Imagine a fantasy action role playing game in which you must guide a wizard or warrior on a heroic quest through dozens of wonderfully realised locales, battle a cavalcade of foul creatures, loot their rotten remains for rewarding new gear, and eventually go toe-to-toe with fearsome and challenging bosses. And then imagine you can play the whole thing in co-op with a friend; a rare example of a meaty cooperative experience that you can sink your teeth into for hours upon hours.
The game you're imagining is Diablo III. The game we're reviewing is Warhammer: Chaosbane, which is to Diablo III as Rola Cola is to Coca Cola: bland, disappointing, and woe betide your mum if she brings it home after a big shop.
For a quest or two it looks like the latest title to release under the Warhammer banner is going to deliver the dungeon crawlin' goods, with a simple battle system, a fairly robust looking skill tree, and four distinct classes to play as. But any hope you might have for a deep and enthralling ARPG will surely dwindle as the prominent issues with Chaosbane – repetitive fighting, recycled locales, meaningless progression, and a shoddy loot system – are laid bare.
Battling is an unholy slog. Each class plays differently – archer and mage focus on distance, while axe-dwarf and generic soldier get up close and personal – and they've all got their own unique skills to help them dispatch the demonic horde. But regardless of which class you decide to play as, you'll rarely have to alter your tactics throughout the 10 to 15 hours it'll take to wrap up the campaign.
Keeping your thumb on the X button to mow down the denizens of chaos en masse initially seems like it's standard fare for a tutorial, but once it becomes apparent that that's all you're going to do for a huge portion of the game it quickly grows tiresome. Simply holding down the attack button is a viable strategy for much of Chaosbane, and outsmarting the relentlessly rubbish AI will rarely require any tactical thinking on your part. You do have some area of effect attacks and summons to take the heat off you a little when surrounded or going up against one of the bigger baddies, but that's about all of the variation in battle that you can expect.
Bosses break up the monotony of slaying thousands of the same boring, stupid enemies over and over again, but they're few and far between, and suffer from absurd difficulty spikes and some cheap-feeling attacks. They're whatever the fantasy equivalent of a bullet sponge is, and quickly wear out their welcome. Playing online or in local co-op with a friend makes things a little more entertaining by virtue of the fact that you've got some company to help you through this trying time, but it doesn't improve the lacklustre combat in any meaningful way.
Also disappointing is the lack of variety in the locations you'll visit on what we'll begrudgingly refer to as your adventure. Each of the chapters take place in a different flavour of fantasy – poison land, sex cauldron, Russia for some reason – but each locale is made up of only a handful of maps. You'll fight through the same maps over and over with only slightly different objectives. There's seemingly only half a dozen monster designs per area, and so once you've done a couple of missions in a town you've pretty much seen all there is to see until the boss.
The tedium of battling the same enemies in the same locations could perhaps be mitigated somewhat if the loot system in play felt rewarding but it doesn't. It's not like you're ever going to walk into a dungeon and find a magic hat that lets you shoot laser beams out of your eyes or something radical like that. Generally, you're going to fend off wave after wave of rotters for ten boring minutes and then you'll come out of the other side with a new pair of shoes that raise your counter attack damage by 2%. Party time.
Combat never evolves in any tangible way as a result of finding a really cool item, and so beyond the cosmetic change of having some proper fancy new boots to wear to the Twelve-Sided Die Disco, it rarely feels like you're progressing regardless of what loot you find. A minor increase to a stat that means nothing to you – seriously, we're still not sure if the counter attack damage stat actually does anything for some of the classes – is such scant reward for persevering through the turgid combat that you'll likely be put off from the idea of exploration entirely, instead just opting to get to the endpoint of the mission as clinically as possible.
The skills you'll unlock throughout your journey seem to be quite poorly thought out. As you level up you'll unlock new combat options but like the crummy loot you'll acquire, they barely seem to make much of a difference. Does it really matter if your archer is throwing knives instead of shooting arrows? Most unlockable attacks are merely a slightly stronger variation of one you've already got that fail to alter the experience in any appreciable way, and some – hilariously – seem to actually do less damage than earlier iterations for reasons that continue to elude us.
The story here is a stock fantasy yarn that could have been scribbled down on the back of a beer mat during an afternoon session at the pub round the corner from your local Games Workshop. It's like the writers got as far as throwing together some human sacrifices, dark gods, and the requisite elves and dwarves, and then Keith got the Jägerbombs in and signed everyone up to do Rapper's Delight on karaoke. This hum-drum tale is spiced up a bit by the over the top narrator who occasionally goes full blown "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" during seemingly inconsequential narrative events raising a much-needed chuckle from time to time. We're not sure if it's intentional or not, but we salute you all the same, sir.
This Diablo clone shares many of the mechanics with the famous dungeon-'em-up, but scarcely manages to execute them with the anywhere close to the same degree of quality. The moment to moment gameplay is where Warhammer: Chaosbane falls shortest, offering a loop that is neither fun nor addictive by any recognisable measure thanks to dull combat and disappointing loot. There's little reason to recommend Warhammer: Chaosbane in a world in which Diablo III exists – which is the world we currently live in – so we're not recommending it.