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.