Warhammer Fantasy has been living on despite its apparent apocalypse, both in the hearts and minds of players of the tabletop and in video game form. Indeed, it seems the Ending of the World That Was (the End Times, if you will) was actually a new beginning for that setting, even if Games Workshop hastily abandoned it in favour of other ventures. At the top end of the quality scale you’ve got the likes of the Vermintide games, excellent survival-FPS’ a la Left4Dead, and on the other end, you’ve got… Well, I wouldn’t put Warhammer: Chaosbane at the bottom, per se, but right now it’s certainly floating on the dregs. Hopefully, by the time it releases it will have clawed it’s way up the side of the slop barrel somewhat. But I doubt it.
“I AM LORD TECLIS, MASTER OF MAGIC, TICKLER OF TZEENTCH, CONSUMER OF GODS, oh and one time I believed an Ungor over literally every one of my men, and was betrayed for it. That only happens in this game though, so should it really be considered canon?”
Here’s an unpopular opinion that I’m sure will be worthy of Kotaku (hey, guys, I’m always available for my two-cents – call me): Dungeon Crawlers are lame, and have been for a long time. And yes, even as I say that, I’m fully aware of the popularity of Path of Exile, and the resurgence of Diablo 3, to which I can only say – Why? Seriously. The complexity of the former’s stat tree isn’t a boon, it’s an intimidatingly large time-sink that requires EvE levels of dedication if you want to get anything meaningful from it. The latter had to be re-vamped so hard after Activision’s initial blast of “mechanics based on greed,” and even now can be at best described as a “somewhat decent” hack’n’slash. I can assure you that Chaosbane hasn’t done anything to alter that status quo; in fact, quite the opposite, its “by-the-numbers” approach is churning that bottom-barrel sludge into a hardy goo-like-cement.
I’m also somewhat dubious about what I had access to, and its indication toward overall quality for the full game. I only had access to half the characters, vendors clearly had the majority of their functionality locked off, and the starting town felt suspiciously cramped. I got the distinct impression that a lot was being hidden, and not for the sake of “keeping it a surprise.” And yes, this was the beta, but given the general state of most betas these days, this one felt particularly “unfinished” rather than just “unpolished.”
You can LOOK at the Slayer, but you can’t actually have fun with him right now. Hopefully you’ll eventually be able to have fun with him at all?
At the very least I can say that the game is technically competent if bogged down somewhat by design. The game runs smoothly, and I didn’t once experience a crash or glitch while playing, so points there for rising above the current industry standard. As far as how it’s all put together goes, however, it feels like an utter mess. There’s a lot of showing without telling going on, with a points system that governs your skills which were never explained, and an inventory system that feels as though its managed by excitable chimps. New loot goes at the top and old at the bottom, sometimes, except for what you have equipped showing at the very tippy top instead of, you know, in your character slots. There’s also no way to filter or sort it in any way, outside of returning to town so you can go through it all item by item, selling the stuff that’s obviously crap, so that’s a thing that needs fixing.
The combat is also some of the least satisfying hack’n’slash gameplay I’ve encountered in any dungeon crawler, which comes back to the aforementioned skill system. You’re very limited in what you can take, at least at the beginning, meaning your choices on how to approach gameplay very much narrow down to “the game wants you to do this, in this way.” Sure, it looks like you have a lot of options, but the points system prevents you from taking a lot of them. Most higher-level skills are also just stronger versions of whatever you had before, rarely giving you anything new. Maybe this changes later in the game, but I got 12 levels or so in with my Brettonian footsoldier, and you know, I felt exactly like a foot soldier.
That’s not a good thing. I should feel like a bad ass – I’m doing bad ass things, sure, but none of it feels like it carries the weight of badassery. It feels like I’m just spam-clicking my heavy attack because that’s kind of all I needed to do.
Appearance-wise it passes the sniff test, but there are some problems the further in you look. Most character models of importance are distinct and well crafted, standing out against the hordes and hordes of beasties that fill the screen. The Daemons of Nurgle are faithfully modelled on the source material, even if they had one model for each type of daemon, spamming said model as much as they deemed necessary (sometimes enough to fill a screen.) That’s more than can be said for the Mortal Slaves to Darkness and the Beastmen, among whom you’d struggle to identify an individual of importance.
After my time with the extended beta, my hopes for this game have been tarnished to a significant degree, and it’s fallen off my radar with all the grace of a skidding Nurgling. Even despite the above, and the relatively small amount of time I spent with the game, I still have a lot I wish I could say; little, if any of it, in praise. It doesn’t feel like it’s taking full advantage of the setting to keep things interesting, while simultaneously falling into the usual pitfalls of boring Dungeon Crawler design. At the very least, I would caution against a day one purchase and see if any of this is fixed up before picking it up for yourself.