Warhammer: Chaosbane by Eko Software and Bigben Interactive is the next big video game adaptation of Games Workshop’s venerable tabletop miniature IPs that gamers have to look forward to. The game markets itself as the first Diablo-like ARPG set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe.
More specifically, its set in Warhammer Fantasy‘s Old World, before the apocalyptic End Times that saw the setting obliterated to pave the way for Age of Sigmar. The game comes out in early June and recently had a playable beta weekend, which featured the first act of the story and two playable characters. Here’s my first impressions after around five hours of playtime with the PC version.
The game is set in the immediate aftermath of the Great War Against Chaos. Magnus the Pious has successfully led the newly-reunited Empire to victory against the forces of Chaos under the banner of Asavar Kul. The remnants of the Everchosen’s army are splintered, isolated, or in full retreat to the Chaos Wastes.
Victory is short-lived, however, as a Chaos sorceress has placed a curse upon Magnus, threatening the stability of the Empire. No matter what character you choose, its your job to help Magnus’ inner circle break the curse and stamp out the remaining forces of Chaos within the Empire’s borders.
I ended up choosing Konrad Vollen for my playthrough of the beta. This Imperial captain is a melee tank capable of stacking buffs to reduce incoming damage and interrupt enemies with stuns, both of which are exemplified in his shield bash trait that is bound to Spacebar. He also has a variety of skills that revolve around placing auras on the ground that buff himself and nearby allies, and forcing enemies to focus on himself so that your squishy ranged teammates are safe in combat.
Chaosbane takes a rather different approach to character building than your typical ARPG. You are given a set amount of skill points, and gain more as you level up. Instead of using your skill points to upgrade stats and abilities like in your typical ARPG, these skill points act more like loadout points in a competitive class-based multiplayer game.
Each of your abilities cost a set amount of points to equip, and each ability has three tiers. This creates a system where, early on, you’ll have to choose between equipping a wider range of abilities, or picking a few higher tier versions of them if you want a more focused build. You will gain access to more abilities, and higher tier versions of them, as you level up. You can have up to six abilities and three passives equipped at once.
There’s also multiple classifications of abilities. Konrad Vollen has three basic attacks that don’t have a cooldown and regenerate his stamina, which is his version of mana. His more advanced skills all have a cooldown and stamina cost associated with them. Each character has a set of passives as well. On top of your character-specific abilities, there’s also factions you can build reputation with to unlock more abilities.
Finally, there’s the God Skill Tree. One of the main types of loot drops in Chaosbane are Fragments. There’s six types, and they can be spent to unlock nodes on the God Skill Tree. Most of these nodes are tiny stat increases, but there’s also plenty of abilities. As a worshiper of Sigmar, Konrad Vollen’s God Tree is full of abilities based on unleashing the fiery wrath of the Empire of Man’s patron god.
The game’s combat is fairly fun, and though the vast majority of the skills are locked in the beta, a quick glance at the skill trees show that you’ll have plenty of options to build your character as you progress throughout the campaign.
One aspect I don’t like, however, is the health potion system. Or rather, the lack thereof. You don’t buy health or mana potions like in most ARPGs. Indeed, there’s no vendors at all in the beta, though there is a place for one in the game’s central hub.
Instead, you just have a generic health potion ability on a cooldown bound to the Q key. The lengthy cooldown on the potion button means that you can’t chug health potions like in most games, and will need to carefully time their use in the more difficult encounters the game throws at you. It’s a different approach than your typical game in the genre, and I don’t particularly care for it so far.
The entire beta is set mostly in the sewers beneath Nuln as you dismantle a Nurgle cult. There’s decent enemy variety thus far, including human cultists, Nurglings, Plaguebearers, Nurgle Chaos Spawn, Beastmen, and more. The Nurglings are especially satisfying to kill, as they tend to fly across the screen courtesy of the game’s physics engine.
Sadly, the environments aren’t nearly as varied. As I said, all but one or two missions are set in the sewers, and their layout is almost identical each time. The levels thus far are largely comprised of the same rooms copy-pasted repeatedly, so expect to explore a lot of same-y environments for the first five hours.
The mission structure has issues too. There’s no open world to explore, and there’s no backtracking. You get a mission in the game’s central hub from someone and get teleported to a self-contained instance in Nuln’s sewers.
Worse yet, its possible to accidentally leave a mission before you are ready. On several occasions I initiated a mission trigger that teleported me out of the level while loot was still on the ground, and there was no way to return to collect it.
The loot hasn’t been particularly excited thus far either. For the most part, the gear is just generic stat or damage percentage increases. The way the skill system works means you won’t find any items that add points to specific skills to help emphasis the strengths of your build, and I haven’t seen any cool magical items that have fancy proc effects or unique attributes.
There’s no gem system or anything either, though there is an “Bless An Item” tab that currently does nothing. I’ll grant that it could just be because the beta is so limited, but after a while I found myself not really getting excited anymore to pick up new loot.
The biggest issue I have with Chaosbane thus far is that it just doesn’t feel good to play with a keyboard and mouse. The pathfinding of your character is pretty bad, and you’ll often get stuck or watch your character try to go the wrong way when using a mouse. Worse, many of the menus simply don’t work with a keyboard and mouse.
Theoretically, you equip skills by dragging and dropping with a mouse. In practice, the drag-and-drop doesn’t work at all. See, to drag and drop an ability you have to move your mouse past your character model on the left side of the screen.
The problem is that doing this makes the game think you want to rotate your character model, so the skill you were trying to equip drops. I had to plug in my controller like some sort of filthy commoner every time I wanted to mess with my equipped abilities.
The inventory doesn’t have any kind of sorting system either. It’s just a random jumble of all your items unless you are using a controller, at which point the game breaks the inventory system down by equipment type.
There’s still some technical issues related to common PC features as well. The graphic options are nearly nonexistent and exist in the pregame launcher, so you can’t change them in-game if you want to tweak your performance. The UI doesn’t scale well with widescreen monitors either, so if you are playing at 4K resolutions the outer edges of the UI are cut off.
On the bright side though, the game’s performance is already pretty solid. I was playing on high and getting around 120 FPS on a fairly modest PC, and frame drops were pretty rare. I don’t recall the beta ever dipping below 100.
Overall, I have to admit that my initial impressions of Chaosbane are fairly lukewarm. I won’t deny that I’ve had some fun in my time with the beta, but there’s so many things I love in other ARPGs that are nowhere to be found here.
There’s plenty of cool skills to unlock, and I can see a lot of potential for making complex and interesting character builds, but so far the actual loot has been a bit boring and the environments are extremely repetitive.
There’s also a lot of work that still needs to be done to improve the mouse controls and overall playability of the PC version. Still, since this is just a beta build with a fairly limited amount of content, I’ll concede that there’s still time to improve the game’s weak spots.
Warhammer: Chaosbane will be launching for Windows PC (via Steam), PS4, and Xbox One on June 4th for $49.99.