Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Space Marine/Thunder Warrior Hybrids Confirmed As Canon?


It seems every fan has some small part of some franchise they're obsessed with. Some small part that we barely see, but people keep coming back to because of what they represent and the ideas they offer. While the Eldar Exodites are a personal one, for many fans of the Imperium of Man this comes in the form of the Thunder Warriors. Short-lived, violently psychotic and utterly unstable, they were utterly loyal to the Emperor while emulating many of mankind's worst traits.

While little more than a genetic stop-gap measure on the way to the more refined Adeptus Astartes, more than a few fans have developed a fondness for these hulking brutes. We know little of their victories or even culture save for what little was gleaned from the likes of the Outcast Dead. It seemed short of a few one-shots that Black Library was a whole were done with them. Well, sort of. Blackshields: The False War suggests something very, very interesting which might change a few things surrounding the lore of these mysterious figures.

While the audio drama itself is a fine one (and the rare example of a heist involving the Adeptus Astartes), the story dropped a surprising bombshell in the form of Endryd Haar. Nicknamed the "Riven Hound", Haar was the rare example of a World Eaters loyalist who had fully embraced his savage ways. While Captain Varren showed a surprising degree of nobility hinting as to what the legion could have become without the Nails, Haar was brutality incarnate. Willing to enforce his rule through executions, maiming and honour duels, all that was known was that he was Terran born and was one of the first of his legion.

Bit by bit, however, Blackshields added a few interesting details, seemingly building off of a statement from the Forge World rulebooks: "Endryd Haar and his three battle-brothers were part of the first initiate company of the XIIth Legion created in the Imperial Geneworks on Terra, long before his brethren had taken the name of the War Hounds, and many decades before they would become Angron's "eaters of worlds." Only he would go on to survive that company; a remnant of a lost age, a living weapon akin to his Legion brothers that came after and yet subtly different in his controlled savagery."

While this was initially put down to him merely being the first among their kind in a manner akin to Merir Astelan of the Dark Angels, the story kept going further and further with this idea. 

One of the first points cited very early on was his size, dwarfing even the Death Guard remnants among his force and surprising those familiar with the Legionaries. Then, along with his savage methods, it began to note other things, such as the fact he had no Nails. Instead, that his savagery and spite was born of something else:

"There were no Nails in his skull. His savagery comes from a deeper well."

This point is only driven further with a few hints surrounding Terra, that he effectively escaped from the place of his gene-forging, and later even his views on Horus himself. Determining that he must personally slay the rebellion's leader, he is driven more by a deep-seated contempt over anything we have seen with other characters. It's not so much betrayal or even the loss of his comrades as the nature of his act. A specific moment of which hinted heavily that this related to Horus having a far greater purpose planned than he had.

Even without all the above connecting this together, a man with notable inside knowledge of the Imperium's darkest secrets quietly asks him a very interesting question:

"Do you dream of thunder?"

Normally this would be the point where the article says "This is just a theory so please treat it as such" but given the sheer number of hints present here, it's difficult to say that this wasn't planned. Perhaps this is intended as a bait-and-switch or even an alteration to be built upon later on. Yet, with this all originating from one audio drama and all by one mind? That speaks less of different creative minds offering dots to join up and more of a plan. 

The question now surrounds just what Haar himself actually is. A missing link between the Thunder Warriors and Astartes, or perhaps even a variant of the older superhuman psychopaths implanted with Angron's gene-seed, forging a mongrel breed of warrior. Both are certainly possible, but you then need to consider other things atop of this. Particularly the subject of how the Thunder Warriors' bodies burned themselves out within a few years and even those left on Terra were on the verge of death.

The most obvious answer might be that Haar was a prototype, or a direct experiment. Master of Mankind threw in a questionable scene where the Emperor directly opted not to remove Angron's Nails due to the enhanced ferocity they offered, leaving many to question why he didn't just keep the Thunder Warriors if he sought such a creation. Perhaps he experimented with just that but disliked the end result.

With another Blackshields audio drama having already been announced and promoted, the chances are we might end up with a few more answers along with details surrounding this faction of Space Marines. Until then, we will just have to wait and think over the scraps of lore we have been given for the time being.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Corsair: The Face of the Void (Warhammer 40,000 Audio Drama Review)


Even among the diverse battlefields of the 41st Millenium, Rogue Traders have a special place. They offer a chance to step away from planetary warfare to something purely space based, sidestep many of the big problems surrounding xenophobia and open up story possibilities military tales cannot easily access. The sense of adventure, discovery and emphasis upon loot over "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" or "HERESY!" is often a welcome change as well.

While Andy Hoare delved into this with his own duology, it's been some time since Black Library devoted time purely to such a character, at least until a few weeks ago. With James Swallow's return, this audio drama looks as if it's set to be the beginning of an entirely new series, and it has to be said it's off to a promising start.

The Synopsis

Sailing through the void, the Corsair hunts for abhuman pirates who have recently pillaged an Imperial world. Under the command of Captain Athene Santiago, the ship bears down upon its prey within a dense asteroid field. Yet, few truly know just what the pirates have pillaged, nor even of the mysterious objects origin. The Rogue Trader soon finds that her treasure is far more dangerous than anyone could have imagined.

The Good

This is one of a handful of efforts by Black Library to develop true audio dramas. While most have followed transcripts, narration and a few actors in the lead roles, this dispenses entirely with the narrator in favour of actors. In many cases, this can easily prove to be awkward, as every action, expression, description, and statement needs to be conveyed by word. However, the vocal direction in Corsair: The Face of the Void is easily on par with the likes of Big Finish and benefits from some very talented and experienced voice actors. This allows them to perform a great deal of the heavy lifting, and carry the relevant exposition without it feeling too out of place. While there are certainly one or two forced moments, there is nothing truly out of place here.

A further point in the work's benefit is how the characters quickly distinguish themselves within the first few minutes. From an Imperial Naval Academy washout to an Eldar Outcast, the group is as diverse and colourful as you would expect. While the audio drama's style and brisk pacing permit very little in the way of background details or true introductions, what is conveyed through dialogue proves to be very interesting. 

The key focus is on the Captain and two other characters, but it's a credit to the overall production that you can immediately single one character out from the other. Their histories, relationships, familiarity with one another and even disposition towards the life of a Rogue Trader are conveyed within the opening few minutes. Compared with many longer and larger scope tales, this one does an excellent job of making sure you never forget who is who even with relatively few scenes.

As you might imagine, executing combat in this format is a difficult task. Without a narrator to describe blows or more complex movements, it's left almost entirely to the sound effects and actors to convey this point. Naturally, this means that any direct duel or conflict was out of the question, leaving them to work around it. However, the production turned this weakness into a strength. Much of the action is delivered through statistical data and shipborne combat, while the few direct face-to-face engagements are won almost entirely through trickery. This is especially helpful, given the story throws a few exceptionally powerful enemies at them, so any conventional victory would have seemed implausible at best.

The story also performs a decent amount of world building in this time. While we are only granted a few basic facts through conversations and moments of exposition, it's clearly a sort of pirate haven. Less the orderly sub-sectors akin to Helican or even Ultramar, and more a hive of scum and villainy filled with pirates and lost treasure. It substantially helps that we are given a chance to see just who rules this realm, and her brief appearance adds to the mythos of this place substantially. This might sound as if it's glorifying a secondary aspect of the story, but it helps to alter the atmosphere of the tale substantially. This is less the realm of gene-forged Knights Templar and entities from beyond the realm of mortals, and one of profit, high adventure and lost secrets. It's the same place, but simply a different take on it.

Yet perhaps the greatest strength is that the overall story makes a point of subverting most expectations. While the Imperium of Man is a much larger and more varied realm than many would give it credit for, there's no denying that authors tend to favour a few distinct tropes over others. That's not so much the case here. In fact, the big mystery behind a certain item proves to be anything but what you might expect it to be. There are a few clever signs, obvious ones in retrospect, but it performs such an excellent bluff that its presence is a welcome change to the norm in these tales. The same is true of the characters themselves as well. They might retain shades or general aspects of what you might expect, but it never goes overboard at any point.

Yet, there are a few distinct problems here despite all o this good. Ones which, while margnial, are still evident very early on.

The Bad

It's very clear that this is intended to be a pilot for a bigger series. On the one hand, this is certainly no bad thing. It has a solid story, potential for bigger tales, and James Swallow's work on the Garro series proved that he can pull this off. Unfortunately, however, the story leaves a few too many questions unanswered for this stage. In a longer tale or even a more extensive audio drama this might not have been so much of an issue, but with its brisk pace and emphasis on action over character moments, it can leave you feeling a bit insubstantial. Or suffering from Lost flashbacks. That's a definite possibility as well.

The audio drama also tries to be both episodic and long-reaching in terms of its stories, but this compounds the point above. It resolves the core threat in of itself and tries to neatly wrap up the core events while leaving many threads for later stories. It's clear just why this was done and how someone might have considered this to be an apt method of keeping the story going. With that said, there are a few choice actions which simply end too swiftly or lack the sort of impact you would expect.

The audio drama's brisk nature also works against it on some occasions. While a swift story is hardly ever a bad one, when it focuses upon a select few characters it's usually worth keeping it focused upon a key location. Perhaps a few places or an ongoing journey, but with this one the story jumps around a great deal. While it's clear it would be difficult to get around this otherwise, the need to do so really feels as if it's speeding through events and not leaving them enough time to fully register certain actions. As a result, on the whole this is one which lacks the sort of memorable impact you would expect.

The Verdict


The best thing to say about Corsair: The Face of the Void is that it feels like a Ciaphas Cain short story. It uses humour in places, runs through events quite quickly and has clear links to a much bigger universe we do not get to see. Yet the charm of the characters, the excellent execution of the core story and obvious hooks to make people come back overwhelms the weaknesses inherent within the plot itself. It's certainly not nearly as heavy going as other stories, but that was never the point here.

If you're looking for an audio drama which doesn't focus on the Adeptus Astartes or Imperial Guard, this is easily the best option we've had in years. Definitely consider picking this one up, especially if you're a fan of the Fantasy Flight Games RPG adaptations.


Verdict: 7 out of 10

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Dynasty Warriors 9 (Video Game Review)


By all rights, Dynasty Warriors should be an impossible series to screw up. You have a few thousand mooks on each side, a variety of maps, some fun mission objectives, and a lot of colourful heroes. The formula is an effective one as it can be adapted to a variety of settings and characters, with the likes of Fire Emblem, Gundam and Legend of Zelda getting in on the action. Looking at Dynasty Warriors 9, however, you would be forgiven for thinking Koei Tecmo was attempting to torch its own franchise.

The story is the same song and dance we all know and love. It’s the three kingdoms era China and people are fighting. There’s a Yellow Turban Rebellion you need to kill off early on, and the story changes depending upon who you pick out. The real charm is seeing just how this alters with each faction and getting used to the widely diverse fighting styles of the various heroes. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case anymore. Oh you still have plenty of heroes, but almost everything fun and exciting has been surgically removed. 

Every unique weapon and mechanic has been turned down until it’s a balal shadow of its predecessors. The gigantic baton by Zhuge Dan has been completely removed, along with Dong Zhuo’s bombs and Zhang He’s wolverine claws. In its place we have repetative copy-paste jobs from one to the next, with a sizable chunk of the cast stumbling about with a ball and chain. The unique artistic elements and colourful visual qualities of the past series are still there, but it’s bereft of any direction, focus or actual talent, resulting in battlefields which look as if they have been built out of Unity engine stock assets.

Amazingly, the game even manages to get the basic idea of taking on hordes of enemies at a time wrong. The much promoted “open world” aspect is to Dynasty Warriors 9’s detriment, turning previously populated and engaging environments into vast stretches of wilderness with the occasional hero or skirmish. No longer will you be able to take on entire armies at once, because you will never get enough NPCs into one place. You spend more time travelling between fights - or fast-travelling - than actually fighting.

Assuming you even manage to get into a fight you want, you’ll soon find that the gameplay is borked beyond belief. Not only can you instantly finish missions with the big objective placed in front of you (with the odd secondary mission which does not influence the map or fight at all in the grand scheme of things) but there’s no engagement there. It’s a popular criticism to refer to Dynasty Warriors as little more than a button masher bereft of tactics but, if you were one of those few, you have no idea just how well you had it. 

The anti-climactic battles with characters last seconds at the most, and can be ended with a single combo at times. Kill the right person and you can end up with the entire enemy side simply fleeing the map en mass, heroes included. It’s a literal “Push this button to instantly win” simulator, with even the idea of besieging enemy fortresses proving to be little more than window dressing you can easily skip over.

Repetition and re-use of ideas has always been an element within Dynasty Warriors games, but past experiences have usually varied the combat in some way. Here? The revamped combat system limits characters to a few moves, until each and every one feels and plays no different from anyone else, robbing the game of a major strength. The maps? The first several are all but utterly identical, and no unique objectives, rules or ideas present to differentiate them from anywhere else in the game. The modes? No longer do we have 1 vs 1000 or speed run mode, but simply “story mode” and “free mode”.

Even without all of these problems, this is easily one of the worst optimized experiences of the past several years. On PC it constantly lags, stutters and suffers from graphical failings the average indie developer would have fixed in a beta release. Not only is object clipping a near feature within the game, but characters phase through walls, drop through the floor and enemies can somehow even air-juggle themselves by being caught in the wrong place. Sometimes the AI fails to even register your presence, allowing you to cut through them without opposition of any kind. Oh, and Koei’s response to this? No patches, no fixes, simply updates to lock players out of areas of the game localized versions weren’t supposed to have.

While critics are often known for their apocalyptic hyperbole, please take this as a genuine, direct and completely down to earth statement: This is easily the single worst Dynasty Warriors game ever made.

Verdict: 2 out of 10

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Secret of Mana (Video Game Review)


While the company is best known for Final Fantasy, Square Enix has churned out no end of cult classics. From Star Ocean: The Second Story to Chrono Trigger, you can point to any number of secondary series which have helped to shape the JRPG genre as a whole. Secret of Mana is one of those, and its return has been long awaited by many fans for well over a decade now. Upon playing it, however, it’s clear it might not have been made with them in mind.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Codex: Adeptus Custodes Part 2 - Special Rules, Units and Relics (Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition Review)


So, with the lore out of the way, here we are with the rules. To give the brief version: It's an upscaled variation of what we were given last Edition. The armies are small, focus heavily upon rapid attacks and hitting hard with a few people, backed with some heavy armour and fast units. It's the sort of thing most will likely want for an allies list due to a few inherent weaknesses, but it's just about good enough to stand up on its own two legs.

Also, no, it's not Movie Marines 2: Marine Harder, as some had feared. They're tough, but they can die if you're overconfident, dumb, or you have an enemy who can exploit your shortcomings. They could even be viewed as a more durable version of the Dark Eldar or Tempestus Scions in this regard. They hit hard, can inflict heavy casualties early on, but a few stupid mistakes can see your strong assault shatter under the weight of a counter attack. That said, it's not perfect, and a few bad habits do rear their ugly head once more, as you'll see here.

Still, you're probably wanting to hear more about this in detail, so let's get onto the rules themselves.


Special Rules



To further separate them out from the Astartes, the Custodes have a number of interesting special rules to reflect their finer breed. While most of these align in some way or another with a few distinct chapters or general tactics, the fact that you get them automatically helps to give the army a different starting point to work from. You're spending more points per model, so it's to be expected that they would have a few tricks up their collective sleeve.

Aegis of the Emperor: Besides having a name which makes me wonder if it's Graven Ashe we have secretly sitting on the Golden Throne, the Aegis is known by many names. To more than a few it's a simple blessing but to his chosen followers it's an energy shield to go with their shiny armour. The result? Everyone in your army has a 5+ invulnerable save, giving them some surprising moments of shrugging off railgun rounds when needed.

The Emperor's Chosen: This only works with a purely Custodes force, and serves primarily to augment the rule listed above. If the Custodes are a pure detachment with no allies, you can add +1 to that above save to everything there, from elite grunts to the Terminators. Also, yes, the ones on the jetbikes have this as well.

Admittedly, this is personally something I view as the only major misstep within the rules here, as it takes things too far. Sure, you might be fielding an army of perhaps twenty-five models in total, but when they stand a chance of merrily marching through gunfire from Titans with only a few casualties, this stops becoming "strong but few" and into turning the force into a golden battering ram. If you think this is too much of an exaggeration then (outside of a few of the more ludicrous detachments) the only ones to have this sort of thing previously were supposed to be individuals. HQ choices, the odd heavy support, perhaps a Monstrous Creature. A whole army though? Unless you can rely on sheer weight of numbers to win the day, that's going to seriously weight things in the Custodes' players favour from the get-go.

Sworn Protectors: Compared with the moment of insanity above, this is one of the much more understandable ones.With this work in effect, all Custodes from infantry to bikers can secure objectives. It's again something we see a variant of quite often, but in this case, it's needed to allow them an edge in situations where larger boards would render them unusable. Larger or faster-moving forces such as the eldar or even Tyranids would likely be able to keep them constantly bogged down with waves of fodder or rush the positions early on.

The only issue is that it seems as if this should have had an asterisk at the end. Custodes on foot? They'll take a while to get there. In transports? Same result. Jetbikes? They're few in number and have a few notable weaknesses to exploit when they're on their lonesome. Deep Striking Terminators with +2 basic saves and 4+ Invulnerable options? Okay, now we've gone a bit too far. At least with other armies you have people being fired across the board on bikes or need to spend a few points on Drop Pods. It's not too bad thanks to a few counters, but it's one which could have been scaled back slightly.

Units



As outlined above, there's not too many units to cover here. Enough for the basic skeleton of an army, and a limited force which can be allied with bigger units to greater effect while (mostly) standing up on its own two legs.

HQ:

Shield Captain: Costing 122 points, the Shield Captain is your standard all-rounder for frontline generals on this list. While sticking to a basic Custodes stats line of M6" ES2+ BS+ S5 T5 Ld10 Sv2+, he also has the advantage of five Attacks and six Wounds. Expect a lot of that last bit in this list, as the Custodes are built to take more than a few blows.

He's a fairly versatile option, capable of taking most gear the army has to offer, from Guardian Spears to an oversized blade on a stick which would give Gotrek axe envy. His main special rule is Inspirational Fighter, which gives all Custodes units within 6" of his position re-rolls to hit. This makes him viable as a spearhead to blunt enemy attacks, and more importantly to help with holding certain positions.

Atop of this, his Allarus Terminator version gives him an extra wound, and gains the From Golden Light special rule all terminators in this army would benefit from. What's more his jetbike version grants him +1 to Wounds and Toughness along with high-speed movement, but it comes with the debatable downside of limiting him to the Interceptor lance. "Debatable" is the key term here as, while it limits his options and is the most expensive choice, he can still take certain relics to cover the benefits offered by others and is hitting harder than most close combat options.

Like most of this army, he's a Space Marine Captain on steroids.
Captain-General Trajann Valoris: This is the big boss here. The only named character, and likely someone whose name has already been scored out and replaced with "Kitten" in a thousand codices. Oh come on, you were thinking that as well. Still, whatever Alfabusa has to answer for, there' no denying that he's a solid option in most situations.

Sharing the same overall stats line of the Shield Captains with the bonus of seven Wounds, Leadership 10 and a 3+ invulnerable save, he's unlikely to run and will keep most powerful units stonewalled for an essential turn or two. Armed with a Watcher's Axe, he's also hitting at Strength 10 AP3, and Strength 5 while shooting. 

In terms of special rules he has a rather incredible assortment of options, as two rules allow him to regen beneficial aspects, one for D3 wounds per turn and the other D3 CP after using a Stragegem. Thankfully each has limits, as he cannot outright resurrect himself, and he cannot restore more CP than used in the Strategem for that turn.

The last one only skims past being up there with the others due to a notable flaw most people miss at first. He can attack twice in the Close Combat phase. Now, this sounds like it would be excellent, but it ends up being fairly situational. Against an enemy HQ choice or something big it can be helpful, but unless he's alone against a horde (at which point he's likely going to fall due to sheer attrition) it tends to allow him to wipe out entire units. Thus leaving him completely in the open for everything to open fire on him in the next turn.

Why am I not ranting about this and how unfair it is? They're all technically one special rule named Moment Shackle, and he can only do one of these once per game. It's a major benefit and he still stands a chance of doing damage even if this isn't truly successful, but it has a good chance of failing or backfiring on him. So, while it's powerful and usually quite beneficial, this major draw can fail a player at the last second. Perhaps i'm being too kind to this, but not too long ago it wouldn't be surprising to see him being allowed to select one to use once per turn. 

His last special rule, Legendary Commander, allows all Custodes within "6 to reroll their hits and wounds

Overall, he's an oversized and extremely tough Chapter Master with a few too many wounds and (ugh) a Strength 10 attack, but he's still on the right side of fun. It does also help that he's expensive.

ELITES:



The elites choices within the army stick largely to prior artworks. While it's worth clarifying we're not getting into some of the gorgeous things Forge World have produced for this army, most of what we have seems limited to the artwork from the Collected Visions series. So, yes, for the time being that means mostly Terminators, beefier Custodians and Contemptor Dreadnoughts. Each with a slight twist.

Custodian Wardens: This is the Custodes option to emulate the hardier troops among the Guard. They stick to the same stats line, the same basic overall use and general tactics, but with a few nice bonuses.The big one is the bonus of an Iron Hands style Feel No Pain of 6+, and an extra point to their Attacks and Leadership. Furthermore, they come with the ability to carry castellan axes into battle, which places a much greater emphasis on close combat over Guardian Spears.

The main use of these units will likely be to cull troops and as a rapid response choice for more assault orientated lists. While many other options are superior when it comes to capturing objectives, taking hits and the like, the Wardens can move quickly and inflict heavy casualties. Combined with the presence of Land Raiders, they make a slower moving but more versatile alternative to the likes of the jetbikes. Overall a good choice, but you would want to seriously consider how your list is formulated before throwing them in.

Allarus Custodians: This is easily one of the most ridiculous options on here, as if someone decided that Terminators simply weren't durable enough and decided to correct that as best as possible. They're the Terminator units you would expect them to be, but along with benefiting from a Custodes stats line and a high save, they're armed with grenade launchers and have four wounds each. You will need that. They might be good, but they have a points cost which reflects this fact, and they have been made with two obvious roles in mind. The first is claiming areas via Deep Strikes, and the second stems from their capacity to behead armies thanks to the Slayers of Tyrants rule. This allows them to move about an extra 3" toward any named character when consolidating or piling into combat.

The main issue with the Terminators themselves is the fact that they easily turn into a rather expensive distraction. Drop them into a zone and they will fight to hold that area to the last man, by they will likely be overwhelmed when the rest of an army heads their way. Equally, because they're such a threat to most HQ choices, it's not uncommon to see them be dogpiled by mooks to prevent them from nailing their leader. Most of the easy answers to this aren't openly available to the player due to the Custodes' limited numbers, so they're very good, but like so much here it can easily backfire if you expect the army's raw strength to win the battle for you.

Venerable Contemptor Dreadnought: So, this was an interesting one. The return of the Contemptors in this list was always going to be an obvious one, due as much to the Contemptors' age as the old artwork of the gaudily clad upright battle coffins. This alone would be enough in of itself, but with the benefit of a 5+ invulnerable save and a new special rule called Unyielding Ancient special rule. As if these things weren't tough enough, you can now ignore attacks on the roll of a 6.

Even with all the new toys, these are going to be your heavy hitters in close combat, and any Custodes army should take at least one. While they're pricey, you have to account for all the benefits listed above giving them some much-needed durability along with a heftier punch. A power fist is going to hurt no matter what you do, but under the revised rules, these units hit at Strength 14 and can rip most vehicles in half. It also serves as a good bullet magnet, drawing firepower away from the bulk of your troops for a short while at least, even if it's only the heavy weapons at times.

Vexilus Praetors: An odd one, to say the least, the Praetors are the sword and shield combos promoted throughout the artwork. While not quite on par with the Veteran squads seen in the usual Space Marine lists, the unit somewhat gravitates towards that same overall role. The unit in question is a mix of storm shields, guardian spears and axes as the player needs, but with the added benefit of a large buffing banner which grants them a new effect.

The unit in question can be divided up into three choices thanks to the banner, each with an independent effect on the board which alters their overall role These are basic area related buffs, but there's no denying that these general alterations benefit the unit. For example, Vexilla Imperius offers a 6" range which grants every single non-vehicle Custodes unit nearby an extra attack. Vexilla Defensor then swaps this out for a 5+ invulnerable save to all Imperial units within 9", while Vexilla Magnifica limits the enemy shooting results by -1.

Due to the inherent toughness of the Custodes themselves, some of these are best left to certain lists or enemies. The Magnifica certainly works if you're facing down an especially star cannon happy Craftworld Eldar player, while the Defensor is of limited use to Custodes armies, but a godsend to allied lists such as the Imperial Guard. While you can take the Praetors in Terminator armour, outside of certain key lists this doesn't convey a massive benefit to the squad.

TROOPS:



Custodian Guard Squad: This is admittedly quite a frustrating point within the codex. While the army itself is thankfully quite infantry heavy and does place a key emphasis on having variations of a single base stat line (and thus presumably a soldier) there's only a single Troops choice. It's not a bad one by any means, and it ultimately sticks to what makes the list work, but it slides back toward the top-heavy structure the game has been working its way back from for some time. This might well have been made with the intent of limiting the capacity to simply spam massive horde armies of Custodes troops, but the high points costs should have resolved that on their own.

Getting to the squad itself, the unit comes with the bizarre choice of between 3-10 Custodes overall, the low end of which seems too fragile to truly be of much use. Aside from this detail, the unit is largely unchanged from the previous Edition, albeit with greater encouragement present to divide up the squad between storm shield and guardian spear equipped troops for added durability. The bonus of a troop transport is still present as well, and is actively encouraged in order to make the best use of their close combat capabilities. Despite remaining the baseline unit for the army, these guys can still take on forces several times their number with reckless abandon, to the point where you can simply slaughter most lesser troops with carefully planned strikes. This said, they are expensive as ever, so even losing half of a squad is still going to hit you hard.

Overall, it's a basic but perfectly fine and tactically versitile troops choice for this style of army.

FAST ATTACK:



Much like the above option, there is only one Fast Attack option on hand for players who do not wish to fork over some cash to Forge World. That being said, it's arguably one of the most entertaining ones in the entire army - Imperial Jetbikes!

Vertus Praetors: Tactically versatile and capable of finding use in almost any list, the Praetors are easily capable of filling out the role of crowd control and elite killer with barely any changes. Outfitted with a set of Hurricane Bolters as a standard weapon (yes, as in the wall of high explosive rapid-firing jet-propelled mini rocket launchers usually reserved for Land Raiders), these can be swapped out for grenade launchers and a set of Interceptor lances of melee engagements. As a result, you can have two squadrons operating in coordination with one another, one thinning out the horde while the other sweeps through and turns the survivors into heretical kababs.

What benefits the Praetors the most is how they cover a number of what seems to be quite open blind spots in the army as well. The lances make them remarkably effective tank hunters when push comes to shove, and against anything short of a Necron Monolith or Land Raider, these will typically puncture the vehicle to death. What's more, the general grey area surrounding their presence means that these can technically melee aircraft. The rule only specifies that fliers cannot be engaged by units without the fly rule, and most will fall quickly before these things.

There's just two very big shortcomings on their part - 
1. They're expensive. Un-upgraded and without extra units, they're the most expensive thing on here short of the Land Raider. That's only for three of them as well. So, unless you're going for a large scale game, you're likely not going to have enough here to cover all of your bases. 

2. Their sheer mobility often works against them. Throw them ahead or keep sending them into combat, and they will rapidly outrun every other thing in your army. This makes them easier to pick out and bog down with a few key strategies, and then to overwhelm them when isolated from any supporting units. That 14" movement might be of help, and the 6" to advance is a killer, but if you fail to fully predict everything you can see a big part of your army suddenly go down the drain.


HEAVY SUPPORT:

Finally, we get to the last one. It's a powered up Land Raider, nothing more and nothing less.

Venerable Land Raider: As you might have predicted from the name, this has undergone an archeotech upgrade akin to that of the Contemptor. With the Unyielding Ancient rule arising again, it has another level of durability to the sixteen wounds and 2+ saves Land Raiders are known for. It's the next best anti-tank option short of the jetbikes and the only transport, so short of Deep Strikes this is another one you should keep in mind when writing a list. As expensive as it is, there's usually a good reason to take it in moderate to large forces.

Relics


The relics here are an interesting mix of things, as it offers far, far more an arsenal than most codices. With thirteen items in total, you have no small number of things to pick from, and to use to help give a bit of added variety to the army itself.

Gatekeeper: Used to supplant the typical guardian spear, this is a nice bonus for a relatively cheap list on here. While it sticks to the overall melee stats of a basic spear, the benefit of  3+ hits on Overwatch and the capacity to Rapid Fire three shots in total. Useful for quickly culling the remnants of squads, but unremarkable overall.

The Veiled Blade: Another "the same but-!" option as above, but this time with the sentinel blade. A relic weapon, this one offers an additional two attacks when close to an objective marker. On the one hand, this is a great idea and does assist with helping to cover for a general shortcoming of the army, but for a slight bonus. On the other, it's limited entirely to a 3" range, so unless you're directly atop of the marker you're all out of luck. This might be worthwhile for a Deep Striking Captain, but otherwise it's skippable.

Emperor's Light: This one is a replacement misericordia (a short dagger and secondary weapon with a rather flowery name) which offers an interesting bonus. A nice bonus is that it forces enemy units within 12" of the bearer must add 1 to their Morale tests. Oh and it gives him an extra attack. Again, it's inoffensive but cheap and a good bonus to a figure.

Auric Aquilas: Limited to the bikers, this is an essential one if you plan on having a Captain zooming about the world. Why? An invulnerable save of 3+ and the ability to reroll failed charge rolls when you move in to melee a squad. A very nice extra element, which avoids becoming gimmicky while remaining useful throughout the game.

Auric Shackles: The nullifier option, this is limited to engagements with enemy characters, but removes one Attack value from them at all times in combat. Interestingly, he does not need to be directly engaged against the character in question, but takes effect so long as they are within 6" of guy carrying this. Yet, if you do manage to slay the Warlord with whoever is carrying this, you gain D3 Victory Points in the game. A good choice, and an interesting one in countering the more Herohammer aspects which are leftover in the game.

Eagle's Eye: It's a +1 bonus to the unit's invulnerable save. While it has some interesting lore in regards to how it operates in this regard, enhancing the user's perceptions and reactions of the world. Still, honestly, it's a very bland option which could have been skipped.

Fulminaris Aggressor: The Vexilla Defensor replacement on here, this one opts to expand its abilities somewhat. Along with allied Imperial footsoldiers, this also expands to bikes as well, meaning you have every reason to have these guys team up with the White Scars or Raven Wing at some point. 

This thankfully isn't just it, as the massive totem can be used as a very entertaining weapon. At range this offers 8" Strength 4 AP-1 D1 Assault D6 shots which autohit and act like a flamer. In melee, this then offers S+2 AP-1 D1. So, overall, you sacrifice raw killing power for a broader buff to surrounding units and a very useful assault weapon. It's a nice extra to have, and a rather creative one compared to most of these items.

The Praetorian Plate: Limited to Terminators, this works in conjunction with other Imperial characters. When the other character moves about, at the end of your opponent's Charge phase, you can immediately teleport the person with this Terminator plating to an enemy model within 1" of the character, up to 3" inches from them. It's a rather nasty surprise, especially if you can get this off right at the very end, and work it in coordination with highly mobile heroes which can zoom about the board without too many issues. Jump packs? Yeah, that's a good one, but think of just what you could do with Saint Celestine for a moment.

Rainment of Sorrows: Another bonus element on here, this isn't quite so much the usual +1 or -1 option you would expect of this. Instead, if a Custodian dies within 6" of the person carrying this, on the roll of a 4+ they make one last attack before falling, either shooting or in melee. This is very dependant upon who you team them up with, but there are some definite options where this could be of use against very tough targets. Magnus, Mortarion or some of the bigger damage sponges at the ones which certainly come to mind, especially if you have two Dreadnoughts.

Wrath Angelis: Serving as a replacement for the Vexilla Magnifica, this gives Fearless to bikes and infantry units of Imperial armies. While it has the same usual range, it also comes with a 6" Nova ability which deals D3 mortal wounds on a 4+ to all targets within range. Save for the Custodes, who are limited to a 6+. Because gold armour is reflective, I suppose.

Castellan's Mark: This is one of the much more of an irritating one than most. While many have been limited or playing it safe, there's little here which can truly be called bad, but this is a step too far. In effect, it takes the Swarmlord ability to re-deploy whoever is carrying this item and one squad right at the beginning of the game. 

Obliteratum: A Terminator exclusive in the arsenal, it supplants the Balistus grenade launcher with another bloody Strength 10 weapon. This time a Strength 10 AP-4 which can inflict D3 hits. Admittedly, this is one of the few anti-tank options on here which isn't a Dreadnought or Land Raider, and it does at least try to give a bit more variety to the item with the D3 option.

Faith Absolute: Another Vexillia exclusive, this one allows the bearer to perform Deny the Witch rolls as needed. Meh. It's an interesting idea, but a very half-baked one.


Overall, it's a flawed list, but a good one. There are some definite inherent problems to be found within the overall structure and presentation of the Custodes, and while it mostly gets their core concepts right, there are definite moments where it steps too far. Or too short in the case of how most of the list is limited to the Elites choices. So, it's alright on the whole and while there is room for improvement it's a big step in the right direction.

Well, that's part 2 done. Just the Strategems, Tactical Objectives and Warlord traits to go.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Codex: Adeptus Custodes Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition Review)

Author's Note - A brief apology for the delay with this one. This was planned for a release on the 9th, but both a minor emergency and conflicting schedules forced me to put this on hold for some time.



Ask anyone five years ago if the Adeptus Custodes would ever see the light of day, and you would have received a firm "no". To many, these were legendary figures, the canon Movie Marines which were simply one step below the primarchs themselves. To field even a squad would be to have a force capable of decimating whole armies, and it would have easily fallen prey to the worst aspects of writing tabletop army lore. Plus, let's face it, we have more than a few genetically enhanced power armoured Templar armies to pick from as it is.


Because of this, the addition of the Custodes was always going to be troubling. It needed a skilled hand and a very, very cautious approach to pull them off without taking things too far. This would normally be the point where I say "Unfortunately, this all went wrong" but this is an exception. It's not perfect, and there are certainly a few failings worth citing, but the lore is more or less spot on. In fact, it does an excellent job of creating a level of mystery behind the army while offering longtime fans a few answers we to some very old questions.


The Good




For those who might have somehow missed any past lore surrounding the Adeptus Custodes, here's their role in layman's terms - They're the Ace Custom versions of the Adeptus Astartes. Crafted by the Emperor as a personal guard, each needs to be individually gene-sculped and re-built over a long and painstaking process. While often teamed up as squads they often fight as individuals, teaming up into units and fighting in coordination with one another in various operations.

The codex quickly lays down similar groundwork for any newcomers and makes one thing very clear - These are the elite, and they retain every benefit and weakness of that term. Yet what immediately separates this codex from many previous ones is that it doesn't treat this as filler. It gives a brief synopsis of the force as a whole, but then dives headlong into several pages worth of their recruitment methods, genetic enhancements and builds up a true sense of the mythos. 


As an aside, this is the first codex we have looked into for a very long time, so if this has been the rule for a while then my apologies. That said, this is the complete antithesis of the image padding we kept running into with many past books. When it uses a double-page spread it's there to inspire interest and engagement in the reader. Rather than skimming over things or even treating the lore as simple filler, it gives it the same level of attention as the rules.


Now, the idea of using the lore as more than a way to fill out a page count might sound like a minor thing, but you need to really stop and think of some past books. Both ones previously praised on here such as Codex: Tempestus Scions or maligned such as the ill-fated follow-up to the first Codex: Imperial Knights repeatedly tried to use assets to fill out pages rather than properly use them. 


Even without getting into the over-abundance of model shots (of which, in here, there are just enough to serve their purpose) past books used things like army variety as an excuse for one big photoshopped image and a small amount of text to dominate its pages. You would have one generic image, then a hundred words or so of basic lore, and that was that, often for a sizable chunk of the book.


Here's one such example of exactly that at work -




Now, for comparison, here's a similar segment from Codex: Adeptus Custodes -



Even if you ignore the content in question, there is an immediate jump in quality when it comes to the presentation. The images are small, it has almost twice the amount of lore, and it utilises flavour text. Rather than focusing on a few key traits or even singular battles, it offers a trio of sources to build up more of a general sense behind each faction of the Custodes. This is true of the entire book, and the overall point is that there's a major effort to make people read and care for the lore. It seems that, with this being their first big-scale release of the army, Games Workshop were pulling out all the stops to get people hooked.


Still, what about the overall content of the tome? What ideas does it present? The big one for starters is the fact that the Custodes are devoted entirely to defending Terra, and that they are exceptionally good at it. While their loyalty to the Emperor himself is paramount, and the Custodes often limit themselves to his throne room, they are not above taking proactive methods to counter possible threats. In fact, their very organization has developed over the centuries to gradually reflect on this and the book does everything it can to convey this point. Rather than simply announcing it, from the very start you are given this impression from their quote of "Ours is the duty absolute. Ours is the vigil that must never end." to the closest thing each of them has to retirement.


While the codex utilises better-known elements such as the infamous blood games to a full-fledged contingency plan surrounding the Phalanx itself, you have many other elements. The details expanded upon with the various shield companies is a particularly obvious one, allowing there to be individual detachments of Custodes despite their unified identity, is a big one. 


With elements such as the Solar Watch devoting themselves to the outlying star fortresses and waypoints surrounding Terra, the lore itself provides a cohesive image of just how truly bound to duty they are. Furthermore, many others such as the basic unit descriptions always push to add in minor details relating to rapid responses and beheading a threat through rapid assaults. Again, Ace Custom Astartes comes to mind. This is told as much through implication as instances in question, but that makes it all the more effective. It works to build up a sense of reputation surrounding the force and offers inspiration for players to build upon their ideas following a certain theme. Or to subvert it in the right way.



A big part of their success comes down to how the book emphasises that the Custodes have been operating in the shadows for some time. Past works cited how they must have fought a thousand unsung campaigns or missions in Terra's defense, and the writers grabbed onto that idea with both hands. The timeline, for example, cites multiple instances of where the Custodes acted against conspiracies and threats to the Imperium's stability, going beyond even what the Inquisition might have done in some cases. A personal favourite among these is The Mind Thieves and Envoys of the Omnissiah, which utilise their role and even their reputation perfectly. Also, no, i'm not going to quote them. I try to only do that with the bad books to discourage you from buying it, this one you should buy to read this lore.

However, in a rare break from the old problems suffered in past works, the timeline itself has been extended. While admittedly weighted toward the end of the timeline and with M32-40 largely skimmed over, it devotes four pages to citing major engagements in their histories. This is used to establish their activities in each era, how to write them into past campaigns while emphasising their duty under Guilliman's new rule. This is important for two reasons, as it both better cements them as part of the larger universe and as a very old part of the setting, but also to offer players more opportunities to craft their own forces. That and, to be blunt, to give them a sense of history beyond Terra itself.



The big and obvious one which helps in every regard here is how the Custodes work in bands, but also in how they have members retire. The Eyes of the Emperor, as they are known, are noted to serve in a multitude of roles, from those akin to Inquisitors waging a private war to serving as watchmen in the darkest parts of the world. Others besides, still part of the official Guard itself, have even delved into the remnants of the Imperial Webway to beat back the daemons within for a time, and clear the lower reaches of the fortress ruled by the Emperor. Each is a minor moment, but they're characterful enough to truly focus on offering breadcrumbs to build a new army's lore from, or even excuse the presence of Custodes with larger forces via the allies rules, prior to Guilliman's return.

Finally, the book takes a considerable amount of time to detail the impact of Guilliman's return. Rather than simply convincing them to join with him, their active role and the changes within the galaxy had far-reaching consequences. For example, it took a direct frontal assault on the Imperial Palace and Guilliman's word to finally allow them to move out in force. Before even this their current leader was gradually militarising the force and pushing them over several hundred years into a more active role, and the sudden appearance of the Imperium Nihilus. This has proven to be both better and worse for them, creating all sorts of victories, plot hooks and new problems to explore.


While the codex notes that the Custodes rarely lose their battles thus far, it is considered an act of heresy to record a true defeat. This has caused as many problems as it has benefits for the Imperial propaganda machine, both in following strategic plans and learning from their mistakes. Equally the duty of one faction, the Shadowkeepers, was thrown into disarray as their effort to safeguard many hidden items and lost secrets was all but shattered by the appearance of the Imperium Nihilus itself. This is without even getting into things like the possibility of Dark Eldar having abducted members of their order in a recent raid, or a contingent moving to find a lost forge world to recover secrets vital to the Golden Throne. It not only shows flaws without making them crippling ones, but places a key emphasis on the future without betraying a sense of legacy. That last one is especially important, as it re-writes a major idea which had previously been seemingly forgotten, but instead pushes it into a possible story for a new era.


The Bad




Much of what has been stated thus far has been extremely praiseworthy, and yet there are more than a few problems with this book. Perhaps the greatest among these is how it sadly squanders a few opportunities surrounding their role. Above all other forces within the Imperium, the Custodes have the benefit of being located on Terra. So, you would expect that a little more might be learned about the overall world. You'd be out of luck unfortunately there. What little we do get mostly covers ideas previously seen or relates only to past source materials rather than trying to expand upon them. While it is understandable that this wouldn't be a key focus of the book, the fact we have nothing at all to show for it is quite disappointing on the whole.

Another definite problem is how the book utilises the Custodes' age. Now, it refers back to how they are strongly rooted in the Great Crusade and even that their members are functionally immortal. Both of which open up many story opportunities and ideas for future tales. However, it doesn't do enough to make them seem like a relic of a past age. Many of the semi-Greek labels and narratives here were abandoned in favour of the typical faux Latin we see in these books, which prevents them from standing out that much more. Admittedly, it doesn't help that some of the new words are a bit eyebrow raising to read. I mean, really, "auramite plating"?


In addition to this, little is truly made of the difficulties in maintaining their equipment, numbers or effectiveness following the technological degeneration of the Imperium. Their access to jetbikes, Contemptor dreadnoughts and the like is treated with too much ease, rather than being some famed item, the secrets of which have been lost to time. If you were to compare this with the Emperor's Children from the Dornian Heresy fan-project, it's evident that the latter does a better job in covering this sort of angle. A large chunk of that work was put into the problems of maintaining old wargear, their numbers with stringent recruitment standards and even the problems of attrition. Little is truly made of that here, and if it had it would have helped to give them a greater sense of being part of the Emperor's legacy.

More infuriatingly still, quite a few basic bits of equipment do little to truly separate the Custodes from the typical space marines. While I joked a few times about them being simply an upgraded version of the typical astartes, they needed more than that to help them stand out. The old "lions and wolves" comparison could have led to so many ideas, points and concepts to work from, even in terms of how the same wargear was utilised by each army. Perhaps even simply one or two extra special rules could have been enough to help this along, but without it more than a few unit descriptions simply read like a space marine under a new name.


However, perhaps the most notable problem overall is how it very closely skirts a few very negative army tropes on here. As in Fifth Edition Codex: Grey Knights tropes. While the element of flaws and problems is present, as cited above, there's never an outright loss or forced retreat by the Custodes. The closest they come to this is an extremely pyrrhic victory, but even then they emerge victorious. Furthermore, a massive amount of hype is put behind their sole named character, Trajan Valoris, who slides very close to being the perfect general with no shortcomings. This is to the point where he's implied to be one of the single most effective leaders they have ever recruited, and can outstrip most lesser mortals on the battlefield. 

The only thing which stops this completely taking the book is the army this covers. The Custodes have such a legendary reputation to uphold that anything less than this might have seemed like a letdown after so much time. Furthermore, it never has them pull off Draigo class acts of setting the entire Warp on fire or punching out Khorne personally, it just never features them outright losing a battle. While they don't need to be slapped about by new groups or be turned into the Worf of 40,000, it needed more to so that they can be beaten one way or another.

Finally, it would have been good to see more of their internal culture in a few ways. Legends, histories, or even personal mythos to help them seem more like a long-standing force of sorts. While what we get does make it clear that duty to the Throne is prized above all others, beyond constant practice training and the mention that entire guilds of artisans exist within their spires to craft new weapons, there's little to mention of how they interact with one another. Nothing to help give them individually a bit more character or even a better concept of how to depict them as personalities. This might sound odd, but consider how you can usually pick out the oldest and best defined 40,000 factions and immediately have characteristic tropes come to mind. Orks, Eldar, and even Necron Dynasties all have something to work with an individual sense, but the Custodes of this book seem to have an odd blind spot. As if, in an effort to build up the army, they forgot to give a bit more substance to the people who make it up.

The Art



Bloody brilliant. Really, this is another great example of how to do things right, with vast numbers of new pieces and even the old ones are placed in the right areas. For example, elements lifted from the Collected Visions works are used primarily in the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy sections, while the newer elements are shown in glorious splash pages to reserved to the greatest effect about flavour text lifted from battle scenes. Honestly, it perfectly executes the use of old and new concept art to their fullest extent.

The Verdict




It should be clear from the points above that this is a fantastic codex for lore. While its problems are evident and there are certainly a fair number of issues which could have easily been improved on, it's leaps and bounds above books of the past two Editions. The writers managed to treat a very narrow line between loyalty to the old concept while working toward something new, and giving them a greater identity while sustaining a sense of mystery. Given how easily that could have gone wrong, it's very difficult to truly hold its problems against it.


Even if you're not planning on starting up this army: Codex: Adeptus Custodes is one I would still point to as a guideline on how to do a faction justice. Everything from its basic page structure to emphasis on narrative hooks is expertly handled, and there are only a few codices which truly surpass it.

In two days time we will delve into the rules, so join us then to see how well this stands up to scrutiny on the tabletop.