Warhammer Chaosbane Beta Impressions: Action Comes To The Old World
Woah, wait, another Warhammer game?
Yep, they just keep coming, and I think we all know that many of the Games Workshop licensed titles flat out aren't that great.
However, we were able to try out the Warhammer: Chaosbane beta over the past several days and can confidently say it doesn't fall prey to that unfortunate trend, even if it does have a few rough spots to iron out.
Based off of forum chatter, many players seem to be under the impression that Chaosbane will offer the same basic four-player co-op hack 'n slash action as the recent Vermintide 2, but that's not actually the case.
While online co-op is available, Chaosbane is very much a single-player ARPG more in the vein of Diablo.
Games Workshop's tendency to throw out as many titles as possible to see what sticks may not always work out, but it is a boon for fans of the franchise to see all of these different takes on the Warhammer universe between various game genres.
If you don't want the complexity of huge-scale battles from Total War, or the high difficulty of the online-co-op-only Vermintide, or the slow turn-based play of Mordenheim, this iteration gives you some of the same aesthetics and familiar lore but in a more fast-paced, action-oriented version.
Chaosbane Class And Skill Options
The full game will start with four main classes to choose from, but unfortunately, Wood Elf Scout and Dwarf Slayer were unavailable in the beta. That second one, in particular, was a disappointment, because playing a mohawked suicidal dwarf seemed like the most fun in an ARPG.
Despite that, I played both of the other two classes extensively and came away with a clear favorite: Imperial Soldier.
This class is basically the Guardian from Hellgate: London. Here, you want to be surrounded by enemies while swinging wildly as often as possible. The more monsters in your immediate vicinity, the less damage you take and the more damage you dish out.
Aside from the frenzied nature of the Imperial Soldier's skills, the developers really nailed the look and feel of Old-World combatants with this class.
High Elf Mage, on the other hand, offers a somewhat unique play style because its special class skill lets you control the direction of your spells. Essentially, this turns every spell into a guided missile, although you have to stay stationary while controlling where the spells zip around the area.
That's a cool idea, but overall, Mage feels the most like the typical ARPG character and the least like a unique Warhammer avatar.
Rather than a skill tree where you pick your new skills at each level like in typical ARPGs, all classes automatically unlock skills at predefined levels. There's a twist though: you can only have a limited number of skills active at once, and each skill costs a different number of points to equip.
That's where customization comes in.
You could use the basic, non-upgraded version of your normal attack for instance, but then beef up several high damage-dealing secondary skills, or do the exact opposite. You could equip a ton of lower ranked skills for more versatility, or just use one or two more powerful versions of skills that fit your play style better.
I can see a lot of players hating this system at first because in the beginning, it feels limited. That is until you realize this is basically culling out the middle man and letting you respec your character on the fly.
Anyone who plays ARPGs knows they typically limit respec opportunities, requiring you to start a new character, use a rare item, or pay a fee at a specific NPC to swap out skills. In Chaosbane, you can instead change your abilities at absolutely any time during any dungeon by simply opening up the skill screen.
It's kind of a genius change, actually, and plays really smoothly.
The system is like combining the best features of the sorcerer and wizard D&D classes at once: you have a limited number of points to utilize, but a vast array of abilities to choose from to spend on those points.
Aside from the abilities that unlock as you level, some skills can only be learned by donating items rather than selling them, which adds another layer of management besides just hoarding equipment and gold.
Finally, the Blessings of the Gods skill tree is where you have more control over how your character develops. Multiple paths are available along the tree, with each node either giving a flat bonus or opening up a new power.
This tree opens up at Level 15, after completing a certain quest, and is essentially the equivalent of the devotion constellation from Grim Dawn, except you get shards to spend on advancement as random drops rather than by finding hidden shrines.
(War)Hammering Down The ARPG Formula
Changes to the skill system aside, Chaosbane, for the most part, sticks to the standard ARPG formula of exploring dungeons and wiping out hordes of enemies.
There are a few twists here and there, like limited-time quests (save all the kidnapped soldiers before they can be sacrificed to Nurgle) or tracking down specific locations to unlock inaccessible areas (activate shrines to get past the magic barrier), and so on.
Of course, there are epic boss fights scattered throughout the game, and in the beta, we squared off against a Great Unclean One in the sewers.
One major change from the basic ARPG style is the lack of mana potions. Instead of quaffing blue vials to use your skills, each class instead gains energy by landing basic attacks or utilizing specific energy recharge skills.
You'll notice a few other differences from your typical Diablo clones while exploring the bowels of Nuln as well, like enemy bodies remaining on the ground in ever-increasing quantities, which is a nice touch in this bloody, grim world.
Speaking of enemies, some of the monster animations are simply outstanding. The nurglings, for instance, occasionally gather together into a giant nurgling swarm (think the of the ball of mouths from Critter, but significantly grosser) before they fly apart across the screen in a green chunky spray when you destroy the swarm.
Vermintide 2 players will also likely delight in seeing larger beasts like the Chaos Spawn interpreted as a different style of mini-boss.
Areas For Improvement
There are plenty of elements to love about Chaosbane for ARPG fans, in its current state, some areas still need polish. In particular, the game re-uses the exact same sewer layout far too often in the quests from levels 1-16.
Apart from location repetition, the game could desperately use more variation in items. Loot a-plenty is to be found, but most of that loot is similar in both name and look, but features different stats.
Armor or weaponry with killer aesthetics and legendary properties are a staple of this genre, but that seems to be lacking so far in Chaosbane.
In the beta, I never came across any distinctive items that would warrant me placing them in the personal stash while trying to build up a themed set across multiple dungeon runs.
Some of the beta's other problems are basic, obvious things that will clearly get patched. For instance, in my first dungeon, the shield and boots section of the character doll were swapped, showing the opposite item. In some cases, item comparison numbers also seemed to be wrong, but those are both relatively easy fixes.
The map and UI could also use a general overhaul. Clicking the light under a door doesn't always work well when trying to switch between rooms on the main hub area, for instance. While it's not a game breaker by any means, there's no ability to zoom in or rotate the camera, which makes some areas difficult to see.
While many of the enemy animations are top-notch, I often felt like the High Elf Mage animations still needed work. Most of the spells don't quite match the background color scheme and don't really feel like they solidly connect with anything when they hit an enemy.
Warhammer: Chaosbane As It Stands in Beta
There's plenty of good and some bad in Chaosbane, but the bottom line is this — do you dig the idea of mowing through hordes of chaos daemons, deranged cultists, and beastmen?
If so, checking out Chaosbane is a no brainer. Chaosbane is only going to improve before full release, and fans of Grim Dawn or Torchlight 2 will love nearly everything about this new Warhammer outing.
Until a proper text-heavy, character-focused, real-deal RPG is set in the Warhammer universe, I'll be content slaughtering hordes of poor fools who gave their souls to the ruinous powers in Chaosbane.