As a dungeon crawler, really the only thing Warhammer: Chaosbane doesn’t do well is tell you all that you can do. This isn’t to say the game is difficult, or not enjoyable, but it did take a bit of blundering around before I saw the depth of gameplay that it offers.
Fortunately, the closed beta that is underway was a nice testbed for me to get my bearings before Chaosbane, from Eko Software and publishers Bigben Interactive and Games Workshop, launches in June. Player characters have a robust toolkit to solo wave after horde of baddies and bosses; loot is plentiful, if a little repetitive (which I’ll chalk up to it being the beta) and while I am not familiar with the lore of Warhammer or the story threading through this game, the missions are paced well enough to keep me plunging ahead, one more time.
But the most indispensible tool in my combat kit I sort of found by accident. Playing as the Imperial Soldier (Konrad Vollen), an all-rounder fighter type, I instinctively fiddled with the right stick to adjust the camera (Chaosbane has a standard fixed isometric view). It sent out a defensive wave of force instead. It has a brief (and repeatable) stun quality, and no cooldown. It’s vital to cutting away at a thick clot of snarling, slobbering baddies, or whittling down a boss who always seems to deploy a slow-down attack.
In the tutorial, or whatever passes for a tutorial level, anyway, I don’t remember this being called out, or at least presented in such a way as to remind me USE THIS, REALLY, YOU NEED TO. To be honest, the rest of the skills matrix doesn’t really sell itself either. That’s a shame, because there’s some useful stuff in there, such as Konrad’s “cutting-edge breakthrough,” which likewise isn’t well explained. Basically, by holding the attack button (every skill, even a basic slash, is remappable) my guy can move as he attacks. There are as many as six actions mappable to the face and right bumper/trigger buttons, but the only way I could equip all of them was by taking them at their lowest ranks.
That’s because these special skills are managed with a pool of skill points, which keeps the user from leveling up every trait to super-character status. It fosters a loadout approach, too. The Imperial Soldier has a super-charge attack that covers a lot of distance and deals a lot of damage, but has a rather meaty cooldown. Because skills are swappable any time from a paused menu, I equip a spread of several lower-cost attacks for my basic loadout, then when I come upon an obvious boss setting, swap in the shield rush. It really helps me against these fat, belching tentacle monsters, in ways that my normal right-stick repulsor did not.
This is really good stuff. Chaosbane only grazed the edge of repetition in my time with it; Hack-and-slash dungeon crawlers can really go hard in that direction if, not only is there not enough variety in the combat, there isn’t enough of a motive to explore it or alter tactics. Chaosbane provided both, provided I knew where to find it. It’s a multiplayer game, too, but even against huge ambushes I had just enough in my attacks to get through, without it being pure button spamming.
Warhammer: Chaosbane offers three other characters, in a division of labor similar to Gauntlet. There’s a ranged type (Elessa, a Wood Elf Scout), a Dwarven head-basher for close quarters fighting (Bragi Axebiter, the Slayer) and a mage (a High Elf named Elontir) to provide control and combat support. A stash chest that unlocks after level 10 allows a player to share loot items from one character among all characters (the items being level gated, of course).
Not everything in Warhammer: Chaosbane is mission-based. Though they were not unlocked, it looks like players will be able to venture into the sewers under Nuln’s keep for three other modes outside of the campaign (Boss Rush, Relic Hunt and Expedition). The story itself is advanced through short, captioned dialogues, some voiced and less-important scenes text only.
I may not be familiar with Warhammer but I am familiar with the appeal of a good dungeon crawler and Chaosbane fulfilled those obligations with ease. I felt powerful, charging headlong into a fight with continually improving gear buffed by a well blended skill set. Even something as simple as dialing up a fast attack while I was still in a power attack animation delivered a crowd-clearing combo slap full of green damage numbers. I could feel myself picking up good fundamentals as I played more. I just wish I had a little more of a coach at the outset.
With Blizzard uninterested in making a Diablo on platforms where people want it, and the genre looking dry for the time being, there seems to be plenty in Chaosbane to slake thirsty hack-and-slash loot fans. The private beta (players get in by pre-ordering the game) will return in April; count me in for that, and when Chaosbane launches in full on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on June 4, 2019.