Warhammer: Chaosbane brings Warhammer Fantasy and Diablo together at last

Every genre will have a new Warhammer game eventually. While I hold out in hope for a 'spot the grot' hidden object game, I can currently enjoy Warhammer Left 4 Dead (Vermintide), Warhammer 4X strategy (Total War: Warhammer) and, soon, Warhammer Diablo, in the form of Eko Software's action RPG Warhammer: Chaosbane.

The scenario is simple: the Chaos gods are launching another attack on reality, and hordes of their demons have taken to the streets of the Empire's biggest cities. As one of four heroes—human captain, high elf mage, dwarf berserker, and wood elf waywatcher—you have to hit those demons until none remain. 

I recently had the chance to play with two classes: a captain of the empire and a high elf mage. The Captain hits demons with his mace and plants a standard to inspire pals. His special summons fireballs that spiral around him, igniting demons that charge into the circle. He also has a stun attack that shunts enemies back. The high elf zaps from range and can bravely teleport away from melee.

At a glance you could mistake the game for Diablo 3—with good reason—but in motion it feels more like Gauntlet-style co-op game with couch play potential. Many abilities are designed to complement other classes fighting alongside you. The high elf has a large bubble that slows time, which fits perfectly over the radius of the captain's war standard buff. Overlapping these abilities creates a kill zone where slowed enemies have to fight your beefed up heroes.

Look out, I'm sending a fireball on an adventure down those stairs.

It plays well with a control pad, too. Each of the four classes has an ability tied to the right stick that you can flick to direct the attack. Depending on your class you might dodge, or haul yourself forward to get into combat, or throw out a stun. Some abilities let you take charge of a spell with the right stick. The high elf has a hovering fireball that you can guide into enemies using this technique.

Guided attacks break up the monotony that can be a characteristic of some aRPGs. I occasionally feel like a human macro in these games, initiating attacks in correct sequence over and over again to clear the screen. Skill elements like the controllable fireball interrupt those patterns and encourage communication like 'look out, I'm sending a fireball on an adventure down those stairs'.

There are a few other clever touches to make co-op smoother. You can open your hero's gear menu and it takes up a small portion of the screen, so the squad doesn't have to stop fighting while you switch out a helmet. Games like Diablo 3 often struggle to keep friends at level parity, but in Chaosbane a friend fighting alongside you at a lower level will enjoy accelerated XP gain to help you equalise in power. 

I haven't played enough to know how compelling the loot will be. I'm told that the gear will be quite focused on sets. High level rewards include pieces of gear worn by legendary Warhammer heroes (the devs are keeping quiet about which heroes for now). I like the idea of collecting enough bits to cosplay as Karl Franz (or whoever Eko decides to include) for powerful bonuses. 

Sets are a good way to bring in more of the Warhammer universe. From the elevated camera of an action RPG, the Old World looks much like any other dark fantasy universe, though fans will recognise the Khorne and Nurgle demons shown so far. I look forward to hopefully seeing some of Tzeentch's colourful horrors turn up at some point during the story. 

That silly Warhammer flair might help Chaosbane stand apart from the two current princes of the genre—Diablo 3 and Path of Exile. Warhammer Fantasy fits snugly into the aRPG framework, and Chaosbane already feels better than its Warhammer 40,000 counterpart, Inquisitor - Martyr. I'll have to play more to see if the heroes and abilities have enough depth to sustain interest for a long time, but for now it feels like a fun co-op option if you like the idea of idly munching your way through the Old World with a friend as one of Warhammer's iconic old heroes.