by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
A would be emperor
Whether it is the sci-fi themed 40K flavour, or its fantasy counterpart, Warhammer games have dark and ominous settings that appeal to most gamers, especially those with a “need to save the empire” complex. If you feel you fit into that category, and have a hankering for a bit of hacking and slashing, then Warhammer: Chaosbane will be right up your ally.
In Warhammer: Chaosbane, you come to the aid of would-be emperor Magnus. Struck by an audacious attack by a Chaos sorceress right in his very home, he is left in a magic stasis field and barely hanging on to his life. The powerful spell takes all of his might and attention to ward off, meaning he himself is not in a position to instruct you what to do. Others call on you to find the sorceress, defeat her and break the spell.
The game immediately throws you into an opulent, moody setting to be expected of a Warhammer game. During the early stages of the game I felt convinced that the sorceress would be hidden somewhere deep beneath the city as it kept sending me back into the sewers. Incidentally, those sewers grew bigger each time, almost like Diablo 1 where you’d find your quarry all the way down in level 16 of what seemed an unending maze. Only in Chaosbane the sewers expand horizontally. As they did not change much in design, things started to look very familiar after a while.
So I was glad to get some fresh air and exercise outside, and this where Chaosbane started to look much more interesting from a visual standpoint. Level design got more varied and the additional light did much to showcase some of the unique areas created for the game. That’s not to say the game is a looker — textures are fairly low quality and the “Warhammer drabness” lasted throughout my time with the beta.
To be fair, Chaosbane is first and foremost about hack & slash action, and this is where it delivers in spades. My primary foe would prove to be Chaos underlings and combat revolved around dealing with hordes of fleshy blobs and zombie-like creatures that would hurl themselves at my Soldier of the Empire. I say “hurl", but their behaviour would be better described as “swarming”. A few enemy types showed some sense of self preservation but most just rushed in close to hack away at my character. I might have gotten bored with this onslaught of fleshy blobs had they not started to get creative. Their numbers would swell to the point where they were able to band and morph together into some some sort of life-sized Michelin Man which was able to deliver heavy blows. A fun little twist that I had not seen coming.
Once outside, enemies didn’t — just — rely on swarming anymore and generally became more dangerous. One blob-like monstrosity jammed tentacles into the ground from afar, only to bring them back up right under my feet for a good bit of damage. Other attacks would stun my character, leaving me to agonize over my inability to run away or fight back just long enough to not get frustrated.
I also started to see some more creativity in the skills when I leveled up. I particularly liked the Banner of the Empire skill, which creates a radial area in which damage done by the soldier (and his allies) is amplified. It saved my digital hide on more than one occasion.
A tank game
Warhammer: Chaosbane is advertised as “made for co-op” and I can imagine that is the only enjoyable way to play with the ranged High Elf or Wood Elf characters. With all the swarming behaviour, ranged characters would be doing a lot of running around to get things done, which might not be all that much fun without a tanky team mate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though — Warhammer: Chaosbane has a lot to offer to a single player close combat fighter, there’s certainly enough variation in skills to keep things interesting for a while.
The game also has a great narrator that I wish would show up outside of the cut-scene intermissions. He really brings colour to the (almost by necessity) drabness of the game’s visual design.
Yet I left the game interested in seeing more, but a bit hesitant to outright recommend it. If you’re looking for Diablo-esque combat in the (admittedly crowded) Warhammer IP, then there’s plenty to like here. I do think you should bring a friend — I was not able to join a multiplayer game but I have a feeling the game will come into its own when you’re mowing down Chaos together.