Tuesday, 8 July 2014
WAAAGH! Ghazghkull: Part 1 - The Lore (A Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)
You know, one of the biggest criticisms I keep making of these books is how desperately they attempt to tell a story. Nearly every one tries to shove some narrative tale into its lore rather than actually spending time exploring the army, and glorifies a few certain characters over long established, venerated armies of thousands of wars. Well, now they've truly taken things to the next level, not only shoving Ghazghkull's name on the book's title, but forcing his cybernetic green mug onto dominating the cover.
Yes, before anyone comments, ork WAAAGHs! are so often named after their leaders, but really this is desperatley trying to sell the book purely based upon Ghazghkull and Ghazghkull alone. Really, take a look at the blurb on the codex's back cover:
"It has long been said that should the disparate Orks ever unify beneath one leader they would crush all of the so-called civilised peoples of the galaxy. That doomsday draws nearer, for the great greenskin Warlord Ghazghkull Thraka has arisen, and Orks from all clans muster to his bellowing warcry. He is not just a mighty warrior, but a master strategist and the living Prophet of Gork and Mork – the brutal greenskin gods. Already star systems burn upon his orders, and more will soon follow. Ghazghkull has called the Great Waaagh!, drawing towards him the most warlike of his savage race. Goff warbands, Speed Freeks, Dread Mobz – all have crossed the stars in their seething multitudes to join the greatest Ork crusade in a millennium. This time, nothing will stop the green tide."
Nearly all of that is spent oohing and aahing over how great Ghazghkull is and the army is only mentioned when it needs to boast about him more. Really, if they'd wanted to do something like this it should have been saved for a Dataslate devoted purely to his character, not an entire damn codex. Still, if any faction could feasibly pull off being so insanely character focused and do it well, it would be the orks. So this was one I did approach with more optimism than usual. Naturally the book rewarded that by blowing it in the very first paragraph.
The initial introduction to the army is nothing but Ghazghkull, with lines line "He is the green embodiment of all the brutal strength of Gork" and hyping up his power. Even when it does actually start to focus upon the army, the book opts to suddenly introduce the fact Orkimedes will be in this release, and starts to gush about his presence instead. This sadly sets the trend for the entire book. Rather than actually taking notes from the excellent Militarum Tempestus and actually focusing on the army as a whole for once, everything here is narrowed down to the characters. While it does eventually try to slow down and replicate the sections from Codex: Black Legion and detail the various sections of the WAAAGH! these feel tacked on despite being surprisingly well written.
Even more so than the bloated cast of Sentinels of Terra, the book goes out of its way to try and introduce Warbosses and characters rather than having the actual WAAAGH! be good at fighting. Now, this would be understandable to a point. After all, Ghazghkull is the most famous of the living orks and unlike normal forces a WAAAGH! doesn't really have a founding beyond whoever cracks the most skulls or who they fight/loot from. The issue is that everything beyond the writer hammering in how awesome he is feels rushed.
For example the sixth page actually tries to establish some history for the army. It gives details about the world Ghazghkull was spored on, listing its history all the way back to the Great Crusade and creates some legitimate reasons for the orks to not have been totally purged. The Dark Angels were using the planet as a recruiting world, keeping the orks in check to fight feral human tribes and taking the greatest from among them. Ghazghkull himself received a bolt round to the head by trying to attack one of their listening posts keeping check on ork numbers. It's satisfying enough to give the army a bit of history, but it barely gets going before going into Ghazghkull's origins. Really, it barely lasts half a page before everything starts to focus first on Ghazghkull then on Mad Dok Grotsnik. The writers had eighty pages to work with here, you'd think they could have spent some time actually fleshing things out a bit.
Now, even accepting this as a character history, a book devoting itself to Ghazghkull's past, it really rushes through things. There's about four paragraphs in total covering his origins and cybernetic enhancements before he starts killing people. It's no more information than was given in the previous codex, and nothing is made to really help flesh out just where the visions of Gork and Mork came from or any more details.
What follows proves to be extremely hit or miss with some conquests on Urk, Ghaz's homeworld, being surprisingly intelligent while others are absolutely nuts. Just take this line and wonder how the hell it got past the editors:
"It took a long, bloody week to subdue the Snakebites under Grudbolg, and Ghazghkull was forced to decapitate the old monster twice before finally winning his loyalty."
That's the bad example of trying to do orks, a good one embracing their black humour and insanity follows in the very next sentence:
"When challenged to a headbutting contest by the hulking Goff champion, Ugrak, Ghazghkull was like a piledriver sinking his foe a full foot into the ground and knocking him unconscious."
The book definitely has fantastic moments and great points where it seems the writer is getting a handle on them, but it never establishes a well time pace to events and often feels as if it's skipping points. It's ultimately far more interested in the Third War than the Second, so as a result most of the book rushes through those events, then tries to set up army building afterwards. The obvious issue is that while it examines a WAAAGH! being rebuilt for a second invasion, all focus is still constantly on Ghazghkull rather than the army or anyone else beyond a handful of Warbosses. Hell, even they aren't characters in their own right so much as an excuse to have the writer gush about how singly awesome Ghazghkull is.
So much here feels entirely unfocused and despite offering some genuinely great bits here and there, when it tries to run through information the reader already knows it's poorly told. It's as if the writers were desperately trying to race through them to get to more original bits, but there's more to it than that. In comparison to the lengthy, detailed account we originally had what is seen in the codex is little more than a series of relentless beat-downs until the astartes show up to boot him off the planet. It's extremely one note, there's no real variety to them and quite frankly the previous version, while from an Imperial perspective, was a far more colourful account of the War. Despite it being one of the single greatest rivalries in 40K, Yarrick is shoved into the background for almost the entirety of the book. We get little to no thoughts on him by Ghazghkull or even their long standing enmity. Honestly, half the time the book treats Yarrick as if Ghazghkull has no idea he exists.
The codex really doesn't know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a character study and examination of Ghazghkull? Then why does it keep veering away from him to explore his army and skim through vital points of his life, the most interesting bits which could help truly flesh him out. Does it want to be about the army he leads? Then why does it keep having so many sections which skip over the vying factions, troop types and the lengthy decades of preparation which could help to flesh it out.
This is the book's real failing above all, at least in terms of lore. It's not that bad, but it is extremely unrefined, needing at least another rethink and better direction on the part of the writers. Unlike the embarrassing disasters of other books, what he have here does add up and you can see a great tale here. The orks under Ghazghkull are treated as a competent army, most of the story developments make perfect sense and there is far more of an effort here to flesh out the army than before. It's just that so much of that is built upon Ghazghkull himself and little else, and it's determined to try and tell a story rather than actually stop and examine the WAAAGH! he leads.
It's that last point which really stops me giving the book any truly genuine praise beyond a few trait elements. It's glorifying the a single ork rather than a force of orks, and it actually makes much of the race seem far worse off in its attempts to loudly promote his greatness. One of the key things the writers promote about Ghazghkull, something that supposedly makes him totally unique, is his ability to learn from his mistakes and come up with intelligent tactics. Oh dear.
While the orks might often be laughed for their daft nature, a key characteristic has been their brutally cunning minds and many do possess a strange kind of genius. For every one which does get cut down never learning anything, another Warboss will rise who has some ability to adapt to his enemies. The Fourth Edition Codex: Orks listed a number of examples, most infamously the War of the Dakka, and showed the race learning. Hell, it was even a major part in Rynn's World with the Crimson Fists realising that their old foe was learning from humanity's tactics. Claiming that all this is unique to just one Warboss is just insulting to the entire army.
Of course the problems don't stop there either. Apparently not content to make him the only ork in existence with any capability to learn from his mistakes and having him lead two of the best known WAAAGHs! ever to be written, they have him fight the tyranids. Yes, the writers sent him to bloody Octarian War, because apparently no other Warboss could hope to combat the tyranids in an effective manner. As a result a lot of the genius, victories and skill of the entire race is put down to a single figure, reducing a lot of their menace.
While Codex: WAAAGH! Ghazghkull is definitely a move in the right direction, it only stands out because the bar has been set so insanely low by the likes of Crimson Slaughter and Clan Raukaan. It does try to address a few of the bigger criticisms, and it even avoids the ever infamous issue of recycling art from previous works. Still, if they keep this up and keep learning from their mistakes, we may have another decent supplement sometime in the next couple of years. For the moment though? Skip this one and stick to the main ork codex if you want great lore.