Thursday, 24 January 2019

Dragon Ball Super: Broly (Film Review)

Even six years on, it's almost astounding to see Dragon Ball's resurgence. While it never truly went away, the franchise has seen a new explosion of popularity, and the ongoing story has only fuelled this element. With Super having brought back Future Trunks, Resurrection F focusing on Frieza's return and a reworking of the franchise as a while, many questioned where it would go next. The addition of Broly proved to be one hell of a surprise, to say the least.

Broly - or Anime Hulk as I like to call him - is one of those characters who is understandably popular, but never quite reached his full potential. The idea of a new Super Saiyan was fun at the time, and the original film is flawed but good. However, two dismal sequels and an inability to use Broly as anything more than a juggernaut meant that he lacked some much-needed depth. Well, this latest film not only gave him that but much, much more.

The Synopsis

Divided between various points in Dragon Ball's history, Dragon Ball Super: Broly follows the events of the titular Saiyan's life. With a substantial portion of the film set prior to Planet Vegeta's destruction and exploring the nature of the Saiyan race, Broly himself serves as a ghost of their past. Raised to be a berserker by his father, he is recruited into Frieza's army upon discovery and sent against Goku and Vegeta. However, neither Frieza nor Broly's father Paragus seems to truly realise just what they have set loose on the galaxy, or what might befall the Earth once he engages its defenders in battle.

The Good

The most prominent point of the film is how it serves as a new keystone for the setting as a whole. While the film could have simply focused on Broly's return and use as a living weapon, the push to better explore the universe makes it a cornerstone in the ongoing setting. We see Frieza taking over from his father, the introduction of scouters into his army, Bardock's actions leading up to the destruction of his planet, and the events behind Goku's dispatch to earth. All of that? It's just in the first act, before things really get going.

The whole point of the matter is that it joins up variations of events from Minus, Bardock: Father of Goku and Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, and forms it into a single narrative. Yet what is best about all of this is that it doesn't simply copy and paste elements. Readers will know my derision of the Star Wars setting under Disney and dislike for its ongoing events, especially with how it uses the Expanded Universe as a crutch. So, what's different between that and this? Simple - It doesn't use those stories wholesale. It uses the same basic elements as a starting point, examines them, and then goes in an entirely different direction. Better yet, it doesn't overwrite them, so you end up with two equally valid but very different versions.

Take Bardock for example - None of the events from his film play out in this one. He lacks psychic visions of the future, wasn't ambushed and almost killed with his team by Frieza's hit squad, or his warnings openly ignored. Instead, we see him mentally piecing together the possibility of Frieza's move, the risks of it, the realization that no one will trust his warning, and his decision to act out in another way - Sending Goku to Earth far ahead of schedule in case of an attack. He still goes down swinging when Frieza attacks, but his story less of an action piece, and depicts him as a consummate professional who still cares for his family. Equally, Gine is given a short but quite meaningful few scenes to display her relationship with Goku, further cementing the benefit of such a change.

The film has to cover a great deal of ground in a short amount of time, but it does so excellently. Rather than being overwhelmed by so many varied elements or coming across like a fanfic (See Star Trek: Generations for when this goes wrong) it's there to provide context to the main plot and add depth to the universe or characters. Just to continue with the above point of Bardock, while it's not stated, its strongly implied that he's coming to terms with the possibility of Frieza annihilating them in a single location, simply because it's similar to what he might do in his place.

Every time the film does add in something new, it always goes off in an entirely new direction from the original, or uses it to explore the events from a new angle. Sure, certain key moments still have to happen, but even the context behind them can dramatically change. This is evident in every part of the film, but it's at its strongest with Broly himself. The original Broly was impressive, exciting and provided one hell of a fun fight scene, but his motivation was questionable, and he devolved into a one-note character. By comparison, the one we have here is very different. He's simple, kind and surprisingly gentle until he needs to use significant force to oppose his enemy. In fact his relationship with his father is very different, as Paragus forces him into being a warrior with threats of violence, and barely keeps him under control. It's framed less in the manner of a chained attack dog than that of an abuse victim.

The character developments which play out in the film hinge both on playing off of events from Super as much as the past. Goku's relationship with Frieza serves as a backdrop to the narrative, and their odd rivalry/enmity which constantly shapes their lives. Broly's very presence in the story, and the overall outcome of events, stems from this. While this sadly leaves Vegeta playing second fiddle again, the fact so much of the film explores his people's history gives him more depth and meaning to his actions. It can show just why he displayed so much pride in his heritage, but also the demons which can come back to haunt him thanks to it. This is only further enhanced by the performances of the cast - all of who are well versed in voicing these icons - but also Chris Sabat's ability as an ADR Director. Short of, perhaps, Andrea Romano there are few people who can so expertly blend the vocal performances of a scene with the visuals on hand.

As for the visuals themselves? That's where this gets a little more complicated. Now, these are beautiful to be sure, with the sort of rapid and fluid moves rarely seen in the franchise. It lacks the FPS issues you might expect, or repetitive frames to capture the high-speed fights, and even pulls out a number of tricks which you would never have expected to see. Perhaps the biggest one among these is a full first-person sequence of one fighter attacking another, and a multitude of segments which push to display just how terrifying a fight between figures capable of nuking planets would truly be. Unfortunately, there's some bad which mixes in with a lot of this good...

The Bad

So, the visuals. This is where the other shoe drops. Once in a while, the animation choices become very, very odd in regards to how events are depicted. This isn't so much skipping details or missing things (in fact the only notable moment in that regard was Goku and Vegeta lacking faces in a long distance shot) but the choices themselves. The moves of Broly, Vegeta, Goku and Frieza are extremely fast and it seems as if director Tatsuya Nagamine wished to fully emphasise that. After a while, however, it starts to become very difficult to keep track of what's going on, and can even become white noise at points. It's something which could work well in moderation, but it lacks the pauses and shots to really help specific moments be distinct. The actual fight takes up just over half the film, but there are only four or five moments in total which I can distinctly remember. The others? It would take repeat viewings to truly tell them apart.

A further issue which arises from the film stems from the soundtrack. Some of it is good, even great, in how it seems to take cues from WWE wrestler intros and hypes up the next stage of the fight. Others? They just seem to fall into the background and merge together. It's akin to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has many great soundtracks, and a number of excellently executed scores. However, as several of them have the same general notes and theme behind them, they blend in together. So you know it's good, but you just can't recall why or specific bits which spring out above all else. Furthermore, it lacks a distinct stand-out version of the iconic theme to help get you invested in the intro like the previous two films. There is a brief variation of it, but it passes in such a brief time that it is very easy to miss.

A further weakness is the film's use of characters, or rather the lack of them. Broly, Paragus, Frieza, Goku and Vegeta all have a place within the plot. Bulma even has enough decent moments to justify her presence despite taking an eventual background role, and newcomers Cheelai and Lemo both make a good showing. However, a number of others just rapidly show up and are then forgotten. Goten and Trunks both appear for perhaps a minute and are then gone, with Beerus doing much the same. Whis barely makes himself known outside of one admittedly fun moment, and Piccolo appears purely to get one scene across and then is gone again. Each is such a brief moment that it's hard to wonder if their involvement was fully justified, or if the narrative could have been streamlined to focus on its main cast over adding in someone else. And this is coming from someone whose favourite character is Piccolo, and thought Raditz deserved more screen time.

In fact, much of the film is very bloated as a whole. If the section covering the good elements seemed to be all over the place, it's somewhat akin to watching this production. It's trying to cover so much, compress in and rework so much background, that it seriously struggles to fit into any act structure. There's no definite beginning or ending to events, and a lot of strings are left dangling to be followed up on at another time. Rather than an individual story, it instead comes across as if this is a very pragmatic adaptation of a longer piece. There is enough material in this film to cover a major arc in Super, but it's ill-suited to a film as a result. This is, admittedly, likely a result of Akira Toriyama's original script being almost halved in length, but it is still a flaw. In fact, it would likely be one of the best reasons to adapt this into whatever follows on from Super, just to give it more room to breathe around the big fight.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is something some people might argue against: Anyone who isn't up to date on events is going to be horribly confused. It's definitely made with fans in mind, and I will admit that was the main audience that this was intended to focus on. However, the Saiyan, Frieza Empire and many elements are given little explanation or introduction, while the tournament of power (and the alliance with Frieza) is largely name-dropped without explanation. Combined with hints that this will lead into much bigger battles, it isn't something which can just be viewed on its own and enjoyed.

The Verdict

Overall, this is both the best and worst that a Dragon Ball film can be. It builds upon the universe, reworks previous ideas and genuinely uses them to explore new things. It re-introduces a popular character as less of a generic doomsday device on legs and more of a person, and leaves the audience with a few major hints of things to come. At the same time, if you've not watched most of Super you'll be completely lost, and will likely be left trying to piece together all that played out between Resurrection F and this film.

Because of its undeniable flaws as a film, it's difficult to give this one a higher mark based upon my usual system even with all that it does right. It's definitely worth seeing if you are a fan, but otherwise I would suggest starting much further up the timeline or looking for a vastly better gateway into the setting.

Verdict: 6 out of 10 (or 8.8 out of 10 if you're a Dragon Ball fan)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Last Jedi: Russian Bots & Echo Chambers

Yep, we're back here again. Despite my efforts to remove myself from Star Wars, I find it best to keep a close eye on the overall nature of the discussions around it. The reason behind it is simply because it has become almost a singular example of everything wrong with the internet, fandoms, and attempts by articles to control overall narratives for the benefit of others. So, it's an absolute steaming pile of bovine dung that most people with any sense have tried to step back from. The last several times we discussed this focused on the problems with fandom responses, interactions and harassment from multiple angles.

 Despite what each side claims, no one here is the "good guy". You can try to argue that one side has more racists motivating or seemingly siding with it, but the second you think that is fine, you spot a bunch of people using accusations of racism to blackname and attack others for simply disagreeing with them. No matter how misaimed or inaccurate that might be, the zeal behind it and the depiction of one side as sub-humans means no one will even question it before jumping on said people. Quite frankly, things will likely just keep getting worse as the years wear on unless someone eases off on this subject.

Enter Morten Bay, journalist and writer.

Bay decided to publish an article under the name Weaponizing the Haters, which delved into the subject of the dispute surrounding The Last Jedi. It's a rather long read on the whole, citing everything from Lucas' inspiration from the American Civil War, the Vietnam war and others, while also bringing up the recent reactions to the aforementioned Star Wars film. In truth, it's a rather frustrating read for many reasons, as it performs the usual sins of those who feel The Last Jedi is flawless and seeks to demonise those who dislike how it was handled. We have the usual mix of dehumanising terms such as "fantagonists" to sum up those who were vocally opposing the films, cherry picking facts by trying to gloss over the poor performance of Solo being the result of any negative response to the previous film, and frequent efforts to lump them in with the Trump supporting alt-right population of the world. In fact, if you wish to sum it up in one part, you need only look at this part of the closing statement to sum up the article's entire message:

"Approximately one in three negative fans express misogynist, anti-progressive, anti-social justice or conservative views. When some detractors of The Last Jedi correctly claim that it is an injustice to place these labels on all negative fans, these detractors also have to contend with the fact that the labels actually fit a large portion of their faction."

It's the usual unfortunate effort we have come to expect from those who support The Last Jedi on the whole, focusing on the elements which support a singular viewpoint. It's less an examination than it is a reaffirmation, unwilling to consider anything besides "I am right and here is why". It's something which is a noted problem in any part of the debate surrounding this film, and that has only been further proven by how many articles responded to one part of it: The comparison with Russian bots.

You might have seen the accusation a few times already, but if not here are a few of the following examples:

"Star Wars: New Study Suggests "Significant" Amount of 'The Last Jedi' Trolls Are Politicized Bots" -

"Half of 'Last Jedi' haters were bots, trolls, activists, study says" -

"Russian trolls likely behind negative tweets about 'Last Jedi': study" - CTV News

“Star Wars: Russian bots and trolls behind Last Jedi abuse, study finds” - Sky News

There are plenty of others, but I would hope those four would make it clear how eagerly many news outlets jumped on this point. There was a mad scramble to do just this, announcing to the world that the majority of those who dislike The Last Jedi, those who dare to criticise or oppose it, are mere sockpuppets working for Putin's regime. This, in turn,was quickly repeated by fans en-mass, as those with pro-The Last Jedi views jumped at the opportunity to slander any and all who disliked what they loved, with examples such as these:

There's just one problem here, however: This isn't true. In fact, the study itself doesn't even outright call most of these people Russian bots so much as compare actions with how Russian troll farms have influenced online discourse. Even then, accepting that fact, the study itself stands on some extremely shaky ground, thanks both to how it was conducted and the person behind it.

The study itself was not some massed sweeping examination across the fandom, but instead limited itself to Twitter. In fact, it was limited to a single Twitter account: That of director Rian Johnson. Bay opted to examine who was commenting to Johnson himself and the source of each Tweet. He examined its nature, content and who it originated from, going from one to the next. The end result proved that only a relatively minor fraction of these might possibly be Russian bots. That grand total? Sixteen out of nearly a thousand different accounts. You can find a good break-down of this here, but it goes to show that most writers were quite happy to jump on this and spread an easy lie if it supported their own side.

While a few articles have corrected their own mistakes - notably The Verge - many others still display this lie, without editing or correcting the information in question. Why? It's simple. At the end of the day, those who were most vocal in supporting The Last Jedi used the research as not something to be commented upon, but an excuse to attack others. These are often the same accounts which have been repeating from day one a single lie after another to try and downplay any frustration against Disney's productions, or write off such concerns as being from the scum of humanity. If you recall, the last time this was brought up on here was when someone decided to black-name and attack a charity when given an excuse.

Even those which have tried to correct this are still attempting to repeat this same mantra. Each is using the simple excuse as an opportunity to verbally shout down or sneer at those who have opposing feelings to them. You need look no further than the Dork Side of the Force for this, with an article titled "Political agendas, Russian bots and fantagonists: Why The Last Jedi backlash doesn’t matter". While I am not going to link them, as I do not wish to directly give their website undeserved traffic over such weasel words and implied insults, here's a good quote from what you can expect:

"Now it seems a new academic paper may have brought the online debate of Rian Johnson’s film to a whole level we never thought we’d see. Morten Bay, who has now bravely (na├»vely?) inserted himself into the fracas, suggests slightly more than 50 percent of The Last Jedi’s backlash may likely have come from bots, troll accounts and politically motivated activists including those of the Russian persuasion.


But, Bay’s paper isn’t about proving whether The Last Jedi was actually liked, it’s a study in the breakdown of discourse. The audacity of opinion is something that’s been on display in front of our blue screens, attacking ones that differs from our own. Long gone are the days of debating Ewoks or what the hell George Lucas’ mindset was during the special editions. Replaced with recalcitrant vitriol by every beating pulse with a wire plugged into his cerebellum and fingers to record every preconceived judgment that passes through his mind that nanosecond."

While it tries to be moderate in its tone, the author is clearly leaning far more toward enjoying the film than not, and is willing to repeatedly imply those who dislike it are wrong. Even the closing statement, which tries to encourage peace between the fractured groups, still carries this note, and it even skims over the fact Bay's findings are questionable in a brief paragraph before continuing to try and preach its message.

Yet the most problematic point is that Bay himself seemed to have few issues encouraging this echo chamber, because he seems to have already joined one. I already mentioned the "I'm right, you're wrong, here's why only my statement matters!" standing and direction of the article, and that's only further reinforced by his activity online. If you go through his Twitter feed, you will find tweet after tweet with the following content in them:

Despite claiming that he was careful to frame his work in the right way, the entire thing reads like an effort to support the side he likes while opposing the one who disagrees with him. That lack of an impartial view or effort to delve into further problems behind the discourse, such as the encouragement to spam positive reviews or create sock-puppet accounts purely to offset negative Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Oh, and if you think that's a lie, here's a recent one:

The thing to take away from this latest development is simply a repeat of what has been said before: There's no good way out of this. Things will just keep getting worse as both sides keep hammering into one another, unwilling to talk, unwilling to cede any ground on any point, and using any opportunity to insult and attack one another. No matter how good a person's intention might be, no matter how open they are in one way or another, efforts to discuss this will only end badly. The pro-Disney era fans will just keep using it as an opportunity to piss on those who disagree with them, while those who dislike it will just keep getting pissed off as a result. Producing something like this was never going to resolve anything. All it has done is add more fuel to the fire.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (Episode Review)

It has been said in the past that every incarnation of the Doctor is a response to their previous one. In some cases it can even be regarded as sort of retort or comment on the latest moment in their life. The Third Doctor's stern and more direct nature could be seen as a response to the inherently silly smokescreen of the Second Doctor, while the Sixth Doctor's bombastic drive was completely at odds with the Fifth's more passive nature. Equally, the Eleventh Doctor was described by the eternally awesome Chuck Sonnenburg as an old man in a young man's body, enjoying his final years before the end. 

The same seems to be true when it comes to show runners, as each desires to leave their own mark, completely shifting gears from their predecessor. With Moffat having left the show for good, Chibnall seemed set to quickly establish his new direction for Doctor Who to contrast with the past two incarnations.

The Synopsis

The Sinclair family are not the most united group of individuals. Ryan is affected by dyspraxia which affects his life in odd ways - and his capacity to ride a bike - while his grandmother's new marriage to her boyfriend Dennis has strained their relationship. During an outburst, he ends up being forced to try and retrieve his bike from the forest and stumbles upon something strange, large and blue. As police officer Yasmin Khan is drawn into the mess, strange occurrences begin to take place, such as a hovering ball of metal eels bringing a train to a halt. No one fully knows what is happening, or how the manic woman going by the name of the Doctor relates to any of it.
The Good

The immediate stance The Woman Who Fell to Earth takes is to rob the Doctor of everything. There's no TARDIS, no sonic screwdriver, no psychic paper or gadgets. She simply has her wits, the few memories she can call upon and her natural intelligence. This forces the character to adapt to her surroundings, and to show off her ability to work with little to nothing. This benefits the story for multiple reasons right from the outset - It gives impetus for her to link up with others, and for the new companions to quickly become involved in her story. It serves to establish the full retooling of the series to better reflect this new era without the previous one overshadowing it, and it wipes the metaphorical slate clean for new writers.

Jodie Foster quickly gives a very good impression in terms of her competence in this role, as the story rapidly throws new elements at her. The fact she has to work without the benefit of the aforementioned resources is the tip of the iceberg, as she drops directly into the middle of an alien attack. Furthermore, she is written and acts just as the Doctor, and resolves things in a manner which is distinct of her character. This needs to me emphasised as (the more sane) fears surrounding the characters related to treating her as River Song Mk. 2 or every episode saying "Here, the Doctor is a woman now, and this is a big thing!" Gender comes up a grand total of once, and it's both well handled and genuinely quite funny.

The cinematography has undergone a definite upgrade this season, with a far more cinematic feel to many scenes. You will notice this the most when it comes to the darker scenes, especially in terms of how the camera utilises environmental elements or slow tracking shots to emphasise space. Jamie Childs' history with high budget television shows has definitely paid off here, as he actively does everything possible to avoid any set looking like a sound stage. Combined with how many scenes can be filmed in a way which can actively transition from any theme with only minor visual edits - such as its unique ability to cross back and forth between horror and humour - it's a definite boon to the story.

Finally, and most pressingly, is the fact that this is a simple and direct story. There's no effort to make things "intelligent" to the point of tying the script in knots or making someone their own grandfather. There's no effort to create some meta narrative nonsense, or turn the Doctor into the centre of the universe. The episode actively steps back to the "I'm just a traveler" narrative the show once had, rather than boasting about who she is. It's a refreshing change, and without that baggage the script moves much quicker and easier between scenes. As such, the story benefits from a rapid pace which never feels too fast.
The Bad

Every Doctor needs to strike a strong impression from the start and help to offer some indication of how they will behave from here on. There is a great deal of wiggle room on offer as she is undergoing the typically instability born of a regeneration, but her behaviour seems to be a little familiar. If you're watching her performance, the usual mixture of blathering and rapidly delivered commentary is very reminiscent of David Tennant's Doctor, and not enough is done to help make her stand out. While this is certainly something which can be improved upon as the show finds its footing, it's unfortunate when a first impression reminds an audience of a popular prior incarnation.

Equally, the companions here seem to be defined more by their histories than personalities. There are a few solid moments which work well, but their successes come down to the choice of actors far more than detailed writing. With three new companions in total, more could have been done to better define them, or at least give them something more distinct to stand out. As it stands, they are good but not great, and come across as a means for the Doctor to get around the lack of her usual equipment.

Still, another element which did cause a few obvious problems stemmed from the villain of the episode. Without going into details, the villain is effective largely when he is seen as little as possible. With implications of power, threats and acts of controlled violence, he strikes an imposing shadow over the episode. This sadly disappears as the story goes on, both due to a few laughable visual elements and because they serve as a relatively low-level threat. The low level threat in of itself isn't inherently bad (Tom Baker started with Robot, after all) but after decades of the Doctors starting their careers by halting full-scale alien invasions, it feels like a step down.

Finally, and most pressingly, the resolution to the previous story's cliffhanger is rushed through and left without resolution. The Doctor effectively walks off being dropped from near orbit and, while those in their early hours of regeneration tend to be quite durable, this is pushing things. After all, people complained when the Tenth Doctor dropped through a skylight from a moving ship. This is someone who drops from somewhere close to the troposphere and through solid metal. It's difficult to simply ignore the episode glossing over something like that.

The Verdict

While it doesn't reach the heights of the Eleventh Hour or Christmas Invasion, this new episode avoids the flaws inherent in many past regeneration stories. Many of its flaws stem more from the new direction than the story itself, and it shows great promise for the years to come. It's enjoyable and engaging, but it feels as if the show isn't quite there yet, and will take a few more stories to hit its stride.

Verdict: 6.0 out of 10

Friday, 5 October 2018

Ciaphas Cain: Choose Your Enemies by Sandy Mitchell (Warhammer 40,000 Book Review)

The return of Ciaphas Cain has been something many fans have been clamouring for ever since his last appearance. It's not hard to see why - Cain is Blackadder meets Flashman, with all the snark and intelligent humour involved applied to M41. Despite this, Mitchell is a talented enough author to avoid most of the truly dark elements within Warhammer 40,000 and still make it extremely loyal to the overall universe. He's a unique entity in this regard, and Mitchell's ability to add nuance to every joke (until returning to it can often allow you to find a good two or three you missed in every previous reading) and some fairly good action, and it's a good overall balance for the series.

With all that said, however, there was no denying that the Ciaphas Cain saga had become somewhat repetative. Following the first trilogy, it seemed that every attempt to take a step forward resulted in at least one step back. The stories themselves were far from bad - and many of Cain's most famous moments come from the second omnibus - but the magic seemed to be wearing a bit thin. This is worth mentioning as, comparing Choose Your Enemies to The Greater Good highlights a sense of renewed energy behind the writing. It's not relying on the older tricks, so much as using them as a basis for new gags.

The Synopsis

Following multiple engagements against the Eldar, the Valhallan 597th are dispatched to Ironfound amid a Chaos uprising. While their initial battles prove to be a string of easy victories, Cain's troops soon find that corruption might be far more widespread than they first expected. Then things start to go very wrong as a few familiar faces show up, with danger close behind them.

The Good

The immediate bonus to this book's overall score comes from its choice of extra characters. As the synopsis implied, there are a lot of returning faces here, but the fact the Valhallan 597th themselves are present is a definite boon. The ensemble of secondary characters and mixed regimental figures always helped to bolster the stories. The a mix of familiar faces offered more opportunities for jokes, stories and material for Cain's narration to work with. While this might sound like hyperbole, if you compare the first three books with Death or Glory, you might notice that one is more engaging than the other. They're both well written, excellently paced and brilliantly described, but the supporting cast elevates the tale to a new level.

Additionally, the story utilises familiar elements without making them feel derivative. The old chapter outro style of "If I had known X I would have Y" is present, but the creativity behind it helps it to feel engaging. There are far more descriptions and humourous takes used to make it feel fresh in this regard, and equally the way in which Cain stumbles into the narrative works well. It doesn't feel as if the world is bending over backward to have him find a role within the larger story. The unintentional nature of their meetings and Cain's own dialogue helps to smooth this over, as always, but the greater scope at work really plays to the story's strengths. The ability for the narrative to interject accounts from other sources was always a major plus within prior tales, but here it is used to far more effectively flesh out the world. Part of that is down to the choice of placement within the narrative, but the details themselves have also become much more substantial.

The commentary delivered by Vail i as welcome as always, albeit with something of a change. There are remarkably few short versions here, the sort of interjections of one or two words. This allows her to have a greater voice in certain events and more substantial pieces to compliment where Cain glosses over key details. This is something of a running joke within the series, but this is a novel which has better utilised this than all others to really flesh out the setting. Given that, behind Eisenhorn, the Ciaphas Cain books are among the few which delve deeper into the inner workings of the Imperium's daily life, this is a very welcome addition. The fact it is set on such an unusual world gives the book more material to offer than were it another hive world or backwater planet, leading to some very interesting culture clashes.

Yet atop of everything else, Choose Your Enemies manages to sidestep a fair few of the pacing issues and structural problems inherent in the overall series. While hardly the worst example put onto paper, the efforts to reflect Cain's less formulaic style often interferes with the finer parts of pacing a book. When an event occurs, how it occurs, what drives the protagonist onward, how important something is to the overarching plot; that sort of thing. While it disguised this well for some time, toward start of the third trilogy these problems became much more obvious. A few of the more typically overused narrative devices were so often employed that it was clear how they were trying to distract the reader from problems.

The way the story manages to execute a better pace is by working around a lot of the flab present in past stories. While Cain is allowed plenty of time to ramble, discuss and comment upon ongoing events, it's more tightly executed and paced against said events. There is a more consistent effort to balance this against the major narrative, while the time-skips needed to work around story moments are far better placed. As a result, while it still offers commentary on a broader event, the story feels far more complete and better executed.

The Bad

So, what might be wrong with Choose Your Enemies? Oddly enough, a big one lies in something just praised: Vail's commentary. On the one hand, as mentioned above, the expanded sections help both her and the capacity to offer a greater voice within the story. On the other, there are far fewer brief laugh-out-loud moments from these. While one or two excellent ones - especially just as Cain discovers just what the enemy's plan is - which work in its favour, there are far fewer here to compliment the overall humour. While the reason behind this might become clear due to Vail relationship with the overall story, it makes the book feel lacking in an area which is typically a major strength.

Even without the commentary angle, however, the actual fight scenes are geared far more toward spectacle or large scale events over all else. In fact, it's often at the expense of everything else here. While fighting as a whole has typically been good within the series, it tends to be at its best when Cain is dueling someone or engaged in a very up-close-and-personal matter. His famous fight with a Khorne Berserker alone proves this. However, when it gets away from that area it tends to lack the innate descriptive strengths or narrative of more conventional stories. Here, however, the story seems to largely avoid these. Those present are typically quickly interrupted or favour action sequences instead, and it lacks some of the satisfaction needed in terms of violence. Yes, this might not be a bolter porn novel, but when it's based around war, the effectiveness of storytelling in war needs to be commented upon.

Yet perhaps most of all, the story is wrapped up extremely quickly within the final few pages. It goes from having an intense and well executed final act, to abruptly racing through to the ending, and resolving things far too cleanly. Part of this might be down to some surprisingly odd actions by the races involved in the story, but also how everything is instantly resolved. In most prior stories, the rapid wrap-up was far better justified, either by diverting one enemy into fighting another, or intervention by another force. With this one, that just isn't the case. It's irritating as it seems as if the story was written with a larger page count in mind, and was then forced to wrap things up all too quickly.

The Verdict

I could really just end this by saying "You enjoyed the past ones, so you'll love this one". It would be accurate and the truth is that, whatever its inherent problems, Choose Your Enemies still stands out thanks to its sharp writing and angles most stories avoid. It's one of the strongest stories of late, and a major improvement over the last two books in the series. If you can get your hands on a copy, definitely set cash aside for a hardcover copy of this one.

Verdict: 8.4 out of 10

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

We're Back! Now Here's A Warning!

So, things have been quieter than usual you might have noticed. Even with the usual ongoing problems, there has been a sudden dip in output, with few to no articles being released. There are two very simple reasons for that:

As things have gotten back to relative normality - even if it is a frequently disrupted and delayed normality - I was hoping to get back to a bi-daily release of articles. In order to kick-start this, the end of September and early October were to be a mixture of various video game releases which had clustered together. These were to be a variety of genres, but largely a few specific ones I had kept an eye on until late. This led to several day's worth of delays, until most reviews were almost done and they were ready to be posted.

And then Microsoft happened.

Windows 10 is not exactly loved by most people. Actually, it's largely hated for a lot of its less user friendly additions, such as the frequent removal of restore points and the multitude of mega-patches we keep getting. Well, this was one such patch that I got earlier than planned. You can read the full details here, but suffice to say it's a poor addition. Now, while I am not the most tech savvy man on the planet, I do know how to look after a machine. The hard drive had plenty of space left on it, it was frequently defragged, cleaned up and its interior dusted. It was a perfectly serviceable machine. Then this thing hits.

Suddenly the download takes the better part of twelve hours to fulfil, the PC repeatedly black screens, and the few times I do get through to the desktop it brings up a dozen error messages. One of which kept claiming it couldn't find the C drive. So, for the next two days I went about doing everything possible to fix this, and then pinned down the problem to a multitude of errors the patch had created (notably 0x80070003). The problem was that, as it was constantly freezing and pausing mid action, and the desktop itself was a black doom void which would not respond to any command, I could not use the repair tools needed for it. After several failed attempts to restore the machine to previous points, I was forced to effectively perform a factory reset.

The good news is that a fair few documents being worked on were held on a cloud drive, along with a multitude of important bits of information relating to reviews. The bad news was that this wiped out the saves for every game, each right near the end, and several documents close to completion. Oh, and every program I use on a daily basis. So, several weeks of work went right down the drain, because of Microsoft's tendency to be bastards.

We'll be going back to these games soon - and commenting on a few ongoing events - but a few might be shorter than usual in order to speed things up. So, we're back in business, but that business might be a bit shorter than usual until the backlog is dealt with.

Monday, 24 September 2018

7 Kill-Teams That Warhammer 40,000 Needs

If nothing else can be said about this year, the success of Kill-Team needs to be highlighted above all else. While Necromunda remains popular among players, the popularity of Kill-Team remains one of the surprise successes of the past year. It allows players to get into the main setting, offers them a way to play on a budget, has a unique set of rules, and even offsets many of the hero focused Warhammer trends which have become rather irksome. Even players who show little to no interest in the core game have been buying up new sets, with the likes of the Rogue Trader box offering an opportunity to field a number of highly unique models.

At the moment, Games Workshop has largely been experimenting with the possibility of unique kits and new models. So, here's a few possible ideas which might help to have the game stand out a bit more; just a few general units which would be enough to grab the attention of players.

7 - The Fallen Angels

This is the only Adeptus Astartes related squad on this list, as it's the only one we really need. Well, the only one which isn't the Iron Snakes, and they sadly don't have a big enough fandom to justify a full unit. With the ending of the Gathering Storm, the Fallen Angels were brought back into the limelight after being on the fringe of fandom knowledge for a time. While a brilliantly written dataslate about Cypher fleshed out his antics and the odd hint suggested that they were active in the wider galaxy, that was about it. 

The Fallen Angels largely served as an obstacle and objective for the Dark Angels. Whereas the likes of the Thousand Sons or Death Guard were able to field full armies of unique models, the Fallen Angels received little attention. As they had little lore, and their tactics were limited to squad level activities or small-scale operations. This would make them perfect for Kill-Team, as it would open up any number of interesting mission objectives or unique cards to play. After all, these are guys who range from dedicated Chaos cultists to nihilists to vengeful renegades.

The Fallen Angels also benefit from displaying far more individual quirks and personality traits than many other Astartes armies. The Gathering Storm alone proved this, with multiple pages listing off the personality traits of a number of individual marines, and how they each pursued their own agendas. It would be an opportunity to truly flesh out the group as a variety of unique heroes loosely aligned to carry out a single goal over a devoted squad.

6 - The Eyes of the Emperor

The idea of adding in the Adeptus Custodes to Kill-Team has become a running gag for a while, due to their inherently overpowered nature and high price. Most cite that you would probably just end up with one person facing down an entire squad, and that's if you're lucky. However, there is actually some potential in this. Oh, not with the Custodes themselves, certainly, but with a small sect of their order: The Eyes of the Emperor.

This is effectively the Custodes' version of the Inquisition, and it consists of the closest thing they have to retirement. While the Custodes themselves may well be long-lived beyond even the measures of the Astartes, when one is found to be slowing or losing their edge, they often voluntarily retire their equipment and head out into the galaxy. From there they either cultivate a personal network of agents, informants and vigilantes to hunt down Chaos cults, or act alone in their personal war against traitors, xenos and daemons. It's a very Judge Dredd idea, and not overly dissimilar to their take with the Long Walk.

The way this could be played might be akin to how Vampire Counts were utilised in Mordheim. You have one or two unstoppable badasses, each capable of punching the heads off of folks and serving as your hammer, and chaff of various degrees of competence surrounding him. As he wouldn't be wading into battle in full power armour and with a guardian spear, the Custodes would be much more stoppable, and would still have room for growth. Perhaps he could be armed with everything from a lasgun to a storm bolter, and only be able to be clad in up to carapace armour. 

Likewise, the informants and groups surrounding him would likely range from Chaos Cultist to Tempestus Scions levels of capabilities, but be notably much more poorly armed. Their edge might be allowing them to disrupt the start of the game, or weigh the odds in their favour through a mixture of intel, sabotage or establishing pit traps. While it would be another army of the Imperium, it would be a nice mix of models and a good way to introduce a fun new element of the lore onto the tabletop.

5 - The Eldar Exodites

Look, you all know that this was going to be on here somewhere. As a self-confessed fan of the dinosaur riding knights, there's something undeniably amusing about someone facing off against the space Amish, only to discover they're packing anti-matter weapons. If anything the Exodites might be one of the most diverse groups behind the Imperium itself, as they have no fully established tabletop presence. You could end up depicting them as near feral hunters going with the Wood Elves angle, as some books showed, or establish them as a scouting group from Wakanda 40,000. There's certainly enough sprues and extra bits (such as the lovely box of skulls which has been very useful in setting up my own army) to experiment with this.

In terms of rules, the main issue would be working around the fact these guys probably wouldn't show up riding velociraptors on steroids. Instead what we would have might be a mixture of Royal Household Guard on foot with a single Baron, Noble or even just a Chief leading them. These could better emphasise hit and fade style attacks than what the Dire Avengers offer with some more durability than Dark Eldar units, filling the gap in between them. Alternatively, if you wanted to go in the direction seen with the first novel of the Dark Eldar trilogy, these could be closer to savage hunters. A more extreme version of the Ranger, with less armour, but effects like poison weapons at range or using local animals to their benefit. Hell, perhaps have a few come with them. You could have attack hounds to harry enemy units, or hawks being used as scouts to improve their accuracy by highlighting enemy targets.

If you're about to complain that they don't have starships like everyone else, well, the old lore said that groups used the Webway to get around just like the rest of their kind. As for their personal abilities, you still have a lot to work with due to their backgrounds. They could have skills which better emphasise their ability to rapidly withdraw from combat while still fighting, or even perhaps to have a number of advantages relating to the nearby terrain.

Also, as an aside, apologies for the quality of the painting in the photograph. That was my personal unit, and was close to being finished before my house was turned into a building site, and everyone else here decided that privacy was a luxury I didn't need. Now, let's move on before this turns into a rant.

4 - The Cadian Kasrkin

While it was sorely tempting to put down Kasrkin/Stormtroopers here, the truth is that the Kasrkin have more material to work with. Despite having been usurped by the Tempestus Scions, the models are still popular, and fetch a high price on eBay. It's with good reason as well, as they were among the best looking "future soldier" models produced for the Imperial Guard. With Cadia gone, there's little opportunity for them to be brought back in force, but they would be perfect for a kill-team. After all, the world broke before they did, and it's only in death that duty ends.

The Kasrkin here could be made up as survivors, perhaps even elite specialists which cannot be afforded to be placed on the frontlines. Given their unwavering resolve and sheer skill, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if one group of Inquisitors or another tried to integrate them into their personal armies. Or, if someone didn't like that, perhaps Guilliman's reforms might have seen them utilised as a special forces unit for missions where they needed quick results without deploying a full army.

The obvious element which helps to characterise them more is their long history guarding against Chaos, and also the fact Cadia itself is gone. The destruction of a planet can heavily influence the depiction of an army, or even serve as a new direction behind them given their dwindling numbers. The Tanith First and Only is the classic example of this, but you also have the likes of the Star Phantoms, or even the entire Craftworld Eldar race. This can be taken in any number of directions, from self-reliance to having a much stronger core of veterans. It's definitely a varied example which can be built upon for any number of takes depending on how a player wishes to show them having evolved, and Games Workshop already has a solid design to work with.

3 - The Abhumans

So, this isn't entirely an Imperium related one. It instead relates to something which has always been an odd undercurrent within the setting: Humanity has a lot of sub-species. You have the Ogryns, and also the Ratlings, but also a multitude of other species. These are generally tolerated by the Inquisition and wider Imperium for their use, but are certainly not on the same level as the "pure" general species. This has led to their use as slave armies, cultists and even allies of other powers. The most obvious among these fits in with the classic depiction of the Imperial Guard, as groups of cannon fodder being (often literally) whipped into battle by a Commissar, or sent on suicide missions. Many of these would be to accomplish objectives or fight enemies with no chance of survival, and given the variety of foes in Kill-Team, that would fit in perfectly. Let's face it, if you end up with unenhanced humans fighting Thousand Sons, then you're going to take casualties.

The big benefit of this kind of force would obviously be customisation and opportunities to integrate existing models. Ogryns may or may not be possible depending on how they are written into the rules of Kill-Team, while Ratlings are an obvious addition thanks to their abilities as snipers. Then you have the likes of Beastmen who, in the era of Rogue Trader, did serve as serf soldiers who were loyal to the Emperor. There are varied groups and units atop of this, but the point is that you can have an extremely varied force of body sizes and physical builds to make up the overall team. It may even be an opportunity to have a much more fodder related force built around melee if the aforementioned Beastmen were used, or even to experiment with new takes on typical Imperial Guard weaponry. Just think of how one of these creatures might try to rework a basic lasgun, for example, perhaps cracking the focusing lens to turn it into an unstable shotgun weapon or the like.

The fact that they have such a diverse number of physical builds and can show up with everything from Chaos cults to the Tau Empire would also help with player creativity. If you leave enough opportunities for people to dig into their bits box to customise armies, they almost always will.

2 - Tanith First and Only

This might seem like a cheap option, but it did need to be added onto here for several key reasons. The big one is simply that, while they were available for a time, we have not had Gaunt's Ghost models in years. While they sadly weren't too popular thanks to the expense needed to build squads, the regiment is perfect for a Kill-Team style campaign with limited numbers. After all, they're a light infantry regiment with a heavy emphasis on stealth, limited engagements and acting as scouts. Multiple stories feature units acting independently of other armies, and we had an entire book devoted to Gaunt himself leading a squad to assassinate a traitor general. You might remember it, that story was titled Traitor General.

However, this isn't to say that the unit itself needs to focus on including the likes of Corbec, Gaunt, Larkin or Criid. Instead, it's a chance to use the army's background and more general tactics to help promote them. While the regiment might have followed a number of distinct figures, a great deal of time was spent highlighting the histories and quirks of its supporting characters. This ranged from noting their past professions to how certain personality traits affected their roles in the army. This would make them perfect for this type of squad level engagement, and permit countless opportunities for players to uniquely customise them to their own tastes.

Finally, and most prominently, you also have their variety of roles and weapons. While the army emphasized light infantry tactics, they did not simply limit themselves to long-las weapons. Instead, their soldiers were armed with everything from flamers, to lasguns, to bolters, to man-portable autocannons and the ever wonderfully named tread fethers. This would give them a versatility which many other scout or ranger style armies lack with their armories.

1 - The Kroot Mercenaries

Above all others, the Kroot had to take the number one slot on this list. Why? Because they're the perfect option for Kill-Team. You don't need to add in a single new unit with them, as everything from the Kroot hounds to the Krootox serves as perfect units to augment the basic squads. Furthermore, their basic troops exist as a perfect blend of melee and ranged glass cannons, as they can dish out a decent number of attacks despite notwithstanding returning attacks. This has typically made them serve as little more than a basic speed-bump to attacking units in many 40,000 games (and occasional area denial sniper mobs) but this wouldn't quite the case in Kill-Team. As the game limits the type of units they usually struggle against, they wouldn't be fodder so much as you might expect. Furthermore, the multitude of ability cards would help to offset their typical fragility.

Without the rules angle, you also have the benefit of their role within the galaxy. The Kroot are mercenaries before all else, and despite their standing alliance with the T'au Empire, they will happily fight for the highest bidder. This means that they can have any number of pillaged weapons, trophies or elements to help make their members uniquely stand out from the crowd. The standard Kroot box already has a vast number of customization in terms of arms, bandoleers and weapons, but there is every opportunity to build on this. Imagine if they had a specific prey they favoured above all others, for example, like the Astartes, and how you could build up their models to reflect this.

Finally, there is also the subject of their genetics. Kroot kindred adapt and evolve depending upon what they consume, often taking the most beneficial traits for themselves. Over time their genetic makeup alters if they keep consuming enough of a certain prey, until members gradually manifest those qualities over generations. This can lead to evolutionary dead ends - like the Krootox - but also varied sub-species of family groups. An old Chapter Approved article highlighted this, with groups like the Headhunter Kindred developing poisoned glands to spit venom at their enemies, or the Stalker Kindred, who had multiple genetic enhancements to benefit stealth. It wouldn't take too much to re-introduce these ideas via Kill-Team with a few upgrade kits.

So, that's the main list here. While I was sorely tempted to throw out the suggestion of the Ordo Chronos, it seemed best to try and emphasise a broad mixture of varied units. There are more Imperial ones than I would like on here already, and while they might have shown up with the Last Chancers if this list was longer, it seemed best to stick with the essentials.

If you have a few ideas of your own, please feel free to list them out below here. There are many more concepts which can be thought up, after all, and you could probably find a reason to justify everything from more Tau Auxiliaries to Thunder Warriors in one way or another.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Frostpunk (Video Game Re-Review)

You're probably asking yourself two things upon seeing this.

The first is simply "Wait, didn't you review Frostpunk already?"

And the other will likely be "Where the hell have you been?"

To answer those in turn - I did review it, but several free expansions (including yesterday's one) meant that the game deserved a second look, as it has undergone a few noted improvements. It's not quite a No Man's Sky style turn-around, but it is enough to warrant a second look.

As for where I have been: Life is still chaotic. I'm used to keeping multiple plates spinning at a time, but even I have some trouble when someone throws a kitchen worth of them at me. And then sets the kitchen on fire while they're doing it.

The ironic thing is, that last example can easily describe the experience of playing Frostpunk, only it manages to capture the fun side of things.

The Synopsis

The world is freezing over. The steampunk golden age that the world has enjoyed came to an abrupt end with the onset of an endless winter. No one truly knows the cause of it, nor even how to counteract this catastrophe, but humanity needs to adapt in order to survive. Abandoning their cities, refugee camps flee northward to where gigantic heat generating towers have been constructed. It is now your task to keep your small band of survivors alive, happy, and find a way to make your city thrive amid the wilderness.

The Good

The immediate +1 bonus Frostpunk gets is its thematics. Let's be honest here: Steampunk tends to be treated like a crutch. It's a great visual medium and a very distinctive style when done right, but far too often it boils down to someone sticking a lot of gears onto a top hat and saying it's done. The ones which do this far outnumber the few which try to execute something interesting with it, and even then they typically have trouble with the world-building here. Frostpunk avoids this at every turn thanks to its post-apocalyptic nature. While it could be argued that part of this is sidestepping the problem in question - by destroying the world rather than fully explore it - the game does offer a few substantial hints about the setting. We see indications of the technological level of the world, mentions of nations and even the odd technological marvel. What's more, steam itself is core to the game's very mechanics, and it manages to just about balance advanced technology against age-old aesthetics. Both visual and societal ones, of course.

Many of the problems you end up facing in Frostpunk stem from two societal issues above all others. The first and most obvious among these is the risks and issues of running a city on the verge of annihilation. The local population will make demands of you, have biases colour their influences and even cite your shortcomings as a major problem. Too few medical clinics? Someone's going to complain. Poor shelter? People will become unruly. If you seem to be failing in your duties or favouring one group above all others? People will riot.

The societal system is decided by two meters, one measuring the level of hope within your populace and the other the discontent with your decisions. This might sound like a basic X equals Y system, or something to encourage you to avoid becoming a tyrant, but it ends up being quite the opposite. In fact, how many of your choices tie into this heavily impresses upon the player the grey morality of the game. For one thing, pit fighting actually helps to placate your population, and despite the occasional death duel can do the same. 

The societal additions to your city are made through the Book of Laws, a spider-diagram of a system allowing you to implement new buildings or mechanics. This can only be implemented every few days, but your choices range from establishing a tavern to keep the population's hopes up, to child labour. The easy answers you would expect to see are entirely absent from this experience, as it reinforces the fact that a hopeful and loyal population is not always a good thing. You're perpetually short on resources, supplies and bodies, so while barring the use of child labour might seem like a no-brainer at first, in some scenarios it can become essential to your survival. You simply need more people in order to keep dragging up coal to fuel the furnace. This need to balance survival against morality was what helped This War of Mine stand out, and despite having a fantastical setting and larger scale, it works just as well here.

What further complicates matters is that your population has its own demands, from small-scale familial disputes to broader situational issues. What makes this so effective is that many of these can stem from any number of possible situations, each of which changes depending upon the scenario you play. There are a few basic ones - people will moan if you have everyone living in tents at hell-freezing-over temperatures - but then there are the likes of how you deal with the bodies of traitors, or people taking time off work to pray upon seeing their impending doom. You cannot wholly control this and there is only a rare third answer provided by the game's later choices of Order or Faith (police state or local church) options. However, if you go too far with these, you can easily cross a line from simply having churches to boost morale, to public floggings of those who fail you.

The actual scenario system itself was a point of contention among players on release. Many apparently wanted a free-roaming mode or the likes in order to explore the setting without being bound to a story. However, as time has gone by, it has been increasingly clear that these stories help to offer the game's strongest element. Each explores a different element in a city's life, and throws entirely new challenges your way as your population reacts to them. In New Home you have to establish your new city, and then quell an insurrection of people attempting to break from your city. In The Arks you have to deal with foreign affairs, and the last best hope to preserve your future. In The Refugees there is the issue of class warfare threatening to rip the city apart, while the Fall of Winterhome is about a populace attempting to drag itself back from the edge of annihilation.

While the scenarios themselves cannot be fully delved into without spoiling them, the Fall of Winterhome was the most recent, and highlights just how different these can be. Rather than merely maintaining resources and building up a city from the ground up, you have to rebuild it. You take charge of a failing city which has undergone a revolution, with its people having completely lost hope, and many of its buildings torched beyond use. Your task is to use decrees you would have otherwise ignored and the remaining facilities to make it thrive once more. In addition to this, you need to continually hit targets on the hope meter to ensure that the people trust their new ruler. Even if Winterhome is thriving, if you fail to hit these even once, you face being exiled into the wastes.

So, that's the crux of the good. Surprisingly, there is some bad to be found here as well.

The Bad

This first point is going to sound strange, but for a game based around a new ice age, the heat mechanics are surprisingly lacking. They certainly provide a challenge at first, especially as the temperatures continue to drop and if you only have a fairly low population. However, beyond those first few minutes, it can quickly become a simple nuisance. The furnace which is in the middle of your city is easy to maintain once you get a basic grasp of the mechanics, and there are multiple ways to easily guard your buildings against the cold. Of all the resources on hand, coal is the most plentiful and easy to acquire. Unless you completely botch any attempt to balance mining with a high output, you will never run out of the stuff. Unless the game drops the temperature to ludicrous degrees (I.E. past the freezing point of carbon dioxide) you're never going to feel as if it poses any true threat to you.

The issue of resource management is also somewhat undermined by other additions which undermine the sense of surviving against all odds. The big ones are how the game handles scouting missions and outposts beyond the city itself. Now, this addition is actually a welcome one for several reasons. It shows a broader map of the world, it allows you to gain some extra lore on surrounding locations, and opens up opportunities for new missions. With that being said, the system itself is overly automated. Scouts can march for days without tiring or pausing, and they never consume food. They practically stumble upon stockpiles of resources, and unique parts vital to constructing the more complex machine pieces within your city. As such, you can end up with massive resource booms which allows you to suddenly leap forward in terms of development. Outposts are the same, but they are an even more flagrant problem in many cases. You need to spend little to nothing on them, and they will constantly send massive stockpiles of supplies back to your city on a daily basis. If you play your cards right, these can replace your need for half the buildings in the game, and it makes the survival element obscenely easy.

Even without the issue of coal or supplies, there are distinct bits here which feel extremely superfluous. For example, everyone in this game has a name, from the children to your workers. You might think that this would have some Dwarf Fortress style element, where some people become much more prominent than others, but that isn't the case. They are largely interchangeable and, outside of one surprisingly meaningful difference between graveyards and corpse pits, you will overlook most of them. The stories focus much more on the general population, and the societal events impact the society as a whole rather than an individual group. There's no moment where you think "Oh, that's him!" and can be easy just to think of them as another resource in the end. It doesn't ruin the theme of the game, or even hold it back that much, but it repeatedly highlights how the game missed a trick by lacking a more individual element within the city.

Finally, there's also the technology here, or more specifically the way it develops. The way in which steampunk technology is handled remains one of the game's strengths. It really seems like the creators knew where to draw the line in terms of how far steam power could be taken without pinching things from other gimmick techs (So, no Tesla coils). The use of mini-airships, factories, automated mining rigs and four-legged automata all play a role within the game, and each looks fantastic. The problem comes from actually getting there.

It seems as if 11 bit studios truly wanted the city to develop gradually and to avoid a lot of the science focused min-maxing which could lead to easy victories. In doing so, however, the technological system ended up being time consuming, slow and problematic. You often need to unlock technologies you will never use in order to get to a few later ones you have some interest in. At the same time, the tiered nature of the technology screens requires you to pay out resources to get each on in turn. This adds another timed gate onto progressing forward, and slows any plans you might have. As a result of this, what could have been a very effective and direct system feels very over-engineered and cumbersome. The results are typically great but actually getting there is an arduous uphill battle. Then again, perhaps that was hidden message in all of this.

The Verdict

Frostpunk is still a very flawed game, but a deeply enjoyable one. Much like XCOM, you will walk away with a bucket list of problems, die many times and perhaps curse your luck, but keep playing. The scenarios are varied enough that the same old tactics don't always win out, and even with the resourcing elements mentioned above, the need to placate your city is always a challenge. As a result of the broader variety of stories and a few mechanical tweaks, there have been a number of vast improvements which makes it more than worth your time. If you were holding off on buying this on release due to its criticisms, now is the time to give it a second look.

Verdict: 7.5 out of 10