Tuesday, 27 January 2015

War, The Game (Video Game Review)

On the front page of its website, GabberGames promised a title which “puts the strategy back into RTS.” With no story, scripting, fog of war or distractions, this was one which was intended purely to stand up on its mechanical value, and for the most part the developers have accomplished this. Playing out as a game similar to a real time version of Risk, the experience of playing War, the Game can be best described as frustratingly rewarding. In a manner akin to Dark Souls or some of the more sadistic Kaizo Mario creations, the core mechanics remain easy to truly understand and commands easy to issue, yet the difficulty curve is staggering at times. You can repeatedly lose over and over again, yet there is an ever present compulsion to continue and win.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Resident Evil HD Remaster (Video Game Review)

Based upon the Gamecube remake of the release that kick-started an entire franchise, Resident Evil HD Remaster is everything Evil Within should have been. Retaining the daft B-movie plot and slow, methodical gameplay as you face down the shambling hordes of the undead, it doesn’t take long to realise that a minor graphical upgrade was all that this ever needed.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Assassin's Creed Unity - Dead Kings (Video Game DLC Review)

Of all the releases in this franchise, Assassin’s Creed Unity is by far one of the most controversial. Released in a barely working state, removing the ship combat which had been so popular in its past games and accused of demonising the French Revolution, things were not off to a good start. Sadly the first DLC, Dead Kings, fails to be the hit which fans might have wanted to turn things about for Unity.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

6 Warhammer 40,000 Xenos Factions Who Need Their Own Codex

Well, this is going to get some interesting reactions from people.

Even just looking at a list of the armies currently supported by Games Workshop, the average player will notice an unfortunate trend: The Imperium makes up roughly half the armies in the game. Even discounting the Space Marines, everything from the new Imperial Knights to the severely under-powered Sororitas count as their own individual armies.

Now to top all of this off we yet again have rumours of a full Mechanicum army potentially in the works, with all the gimmicks and firepower you would expect. It's an old rumour, repeated many times, but it's one which has been cropping up more and more lately. Now, in the interests of fairness it's a cool army with plenty of good lore, a justified massive military force, and one which would have good reasons to occasionally fight even other humans. Also in the interests of fairness though, it would be yet another Imperial army to add to the mix of an already over-saturated game. 
So, rather than giving the Imperium one more army to play with, or some Chaos variant of it, what about the many aliens who keep getting overlooked? Here's a short list of six factions, races and sub-sets of the universe who could offer a unique spin on things.

6. Tau Empire Auxiliaries

This is a blindingly obvious one and it remains astounding to this day that Games Workshop has offered so little support to this idea. Of all the factions present in modern 40K, what makes the Tau Empire truly unique is its variety. Rather than just being one race or a handful of survivors, they are a massive cluster of united species growing in strength over time. We have seen this with the main army itself, with constant mentions of the Gue'vesa, and the presence of kroot, vespid and various mercenaries allied or joined with the Empire. Honestly, if you count the idea of Gue'vesa manning Hammerheads or the like, kroot as troops and vespid as fast attack, there's already the starting point for a legitimate army in play here.

There's already enough of a framework here in terms of models to justify a new army, but imagine for a moment this was taken a step further. Imagine for a moment that the army itself took time to actually focus upon the minor races mentioned in the codex or otherwise ignored within the greater scheme of things. The codex lists a multitude of minor races who fulfill a variety of roles, and we've seen even more present in other books, especially Battlefleet Gothic. These have ranged from spider-like creatures to stand-ins for the Yeerks (hats off to anyone who gets that reference) and even a race of potentially psionic beings skilled at void faring. Any one of these could easily be adapted to a battlefield role in some way, with many being noted to carry out the role of light infantry or garrisons among the Empire's armies.

The variety of aliens on hand means they would be able to fulfill niche roles in a manner akin to the Craftworld Eldar and even cover areas which were missed in the main book. No psychics among the Fire Caste? Not a problem, the Empire itself is noted to have multiple psychic races and psykers in its employ, despite what Codex: Farsight Enclaves might claim. They wouldn't be limited purely to what was on offer in Codex: Tau Empire and many could bring a variety of unique and different vehicles, weapons and ideas into play. 

This is also before getting to an obvious point: With so many aliens on offer there is the opportunity for players to create their own races. Perhaps by adding a generator similar the stuff we used to see in fanatic or even the old Chapter Trait rules, players could be coerced to add a bit of individuality to their own forces. Just that little bit of a personal touch to make the army their's rather than the kind we've been getting over past years involving re-painting characters.

This is also before getting to the lore. Codex: Tau Empire had a starting point on many of these races, noting their role or even early interactions with tau emissaries, but it was just a start. If this was written with the page-count of a full codex, even a small one like that given to the Imperial Knights, it would be more than enough to fully expand upon them. Perhaps each would gain a page or two to expand upon their histories, role within the empire or even battlefield mentalities. Then there's the role of the army itself, which could emphasise how they exist within the Empire or coincide with the Fire Caste. Perhaps it could even outline the role they could play as a vanguard force, acting as bodyguards to emissaries trying to introduce new worlds into the Empire and show some form of unity.

There is a truly massive wealth of ideas and knowledge present here, and it's more than enough to build a new book off of. Let's just hope that Games Workshop realises that one day.

5. The Empire of the Severed

In past reviews, you might have noticed i've been especially hard on the remade necrons, often criticising many points when it came to their new direction and aspects. While I do personally stand by many of those points, especially the eldar comparison, i'm not about to say the army had no potential. The big problem more than anything else came from a lack of skill on the part of its writer and the complete unwillingness to retain anything of the old interpretation of the army. Fall of Orpheus has corrected that latter point somewhat, but prior to that we had The Empire of the Severed. 

While barely focused upon in the book save for some brief info, the Empire was originally seen as a token effort to appease fans, with some mixed results. While it was definitely mis-aimed in that regard and really failed to understand what many jaded players had a problem with, the Empire itself has a great deal of potential behind it. The idea is effectively that, while slumbering, a Tomb World suffered catastrophic damage which wiped the minds of those within and damaged the master computer. Now known as the Sarkoni Emperor, the computer began to send out warriors under its control to enforce its will upon as many worlds as possible.

While not an opportunity to return to the Cthulhu style Lovecraftian horror of old books, it does none the less provide a few interesting concepts. Consider that the Sarkoni Emperor has no real value for the individual necrons, uses them as nothing but tools and weapons to help enforce its will further. It would be far more willing to mutilate and alter the bodies of its warriors into the weapons it needed and morph them into outright abominations when needed. Imagine it for a moment, siege weapons formed of the compacted, crushed and compressed bodies of countless necron warriors, wired to work as a single entity. Imagine new airborne units formed out of the galvanized bodies of Destroyers and Tomb Spyders, or even what sort of intentional terror weapons they might use to bring "order" to new worlds. And this is just what new units and models could be made by building upon the old ones.

There's also the idea of the army working to conquer and subjugate other worlds and species via the use of mindshackle scarabs which is particularly interesting. Now, on the one hand a writer could easily make this go wrong by having this be a poor Borg copy in many regards. On the other, it could be taken in a very different way if it were used to bring back certain ideas or take other influences. 
One of the big things a few players took issue with was the removal of Pariahs from the book. While never the most popular unit, people liked the idea and designs behind them enough to warrant some fondness. If the Sarkoni Emperor ended up in a war against Chaos or Warp entities, it would fit with its chilling intelligence to seek out and take blanks or the like for its own armies. Perhaps crafting them into generals or leaders of a very different kind. Perhaps this could also be taken to the other extreme, if it took psykers as weapons and used them to rip open reality in battle, heedless of what it would unleash.

Then of course we have the point of how the lore could be presented to the reader. Some of the most effective Necron lore has been depictions through the eyes of their enemies, written in a manner reminiscent of horror stories and data extracts. It adds a layer of the unknown, of unfamiliarity to the army, and would help to hit home just how different, just how wrong the Emperor's existence might be.

Whatever the case, there's clear potential for a true army here, one both returning to an older idea while trying something new.

4. Squats

Click here to view artwork

Yes, the Squats are on this list and really, after the Sixth Edition, why not? After so many years of giving them the non-person treatment, Games Workshop finally acknowledged that they were once part of the universe and hasn't changed their fate. As such there's still ten thousand years of history to work with when it comes to them, and many of the problems which caused them to be unpopular to arguably ill fitting with the setting could be easily remedied with a new spin on things. Also, yes, they're subhumans but they're the only one not rolled into the Astra Militarum Imperial Guard and occasionally treated as a separate species.

As daft as their old designs and look might have been, that was back in an era where just about everything emulated that same neon cartoonishly grimdark look. Space marines were more ape-like than their current selves, eldar were even more multicoloured than their modern selves and the guns were so huge that the venerable bolter looked tame by comparison. If you want a good example of how much things have changed, compare the old Imperial Knights with their modern redesign in recent years. There would be nothing to stop Games Workshop just throwing away the aesthetic they didn't think worked or radically altering them, perhaps as much for the army as a whole as its look.

One of the chief attempts to bring back the idea of Squats was via the Demiurg, a Tau Empire allied race of short miners who operated in brotherhoods. Unfortunately they were sadly sidelined and overlooked beyond Battlefleet Gothic and a couple of mentions in Xenology. This said those same ideas could easily be re-worked into this to some degree. Perhaps here the Squats could keep the nomadic idea, one of constantly being on the move rather than chained down to a handful of worlds and avoiding direct fighting. Perhaps many of their weapons and armour could be reverse-engineered mining equipment to give them a unique aesthetic. Beyond the obvious use of mining lasers, the armies themselves could consist of small numbers of actual Squats, augmented by countless drones and controlled purely mechanical units. It's territory which other armies have touched upon (Tau sniper teams etc) but never built an entire army out of.

That could be enough to start building the army in terms of giving them a more individual spin on things. In terms of lore though, the main priority would just really need to be emulating certain aspects of dwarves without going full bore into the Fantasy interpretation. As this was the problem which had them removed in the first place, and the whole "tradition, honour, grudges" angle has been absorbed into the average Space Marine chapter, focusing upon their role as miners and mechanics would be a better direction. If they were quietly invading Imperial space, that and their use of massed mechanical units would be enough of a reason to keep them separate from the Imperium. Humanity could see them as a slowly invading force and they could easily be set up as having a lengthy enmity with the Mechanicum, which would allow them to remain truly individual. What's more is that if they were mining precious metals from within humanity's realm and selling it to xenos races, there would be definite storytelling potential behind their activities.

If this sounds a little more general than the previous ones, that's primarily because of what would be required to truly incorporate past ideas and interpretations. That said though, there's still enough potential and infamy behind the army to at least consider resurrecting them.

3. Rak'Gol

Of all those on this list, this is certainly going to be the one few mainstream 40K fans will have heard of. Having originated from the Rogue Trader RPG, the Rak'Gol are a surprisingly well fleshed out and creepy background race. If you want the full details they can be found here, but the short version is that they are a highly advanced race of psychotic marauders. Having recently emerged from the Halo Stars, the aliens have emerged indiscriminately killing all they see before retreating once again, their warriors appearing as horrifically warped and altered sub-species of their kind.

Now, already many will be pointing out the obvious: This sounds a lot like the Dark Eldar. Both the pirate, body horror and terror angles are areas which that army has already covered. What's more is that the Rak'Gol themselves are primarily set up to offer GMs plenty of freedom. Their lore never gives full answers so they might serve as a malleable enemy to be shaped into whatever the campaign requires. 

Now, in fairness there is a definite degree of truth to such accusations and it would take some reworking by a talented writer to really get the ball rolling here. At the same time though, a lot of the basic groundwork for this race is already there. The detail given by Fantasy Flight Games is far in advance of what's usually given by Games Workshop and does a lot to set the overall themes of the army. 

In addition to this, the Rak'Gol's overall aesthetic design and many of their elements actually more closely emulate Tyranid Swarms. They are seen to be some strange mixture of reptile, mammal, insect and other creatures, splitting off into various different sub-species but lack the Hive Mind element. They use technology, are driven by an insatiable hunger and hunt down others in a frantic rush. If anything they could be used to make a much darker take upon the old idea of the Zoats, some intelligent offshoot of the Tyranid Hive which has gone rogue. After all, the Zoats mainly failed due to having little real direction or unique presence behind them resulting in their unpopularity. By comparison, the Rak'Gol here have a distinct style, theme and enough here to make them unique from the get go.

Tactically the race seems to favour various swarm tactics or rapid sledgehammer strikes to instantly cripple and bring down their foes. Their lore so far emphasises the use of infantry and vessels over vehicles, favouring hunting parties more than anything else. This can be a hard sell, and means that much of their armour would have to originate from aircraft rather than true ground vehicles. At the same time though, it would fit the same sort of glass cannon archetype that many races beyond space marines fall into there's a lot to be said for the army's themes of bionic enhancement and sheer savagery. Given how surprisingly low tech they are, if added the faction could easily fall into a slot which could combine tactical elements of orks, dark eldar and tyranids, an interesting mix of points to be sure if given to the right designer. Oh, and they also happily carry nuclear powered lasers, axes and weapons into battle, so there could finally be some fun radiation related rules in the game with them.

I'll freely admit that the reason they have been picked out is largely thanks to the effective atmosphere and depth given to the race by Fantasy Flight Games, and they are written as a minor race. With all that said though, they are one of the few truly minor races who seems to retain the potential to be a full army in their own right.

2. Eldar Exodites

Yep, all of you saw this one coming, but really how could they not be on this list? This is an army of highly psychic survivalist elf ninjas who ride dinosaurs with laser cannons on their backs. Much as they might be used as a punching bag (a bad one even by eldar standards) there's everything here needed for a great new army if given the time and development. Better yet, rather than just being treated as another craftworld there are elements here which make them stand out on their own without being simple substitutes.

Now, some elements of the army could easily use bits and pieces from Codex: Eldar or Codex: Dark Eldar forces as inspiration. Their Dragon Knights for example do bare some distinct similarities in descriptions and the methods they strike to Shining Spear Aspect Warriors, and the main weapons found on their bigger beasts of war are often outlined as being variations of eldar weapons. As such, the main risk her would be supplanting too many elements from another army and effectively copying and pasting them into this one. Something which is sadly a definite potential issue given what we've seen in codices of past years, especially in terms of lore. This said though, there could be a good balance struck by emphasising upon their lower tech nature which would help them break away from the others a little.

Effectively 40K's equivalent of Fantasy's Wood Elves, the Exodites blend high tech firepower with a more peaceful nature attuned to their world. While voluntarily primitive, their odd mixture of rustic and advanced aspects of society could be an interesting angle to pursue. In the old kroot army list back when White Dwarf did more than advertise new products, the idea for such an army emphasised stealth, guerrilla tactics, traps and ambush points. These ideas could be taken a step further from what we know of the Exodites. While much more physically and psychically hardly than their Craftworld cousins, they would still be a glass cannon force. As such would probably favour any method which could weaken or slow down a foe, then swoop in for the kill. While perhaps not utilising punji traps, they could instead rely upon other methods: ghosts drawn up by the World Spirit to inflict terror or psychicly harm invaders, or have a World-Shaper repeatedly shift the terrain to cause an enemy force problems.

Being survivors of The Fall, and with Eldar Empire technology being as diverse and fragmented as it is, there's also no telling what the Exodites might have brought with them to help defend the planet. The last update they received had the Exodites as the sole groups still retaining access to Eldar Knights (eldar versions of Imperial Knights) and artwork has often featured the race wielding strange and previously unknown weapons. This would leave the door open to entirely new ideas and would help create some story ideas, perhaps with the Mechanicum or even dark eldar seeking to steal any items of value for their own research. The very fact they have access to the Webway, are frequently in contact with multiple craftworlds like Alaitoc and Biel-Tan, and are more frequently met up troupes of Harlequins are all threads which could be developed for narrative appeal.

Going further into ideas which could help bolster the army's lore, there are a few distinctly unique aspects which remain interesting but unexplored. While the basics of their society has been outlined, enough to make them a very stable and detailed civilisation, little has been done to cover a few interesting points. Chief among these has been the presence of the World Spirit, an alternate version of the Infinity Circuit found within Craftworlds. It's been seen to act very differently in a manner to them, ranging from drawing up ghosts of the departed to outright melding them into one entity. A few people have even suggested that the destruction of several prominent Exodite worlds might have resulted in the creation of mini-Ynneads. Then of course we have the way in which each one has adapted to their new world, potentially allowing for some variation and individuality between player armies and just what each one might value as opposed to others.

Really, of all the ones listed on here, the Exodites remain one of the easiest ones to adapt and get right.

1. Hrud

Yeah, much as people might love the Exodites there's one more which has a few very interesting traits to help them stand out: The Hrud. Initially an attempt to build up a 40K version of the Skaven, the Hrud are a massive race lurking in the dark deep places of the universe. Staying constantly out of sight, they remain hidden and avoid outright conflict, yet are an extremely dangerous race, one which could easily be adapted to a full army.

While initially only kept to the background, a few stories over the past years have seriously helped make them stand out. Chief among these was Xenology, which gave a highly detailed account of their biology, society and a few hints of their true nature. This showed them taking humans as slaves and managing to build warrens beneath heavily populated worlds, remaining hidden beyond sight yet managing to build massive city-sized underground labyrinths. It gave the impression of an alien force capable of nestling away within the Imperium's heartland effectively unseen, capable of infiltrating and hiding away to a degree only matched by Genestealer Cults.

However, while high numbers and infiltration make them effective, what allows them to remain truly deadly is their biological traits and technology. Hrud thrive amid toxins which would outright kill most humans and actively refine it, making directly attacking their warrens a dangerous task but more threatening by far is the entropic field they can generate. The reverse of a stasis field, it can accelerate decay, aging and entropy at an astounding rate, to a point where even the greatest of the Imperium's warriors can fall before them. These are usually best displayed during the race's migrations from world to world, with particularly large ones being responsible for both the near destruction of the Star Phantoms chapter and a Crusade era Iron Warriors taskforce. Oh, and if that wasn't enough they also have guns which fire raw Warp energy at people.

Much like the Rak'Gol, these seem to lean much more towards a massed infantry assault army, but there's enough here on the tabletop for it to be adapted into a variety of roles. The few direct confrontations with the Hrud have been sketchily detailed at best, but each and every time has required a massive response from the Imperium. These have ranged from either from the astartes themselves or multiple entire regiments of Imperial Guard. As such, despite their superior numbers and design, Games Workshop could easily turn this into a tank race, with heavy armour and firepower but few real numbers. They have details, but they are extremely malleable as a concept.

In terms of lore there is distinctively less to go on than the Exodites or others here, but what little is given is very interesting indeed. Foremost among these is their religion, which has the race retaining some link to the Old Ones, worshiping Qah and having fought against the C'Tan armies during the War in Heaven. Atop of this, Qah is supposedly one of the few to survive to any degree, splintering into shadowy beings known as the Umbra and prophesied to return upon facing a mysterious foe.

So, what game designers are left with is this: An unused race with access to superior firepower and numbers, linked back to the War in Heaven itself, with connections to the future, yet are still a relatively blank slate. Yeah, if any one on here was going to be created here and now, it seems like this one would be one of the best choices to flesh out into a full blown faction. They're more widespread than the Tau Empire or Rak'Gol, more numerous than the Squats or Exodites and have a long history to play about with. If anything they're really set up to be the perfect faction to fit into whatever future Games Workshop has planned for the franchise.

So, there's a few suggestions. This isn't a top six list so please don't think that one is being ranked atop the other, but it does show how vast a universe designers have to work with and how much they could alter or adapt things to focus more upon aliens. These are just a few examples after all, some of the more prominent ones, and many more could easily be made to fit in with the setting without disrupting any existing canon. Let's just hope Games Workshop realises this enough to start focusing upon more aliens and less space marines.

If you have a few suggestions of your own, or even objections to those listed here, please feel free to add them in the comments. There's probably a few good ones i've missed.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tengami (Video Game Review)

Available for some time on iOS devices, Tengami has finally made its way over to the Wii U and PC releases with some surprising hype for such a port. Having won multiple awards for its artistic direction and completion of background themes, the game’s major drive stems from its aesthetic rather than its mechanics. That will already put off many people, but as an alternative to the mass slaughter of moblins/mercenaries/generic-mooks it can provide an interesting change of pace.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Stormcaller (Book Review)

After the mountain of problems which buried the sheer potential within Blood of Asaheim’s story ideas, Stormcaller was a chance to turn things around. It was set to truly finish off the prior novel’s events, which was little more than a “to be continued”, and perhaps accomplish more than disgracing both the Sororitas and Space Wolves alike. Combined with mention that Njal Stormcaller himself was appearing, who had remained something of enigma even among fans, this one looked to be an improvement. In all fairness it was, correcting a few prior issues, but as before this is one thoroughly undermined by a few distinct failings.

Having managed to hold back the Death Guard onslaught, word reaches Jarnhammer and their allies that reinforcements are inbound from both their chapter and the Ecclesiarchy. As heartening as this news is, each among them knows that they will face judgement for their failings and questions surrounding the near corruption of one of their brothers. Even beyond this, the Imperial Church has its own interests in this world, and will stop at nothing to ensure that the Space Wolves never learn of their sins.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Early Release Confirms TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER Development

After months of speculation by fans of Games Workshop’s grim dark Old World, an early release has finally confirmed that The Creative Assembly is set to tackle TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER. The news was revealed in a leak on twcenter.net where one member combing through an early copy of THE ART OF TOTAL WAR highlighted a specific particular passage, “We’re also experimenting with this in the mobile space, with TOTAL WAR: KINGDOM, and taking the series to a fantasy setting with TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER.”

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Letting Loose Some Steam

Well, just a minor update for today. For those interested in keeping updated on video games I don't get time to review or general recommendations, The Good, The Bad And The Insulting is now up on Steam as a public group. The curator section already has a good sixteen games, all of them winners and one or two i've not had the time to cover on here. If you're interested it's open to all and can be found here.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Warzone: Damnos Part 3 - Sometimes The Old Ways Are The Best (A Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse Supplement Review)

So after two parts we know well and truly what went wrong with the Warzone rulebook and just where everything really fell to bits. So, with all that said, how could things have possibly be done better? An easy answer would be just to point at Imperial Armour Vol 12 - Fall of Orpheus, effectively the book which treated the Necrons with the respect they deserved while doing a great deal to correct the lack of real menace or personality in the previous Codex: Necrons. At the same time however it did show the Imperium still doing well, and even when it resorted to full blown massacres and rapid victories, it never seemed that one side was winning purely thanks to author bias, unlike this book.

For the sake of argument though, let's say that book doesn't exist. What could be done to really improve upon many elements and generally its overall quality? Well, beyond reminding everyone why the Ultramarines keep being considered the Wesley Crusher of the Warhammer universe, the book's problem is that it wasn't really about the Necrons. Really, if you were to go into the novel and replace it with Chaos, Eldar or perhaps even Dark Eldar, there wouldn't be a massive shift in how things played out. All the story treated them as being was "the enemy", a force which had managed to have a stronghold on the world, a few major leaders, a massive entity of great power and a lot of troops. There was nothing so distinctive done with them to really make them the Necrons, and even their capacity for resurrection was sidestepped time and time again.

The real problem was that there was nothing to the Necrons here, and even their old idea of being a mysterious menace which had emerged from the void was never made use of. They were really just bland, and the few times the story spent a few fleeting sentences on a Necron point of view really failed to separate them form the astartes to any degree. As such, what the book should have done is really treated them as a faction, as a race, as a force which was just as decorated and well disciplined as the Ultramarines themselves. Time should have been taken to really show how things were progressing on their side and how their awakening had really effected them.

This is the same problem that both Fall of Damnos and Hammer and Anvil both suffered from; the Necrons were treated as means to an end rather than real characters in their own right. Despite that there was so much here which could have easily been done to help flesh them out properly. Time could have been spent empahsising upon their efforts to return Damnos to its previous state back in their age, perhaps the problems of trying to re-learn the world around them in this new age or even internal politics. The book featured two separate Dynasties interacting, but we're never really shown the intricacies or issues behind any coalition between the two.

Hell, even if the book were to purely focus upon Damnos itself, there could have been a great deal of time spent actually detailing the Tomb Complexes beneath its surface. Perhaps some could have suffered cave-ins, or malfunctions of some kind, reasons which might have justified their slow progress in fortifying the planet or even issues with awakening more of their kind. If the book had just limited the events of Fall of Damnos to a one or two page recap rather than padding out the book by re-treading old territory, there might have actually been room for this.

Another issue would be how the roles of units were effectively just skimmed over with many ignored. The Flayed Ones in particular stand out as one groups which had a major role within events, but lacked a proper formation or real set of distinctive rules to help them stand out from the crowd. The same goes with wargear and a few unique aspects for the campaign which could have been used to really help make a few parts of the book more distinctive. Perhaps with nothing major, but even just a short list of newly recovered Necron relics or those left behind by the Ultramarines would have been great.

Speaking of the Ultramarines we also have the presentation of their chapter. Another staggering problem here was that, in trying to present this story, it completely overlooked many others and hyped things up to a ridiculous degree. Despite it being one of the longest running and best selling titles in Black Library, the events of their series finale with Warsmith Honsou's invasion of Ultramar were overlooked. That had seemingly been the ending point for a string of defeats the chapter had faced, losing several worlds they had fought hard to protect and hundreds of marines in a pitch battle they had only won thanks to superior tactics and discipline. Now, after all that, they had lost one more world, one more failure heralding the beginning of a new dark millennium.

In this book, this single defeat is claimed to be so titanic that it shakes the morale of the entire Imperium to the point where the Ultramarines are given all the help they can to retake Damnos. This is not only ridiculous but it only hammers in yet another problem the game has been trying to get beyond for years now, turning the Ultramarines into the only important chapter in the entire Imperium. So, instead consider what might have been done if actual continuity and research had been put into this book. The actual campaign to retake Damnos could have been an intentional one put forward by Calgar to help boost morale among his own forces as much as anything else. Perhaps to prove that, even after they had fought a bitter and bloody conflict in Ultramar they were still a force to be reckoned with.

Rather than being ordered by the High Lords to launch the attack, perhaps he could have instead petitioned for assistance in the campaign, but set things up so that the Ultramarines could prove themselves. The astartes serve best as shock troops after all and launching precision strikes. Rather than throwing the entire chapter at the world, Calgar could have intentionally only sent one or two, using their experience and knowledge of the world to their advantage an showing just what a force they could still be.

This would play again into the politics of a faction and add a little more depth to them, while at the same time showing them to be truly competent. It would also how them to be much smarter and play towards their strengths. The Ultramarines have, at least when handled by proper writers, always been a force whose planning and knowing when to use the right tool have won them the day rather than the sheer brute strength shown in this book. Being second or third best at just about everything, their main advantage is not being able to outdo the enemy at their own game but exploit their weaknesses no matter what they might be.

Oddly enough it's actually this last point which might have helped the book the most. One of the big criticisms which a few people have leveled at this release was the linearity of the scenarios, with no real opportunity for deviation. Rather than being a web of settings, games and battles which could account for one side winning or the other, these were effectively a video game layout. The "hero", the Ultramarines, was the one who needed to win for the story to progress, and if they lost then there was no continuation, at best they could just restart and give it another try. Yeah, the book is so undeniably biased that the story doesn't even allow for actual Necron victories.

This is also a critical failing of the book as it's again trying to tell a story in the wrong way rather than treat it as a military campaign. That said, it's not the linearity of the events which is the problem but how they play into one another. Each battle takes place in chronological order, with one only impacting the next in terms of narrative rather in any other regard. Instead, consider what might have happened if many had taken place simultaneously and influenced them in other ways. The Ultramarines, and the Imperial Guard alike, are organised and well formed enough to launch multiple strikes on locations of interest to disable targets and critical systems. So, rather than having all their eggs in one basket and going after a few places at a time, perhaps the campaign could be treated as one massed attack.

Rather than dropping in one location, the Ultramarines and Guard could be more spread out with them dividing their forces among certain points. Some to take out planetary defenses, others to target and cripple a site where Necron buildings were being unearthed, perhaps others to just take certain strategically viable locations. Each one could play into the other as one battle as a part of a much larger network of events, and culminate in a final battle with each victory granting advantages to one side or another. Take the planetary defences aspect, if the Ultramarines took it out perhaps they could afford to land more troops. If the Necrons held some of the buildings they were unearthing, perhaps they might have greater access to artillery support from new vehicles they had taken. Even if it came purely down to the points costs of either side, with victories granting more for one group or another, it would have more impact than what was found here.

The truly sad thing is that none of this is new thinking by any means and we have seen Games Workshop do all this in past years. Showing both sides of a conflict and laying them out as an actual campaign is something Imperial Armour has always accomplished, even in its weakest volumes. We have seen many books showing both sides of a conflict and even taking the time to display both viewpoints, and books which treat the Ultramarines with the respect they deserve without going utterly nuts. Even the scenario layout isn't something unknown, as both the Third War for Armageddon in White Dwarf and several Warmaster campaigns in Fanatic both used simultaneous events culminating in a single conflict. Yet despite all that though, somehow Phil Kelly managed to completely botch this one by forgetting or ignoring all of that.

Would these changes make the book perfect? Probably not. This is just a personal opinion more than anything else, but they would have been a step above what was put onto shelves. It's just a damn shame that Games Workshop's latest effort to emulate Forge World's successes was such a horrific botch when it had every reason to succeed.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon (Video Game Review)

Created for a niche audience and crafted with the desire to appeal to only a few key members, whether or not you get this game hinges upon one question:

Are you a fan of Warhammer 40,000?

While this might seem like a query commonplace in any franchise’s foray into video games, it’s doubly important here. Without an already existing attachment to the grim darkness of the far future, what players will find is merely a reskinned Panzer Corps with a few gimmick units.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Warzone: Damnos Part 2 - The Rules (A Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse Supplement Review)

... Well, that was a long week wasn't it?

I do apologise for the delay in getting back to this rulebook and finishing things off, life just has those habits of making planned projects difficult. In my defence though, there's really very little to actually add to this book than what's already been covered. The real issues behind the Warzone rulebook stem primarily from a direction evident in the lore: The entire book is Ultramarines focused. This wasn't so much a book about a war as one where the Ultramarines semi-lose a battle, then go back and slaughter everything in sight, making a mockery of a Necron Dynasty. As you can guess, the rules aren't quite so balanced as one would hope.

This isn't to say that the book only focuses upon the Ultramarines, just that anything given to the Necron army seems to be a second thought. Something thrown in to fulfill some quota or element rather than that Phil Kelley actually wanted to write about. Far more elements just seem to buff and help the Imperium than they really do with the xenos race which really only loses thanks to author bias and bad writing.

Just as a quick example, the Ultramarines themselves get a fair number of tweaks and edits to characters to alter how they work. Sicarius in particular is given the option to roll in with a vortex grenade, reflecting his victory over the C'Tan Shard and even the Imperium's forces are given brief tweaks to reflect the Ultramarines chapter as depicted here. 

Yet despite all that, along with Calgar and Sicarius both getting Finest Hour rules, no time is taken to actually flesh out the necron characters on the tabletop. Despite being a peerless warrior who once fought the Eldar and drove the Ultramarines originally from their world, the Undying Overlord is given no special rules in any way. Neither is Sahtak, lord of the Flayed Ones, despite playing a critical role in the narrative and there's a real sense of so much being overlooked. The only one who actually gets any serious focus in terms of rules is Cryptek von Generic, who has nothing we've not seen before. Seriously, the guy is so generic that in the robot space Egyptian army he's a part of he's given the name Ankh.

The real highlight of all this is actually not in the rules themselves but the overall setting. When it comes down to the potentially hostile parts of the environment, the ravaging threats and defences the Necrons set up to protect their world. Rather than having multiple fortresses unearthed across the world, masses of pylons or technology from a bygone age, so much here seems woefully generic. You get swarms of scarabs and the like, but it's so sparse that the actual fixed emplacements the necrons have in their favour are hijacked Imperial guns. It's honesty disheartening to see given how truly powerful even the post-Wardening Necrons are supposed to be.

Now in fairness, once that's moved away from things become a little more balanced out. With this being an Apocalypse campaign book, much of the real focus comes down to missions and formations. Now, unlike the Supplement Codices, this isn't so bad here as it was there. The focus here is to try and build a campaign rather than flesh out an army, it's the sort of augmenting element which is entirely fitting of this book. The formations in particular are worthy of note as they do try to embrace the telltale insanity and manic scale of Apocalypse games, with all sorts of nutty elements emphasising interesting and unique elements.

The standout examples among these are the Deathwatch Strike Team, which are are insane a bunch of elite alien hunters as one would hope, offering bonus victory points for their Warlord kills and Preferred Enemy. In addition to this the likes of the Wall of Martyrs Defence Strongpoint buffs a lot of emplaced guns with bonus abilities and higher BS. The attention to the Necrons themselves are far better balanced out here. Some of the more interesting examples are the likes of the Canoptek Swarm burrowing beneath units Mawloc style and The Translocator Flight forcing opposing players to randomally remove units and Deep Strike them elsewhere on the board at random. It's these fun elements with unique units and balls to the wall insane rules which help make Apocalypse stand out, and at least a few embrace them.

On the other hand though, while the focus on units is evenly distributed, there's a good few which unfortunately still boil down to "Buy X no. of unit Y, gain special abilities". It's the same old song and dance we've seen many times over and it was getting old long before this started out. So while there might be fun choices and good ideas, there's also a few boring ones. This isn't to say that the more general concepts for massed formations are by any means bad. Sometimes you do need some more general rules in formations to ensure a game isn't completely mired in remembering special details. At the same time, more than a few of these examples seem to only encourage brute force sheer power. A big example of this on the Ultramarines side is the Centurion Decimator Cohort. What's that you ask? It's nothing more than six squads worth of giant armoured toddlers who get Ignores Cover, Tank Hunter and Monster Hunter all for free.

Moving onto the missions, they're an equally mixed bunch. Already you know how they set up one side for a true curb-stomping while pushing the other, but beyond that they're not too bad a mix of ideas. Somewhat generic if serviceable and fill out the usual expected variety of slots, ranging from the take-and-hold mission to the defensive mission. They're serviceable but not too much more and, it's really nothing more than was seen in just about every other armybook or failing to really capture the true strength of the setting. The only element here which really does help to fully flesh out the setting are the natural dangers of the world. These do add a fun element to each battle akin to Lustria's old threats or some of the better environmental hazards found in rulebooks. They're again not particularly notable but they at least make scenarios a little more distinctive.

Really though, this is about it overall. A lot of formations, a few missions, and no Wargear or real bonus elements to help enhance the Necron units. There's certainly a few gems to be found here and there along with some ideas which manage to reach that level of reasonable quality among the mire of mediocrity. The rest though? It fails to offer enough to justify the price. To be completely and utterly blunt, unless you're the type of wargaming supremacist who wholeheartedly ate "They can never be Ultramarines" and every lie which came with it, this is one to avoid.

Much like Codex: Iyanden, a new line of books by Games Workshop went off to a bad start, insulting one army and continuing the worst trends in another. Really, sometimes I have to wonder if quality control is some mythical beast to the company's staff which only exists in fairy tales.

Next time we conclude this review with a look at how things might have gone if it had been handled properly.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Rollers of the Realm (Video Game Review)

As genres go, pinball and RPGs could not be more different from one another, with opposing sets of mechanics, environments, and even the basic idea of how a player interacts with the game. That said, Rollers of the Realm is not so much a blend as it is a pinball title with RPG elements influencing each table’s layout and the player’s objectives.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (Book Review)

Much like the previously reviewed Jedi Path, The Essential Guide to Warfare is a book which really helps to open the door to the Expanded Universe. Along with the many other Essential Guides produced over the years, the book ultimately serves to give greater insight upon background elements of the setting. However, whereas prior installments focused upon characters, droids, weapons and vehicles, this one emphasises upon the conflicts which give the franchise its name, showing how the galaxy as a whole has been shaped by fire many times over.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition (Video Game Review)

Capping off the events of the Dragon Age trilogy, Inquisition is a melting pot of new ideas, old plotlines, and long-demanded gameplay additions. Along with now offering players the option to finally control a qunari protagonist, the game ditches much of what led to Dragon Age II’s downfall. There’s once again real choice to be found in your decisions, no tediously recycled locations, and it unveils the land of Orlais for the first time.