As I play Warhammer: Chaosbane, I feel bad for any game that can end up being compared to Diablo III. In fact, I’m going to apologise in advance for how often I compare the two, but it’s hard not to when what you’re playing is clearly so heavily inspired by Diablo’s insanely polished dungeon crawling.
Not that such comparisons are a bad thing. Diablo games are awesome action RPGs that can last for an inhumane amount of hours. But, the one worry here is whether or not Chaosbane has the depth to match up to Diablo, because if not, you could be thinking to yourself that you might as well play Diablo III…
The main difference is the world it’s set in. Instead of taking from Games Workshop’s recent Age of Sigmar retcon, Chaosbane draws from the 36 years of lore from the original Warhammer fantasy world and brings to life characters which will be immediately recognisable to long term fans. Set a few years after the horrible Chaos invasion of 2301, big lad Magnus leads an Imperial army to fight back against the Chaos and slays their champion. Once back home in Nuln, Magnus is attacked by Chaos forces, but as you rush to his rescue a sorceress turns up, kills everyone else and puts him in a strange stasis spell before disappearing into the wind. To make things worse, Witch Hunters turn up and with you looking like you’ve gone postal, proceed to arrest you. Thankfully, good ol’ Teclis, High Loremaster of Hoeth, turns up and saves your bacon before sending you off to investigate what actually went down.
There are four acts in total and each one follows a very similar structure and story pattern, with each area thematically linked to a particular Chaos god. It’s cool that you get to go up against the Chaos minions, but after a while, it felt like I was repeating the same levels and fighting the same enemies with slightly different skins. The only standout from the repetition was with the boss battles. They felt difficult, different and had mechanics that needed to be figured out so I didn’t get totally slaughtered.
In comparison, Diablo III’s story felt epic. The locations were large, with many secrets to uncover and felt different as you traversed the various areas fighting enemies that differed greatly in shape and size. Even the hubs felt full of life. Chaosbane just feels slightly lazy in all those departments. The home hub is just lifeless, areas are smaller and way too repetitive, enemies mostly feel the same, starting with small Nurglings or similar and the working up through larger monsters that are effectively just palette swaps of each other.
Once you’ve picked from the four characters and classes on offer, you slowly build your repertoire of abilities as you gain levels from hacking and slashing your way through hordes of minions. Abilities can be swapped out and replaced as much as you, up to your points limit, and really allows for you to experiment and find good and effective builds.
With my Konrad Vollen, an Imperial Captain, I swapped out his basic attack for a much more cost-effective ability that let me advance while attacking. When combined with the banner ability that let me buff my damage, it made for some pretty big scenes of carnage. All the abilities can be assigned to buttons of your choice, so you really can spec the characters how you want. If tanking damage isn’t your thing then, of course, you can also pick from Elontir the High Elf Mage, Bragi Axebiter the Dwarf Slayer or Elessa the Wood Elf Waywatcher.
One of the other big draws is the loot system. You equip your characters with full sets of clothing and weapons, and before long will find yourself spending more time playing fashion souls than you do killing baddies. When an enemy drops a gold item, you’re in luck. Item rarity goes from white to blue to gold to red, although I didn’t discover red (or heroic) items till my final hour. This I found irritating, as it’s the kind of thing you should be made aware of in the beginning so you can add it to your list of goals. Otherwise, what’s the point? Diablo III establishes quite early that super rare mythic items exist and you should always be on the lookout for them, as even if they were low-level items, you would eventually be able to bring up to your characters level. You cannot do that in Chaosbane. If you find anything below level 50, it will eventually be useless.
I found this out the hard way having ‘Blessed’ one of my items early on and then being forced to scrap it for shop favour later. New mechanics are drip-fed throughout, even in the final act, but not explained very well. I completed one mission and received a message that said ‘blessing has been unlocked’. That was it. No explanation of what to do next. It felt like it took forever to even find it in the menu before stumbling across it by accident. I’d spent almost half the game wondering what the fragments I was collecting were for and then suddenly they were being shoved into slots on my armour and weapons to buff them. I mean, that’s cool, I just wish I had been told about it earlier.
Fragments and gold can also be spent in the God tree, a large node-based map for your God Skill ability where you purchase squares for bonuses to your stats. Once again, it was introduced halfway through the game and felt like strange pacing for the kind of skill tree it was.
There’s a little more to do in the endgame, which is nice. In addition to a New Game Plus, where you pick a new character but keep all your fragments, cash and more, Randomised Expeditions are unlocked after each act and you can also take on a Boss Rush, which just pits you against the final boss of whatever area you are in at the time. This is, of course, all in the aid of finding that top loot. The guild merchant will also sell you maps with varying difficulties called Relic Hunts. These are where some of the best loot can be found, This can be done alone or with friends, of course.
Chaosbane supports up to four players with online co-op (which we were sadly unable to test), and local couch co-op, which I’m a big champion of. Running around with a bunch of mates smashing up demons is a fun experience and is a welcome addition to this game, and it’s nicely polished to keep the action flowing, even if one of you is checking the loot they’ve just picked up.