Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sentinels of Terra: Part 2 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

Before we delve in there's one thing we need to get out of the way: 
A lot of people are saying this book was done by Matt Ward. Truth be told this is yet another case of a book going without its writer being listed in any way. I was going to go into a whole thing about how whoever did it didn't matter given the quality but after a bit of searching it turns out that it was indeed Ward, once again at the head of the thing he has the least skill in handling. He wrote the majority of the background for the book, Cruddance allegedly handled the rules and a few other unnamed staffers assisted in smoothing things out.

This actually explains a lot, as while the rules did seem uninspired (Cruddance isn't a bad author when he's working on what he knows, just give him more tank armies already!) they lacked the gaping flaws of Codex: Black Legion. The same really goes with the fluff, as while the lore is still horrible it occasionally makes some vague sense. 
It veers between things actually seeming for a moment like they might come together as things are explained, only for the next major reveal to drop down to the level of "I've seen Transformers slashfiction better written than this." There's some actual effort in here to make certain superficial and minor elements work, but huge swathes of the fluff are bastardised jokes.

Take for example the very introductory page of Codex: Sentinels of Terra, which establishes that the Imperial Fists are Terra's guardians. They are specified to be those who held the line during the final hours of the Horus Heresy and consider that moment with pride. This is immediately followed by the following information:

"For the Imperial Fists, the Great Crusade never ended, it merely changed form."

No, you just read that correctly. It gets worse:

"Where other forces of the Imperium fight and die in order to preserve Mankind’s dwindling holdings, the sons of Dorn blaze a trail of reconquest through the galaxy, bringing back into the fold worlds separated by Warp storms or xenos expansion."

Oh, and let's not forget this quote!

So let's just make this crystal clear to all present:
The Imperial Fists have been written as crusaders permanently fighting to retake the worlds lost to the Imperium. Later sections emphasise how, while they have a single hold in the form of the Phalanx, they are scattered about the galaxy on various different minor crusades.  There is also a surprisingly large number of named Chaplains which make up the book's numbers, and Lysander himself is presented as extremely zealous in his efforts to drive forwards a crusade.

Did no one bother to tell the writers the Imperial Fists and Black Templars are NOT the same chapter? Did no one editing this supplement think it strange how the pragmatic, urban fighting siege specialists with an addiction to pain sounded a lot like the Knights Templar? Did no one bother to edit this!?
This is truly embarrassing! At least with Codex: Iyanden you had the (admittedly extremely poor) reasoning that the Eldar Craftworlds are underdeveloped and overlooked, so Ward was latching into a more popular one to flesh them out. This? there is no excuse here! These are very seperate chapters with multiple novels, codicies and tales separating them! How the shitting hell did he manage to confuse the two of them! Or is this just Ward's attitude towards supplement codices now? Is he just going to transplant the personality and themes of any army he can't handle with other military forces?

There are points in the book where the Imperial Fists here do actually act like Fists. Unfortunately these are also very few and far between. The main story follows crusade after assault after crusade, with the Imperial Fists frequently avoiding any area they are good at. Their targets range from factories to a crashed Space Hulk, and they are never called in to defend a location. Even in the one opportunity where the 3rd company can, they completely avoid doing so in favour of launching an all out attack on their foe.
The few points where they do show actual skill at demolishing/defending buildings are quickly skimmed over or are jammed into the timeline and barely covered. These are so few, one of them is the events of Storm of Iron and that's only in there to excuse yet more crusades! Even the few moments of them actually launching urban engagements read less like experts in that environment and more like generic marines.

It's understandable that a writer might want to show an army doing beyond what they are best known for. It could give the book variety, allow for more varied scenarios and prevent it looking like a force is overly specialised in one aspect of war to the point of pigeonholing themselves. The problem is that you still have to actually remember to give them moments of conflict where their specialty shines through to make people remember "Oh yeah, there's a reason why they are known for being good at this!"

Things aren't made any better when it comes to the Imperial Fists newfangled flaw. Yes, the book gives them a new sodding chapter-wide flaw which is their inherent failing, and no it's not repeatedly being massacred to make everyone else look better: It's pride.

"Those that know them better – such as the Blood Angels – recognise the passion that all Imperial Fists keep under tight rein through adherence to protocol. This continual mortification is necessary, for pride has ever been the Imperial Fists’ greatest weakness.
Those who master their pride are able to embrace the strength it offers, but also have the wisdom to know when it tempts foolishness. Such Space Marines become heroes, but they can never truly escape the hubris of their blood."

Now, I don't know about the readers here but in nearly every Black Library novel I have read the Imperial Fists have largely been level headed, stout and down to earth figures. Stubborn? Certainly when oaths were demanded or they felt they could still win, but none ever allowed personal pride to get in the way of their battles. Steve Parker's Deathwatch, Ben Counter's Soul Drinkers saga, Seventh Retribution, Graham McNeil's Storm of Iron, Warriors of Ultramar, Chris Robertson's Sons of Dorn, all books which featured them as the above. 
Of all the space marines ever to be devised, they are hardly the most prideful nor the ones to allow such a concept to get the better of them as ones are here. Things like the Iron Cage were a hard learnt lesson which showed why pride could so easily cost them, and the few teachings of Rogal Dorn mentioned do nothing to encourage pride in his warriors. Some Imperial Fist successors, White Scars, Marines Malevolent, Black Templars, Ultramarines, Flesh Tearers, any one of these chapters could have sold the angle of pride being a flaw in their number causing overconfidence or inability to think straight! This isn't just character assassination, this is pulling a full 180 degree flip on their most basic personality traits and turning them into the total opposite of what they were before.

Let's ignore all that though, and focus upon one little detail: The man, because author is too generous a term, who declared "They can never be Ultramarines" to be an inherent flaw in the entire Adeptus Astartes, is claiming the Imperial bloody Fists are too prideful! So stubbornly sure of their own skill and capable of taking slights, that it is worth mentioning as a chapter wide specific flaw, alongside the likes of the Black Rage!

Guess what else - Most of this is just from the opening pages. We've yet to event start on the real content of the book!
Welcome to Sentinels of Terra ladies and gentlemen! Leave your brain at the door, there is plenty of stupidity and hypocritical penmanship to go around!

If turning the Imperial Fists into Black Templars 1.5 wasn't enough for you, get ready for more of that with the units! In an effort to try and shill the Centurions to people, they're continually used in place of terminators. No, not just once or twice, relentlessly. Every single bloody boarding action has them being used in place of the tactical dreadnought armour which is best suited to cooking fools inside enemy ships! They can't even be justified on account of better anti-infantry weapons either, as the only guns they are ever referred to blasting people away with are lascannons! This goes on throughout the entire book, and never once cites height or size difficulties in moving through corridors.

That sort of hack writing is rife throughout the entire book and it's a genuine problem throughout all Ward's works. He tends to focus less upon the details which help things sense, or ones that actually give the story some coherency  and more upon the fine details of the environment or what glorifies the troops he likes.

Take for example a bit where Tactical Squad Renon is effectively stealth assassinated Assassin's Creed style by a Maulerfiend. The description is less interested in the overall battle or actually explaining how the unholy hybrid of junk-heap and dweller of Hades managed to sneak up on them, and instead focuses upon the exact number of Imperial Fists it killed.
Staying on that theme of dead Fists, the book covers how the chapter can rapidly recover from losses thanks to a huge number of recruits they effectively keep in reserve. It notes this fact very clearly, notes that they numerous enough to replace entire companies if need be, but fails to explain several points: How they are kept "stockpiled", how they are armed so quickly upon the loss of so many Imperial Fists (usually with their equipment), how they are kept trained to the point of being ready to be astartes and at the right age, and where the massive stockpiles of gene-seed needed to infuse into them come from when a company is quite literally lost.

Even when the codex gets onto the subject of Lysander's successes, it leaves only questions and head scratching moments. The incident where his special bolter drill proves its worth is an especially prevalent point. Rather than describing the environment of the Battle of Colonial Bridge on Iduno to give some idea of a short range drill would work there over the usual one, or what specifically gave it an edge there, the tale busies itself with other details. Namely how the Captain of the company there died, which only opens up more questions: "Captain Jostin perished in the initial moments of the attack, a lucky autogun shell smashing through his helm’s left eyepiece to bury itself deep in his brain." Mostly questions of why that specific autogun round/eyepiece was so obscenely powerful/weak and why a space marine could be outright killed by a wound like. We've seen them take bolter rounds to the face, their arms ripped off and even buildings collapse atop them, so how did that manage to instantly kill him? Did the cultist roll Righteous Fury!?

It's like he wants to write about certain things, but doesn't want to put the effort in to actually make them fit in or make sense.

Still, we've brought up Lysander now, might as well start on the book's characters at long last. Despite having no special rules, stats or even rules specific to him in the book, nearly the entire damn codex is given over to Lysander. The entire description of the Imperial Fists and 3rd company is actually shorter than the level of depth the book goes into about his past, history and backstory. Before the book even gets to the first missions, it's already clear that the codex's focus is placed squared upon individuals not the army involved.

What makes it worse is that said individuals are largely introduced via brief paragraphs smashed between events, and have neither models nor stats to use them. This might seem odd given the criticisms these reviews have placed on herohammer, but consider this: Usually there was at least a reason to have such figures in the codex with Games Workshop trying to push new characters. This time there's no such excuse, and during one major opportunity to bring back some variety and individual choice to players, Ward has forced massive numbers of his characters upon people. You can't have your own chaplain for the 3rd, he's already invented one. You can't have a unique veteran sergeant, he's already commanding his own squad. You can't have a unique librarian of your own creation, Ward has already created someone to fill that spot!

Effectively what the whole thing boils down to is the fact this is Ward's army here, and you're stuck playing with his backgrounds, his rules and his toys, with no opportunity to truly make them your own. All the previous supplements had their problems, but they at least allowed for a relatively good degree of freedom on the part of the owner, even when the army was overburdened by special characters like with Codex: Farsight Enclaves.
Or to put it in other words: Matt Ward has managed to create herohammer without even having heroes on the tabletop!

The main reason for the sheer number of characters specified here is to try and create some ongoing compelling narrative between missions. We had already seen this sort of thing in previous ones, Codex: Iyanden and the Codex: Farsight Enclaves to varying degrees, but not so closely written. Events here more or less directly followed on from one another and have a visible character arc focusing upon Lysander. At least that's what it's supposed to do, the result is very different.

The side characters are very poorly characterised and feel very uninvolved with the plot. While the book goes out of its way to name every Imperial Fist involved (usually listing off those killed one by one, just to twist the knife for those fed up seeing their chapter die) few of their characteristics ever shine through the writing. The codex makes a huge point of Lysander's old sergeant Makan, now a venerable dreadnought, being a force to temper his pride and stubbornness, but he's barely mentioned beyond the opening pages of the Crusade of Thunder. Similarly the 3rd company's chaplain does little of recognition beyond lose an eye despite being built up and many other named characters might as well have not existed! Even the only character in this book to actually have some stats, Sergeant/Captain Tor Garadon feels largely superfluous and bland. There's a sense of them only being there to forward Lysander's own story and eventually absolve him of his past mistakes.

So everything's riding on Lysander here. How well does that go? How do you think.

Without mincing words, Lysander's story is a poor rehash of other Imperial Fist tales we've seen over the years. He effectively repeats the events Taelos went through in Sons of Dorn: Disgraces himself, loses many under his command, atones for this action by raising the next generation and fighting better, redeems himself. The difference here is that, whatever Sons of Dorn's flaws, it skips major events which would help drive home the emphasis of Lysander's failure. Chief example: the captain's time on Malodrax. Despite decades of torture and witnessing his companions die around him, the book's recounting of this effectively skipped over and focuses more upon building up a Warsmith as Honsou on steroids. Here's the entire event as it's listed in the book sans said Warsmith:

“Such was Lysander’s force of will that he endured where few others could have done so. Though burdened by grievous harms, the captain tore free of his bondage scant weeks after his capture. Bereft of arms and armour, he wrought a storm of destruction on Malodrax’s capital, seized control of a shuttle, and escaped with two of his battle-brothers.”

Worse still, the event which might have still actually sold the idea of Lysander's future obsessions or failings, his return to the world with a massive army only to let the Warsmith escape. As a result basic set-up for his whole motivation is skipped and ignored!

That however is nothing compared to the actual event which Lysander is supposed to disgrace himself in, the Invasion of Taladorn. It's effectively the Asylum Film mockbuster of the Iron Cage incident. Lysander goes in, gets people killed due to his own desires and madness, has to be rescued by Ultramarines, returns disgraced. The difference here is that unlike the original, Iron Cage 2: Cage Harder features so much stupidity and outright character assassination it's hard to even begin to take seriously.

Let's keep this straight: Lysander has been tortured by the Iron Warriors for weeks. He watched all of his comrades die around him and only escaped with two at his side, neither of who managed to make it off-world without him. He has lived through the deaths of his closest comrades, knows Dorn's teachings and is supposedly a pinnacle of what it means to be an Imperial Fist. However, at no point are the deaths of those he fought alongside for so long ever brought up. In fact, the astartes barely cares even when he gets over half of 3rd company butchered in a stupidly pointless advance just to kill the Iron Warriors faster, and refuses help because of "honour". Rather than, as with Dorn, his drive to punish the traitors stemming from grief for others, Lysander here is written as a self serving sociopath desiring only his personal revenge.

Along with resembling nothing of the soldier seen in Ben Counter's books, the arc which follows is poorly thought out at best. Lysander barely seems to change and there's no distinct point where he seems to shift in his beliefs or values. Hell, the final battle of the novel itself is effectively a slightly mixed-up re-hash of the events on Taladorn only here he didn't refuse the assistance of the Blood Angels and Ultramarines.

So thus far, the characters are pointless and Lysander has been re-written into a halfwit no one would ever recruit as captain. What about the villain? Again, Honsou on steroids.
Warsmith Shon'tu, yes the guy from Endevour of Will, has effectively been retconned into every moment of Lysander's career. The Siege of Haddrake Tor where he took up his iconic hammer? Shon'tu was the commander of the installation. Malodrax? Yep, he was there torturing Lysander at every moment. The following several missions of the book? All of them, and the timeline, are effectively Shon'tu's scheming at play! We barely see him, are barely given anything more than gibbering madness, and there is next to no personal contact or connection between himself and Lysander. Despite having the depth of a Saturday morning cartoon villain, he's also someone built up to be such a genius threat he is the biggest enemy of the Imperial Fists chapter. Unlike Honsou however, he's shown to put no effort into this.

Now, say what you want about Graham McNeill, but when it came to Honsou he put effort into building his menace and showing he was not simply invincible. He lost troops, had setbacks, suffered from failures and could be wounded. He prepared for major assaults and took his time when it came to them, what's more he actually met and spoke with his arch-nemesis Uriel Ventris. Shon'tu on the other hand seems to snap his fingers and things happen. While there is some vague suggestion of preparation most of the time he is seemingly pulling things out of his rectum. Two of these things were a captured tyranid norn queen, and a Dark Age of Technology warship which could go toe to toe with the Phalanx. How/where did he get them? Never answered. Every time, his plots are foiled and he's seen flying away yelling "I'll get you next time Gadget! Next time!!"

The whole story can't even end right. Despite concluding at Malodrax (making it three times Lysander has wrecked the place), the timeline afterwards just keeps going! It doesn't stop where the story is still in-depth and instead lists several events quickly along the timeline where he's running about cackling and painting "Shon'tu Lives!" everywhere in blood. Even the Joker would be embarrassed by this guy's antics at this point.

Still, all of these flaws are overshadowed by the following event. An act which comes purely down to humiliating the Imperial Fists, and opening up a plot hole large enough to send a Black Crusade through:

"999.M41 From the Ashes to the Fire

[...] As matters transpire, the 3rd Company does not stand idle for long. Warsmith Shon’tu and the Daemon Be’lakor, united in their desire to see Abaddon’s Black Crusade upstaged, launch an attack on Holy Terra itself. Emerging from a Warp rift that appears in the centre of Phalanx, the unholy allies aim to corrupt the mighty vessel to their purposes and use it to bombard the Emperor’s Palace.

Under Garadon’s direction, the newly-formed 3rd Company fight with a determination that belies their inexperience, and the accessways and halls are soon choked with the broken corpses of Daemons. Ultimately, Garadon delays the incursion long enough for Phalanx to rouse its engines and enter the Warp, thus ending the immediate threat to Terra. The mighty vessel hurtles through the Immaterium, and neither side is able to contact their allies in realspace. Garadon and his company gather beneath the Banner of Staganda’s tattered folds for one last effort, and Phalanx’s lower decks are consumed with raging fire as the spectral warriors of the Legion of Damned join the battle. Taking their arrival as a sign that victory may yet be theirs, the 3rd Company counter-attacks, but the battle’s outcome is far from certain…"

Again, this isn't built into some grand conclusion. It's added as "Oh, and the Iron Warriors commit Grand Theft Phalanx!" at the last possible second. There's no build up, it follows after the climax and quite frankly this is stupid! Shon'tu pulls this, like everything else, completely out of his arse with no suggested preparation or even difficulty! 
He just sent an army the size of Genghis Khan's horde through into the heart of the Imperium in the time it takes to fart!
He completely dodged the Cadian Gate, why hasn't Abaddon ever done this!?
How can a vessel like this be so easily breached when there's no previous indication of this being possible and why didn't Chaos just do this ten thousand years earlier!?
Why is Be'lakor suddenly there!?
This makes no sense!

Oh, and yet again, Ward's producing very similar works to those from other authors in order to do this! Phalanx, the closing novel of the Soul Drinkers series, sounded extremely similar only there it at least made a degree of sense and explained how/why this was possible  It actually took effort and a very long gambit by a corrupt chaplain to pull off, not some sudden whim by a jumped up daemon worshiping Cobra Commander! Worse still, this event and the murder of a major character from that book retcons that series from existence along with Endevour of Will thanks to conflicting timelines, and Sons of Dorn due to turning Captain Taelos into a non-person. Yeah, this is more than just coincidence.

There is so much more here that is wrong. I would need days to explore every last thing which went horribly wrong with this book. Declaring the Phalanx to be so run down it's barely operational, declaring that Imperial Fists use older "inferior" marks of power armour to make life more difficult for them, there is so much here that is just wrong! So many times have I re-read it only to find more problems, because I was distracted by the bigger piles of shit on the paper. Outside of Battlefield Earth, this is the only work in existence where its incompetence is nuanced!

There are bits and pieces here which are honestly good, the death of Pugh, occasional bits of Shon'tu's plan and the Imperial Fists' sneak attack on an ork facility. I salute whoever on the writing team was honestly trying to make this book good, especially in light of how little effort was put into basic research and thought with this codex. However, they are utterly overshadowed by the horribly written elements littering every page of this book.

Do not get this. Don't even pirate it. In terms of lore it's the worst codex I have read since, well, the last time Ward was allowed near a codex. There is nothing here to offer any fan of the Imperial Fists. You would honestly do better to just write your own work than ever look at this monument to everything wrong with Games Workshop.

It is disgusting to see that a company would not only pay for work like this but also publish it.

So now we've covered what's wrong with the book, let's take a look at how the rules could have been written.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dark Heresy: 10/10/2013 - In His Holiness's Hallowed Ordos

Due to having to deal with storm related damages, there was no time to write up Sentinels of Terra Part 2 in the time available  Instead, please accept Part 2 of another seriously delayed ongoing series for this site.

So last time ended with our group in its natural habitat: Standing ankle deep in the corpses of people who had tried to kill us. The entire rebel patrol which had stumbled upon the bunker were dead and/or in flaming bits with very loud explosions having echoed across the surrounding area. Any sane group would have taken into account the idea that this might have drawn enemies down on us. Instead the traditional follow-up of prayer and looting whatever had not been blown to smithereens commenced. 

As the pillaging came to a close (with only two autoguns having not been melted into slag) the Lord Commander joined us. Nonplussed by the the carnage surrounding him, he simply let us get on with our jobs. Pausing only to react in surprise to the pretense of Guilliman, and have his player roll for a few corruption points, he informed the band of merry murderers that his job had been completed. He had gotten what was required and was actually somewhat impressed at our proficiency at killing. Asking what they desired, led to this rapid sequence of responses:

Guilliman - "As a true servant of the Emperor I require no reward."

Cromwell - "He doesn't speak for us!"

With that done all they needed to go would be head back to the Imperial Guard encampment and get back offworld.

This would have been an easy thing were it not for the sheer incompetence of Sergeant Jarr Bardason. Due to an extremely bad concealment roll, the guardsman had decided that parking it next to a small rosebush was more than enough to hide a very large Rhino APC. To no one's surprise, upon returning they found that the vehicle was being investigated by yet another band of rebel troopers who were wondering where the hell it had come from.

Deciding that there had been enough straight forwards killing, the group opted to initiate multiple stealth take-downs  
Using his skills as a native of the icy plains of Fenris (which somehow meant he was also good at sneaking about lush green worlds) Bardason silently moved forwards towards some undergrowth like a ghost. 
Using his technology, the tech-priest Cromwell did the same with his chameleonic coated power armour and enhancements making him all but invisible. 
Using his psychic powers, Guilliman proceeded to make himself fade into the environment and moved forwards... only to create so much sound a deaf man on an orbiting moon could have heard him coming. 

The trio of rebels turned around only to see an unusually man-shaped outline blurred into the bushes we were hiding behind. Yes, there were more bushes, and Bardason didn't think these would be helpful in hiding the Rhino. All three men surrounding the vehicle immediately turned upon Guilliman raised their rifles, and promptly had one of them decked by a screaming madman sprinting out of the undergrowth. 

Bardason, bellowing "For Russ and the Wolftime!" at the top of his lungs, barreled into the nearest man, wildly swinging an axe in his general direction. Being the more sensible of the two, Cromwell similarly attacked the men, but instead opted to break out the lascannon once again. Thankfully missing the very close by Rhino, the blast hit another person square in the chest. Briefly wallowing in his own gore, the man's ammo detonated in a huge explosion. Bardason, grappling with his rebel, promptly rolled to one side and turned his attacker into the explosion as a shield, instantly killing him.

The last man upon seeing his comrades die in horrible ways, did the smart thing and legged it. He didn't get far, and a loud crack from Lord Commander Johnson Van Graff's pistol brought him down. Despite him being a generic goon, Bardason claimed (once he was in the upper hatch of the Rhino) that there was something odd about his corpse and his equipment. As the Lord Commander went to personally investigate, Bardason called in a very quick favour from Cromwell leading to this announcement upon the Commander's return:

"Sir! The rebels have taken the Storm Bolter!"

Thankfully not being the sort to charge in to retrieve the Emperor's holy equipment, and not noticing the fact Bardason's previously empty backpack was now Storm Bolter shaped, he ignored this. It wasn't even their tank after all and getting a replacement gun was someone else's problem. All the more loot for us!

With much less horrific driving on the way back, the group returned to base with little incident and upon arriving were told the Lord Commander wasn't quite done with them. Leaving them standing to attention at the access ramp, he headed to an open space and promptly met a Valkyrie gunship descending from the sky. One with a stylised golden "I" and had various black clad Stormtroopers promptly disembarking from the sides. 

In case you've not guessed, Johnson Van Graff was in fact not a Lord Commander and actually a member of the Inquisition. Calling us into his tent he explained this on much more amicable terms, even offering drinks to the group. Gesturing them to sit (replacing Cromwell's chair with a block of reinforced metal once it collapsed under his bionically enhanced weight) he made two of us a simple offer: Join him and help serve the Emperor better, or remain here and likely die to rebel elements. It didn't take long for Bardason and Guilliman to sign up, after all if they'd not we wouldn't have much of a storyline to go on.

Saying goodbye to the soldiers which had kicked him less, and Guilliman buying every bottle of cheap home-made amsec he could get his hands on, the two left with Cromwell. Thus ended our time in the Imperial Guard and began an era of fighting the aliens, the heretic and the unmentionable nightmare which claws away at the fabric of reality. 

The years that followed were outlined by GM Von Diego:

"You have served Van'Graff for 4 years now. The first 8 months or so were spent in his personal service; he had only recently become an Inquisitor at the time he met you, and was still recruiting and organizing a network of Acolytes to work under him. The members of his old Cadre, with whom he worked previously, had all gone their separate ways for a time, and so you traveled with him both to train you as Acolytes and also as a replacement for them. When they eventually returned, one at a time, he decided to group you together with 3 of his other Acolytes and send you out

Incidentally, you will need to decide between you which of your characters is the 'Prime'; the Prime is sort-of the leader, although only in a roundabout way. You could choose not to have a Prime, if you like, but basically you need to pick which of you the Inquisitor trusts to take charge of the group if necessary. Who carry's the Writ of Authority (when he gives you one), etc. 

Initially, you were teamed up with 3 Acolytes (Berin, a priest, Loj, a guardsman, and Liena, an Adept). They are all dead, of various causes, and not all at the same time. Graff prefers to operate acolytes in cells of 4-6, preferably 6, so when you suffered losses he would generally send 'flesh meat' either by taking acolytes from his other Cells, or by recruiting new talent. Seeing as how you are some of his most experienced, and trustworthy, acolytes, he often used your cell to train new Acolytes before sending them out with other teams. Thus, you have seen a lot of faces pass through your group, not all of whom are dead; some were reassigned, or went mad, etc. 

Graff is a member of the Ordo Hereticus, but has developed a particular penchant for investigating those normally above the law; Nobles, governors, high ranking members of the military, and even Rogue Traders. In the time you spent in his direct company, you found him to be a fairly personable, widely learned man. You know that he came from noble blood, but was something of a black sheep in his family; he was well learned, and skilled with a pistol, but longed for adventure. (His character class was Scum, although he wasn't a Scummy scum)
He has a fondness for fine wines, and is an expert on all manner of alcoholic drinks. He tends to dress down, is not overly concerned with protocol, and has a penchant for flashy entrances, complex plans and intrigues. He occasionally mentioned family, although all you know is that he has at least one brother still living. He is clearly wealthy even without his status as an Inquisitor, and is generally a generous man with money. He treats Acolytes as valuable assets and, while he would certainly sacrifice them if necessary for the Imperium, does not generally like to waste them. He most often travels with Leopold, his Interrogator, who is a master of disguise but rarely speaks outside of his 'role' at the time

Most recently, your Cell was sent to investigate a series of suspicious assassinations aboard a number of Imperial Naval vessels. It eventually transpired that several groups of Ratings aboard a number of ships had been infiltrated and subverted by members of the Proscribed Death Cult, the Astral Knives. The cult was declared heretical after agents of the Ruinous powers infiltrated several of its Cells, and it was leftover elements of these that had infiltrated the Battle-fleets ships. Your cell was tasked with destroying the heart of the resurgent cult aboard a derelict Space Hulk that they were using as their base; although you succeeded, the death toll was heavy. In addition to casualties among the troops seconded to your service for the mission, 3 members of your cell were lost, leaving you three the only survivors once more.
¬.¬ Moral of this story; Do not fight void-born assassin cults while aboard Space Hulks. They CLEARLY have the advantage

After the mission, you were summoned back to Scintilla (the sector Capital), specifically to the Tricorn palace in Hive Sibellus, to meet with Graff in his offices there. The journey took several weeks of warp travel, but finally you arrived in orbit around the Capital and boarded a landing craft.
Now, as you are woken from your reminisce of times past, a Landing Siren sounds as the craft prepares to land..."

Yes, all this was a prequel it turns out. Welcome to the actual campaign from here on!

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sentinels of Terra: Part 1 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

You know what the truly damning thing is about this? I was actually somewhat hopeful for this one.

While we have yet to see an actually good supplement codex, there has been a slow but visible increase in each release's quality over the past months. Codex: Farsight Enclaves rose slightly above its predecessor and included at least a few gems among its pages, while Codex: Black Legion contained fantastic additions to the lore despite poor rules. It felt as if the writers were experimenting and seeing what worked, and that this latest release might have been halfway decent. Instead what little quality there is has been stripped away in several areas, and Sentinels of Terra is arguably one of the worst we have seen since Codex: Iyanden.

Now let's get this straight: The rules overall aren't that bad and are definitely a step up from previous supplements in quality and addressing problems, but they feel as if they were written for a very different army. In fact many of them seem to feel so much unlike the Imperial Fists, you could easily use the codex as a substitute list for the likes of the Marines Errant and they wouldn't feel out of place. At all.

Those here for siege tactics? You are out of luck! Sentinels of Terra contains only two rules devoted to taking or destroying buildings, which only work for one squad at a time. Both are Warlord Traits, randomly generated, and offer the bare bones to cover this with the following:

  • Siege Lord: "Your Warlord, and his unit, add +1 to the result when rolling on the Building Damage table."
  • Architect of War: "Whilst your Warlord is embarked inside a building, all damage rolls against that building suffer a -1 penalty, to a minimum of one."

Yeah, that's all you get in this book. The Imperial Fists, masters of siege warfare, experts of defending positions and the legion who fortified Terra in its darkest days, are given a token addition to take advantage of this. It's as if the writers were halfway through the book and suddenly realised "Oh yeah, we've yet to actually make use of the thing they're best known for" and proceeded to fart this out!

The rest of the Warlord Traits don't even really go in line with this, making these two feel extremely out of place. Two are very killy focused and range from giving your Warlord a single shot Strength 10 orbital bombardment, to giving your Warlord the It Will Not Die rule. 

One more is much more squad orientated with Indomitable offering Fearless and Counter-Attack to him and his unit if they don't move. The most useful one however is Wise Commander: While the Warlord is alive you can influence reserve rolls by one point, either +1 or -1 on each unit's dice roll.

As with the last several codicies, two are focused upon one line of thought, another on two more and the last two on yet another area. While it's commendable that the author would want to cover all bases and given variety, the fact they are randomly chosen makes all of them very unreliable. Siege Lord could be completely useless if you're fighting in jungle terrain, and while Wise Commander can be handy you can't risk writing a list to use it as you only have a 16.7% chance getting it per game. Codex writers, while it doesn't help that these are all fairly uninspired, you should just slap a points cost on the end of each one and make them selectable upgrades. You would only make them useful. Also, make actual use of the army's expert method of war when writing these.

I'm not saying they should have been pigeonholed into only siege warfare, but for the love of all things holy this is embarrassingly little. You, whoever you are reading right now, could have done a better job than them at this just by giving them a basic reliable rule. At least in the two Chapter Traits you get in the vanilla codex, one gives Centurions and Devastators Tank Hunter and Siege Masters special rules. That was just a basic addition though, not the height of their siege capabilities represented in this book. While they keep that here, it's barely anything and none of their special rules even begin to take advantage of their experience, history or doctrines.

What do they have to make up for this? Shilling the latest big unit of course!

Centurion Warsuits, the spess-mehreen-inside-spess-mehreen troll machines produced from the minds who thought the Dreadknight was a good idea, can be taken en mass. The dakka variants can take up all elites slots along with heavy support. Meanwhile the ones with giant balls at the end of their arms can be taken in fast attack slots. Yes, the force which has Lysander as its main focus does not in fact use his well known terminator squads, but instead the newfangled replacement terminators with more dakka. It's as if Games Workshop desperately wants people to buy their latest mistake.

Speaking of Lysander, he's actually not in this! This is a very weird thing given that nearly the entire book seems to use him as its lead focus character, but any rules are expected to be the ones you find in the basic codex. There's no new equipment for him or alternate variants of his rules, and in fact there are very few new characters exclusive to the codex. The only one there is even seems to be an attempt to avoid the herohammer trend in recent years.

Sergeant Garadon, said special character of the codex, is in fact an upgrade for a squad. Costing 75 points, he brings to the table a power fist, relic (the Spartean) and your common or garden Tactical Marine equipment. With the stats line of a Space Marine Captain, it looked for a moment like we might have finally seen characters being better integrated into armies with units using them as additions rather than the other way around. Unfortunately this very quickly turns out not the be the case. Unlike Telion or ol' Cypher, he doesn't take up a force organisation slot elsewhere and instead takes up an HQ choice. As a result he just becomes largely irrelevant at the end of the day. Ultimately he's an attempt at a good idea, but something which doesn't work that well.

With no more heroes in the book let's take a look at the list of items your Fists can take. This is actually one of the better moments and doesn't quite follow the whole character focused issue which is so much of a problem with the rest of the book. 

Titled "Relics of the 3rd Company" the items do at least offer a halfway decent assortment of goodies and aren't purely made for killing things. Out of the six, there are only two items reserved purely for killing and both of these are relatively subdued rather than being the usual uber-beam-sword-of-xenocide-gore we get in too many books.

The first of the two actual weapons, the Spartean, is a basic Strength 4 AP 5 bolt pistol you can get for 5 points. The main draw is the Ignores Cover rule and the fact it's Master Crafted. While a bolter would definitely be preferable due to the longer range, and its actual use will likely be fairly limited, it's hard to criticse that given its very low cost. You ultimately get what you are paying for, but it feels that something more useful could have easily been put in its place.

The second of them, the Angel of Sacrifice, is an upgrade for a Chaplain's Crozius, giving Strength 6 AP 4 attacks with the added bonus of a unique Only In Death special rule. It effectively allows the wielder to still fight and attack, even when killed by enemies of a higher Initiative or in an Overwatch volley. It's something which fits well with the Fists' stubborn nature and helps assist the character in making up his points value before being killed. For 10 points, it's a decent improvement.

A similar HQ only item is the Bones of Osrak which is exclusive to psykers. It offers one more Warp Charge point than usual, allows for re-rolls on failed Psychic Tests, has some very strange lore to it, and costs 25 points. It's decent, priced fairly and a nice bonus for anyone planning to take a Librarian. Beyond that though, it's largely unremarkable.

The remaining two items relate more towards affecting the army as a whole, consisting of a moth-eaten banner and one outdated tau markerlight highly advanced auspex.

Said auspex (The Eye of Hypnoth), costing 15 points with an "18 range, reduces the cover saves or armour values of whatever squad/building it is targeting. The rules do not state this is exclusive to whatever squad its owner is a part of and means you can use them to run forwards and paint targets for for other people. It's useful, and nice that even the lore points towards it being used by only a sergeant, but with such a range it seems like a one trick pony to be used before its owner is killed. 

While the above is used to assist enemies being blown to bloody glibs, the Banner of Staganda is intended to do the exact opposite. Given to whoever can carry a Company Standard, it permits re-rolling or Morale Checks and Pinning Tests to anyone friendly within "12 for the price of 25 points. Unfortunately its more interesting bonuses of giving people Counter-Attack and Crusader are only passed onto the person carrying it. It affects other units certainly, but with only these being passed onto one person it's another special item which seems to be leaning towards character centric army trends. In fact that goes for a lot of the above.

There's not much to really say about these things. They're not as insanely herohammer-esuqe as we've seen in other books despite leaning in that direction and unlike what we saw in Codex: Black Legion they're fairly priced overall. Unfortunately they're also fairly generic in what they confer, with useful special rules but nothing truly interesting to make the force stand out. They're everyman items which would fit into any Marine army's armoury no matter the lore, but at least workable and it's easy to see how each one could be of value to a player's army list.

The one detail here which does surprisingly work is the slight variation on the Bolter Drill Chapter Trait: the Close Ranged Bolter Drill. It's described thusly in the book: "Models with this rule re-roll all failed To Hit rolls made with bolt pistols, boltguns, storm bolters, heavy bolters, or combi-weapons that are firing as boltguns when firing at a target up to half the weapon’s maximum range away. This rule does not apply to models firing Hellfire, Kraken, Vengeance or Dragonfire rounds."

Yeah, it looks useless at first but consider this: It didn't say you cannot use it with Overwatch. This, assuming it's not nerfed in an FAQ, is going to make the army obscene when using that rule or moving for close range firefights. Not to mention if you can drop pod in the right places.
It also makes a degree of sense from a lore perspective, seeming like something which would be developed by the Imperial Fists for fighting inside the close confines of a fortress. The sort of semi-identifiable element the writer could include without making it completely siege orientated.

This is the big problem here though: So much of the book seems to be hell-bent upon avoiding using actual siege related tactics and more determined to do everything else it possibly can besides that. Think about it for a moment: We have items which convey their stubborn nature of refusing to run for cover, fall back or die without killing the enemy. There's another involving shooting buildings/things inside buildings, and Warlord Traits with stubbornness and . We also have, unfortunately, a special rule which allows the army to take huge numbers of the newly added substitute Dreadnoughts with heavy weapons and siege drills. 

It's as if everything here was angled towards siege warfare, but the writers didn't want to do anything extensive with the Imperial Fists inside buildings. Hell, this would be like writing Codex: 'Nidzilla then proceeding to all but outlaw Carnifexes and anything bigger.

Part, if not all, of the reason for this is likely the campaign which features the Imperial Fists on a penance crusade. Much of it focuses upon assaults, targeting planets for destruction and attacking enemy worlds. Very little of it actually involved the Imperial Fists in a fortress fighting the enemy. The addition of these missions has always seemed unnecessary. To repeat what was said when we started reviewing these supplement codices: Having played Warhammer 40,000 for over ten years I can safely say I have seen very few people playing tabletop pick out special scenarios or campaigns. Usually when they are it's only by the staff to help promote the book. Even the scenarios involving sieges do very little with the fortifications beyond state they are present or an objective to be taken.

So since Codex: Iyanden we've gone from missions having the trouble of being a waste of space and so specific they only work for certain armies, to being a waste of space and affecting the army in the codex. Fantastic.

Also I hope you've liked the attempts to promote the buying of other mission books because we have that yet again! There are Apocalypse rules, Planetstrike rules, Cities of Death stratagems  and pages upon pages of things relevant only to playing other books. This was a problem with the last few books but it was getting somewhat better so these didn't comment upon them. However, the number of pages devoted missions, variants of rules and artwork has once again reached the point where it seems more like padding than any addition to a proper codex.

Here's a quick rundown of the book's content: 
Of the 127 pages, 4 are devoted to Special Rules, Relics and Chapter traits. Just as many are devoted to Apocalypse, Planetstrike and Cities of Death content. More than three times as much are devoted to missions and scenareos, and even more to pages with single massive images. This is also ignoring pages which are devoted to several unnecessarily large images. Also those which take up at least half the page or those which have a third of their page taken up by each section's title. Bits like this are supposed to be window-dressing for the core content, yet they completely eclipse the rules devoted to the army. This isn't something to enhance the book, it's outright padding at every turn. It's disgraceful, and without so much space being devoted to pointless add-ons the book would be barely 60 pages long if that. Hell, even less without all the recycled artwork pinched from other books.

What little actual army rules there are in Codex: Sentinels of Terra are average at best. Very basic and with little to really compliment or make the book stand out from the crowd. There are very few interesting ideas here and what we're given is bare bones rules i'd expect someone with less than a year's experience of 40K to come up with. It's not the worst codex we've seen, far from it, but there is an insulting level of potential squandered and utterly unused. As a result, this book feels like a poor substitute for something great at best, and a waste of time and money at worst. Unfortunately, these were also the good bits.

Join us next time for the lore, and see how hard a book's fluff can fail.

Read it here!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Unseen FINAL FANTASY and FRONT MISSION Art Released Online

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Released onto Twitter recently, former Squaresoft Aki Takashi displayed a number of unused sketches from SNES era titles. For all its praise for graphical quality, gameplay and characters, one unspoken quality of the Final Fantasy series has always been its graphical style. The emotions and themes of any part of a game rely heavily upon their visual look, and in the days of Final Fantasy IV the only way to truly explore this was through the works of Nomura Tetsuya.

Remakes of Sega Classics Depend Upon Fans

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An interview with Famitsu Magazine has revealed that Sega’s future remakes of their classic titles will ultimately depend upon fan interest. Speaking to one of the company’s Research and Development Producers Yosuke Okunari, responsible for a number of classic remakes, the article discussed the company’s milestone of 30 years and previous successes with remakes.

From the PS2 to modern digital distribution methods, the company has been noted to make definite use of re-releasing older titles for a new generation. Much of the article in question covered this, referring to the Sega Ages 2500 series and even their recent Nintendo 3DS releases. Following discussions about Space Harrier’s adaptation, Okunari stated: “For our next line-up, it will depend on all of your voices, so please continue to support us.”

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (Video Game Review)

Some titles are driven as much by the stories and experiences of the players, due to the sheer insanity involved or the unique trail it follows. Despite openly parodying 80s classroom educational experience The Oregon Trail, for many who did not play that title the randomly generated branching series of events will likely be the main appeal. Embracing difficulty spikes and madness to a level comparable with Dwarf Fortress, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is a title which really needs to be experienced rather than described.

Side-scrolling across a psychedelic vision American frontier, the player’s task is to endure the hostile elements and ensure that one of a trio of travellers survives to their destination. Unfortunately for them, the journey is hazardous and filled with buffalo. Also zombies, narwhals, inner demons and the odd violent dinosaur. Things aren’t made much easier when the rolling plains of the Wild West occasionally give way to deserts containing tombs of horrors, volcanos to rival Vesuvius and the stratosphere. Helped occasionally by mysterious traders, the trio arm themselves with bazookas, rayguns call in B-52 carpet bombings to deal with the hordes of foes. Overdone as the saying might be, the experience really is The Oregon Trail on crack.

It’s this insanity and the wonder of what on earth the game could possibly lob your way next that keeps you going. A good thing as in the actual levels there’s not too much to offer. Despite the addition of unlockable wagons and survival modes, the game plays like something out of the stone age. Along with a UI interface which covers an obscene amount of the screen, enemies dive out at you from the sides and aiming is a complete nightmare on foot. While gaming throwbacks every bit as much as the simplistically chunky visual style, these do provide moments of frustration and often a reminder of why they were corrected in the first place. As a result, nostalgia can quickly give way to frustration in the wrong situation.

One major point which does work in the game’s favour is its intentional throwback to the 80s is the music. The chiptune themes of each level are definitely more advanced than the ones of the time, yet retain the core style and fantastic vibrance of 8-bit themes no matter the level.

Like DLC Quest, the entirety of Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is one big joke but manages to work in spite of everything. While gameplay elements might prove to be irritatingly lacking, the rest keeps you engaged long after buying it. Buy it for the humour, stay for the replayability, music and madness. 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut (Video Game Review)

Friday, 25 October 2013

DARK SOULS 2 Beta to be Released on PlayStation Plus

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In a recent blog post, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe has announced that Dark Souls II will be open to users for a limited time as a stress test for their servers. Opening on Sunday the 27th of this month, the title will allow players to access current content for a total of three hours between 07:00AM and 10:00AM GMT.

ASSASSIN'S CREED 4 DLC – New Story, Environment and Weapons

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As Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag looms ever closer to its release date, it seems that Ubisoft has opted to spill the beans about its upcoming DLC as well. 

 Labelled Freedom Cry, the DLC will follow another of Black Flag’s characters rather than protagonist Edward Kenway, this time its his first mate Adéwalé. Born into slavery on the French colony of Sant-Domingue, now known as Haiti, the DLC will see Adéwalé returning over a decade after the events of Black Flag. As trailers have shown, much of the DLC will focus upon the treatment of slaves at this time and the harsh conditions, which they lived and worked in through Adéwalé’s eyes.

All TITANFALL Campaign Maps Available In Multiplayer

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