Tuesday, 31 December 2013

JET! (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

To say that JET! is a novel of contradictory elements would be putting things lightly. This is the case of a book which is trying to move in one direction, but has too many ideas and authorial touches which ultimately prevent it from developing as it should have done. This can best be seen in certain aspects surrounding the protagonist, as well as how his story is set up.

Following the tale of a disastrous exploration mission to a foreign world, Captain Sirk Notaani finds himself marooned beyond all help. Surrounded by dangerous wildlife and his vessel left in ruins by the crash, Sirk must traverse the hostile landscape and survive. The questions of whether he will see his family again lurk at the forefront of his mind, as does the one detail which left the world singled out for his mission: The possibility of it harbouring humanoid life…

Wolves (Book Review)

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.

The unfortunate truth about Wolves is that, quite simply, the book is a literary disaster; poorly structured, insultingly juvenile, incoherent and incapable of letting any of its vague ideas flourish. You can easily end up well over halfway through the book without understanding anything.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

47 Ronin (Film Review)

Huh. Well that happened.

The thing which will likely come to mind about 47 Ronin is that the film just seems to get very little right. It's that odd occurrence where not too much seems to be being done horribly wrong, but there's nothing really outstanding which appears on screen. For every second of "ooah!" and "aah!" there's a good ten or twenty minutes of the plot dragging its feet.

Set in feudal Japan, the film follows the conflict between a group of disgraced Samurai out to get retribution for their lord. Having witnessed him be framed and suspicions of witchcraft at play, their leader Oishi seeks to kill Yoshinaka Kira before he can marry their dead master's daughter Mika. With both a ticking clock and Kira's servants shadowing their every move, they must seek to perform one last task in their master's name, no matter the cost to themselves...

Oh, and Keanu Reeves is in this with some connections to the supernatural forces of the land.

Yeah, this is the real problem here. Ignoring the obvious supernatural elements, the story has been written to include someone more recognisable in the Western world. This would be fine, film adaptations can have new characters if they're handled well, but Reeves just sticks out like a sore thumb, with Oishi obviously supposed to be the actual hero. Even with the film continually veering away to give Reeves' character his own sub-plots and major fights, it's so obvious he's been tacked on. It's almost as if there are two separate stories here occasionally connecting. Hell, before the film even hits its halfway mark you're more than likely to be getting Big Trouble In Little China vibes.

As a result of this addition, the plot often feels as if it's meandering about. While it goes out of its way more than once to give the audience some fights, too many times events either feel superfluous or that opportunities have been skipped. While the film does at least take the time to explain things, there's no denying that at many points the film has been crafted to have eye candy and flash over substance. On some levels this actually works out okay. Most of the special effects come across well, the designs look fantastic and the environments are (usually) colourful and vibrant. Furthermore, the armour and outfits look great. Not entirely genuine, but they still stand out extremely well and provide something interesting to watch. Furthermore, while the cinematography is nothing great, even dropping the ball more than a few times, the fights themselves will hold your attention.

Now, all of the above would be fine were it not for one thing: The film is too afraid to crack a smile. While not entirely joyless, 47 Ronin was playing itself far too seriously. It had high ambitions, but the way it was presenting itself was far beyond the skills of the creators. While it hardly needed to turn into The Mummy, it doesn't take the time to characterise more than one or two of the Ronin. Even then, most of them are presented as unsmiling, and there are no moments of humour or real happiness to differ from the serious moments. As a result it just plays out as being dull.

The actors themselves seem to be trying to do the best with what they are given, but it's clear they've all been told to play unsmiling, stoic figures who will not change their expressions. There are a few who do break this mold, but they are either given very little screen time, are quickly killed off, or are just shoved into the background. The only two who really stand out are the villains. Kira is played in as oily a way as humanly possible, to the point where he looks as if he's about to break out in evil laughter every scene. His ally, an unnamed witch, is played by Kikuchi Rinko who is hamming up every scene like Sam Rami's behind the camera. It's just unfortunate they don't have more to work with.

Top all of this off with several disappointments (including the fate of Kira's champion) and a few questionable plot elements, and the film just isn't that great. You might have some fun with this one and sit all the way through it, but more likely you'll forget you ever watched it within moments of leaving the theater.
Supposed to have been released in November last year, the film underwent significant re-shoots to capitalise upon Keanu Reeves' character. Adding in a romance angle for him, more scenes and re-doing a lot of the final battle to make it more in-line with the stuff from the Hobbit apparently. As such, expect a second review if we ever get a director's cut. As for the one on at the cinema at the moment? It's worth a rental at most. If there's something else on you want to see, go watch that instead.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Predator 2 (Film Review)

When it comes to sequels there’s always one major problem which comes from them: Being compared with the original. It’s a sequel’s task to continue the story while not betraying the original vision, overstepping boundaries, but also escalating what came before without going too far or feeling inferior to the original.

Why is this being brought up? It seems to be these comparisons which are ultimately the cause of the stigmata surrounding this film. It doesn’t contain enough one liners, it shifts the genre away from what came before, it feels like a step down from what we previously saw. However, the question remains, is it actually a bad movie? Or is it simply overshadowed by the smash hit of its predecessor?

It’s the summer of 1997 in Los Angeles. Amid growing gang warfare between drug cartels, the already stretched thin police are seen to be outgunned and outnumbered at every turn. More pressingly, one specific cop is faced with a mystery. Lieutenant Mitchel Harrigan witnesses a semi-invisible figure slaughter a room full of heavily armed Columbians, seemingly with no bullets. Similar killings follow, and with the feds seemingly trying to block out all access to such crime scenes, it’s obvious something very dangerous is lurking within the city…

The really odd thing about this film is that it actually does the right thing for the most part. After the massive success of the original, it’s obvious from looking at this the filmmakers did not want to alienate audiences by changing too much. However, at the same time they did not want to simply rehash the original film, and as a result did try to change up a good number of elements. Some were entirely new, others were built upon what we had seen last time.

The move from a jungle environment to a city is the obvious big change, providing very different environments to the first film. There are far more vehicles, far more people and far more risks the alien has to take. In many ways it both escalates and diminishes what we saw last time. Whereas Harrigan’s lot are nowhere near as heavily armed as Special Forces, the gangs themselves are far better armed than the guerrillas of the first film. No one has a minigun, but most are armed with something better than a beat up Kalashnikov. We do see this coming into play at times. Whereas Predator only had the alien hunting the Special Forces, picking them off one by one, the villain here takes on groups at a time quite happily. Pulling off both a few Arkham Asylum style stealth strikes to panic mobs and displaying at least one weapon designed to bring down plenty of people at once.

What’s more is that in many respects Harrigan himself is shown to be a very different hero, but definitely no worse than Dutch (Arnie if you don’t remember the character). He’s shown to be quick thinking, skilled at arms and quickly adapts to his situations. While he doesn’t have Dutch’s training or equipment, he none the less manages to keep up and piece things together despite the feds constantly hounding him. He doesn’t have quite so much time to prepare or research his foe, but acts much quicker when confronted with new situations. They're distinct in their differing strengths, but don't feel like one is superior to the other.

Unfortunately, besides Lambert (Bill Paxton), few to none of the other characters are memorable with some coming across as quite generic. We don’t have many scenes to flesh out their dynamic or recognisable lines early on to establish their connections to one another. There’s nothing like the helicopter scene (“sexual tyrannosaur” line and all) from the first film or slow moments primarily devoted really flesh them out. The ones that there are, are not as well handled and rely much more heavily upon cop clichés. Sure the original might have had plenty of its own, but it managed to put a new spin of sorts on them. 
Here? There’s more “You’re a cop on the edge, I’ll have your badge!” moments than I can really count. A lot of opportunities were squandered, as the feds are proving to be quite intelligent and what little we see outside of their interactions with Harrigan are interesting. They’re after the alien of course, but they’ve obviously had information from the first film and are trying to make use of that. When they fail, it’s not because they’re dumb, it’s largely due to unforeseen developments.

Predator 2’s problem really is that structurally it resembles its predecessor too much. The entire first half repeats the heroes having to try and understand their foe, but it’s not as well handled as the original. While it keeps a strong pace, too much of what it tries to use to stand out is either inferior to the original or consists of some tired clichés. It does manage to hold your attention, but you’re really waiting until the characters catch up with what everyone who watched the original film knows.

The second half where it breaks away from that and is much more action orientated is by far the stronger half. Along with great action which makes good use of the artificial environments, the fights keep a good balance between foes without either looking weak. The chase between Harrigan and the alien is tense, well developed and proves to have great payoff. Speaking personally, it might even edge out the final act to the original Predator in terms of quality.

So overall? A decent film if a flawed one. Much of what made the original work is kept, with even Kevin Peter Hall returning in the Predator suit, and it’s well shot. Many scenes do all they can to take advantage of the much more controlled environment for filming, leading to a number of great moments. If you’re willing to stay through the okay first half, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic second. Definitely give it a look if you have the time.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (Episode Review)

So here we are, the fall of the Eleventh and the finale to all that has come before now. A conclusion to the many plotlines left unresolved and a send-off to Matt Smith tenure as the Doctor. For all its ups and downs, failings in plot or problems with approach, the man has truly been the Doctor for the past several years like few others.

On Christmas Day on Earth, Clara Oswald is preparing dinner for her relatives and attempting to cook their turkey. Far into the distant galaxy meanwhile, the Doctor investigates a massive signal emanating from a single world above which orbit countless vessels of every race in existence. Something has scared every race from the Daleks and Cybermen to the Silence themselves, and it involves the Doctor very directly.
Things are far more dire than either realise. Christmas itself is soon to become a warzone, and even the Doctor's many miracles will not be enough to save him this time...

Before we really begin, there's the subject of Steven Moffat's writing style to discuss. Yes, we had an entire post about this prior to looking at The Name of the Doctor, but this needs to be brought up again to discuss the episode critically. Especially as, from this tale, his issues as a writer have become apparent.
While undeniably a talented man capable of weaving great arcs and producing great stories when he puts his minds to them, he seems to suffer from the same issues as Stephen King. Both are great at creating situations, both create great mysteries and suspense, both create memorable characters. Both can also usually sell very fantastical, outlandish elements to a reader. However, at the same time, both often rely upon the same character types on many occasions. Both have trouble actually delivering pay-off to their works and they seem to not work with a whole story. Instead coming up with stuff as they go along and with no obvious answer to what they should do.

The above really sums up all the failings of The Time of the Doctor. The episode is supposed to serve as a payoff for several years worth of mysteries. It's supposed to be answering a metric ton of questions people have kept asking while also retaining its own story and showing us how the Doctor regenerated. This ends up making the episode extremely cluttered and turns it into a downright mess by the end. It's trying to juggle too many ideas just left it being unable to fully realise even one of them.

Here's two quick examples: After several years with no answers, we finally have confirmation on the identity of the being which caused the TARDIS to explode. It's revealed in a single sentence then quickly swept aside without real explanation. The first of many such instances, all of which skip any explanations of "How!?" that the audience might be asking.
The identity of the Silence themselves is quickly revealed in a very unfulfilling and questionable manner, filled to the brim with questionable plot holes and a very obvious River Song clone. You know the kind, witty response to everything, obviously flirting with the Doctor with sexual suggestions, possesses sudden inhuman capabilities, capable of flying the TARDIS better than him etc.

Furthermore, events are resolved in a manner which is less whimsy science fiction and more Dragonball Z. You'll see what that means when you get to that particular scene.

Even ignoring the problems with payoffs, or even the fact the episode presents acts which outright defy human logic. The script tries to be clever, but at the end of the day it just ends up creating a mishmash of jarring scenes which fail to resemble any kind of emotional beat. Basic establishment of a first act is almost entirely abandoned in favour of action, and to top this all off half the episode breaks the "show, don't tell" law of writing. Near constantly veering away from the most interesting parts of the story to display something which, by comparison, is utterly meaningless and not worthwhile.

Those who saw The Name of the Doctor will know the circumstances of the character's supposed death. His fate, the site of his fall and the dead world left behind in his wake, displaying a conflict unlike anything seen since the Time War. We miss all of that. The story skips hundreds upon hundreds of years while seeing next to nothing of what is going on. Instead, events are relayed through a narrator with brief glimpses of the action and veering away to instead show Clara eating with her family.

As if all that wasn't enough, the episode then proceeds to perform what reeks of being a desperate effort to desperately one up the Russel T Davies finales. His had ten million daleks as the enemy? The Time of the Doctor has ten million of several classic villains, but won't show you even half of them!
It's as if the script was attempting to distract the audience of the gaping problems with the script by putting on a parade of fan favourites. Ones which are barely glimpsed.

If there is any good to be found in this, the series' usual strengths come into play. Along with a fantastic performance by Matt Smith, par for the course by now, the villains look great and the sets are outstanding from beginning to end. The music also remains strong, even if it ends up re-using major elements from past stories, and most of the special effects are pretty solid overall.

The problem is that while these are in play, it's almost as if the script tries to avoid truly using them. The best sets are only seen once or twice, and not displayed very well in terms of camerawork, instead leaving the audience watching vastly less interesting environments. The villains somehow manage to be reduced to minor side roles within their own episode, only being seen for a few seconds at a time if you're very lucky. Smith suffers from this to a thankfully much lesser degree, but a lot of his comedy becomes diminished when you realise one fact very early on: He's taken to keeping a brain damaged and decapitated human as his pet for several hundred years. Yeah, that makes him a bit harder to like during such scenes.

The cinematography also is far from great and honestly seems lacking by comparison to the standards we're used to. Far too many times, shots seem to be just reused for the sake of being reused and were repeated ad nausium during the final confrontation. Something which turned what was supposed to be an epic moment into something almost dully uninteresting at times.

The final greatest failing of the story however? It doesn't make use of plot elements set up in previous episodes. What we saw in the conclusions to Asylum of the Daleks and Day of the Doctor are both quickly swept under the rug, destroying any possibilities which might have emerged from their situations. The daleks manage to instantly re-learn everything about the Doctor, off screen no less, and an emerging plotline involving a re-introduced element relating to the Doctor's people is utterly destroyed by the episode's end.

The unfortunate issue with this being so heavily laden with spoilers for recent episodes is that it's hard to directly talk about it. As such it's difficulty to really go into this particular televised adventure's problems without ruining something for someone. So as such, let's just put things this way: As a result of watching this episode, The End of Time looks good by comparison. For all its failings, it managed to remain vastly more coherent and made better use of what it had on hand.

If you want something good to watch, dig out DVDs or go sit through Day of the Doctor again. This is really just going to leave you with equal amounts of disappointment, fan rage and confusion.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Resonance (Book Review)

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.

The final instalment of the Ragnarok trilogy, Resonance sees the conclusion to the titanic conflict previous books have been building towards. Scattered throughout history, individuals from feudal, industrial and future ages singled out for their specialities are preparing for war, to combat darkness only they can see and the threat lurking in the universe’s core. With an invasion waiting in the wings, humanity and the Ragnarok Council may well be all that stands in its path… 

Featuring a narrative scattered throughout time and space and a threat set on a truly monumental scale, Resonance is a book driven by big ambitions. Meaney has penned a story that aims to be epic beyond even the level of Dune or similarly famed series. Furthermore, the amount of research that has gone into the book adds a surprising degree of credibility to certain events.

Votum Infernus (eBook Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

The final story on the list, Votum Infernus is definitely the one you should save for last. As well as being one of the better ones among this collection, it shows the Legion is far more of an avenging light than other tales here. 

 Caught in the aftermath of a horrifically failed Imperial counter assault against xenos invaders, the handful of survivors from the Vostroyan Firstborn 85th are forced to flee amid the ruins of the city they recently bombarded. Hunted by cruel figures lurking within an unnatural mist, they soon discover that someone else lurks within the ruins… 

 Even more so than the other stories, Kyme makes sure to waste as little time as possible in establishing the scene. Within less than a tenth of the story you are already made up to date on events with the majority of the action already having passed by. While the seeming abruptness of this action would usually undermine most tales, this is made to work here for two reasons:

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ship of the Damned (eBook Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

What makes Ship of the Damned unique is the approach of the author. While many of the short tales released together as a Legion of the Damned collection are directed more towards open battlefields and combat, this one looks away. Taking place within a lone vessel isolated in the void of space, it attempts to emphasise more upon themes of horror than of battle.

A lone pilgrim ship is traversing through the Warp, filled to the brim with the faithful and guided by a lone member of the Adeptus Sororiatas Order of the Fractured Cipher, Agentha. Despite remaining on good terms with the crew and the near fanatical devotion to the Sister Dialogus, things soon prove to be far from well. Drawn off course by a distress signal, the vessel soon finds itself being overrun by a foe they cannot hope to combat. However, even as the ship is overrun, talk of seeing mysterious black clad space marines continues among some passengers of the ship…

Top 10: Locations ASSASSIN'S CREED Should Visit Next

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.

The great charm of Assassin’s Creed has always been its environments. For all the criticisms people might make of the combat system, the convoluted story or modern day events, people will keep buying the games. The beautiful graphics, brilliant settings and willingness to portray events with surprising realism (unless you’re the promotional team and it involves America) and the ability to parkour around buildings just keeps bringing people back. 

 With the first major DLC for Assassin’s Creed 4 having just been released, it only seemed right to see what promising locales the series could visit next. There is a wealth of opportunity to be found within each location, and an endless stream of time periods to visit, here’s a top ten list of eras and locales Ubisoft Montreal might want to consider next. 


 Being set in history, the games have focused upon the themes of the expansion of European powers and colonial empires more than once. The Crusades, the American Revolution, there’s been a few. However, the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores in the Americas would prove to be a very different kind of experience than before. Unlike previous examples, it could feature the first contact between two such groups and provide an interesting contrast to the two sides involved. It would be interesting to see writing regarding the two meeting for the first time and how alien the sides truly were to one another. It would also serve for a great character arc, given the atrocities committed by both sides and the Imperialism.

Additionally it would provide a very different environment. The aesthetics of cities and the dense flora surrounding them would be a far cry from what we have seen before and provide an entirely new angle for the series to look into. 

 The obvious issue would be trying to include the Assassins into the mix. The Templars would be easy enough given their ambitions, but the closest the Assassins could likely get would be having a few representatives on the ships. Of course, that runs the risk of only fully presenting one side of the conflict and leaving the natives as an outside influence.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Fixing After Earth - A Simple Solution To A Complex Problem

Following its release earlier this year, the response to After Earth was critical to say the least. Even ignoring the accusations of themes relating to the Church of Scientology, or the presence of M. Night Shyamalan as director, the acting overall was poor, the effects bad and the plot was questionable at best.

The script, with the story written by Will Smith and touched up by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta of all people, suffered from many logical fallacies and aberrations of science. Along with Earth itself supposedly being utterly hostile to humans, while instead shown to be a lush easily inhabitable world, a particular sticking point was the villainous forces: The ursas. 

Everything from humanity's methods to combat them to their vary nature consisted of relentlessly baffling choices which made no sense. Rather than having reliable sense of smell, hearing and sight, the ursa could only detect fear pheromones and nothing else. This meant they had no way to traverse the environment and a very easily exploitable weakness which could be used to bring them down despite their powerful bulk.

Ignoring that these were genetically engineered beasts, the weakness for which could easily have been erased the moment their masters to deal with human adaptation, humanity's methods in exploiting this are questionable at best. Since these are pheromones, sealed atmospheric armour or robotic drones would be an easy response to prevent the monsters ever seeing their enemy. As would long range sniper weapons acting beyond their limited range or even air-strikes guided in by ground teams. Instead, their response is to have individuals trained to suppress all emotion and wielding melee weapons charge into combat against them. No, this doesn't make any more sense on screen and these are just some of the more notable problems within the film.

However, there is an easy solution to many of the film's failures in writing. While the issues with bad CGI, questionable direction and poor acting would remain, it would remove many points of discontentment among critics. What's more is that it is an easy switch which would only require minor alterations to the story at best. 

What is this answer? Turn it into a high fantasy film.

Now, just think about this for a few minutes. We already have the human soldiers from an advanced civilisation being forced to carry blades into combat rather than guns for seemingly no reason. Furthermore, the actual ship crash itself is one of the very few moments which the science part of this science fiction film is truly a major piece. Beyond a few points, by that I mean very few points, where technology is seen being used, most of the time the protagonists are seen making do with what they have on hand. As such reducing them to the point where they yet to even develop black powder weapons only seems to make sense.

Naturally turning the setting into fantasy would mean this would have to be a shipwreck rather than a starship crash, but that in itself only helps to assist certain points. These would be both minor plot issues which had audiences scratching their heads at and major ones which broke all suspension of disbelief. For example, the conclusion has Kitai (yes, that is the name of Jaden Smith's character) being forced to climb up a mountain for no apparent reason to activate a distress beacon thanks to a "lack of signal". This would make far more sense if he was having to climb up it to build a fire and try to attract any passing ships.

The entire problem surrounding the ursas could easily be solved in such a setting. Without the ability to create robotics or other obvious alternatives, it would make sense why humans would be required to train warriors to shut down their emotions and fight their foes with blades. 
Furthermore, the ursas themselves could have a similar origin but be re-created to have their limitation make sense. Keep the idea they were the creations of someone intended to wipe out humanity, but add a layer of fantasy and magic to it. Have them be flesh golems, creations of some sorcerer with vampire spirits bound into their bodies which feed upon fear as it is all they know. While not the best excuse, their limitation becomes more reasonable and the ursa's presence in the film becomes more excusable. Rather than having the ship transport one for little apparent reason, instead the film could justify one still being in the land they were shipwrecked in thanks to humanity driving them out.

Other elements such as why humanity was driven out and the land itself could be put down to magic altering the land. Rather than being somewhere the average audience would be familiar with and trying to build itself upon science, the idea of a fictional location having gargantuan versions of familiar creatures and random weather changes would be easier to accept. After all, many tales already have such things with giant turtles, humanoid titans and similar creatures existing in many mythological tales.

This doesn't fix everything obviously. The problem of Cypher Raige (Yes, that is what Will Smith called his character) having his legs broken and directing Katai through drones would be harder to justify here. It would require significant plot changes or some similar fantasy excuse. Then again, considering one major criticism was sidelining the film's strongest actor, perhaps the fact he couldn't be pushed to one side in this setting would be an improvement.

Would it have made the film good? Definitely not. Many problems would remain, but at least some things would not break a suspension of disbelief so obviously. This also only works going by what's on screen, but few to no people actually saw the manual which explained many of the plot elements the film never went into.

Friday, 20 December 2013

In Lieu Of A Review...

... here is a joke about a film with giant robots.

No review today due to pre-Christmas time consumption.

Articles will resume in several days time.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Khârn: The Eightfold Path (Audio Drama Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

Unique among the Lords of the Space Marines series thus far as the only audio, Khârn: The Eightfold Path gives a brief glimpse into the legion following the events of the Shadow Crusade. Depicting the thoughts of Khârn and focused more upon his personal corruption thanks to the nails, the short audio drama gives a bit more insight into the character than before and the awareness of what the World Eaters were becoming. 

While short in length, the audio drama is effective thanks to the utilisation of its strongest assets and not trying to tell some grandiose tale. As mentioned last time we looked at something from this series, rather than action packed such short tales are usually only successful thanks to being introspective and working as character pieces. While the plot revolves around a gladiatorial match between Khârn and a member of the elite Devourers, the fight in itself is used purely as a method to explore the themes of corruption within the tale. Any details of the combat itself is purely secondary to the examination of the character and his ever growing surrender to the drive of the butcher’s nails. Unlike some other examples it is intertwined into the narrative and used as a tool to hold the reader’s attention as well as, eventually, an example of just how far Khârn has fallen to the influences of Chaos. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Clan Invasion – Mechwarrior Online’s Latest Mistake

So it’s finally coming.

After being launched without many of the features it was touted to have, such as Community Warfare, the Clan Invasion is coming to Mechwarrior Online. The original plan for the Clan involvement was this: Have a form of persistent universe with factions relentlessly fighting one another. After a year of this, the community would be shaken up thanks to the invasion. The clans would consist of elite factions who were few in number, but with superior skills and mechs which could outgun anything the Houses could throw at them. The idea this was coming excited many people, even despite the relentless delays, and for some it was a sign of hope despite the title’s many problems.

Due to the sheer difference in power between the old mechs and new additions, how they were to be included had to be thought out carefully. Unfortunately, the Clan Invasion has been implemented in the worst way imaginable.

Members of the community have been speculating and suggesting ideas on how this could be added since the closed beta. A common idea I have personally heard more than once was to ensure that only the top members with the best K/D ratios were given access to the powerful machines. They would be few in number, but they would be powerful and skilled to offset this. They would also be fighting continually at a numerical disadvantage, perhaps six or eight Clan mechs against the usual group of twelve House mechs which were in the game up to this point. The chief problem here is obviously this would require a significant overhaul of the matchmaking system and would likely be giving PUGs the short end of the stick again.

Another suggestion was to have effectively the same happen but with players selected at random, keeping them in a minority.  There is a decent thread which can be found here outlining the problems behind implementing the Clan Invasion and some of the potential solutions. The point of these examples is that every time there were significant problems with including them and keeping the game fair. Just about every time someone did make a suggestion, it involved having a very controlled method of keeping Clan mechs limited to a handful of people. Well, Piranha Games has sort of done that. They have given the mechs to whoever has the most cash to burn.

If you look on mwomercs.com now you’ll see a lot of mechs and a lot of price tags. These range from a single $30.00 purchase for a Fitfox (or Uller if you prefer) to $240.00 for the whole lot. Let’s ignore for the moment that fan favourites like the Timber Wolf are at the highest priced packs, an obvious effort to convince players to devote more cash to the game. Instead let’s focus upon the obvious:

If this is anything like what was established in every other Mechwarrior title, these are all supremely powerful mechs which can utterly outgun all current competition. If this is the case this is buying power, pure and simple. This won’t be like good free-to-play schemes where it’s to give you some minor edge, some variant which might suit your playstyle more, or to grind less, or even to give your mech a custom appearance. This will be exchanging chash for raw power as all the new guns, items and goodies will only be compatible with Clan mechs to begin with.

Worse still is that this is a blatant cash grab. Atop of all the usual bundles there are sales for a single gold plated mech going for the astonishing price tag of $500.00. Imagine for a moment how well this would go down in any other game. Imagine if League of Legends, Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World tried to offer up a slightly different skin skin for just a hundred dollars more than it costs to buy a brand new Playstation 4. There would be rioting on the forums, accusations of greed and insults thrown at the developers for trying to blatantly grab for the wallets of the customer. This is even worse than in those cases though, as unlike those games Mechwarrior Online is a niche market with only a relatively small devoted community. What PGI seems not to understand is they have a playerbase which they cannot afford to keep lying to, keep short changing at their expense and keep driving away if they want to stay afloat.

The fact this is being implemented so soon after the Phoenix packages suggests something else: Desperation. This is based purely upon opinion and speculation, but just consider the following for a moment. The game currently resembles nothing of what was promised. Community warfare isn’t in it, the new UI is still way off yet and Piranha Games themselves were forced to change MWO’s description at one point because it no longer resembled what had been advertised to players. All we have had was the PGI churning out new mechs and the occasional map. Perhaps that would be enough, but during the beta there was no advance towards anything we saw promised. No major, potentially costly, changes to the basic way the game was structured to make it resemble a continual war over territory to gain resources.

Between the lack of significant progress, the number of micro-transactions within the game and having two major mech sales very close together, if feels as if there is a warning light going up here. If you are going to purchase any of these Clan mechs, take note of the date you will get them and consider what we have seen over the past years. Remember all the broken promises and even outright lies PGI have stated since this game began. Remember that even after all this time there is still no lobby, still no way to set up matches against specific players and still no in-game chat. Remember that this was supposed to be a war between the Clans and the Inner Sphere, a massive conflict supposed to change everything, has been reduced down to selling new mechs to people.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Warbands of Chaos: The Harbingers of Ruin

And now for something completely different.

As a result of delays with other things there will be no review today. Instead there is this, just a side project i've been working on for a while which seemed worth sticking on here. It was mostly an experiement to see if a force could be written into the lore following Khorne's old ways. Back when he did have some semblance of martial honour and had some sign of caring where blood flowed from. This is the lengthy version, i'll probably write a shortened, simplified version for those who don't have the time to read 3K of text.

Name: Harbingers of Ruin
Origin: World Eaters
Primarch: Angron
Leader (Kriegsherr): Aurum Garrod
Chaos Dedication: Khorne
Battlecry: “Khorne eternal!”
Strength: Unknown

History: As with many warbands who bear the gene-seed of the Emperor’s traitor sons, the origins the Harbingers of Ruin link back to the days of the Heresy. Unlike many they saw little of the Heresy itself beyond the Gates of Terra, yet their founding extends far beyond the outbreak of war. Instead the seeds of their betrayal were planted at the moment of Angron's liberation from Nuceria.

The return of the War Hounds' primarch was a time of great turmoil. Even after his anger had been sated, the Emperor’s son saw a great many changes implemented within their ranks. Ever the Emperor’s slayers, their brutality was known throughout the Imperium’s forces and Angron’s arrival only enhanced that. As his new brand of savagery was imparted upon the legion, there were naturally brothers left behind. Legionaries who still embraced the old legion’s traditions to a degree, individuals who by genetic fault could not accept the euphoria offered by the butcher’s nails and others who resisted the change. In the months following Angron’s ascension, it became clear which legionaries derided their leader to the point of disloyalty.

The Red Angel would have decreed that these pockets of resistance would have been culled, rooted out and destroyed by Angron himself to ensure his position of power over the legion. Would have, were it not for the words of Kharn. Speaking to Angron of ensuring loyalty beyond mere executions, the Equerry convinced him to instead initiate a trial by fire. The rebellious legionaries were formed into a new Assault Company, the 26th, and tasked with pacifying a fortified system at the side of their primarch to prove their loyalty before him. Sent as a vanguard, the vessels of the 26th left for the system and entered a nightmare. Caught in the time shifting effects of the Warp, what had seemed like minutes for the assault company had been decades for the galaxy. Enough time for Chaos to find its way into the heart of Horus Lupercal and Heresy to take root.

The united Imperium they had left had been shattered to warring fragments. Legions clashed against one another in struggles for power and as the 26th, long thought dead, re-joined their kind they found twisted mockeries of those they had fought alongside. Enslaved to the nails, many had succumbed to the total berserker rages, reducing themselves to frothing madmen and the gene-father who had bought this about was now rage incarnate. A vast winged figure of brass and congealed blood, Angron now sat atop a throne of skulls, consumed by his joy of slaughter. All had become corrupted beyond recognition, driven only by their thirst for blood, and yet the 26th joined them none the less.

All of the 26th despised what the World Eaters had devolved into, but for many it was directed at the only one who retained the power to halt Angron's madness: The Emperor of Mandkind. As the War Hounds they had relentlessly fought in His name, against targets other primarchs viewed as beneath them. As the World Eaters they had fought with ferocity, as a necessary evil to ensure humanity’s dominance, accepting of their role. Yet this was how He repaid their loyalty? By willingly ignoring the XII as a deranged gladiator king’s desire for more slaughters led them to ruin, by apathetically allowing his sons to become the lobotomised killers which now populated their ranks. Whatever hatred they felt for Angron was eclipsed by the betrayal they found in their former lord.

The five thousand marines of the 26th Assault Company followed their legion to Terra. Barely eight hundred would leave the world alive upon Horus’ death, cut down either by the Imperial defenders or their own brethren’s berserker rages. More would fall in the battles which followed, until the final campaign of Skalathrax.

The sight of Kharn, the greatest of their number, massacring their brothers in his violent rampage was enough to convince the 26th to finally break away from their legion. Escaping off world during the fighting the warband took refuge in the Ruin of Kings, a Space Hulk randomly jumping through the Warp. Their time among their fallen brothers had affected them and many had come to worship Khorne. Unlike them, the sight of Kharn’s blind fury drove these astartes to value one aspect above all others: Self-control.

Through sorcery and self-discipline, the warband vowed not to repeat the mistakes of their legion. Rather than rampaging throughout space and insulting Khorne’s name with mass slaughters they would seek skulls worthy of being offered up to his throne. Retaining the tarnished colours of their legion, they embraced the gladiatorial ranks of Ancient Terra in mockery of Angron as they abandoned his teachings. Taking the name Harbingers of Ruin, the warband saw themselves as Khorne’s true champions, driven not by screaming insanity but tempered rage against those who had betrayed them.

Kriegsherr – Warband Master
Vormund – First Captain, Guardian of the Bestiarii
Lanista – Second Captain, Lord Inductor
Salii – Master of Rituals, Apothecaries/Sorcerers
Evocati – Veteran Sergeant
Thraex – Sergeant
Secutor – Initiate
Socii – Aspirant (pre gene-seed implantation)

Titles of disgrace:
Jager – Havoc marine
Bestiarii – Possessed, mutated hordes.
Aeternae – Dreadnought.

Combat Doctrine: As with almost all followers of Khorne, the Harbingers place great emphasis upon close quarter engagements, favouring massed drop pod assaults in order to achieve this. Long range bombardments from their vessels provide covering fire as the pods come in to land, teeming with chainsword armed zealots. While this is favoured they still possess the tactical sense not to allow their bloodlust to blind them and employ more strategies than blind all out assaults. Perhaps the most famous example of this was the slaughter on Variil VI in which the World Eaters stowed away upon captured Imperial transports to bypass the planet’s heavy orbital defence network. Any effective method is used to bring them into open battle with the enemy with as few casualties as possible, yet the warband has been repeatedly seen halting and allowing their foes to prepare to fight them. Rare indeed is the occurrence of the Harbingers storming and hunting down an unprepared enemy or refusing to face them in open battle. To initiate such a one sided massacre would be a poor offering to Khorne.

Due to the Harbingers placing little value in meaningless slaughter, many targets are frequently overlooked. As such they are known to target only military installations for battle, ignoring civilian populations and leaving cadet barracks intact. This is an act of pragmatism as much as their warband’s beliefs, leaving such locations unmolested allows for them to abduct worthy individuals to replace their losses. It is only through this approach that the warband has survived the years thanks to the high attrition of their numbers and against the much larger forces which oppose them. These abductees are utilised along with other elements to serve as cannon fodder and weed out the chaff from both sides. This is intended to leave only the strongest foes to be challenged by the Harbingers, and the strongest initiate alive to be considered worthy of gene-seed implantation.

Acting beyond the Eye of Terror or Maelstrom, and lacking the subtle methods of the Alpha Legion or Night Lords, the Harbingers have been seen to take great pains to disguise their allegiances. Many bare no outward markings or influences of Chaos, forsaking the usual sigils and iconography which would identify them as a fallen warband. This allows them to pass as a loyalist chapter among the outlying systems of the Imperium, especially those to who a space marine is little more than a legend. The only identifiable markings among their kind which might single them out as forces of Chaos are the defaced aquila which adorn their chest plates. This is often put down to the grime encrusted and battle scarred state of their forms however, leading to surprise when the seemingly loyal forces turn upon a world of the Emperor.

Beyond the outlying systems or agri-worlds targeted for mass recruitment, favoured battlefields of the warband are Mechanicum Forge Worlds. It is when assaulting such planets that the warband will join completely ransack a world and ally themselves in battle with others. Along with providing a worthy sacrifice to their patron deity, destroying beings who forsake both blood and the glories of war, the resources found are invaluable. The warband often salvages prized equipment within the ruins of the conflict, even newly manufactured suits of power armour on occasion.

Beliefs and Traditions: As with all warbands, the Harbingers ultimately follow the Eightfold Path. Through continual combat and seeking out worthy enemies, their warriors fight to earn the favour of their patron god and honour his name. While this is their ultimate goal, what has prevented the warband from turning in upon itself, fracturing or reducing their kind to slavering monsters is what unites all of them: Blood.

Every recruit successfully implanted with gene-seed undergoes the ritual of Harrespex’s Lineage. During this time the Salii ritualistically flay the skin from their bodies and surgically rebound it with the blood of their recently deceased brothers. Scarred and imbued with subtle sorceries, those who survive are mentally bound with their brethren in the warband. Along with creating a link where certain emotions and sudden reactions can pass from the mind of one nearby brother to another, it makes it impossible for one warrior to truly act against another. While remaining individual, in many respects they register as a single being. For one with the Lineage to raise his blade against another would feel akin to holding it against his own throat. This is the only true tradition among the Harbingers, but its existence brings greater meaning to many of their other defining traits and goals.

This method allows warriors to both fight as individuals and an army at once, following the Eightfold Path in a unique way. While they will individually vie for Khorne’s favour, they fight as a single entity against his enemies and not blindly turn their weapons upon one another.  Each astartes is still driven by a single goal which ultimately requires sacrifice: Ascending to demonhood. To be raised to daemonhood is an act which is regarded as being the highest honour Khorne can possibly bestow upon one of his warriors.

To become a being of the Warp is to serve as Khorne’s right hand and become one of his true champions. It is a path which consumes many but it is their ultimate ambition, leaving no room for warriors who fail to achieve such a lofty goal. Those who fall in battle are not honoured. While their teachings will be recorded, their armour and gene-seed taken, it is only so that another might succeed in their place.

Even among those who succeed in battle there are failures. For every one who bears a gift of the blood good of tireless endurance and skin which can break steel, others will display mutations. Countless blinking eyes, arms devolving into a mass of clawed tentacles, such random deformities are the sign of Tzeentch’s influence and the potential of devolving into a mindless Spawn. Those who cannot be healed by bionics or the administrations of the Salii are deemed lost causes. To prevent their growing madness spreading to their brothers, their gene-seed is taken and their link through the Lineage is severed. Caged within the bowls of the Ruin of Kings, they are guarded in their final days before being released into battle in suicidal charges in a final act to redeem themselves through death.

To the Harbingers the only path to ascension is through strength of arms and combat. It is the only way to ensure that their warriors are worthy to be picked out by Khorne himself and their divinity proven. To not do so would be to earn their place through falsehoods and sorcery as Angron did, earning his place only thanks to the machinations of the thrice damned Lorgar of the Word Bearers. It is perhaps due to their primarch's ascension that the Harbingers are swift to distrust any daemon who has not originated from their warband. Beyond the seven daemon princes who were once Harbingers, the only Warpborne servants of Khorne frequently seen among their ranks are his Flesh Hounds. Beings recognised for their abilities to hunt the Blood God’s enemies and those who abandon their brothers upon the battlefield, not for their duplicity and capacity for betrayal.

These views have earned them both ire and mockery among other Khorne Berserkers. Such efforts to refuse the totality of bloodletting and individual glory are acts which dismay many, betraying Khorne’s true will and is simply a manifestation of their desire to return to the days before the Heresy. This is seemingly supported by the warband’s armour and iconography, while visibly tarnished and ruined, matching that of the pre-Heresy World Eaters legion rather than the red others now bear.

Few realise that this is an intentional choice to mock both the Berserkers and the lapdog chapters of the Corpse Emperor they face in battle.

To their traitor brethren, their armour is a reminder of the days they were truly united as a single force. Whatever powers the Chaos Gods might grant them now cannot hope to compare to the sheer force of destruction they once were as Legio Astartes. Whatever splinter remains in the hearts of other surviving World Eaters is reawakened at the sight of their colours and serves as a reminder to how they have faded since the Emperor strode the stars. To the loyalists it, and the ruined insignia of the Aquila each of them bears, displays how even their best can ultimately fall to Chaos. That for all their pomposity, their declarations of purity and true service in the face of corruption, their very best can and will fall to what they oppose.

Organisation: The warband’s structure is, like all military forces, strictly hierarchical. Unlike most Chaos warbands however, there are strict lines of succession and roles dictated in order to maintain combat effectiveness. The blood ritual which ties each battle brother together allow for experiences, even knowledge to seep from one mind to the next ensuring that the teachings of the past are not lost to those who follow. Those who are ritually bonded to their superiors learn from them in more than just spoken works, with even memories dating even back to the days of the Horus Heresy residing in the minds of some new recruits. Those deemed to have succeeded their superior upon his death, judged by a Salii and Lanista or Evocati, take their blades and positions of authority within the Harbingers.

As a result of passing on weapons to successors, the warband lacks the coherent structures of some units and specialist equipment. Chief among these is the lack of squads of terminators. Lacking members of the World Eaters elite prior to disappearing into the Warp and having attained scant few suits since, they are a rare sight among their ranks. As a result these suits of armour are reserved for figures of prominence among the legion who have earned the right to wear them, often Thraex and those who command the Harbingers. The same goes for many fabled power weapons and items of Khorne’s favour, with low ranking Secutors often only armed with a chain weapon and bolt pistol beyond what they earn in battle. This makes them easy to identify among the legion style massed troop formations the Harbingers favour.

Not all such specialist equipment is reserved for places of honour however; heavy weapons especially are gifted to those who have failed the warband. The astartes who carry these, known as Jager are figures who have dishonoured themselves in some way and are required to atone for their actions. To do so, they are denied the glory of melee in favour of ranged firepower and tasked with destroying heavy armour which might kill their brothers before they can engage their foe. The Aeternae are the warband’s dreadnoughts, driven by those who failed on the Eightfold Path in some unforgivable manner. Denied the visceral joys of bloodshed, they are tasked with guarding the darkest secrets of the Ruin of Kings. Many are also placed under the command of the Charon, serving as jailors to the insane and hostile forces they command. Namely the warband’s possessed vehicles and the horrifically mutated Bestiarii between conflicts.

Notably lacking the presence of Warpsmiths and Techmarines, the Harbingers are only able to maintain their equipment thanks to a favourable alliance with several Dark Mechanicus sects. In exchange for certain services these priests maintain and replace the Harbingers' equipment, permitting the Harbingers to rely upon better basic wargear than many other followers of Khorne. The relative sanity of the Aeternae can likely be attributed to their presence, installing methods to stave off the madness which plagues many who become locked within their adamantium shells. While the exact terms of these alliances beyond a common hatred of the Mechanicus are unknown, the Harbingers have been seen serving as protectors for certain priests. Speculation has been made that the warband’s ownership of their vast and ancient space hulk, and the secrets contained within, likely plays a part in their good terms.

Gene-Seed: With many initiates implanted with the gene-seed of stolen chapters, it is hard to gauge the warband’s overall genetic stability. Many possess the shortcomings found in certain chapters such as the missing organs found in Dorn’s successors or pale completion of the sons of Corax. The exact number of space marines with Angron’s gene-seed within them is unknown.

The only known gene-seed not to make up their numbers are those originating from Sanguinius, beyond Russ obviously, something specifically avoided thanks to harsh lessons of the past. A failed attempt to merge the warband with the renegade Crimson Lords chapter nearly resulted in their destruction with the twin curses of the Black Rage and Red Thirst transmitting themselves through the psychic link. After the culling that followed of all Lords and afflicted Harbingers, they have refused inducting renegade astartes into their ranks.