The Kurgan warlord Asavar Kul has been defeated in single combat, but as Magnus the Pious returned to Nuln to celebrate his victory, the Dark Gods were already planning their revenge on the Old World. They have struck the newly-crowned Emperor with a powerful curse, and with the savage tribes of the Chaos Wastes believed to have been scattered to the winds, it falls to you to locate the sorceress behind the attack before it's too late.
Before you set out on your perilous quest in Warhammer: Chaosbane, you must ready up as one of the game's four mighty heroes: Konrad, the veteran soldier of the Empire who is unrivaled in the art of combat; Elontir the High Elf mage who has mastered the magical arts; Bragi the glory-seeking Dwarf Slayer with an unrelenting deathwish; or Elessa, a ruthless Wood Elf Scout who hunts her enemies from the shadows.
Each playable character in this bloodsoaked action-RPG is presented with their own backstory and motivation for hacking the Chaos hordes that they are confronted with to pieces without remorse. But, you needn't fret about your immediate choice. With multiple save slots, you have the freedom to get a feel for each character before settling on whichever hero is the best match for your playstyle.
It's clear that developer EKO Software has exerted most of their energy to make sure that playing as these four heroes feels just 'right.' Soon thrust into combat, your options to cut down your enemies are monotonously restrictive early on. That's par for the course though with this genre, and as you start to level your chosen character up, you will gain access to new Skills while having the chance to strengthen those that are already unlocked - based on how you choose to allocate your character's ever-increasing pool of Skill Points.
Mindlessly hacking at the Chaos cultists - the regular heretic fodder served up for you to slaughter - with Bragi's dual axes becomes more entertaining given the time needed to unlock Skills that can see you leap forward and strike the ground with your axes, or when hurling a spinning axe into the thick of their ranks. And, while there's fun to be found in summoning magical hailstones that slow your enemies, Elontir's powers are at their most potent when you're using Breath of Fire to scald your attackers or conjuring explosive totems into existence.
It's worth mentioning that you will eventually have access to far more Skills than your six Skill Slots will allow, and the developer has left enough room for players to make each hero feel like their own. Along with a potion bottle that you can periodically glug to restore your health, there is a Bloodlust mechanic that, once you have collected enough red orbs to fill the respective gauge, can be activated to temporarily unleash more devastating attacks.
The approach that has been taken with the heroes impresses, but the game's mission structure can regularly border on tedium. The developer has made commendable use of the fantasy-based Warhammer license, which will see you confronted with followers of the four Chaos Gods. Your quest to track Magnus's attacker will take you across the Old World, from squelching Nurglings in Nuln's sewers to crushing Daemonettes of Slaanesh in Norsca's Frozen Forest of Knives. However, even moving from one dingy location to the snow-coated landscape of another doesn't disguise the fact that the missions are unimaginative and lack variety - most simply challenging you to work your way along successive corridors mopping up the enemies that you encounter.
Death is not the end in Warhammer: Chaosbane, though. If you fail in your quest, you can simply give up or choose to pay to revive yourself. Resuscitating your fallen hero will cost you Gold Crowns or Fragments, but from those options, I'd recommend using the regular currency - Fragments are far more valuable.
Further character customization comes in the sprawling God Skill Tree that requires that you spend Favor Points, Gold Crowns, and Fragments to unlock more powerful skills and modifiers that can boost stats such as your health, damage, armor, or reduce how much energy your Skills cost to use.
There's also a loot-based system at play, but this is far less successful. The best part is that the weapons and armor that you retrieve while out on your quest change your character's in-game appearance, which, over time, soon makes them look far more imposing. There are three loot rarities - White, Blue, and Gold - even though this doesn't necessarily determine their quality. And, while you will be showered with loot in the game, you eventually reach a point where what you collect is largely worse than what you already have.
That's where a Merchant could come in - a place where you could sell your unwanted loot to save up for that snazzy magical cloak that will make you the envy of all the other heroes. But, for whatever reason, there isn't one here. In its place, EKO Software sends you to The Collectors' Guild. Here, you can hand over any loot that you no longer want to gradually increase your Reputation with them. Level up your Reputation and you can gain access to six unique Skills as a reward, although most aren't really worth the effort.
Warhammer: Chaosbane is cleanly split into separate Acts, and post-completion, you can spend more time in procedurally-generated levels. Within this content, Expeditions are just like the standard missions, Relic Hunt throws in challenging modifiers for the chance to secure rarer loot, whereas Boss Rush lets you face the game's admittedly brilliant boss battles under a more punishing time limit.
If you grow tired of saving the Old World on your own, there's the chance for four players to team up co-operatively - whether that be locally or online. The online matchmaking in Warhammer: Chaosbane is relatively painless but sadly impractical, with the approach that the developer has taken lacking filter options and often returning baffling results.
Aside from the times that adventures with others have been cut short thanks to my Xbox One X unexpectedly freezing, I have largely been matched with much lower-leveled players that I have happily helped to topple daemonic bosses. The problem is, the experience and loot rewards for this are meager - and there's no way to narrow down who you are randomly matched up with aside from choosing to play with friends.
There have even been times when I was prevented from joining a session as, apparently, the players were further along in the story than me - even though I had already completed it in entirety with that character. And then non-descriptive errors such as "network data different from host" have popped up midway through a quest after a player decided to leave, with no obvious reason for momentarily panicking the rest of us that we were about to lose our progress. There are improvements to be made here, but whether they come in time is another matter.
I have done my best to avoid the inevitable comparisons to the genre-defining Diablo series, as, thanks to the developer staying true to the license, Warhammer: Chaosbane manages to stand apart and succeed in forging an identity of its own. Still, it's hard to ignore the regrettable fumbles and clear shortcomings that detract from the experience, even though I hope that the post-release updates will make some headway to address those in time.
Versions tested: Xbox One X
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.