Processor: Intel Core i3 or AMD Phenom II X3
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 or AMD Radeon HD 7850 with 2 GB RAM
DirectX: Version 11[/toggle] [toggle title=”Recommended Specification”]OS: 64bits version of Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10
Processor: Intel Core i5 or AMD FX 8150
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290 with 2 GB RAM
DirectX: Version 11[/toggle] [toggle title=”Review Specification”]OS: Windows 10 64bit
Processor: Intel Core i5-7500
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070[/toggle] [/toggles]
Warhammer Fantasy always fell behind its more popular little brother, 40K in the world of video games. Granted, there were a few noteworthy titles here and there like Dark Omen and Warhammer: Online but 40K was still the lead choice for licensed video games, both good, bad and terrible. However, there has been a resurgence of video games based on the Warhammer Fantasy settings in the past few years. Games like Vermintide, Total War: Warhammer and Mordheim proved that the Fantasy setting is not to be neglected easily. The latest game to join this line is Warhammer: Chaosbane, the first-ever ARPG in the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Since I’m a big fan of both Warhammer and the ARPG sub-genre, I consider it my moral duty to experience the game to its fullest and let the readers know if it’s worth buying.
Story & Narrative
In the grim dark year of 2301, Asavar Kul, a Kurgan warlord has united the savage Chaos tribes of the North and unleashed war on the kingdom of man. In these desperate times, a noble warrior named Magnus leads the people of the empire against the forces of Chaos. The soon-to-be emperor Magnus defeats Kul in single combat with the help of his army and four heroes, the Captain of the Empire Konrad Vollen, High Elven Mage Elontir, the Wood Elf Waywatcher Elessa, and the Dwarven Slayer, Braggi Axebiter. However, even with the death of Kul, the Chaos forces still linger in the shadows of the Empire.
Chaosbane begins with the player selecting from four different playable characters mentioned above, and after a character-specific origin cinematic, it throws you in the action directly. Magnus has been cursed by a Chaos sorceress called the Harbinger during an all-out assault in the castle and you’re blamed for the incident by Witch Hunters with pikes up their butt. But, due to the intervention of the legendary lord of the Elves, Teclis, you are free from the charges and is sent to the dark sewers of Nuln, the wartorn streets of Praag, the frozen forest of the Norsca, and finally the realm of Chaos to put a stop to the curse and find the ones responsible.
The story in Chaosbane is as generic and uneventful as any other ARPG out there and there’s really not much to say about the narrative. The whole thing is there just to set up the gameplay loop of killing things and collecting loot. Thankfully, due to the team nailing the presentation, attention to detail and atmosphere, you feel immersed in the world and kind of start getting attached to the four characters. Except for Elessa, god she’s more annoying than Kerillian from Vermintide.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Warhammer: Chaosbane is an isometric ARPG with the main gameplay loop focusing on eliminating large hordes of foes with a variety of skills and collecting loot. ARPG fans familiar with games such as Diablo, Torchlight, Grim Dawn and Path of Exile will feel right at home. Chaosbane is more Diablo 3 than any other game in the genre and tries to be its direct competitor. There are 10 difficulties to choose from, of which the five Chaos difficulties are unlocked when you complete the campaign. The game features 4 chapters of single player content that can take anywhere between 10-15 hours to complete depending on the difficulty you are playing. Aside from the campaign, there are three endgame modes at the moment, which we shall get to in detail below. The campaign, as well as the endgame, can be played solo or local/online co-op with up to 4 players in a party.
Right off the bat, you are given the opportunity to select from 4 different playable characters; Konrad, who’s your typical tank, Elontir-the mage, Elessa- the archer and Braggi- the berserker/DPS. Each character plays and feels different due to their own unique weapons and skills, whether they be active, passive, archetypical (for eg: a grappling hook for Slayer and dodge for Waywatcher) or ultimate (basically super overpowered rage mode). A lot of focus in development has gone to flesh these characters out and making sure that each look and play differently and it has definitely paid off. From the start to the endgame, each of these characters has their strengths, weaknesses, and usefulness.
Like in traditional RPG fashion, the more you kill things and complete missions, you gain a level along with skill points. Unlike other ARPGs, you don’t have to spend these points to unlock skills. Instead, they are used to select and slot skills, which are unlocked as you level up further and further. There are more than 80 skills in total which are divided into basic skills, advanced skills, god skills, passive skills, collector’s guild skills, passive god skills, and fan skills. Each skill has three levels with the highest level offering more powerful variations and additional benefits but will require you to hit a specific level to unlock. The skill point cost of these skills goes up as they increase in level. For example, level 1 of all the basic skills requires no point cost to be slotted while their level 3 counterparts require you to have 8 skill points. However, there are only 6 slots for active skills, 6 for passives (passive, god passive, collectors guild and fan skills), and a total of 100 skill points in the game, so you have to pick and choose the ones suitable for a particular situation. You can mix and match any combination of these active and passive skills and that along with gear will define your character.
I, personally love this approach to skills while some may feel this to be a bit limited. This system encourages experimentation and decision making. A huge plus is that you can respec your character at any time (almost) for free of cost and mess around with different builds to find the one you’re more comfortable with.
Aside from this standard skill tree, there is also a god skill tree, specific to each character. This is similar to the Devotions in Grim Dawn, only a lot more simple. Throughout the journey, you are able to spend fragments collected in levels and favor points (similar to skill points) to spend on the branching nodes in the tree to gain passives (like % increase in health, armor, damage, damage reduction, etc) and powerful active skills that become imperative to your build. Like the normal skill tree, you won’t be able to have all the skills in this tree since you only get 50 favor points, once again requires you to plan your build ahead and accordingly as you’ll have many paths to choose from. Unlike the normal skill tree, you will lose all the fragments you spent so far if you decide to respec the god skills but these fragments can be grinded quite easily in the endgame.
Combat is by far, the best feature in Choasbane. It’s more weighty than Diablo 3 and less clunky than Grim Dawn. Hitting enemies is accompanied by copious amounts of blood, proper feedback animations, and sound effects. All the skills are really well animated and free-flowing from one to another. Drawing aggro, kiting around 50 enemies at the same time, rounding them up and jumping into the middle to hack away left and right as the Slayer has to be one of my favorite things to do in games this year. That being said, there are a lot of skills that need either nerfing or boosting. Some skills in the game are so powerful that you stick with them from the start of the game to the end, while some of the more advanced skill doesn’t live up to their cost. Some skills, like the Slayers’ bleeding abilities, also doesn’t seem to work properly now. There’s also a lot of randomness going on when it comes to the combat (more than usual). But hey. that’s a launch day ARPG for you.
One other thing Chaosbane does so well are the boss fights. There are a total of four major boss fights, one for each chapter of the game. These boss fights have to be some of the coolest in the ARPG genre. They are not simply ‘stay stationary and click till either of you lies dead’ type. Each boss has multiple health bars and multiple phases that you need to surpass in order to finally defeat them. These can range between phases where the boss disappears, tries to regenerate health, spawns minions or deploys massive AoE skills.
The major reason to play an ARPG other than combat is frankly the quality and quantity of the loot. Loot in Chaosbane is divided into weapons, armor (head, torso, legs, hands), necklace, rings, fragments, and link gems. There are four rarities in total; common, uncommon, rare and heroic. The first three levels of loot are bland and uninspiring as they get. Offering just incremental stat increases, negligible bonuses even when used as a set, and a low amount of visual variety. This is averted in the heroic sets which look badass as hell and offer you huge bonuses and even new absolutely crushing abilities when worn in a set. There are three sets in total for each character and each is definitely worth collecting.
The loot drop is all over the place with my character getting rare items within an hour of playing the game. Yet, there are chapters where the game becomes awfully stingy about giving you loot in the first place. It’s very uneven and needs some tweaking. What’s worse is the frequency of drops in heroic items which we shall get to below.
Level & Enemy Design
This is one area where Chaosbane drops the ball hard. The levels, while featuring subtle attention to detail, are held back by their repetitive and restrictive design. Each chapter of the game features completely distinct areas that are unique and visually distinct from one another. However, the levels within these chapters are made of completely copy-pasted assets and design. You’ve seen two. you’ve seen ’em all. To make things worse, the levels are more restrictive than a single-food diet. Most of the levels are very corridor-like with zero exploration value. You can’t go 10 feet to either side without hitting a barrier. This is such a disappointment and an utter wastage of the Warhammer license. Moreover, there are no side-quests, people to interact in the hub, no traditional traders, no lore notes, or nothing of interest outside the main story during the campaign.
The same goes for enemy design. While the game introduces new enemy types in each of the chapters, the enemy pool in a particular chapter is rather small. For example, you’ll be fighting the same Chaos cultists, Nurglings and Chaos Spawns in the first chapter while another chapter is filled with Ungors and Jabberslythes. There are a lot of reskinned enemy types as well. Not all is bad though. The enemy designs are faithful to the source material and their designs are commendable. It’s just that there needs to be more variety withing each chapter.
As of now, there are three modes to the Endgame of Chaosbane. There is the Boss Rush, where you compete a global scoreboard to beat any of the four chapter bosses as fast as you can. Then there is the Expedition mode, where you are allowed to explore randomly generated maps to kill enemies, find fragments as well as complete dynamic objectives. Finally, there are Relic Hunts which are similar to Expeditions but with negative mutators applied to them. These mutators include conditions such as heroes losing health when not in combat or staying stationary, presence of random poison clouds on the floor, a buffed enemy damage, etc. You can have 1-3 mutators applied at a time depending on whether the maps are of lesser, greater or grand difficulty. The higher the difficulty, the higher your chance of finding more gold, fragments, and better quality loot. One thing I do like about the endgame is that all your skillpoints, favor points, fragments and unlocked modes carry over to other characters. Hence the tedium of having to start over from scratch is lessened to a degree.
You can attempt all the Endgame modes in any of the 10 difficulty settings with higher difficulty offering better quality loot. Right now, there is no real reason to play Expeditions, as Relic Hunts basically does its job as well. Sadly, the rate of heroic drops is silly high in the endgame modes right now. In Chaos 3 difficulty, I get around 10 heroic drops per Relic Hunt. This kills the longevity of the game very fast as you’ll end up with nothing to do with only around 30 hours in the game. There is an Endgame mode called Invasions, but that is yet to be implemented.
There is a lot of quality of life changes and obvious design choices that Chaosbane seems to lack. There are a lot of skills and other stuff in the game whose working isn’t explained very well. There is a system called Blessing where you can upgrade any item to boost its stats by spending fragments and link gems. Sounds important for Endame right? How does it work? Well, you have to go to external sources like Reddit or something to figure it out because the game doesn’t tell you which does what and what combinations you should use to get a particular stat boost. Thankfully, someone has wasted a lot of fragments and time to figure out how it works and the information is now publically available. Not all heroes wear capes.
The game also needs to display some background information like the damage done by a particular affliction, how DoT works and several vague skills along with how they’re calculated, enemy nameplates (like, seriously?), debuff information and add more tooltips in general. The pathfinding also has to be improved.
Co-op, while it works and is fun, is really barebones. Matchmaking is non-existent and my lvl 50 character frequently get connected to lvl 1 players who just started out on the main quest. Even while playing together, you are unable to see the portrait or even level of the other members of your party. I am yet to find a single match for Endgame content as of now.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
It’s clearly evident that consoles are the leading platform for Warhammer: Chaosbane. But as long as the PC version looks good and runs well, it shouldn’t matter. For the most part, Chaosbane looks decent enough. The art style is pleasing (in a disturbing way), the environments have a lot of small detail, skills are very flashy and has some neat effects, animations are very well done, etc.
But the console origins of Chaosbane are just impossible to avoid. First of all, the game lacks any graphics option other than resolution and Vsync. There is a shadow quality setting in the launcher in the game folder but why it isn’t in the game is beyond me. This is so sad in many levels and I thought we had come past the mid-2000s console port tropes. The anti-aliasing (FXAA) and depth of field are not very good and make the game very blurry. You can’t even turn them off. Moreover, the UI is very much designed for consoles and controllers but I did not find it as bad as many other people in my party.
The game ran with 150-200 fps at all times but this made the fans of my PC super loud and the GPU temperature super high. I had to turn on Vsync to solve this problem. Aside from this issue, I didn’t face any major bugs or glitches. The game froze once during matchmaking and that was it.
Warhammer: Chaosbane really hits the home run when it comes to sound design. Weapons, skills, and feedback sounds are very beefy and satisfying. The music is composed by Chance Thomas (LotR Online, DOTA 2) and it shows. The soundtracks fit the theme and Warhammer setting of the game really well. I wish I could say the same for voice acting. Chaosbane features full voice acting but it didn’t work out really well for the game. The voiceovers are really dodgy and Elessa has some of the worst voice acting in an ARPG. The game also has several instances where the audio doesn’t match what is shown in the dialogue box. There were also moments where dialogue lines flat out refused to play and voice actors kept changing in-between.
[signoff icon=”icon-info-circled”]Warhammer: Chaosbane is an ARPG with a lot of missed opportunities. The enjoyable combat and the well-implemented skill system is ruined by questionable design choices and an overall lack of content. Moreover, Chaosbane really shot itself in the foot with the pricing. It’s way off for the content it offers right now and puts Chaosbane in a bind, especially since there are other feature-rich ARPGs less than half its price. Chaosbane has potential, but it will take more than the currently planned post-launch content to bring that potential to the forefront.[/signoff]