I’m brave enough to admit I don’t really know much about Warhammer. I have been in the physical vicinity of Warhammer and even seen a little of the tabletop behemoth in action. I’ve watched piles of figures lovingly painted by friends and noticed all kinds of different games based on the IP come and go over the years. But I’ve never touched it, until now. With Warhammer: Chaosbane, developer Eko Software is taking the Warhammer Fantasy universe and applying it to a Diablo-style dungeon crawler. While Warhammer isn’t exactly my wheelhouse, running around dungeons and smashing monsters for loot totally is.
While Warhammer: Chaosbane‘s June 4, 2019 release date is still a little ways off, publisher Bigben Interactive and Eko Software held a VIP beta test over the first weekend of March 2019. I was able to jump in and give it a whirl. While I was only able to tool around with a small slice of the game, I played enough for some solid first impressions. From the jump, while Warhammer: Chaosbane has some work to do to establish a distinct identity in the world of fantasy dungeon crawling, there is an interesting twist to the usual combat loop that uses a controller well and should make co-op runs nice and exciting.
For my time with the beta, I played as the Empire Warrior character. While I generally don’t support colonist monarchies and felt a tinge of shame to play as an agent of one, what I do support is leaping into crowds of mobs, using my face as a shield, and swinging a sword at anything that moves. Truthfully, the bearded, axe-wielding dwarf character caught my eye first, but he wasn’t available for use at the time.
For the most part, Warhammer: Chaosbane is a big helping of video game comfort food. Nothing on the table is surprising, but it tastes as good as you remember from last time. The UI looks familiar, the button layout feels familiar, and the powers and ability choices look and feel familiar. If you’ve played Diablo or any other game like it, you’ve played Warhammer: Chaosbane. Although, if you’re into Warhammer, going into this you’ll get your jollies from all the lore and characters bossing you around in-between dungeons.
But there’s one thing (so far) that makes me raise an eyebrow in particular interest. Each character has a unique application of the right stick that adds a little oomph to your kit, but also gives you an added layer of control over all the chaos. With the warrior, this manifests in a sort of ethereal shield bash that is a semi-projectile, and using the right stick lets you actually aim it a little. This allows you to net some enemy stuns outside of your normal cooldown abilities, giving you some extra options and breathing room in crowd situations.
For the other two characters (I did some outside research), you have other options you have more direct control over, and these abilities can work in tandem with others to create interesting setups and combos. It isn’t a lot, but it feels unique in a crowded space, which should help Warhammer: Chaosbane out a lot in the long run, especially via multiplayer.
Coming out of my brief time with the demo, I have a few hopes for Warhammer: Chaosbane. One is that I hope as it progresses, the game is able to diversify itself enough in its space to stand out. The beginning hours are very boilerplate fantasy material, with dank dungeons, little goblin-like creatures, and fireballs. It’s a bit gory, which is fun, but nothing about it stands out to me as a relative layman. All the dialogue read like I was playing Dungeons & Dragons Mad-Libs, and I don’t remember the music at all. The same goes for the abilities I was unlocking. Sure, I chose the warrior, but I wasn’t doing much besides swinging my sword around, aside from the shield ability I mentioned earlier. Hopefully, with Warhammer‘s ostensible focus on literal deities, there will be plenty to uncover there as the full game goes on both in tone, style, and gameplay.
Regardless of how shiny and new Warhammer: Chaosbane ends up feeling, the reality is that there aren’t a ton of games like this available for the PlayStation 4. There’s Diablo III itself, the upcoming Path of Exile, and Torchlight Frontiers coming, as far as bigger titles go. Marvel Heroes is tragically dead, and beyond that you’re stuck with re-releases like Titan Quest or low-budget (albeit respectable) fare such as The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. This is a niche that still has some room to fill on the PlayStation 4, and with actual Diablo 4 nowhere to be seen for a while yet, this could be great timing for this kind of experience. I’m looking forward to seeing more and finding out for myself if Eko Software is able to fully capitalize on this opportunity.