Warhammer: Chaosbane kind of does what it says on the tin. As the name implies, you’re fighting against the forces of Chaos through the world of Warhammer; you’re cleaning the sewers of Nuln of Nurgle’s puss and bile infused minions, taking to the ruined streets of Praag to battle Khorne, and Eko Software even promise that the sorcery of Tzeench and the hedonistic Slaanesh will be represented. Don’t worry too much if you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of Warhammer, though, because you can sink into its fast-paced action RPG gameplay and just let the fantasy setting wash right over you.
With the game just a few weeks away from release at the start of June, I got to go hands on with Elessa, the Wood Elf Scout character class, with this beta only allowing you to pick the Imperial Warrior or High-Elf Mage. If you do know the Warhammer world and lore of the races, the Scout is almost exactly what you’d expect, wielding a bow and arrow and doing better a few steps away from the action. The standard attack is an endless stream of single fire arrows, but pressing the other face buttons brought out a fan of half a dozen arrows fired horizontally, a spinning salvo that goes in all directions and so on.
Her basic attacks charge up her energy gauge, which enables more abilities, such as spawning a thorny hedgerow to ensnare and damage enemies over time, or to summon dryads with her God Skill – walking tree dudes that come in and start Grooting the place up in melee.
A key mechanic through the game’s action is to try to pick up the clots of blood that charge up your Blood Lust meter, filling up and letting you unleash extremely powerful attacks. Elessa’s bow mastery sees her firing out a stream of arrows at the first level, but keep charging up through the three levels of Blood Lust and that gets even more powerful.
The only thing to be wary of is that a Wood Elf Scout is not meant to be on the front lines, and I was constantly being prompted to heal myself – if you die, all of your Blood Lust is lost and you have to start over once an ally revives you. Fortunately Elessa can simply dodge roll right out of the fray with a flick of the right analogue stick.
All of this can be tweaked and customised through the loot that you pick up and the various skills that you can level up. I was shown how you could take the High Elf Mage and turn them from an area of effect fire damage dealer into a teleporting melee fiend, for example, and there’s a sprawling upgrade screen dedicated to the God Skill tree. All of that will get even broader after release, with the season pass bringing an additional skill tree and style of play for each of the four characters, as well as an extra act to the story that will see you battling something other than Chaos. Those not wanting to spend more aren’t being completely left out, with a hardcore mode promised as a free update to the game for players looking for more challenge.
A lot has been done through the closed beta to enable local co-op play, and there’s some really smart UI and gameplay quirks that make it perfect for this. For one thing, it’s drop in, drop out multiplayer for any combination of four local and online players, but when someone plops down on the sofa next to you and picks up a pad, you don’t even need to pause the game or stop fighting to sort it out. Each player basically gets a corner of the screen that they can cover with a player-specific menu to pick character, sift through loot, make skill tree changes and so on. It’s really smart and means that the action never has to stop.
That’s not the only smart design decision that Eko have made, as loot is automatically grabbed by any player and then quietly shuffled over to the appropriate character’s collection, speeding up the flow. And if you’re playing locally with someone who always insists on inspecting their new gear and hemming and hawing over its stats for five minutes, it won’t bring your game to a standstill; if only some of you are in the menu, the game carries on in the background and your character auto-follows your buddies that are still hacking and slashing away.
My time with the game was short – if you want more thoughts, check out our Warhammer: Chaosbane closed beta preview from a few months ago – but I was impressed nonetheless. Eko have done a great job of making this action RPG easy to pick up and play, and have really focussed on making local co-op as straightforward and seamless as possible. If you’re itching for a fantasy action RPG, Chaosbane will be more than happy to help you scratch it.