Let The ARPG Wars Begin: Warhammer Chaosbane vs. Other ARPGs
2019 is a very odd year for the ARPG fan base, with one major franchise apparently wrapping up and several huge name titles set to arrive to something significantly less than triumphant fanfare.
Grim Dawn just released what may be the game's final DLC (I'm not crying -- you're crying!) while Diablo Immortal is going mobile and Torchlight Frontiers looks like it may be a free to play MMO.
Amid those... questionable... design decisions, hardcore ARPG fans are probably wondering where to get their fix of new content coming soon, and the answer is very likely in the chaos of the Old World.
All I can think whenever I hear the words "Diablo" and "mobile" together
An Unlikely Hero... Games Workshop?!?
Only a few weeks from launch, Warhammer: Chaosbane had the distinct possibility of ending up an absolute disaster, like many Games Workshop titles to come before.
You don't have to reach far back into history to see where the Warhammer license has gone wrong. Previous ARPG Inquisitor Martyr was an absolute flop, Wrath & Glory just got yanked from Ulisses and handed off to Cubicle 7, while Space Hulk: Deathwing had to come out with a fully revamped enhanced edition... which still sits at "mixed" reviews.
Just by looking at the previous release history, Chaosbane seems like a notable departure for Eko Software, which is an established developer with a long track record, but the company isn't exactly known for big AAA titles. Eko was responsible for How To Survive: Storm Warning and a whole bunch of French PS2 and 3DS titles from Woody Woodpecker to Best Of Board Games.
In other words, this isn't a developer with a history involving anything remotely like a Diablo style action RPG, and Chaosbane easily could have been another in a long line of Warhammer game corpses left on the wayside.
How Chaosbane Stacks Up Against The Competition
Thankfully, that hasn't turned out to be the case for a multitude of reasons, but we'll start with a big one that will have console players leaping off the La-Z-Boy for joy. There is in fact local 4 player couch co-op available on the console versions!
Yep, you get to team up with your buddies directly next to each other and slaughter hordes of nurglings, beast men, and all manner of foul chaos beasts by the thousands.
That's fabulous news for those who don't like the impersonal nature (and constant abuse from 12 year olds) inherent to online matches, but there are other ways Chaosbane breaks from the ARPG pack, and some of them are less welcome.
Chaosbane Class Options
Here's the big one: there are only four classes, which obviously is a major limitation compared either to the seven classes from Path Of Exile and Diablo III or the 36 possible combinations with the dual mastery symbol of Grim Dawn.
Those four classes -- the classic dwarf slayer, wood elf archer, high elf mage, and empire soldier -- are incredibly distinct from one another however, both in overall direction but also in special ability.
Everyone has a role to play. Whether manually moving a protective dome spell to cover a friend as the mage, using the grappling hook to re-position yourself as the dwarf, dodge rolling as the elf, or using a shield bash for stunning with the soldier.
How you use skills and the means to regenerate energy as any of those four classes are where Chaosbane diverges strongly from most other ARPGs. Instead of mana potions, you need to be constantly attacking to recover to energy, which leads to some truly frenzied combat (particularly for the dwarf slayer, who is stronger the longer he fights and more injured he becomes).
Aside from the typical click spamming to cleave through enemies, you'll need to make effective use of area effect banners and magic domes for maximizing your combat bonuses or damage prevention against overwhelming numbers.
Skill Options: There Are More Than You Think
Aside from the main class ability differences and energy regeneration mechanics, the one huge element you'll immediately notice is how you can respec your character on the fly at any time, and I have to wonder if that's going to be the future of the genre.
At first the skill tree seems overly simplistic and straightforward. You don't choose most of the skills to take as you level -- with only a few exceptions, they just automatically unlock in a specific order. However, you can only have a limited number active at any one time, with more powerful skills costing more points to utilize.
Since you can change what skills are equipped at any point -- even in the middle of battle -- that effectively means you get to try any build anytime you want without having to start over and make a new character.
The customization options don't end there, however, as near the end of the first Act you unlock the extra God skill tree, which is separate from class skills and basically functions like the constellation devotion path from Grim Dawn. That's where you really tweak your character and make your own choices so your dwarf slayer will be different from your friend's dwarf slayer.
Finding a skill combination and God tree path that works for your build is crucial, because the game's higher difficulties aren't messing around. Even if you think you can clear Ultimate in Grim Dawn without any problem, you'll get annihilated by the higher difficulty tiers in Chaosbane without a whole lot of grind for leveling and better equipment.
All Aboard The Loot Train
If there's one element tying all the various ARPGs together, its the endless stream of loot as you try to find the best equipment combos. That's another area where Chaosbane is noticeably different from the competition, in both good ways and bad ways.
Thankfully, the very clunky equipment UI we saw from the first beta got a major overhaul in the second beta, so now its more inline with what ARPG players would expect. In an interesting twist, you don't really sell unnecessary equipment for money, but rather for influence to unlock extra skills.
So what about the equipment that you do keep? This is the less than ideal part. Much of the gear looks the same and has similar naming schemes, so there's less visual customization than other games in this same style.
That's bad news for co-op when two players are using the same class, and its particularly noticeable on the dwarf slayer, who has to stick to the lore of going into combat unarmored while seeking death.
Sadly, that problem is exacerbated by the lack of gender diversity, as you can't pick whether the character model is male or female. That may be fitting with the themes of Warhammer, but it sill feels lacking in a modern title where people are used to picking those sort of options.
The Future Road Map For Chaosbane Content
One way we can't compare Chaosbane to other entries yet is on how much new content is coming down the pipe and how frequently it will arrive. Those questions will directly determine if the community stays alive, or if this is something that people will re-install from time to time to play single player when the urge strikes.
At the moment, we know there's at least one DLC that will add a new zone and alternate God skill trees for each character, but its very up in the air as to whether we'll see constant ongoing development like with Grim Dawn or Titan Quest that are still getting updates years later.
The interesting part about that planned DLC is that the new zone isn't about fighting chaos at all (despite the game's name), which means we're probably going to see skaven, green skins, or vampire counts.
Aside from the big question mark of the DLC, we do know the game will get Expedition Mode after launch as part of a series of end game updates.
Expedition mode will let you play randomly generated maps to earn fragments for upgrading equipment, and that will significantly increase the longevity, calling to mind the Shattered Realms or Crucible sections of Grim Dawn.
Whether it dethrones Path Of Exile and Grim Dawn to become the king of the current ARPGs or ends up just another blip on the genre's radar, Warhammer: Chaosbane is due to drop June 4th, 2019 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Will you be picking it up, and what class are you planning on playing?