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The Warhammer Fantasy action-RPG doesn't suck, thank god

Every action-RPG has low-level greeblies for you to demolish by the dozen, and in Warhammer: Chaosbane they're Nurglings. These lesser servants of the god of pestilence are sacks of pus and vinegar with spindly arms and pointy teeth. They burst so easily that wading through hordes of them is like popping bubblewrap. Until, that is, I see a gang of Nurglings climbing each other like circus acrobats, forming an angry green tower that shuffles in my direction. I hit them with a shield charge, flying forward like a bowling ball and sending the wobblebelly brats flying apart.

This is one of the things I enjoyed about Chaosbane. Another is the on-screen declaration that, though this beta version requires an internet connection, the final game will be playable offline. I breathe a sigh of relief at that. Not just because I live in Australia and sometimes my internet craps itself for no reason, but because it suggests Chaosbane won't be a game-as-service. Sure, developers Eko Software are planning regular updates, but I've seen nothing to imply Chaosbane will be weighed down by secondary guff to the degree Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor—Martyr was.

That was a decent game dragged into mediocrity by its structure, trying to be a full-on looter shooter like Destiny while also being a Diablo-style action-RPG. It didn't help that the camera wasn't great either, to be honest. Chaosbane doesn't suffer from either of those things. It's just a straightforward hack-and-slash you can play alone or in co-op, whether local, online, or a mix of the two, while bashing Nurglings with sword or spell.

Chaosbane is set in Warhammer's Old World, and goes back in time even further than usual, to the point in the timeline when Magnus the Pious has just reunited the Empire to drive out an incursion of Chaos. You play a hero of that war—Imperial soldier, high elf mage, berserk dwarf slayer, or wood elf archer—roped into fighting the servants of Chaos who attack Magnus in retribution for his victory against them. In the early levels that means going into the sewers to fight beastmen, mutants, lesser daemons, and so many cultists that half the city's population must be secret servants of dark gods.

There's a bit of Warhammer's "grubby fantasy" vibe in the grotesque monster designs and architecture, but it's also very classic action-RPG. There are barrels and treasure chests full of loot around every corner, and it doesn't feel much like Warhammer when I'm digging through berets and breeches perfectly fitted to my soldier that pop out of each one (though I appreciate the look of those breeches, complete with big metal codpieces).

The soldier has a variety of tanky abilities, like a whirlwind attack, a taunt, and a banner that boosts damage in a radius marked by light and floating prayers written in gothic German text. It's a bit much, visually speaking, as are most of the special abilities, but at least the regular attacks are just blurred arcs rather than waves of particle effects. When I hit someone with in a game like this the only things I want to see come out of them are blood and maybe numbers, not a lightshow like I just stabbed a Pink Floyd concert. I am particular about these things, yes.

I've played less of the mage, but I do like that some of his spells can be steered around after casting. I hold down the space bar and draw circles with the mouse, sending an aetheric globe around and through the "ungor" beastmen surrounding me. It can also be maneuvered with the right-stick of a controller, but I'm having no trouble manipulating it with mouse and keyboard. Though I do have issues when I try to drag and drop skill icons onto hotkeys—they keep vanishing halfway. Hopefully that's fixed by release.

My main takeaway from this beta is that sigh of relief, repeated every time I see Chaosbane dodge a common pitfall. It's got lots of skills to spend points on but not so many it's confusing (I can tell already I'll navigate this by ignoring the ones geared for co-op play, of which there are plenty). It's got a slider for difficulty and any time you're in the hub you can tweak it as much as you want. Loadouts can be changed anywhere, and health is a represented by a bright red orb that's easily visible. These are low bars to clear, but after seeing so many games screw up the basics it's nice to see them done right. I can see myself sinking hours into this just like I did with Torchlight, clicking on monsters, comparing the stats on gloves, collecting armor sets, and killing a lot of tiny green brats.

Warhammer: Chaosbane comes out on June 4.

Jody is that guy who will try to convince you to play some indie game you've never heard of with a name like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. He is also on a doomed quest to play every Warhammer game.