Friday, 31 July 2015

British Tanks Roll into War Thunder

In a recent announcement, War Thunder developer Gaijin has confirmed that British vehicles will be making an appearance in their Ground Forces mode. Currently dominated by American, German and Russian vehicles, this release has been long awaited by many fans to help diversify the choices on each side.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Faux Clash of Titans: Why Superman Vs. Goku Never Mattered

So, those of you who looked at either of the two most iconic powerhouses in anime or comics might have noticed that there's been a feud going on for a while now. Superman fighting Son Goku has always been a big discussion between fans on forums, sparking more interest than most other fights. This finally reached fever pitch a while back in a ScrewAttack Death Battle, where Goku was soundly beaten. Then in a follow up, where Goku was utterly crushed even harder.

Now, this has resulted in plenty of complaints, so i'm just going to weigh in on this in the least inflammatory way possible: 
Neither character mattered in this fight. 
Neither character ever needed to be in a deathmatch. 
Neither character needed to face one another. 
Neither character should be compared with one another. 
Whoever won the fight ultimately did not matter.

The reason none of this matters is simple. Whoever wins, the other one will just get back up sooner rather than later. We are talking about two characters here who have died and been resurrected more times than I can personally count, even without going into Elseworlds tales and the like. For crying out loud, Superman is argued to have single-handedly triggered the comicbook death trope and Goku "lived" in the afterlife for years at a time, going back and forth as needed. As soon as one died, within a year for one reason or another, the other would just come back and start fighting again. It would never end.

In addition to all of this, these are also two characters whose powers differ heavily depending upon who is writing at the time. Often, for the sake of drama, one will suddenly gain a substantial power nerf and suddenly seem far weaker than before. There's one infamous moment where Goku, a guy who casually shrugs off bullets and supernovas, is hurt by a rock being bunged at his head and by Bulma's slaps. Superman meanwhile has been seen doing everything from being blown halfway across a city by high explosive rocket launchers, to just shrugging off artillery capable of glassing continents. Neither were truly ever intended to be put into these fights, and you know why? Because their entire world runs less upon established rules than it does the "rule of cool" and drama related excuses.

You can certainly argue that there are established rules here yes. Goku's transformations have him becoming increasingly powerful, with one overcoming the other and he's notably as dumb as a rock at times. Sups meanwhile lives a double life, is the most powerful person on his planet and he's weak to kryptonite. However, these are more rules less focused upon their power than setting the scene and details for their adventures, and even these are extremely malleable. Goku's intelligence tends to change from moment to moment. He's clueless in the more humourous moments of him interacting with modern society; yet at others is tactically intelligent enough to predict attacks, pinpoint weak-points and even come up with entire victory gambits over a long period of time. The same goes with Superman's vulnerability to kryptonite. In some cases it's been shown that a single sliver penetrating his skin can turn him comatose and bring him on the verge of death. In others, entire fields of the stuff only slow him down and he can lift entire islands made of it into space.

The problem is that fandoms will always be biased towards one side. Often you can't have these discussions because some people - well, no, let's be honest here - arseholes will never cede any ground. It's the same as almost every widespread internet discussion, the most miserable and vocal elements will come out of the woodwork. You will have fanatics obsessing over every detail, screaming at one another, and clawing for every kind of edge they can find. I've honestly met people who claim that Star Trek can instantly trounce everyone because no series has directly proven that their technology works against phasers and transporters. Yes, someone argued that with total sincerity.

Debates over inter-fandom wars will inevitably result less in sensible arguments than they will one side openly pissing on the other, forcing the ones they like the most to win every time. Look about and you'll find people claiming that High Marshall Helbrecht can suplex Galactus, that the House Stark could easily annihilate the Solar Exalted, and that Asura could be instantly killed by Mario. You will find people who have made it their mission to go from argument to argument, hunting down one faction and arguing that they deserve to lose no matter who they are being compared against. The problem is that as these people are often the most vocal, the most dedicated, they end up being the ones at the forefront of any such debates. It becomes less about any "facts" than it does sheer spite and determination to have one side bury the other, and have everyone else agree with them. This is only exaggerated further when you have such massive characters battling one another. Characters who, along with their power, often have a childhood connection with anyone arguing.

Finally, and perhaps the single biggest point why this shouldn't matter, is that this was a ScrewAttack Death Battle we're talking about here. In all honesty, while I don't personally think the creators are nearly as bad as those cited above, some of the elements still seep through. These are events which are, ultimately, favouritism driven brawls which are disguised as being extremely well researched and balanced. Most people tune in for some incredibly well made battles and extremely well animated fights, just as mindless entertainment. Personally, i'd be fine with that, but the problem is that ScrewAttack aren't presenting it as that. They're presenting this as the definitive outcome for all fights, an ultra-accurate supremely researched throughout both sides, but then shift the goal posts in favour of the one they want to win. 

You can see such open bias quite obviously in their rematch. Superman barely beat Goku in the original, after a hard one fight. Goku, in two films, gains two more transformations and a significant power boost. Their response to this? Effectively ignore any changes this might make and promptly declare that Superman's power is simply infinite, and have him crush Goku in seconds. This is effectively openly pissing on any vague concept of there being a contest between the two and slamming down in favour of one side, no argument, no debate, their word is apparently just law. This goes even further by writing in Goku as somehow being happy that he's lost as if this exempts them from any backlash. It tries to claim that both characters are great in their own right, only that the one they like can turn the one other people like into a fine red smear with a small fraction of his actual power. Yeah, it's dressed up, but it's still pretty damn insulting to anyone who likes this character.

Such displays have been shown more than once, where the writers have completely ignored certain facts, favoured elements which would allow only the side they wanted to win, or broken their own rules. For starters, one of Death Battle’s rules is that a character’s model doesn’t affect the flow of battle. However, despite this, they have repeatedly used excuses that the character was weak, or was unable to perform a certain attack because their model wouldn’t allow to to win. This happens on multiple times, across multiple battles, and it's never remarked upon. With ScrewAttack breaking their own rules whenever they please, why should anyone honesty put stock in the quality of the research in these outcomes?

Things only become worse when you really stop and analyse the reasoning behind some fights, which sadly display a hell of a lot of cherry picking. You only need to look at their treatment of Starscream to see how bad this can be, taking and picking elements of the character which will cause them to be at the biggest disadvantage. For example, this Starscream was based upon his Generation One incarnation. However, rather than actually accounting for his capabilities across the board, the creators opted to purely use the cartoon as a basis for research. As such, ScrewAttack were happy to make use of his every idiotic failure, loss and moronic plan, but carefully navigated their way around any of his victories or displays of greater power. 

So, Starscream's acts of true competence in other media from that time are all suddenly ignored entirely. Killing off almost the entire Autobot and Decepticon forces in one move, taking out Brawn in a slugging match and having enough power to one-shot three newer Autobots in quick succession? Never brought up. However, ScrewAttack then go the extra mile of ignoring moments from the the cartoon which could give him an edge. After all, he actually emerges on top in a full blown brawl to decide the Decepticon leadership in the film (albeit off-screen) and was shown to have the power and speed to perform interstellar flight in a flashback with Skyfire. The problem is that the former isn't even addressed or acknowledged, and the latter is overlooked in favour of his toy's original profile which limits his speed to Mach 2.8. The same profile which doesn't note or reflect his more buffoonish nature in the cartoon at all, going so far as to note the following: "Megatron overlooks the potential threat Starscream represents for one very good reason: Starscream is very good at his job."

Such a depiction only becomes worse when you consider this is not only also ignoring the abilities of Starscream's IDW and Dreamwave incarnations, but the researchers are picking out the bits they want to favour one side. Not only did they nerf him to an insane degree and ignore half of his abilities, but the one he was fighting (a My Little Pony character named Rainbow Dash) was abruptly given Superman level durability, immunity to all Starscream's weapons, and the ability to devour souls. None of which have any standing in any canon. Trust me, it gets worse as the fight went on. Even if you listen to their commentary, nearly all of it focuses upon how impressed they were with this character's skill-set, how much they favoured her and all but completely gushing over the character.

To be completely blunt, given their willingness to overlook certain facts and break their own rules, ScrewAttack doesn't deserve to be seen as the definitive answer to all fights. Please don't get this wrong, their production values are outstanding, they usually find a good way to make fights fun. The creative team places a clear emphasis upon maintaining very high standards in the fights themselves and turning them into a true spectacle, and something truly entertaining for the fans. However, personally speaking, I think that's all people should see them as: A fun distraction and entertaining set-piece, having two characters slug it out, but with about as much substance and sound research as Deadliest Warrior.

I ultimately stand by what I said before. Neither character should be pitted against another in this manner, and doing so will only bring out the worst in fandoms. No matter who you have doing it, no matter how much official backing a crossover might have, no matter how faithful the writers might be to both sides, there will always be a biased outcome. ScrewAttack isn't immune to this, nor are the forum members on everything from Spacebattles to The only person who should ultimately decide the outcome of such a fight to you, is ultimately you. Any other situation, any massed debate, is ultimately only going to end in tears. As such, rather than on any group consensus, i'd rather recommend that each individual fan decides it for themselves, and leaves it just as that. If someone else decides differently, don't start ganging up on them or forcibly trying to have them change their views.

Also, as a final note, while much of this update as made it clear how ridiculous have the two fight truly is due to the nature of their universes, there's something else to be discussed. Is a fight really the best way to have the two meet? You have two characters here, paragons in their own universes and people who have saved billions of lives time and time again. In the one time the two met, would you really rather have them engaging in attempted murder of one another? With each performing acts of collateral damage and manslaughter which make Godzilla look tame by comparison and modern Marvel heroes look self-controlled? Or would you rather have them teaming up to fight a greater threat, not because one fan wanted to murder and crush another's hero, but because someone wanted to write a great story.

(Original work found here, visit to appreciate a fine artist.)

Monday, 20 July 2015

Too Many Dreadnoughts

The title says it all really, and the image supports this. Really, I don't even play Blood Angels and yet i've got three of their Contemptors. This is turning into less a fondness for the old venerable monsters of each chapter and more a downright addiction. Also probably a sign that there's a lot more painting to be done with these miniatures, new and old stuff alike.

Odd opening tangent aside (mostly to try and keep things fresh) this is largely just a heads up to say that there won't be much content for the coming week. While there might be the odd review, for the most part things are going to be silent thanks to another ongoing project which has suffered a fair number of delays. The results of it might show up on the blog eventually, or it might turn into something greater with some luck. The point is that things are going to be quiet here for a while.

After the end of the coming week we should be back to your normally schedules reviews or inane nonsense.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Godzilla (Video Game Review)

Dull, repetitive, slow and utterly joyless, Godzilla is the complete antithesis of the camp fun found in its source material. It’s the equivalent of seeing a poor artist attempting to ape the great ideas of another man’s creation; taking the same ingredients and ideas, but putting them together with such ineptness it’s more a bad joke than a finished product.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Five Panels Which Define Superman

Chances are that if you've ever looked up All-Star Superman, you'll have seen the above image. It's one of the defining moments in a truly great comic, and arguably Grant Morrison's masterpiece within the DC Universe. It shows Sups caring about the common person, talking someone out of committing suicide and the willingness he has to care about the common person. However, above all of that, I personally think that this is the scene which defines Superman and should be used as a guideline for many future adaptations.

While the moment in of itself is poignant, the real impact of it stems from its placement in the comic and preceding events. At this point, Superman is dying, irreversibly so. He has been given limited time at best and is choosing to help the world any way he can in that time. This emerges in many ways, going from preventing the planet turning inwards upon itself in a great disaster to finally opening up to Lois and offering her a chance of greater happiness. Even in the face of a chance to put things right in his life, to prevent total Armageddon, he's still someone willing to take the time to comfort someone who has lost everything. Even a complete stranger.

The pages before the image above truly help to reinforce the exact meaning of this situation. A robot (well, mecha but it was distinctly B-50s style) was rampaging across the city, Lois in its grips and trying to pick a fight with Sups. Being the true man of steel, he naturally takes it down very quickly and disables its threat, only to be confronted by Lois. Rather nonchalant about her brief captivity, her concern is instead far more about Sups himself and what will follow his death, how close it is and what it will mean for them. Each of these are treated as almost everyday occurrences despite the severe nature of their situation, and the robot's threat is barely an afterthought to either of them. It's something he has dealt with time and time again, and they are familiar with. This means the focus is placed on a far more personal level and greater meaning is present in the quieter interactions between characters, giving more weight to the above page. However, the fact he so readily takes off, so readily moves and quickly convinces someone to walk away from the edge has another meaning. In Superman's life, acts like this are just as frequent and commonplace as the fifty foot tall death machine he just disabled, and mean just as much.

Even racing about the world, even solving disasters time and time again, he still finds time to help a single person in need. Still treats it as being just as important as every act he has performed that day and even the comic itself subtly suggests he was keeping an eye open for exactly this sort of thing.

When people criticise Superman they argue that he is unrelatable. No story involving him can possibly feature him showing any compassion on a personal level or even care about anything beyond world ending threats without making him unlikable. They say he cannot possibly have a true moment of heroism akin to Spider-Man or heroes with less superpowers or less strength. This proves that, in the story is in right hands, such arguments are unequivocally false.

When people argue and talk about Batman, they see someone capable analysing a crime scene, instilling fear in criminals and acting as the right hand of justice.
When people speak about Wonder Woman, they talk of someone capable of inspiring others to greater heights, someone you'd want to help you win a war either by the sword or by a word.
Superman? He's the one you want doing what he's always done better than everything else: Saving lives, no matter who that person might be.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Drop Site Massacre - Was Ferrus Manus Right?

As a whole the Horus Heresy can be boiled down to a few key battles. While the novels expand the campaign into a sprawling network of skirmishes and conflicts, the core of the actual war can be put down to the two Isstvan battles, Prospero, Calth, Signus Prime, and then Terra. The outcome of each was critical to the overall victory of one side or the other, but the point where it all could have been ended has always remained the same - Isstvan V.

Better known as the Drop Site Massacre, the campaign was the Emperor's response to learning of Horus' betrayal. Now forewarned that his legion and four others had turned, botching their initial strike by being dragged into a bloody and costly conflict with loyalist elements of their own legions, he sought to end it with a hammer blow. 
After a substantial number of Imperial Fists were sent to try and assist the loyalists at Isstvan III in any way they could, forces from seven legions were sent to end the rebellion in a single battle. With a spearhead force of Raven Guard, Salamanders and the Iron Hands' Morlock elite initiating the first strike, the others were sent in to back their strike. Unbeknownst to all however, almost the entirety of the legions backing them up had turned traitor, ready to join Horus in one moment. In a grim reflection of the Ullanor campaign, Horus proved his strategic genius, routing the Imperial forces, decimating two entire legions and taking the life of a primarch.

Even in M41 the effects of this are still being felt, as a number of legions regard that event with bitter distaste. It influenced the future of each force involved, sparked up rivalries and even led to fractures forming among the loyalist forces. However, recent lore has continually retconned the Iron Hands into blaming Ferrus for failing and dying. They are written now to almost openly deride him for charging forwards into battle, all the while blaming the other legions for his death. A contradictory stance to be sure, but the question is if he was truly to blame for his fate. The bigger question is that, if the other legions had followed him, what might have changed?

The key point to cite here is when the supposed second wave of loyalists arrived, the Raven Guard and Salamanders fell back while the Iron Hands pressed forwards. This has been blamed by some as Ferrus' hatred and bloodlust leading to his death, not acting with the others and effectively rushing right onto Fulgrim's sword. The thing is though, what would have been changed if he had retreated as the others urged? The two other legions were massacred with the massed firepower of their "allies", in an act of bloodshed which took the lives of tens of thousands of astartes and crippled almost the entire Imperial force. It was a group of already bloodied legionaries being attacked by masses of fresh, new forces, all with far more heavy armour to support them.

Given that the Iron Hands were far fewer in number in this conflict, adding them into the mix would have changed nothing. While it is true that a spearhead of Morlocks might have been able to break the traitor lines, they were already surrounded with the legions scattered, the Salamanders broken up and sent off to certain locations while the Iron Hands support elements and Raven Guard went to others. They were too spread out to capitalise upon any break-through attempt, or back the spear-tip of any assault, and even if they did what might have been accomplished? They would have still been surrounded, still have been facing the mercy of the traitor's guns and accomplished little beyond a few dead astartes in exchange. What's more is that, even arguing this, even assuming that the legions were in the right position to back an assault, the Morlocks and Ferrus were on the opposite side of the battlefield from the direction the loyalists were moving in. Unless they abruptly stopped, completely reforming their lines to have their best fighters charging towards their supposed allies, the Iron Hands would have arrived last.

Even the accomplishments people have suggested could have been pulled off with Ferrus' support are somewhat dubious. The foremost among these is that more of the traitor primarchs might have been cut down. An understandable claim to make, but for the most part one which would have been difficult to say the least. Think about who was involved for a moment and where their positions would have been. Perturabo, so far as most know, was sticking behind his artillery and Alpharius would have been impossible to find even on a good day. What's more is that Lorgar and Night Haunter would have been out of sight behind their lines were it not for the Word Bearers' primarch feeling a moment of compassion for his warriors. Well, that and Night Haunter having a sudden moment of strange behaviour. The problem is that, even if they were still to perform those same actions with Ferrus falling back, he and Vulkan would still be out of range to capitalise upon this.

To be completely blunt, Ferrus falling back would have earned them nothing beyond a few more dead loyalists to the guns of traitors. However, with that considered, what might have happened if the Raven Guard and Salamanders had opted to maintain their assault? Well, in all honesty, the Heresy might have ended there and then.

Think about it for a minute. Horus' plan had hinged upon them falling back as planned to continue the fight, and it had been Ferrus who had wanted to keep up the momentum of their assault. He was relying upon the bloodied loyalist forces pulling back and playing the long game, sticking to their initial gambit of one first wave breaking his defensive lines before a second followed up to finish them. At the time the Iron Warriors, Word Bearers, Night Lords and Alpha Legion arrived, the initial four legions had lost ground, a considerable number of legionaries, their defensive lines were in ruins and the Legio Mortis' assaults had been repeatedly deflected. While still a powerful force, they were in full retreat and much of their heavy armour was gone. If they had maintained their attack, rather than being outnumbered by fresh new forces, the loyalists would have still been fighting severely depleted traitor forces who had already taken a severe pounding. A move which, ultimately, would have likely reduced their overall casualties even without accounting for positioning, differences in firepower and ammunition loads compared with the arriving legions.

Think also of what this situation would have also meant when compared with the points outlined above. We've already established that they would have all been focusing their forces upon a single location, but think of the primarchs and the ease they could be reached. Those present in the initial landings were best known for leading from the front, with Angron, Mortarion and Fulgrim all seeking glory, blood or the pleasure of kills by their own hands. They would have been far easier to coax out of hiding or cut down while falling back, with Fulgrim in particular already exposing himself by moving out only with his elite guard. From the fight itself, we already know that Ferrus was on the verge of killing the primarch of the Emperor's Children, forcing the daemon corrupting him to directly take control and finish the fight. If even Corax or Vulkan alone were present to take him out faster or finish the job, or perhaps even just a few more astartes there to help cut down his bodyguard, the duel could have easily turned the other way.

Fulgrim's death alone would have dramatically shifted the direction of the Heresy. Without him the Iron Warriors would have never been diverted en mass to the Eye of Terror and later Tallarn. Atop of this, without his ascension to daemonhood and knowledge, Horus would not have attained the power he later gained from bargaining with the Chaos Gods. Thus, when facing off against the Emperor, he would have been at a severe disadvantage. This is also just one example. Atop of this, without Angron leading them the World Eaters would have become increasingly uncontrolled and directionless as an army, making them an even more unreliable in war. Hell, it's confirmed that Angron himself was key to forming the Ruinstorm. With him gone, the Ultramarines would not have been trapped. These are two key figures, both of who could have been drawn out and individually teamed up against, killed, and then had the loyalists move on.

However, consider the bigger prize here: Horus. While he might have been many things from a charismatic leader to a tragic figure, there is no denying that Horus was the linchpin holding everything together. He had been the one to speak to most of the primarchs, making deals, convincing them to side with him and bargaining however he could. While Lorgar was the power behind the throne, Horus was the one to sit on it, and without him the entire Heresy would have faltered. Think about it for a second, do you honestly not see Angron, Fulgrim, Mortarion, Curze, or even Purturabo and Alpharius not butting heads over who next led or what the pecking order was? Do you actually see them all willingly following Lorgar with the same willingness as they had shown Horus? Without him it's safe to say that the entire plan would have broken down, perhaps even caused Chaos to fragment as an allied force.

While each of the primarchs would have fought like the demi-gods of old, they would have been far easier to reach, far easier to find and ultimately far easier to directly engage. They would have actually been easier by comparison to target and annihilate despite a still admittedly high risk. Atop of all this however, charging forwards would have also unintentionally denied the traitors their biggest assets. If the fighting was close enough to the four main legions, they would have been unwilling to use their more powerful long range weapons thanks to the risk of friendly fire. Unlike what Chaos would become, they did show they weren't quite willing to go to the same lengths of disregarding the lives of their own forces, and any primarch who did suffer casualties would likely also harbor a grudge. This is also just accounting for traditional weapons however, and we do know far more powerful ones were present. Fulgrim, after all, noted a mushroom cloud billowing up from Vulkan's last known position.

Finally, win or lose, gathered at the fortress they would have been in a far stronger position to try and withdraw when the betrayal was commenced. A location where they were all united, distanced from enemy forces and could do more to try and keep the skies clear. Casualties would have still been staggeringly high even in this situation with desperate extractions, but they would have stood a better chance and pulling it off.

Personally, I stand by the argument that the Drop Site Massacre was a no win scenario. The loyalists were dead the moment they entered the system and, short of spontaneously deciding to leave upon arrival, there's no ending here which would not have been a staggering blow against the Imperium. Three loyal legions would have still taken horrific casualties, half the legions would have turned traitor and the attack would not have ended the rebellion fully as the Emperor hoped. However, it's hard not to see how the long derided and criticised move by Ferrus might have better benefited the Imperium than if things had played out as they did. It's just one of those moments in the Heresy where a single decision would have led to consequences capable of utterly reshaping the galaxy. One so small that, in all other cases, it goes unremarked and ignored.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Gates of Azyr (Novella Review)

There are few things more divisive in this world than massive reboots of beloved franchises. Often they are the source of fan rage and, to be blunt, they're extraordinarily easy to get wrong. Start copying ideas from the old universe or rely too much upon pop culture nostalgia (hello JJ Abrams) and it's insulting to devoted fans who stuck with the universe. Don't change enough and the reboot is seen as unnecessary, adding nothing to the franchise and cutting short countless ongoing interesting stories. Change too much and you alienate fans, anyone interested in the series, and end up betraying the setting.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Star Wars: Dark Disciple (Book Review)

Despite ending prematurely in order to make way for Rebels, Clone Wars was a series with a vast amount of potential and great ideas. With many plot threads, scripts and ideas left floating about, it was only natural that someone would adapt them into a full novel. In the case of Dark Disciple, this was to help finish off the story arcs surrounding conflicted Jedi Quinlan Vos and the now renegade Asajj Ventress. Their task? Hunt down and assassinate Count Dooku, ending his threat once and for all.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Angels Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

Welcome to part two, if you're after the book's lore, you can find the analysis here.

Of all the things to say about Codex: Dark Angels' rules, sadly the most apt description is that of a pale shadow. It's based upon a good concept, has certain solid ideas backing it up, and most of the units are highly effective. By all rights its a decent book, and we've certainly seen far, far worse than this in recent years, yet for all the positives there's one big glaring flaw which hangs over that. As such, we're going to be doing things a little differently this time, primarily looking into its biggest flaw before moving on to focus far more upon its much better attributes.

Back in the review of Codex: Space Marines, one of the big points in its favour was the book's use of its formations. All too often past releases had used formations as a tacked-on idea, something where the entire army list was written for the players and they were effectively being rewarded for putting no effort into their lists. Combined with unbound armies, it seemed that it was actively killing off full originality when it came to army creation or even basic balance. However, Codex: Space Marines showed a way in which Formations could be used for good, and remained thematically loyal to the lore. Rather than being one whole army, each was to serve as a building block to a bigger force.

In the same way Codex adherent chapters had task forces and companies assembled from elements across the chapter, the core of any list was part of a Battle Company with elements of Reserves, Scout and First companies joining them. In its own right it was a simple but very elegant idea, and one which allowed for a good deal of creativity in many respects. You didn't have to completely stick to it of course, and could build formations and ideas beyond them, and it was still flexible enough to largely represent most chapters to one degree or another. Better yet, it was the starting point for something more expansive. This was a general example of how most Codex focused chapters (albeit some falsely labelled as such, like the White Scars and Iron Hands). As such, the more diverse and unusual chapters could have the same done to them, better representing their styles, unique formations, ways of war and even the tactics of aliens. The problem is then that, for the most part, the formations focusing upon the Dark Angels are largely copied from the prior codex. This would be bad enough, but the vast majority of them are either not done nearly as well, or are just weaker shades of what we had before.

Take their famous formation focusing upon their elite Fallen hunters, the Deathwing Redemption Force. Even above all other chapters, the Dark Angels are well renowned for retaining a heavily armoured and very powerful number of warriors to bring down upon any who might be harboring the Fallen. Even back in the Third Edition, this was well recognised, and more than a few readers seemed understandably irritated that Codex: Space Marines' own Terminator clad formation was effectively taking their own special formation for itself. Well, to add salt to that particular wound, the special rules for this force are actually far worse by comparison. They have Preferred Enemy thankfully, but only against Chaos Space Marines. Along with this, they gain no bonuses during their initial strike, re-rolls or multiple attacks. Instead the players choose exactly when they get to Deep Strike in and the ability to run then shoot, shoot then run and even fire upon arriving. Now, these are all useful and pretty good, and i'd even argue better balanced, but it lacks that bonus firepower that the Deathwing rightfully deserve. It's daft really, the one time Games Workshop show's restraint in its rules, and i'm the one arguing they didn't go far enough in powering them up!

Problems only grow once you see how the book retains more than a few typos and obvious editing oversights. While not nearly as bad as forcing the Farsight Enclaves to take loyalist Tau Empire characters, more than a few seem to have been written with the inability to keep track of their special rules and details. This is especially evident in the Ravenwing sections, which seem to forget that only one of their characters has the ability to make them viable for their formations. This sadly leaves a few good ideas fundamentally broken at their core.

Others such as their version of the Battle Demi-Company also show an unfortunate mix of good and bad points. The unit lists are the same, the overall structure is the same but a few of the special rules have changed. One focuses upon the Dark Angels' traditionally greater proficiency at ranged combat, by making them BS 3 in Overwatch rather than 2. Okay, that's fair and hardly breaks the game. The other one is quite problematic though, as it allows units to automatically count as successfully holding Objective Markers even when the enemy is contesting them. Given that this is a formation which extends to Dreadnoughts and Assault Marines, that's going a bit too far.

Overall you get the impression with the formations that they were really rushed out the door to try and capitalise upon the hype surrounding Codex: Space Marines. With more time, more originality and better planning they could have produced something great, but sadly we instead end up with something flawed and sadly squandering a lot of great potential.

So, with that out of the way, the rest of the book is actually pretty solid on the whole. Much like the codex we keep referring back to in this review, not too much has changed in terms of unit rules, listings and stats. At least with the basic units anyway. Others meanwhile get some much bigger buffs thanks to their overarching rules, and there's been a bigger focus upon improving the army's notable weak points.

While their lore might have been great, the Dark Talon and Nephilim always seemed to be trailing behind their competitors in a lot of regards even as glass cannons. They didn't hit quite hard enough and died too easily to be truly beneficial in a lot of situations, so while they had their moments they were understandably seen as a liability in some circles. This is thankfully drastically corrected here, with both receiving some much deserved buffs. 
The Nephilim in particular gained Strafing Run, a sizable drop in points, and carries Strength 7 AP 3 missiles. Not too shabby at all, and atop of this the Unrelenting Hunter means players can opt to pass up destroying a vehicle's weapons for immobilising it. Basically the damn thing's a mini-Fire Raptor gunship at this point.
Then we have the Dark Talon. The thing might be fragile and very likely to die after its opening volley, but the developers seem to have redesigned it with that point in mind. As such you now have a fast moving attack platform with a Vortex (read: Destroyer) strength weapon and two hurricane bolters. Oh, and it can also now use its stasis bombs to potentially remove models from play as much as severely debuff them. Yeah, it's a little broken, but seeing this thing in action is quite frankly too damn funny to remain mad at it.

Anyway, positive buffs here as well can be found in the form of the Grim Resolve special rule. This is something which is distributed throughout most of the chapter and allows units to overwatch at BS 2, allowing for a lot of powerful firepower to be poured into anything they're fighting. Well, a bit more bolter round as they enter combat and the like, but you get the point. Atop of this, the focus upon using Codex: Space Marines as a baseline added a few improvements, chief among these being the points costs. While the Dark Angels have a few edges over normal squads and units, they are still reasonably priced and well balanced in terms of army lists.

Fast Attack choices and various swift moving units have seen a notable number of positive improvements. A few here and a few there, these have ranged from relatively small things such as Ravenwing units now re-rolling Cover Saves when jinking, to the Darkshroud's new abilities. Along with conveying Fear onto enemy units, any squad charging out from its protective bubble of Stealth are immune to Overwatch attacks, which makes this exceptional at breaking gunlines or causing problems for Imperial Guard and Tau Empire.

The sad losses which offset these are definitely notable, but don't hit anywhere near as hard as you might think. For starters, Objective Secured is gone meaning Bikes and Terminator Squads can't hold positions, but at the same time basic Demi-Company units can pull this off. The Deathwing can no longer take vehicles truly dedicated to them save for Venerable Dreadnoughts, at least with the expected effects, and the buffing banners improving certain combat capabilities are completely gone. As such, a lot of the chapter's initial flexibility has been lost here and there, but at the same time much of it has either been rolled into the formations system or implemented elsewhere. While the new system might be definitely flawed and problematic, it's more than the ideas have been reshuffled rather than truly removed.

So, with all that done we have the book's relics, and big name items. These vary quite a bit in terms of balance and effectiveness, pretty much across the entire quality spectrum. 
To start with, Shroud of Heroes costs only 10 points but it allows units Shrouded when on their own and (is there anything which doesn't offer this these days?) Feel No Pain. This actually makes it extraordinary useful for a lot of Librarians and giving them some serious durability when it comes to close range psychic powers. 
The Foe-smiter is one which might as well be a hand-held Assault Cannon. Hitting at Assault 4 and with Shred, it hits hard but has a price tag attached to match that damage potential. Of course, it's overshadowed a bit by the Lion's Roar, which is effectively a bolter with an under-slung single-shot plasma cannon.
The Eye of the Unseen is certainly inoffensive enough, granting Preferred Enemy and Fear, but certainly lacks originality and some impact. Atop of all of this, it's also a little overpriced despite this detail and seems to really be something which is rendered pointless by certain formation rules.
Another of these, labelled the Perfidious Relic of the Unforgiven, is something which is far more of a general use weapon, and it's hard to tell just how broken it is or not. Its effects? Fear and Adamantium Will, the latter causing nightmares for psyker focused armies. With the game as psychic heavy as it is, the fact you can have this given to just about all Deathwing units can break entire armies quite easily.
Oh, and finally the Monster Slayer of Caliban is a piece of complete crap. Over-engineered and gimmicky beyond belief, it switches stats and effects once per turn, most of which don't make it much more effective than the average power weapon or Thunder Hammer.

Overall, this is a mixed bag to be sure. It's certainly not nearly as damnable as some people have claimed, but this is really one which needed a bit more time and attention. Is it terrible? Definitely not, and I can easily see how players can have some fun with this one thanks to its improvements. Well, that and sticking to most of what worked last time save for the formations. If you're sticking with Dark Angels, you'll want to stick with your chapter in the coming edition, but don't expect another complete revamp completely changing the entire metagame.

Overall, a solid but definitely flawed release.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Her Story (Video Game Review)

Her Story is very much an older approach to video games not seen often today, retaining far less hand-holding and more reliance upon using a pen, paper and your wits to get ahead. Relying upon you watching multiple videos and piecing together a story involving a potential murder, it proves to be a game of intrigue which takes a very conservative approach to game mechanics.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Horus Heresy: Deathfire (Book Review)

If ever there was a Black Library release which can be judged by its title alone, it would be Deathfire. Really, the very word itself is all you need to know, cringe-worthy, almost juvenile and written with a mishandled intent to produce something meaningfully epic. What’s inside proves to be a drawn out tumorous mass of needless plot, padding, confused messages and an attempt to deliver shout-outs to The Odyssey which devolve into equal parts naval gazing and bolter porn.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Space Marines Part 3 - The Units, Relics and Warlord Traits (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

So, finally finishing this damn thing at long last. Overall, this last bit really reads the same as the first two parts, a generally good idea overall if one marred by a few bad choices or shortcomings. It's not bad by any means, but you can tell with a bit more of a push this could have been something outstanding. That done, on with the show.

The first and foremost point of note here is the Warlord table, which has undergone a few unique tweaks here and there. Overall the list is... well, let's just go through them one by one at first.

Angel of Death: Allows warlord to cause  Fear, forcing units to take tests on 3d6. Cassius and Shrike have this.

The Imperium's Sword: Grants the warlord Furious Charge. Helbrecht comes with this.

Iron Resolve: The warlord immediately gains Feel No Pain. Pedro, Lysander and Vulkan roll with this.

Storm of Fire: For the shooting phase a friendly squad with Chapter Tactics within 12" gets Rending. Tigurius and Telion murder things with this.

Rites of War: All units in the same detachment as this warlord can use his leadership for morale tests of any kind. Sicarius and Grimaldus have this.

Champion of Humanity: All Imperial models (as in anyone from the Imperium as a whole) within 12" gain the ability to re-roll pinning, morale, and fear. Khan walks through hails of gunfire.

Now, on the one hand I get what they were going for and in an odd way I can actually appreciate it. It was trying to use the Warlord traits to represent a much broader scope of chapters in this book. It's trying to give some slight edge to each chapter in turn and allow them a moment in the spotlight in some way, in order for them to show up on the battlefield and represent their chapter's heroes as Tactics do their troops. The idea is a commendable one if this is the case, but the execution is most definitely lacking.

As a whole, the overall scope of these traits are fairly unremarkable. They don't stand out that well and for the most part they just come down to giving very generalised buffs. There's nothing here to truly try to boost their role as a general leading an army beyond one or two here, and for the most part there's very little which is inventive here beyond offering some very common buffs. Honestly, just read through these and look at how many times we've seen these repeated over and over again. There's nothing outstanding or interesting here, and perhaps worst of all is how they are used or reflect aspects of other named characters. Because so many independent characters can immediately get these, it doesn't make Captains, Chapter Masters or others seem special when they are granted traits. 
Instead it just makes them seem like weaker copies or poor shadows by comparison. That honestly weakens an already waning appeal of taking your own Captain over one Games Workshop made. Plus atop of this there's some fairly questionable choices. Yeah, Tigurius is awesome and all but why does he get the same buff as Telion, and where are the Crimson Fists and Iron Hands in all of this? You can argue the latter lacks special characters despite several being perfect for them, but Pedro is still strolling about, so why exempt him?

The only bit of praise really worth offering here is how, because of how overly general they are, they aren't plagued by the failings we saw in prior releases. There's nothing so insanely specific that it might undermine your planned role for your Warlord, so it's far more of a generally nice bonus rather than a true bonus. Yeah, it's generally a double edged sword.

The actual relics themselves follow in something of the same vein as the Warlord traits. They're nothing dramatically outstanding or uniquely interesting, but for the most part they're inoffensive enough to work without too much backfiring. Despite all of this, for the most part it does read as being a bit more than just a handful of the same recycled tropes and general items here. There's at least enough of a unique spin on them to try and make them stand out well.

For starters, the first Chapter Relic worthy of mention is the Armour Indomitus. Along with a some surprisingly nice history suggesting it was effectively proto-Terminator armour from long before the Heresy (plus a rather direct reference in its name) the suit is a basic uber-armour buff. You get 2+ saves against standard weapons, but this is also backed up by a 6+ invulnerable save to help shrug off power blades. Now, while that might not sound like anything special, the real buff comes with the option for players to supercharge that invulnerable save for one turn, upgrading it to 2+. As additions go for relics, this is one I personally quite like. In terms of overall power it's well balanced, good and quite meaty but with a couple of intended weaknesses. 

The real strength though comes in that timed addition, forcing the player to really consider just when and where they need to use it. After all, having to used while a Captain is being sandwiched between two Carnifexes might buy him some time for a squad of Terminators to get involved, but you might need to save it until something more pressing comes about. As such its one which still rewards careful timing and decisions over all else, and poor decisions will still come back to bite a player. Sure, it's simple but it's still something which rewards better experience and timing when it comes to using it.

The Burning Blade follows the trend of keeping to the same general design, but putting a few new spins on things. As a close combat weapon, it's a +3 Strength AP2 which causes Blind. Certainly quite a meaty weapon by anyone's standards, and deadly without going completely nuts. However, the real fun comes from a certain unique trait the labelled as "Incandescent" - this special rule allows for it to inflict more damage during the Assault Phase's conclusion. On the roll of a 1 on a D6, the wielder takes a single Strength 4 AP2 hit. It allows for there to be a chance of risk within this. Not much of a one, but for such a powerful weapon it's nice to see a little further backlash and risk exist for those using it. Plus, it fits with the weapon's background as well which, while being a little conflicted, is pretty good. The weapon itself actually links back to the Siege of Terra and the Vengeful Spirit itself.

Along with this, there's naturally a more long ranged weapon.This one isn't quite so unique or potentially fun as the other two, and remains a little less ambitious. Named the Primarch's Wrath, the weapon is effectively just a single boltgun with a few notable bonuses mounted atop of it. While still range "24, Strength 4 and AP 4, the weapon is Master-Crafted and is further buffed with the Shred special rule. Atop of this, it also has Salvo 2/5, meaning this is the rare occasion where a special character (one not wholly dedicated to being a sniper) can be an effective mass reaper of infantrymen. It makes them well suited to helping spearhead assaults and neutralizing enemy squads when operating alongside allied fire support units.

The next one worthy of note is the Standard of the Emperor Ascendant, which is another example of the book trying to put a good spin upon tired old items and their ideas. In this case it's the usual "12 inch Leadership boost we've seen quite a few times before now. However, rather than just boosting their Ld stat or claiming they can use an HQ choice's leadership quality, instead it makes them Fearless. Oh, and atop of this, we then have the fact the item causes the bearer to inflict Fear on anyone he attacks, and it also gives +1 to attacks while charging. This really seems to be another spearhead weapon more than anything else, but unlike the prior example there's a bit more merit to this one. It's intended to work far more closely with attacking units and is intended to serve as a major buff to squads, rather than just a token bonus.

The last two sadly aren't quite as fun overall, as they do lack the same ambition (or at least open effort to put a new spin on things) as the others. For example, The Shield Eternal really is just a storm shield with an added bonus granting Adamantium Will and Eternal Warrior. Personally, i've very mixed feelings about this. For starters, the shield itself is very much equal to the others in terms of overall quality and strength. At the same time though, it does play into a few irritating issues. The foremost among these being the determination to give any and all independent characters Eternal Warrior as a special rule, prioritizing them over all others. It's hard to say it's bad, or that it's far from useful in any way, but it's also extraordinarily unoriginal and sadly encouraging bad habits.

The Teeth of Terra meanwhile is really just a second close combat weapon. It's hardly poorly made or badly put together, but ultimately it just comes down to being a chainsword on steroids. Along with granting +2 Strength and AP3, the weapon's main benefit lies in its special rules, with Concussive, Specialist Weapon and Rampage all affecting it. This really seems to be one more dedicated to bringing down hordes, perhaps understandably with the Burning Blade's use in slaying heavy infantry and powerful beings. With Rampage added into the mix, this allows the wielder to have an additional D3 attacks, and a solid chance of Concussing its foes. Good for crowd control really, but even when alongside the others here it appears fairly one note.

There's little else to really be said. For the most part these are competently thought out and certainly a cut above the bad ones we've seen in prior books. They're serviceable and for the most part fun to use, so take that for what it's worth even if they aren't the most outstandingly original weapons ever devised.

Finally we have the units themselves on this list, and for the most part this really is a case of second verse, same as the first. From having had a chance to compare statistics, ideas and costs from prior books, there isn't a dramatically huge amount which has been rewritten here. While many people expected there to be a number of sweeping changes, from boosting Lyander's points costs substantially to completely reworking Sternguard, there's not too much been done. What we have here is more a case of substantial tweaking rather than vastly changing the whole book, and having read the codex through it's actually benefited it quite well. You really get the impression here that writers stopped to look back on their past efforts with this book, took account of past failings and while they have boosted several factors substantially, they had enough restraint not to pull a second Codex: Craftworld Eldar

The most notable change is the removal of Master of the Forge from the codex. This was met with the ire of many iron clad gamers wanting to thematically represent their chapters, especially those with close ties to Ferrus Manus or Rogal Dorn. However, The benefit of this actually comes in the form of the buffs granted to Techmarines. While each unit's overall cost has been increased, Techmarines are effectively Masters, having been granted their full stats line and access to Conversion Beamers and servo-harnesses. This makes them more readily used and widely available, and given how many armies tended to avoid using them, hopefully this will mean we'll see more of them in the future. While the Iron Hands might have lost access to an Iron Father leading them, they now have a lot more of them they can field doing a hell of a lot of damage.

Keeping on the subject of HQ choices and hard hitting units, Captains now have Chapter Master simply as an upgrade. While some people have celebrated this fact, it's something I personally see as a little more irksome. Without that same improvement, without so many differences between the two, it really makes Chapter Masters seem less like a cut above Captains than a simple chosen among them. While this does of course mean that Captains themselves are much more effective in war thanks to upgrades, it's still a frustrating point to see a traditionally superior rank lowered to little more than a glorified power mushroom. Yeah, it's more of a traditional criticism than a critical one, but it's still an irritating point.

Something which proves to be an equally problematic upgrade is the use of vehicles as squadrons now. Predators, Whirlwinds and Vindicators can all be taken as squadrons of three, which is a definite improvement and overall upgrade even if they can be blown to bits a little easier. Fielding nine tanks at once in a marine army is certainly an interesting choice but still befits certain forces thematically, though there are a few odd snags. Foremost among these is the fact that, upon just one tank blowing up, the entire squadron immediately disbands. Yeah, so the few perks and bonuses which give these squadrons a real edge immediately evaporate and loses you half the reasons you'd have for taking them. As one example, three Vindicators firing as one can create a single Apocalyptic blast template, so if one happens to get railgun'd you immediately lose access to that. Yeah, not a fan of such massive templates being in standard 40K and all, but the fact they're so easily lost is just downright frustrating.

Dreadnoughts meanwhile have gained a substantial buff. Along with gaining four attacks basic, they also now have access to Chapter Traits. This means that even the generic dreadnoughts now have much more substantial use on the battlefield and far better durability in some cases.

Finally, the most notable changes are a few minor tweaks to a lot of the specialist troops in terms of their equipment and posts costs. Some of these are fairly simple and straight forwards, such as Devastators gaining access to Grav-Cannons and Assault Marines now wielding a chainsaw which would give Ash Williams envy. Nothing too overly remarkable here and they feel like a natural evolution of what came before.
At the same time, Terminators and Assault Marines have differed in terms of points costs. Assault Squads now cost 70 points, but they have to buy Jump Packs, so this evens out unless you want more footslogging fodder intended to charge the enemy at close range. They also don't get any dedicated transports for free, meaning players are more reliant upon a certain bonus to a certain formation to make full use of them. So, not great overall, but with a wider variety of upgrades they're arguably a little more flexible in some regards.
Terminators meanwhile benefit far better in this, with the points of individual units being reduced by ten points. This is about time as, given the current state of the game, Tactical Dreadnought Armour isn't nearly as effective as it once was. There's not much else which is said here, only that it's more viable to release them into the battlefield over a few more generally useful options. Plus it means taking upgrades with them a little easier to justify, especially those lovely close combat weapons.

Gun to my head, i'd honestly have to say that this codex isn't nearly that bad mechanically. It's not going to win any awards and there are still the odd moments where poor editing does make your eyes roll, but it's still a relatively well rounded book. There's not too many obvious weaknesses and flaws, and mechanically it's relatively well balanced, with some power but much more reserved and less reliant upon sheer raw unit stats than many others. It doesn't quite go enough in some respects and it does read as if some chapters might have benefited from a little more flexibility, but on the whole it's still pretty fun to use.

While prior editions are definitely worth picking up over this one, if you're wondering if Space Marines are still worth using on the tabletop, they very much are. Definitely take a look at this one if you're after getting back into 40k or even just sticking with the game for another edition.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Halo: Hunters in the Dark (Book Review)

Halo as a universe has always been one of those success stories better buoyed up by its tie-in literature than main storyline. While the video games might have formed the skeleton, it was only through its novels that something of true substance began to emerge. Hunters in the Dark is the latest book to add greater depth to the setting, and it's very much a return to form for the franchise.