Sunday, 31 August 2014

Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (Episode Review)

The creators of Into the Dalek were always going to be facing an uphill battle when it came down to delivering a good episode. Directly post-regeneration stories since the series returned have hardly have a great track record, with The Beast Below and arguably New Earth being counted among them. What's more is it was throwing the daleks into the mix extremely early on into this new regeneration, allowing no time for the crew to really get to grips with Peter Capaldi's new incarnation before having him face off against a classic nemesis. To make matters worse, this was going hand in hand with a dynamically new direction and attempting to handle heavy subjects about the Doctor's new persona at the same time.

Things looked bad for this episode, but the end result? This is almost intentionally bad, so horribly put together, that you would be forgiven for thinking there was a Springtime for Hitler going on behind the scenes.

The story here starts with the TARDIS intervening to assist a Combined Galactic Resistance subfighter about to die fighting daleks. With her co-pilot dead and a massive saucer bearing down upon her, she is barely saved at the last second by the Doctor, coffee in hand. After arguing for a few minutes, he eventually returns her to the human held stronghold Aristotle, hiding within an asteroid belt and desperately attempting to survive. 
Upon learning he is apparently a medic, the Time Lord is promptly taken before a very special patient: A dalek salvaged from space and slowly succumbing to its wounds. Adamant that it should be destroyed, the Doctor is then amazed when it tries to encourage him to save it with a few choice words - "Daleks must be destroyed!"

Now, in complete fairness, up until the opening credits and perhaps a little after, this looked promising. While a few flaws such as wooden acting and a complete lack of real establishment of the setting, the idea behind the story was solid, the location was interesting and the Doctor himself was making a good showing. Capaldi displays that he can be a great Doctor in his own right during these scenes, especially in how he handles speaking with the pilot, but then things start to fall apart shortly afterwards.

Directly after setting up this whole futuristic situation, the plot suddenly veers off back to current day Earth, and spends a good several minutes focusing purely upon that. We're then introduced to a shell-shocked former soldier as Clara's co-worker, Danny Pink, spend much of the first act building him up, only to then episode promptly discard him. We don't see the character again until the very end and he has barely any bearing on the plot. 

Things are only made worse with the abrupt attempts at non-linear storytelling which just end up as a confusing mess. First doing this out of seemingly nowhere when Danny is speaking with Clara for the first time, then again when the Doctor meets up with Clara and we see his reaction to the dalek. That ending bit of the synopsis with that line? That's not seen until we're over a quarter of the way into the episode, ruining a fantastically gripping opening plot twist. What's more is that just as soon as the Into The Dalek starts using this as a storytelling device, it's immediately abandoned and we never see it again.

From there on big, big problems begin to appear. Despite being described as rebels briefly given the name the Combined Galactic Resistance, we never learn anything about the human forces. We don't know why they're fighting the daleks, what stage this conflict is in nor even how long they have been fighting for. Not one detail beyond a few bare hints is given, and even the situation behind the battle itself is shady. 

Things are no better with the supporting cast. Journey Blue, the pilot the Doctor rescues at the start, and Colonel Morgan Blue are blank slates. Beyond a blood relationship with one another, neither has a shred of personality to them. They have both been fighting a desperate war against the daleks and have had a close relative die just before the Doctor arrives, yet the wooden acting and uninterested stares convey nothing. Neither actor conveys anything beyond dull surprise, whether it be having an unstoppable dalek invasion force hammering down their door or being turned down when requesting to join the Doctor on his travels. Even if the script had delivered solid gold, there is nothing here that would not have been torpedoed by these dull performances.

On the other hand we have the Doctor himself, who goes to the opposite end of the spectrum. Despite starting out strong, Capaldi's Doctor soon becomes downright sociopathic in his behaviour, showing a callous disregard for human lives or even the feelings of those around him. Along with making no effort to save a soldier about to be killed (admittedly under the excuse of "he was already dead") the Doctor callously cracks jokes as Journey wades through the liquefied corpse of her bother. His exact remark? commenting that he's the "top layer if you want to say a few words." Yes, that's actually in the episode, and atop of character assassination it's yet another bloody big plot hole.

Of course, this is nothing compared with the continuity issues.

Foremost among these is the fact that half the episode only works if you discard countless major facts and events surrounding the daleks. Doctor Who tends to play fast and loose with its details even on a good day. However, there's stuff here which contradicts Asylum of the Daleks and even Time of the Doctor, pretending half of their big events never happened. The story even pretends that there's no possibility of a dalek ever potentially turning good and treats the its revelation as if it's the first of its kind. 

Even discounting the multiple expanded universe stories, the likes of Dalek, Evolution of the Daleks and The Stolen Earth have looked at these multiple times before. While audiences would certainly like to forget Evolution, it's insane to see the series pretending so much has never happened. What makes this all the more galling is that even stock footage from The Stolen Earth is used at one point, showing clear awareness of that episode's existence.

Even the directing here is astoundingly weak, with Ben Wheatley apparently forgetting how to properly frame half his shots. While certain scenes work fantastically well, others look so amateurish that even a student film would not pull them, losing all sense of scale or distance. This is especially true of the scene trying to show the group entering the dalek via Fantastic Voyage technology, but that's topped by some ludicrously badly shot fight scenes. Along with gratuitous slow motion of people running and the actors not even trying to present any hint of recoil with their energy rifles, the shots are confusing at best. Often they present no establishing shots, skip to disjointed extreme close ups of each side in movement and never pause to even confirm who is losing the battle.

There's far more that could be said about this, but the point is clear- Into The Dalek is one of the worst Doctor Who episodes made since the revitalisation, just below Love and Monsters and around Belly of the Beast. It truly is bafflingly bad given the amount of talent behind the production with co-writer Phil Ford having produced great work both for the franchise and beyond and Wheatley having done a fantastic job on last week's episode. Quite how it managed to end up this bad, from the production design to the narrative flaws, is something worthy of a university level examination.

If you honestly want to see any aspect of this type of story done well, Doctor Who has no shortage of tales for you to choose from. Even without resorting to other episodes Prisoner of the Daleks, The Only Good Dalek, Jubilee and Children of the Revolution all immediately spring to mind. All do a vastly better job than this episode handling the problems of a dalek prisoner or the idea of one potentially turning good, and none have even a fraction of Into the Dalek's failings. 

Skip this one without hesitation and do not reward such poor quality television with your attention.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Fantastic Four The Movie - First Signs Of Doom

Even now, long before we have seen the first signs of any trailer or hint of footage, the rebooted Fantastic Four has been caught in a storm of controversy. With many claiming an apparent lack of respect for the source material, a direction which apparently goes directly against the team it's supposed to promote and Marvel itself allegedly taking ire at this, things have not been good. They also just got much, much worse.

Leaked onto the internet yesterday via Geek Pride (with the page now removed for unknown reasons) the fandom was shown the first look at Doctor Doom himself. These images can now be found on The Escapist, but reaction has not been positive among many fan groups or even casual superhero fans. Going with a distinctly metallic organic look, Doom himself looks far less like the regal, armoured form fans are used to and more a misshapen blob of cooling metal. While fans are baffled at the exact reason behind this, it's another indicator that the Ultimate universe is having far more influence on this project than the mainstream Four.

Also, for those wondering, no we're not going to host images on here thanks to the other website mysteriously losing its page.

For those not in the know, the Ultimate Fantastic Four differ heavily from their more traditional counterparts in a number of ways, as did Doom himself. Better known as Victor Van Damme, the super-villain went in a very different and very strange direction, with the story foregoing his traditional tale of scars and suits of armour in favour of full transformation. In this case, Van Damme's metal form is not clothing so much as his skin, with him becoming a satyr thanks to Reed's explosive failing of an experiment. Stranger things have happened in comics, and despite the lack of goat legs what little we have seen so far seems to heavily indicate this will be Doom's future story.

This move certainly makes sense given the director's history and his many comments surrounding the team. Along with claiming that superpowers will be treated as disabilities, prior information has made it clear the "superheroes" will lack costumes and be played as teenages,  all elements which line up with the Ultimate Fantastic Four. Given this is the same man who directed Chronicle, it's understandable he might take this direction, but the chief problem here is that much of the information at hand seems to be almost intentionally contradictory. Expect more on this as further details are cleared up around the film and new information is made available.

12 Hilariously Awesome Glitches Ever Engineered By Bethesda

There’s always a few distinct things which will constantly remind a person they’re playing a Bethesda Softworks title. The worlds will be vast, the weapons plentiful, the hidden secrets without number – and the bugs they stumble upon as they drink in the rich environment will totally break the game. However, while they are so often regarded as a failing among any series, the glitches and errors of Bethesda’s releases are what adds to their charm.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

World War Cthulhu - A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories (Anthology Review)

Seeking to explore the idea of the Cthulhu mythos’ impact upon a world in conflict, World War Cthulhu is a collection of twenty-two tales of eldritch creatures drawn into human battles. Covering a variety of settings from ancient Greece to the near future, each story asks itself what might be unleashed in the event of humanity going too far.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Transformers: Regeneration One (Comicbook Series Review, Vol. 1 - 4)

Something you'll occasionally see showing up in the media of comics are artists attempting to conclude their original work. With so many series being cycled between writers, handed from creator to creator or altered thanks to editorial decree, it's hardly surprising these crop up once in a while. Perhaps the reason they show up in comics the most is thanks to the degree of freedom available. After all, you don't need to spend time worrying about budgets as much as with film and television, the characters don't age and you can even evoke memories of a previous era by simply altering the art style.

Previous examples include the sadly short-lived X-Men Forever by Chris Claremont (which unfortunately ended with oh so many loose ends) and even George Lucas' original plans for Star Wars. Given just how often his saga styled plotlines were cut short, it's no real surprise Simon Furman returned with one last hurrah for the original Transformers comics.

Skipping Generation Two entirely, Regeneration One directly follows on from where the original Transformers comics left off, barring a slight time-skip. Set several decades after the Decepticons' apparently final defeat by the Last Autobot and Unicron's destruction, Cybertron is at peace. Under the rule of the Autobots, the world has been rebuilt and life flourishes once again. However, that peace is soon to be cut short. Under Soundwave, groups of disgruntled neo-Decepticons have been forming, ready to begin the Great War anew. Even as the first shots are fired, few realise just where this war will lead to, or what things are slowly awakening once more.

The first thing to be clear is that this is an entity in of itself. Unlike Alignment it doesn't weld together the Beast Wars and original continuities, and it's not beholden to what would follow years down the line. It's a story in of itself, based purely upon the Marvel comics which preceded it and, while not exactly panning out as originally planned, ultimately finishes by completely concluding the cybertronians' stories.

The first thing to truly praise is the decision to emulate the artwork of the late eighties. Much like X-Men Forever, the comic's artistic direction was a throwback to the era it was following on from rather than completely updating everything to IDW's level. This in many respects works in its favour, as it captures the charm of the original series thanks to the return of Andrew Wildman and Stephen Baskerville, but with the quality greatly enhanced. The styles, feel and general methods of an older era are all there, but they lack the limitations of their time. As a result, if you are after a classic looking comic, you'll be in for a real treat here.

The comic also offers plenty of action from the outset. While famed for expanding upon the universe's lore to the point of creating Primus, making Unicron the Chaos Bringer rather than a lab experiment gone wrong, Furman's comics are equally as well remembered for their brilliant battles. The series finds excuses to bring back the likes of Megatron, Galvatron and Shockwave again for one final time, while simultaneously introducing new foes which were originally planned for them to fight at a later date. While not being so overburdened with action that it drowns out any storylines, there's rarely a moment where the series drags. In many respects it's comparable to the pacing and plot/action balance found in the likes of The Thanos Imperative, where someone is always fighting someone but it nevertheless still fits in a fantastic tale.

Speaking of plot-lines, many characters key to the original series make a return here, both those previously living and dead, and each major name plays a core role in the story. While Omega Supreme and Blaster might have both disappeared into the background, they're still given memorable bits none the less and it's enough fan service to pay tribute to the older stories. Furthermore, those which were sadly cut short for time are done justice here as well. Rather infamously, after multiple issues of build-up for a massive final battle with Galvatron, Ultra Magnus was killed off in two panels by generic grunts in Time Wars. With a second chance to look at that story, Furman repeats many elements but allows them to play out as was originally intended.

This is really half the fun of this series, seeing certain story ideas play out properly this time around. However, those with a lack of foreknowledge of previous story arcs or the Transformers comics in general will not feel quite the same connection, and it doesn't do much to open itself up to new readers. This naturally goes without saying, and it was a problem with X-Men Forever, but it's still a definite issue which does hold the series back. Unless you've at least looked through TFwiki for a few hours to acclimatise yourself with the prior series or author's ideas, you may well end up feeling all at sea trying to read this one.

Another issue is that the comic's rapid pacing feels very much like a double edged sword. While the book rarely drags, far too often it can seem like it's racing from one point to the next with only fleeting focus placed upon one element at a time. The series only lasted for twenty-two issues, and in that time it tried to solve, pay tribute to, and revitalise plot threads which had started and ended over years of comics. Almost as soon as one beings, it abruptly ends and the series moves onto the next one. While this definitely allows the series to offer a massive amount of lore and story elements, it can often seem unfocused or over-encumbered by trying to juggle too much.

Regeneration One takes a fair number of issues to really find its footing despite a strong start, but once it does the series remains strong until the end. It's just reading that bit which can be something of a chore, trying to keep up with each development which arises and is then solved every few issues. However, for all these negative points the concluding issues of the series are worth their weight in gold to fans wanting to see the band get back together. With a genuinely surprising twist which works on every level, Furman manages to deliver a grand finale which offers far more closure and action than any prior series. Even then, the final moments of the last issue will stand out to anyone with investment with these characters.

While the heroes win once and for all, victory is bittersweet beyond all belief and knowing that this is the ultimate end to the comics which gave so much to the franchise makes it all the more tearjerking. If you had any investment in the classic characters, the very last moments of this series are worth buying the final issue for on their own.

While the continuity problems and pacing issues might lock out certain readers, Regeneration One manages to be a hit more than it is a miss.  If you're familiar with the Generation One comics, definitely give it a look but otherwise you might want to look at a few series more friendly to new readers, particularly Autocracy

Monday, 25 August 2014

Starship Troopers - A Second Look

Along with Robocop and Total Recall, Starship Troopers is one of the holy trinity of Paul Verhoeven films beloved by fans of satirical science fiction. Very loosely adapted from Robert A. Heinlein's novel of the same name the film none the less took a very different direction, becoming a satire off fascism and modern culture. Perhaps best remembered for its bad tactics, cheesy one-liners and public broadcast interruptions, the film took the best elements found in Robocop and changed the setting. The big difference this time was a far bigger budget, and the target of its mockery. 

Set in the distant future where humanity has a Federation of colonies united under a single banner, they have found themselves locked in conflict with the Arachnids. Nicknamed "Bugs" these creatures have slaughtered multiple colonies and launched strikes against Earth itself, leveling whole cities with asteroids. Out for revenge, humanity launches a major assault against the Bug homeworld in the hopes of wiping out the creatures in a single strike. Violence, parodies and Michael Ironside ensue.

However, while none the less a fantastic film and the last big one to be made by the director, it's also the one of the three which has actually aged the worst. 

Compared with the very tightly written Robocop and Total Recall, the film is surprisingly lengthy and does drag at a number of points during each act. While the training itself proves to be fantastic and battle scenes hold up even today, with CGI which has stood the test of time surprisingly well, each is lumbered with a few distinct points where the film seems to be just spinning its wheels. 

The scenes which come to mind are the areas between action where the film attempts to flesh out the personalities of the main characters, but there's just isn't enough to go on. With Robocop Murphy's history and transformation were more than enough to give the character an edge. Total Recall's Quaid worked by having a fairly generic background thrown into question after some relatively short establishment. With Rico and Carmen though? There's not that much to go on. Rico has had his home state obliterated, but that fact seems to carry surprisingly little weight in the long run. As a result, there's not enough history or substance to either of them to make them truly compelling.

Even ignoring that, the film takes over an hour for the actual invasion of the Bug homeworld to begin, and the basic action before that consists of training exercises. While some action films can pull off lacking any kind of major fight in the opening act, one trying to parody so many traditional action film tropes could have at least better highlighted this issue.

What only furthers this problem of the film being difficult to re-watch is the choice of actors. Those most commonly brought up in the film's favour are Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown, both of who are solid choices for the film's message given their identification in villainous roles. Beyond that though? Many of the actors there were young at the time, with their prior experience being limited to minor roles and bit parts on other series. That inexperience sadly shows and it doesn't work in the film's favour, as they seem to play the subject matter a little too straight faced. The wooden acting and cheesy dialogue is certainly intentional, but once you watch it more than a couple of times it starts to be off-putting. 

However, for all this, these really are the only notable flaws in the entire film. The action is extremely well shot in the style you would expect, with the fights directly after Rico joins the Roughnecks standing out as high points. What's more is that the cheesy dialogue works as well here as it did in past films of a similar style, and the use of irony is in full force here. There's certainly plenty of moments which can be picked out during training to which parallels can be drawn with the likes of Aliens or even human society.

Please understand, this isn't ragging on the film, it's just bringing up a point which seems to have largely been overlooked. Most people who have seen this film and regard it as a cult classic I have personally spoken with have not seen it in years. Often they have watched it once, perhaps twice and that's about it, and upon repeated viewings a few flaws do begin to appear. Please don't get that wrong, it remains a fantastic film and is a true testament to what can be pulled off with the right crew behind it. However, it's also one of those fantastic films which can really only be seen once in all its glory.

If you have not seen it before it's definitely one well worth watching for the same reasons as the aforementioned Verhoeven classics, but just bare in mind it's something of a one hit wonder.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Episode Review)

Given the send off Matt Smith was stuck with last time, concerns were rife with this story. Over the past series Steven Moffat was more miss than hit with his scripts, and this episode was to see a few major changes occur within the show and the character we know. Along with taking a darker path, it needed to set up a new dynamic, and alter the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. At the same time it still leave enough time for a great story and enough familiar elements to prevent the audience being thrown off. Thankfully this one was definitely a hit and, while not quite reaching the high watermark of past stories, it was none the less a solid first outing for the Twelfth Doctor.

Following on from his regeneration on Trenzalore, the Doctor and Clara manage to crash the TARDIS in Victorian London. Despite accidentally ending up inside a dinosaur, they manage to find assistance in the form of Madame Vastra, and yet more danger. Even as the Doctor behaves erratically following his regeneration into a new man, another repeatedly reborn individual walks the city's streets. Determined to find his way to the promised land, he will allow nothing to stand in his way of his ambitions...

Unlike the clumped mess which was Time and the Doctor, this episode is visibly more focused, with many far better decisions made in the creative department. While containing many plot threads, its extended length means it has the time to address them all in turn and gradually allow each one to flourish. Furthermore there's been a definite focus upon dealing with criticisms of past series. Rather than allowing the pointless humour run rampant over the entire story, it's far more toned down than before. There's certainly a great deal of zaniness left in the story but it's far more controlled, remaining an element to compliment the story when needed rather than hijacking the entire tale. So, while this might mean you see the Doctor's new accent being made fun of in one scene, there's no sudden nudity and nothing like the bits with Clara's family from last time.

One thing which is definitely worth complimenting the most is how the story eases the audience into a new theme. While it starts off very much like a Matt Smith style story, there's a definite evolution towards what will become the status quo for Peter Capaldi's era in terms of themes. By the end, the humour has a much darker element and the questions behind the Doctor's new identity are put into focus. Not so much in a "Doctor Who?" way as the beginnings of the Doctor having to understand himself. It's far better handled than with The Eleventh Hour as there's enough familiar elements left over for the audience to accept this rather than completely starting anew. 

The story itself also works surprisingly well as while it's a theme we have seen done before, the tale draws attention to this fact and makes a point of it. The series seems to be stepping away from the more insane fairytale elements of Matt Smith's era somewhat, so it draws inspirations from David Tennant's tenure. This said, it doesn't simply copy and paste everything, showing events playing out in a very different way, with a very different villain, and most of all showing how a very different Doctor deals with it.

Even beyond this, there are some very poignant scenes which add to the mythos quite well. A lengthy conversation between Clara and Vastra is present quite early on, discussing the nature of regenerations and the potential reasons for them. Not just for the Doctor to remain young, but for why he changes into what he is and the reasons for some of his more dramatic shifts. Unlike the last story they were in, Vastra's group also has a great opportunity to shine and they feel far more core to the tale rather than being tacked on. Each has their own individual moment of drama and genuinely funny dialogue. Combine this with a few light nods to past stories (especially certain comments by Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee's regeneration) and it's a solid episode.

The only semi-bad elements I personally found in the story were mostly additional parts. The new opening, now completely abandoning the time vortex or star field themes which have been present since the 60s, looks over-complicated. Similarly the new attempt to set up a mystery seems to slide back into the old problem of a River Song clone, with someone (presumably the new villain) acting sassy, arrogant and cheerful, claiming to be the Doctor's girlfriend.

If you were put off by Time of the Doctor or Series 7, this is the time to get back into the series. While requiring a little bit of prior knowledge, it's a good story and one which is starting off this new era strong. Let's hope we see more of this in the weeks to come.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Founding Fields And Future Work

This is just a short announcement for frequent readers, especially those invested in Black Library works. A few weeks ago The Founding Fields, the place here most of my literature work is posted, ran into a few problems. It's software issues brought on by a new update, but it's preventing future uploads for the time being. As I would rather reserve any major reviews of novels and comics for that website and Starburst Magazine, you might see a dip in literature work until it's sorted out. Things will still be covered periodically, but don't expect anything major. 

In the meantime, i'm also shifting focus away from Warhammer a little. It makes up the vast bulk of this website's content, and it will remain our key focus, but we will be looking into a few new subjects. Perhaps more films or even trying to cover television series in single articles for a change, giving a broad, primarily spoiler free, analysis of certain series. Beyond that, I have a couple of potentially big projects coming up, lengthier pieces than usual, so you'll have those to look forwards to.

Until then, I hope you keep reading and keep enjoying what's produced on here.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Unrealised Failing of Matthew Ward?

As you might know from a previous post, Matthew Ward has left Games Workshop. This was shown when he changed his LinkedIn page recently, and it has now been confirmed by the writer himself that he has no involvement with the company anymore. Instead he seems to be pursuing a career as an author and, in all fairness, his first outing wasn't that bad. It was published under a pseudonym and, in fact, I reviewed the book for Starburst Magazine. While nothing spectacular, and suffering from a few fairly stupid moments, it was none the less buoyed up thanks to some surprising skill when it came to writing through the eyes of others. 

Whatever the quality of his codices, being able to write from a new angle has clearly helped him along with, and let's be honest here, not being beholden to lore written by others. I have said this previously about other authors, Karen Traviss in particular before realising it would do nothing to help her preaching, and sometimes certain writers need to have total control over their setting to produce something decent. You can probably think of a few of these yourself but the point is this might be what he actually needs to start producing quality work. Furthermore, while he has inflicted far too much damage on Warhammer 40,000's setting to be forgiven there, everyone is entitled to at least one chance to start over.

However, this article isn't focusing upon that. Instead it is looking into a certain trend within his writing for Games Workshop which really shows why this may be such a good move for him. It's something few people have partially picked up on, often referencing it without truly understanding what it possibly meant. I myself only realised it thanks to something mentioned by a frequent commenter, grdaat. 
In his comment he spoke about the inherent difference between Ward's Fantasy work and his codices for 40K, specifically citing his Daemons book and possible reasons for Draigo walking around the Warp; claiming that this might be due to Ward thinking the Warp was exactly like the Realms of Chaos in Fantasy. While your mileage may vary upon the quality of his work for both, the more you look at his books elements you realise are carried over from old editions. These are usually around Second Edition or earlier, with every other shred of information being steamrolled or thrown out in the process.

We have seen this plenty of times over just with his recent work. 

The Imperial Fists were suddenly reverted back into their state as proto-Black Templars from decades ago, right down to claiming they were eternally crusading. The few siege warfare elements were kept to bare minimum, often left to rules, and almost being concessions apparently added by other authors. 

The Iron Hands were largely turned back into the army they had been prior to Index Astartes in terms of structure, completely Codex adherent in every way. The end of that supplement's story even featured an in-universe encouragement but its leaders to abandon their traditions. Effectively with the book itself both trying to force the Iron Hands and the players to completely abandon any aspects of the Iron Hands from the Third Edition onward. 

The Ultramarines were the same in Codex: Space Marines, with the whole "they are greater than everyone, all bow before them" attitude being something which had been at its strongest during Second Edition. The following editions, while still Ultramarine focused, had taken considerable efforts to tone down their overt superiority over all.

We even saw this with Codex: Grey Knights where, as mentioned in the last Warhammer related article, elements such as stealing holy blood had been brought back.

All of this keeps coming back to a specific era, one which I believe Ward first started playing Warhammer in. As such, part of me thinks that this was an attempt to pull a kind of One More Day. If you do not know what that is, it was an extremely infamous Spider-Man story where Joe Quesada tried to force the character back to the state he had been in when he was growing up. He claimed the developments were effectively wrong, boring and had taken away from the character, and this was him putting things right. 

Now, i'll freely admit that this is a theory as much as it is anything else. I have no solid backing beyond what has been written in his books and no word from the author himself, yet it does made a degree of sense. However, it's also only one of two theories and the less likely of the two. The other meanwhile is reflected far more in his work, that I think that, rather than doing actual research to keep up with events, Ward opted to cover books with ideas he personally liked or innately knew about. This carried over from one setting to the next, with parallel elements of Fantasy and 40K suddenly using aspects of one another despite their innate differences.

The chief example of this which can be bought up to support this is Codex: Iyanden which, while still badly written, suddenly makes far more sense if you think of the eldar as high elves. The organisation of the Houses, the behaviour of the characters involved, even how the more tragic elements are treated, suddenly make vastly more sense if you view it as a high elf book with all their flaws and cultural elements. They're far more emotional, lack the same gifts of foresight, and often behave in far more human ways than many eldar are depicted as doing so. Back in the review of Codex: Iyanden, many of these were put down to influences from CS Goto, but many have commented that his own novels featured space high elves rather than actual eldar.

An equally similar example is Codex: Necrons, which has obvious Tomb King influences written all over it to the point of having elements directly lifted from them in many places, resembling little to nothing of the old incarnation. Their very relationship with the C'Tan was tweaked until it was more akin to the khemri and Nagash than Star-Spawn and Cthulhu.

Even Draigo and Ward's treatment of the Warp seems to reflect upon this somewhat. As the closest Warhammer Fantasy gets to the actual Warp is the Chaos Wastes (though it is more akin to the Eye of Terror than the true realm of daemons), treating it as a physical location suddenly seems to make a lot of sense.

Ultimately I think that Ward was not willing to put in the effort to truly research his subjects and confirm his knowledge about any of them. From what it looks like, he worked off of what he knew rather than researching their past incarnations and producing something loyal to the army in question. When the time came to work on an army he was unfamiliar with, he instead used a counterpart which was relatively close to them in terms of their role or theme within Fantasy.

It would explain why in so many of his books he repeatedly brings up characters or ideas which have not been focused upon in multiple editions. The High Elves for example saw the return of several old heroes, followed a number of old lore ideas, but opportunities to do something like bring back Eltharion the Blind were passed up.

It would also help to explain a few rather remarkable similarities between his works and certain stories; especially how the entire ending to the Soul Drinkers saga was surreptitiously made impossible and then written in as the ending for Sentinels of Terra's heroes. Well, that and a lot of other Imperial Fists stories which have been made over the years, all of which just happened to focus more upon an adventuring or crusading effort rather than siege warfare.

Again, this is a theory more than something confirmed in any way, built purely upon analysis of this author's books. It could easily be entirely false, but at the same time it would go some way to explaining the difference in quality people see between certain codices and seemingly unnecessary trends which seemingly serve only to destroy an army. I do encourage readers to take a look at this and think about the possibility for themselves as, while I have read many codices, it's entirely possible you will point out something I have missed; either a further point enforcing this or quite possibly something which debunks it entirely.

Whatever the case, I look forwards to reading your comments.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Risen 3: Titan Lords (Video Game Review)

How Risen can remain a successful ongoing franchise is a mystery. While the first instalment was entertaining in its own way, its sequel was a buggy, ludicrously written mess of a title which rivalled Two Worlds at times. Yet here we are with an unwanted threequel. Sadly, if you weren’t impressed by previous outings, you’re not going to like this one either.

Following on from Risen 2, the game sees the land abandoned by the gods and ravaged by the Titan Lords, and to cap it all a new threat is arising from the shadows. A lone warrior, stripped of his soul by this mysterious force, may be the only hope of stopping it before all is lost.

Monday, 18 August 2014

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights Needs

Well, you all knew this one was coming. To find the worst written codex in Warhammer 40,000, you have to did pretty damn greedily and deeply not to settle on Codex: Grey Knights. Upon release the book was repeatedly slammed by critics and veterans alike for its poor quality, and it deserved every word it got. 

While some codices are woefully over-powered, others destroy the identity of the very army the book is suppose to promote, and more suffer from being a vehicle to push Games Workshop's latest mega models, Codex: Grey Knights somehow accomplished all of the above. With retconned lore so infamously bad that it made the Horus Heresy impossible, and tabletop rules so power driven items could disable entire armies, it has been remembered as a bastardisation of an Inquisitorial codex which desperately needed an update. At best the book was a sign that Games Workshop did not have a clue about what they were supposed to be doing with their armies, and of just how far their standards had fallen. At worst, that they had dropped all pretenses, turning armies into Saturday morning cartoons to milk cash from a young demographic.

It would be easy to bring up just one point about this book which could justify tossing away everything and starting from scratch. However, with leaked images already showing Games Workshop showing that they will be sticking to their guns and pushing out yet another space marine codex, here's some of the big alterations they need to make. The massive changes they need to do in order to make this book retain any sign of quality again. Here's five changes 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights needs.

5 - Less Space Marines

Let's be blunt here: Warhammer has far too many astartes. I personally love the giant pauldron clad Templar space psychopaths as much as the next person. There's really no chapter which I don't like at least one interpretation of, but things have gone way too far of late. Even with the Black Templars being rolled into the current Codex: Space Marines, a little under a third of all major rulebooks are devoted to various chapters. Even when you get into Dataslates, ignore Chaos entirely, and add Supplements they still make up an insane portion of the game. Ultimately ditching Daemonhunters to almost exclusively focus upon another space marine chapter, to the point of re-naming the book, was a big mistake. 

Along with diminishing the the variety within the game (sad as it might be that yet another non-marine Imperial faction can be considered a step towards variety) there are a lot of problems which come up with having an entire army based around the Grey Knights. 

Let's look at the lore first of all. This is a chapter charged with responding to the worst daemonic incursions across the entire Imperium of Man, from Terra itself to the outermost fringes of the Halo Stars. Even ignoring the retcon which arbitrarily reduced the chapter to a third of its strength, and counting the Exorcists, four thousand astartes is not enough for this. They are stretched thin as it is and cannot afford to throw entire companies at minor targets. While there are certainly those who deserve such a response, they are special situations.

It instead makes far more sense for the Grey Knights to operate in a manner similar to the Deathwatch, with small teams or a handful of squads working at a time, augmenting Tempestus or Stormtrooper forces. This allows them to respond to wider threats and have fodder to soak up the worst damage, limiting the already great risk the Grey Knights face. Better to have someone else focus upon the secondary targets while they storm the leaders after all.

On the tabletop, purely Grey Knight armies are at risk of being made useless or turning into a "I beat everything" battering ram. We saw the former in Daemonhunters armies, where they were overpriced for what they were worth and failed to truly balance out as an effective unit as editions went by. We have seen the latter in Codex: Grey Knights since the beginning, with some of the worst cases of outright broken rules I have ever seen. Given the skill behind these books, the army and the history behind them, I honestly don't think they can be trusted to create a truly balanced army based purely around this chapter. To put it bluntly: To avoid the mistakes of the past, this needs to be made a full Inquisition book, Stormtroopers and all.

Now, some of you are likely already arguing that the allies list makes a combined force codex irrelevant. Well, if you don't remember Daemonhunters (and Witch Hunters for that matter) did the exact same thing, with their Inquisitors capable of taking forces from other armies, and in many respects I think it did it better. Rather than just slapping two forces together, there was more ambition behind it with special rules and certain issues arising from forces being combined. 

There was more thought put into how they would operate, the balance issues with taking certain forces over others along with certain limitations, and there was more of a push to integrate lore into the rules. It's not like this hasn't been done better since then either, the Tyrant's Legion list from the Imperial Armour books is a great example of how special rules can be used to fully combine armies into a single force. Not simply tack on certain units and claim they are now a single force, something even Codex: Grey Knights suffers with anything besides the astartes themselves. Honestly, the Inquisitorial Warbands read as if they belong in an entirely different book or were added at the last minute as a minor reinforcing army, not the people commanding the Grey Knights.

The only thing Warhammer 40,000 will lose from turning this back into an Inquisitorial book is some over-saturation of one type of army.

4 - Damn The Codex, Defend The Galaxy

This is something briefly mentioned in the last section, but it really deserves full focus here, primarily as it really reinforces the book's biggest problems. Back before being defiled by a game designer without any right to be let anywhere near a keyboard, the Grey Knights were numbered around three thousand. This was something largely cemented in Ben Counter's Grey Knights trilogy and it stuck, as did the presentation there. 

The idea was that the Grey Knights would be trying to maintain numbers to answer as many threats at once. Even with their strenuous training methods, insanely high fatality rates among initiates and facing down desperate odds, they were recruiting from across the entire Imperium, so this only made sense. Most depictions of the chapter followed that series and how they were used on the tabletop, with small strike forces being deployed at any time and assembled for questing missions.

Then we got Codex: Grey Knights and this promptly went to hell. "What's that?" Ward asked "The greatest chapter doesn't adhere to the Codex Astartes, well we can't have that!" All of a sudden their numbers were drastically cut down, the Brotherhoods were introduced with extreme emphasis placed upon the captain, and the entire army had been reworked to resemble a Codex Chapter. This would be bad enough if it happened to a group like the Space Wolves or the Black Templars, but doing this to the Grey Knights really makes no sense at all.

Without repeating the reasons already stated, let's consider the role of authority within the chapter. Previously the presence of Brother-Captains within the chapter was something rarely focused upon in stories. While the likes of the First War for Armageddon, Captain Stern and a few others did show figures of a rank higher than Justicar, they were treated more as champions of the chapter rather than true leaders. The actual decision making and leadership usually came down to the Inquisition itself because, and this needs to be made clear, the chapter is not independent. Unlike those who use the Codex Astartes as a guiding principle, the chapter was not largely autonomous and answered directly to another Imperial organisation.

While the chapter did indeed have companies, what was covered suggested that these were more loose-linked forces who were only deployed at full strength on very dire circumstances. Even then, the few who were not scrambled together out of various individual units were those with specialist equipment or the chapter's elite; the foremost example of this being when their entire force of Terminators were deployed on Armageddon.

There really is no reason for the chapter to be structured as it is now, and at best it's a pointless addition which wastes opportunities to try new things with the army. 

3 - Less Power, More Tactics

To be completely honest, this is a problem which is directed as much at how the errata will be handled as the codex itself. As the opening stated, I don't hold the book in very high regard when it comes to the tabletop; in fact the one time I did play a friend's army I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. There was no subtlety to anything, no depth or risk management to be made, nothing which really stood out as requiring real skill in a game. So long as a player was remotely competent when it came to designing an army list, timed his attacks right, and was not utterly ruined by the dice, the army was effectively unstoppable. Please don't get me wrong, they could be beaten by experienced players who knew what they were doing, but point for point the Grey Knights could just steamroll everything in sight.

Just consider for a moment what the codex actually had: 

  • Units which hit at strength ten in close combat against certain enemies (often with multiple attacks).
  • Relatively cheap unit choices which could immediately kill anything which took them down in melee.
  • Cheaper and faster versions of Dreadnoughts with better weapons.
  • Basic infantry with +1 Strength, force weapons and storm bolters, making them capable of reaming infantry and Monstrous Creatures alike. The Paladins then promptly took this to the next level, abusing wound allocations, gaining better firepower, melee capability and resilience for slightly slower speeds.
  • Land Raiders with wings, with all the problems and issues they caused for the Blood Angels book.
  • The ultimate transport poppers, with Razorbacks shredding any other APCs or light armour which had the misfortune to get within their range. This is to say nothing of the Mortis Dreadnought version of this, which could happily butcher most of a tank battalion by itself.
  • Kaldor Draigo, Mr "He can make it happen", who Ward proudly described with this little statement: '"Lord Kaldor Draigo is a combat monster - there's no other way to describe him. He's lethal against non-daemonic foes, with plenty of Strength 5 force weapon attacks to lay a beat down. When faced with hated Daemons, his Titansword becomes Strength 10, ensuring a pretty one-sided fight in his favour. Even if his enemy survives, Draigo's storm shield is sure to keep him fighting. And on top of all of this, Draigo is a Grand Master, able to bestow extra abilities on his allies. Want your Dreadknight to capture objectives? Draigo can make that happen. Want a Scouting screen of Dreadnaughts? Draigo can make it happen. He's the best possible way to keep your opponent on his toes."

Any one of these would have been bad enough, but what we got here was the author effectively cherry picking game breaking elements from any codex which could be found. Think for a moment as you consider this. Brotherhood Champions suddenly gained a variation of Lukas the Trickster's infamous ability, something unique to him. Grey Knights HQ choices suddenly gained a variation of Creed's scouting abilities. A previously derided vehicle which was thought to be a broken joke in Codex: Blood Angels is not only added, but given a minor upgrade. 

When you truly stop and go through it, you realise the codex pulled an Electronic Arts, taking a bit of every worst decision made by someone else and using them all at once. This isn't to say the book didn't create entirely new problems, there were many, but there are so many ones here which are not only game breakers but game breakers from other work. It's that sheer level of ballsy determination to look at what was abusive in previous books, and directly translate it to here that makes this codex deserve a special place in hell.

This would have been bad just to start with, but then came the errata confirming certain rules and to balance out the book. Or, at least, that's what an errata is supposed to do. As with any book Ward likes it's used as little more than an excuse to beef up the book and increase its power. 

This was no different with Codex: Necrons and Codex: Blood Angels where everything was resolved in their favour, but what we had here really was just astonishing. Some of the more notable problems the book caused was suddenly allowing Paladin Terminators to use Imperial Guard Chimeras as transports (thus bypassing their usual mobility problems or the costs involved with Land Raiders) and the Ulumeathi Plasma Syphon. Oh sweet heaven, the Plasma Syphon.

The item is infamous for not only shutting down the one glaring weakness of the Grey Knights army, but making it impossible for Tau Empire players to win against an army carrying with one. The item reduced the wielder any plasma weapon within "12 of the model carrying it into BS1, ensuring they could never hit them. This would be bad, but apparently Ward got word of how a few players were using his rather sketchy descriptions to have it affect anything plasma related. 

All of a suddenly anything remotely plasma related, in lore and on the table, was affected by this weapon. Starcannons, Bio-Plasma, Disintegration, and almost the entire Tau Empire's armory. So, now Grey Knights players were inventing ways to catapult an Inquisitor carrying this thing into tau lines on the opening turn, rendering their main advantage unusable, and promptly massacring them in combat. Given his already apparent dislike for the army (to the point of having them repeatedly massacred in events such as the Zeist Campaign), and the fact he pulled something similar against daemons, makes it clear this was entirely intentional.

Some claim that this was all written with the next edition in mind as things became better there. True enough, they became somewhat better balanced but the overriding problems still remained and the book gained entirely new ones. What little credit the author might have been given is instantly swept away the second you realise the rules he helped write (and this was the same for several other codices) allowed for a 2,000 to legally take six Stormravens. A list which was not only borderline unstoppable, but even now one which can only be beaten by specifically tailored counter-lists, usually from very specific armies. There were some worse offenders to be sure when it came to power gaming, but they at least required some actual thought and cunning to put together truly nasty lists.

Now, I know that this has been more a general outline of flaws rather than any explanation of how to fix them. However, just how badly screwed up this book was really needed to be hammered in to people trying to defend this book. The bar has been set so low here that effectively anything would be an improvement by this point, and just making players think which unit they need to attack and kill something would be an upgrade. The army really is so badly made that they would do better to just scrap everything and start over. 

2 - Hold The Line Against The Night

One thing which all previous lore emphasised were that the Grey Knights were often the first and last line of defence the Imperium had against daemonic forces. While astartes, Imperial Guard and the Inquisition could normally hold their own against certain forces, the Grey Knights were the specialists. They were the ones sent in against the worst the Warp could throw at them, with an insane level of training, self discipline and wielding some of the best weapons ever produced by the Imperium. They're also almost constantly outgunned.

While the Grey Knights will happily shred their way through Bloodletters, Flamers, Horrors and the like, they are the ones expected to banish the most dangerous creatures, and for all their skill they are fighting an uphill battle. When they do win, it is usually at considerable cost or thanks to sheer grit, preparation, luck and determination on their part. Every story by a competent author has prominently focused upon this aspect. The Emperor's Gift, the entire Grey Knights trilogy, even Mortarion's Heart, all keep this as a key focus at every turn. The Grey Knights are the elite, they are great and they do deserve their position as daemonhunters, but it's hardly a role the pay for without effort nor bloodshed.

Ward apparently wasn't fond of this as the Codex: Grey Knights went from being a force who wins through careful timing, detailed planning and often wins by the skin of their teeth, to astartes super saiyans. Everything was immediately turned up to eleven, with the Grey Knights presented as relentlessly pimp slapping about Cthulhu and his friends at every turn and rarely taking any real losses. The few times they did, the book used it merely as an excuse to have them win even harder against that foe. The roles had suddenly been reversed, with the Grey Knights now merely powering through any daemon they encountered and their foes barely being capable of slowing them down.

This doesn't work for obvious reasons, as the whole idea behind the setting was that the Imperium has been fighting a losing battle. It's on the brink of destruction, facing unstoppable does from every angle and Chaos itself is only a force which can be beaten back, never halted. Even when it is stopped, it still leaves naught but annihilation and corruption in its wake, with the Imperium performing horrific acts just to stop it spreading further. Now we have a force of demi-primarchs racing about the galaxy one-shotting Bloodthirsters, easily crushing any force they run into. Their entire role has been reversed, with the underdogs now being the daemonic forces in this codex while the Grey Knights are the overpowering nightmare beings who can single-handedly massacre them by the hundreds.

The most basic identity the chapter had reflecting the doomed nature of the universe is gone, and the new one Ward tries to reinforce just doesn't work. Even if you do completely ignore the past incarnation it doesn't fit in with the setting, and it's so self-contradictory that there is no solid identity behind the army. 

Just for starters, the Grey Knights here were being shown in an overly heroic light, one more like superheroes or figures from far less grim settings. Okay, this might be completely out of place and ignoring the fact Games Workshop previously tried and failed to do this with another faction (Codex: Tau for those interested) but fair enough. It doesn't fit with the setting in the slightest nor does it make sense with the organisation it is supposed to be attached to. Fine, let's just say for the sake of argument that this was their main theme and it had no problems attached.

The issue instead becomes how this is depicted. Their only claim to being "heroic" is repeatedly beating down a foe they can push back with apparent ease, and little else. There's no apparent effort in any of their victories, their few potential losses are forced to say the least and many of their actions come across as hypocrites. Despite supposedly being better than daemons and heretics, they continually stoop to the same level as them. The Grey Knights repeatedly perform acts of heresy, actively support heretical Inquisitors using daemons, have no problems using xenos technology and will make pacts with the Imperium's foes whenever it suits them. Whereas the old Grey Knights were staunchly puritanical (something justified by their powers being boosted by an almost religious faith), what we have here is an army claiming to be the ultimate good but doing almost the exact same things as the heretics they fight.

Things only become worse as the codex goes on as Ward tries to lift elements of the old chapter and use them here, often very dark ideas. These fitted the old chapter, but they clash horribly with this new incarnation and many acts come completely out of left field. To make matters worse, many seem to have been lifted without the author actually understanding why they worked in the first place. 

Just to cite one idea which was carried over, the original Grey Knights back in the early editions were very morally grey indeed. One famous illustration featured them draining a priest of his blood for use against Chaos. This worked because they were far more morally grey and were shown to frequently perform questionable acts, and what's more is that this was done as some clandestine action out of necessity. While they were resistant to the effects of Chaos, they were not totally immune and required every edge they could get to fight back against the Ruinous Powers without resorting to heresy. Just what this blood was needed for was left vague, but the idea of it was enough to really show the chapter in a grim light.

Ward opted to bring this back in a rather infamous moment involving the Adeptus Sororitas. On the world of Van Horne, daemons use a corrupted nanomachine entity known as the Bloodtide to overrun the world, but a contingent of the Sisters of Battle still hold out. With their faith protecting them they are holding the daemons at bay and actually doing a good job. The Grey Knights then show up, kill all of the Sororitas, use their blood to make themselves immune to any corrupting effects, banish all the daemons and leave. 
Chief problem here? Not only are the Grey Knights completely immune to Chaos thanks to some new lore involving their gene-seed, but they have such a vast arsenal of weapons against Chaos there is no reason for this. Also, I wasn't aware faith based protection could be passed on via blood transfusion. It's effectively only present to get the Sororitas killed and because the old books did it, with no understanding of why it was originally there of the context.

This only gets worse and worse as you go through the book, and to accept even one aspect of the new Grey Knights, you need to ignore two or three other completely contradictory elements. Even then, the new incarnation is downright boring in their sheer invincibility, with their forces overblown to the point where even a traitor primarch is not a credible threat to them. There is no careful plan here, no simple idea the book worked off of to make its concept effective and it simply fails to fit in thematically with the universe.

If the next codex is to be successful in any way, it needs to bring back the desperation behind the Grey Knights' mission. It needs to emphasise that they are David taking on Goliath, and that they are still fighting a desperate battle at every turn. It doesn't need to turn the astartes into beings with power just shy of the average kryptonian, turn them into a superheroes or feature them endlessly beating Chaos with no casualties. What it needs to do is show just how grim, just how dark and just how seemingly hopeless the war they are fighting truly is,what they have been forced to do in order to maintain their victories and stave off destruction for ten thousand years.

1 - Ignore The Last Codex Entirely

No, believe it or not, Kaldor Draigo does not make up the biggest thing they need to ditch. Instead it's the entire codex.

In complete honesty this was a point I was desperately trying to avoid, but there's no denying it. On a mechanical level the codex is a bad joke, and in terms of lore? It deserves every mocking comment the book has ever been given. The plot holes are the size of the Eye of Terror, the new lore makes no sense, the favouritism on display is obvious and quite frankly the book is just badly written. The large moments involve, well, Draigo's antics, and the small ones feature such baffling events as the Grey Knights pillaging several hundred terminator suits from multiple loyalist chapters for their own needs. Were this any other armybook or codex, I would personally not be saying this, but in all honesty there is just no saving this one.

Now, please do not misinterpretation this: This does not mean that the new canon should be completely jettisoned from the game. There are good bits and pieces present, but all of them have been written by other authors desperately trying to get things back on track and repair the damage the book caused. Rather than looking into this codex on how the chapter operates, the new authors should be reading The Emperor's Gift and the short story Witness. Rather than reading about how the characters behave here, the writers should be looking at Pandorax, Mortarion's Heart and The Ghost Halls. You know, books which actually defined the heroes by more than just some unique superpower or what Chaos God they'd nutted to death that morning.

There is good here when it comes to the new lore, but almost all of it has come from authors far better than Ward. Just about all of them either completely re-wrote events from the codex to actually make sense or thematically stuck with what the old version of this army had been going for. Their morally questionable actions, their role within the Inquisition, their victories against Chaos, all are much better handled in the works Black Library produced about the chapter than the main book itself. While I personally still advocate using the Grey Knights Omnibus as a baseline for the new book and re-retconning a lot of old ideas back into existence, if they are determined to stick with this then they need to look at the novels for guidance.

So those are the five changes the 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights needs. I'm certain quite a few people are going to disagree with this list but, honestly, i'm sticking to it. If you have your own thoughts or opinions you want to deliver please leave them in the comments section.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Index Xenology: The Silent Wardens

Okay, this is mostly filler content, but it's filler content with some reason behind it. As readers might know, i've written a few backgrounds and army lore in the past for fan-made chapters, a couple of examples are on this blog. The ones specifically on here are mostly an attempt to show how things could go differently if Games Workshop cared or put some real effort into its more notably failed books. Well, something which occurred to me was the problems with their length.

Let's face it, most armies outside the space marines don't get all that much time devoted to their lore. Even the astartes' chapters (beyond the big names) themselves are often woefully underdeveloped, and will only get a page or two to explore their themes. As such, this is an example of how things could still work if they were given a brief article in White Dwarf or just a few hundred pages. It's much briefer than the others, but it contains enough information to build an army off of and has a few interesting hints of their methods to help draw in fans. Small suggestions which could allow people to build off of it and create their own interpretation somehow. Anyway, enjoy.

Name: 721st T’au “Silent Wardens” Hunter Cadre 
Leader (Shas’El): Ke’lshan Or’i Shi’ur
Garrison Location: The Zone of Silence
Favoured Enemy: Tyranids
Battle Cry: “Remember Sha'draig!”
Strength: 522 founding Fire Caste Warriors, unknown number of support personnel. 

History: For rulers of the Tau Empire, the decimation left in the wake of Hive Fleet Gorgon was a warning, the first telling of how nightmarish the galaxy they sought to conquer truly was. While the Damocles Gulf Crusade had proven the Imperium had pushed the Tau to the brink of defeat, the Tyranid invasion had been the stuff of the mont’au itself. They had faced a ravening army without number, a domineering hive mind incapable of negotiation, and an entity whose hunger was without end. With naught but barren husks of planets left in its wake, the Hive Fleet had eclipsed even the bloody Ork onslaught and left almost a tenth of the Empire in ruin. 

Even in victory, the Aun could ill afford to ignore the potential for such an enemy returning or how ill equipped the Fire Caste were to face them. To this end the Empire initiated several programs, the first being the deployment of the 721st among the worlds crawling with the remnants of Gorgon’s legions. Bolstered by veterans who had witnessed the heavy fighting against the Tyranids throughout the Ke’lshan Sept and the Empire’s trade partners, their task was simple: Hunt down the remaining Tyranid bio-forms left among the consumed planets, learn their weaknesses, and watch for the coming of a second Hive Fleet.

Deploying as small recon units across the dozen systems throughout the Zone of Silence, the 721st has maintained vigil for almost a decade. Striking and withdrawing among the decaying ecosystems of warrior broods across many worlds, their members share understanding of the Tyranids few Fire Warriors can match. With entirely new doctrines, tactics and methods developed from their combat telemetry and teachings, the cadre has proven invaluable to the Empire. Their very battle cry serves as a reminder that the Tyranids can be beaten; referencing the pyrrhic victory on Ke’lshan’s outlying colony and reminding its warriors to never allow such an atrocity to occur again.

Organisation: Structured in a very different manner to the Empire’s military caste, 721st is not drawn from a single Sept. While originally founded on T’au, its members have since been gathered from across the Empire. So best to benefit from their knowledge combating the Tyranids, squads of Fire Warriors are selectively sent on brief tours of duty within the Zone. After several successful combat operations against the aliens, these soldiers are then returned to their original cadres to pass on their knowledge and experience. As a result of these methods, the 721st is host to an abundance of Fire Warrior and Pathfinder teams at any given time, often supported by a small number of XV8 units. Heavier armour such as Hammerhead Gunships and XV88 battlesuits are meanwhile held in reserve, rarely being deployed beyond the direst situations.

Only a handful of true veterans remain permanently attached to the 721st, largely consisting of those who fought against Gorgon’s original incursions. This has presented a great problem for the unit as between old wounds and their race’s short lifespan; many are fast approaching the age where they will no longer be combat effective. Combined with Shi’ur’s unwillingness to accept others into his command group without significant experience fighting sizable Tyranid incursions, it’s unlikely the cadre will retain any veterans within the next six tau’cyr. Despite this, their lifelong experience is what has allowed the cadre to remain so effective, utilising unconventional tactics which often go completely against Fire Caste doctrine yet remain key to defeating swarms.

Despite its unusually large size no auxiliaries, even those as trusted as the vespid, can be found within the cadre. Instead aliens are largely held in reserve or tasked with supporting roles, guarding the space stations orbiting infested planets and serving as xenologists. The latter group in particular is noted to consist of a large number of Imperial defectors of major organisations, with Ordo Xenos personnel and Biologis experts tasked with mapping the evolution of the Tyranid genome.

Combat Doctrine: Often favouring the Mont’ka, the strike teams of the 721st are well versed in the Fire Caste’s way of war. Using their military’s legendary mobility, speed and tactical co-ordination, small teams led by a Shas’nel or Shas’vre are tasked with launching precision attacks to wipe out tyranid groups and retrieve newly evolved bio-forms for study. Such controlled short term operations are excellent for acclimatising fresh troops to fighting Tyranids, and testing the effectiveness of experimental weaponry against the hyper-evolved monstrosities.

Between deployments, the cadre’s network of orbital facilities are tasked with keeping track of swarm movements and ideal training situations. Along with this however, the crews maintain watch for specific bio-forms emerging among the swarms. The Great Devourer’s use of synapse creatures to control swarms is well documented, and allowing one to evolve on a world would mean turning an uncoordinated mass of predators into a directed swarm. Worse still, should an especially powerful creature come into being it could draw a second Hive Fleet towards the Empire.

This has occurred several times over the years, with the hard learned lessons of each onslaught only serving to strengthen the cadre’s resolve. During these times the full might of the 721st will be levelled against a world and the Tau will forego their usual tactics. Rather than the rapid strikes and blitzkrieg assaults their military is known for, the cadre instead adopts static defensive lines and concentrated firepower. While this completely opposes the Tau way of war, it has none the less proven to be undeniably effective at countering their swarm tactics.

Such speciality comes at a price however, and against other foes the 721st has been far less effective at combatting the other forces which prowl the Zone of Silence. Eldar and Ork pirates seeking to use the Tyranids as war beasts have both been fought, and each time the cadre has taken far heavier casualties than expected of such a decorated force.