
Locations, while highly detailed and atmospheric, are just repeated ad nauseum for each of their own chapters. The game starts, and prepare to be shocked here, in a sewer, and you’ll need to traverse that same sewer for the first hour or so, that is if you explore every nook and cranny as you’ll enter into the same formatted location over and over again, discovering treasure and unlocking new paths that the story presents to you. While that last sentence may make it sound like you’ll unlock vast new portions of a new area, it really is just a new room or basic pathway and nothing substantial. Given how stunning this game can look, it’s a shame that you are not treated to dozens of locations to explore, and instead we get just a small handful that you’ll become all too familiar with. While these locations are more than likely impressive to a fan of the established lore, they lack any real presence to newcomers who are not wowed by hearing a certain name here and there.
Enemies see the same repetition and are rarely impressive, apart from some interesting and well designed boss battles, well, at least a few of them are rather enjoyable. Some enemies, even though you are leagues away at a new location, are simple color swaps and this can zap much of the enjoyment of entering into a new location, expecting all new experiences. Enemy forces are mostly comprised of dumb AI that are really just there to swarm you in vast numbers and make those flashy attacks seem that much more effective. While the swarms did at first impress me, they become less so later on once you start earning better and more capable skills and can mow down any amount of them in a fraction of a second. These swarms become nothing more than numbers flying around the screen as you unleash hell, wiping the battlefield clean and moving onto the next collection of enemies.
Each character will have a selection of special attacks that can be upgraded as you level up, allowing you to switch to the newly enhanced versions once you’ve hit the level designated to that upgrade. Each skill has a point cost, and this can cause you to skill point manage your arsenal and determine if you really want to spent your skill point allotment on a particular skill. I found that some of these skills felt weaker than others yet yielded a higher skill point cost for no real reason, making the inclusion of that skill fairly worthless in your setup. You also have a skill tree system that is useful for passive upgrades like adding more health or energy, but are also composed of a few set skills per character. While nowhere near as complex as Path of Exile, the investment of this skill tree here is still massive, given the length of the game, making you either plot a direct course to what you want, or getting your character highly leveled up and grinding to fill out as much as you can. While there are additional modes like undertaking expeditions or boss rushes, there just isn’t enough varied content here to make grinding satisfying in any significant way.
Combat is Chaosbane’s best efforts and is wildly satisfying, even if the results can often feel directly lifted from Diablo 3 and other genre comparisons. In fact, much of the overall game can feel not just mechanically lifted from Blizzards juggernaut franchise, but visually as well. Each character can wield several attacks, as well as passive abilities like earning more gold upon pick up, increasing running speed after a roll, or having a pet join alongside you, even if it is mostly just for show. Running and dodge-rolling is very enjoyable and several skills are a blast to use. It’s not long into the game where you will feel impressively powerful, and this feeling is constant throughout the game, with bosses still keeping you in check from a boasted ego. I found the balance of combat and the leveling to be rather good and made the moment to moment gameplay very addictive, even if the world and its bland baddies don’t quite hold up as well. As you use your equipped skills, you will have basic attacks that can be pulled off without draining your energy, whereas more powerful and area clearing skills will require you to recharge your energy reserves by using attacks that earn it back. It’s a fairly easy to digest system that never feels like you are left to only using your standard attacks for too long.
Gear and loot system are fairly decent, and thankfully, your character’s look does change as you equip new gear. The problem lies within the tier system as it’s very common to find low tier loot that is wildly better than the higher tier you currently have on. Stats on the weapons and gear are fairly generic, offering up the typical bonuses you expect, but sadly don’t look to assist in making certain skills better, which could have allowed to you make some sort of build. While there are sets to collect and use, it’s very common for gear items to become obsolete just a few minutes after finding something that is better that what you currently have on. Some of the cosmetic aspects are fun, but many of the changes in gear styles are far too subtle to truly stand out during gameplay.
Chaosbane does feature co-op, but it strangely doesn’t use it well. You can join other players, but joining a random game means you don’t know where they are in the story until you join up in their session. Playing alongside another random can feel lonely as the characters don’t chat back and forth, and the only way you know you are playing with another player, apart from seeing them alongside you, is a blue dot on the mini-map. During my few matches with another player, they would often skip through dialogue and blaze through maps, leaving you in the dust while you are opening chests or collecting the gold on the floor. On normal difficulty, it can feel far too easy playing with even one more player, often not having enough enemies on screen to handle the both of you, let alone three more. Harder difficulties do help this, but the game doesn’t feel balanced for really this many players. Finding a four-man squad was next to impossible and I had to use the find a group feature to find matches that had more that one other person in it.
There are other systems like using fragments to enhance your weapons, but frankly, after doing so, I found a better weapon just laying on the ground, making me feel like i had just wasted hundreds of fragment pieces for no reason. While a system of fusing gems into your weapons isn’t new, Chaosbane does nothing with it than waste your time. The same can be said for donating your weapons to the trader, an effort that sees you rewarded with a few paltry offerings, and only serve to unlock additional skills as you gain reputation with them. I can understand what they were going for, as Diablo 3 does the same thing, in some respects, but much like the blessing system of enhancing your gear, it feels like a waste opportunity.
Seeing the game in action makes for a visually pleasing experience and Chaosbane is a very good looking game, given what the genre is used to. The few locations that are present are very well done and do make for some fun exploration, but as I’ve said, you’ll revisit the same pathed locations again and again. Characters have decent animations and character models, but they are generally not visually impressive up close, as is the case in nearly every game in the genre. From an audio standpoint though, the voice acting is either very decent to just plain cringy. Elyssa, the Elf Scout, for example, has a wildly inconsistent voice throughout the game, often changing in tone and pitch and there are a few lines where a male actor speaks instead of the female actress voicing the character. It’s a shame they couldn’t have been bothered to address this and it shows a real lack of polish and passion, and can make for a somewhat soured experience.
My first few hours with Chaosbane was very enjoyable. I looked past a few flaws and kept playing, having a very good time until the flaws became too great and suddenly, they were everywhere. I know I’ve been very harsh on Chaosbane, but it is truthfully not a bad game, it is just a product of grabbing bits and pieces from far better games and then not really doing much with them. The boss battles are fun, the combat is incredibly well done, but it’s the world, it’s characters, it’s story, and its bland mechanics that really hold this game back from standing alongside the greats. Eko Software has a very good foundation here and honestly, I can only see the game improving should we see a sequel. That being said, Chaosbane is far too expensive for its own good, and doesn’t feature the value of a full priced title, especially one with an oddly high Canadian price point of $90 for the base digital edition. Once there is a price drop or should it see its inclusion into Xbox Game Pass, then I could honestly give it a recommendation to at least try it. As it stands, Chaosbane just doesn’t have the chops to compete in the genre and with so many better choices out there, such as the absolutely free Path of Exile, which provides far more content and value. This latest hack and slash adventure in the Warhammer fantasy universe just ends up being a unfortunate disappointment and nowhere near as good as it should have been.
Warhammer: Chaosbane was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.