Way back in 2013, I recall going to a 505 Games press event to play Eko Software’s impressive How to Survive and noting to a PR rep that the developer needed to make an isometric RPG at some point because that game had all the makings of an instant classic despite the overdone zombie theme and copious survival elements. Two years and a new 505 press event later, I’m playing How to Survive 2 and noting to another rep that Eko really, really needed to do an iso RPG just to get it out of their system and how I’d love to see them do something original or even revive a more fantasy-themed game like a Champions of Norrath or some other similarly beefy (and long forgotten) IP.
Four years later and I’m playing through the closed beta version of Warhammer Chaosbane on my PS4 with a huge grin plastered on my face. Although it’s a beta, it’s a mighty fine one full of promise once the dev team adds and tweaks some elements.
In its current state, it’s certainly got some excellent visuals, gameplay that’s immediately fun and what’s looking to be a fairly lengthy campaign just based on looking at the overworld map in the second of two playable chapters. But a bit more polish in a few areas will help put this game into that rarefied air a certain few other isometric games are floating around in. One great thing about the beta is Eko’s willingness to take into account every bit of reasonable feedback from those who’ve pre-ordered the game and have sunk some time into the builds they’ve made available.
Each of the four characters has his or her unique skills and can dish out plenty of damage. Melee fans will get a kick out of Bragi Axebiter and his dual axes and Imperial Captain Konrad Vollen with his blazing sword and shield work. Elontir, the High Elf Mage has some powerful spells that can clear out waves of foes rather efficiently, and last, but not least, there’s Elessa, a Wood Elf scout whose mobility, archer skills, daggers and summoned Dryads make her deadly from any distance.
For the most part, combat feels just right as each character plows through waves of foes. While the difficulty in the beta’s “Normal” is seemingly easy once you’ve gained a few levels and have access to more powerful skills, faster moving mobs and some hard to kill (and seemingly indestructible in two areas) bosses had me rushing quickly through certain spots. For me, as I tend to play these types of games on the lowest difficulty and adjust upwards in each replay, I appreciate the game not barring entry to all but those who want death running full tilt at them without a moment to take in the surroundings. Co-op play is indeed a major focus here, but it was great to see the solo play wasn’t an impossible feat at all.
That said, the game could use a targeting system as an option as well as a melee attack for Elontir, who, even after he gets that right-stick controlled attack, is still highly susceptible to hits from any enemies out of range of his magic or those who manage to zip past his spells and whack him in the head a few too many times. A bit more destructibility in the environments would also be nice, as having the just assorted jars to bash and chests to open tends to be less thrilling.
While the environments are large and very nicely rendered and lit (thankfully, the game’s color palette is pretty much perfect), a bit more map variety would also be welcome. The game reuses its assets a wee bit too much to the point where those sewer and street maps blend too much together. Granted, yes, those dungeons are set in stone as it were, but the layouts have the same twists and turns with not much variance. Then again, I’ll need to see and play the full game to see how much more expansive and detailed the maps will be, so I’m hoping my concerned here are rendered moot.
Finally, I’m hoping that we’ll see more than the four classes revealed just because this is exactly the sort of game where more classes (true to the franchise, of course) and content will keep it going and growing as an evergreen purchase. I’ll gather those four heroes and their animated intros are coded in already, so any new characters would need separate or entirely new footage created, but I guess we’ll see what happens down the road with future DLC.I think at least two more characters would do it, although one has to wonder if we’ll perhaps see this conflict from the more evil side of the fence at some point.
I suppose I can nitpick about what I think is annoying about nearly every ARPG I’ve played and liked: you end up way too often with the most hideous mismatched equipment. Some sort of gear color option would be more than welcome here, as your character sometimes acquires some really nice goodies, buy still looks as if they dressed in the dark and ran outside wearing the court jester’s pajamas. But that’s more in the wishful thoughts additions than an outright mandate. Maybe.
June 4 is creeping up fast, so here’s hoping Eko Software can make publisher Bigben, license holder Games Workshop and a whole eager legion of fans even more thrilled to see classic Warhammer in a new light. Given that the future version of the franchise has gotten a decent amount of solid games in the Warhammer 40,000 series, an ARPG guaranteed to get the attention of even the most jaded fan will be more than welcome.