Sunday, 24 May 2015

Warhammer: The End Times Was A Failure From The Start


... Yeah, i'm sure that title's going to ruffle a few feathers.

Effectively serving as a second attempt at a massive, game-changing Chaos invasion, The End Times served as a finale to entire Fantasy universe. It's been extremely divisive, with some calling it a full blown grand finale which was fitting of the setting, and others describing it as "Chaos happens, everyone dies." I'll admit i've yet to read it the whole way through, so i'm not going to comment upon the story's effectiveness or general quality. Instead this is going to talk about one dominating problem with the whole idea of The End Times: It was an ending.

Whenever anyone talks about Warhammer settings, Fantasy or Science Fiction, there are two major points brought up (well, three, but one isn't over-saturated with space marines). The first is that the settings are static, with the status quo remaining utterly unchanging and there being no evolution or attempt by writers to promote galaxy wide change. The second is that both are mired in the final years of their timeline, with Games Workshop unwilling or unable to look past what appears to be Chaos victorious for both sides, save for a few brief timelines or events. 
The thing is though, when people complain about the setting's problems, what they want is to see things develop and progress, with stories showing what happens next. They want to see heroes rise, heroes die and the time line move onward, to have campaigns, wars and conflicts to have impact, changing the world. The End Times didn't offer, this what it offered was the complete opposite. It killed off all this potential, rapidly ended a myriad of stories in a very short span of time and brought everything to a close. It didn't offer new story opportunities, it slammed the book shut on future tales. In fact, it actually rendered just about everything prior to it moot as a result.

A dark ending can work in many tales, and we've seen many a Black Library story conclude on an especially grim note. Even the biggest battles are so often phyrric and the setting of Fantasy is fairly infamous for having no good guy. Much like George R. R. Martin's opus A Song of Ice and Fire, everyone seems to lose as much as they win at every turn. Looking from this angle it could be argued that a final defeat could have been the right move, but that also only works when you view it purely as being a story. Instead it's what it's always been: A game. An interactive form of media which player directly invest themselves in, playing out events and fighting one another to try and influence the outcome of events. 

Games Workshop itself has repeatedly tried to argue that players are "forging the narrative" when they play this game. We have seen multiple scenarios in the past pressed upon players that they are fighting for the survival of their faction, fighting to ensure that they emerge victorious somehow or even just make enough wins to walk away alive. Entire campaign maps have been built for small communities, from forming bandit kingdoms to trying to conquer Lustria, taking the land location by location and altering a small story as the result of that. Certainly, it's been criticised many times that the company has all too often ignored this and not let it truly impact upon the events. Yet despite this some were presented in such a way they could effect small communities or how bands of players saw the world. Then The End Times comes along and basically slams down the fact none of this ever mattered.

Chaos wins and that's that. The players are given no option to voice their opinion, change the outcome of these events or even shift how certain ones play out. It's the writers boat they're stuck in, and with no control over the setting they're just along for the ride. All those battles they fought, all those campaigns they played, the many wars, crusades, conflicts, skirmishes, prophecies and legends? They all meant nothing here. They were just swept aside and the phyrric sacrifices and battles of the more heroic factions meant squat at the end of the day. After ten years of storytelling, it sadly just boils down to the single most predictable outcome possible, and that actually becoming invested in the setting is pointless. What is now the incentive to ever become involved in any of this when the outcome is that Chaos is just going to ultimately win and everything will be destroyed? What's the point in becoming invested when you're given no chance to change what happens at all, and a bunch of people just kill off your entire faction with no chance for you to voice any objections? There's none.

However, while the above problems highlight some of the biggest problems behind The End Times, the damnably sad thing is that there was always an easy alternative to this. What alternative is that? Don't make it an event or an ending. Make it instead into an era. Just as Warhammer 40,000 has its M31 and M41 eras, likewise Fantasy could have easily featured the same points. Imagine for a moment a setting where Chaos is dominant, the Old World scattered and fragmented, many societies and civilizations reduced to shadowed remnants. The High Elves are desperately fighting to enact some vital gambit to hold their homeland, nature has been driven so insane that the Wood Elves have become tainted with savagery, and the Dwarf Kingdoms have withdrawn to ancient depths none previously dared travel. You could push to show what such a world could be like, how all those previous dreaded conflicts, events and nightmares being unleashed could result in, and perhaps push for even bigger ideas.

Even if they declared a reality where Chaos has all but totally won to be an alternate continuity, it could potentially lead to an entirely new line to promote the franchise. New models and armies could spring up, but unlike The End Times they wouldn't be fleeting creations for a short lived setting. Authors could be freed from the status quo to experiment with new ideas, the corruption and death of heroes, but with actual consequences and lengthy story driven impact to the tale. Not just ideas which were interesting but the authors had not intention of ever finishing off, such as a certain person becoming an Elector Count. Again, it would be a new line of thought to experiment and continue the story, not to throttle the existing one to death in order to promote new sales. How do I know this would have worked, and would have been possible though? Because, like so many things, where the company failed the fandom supplied.

Look up at some point a fanfiction by the name of The Shape of the Nightmare to Come and its sequel The Age of Dusk. While set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and based upon some older canon, it does the exact thing The End Times attempted but does it better. We see a new galaxy take shape after Cadia and Terra fall, we see the ascendant Tau Empire enter a full scale war against the Necron Lords. How the Imperium fragments into petty kingdoms is shown, rather than just effectively ceasing to exist, and the eldar themselves follow multiple paths in this time, from Ynnead's gambit to Biel-Tan striking out on its own. Plus it approached the subject in a far more in-universe atmospheric way and managed to create a dark tale without invoking so much of the apathy and cynicism some felt towards The End Times.

The overall point is that there really shouldn't have been The End Times. There should have instead been something like The Age of Ruin, or a new chapter in the story showing how things would develop. Writing a conclusion like this? That was never going to be the right choice, never for a tabletop setting of any kind.

5 comments:

  1. I figured an article like this would come sooner or later. I don't mind people being against The End Times because it's very obvious why it's so divisive, so I'll just go over a few points:

    "Chaos wins and that's that. The players are given no option to voice their opinion, change the outcome of these events or even shift how certain ones play out. "
    Actually in the final book that's not the case (though it's still a good criticism of the earlier books), when the players are going through the campaign they are given a few ways the campaign could differ from the official material and the book highly recommends that you do what you want with the setting, even if it's ignoring the event entirely, saying that even if it's the official way the world ends doesn't mean it has to be the way your Warhammer world ends (paraphrased).

    Keep in mind nothing's forcing people to play in The End Times. You say "both are mired in the final years of their timeline" but that's not really true. Warhammer Fantasy isn't like 40K where it's locked to the 41'st millenium, the fights happen whenever and however the players want, which is why Archaon can find himself fighting characters who died hundreds of years before he was even born.

    "What is now the incentive... "
    Because you don't have to play in a universe that has things like Chaos Warriors/Daemons or even Chaos in it at all (and it's far easier to do that in Fantasy than 40K). This is also why in the Horus Heresy Army Books they say players shouldn't have any problems with characters (even in campaigns) doing what they didn't in the fluff (the example they give is Fulgrim remaining loyal), they say the campaign should just be altered accordingly, and that's also what can happen in the final End Times campaign.

    "Imagine for a moment a setting where Chaos is dominant..."

    No offence meant but I can tell you're not (or didn't use to be) a Warhammer Fantasy player as that actually was the setting for 6th edition. The Empire was very divided because the cities were essentially island in a sea of forest that were teeming with Beastmen, even with Karl Franz trying to unite them they were stuck in cities as Beastmen could be upon them when they were so much as out of sight of the cities.

    The High Elves were barely holding their islands, to the point that Grom the Paunch with a comparatively small WAAAGH! Managed to conquer large portion of Ulthuan, not to mention the Dark Elves were constantly at their throats and at the time worshipped Slaanesh.

    The Wood Elves found themselves constantly battling against the Beastmen that lived in the same forests, one of whom (called Malagor) mutated and corrupted everything near him to be a horrible creation of chaos. This also includes warping the forests into being horrible Wood Elf-devouring tree monsters and he's immortal, any time they somehow destroyed his physical body he'd just be reborn somewhere else at a later date and start corrupting the trees there.

    As for the Dwarfs, that's pretty much exactly what happened. The dwarfs were down to 7 holds out of 17 and were still getting pushed back at an alarming rate by the Greenskins, Skaven, and Chaos when they had established holds up north.

    Now the reason I'm fine with the setting being given an ending (aside from the fact that you don't have to use their ending) is because I don't want it to be milked for all it's worth for every edition afterwards. I'd really rather not have them keep coming out with the next best monster/unit you just have to have because the very expensive underpriced box is also very underpriced points wise and you need it if you want a competitive list.

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  2. You know, the really sad thing is that, if they'd gone to the trouble of having an actual advancing storyline, we probably wouldn't have needed the End Times at all.

    Instead of just having the world end, maybe we could have had a Campaign where Archon begins pushing southward, with player results tallying together to see how far he get's; if the "Chaos" side wins, Archon's Horde sacks most of Kislev, if the "Order" side wins he's stopped at Praag.

    This get's added on to the Canon afterwards, with the Empire and Chaos getting a new unit each out of it, so that GW will have something more to sell afterwards (since that seems so important to them).

    Then you rinse and repeat, switching up the factions facing each other; Orcs VS Dwarfs; High- VS Dark Elves; Lizardmen VS Skaven, etc.

    We could have had a continually evolving world... but instead, screw it! Hit the History Eraser Button!

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    1. That's pretty much what they tried to do with the Storm of Chaos campaign, before 7th edition (and even at the start of 7th) they did make a genuine effort to have an evolving world.

      Let's look at Josef Bugman as a quick example of this, he's known for hunting down Greenskins since they killed his family and destroyed his brewery, but that was the result of actual games, the fluff changed to reflect the goblins winning.

      This was also what they planned to do for Storm of Chaos but the Chaos armies couldn't even get out of their starting zone because they lost every single meaningful game except for some of the more "neutral" parties that were on their side because there was nowhere else to put them (and even then they didn't win much). They even had the "add a new unit idea" but then they never did that type of event again because they decided to start backtracking with the story (which is why all the late 7th edition and the 8th edition books pretend that Storm of Chaos didn't happen, and the early 7th edition books act as if it did).

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    2. So here's the link for anybody who's curious: https://www.facebook.com/mengelminiatures/photos/pcb.820331608016300/820331418016319/?type=1

      That link goes specifically to the quotes I was talking about, and here's a link to the facbook group who posted the picture and will most likely be coming out with reliable information in the future: https://www.facebook.com/mengelminiatures

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  3. So it turns out that they actually aren't going to kill off Fantasy after all, I guess they just really wanted to turn it into something else, there's already pictures floating around of a book called "Age of Sigmar" which is supposedly housing a scaled down version of the new rulebook as well as catching everyone up on the new world (apparently the new edition starts up right after The End Times leaves off).

    I'm going to post a reply to this comment with a link to what I'm talking about, since the first time I tried to leave a link (way back when I mentioned a horror movie website) this comment section had a heart attack and I couldn't post anything for a bit, so I'd rather leave a comment, then try to leave a link.

    All that's really certain about the new setting is that the Lizardmen survived, other groups are hinted at having escaped (most likely the Wood Elf and Bretonnian group), Nagash, or at least the undead in general are questioned to be gone, and then there's the reference to people being lost in the void, which could refer to the High Elf leaders, Sigmar and Archaon, or maybe just Sigmar and Archaon since they are the only two known for sure to have fallen into the void. Then the quote "to what does he cling?" Is most likely referring to Sigmar since it's called Age of Sigmar and supposedly somebody who was once a man grabbed the last remnants of the Warhammer world.

    That's all we know lorewise, I'll wait on commenting on what they do with the models until we know more.

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