Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Film Review)

Yeah, this one's running a little late so let's cut to the chase shall we? If you're a fan of loud, fast paced action films, but are open to productions who balance out those elements with high tension and quiet moments, this is one to see. It's a little dumb at times to be sure, but still extraordinary fun and proves to be oddly intelligent in other regards.

Set several years following the events of Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt has become a driven man. Having seemingly gone rogue, he is hunting down a supposed network of M.I.A. spies and allegedly dead officers no working against their own nations. As a result of his actions, IMF is disbanded and its resources drafted into the CIA. With the Director of Intelligence determined to bring Hunt to justice and a deep cover MI6 agent involved, things quickly become quite complicated...

As a whole Mission: Impossible has often been quite a disjointed franchise. Even without going into how the classic tv series (sadly overshadowed by the films) is effectively in a world of its own, each production has been released years apart. Besides the odd returning actor or occasional callback, each film might as well more or less exist as its own entity. Ghost Protocol could have been seen as a kind of soft reboot as a result of this, with a stronger supporting cast and new roles, something solidified by how this film directly reflects upon its events. Given the collateral damage inflicted and the disastrous knife-edge solution, it was brought into question how an organisation so often winning almost purely by improvisation could possibly be held unaccountable. In this case they are called into account, their approach is brought up, but even the characters themselves seem to reflect upon this. Their approaches and solutions, while retaining the by-the-seat-of-his-pants planning the films are known for, are much more low key and with a narrower focus. Still destructive to be sure, but they don't blow up a major building this time.

The main action itself is carefully interspersed into individual sections, divvied up and contained into parts of each act. Ignoring the fantastic cold opening, the first second and third acts each focus upon an individual operation. These have always been the most entertaining parts of each film, and thanks to this oddly episodic structure things are made all the stronger for it. It's similar to what we saw in Ghost Protocol, but it doesn't flow from one to the next quite so directly. Strangely, this makes the later acts stronger as a result, with more focus placed upon the events then and there, and less direct reflection upon past ones. This means we get to see the planning, efforts and stages of each mini-heist in turn, but playing out in a different way. The first one with a plan only known to one character but quickly going wrong, the second with it developing and the group knowing but it being revised as events progress, and the final one pulling a very surprising twist. No, really, it's this last bit where the film's surprising intelligence shines through the most.

To top off the focus upon the missions, we also have some utterly great sequences. Foremost among these, and the highlight of the film, is one of the best car chases of the year and an extremely tense raid on a data facility. These show the rapid way in which director Christopher McQuarrie can cover fluid, unbroken shots and fast paced rapid-cut sequences alike, displaying an extremely careful eye for big, bold visuals. There's some very classic elements to certain sequences given how the film utilises shadows, lighting and staging, alongside some excellent tips of the hat to visual spy tropes. This gives it a surprisingly traditional feel at times, something assisted by other elements such as the villain's uncanny resemblance to Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Oh, and if you thought the villain in Ghost Protocol was weak, what we have here more than makes up for it.

The acting here is solid to top notch, but with the ensemble cast involved, what else would you expect. Despite his religious turns, Cruise is still an excellent lead in almost any role, and the likes of Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner have proven themselves many times over. Add to that the return of Ving Rhames, then the new additions of Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin, and you have one hell of a group of characters working with the script. As such, even some of the more daft moments can be carried by their performances or their conviction to their roles, with Pegg in particular standing out extremely well.

If a flaw does need to be cited, it's in two particular areas. While you might not notice it at first, the gun battles have a very strange habit of using disjointed close ups on shots. While not nearly as bad as certain infamously bad examples of this (directors, you know who you are) the sequences suffer from an odd focus upon firing and impacts, but never quite hitting that point where everything flows without issue. Thankfully gun battles don't make such a critical part of the action here, but it's still an issue. The other key problem however, is that a lot of the old romantic tropes and ideas show up, along with a lot of spy related ones. As such, you can end up predicting what are supposedly a few ingenious turns long before they take place. This is most definitely a problem which undermines some of the drama, and can leave you more than a little dissatisfied with sections of the narrative.

Still, it's honestly extremely hard to give anything short of a glowing recommendation to this one. It's not going to stand out as some timeless classic or pillar of the entire action genre, but damn if it isn't one of the most fun films of its kind so far this year. If you're still waiting for Spectre or have been dissatisfied with Man from U.N.C.L.E. then definitely give this one a look.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Until Dawn (Video Game Review)

In just about every respect, Until Dawn is a Quantic Dreams game until you realise David Cage wasn’t in the directing chair. It retains many of his ideas of the games he has worked on, but Supermassive Games have opted to take things in a rather unique direction. Your choices made here matter less about what you do, than who is left by the end.

The story follows eight friends, visiting a mountain getaway to celebrate the winter. However, as time progresses, things begin to take a sinister turn. As bodies start to pile up, the group begins to realise they are not alone on the mountain.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Grey Goo - Collector's Edition (Video Game Review)

In many regards Grey Goo can be seen as the successor to Petroglyph’s criminally underrated Universe at War: Earth Assault. The trio of diverse armies focusing upon mobile bases, entrenched formations and scattered hit-and-fade attacks, would be proof enough; yet other points stand out, such as the human faction’s close resemblance to the robotic Novus. Thankfully this was not simply a spiritual successor but a re-envisioning. The end result is not only an outstanding game, but one of the single best RTS releases of the last decade.

The story follows the war on the planet Falkannan. Having fled the onslaught of an unknown, terrifying foe, the alien Beta are gradually rebuilding their society. However, the initial test-firing of their new wormhole drags an unknown threat to their doorstep and forces them to fight for their lives once more. At the same time, a human expeditionary force is drawn to the planet while following of a strange signal, and is soon dragged into a war they unwittingly created…

Monday, 24 August 2015

Rage of the Tau - A Tale of Betrayal, Lore and Fickle Dice

A good half of the players you'll talk to will likely have started Warhammer 40,000 with the Astartes. Even before the insane degrees of shilling they started to truly receive in recent years, there was no denying their popularity. They were a well rounded army, were core to one of the most defining settings in the entire game, and had the most expansive lore. With all that, who could blame people for getting into them. I was one of the few exceptions of that time, starting with a xenos race, in this case the tau. While it didn't take long to eventually jump to the Ultramarines, and then later on Chaos (thank you for influencing those, Graham McNeill) the Tau Empire was my gateway into the setting. That said, it was certainly not the most auspicious one, but it was something which led to a few interesting games. This is one of them.

During the last year of the Third Edition, my local Games Workshop basically set up a series of massive campaigns as a send off to one era, and a celebration of the start of another. For the veterans this meant a series of informal tournaments and, in the case of the rest of us, several insane multi-player meat-grinders. These usually consisted of five or six players a side, each with only five or six hundred points at the most.While some were out and out slugging matches, most had some serious lore related story behind them. In the case of this particular game, it was a hidden Ordo Hereticus cache of information, lost to the mists of time, but only recently discovered. Well, this led to a rather large scale battle, with the Imperium on one side (fighting to retake it and rescue the stasis locked Lord Inquisitor within) and everyone else on the other. Unfortunately, this didn't quite gel with me.

The reasoning for such an alliance of Chaos Warbands, Eldar Warhosts, Dark Eldar Kabals, Ork WAAAGHS! and a small Tyranid Hive Fleet was down to opportunism and exploitation. Half of them had been bartered or were being mind controlled by the Thousand Sons sorcerer on one side, the rest were present purely to deny the Imperium its prize for some unknown reason. The thing was, the Tau Cadre I was using didn't quite fit in with this merry band of murderers for more than a few lore related reasons. Thanks this to being the time before the sheer stupidity of Farsight Enclaves opted to have the Ethereals abruptly follow the Emperor's every mistake, the Tau Empire was relatively aware of Chaos. It wasn't widespread, and encounters were rare, but their discovery wasn't some staggering game-changer beyond all else. More importantly, encounters had proven two things: Firstly, the Ethereals' influence to calm minds and their minute presence in the Warp had been shown to make them extremely resistant to telepathic intrusions. Secondly, the few times Fire Warriors had run into Chaos, they had seen it as a manifestation of Mont'au, the very thing their entire society was created to oppose.

Things were only made a bit more complicated by my Cadre's background. Serving as an advanced vanguard for the Empire, they were sent to establish positive diplomatic relations and seek out potential races far ahead of their species. This was basically a form of far reaching planning, and usually relied upon them making a good impression by saving them from some xenos terror, like the orks, tyranids or dark eldar. Yeah, very the guys i'd been paired up with. Most players would have overlooked this, but unfortunately my allies were being saddled with a bloke who had a rod up his backside when it came to massive breaches in lore.

Quietly seeking out the manager, I went over and started bringing up these points and citing the background. While today these would have just been brushed over or ignored entirely by the staff, the manager at the time was something of a lore enthusiast. Being much more open to storytelling ideas, it turned into a discussion surrounding lore, the events of the Empire, nature of Chaos, and eventually game balance. Eventually he stated I couldn't just switch sides, it'd be against the rules, so asked me what i'd want to do instead? The answer: A royal backstabbing.

The story was privately changed thusly: The Cadre had lost their Ethereal in a recent battle, leaving them open to gradual coercion by the Sorcerer. While less effective on them than the orks, it nevertheless turned them to his side, at least until the vanguard's other Ethereal showed up. Thinking him little more than a priest, he was ignored, but quietly started to cause breaks in the influence controlling them. The Fire Warriors, upon realising the horror which had overwhelmed them, would react in suicidal rage, trying to annihilate anything in their path.

In English, or as the rest of the table was concerned: The bulk of the army would be charging into close combat or rushing into close range. Yeah, not the smartest move, but given they were partially being mind controlled and reacting in horror, it kind of seemed right. Plus it meant that it wouldn't be so damaging a betrayal than having the army shooting. Or so we thought.

Well, the Legion of Doomy Doom got the first turn, advancing across the green hilly fields which made up 90% of the terrain from that time. The problem now was keeping attention away from me during this turn, as i'd be taking my actions with the other side. Thankfully this didn't prove to be too difficult. While most of them were busy with their own movements, no one happened to notice the tau weren't doing anything. Standing still, most people assumed I was shooting, and then deflected all attention during the shooting phase by just rolling random dice until everyone was done. Sometimes it can be just amazing how much you can get away with doing that, especially during the carnage of rolling hundreds of D6s.

Well, then the other turn came about and I weighed up my options. Most of my army hadn't moved at all, sticking in the same place, but were close behind my allies. However, the "suicidal charging impulse" was exempt from the experienced warriors, so while 90% of my army was charging in, a few could hang back to shoot. This left my options open. Like any good story you needed a dramatic opening strike, and as historic as a massed assault charge might be, it needed to be memorable. It needed to be horrifying, and ultimately it needed to hit hard. Well, it didn't take long to eyeball a very tempting target.

The Chaos player heading this whole thing had left his Sorcerer in the open. Going for the whole dramatic scene of the leader waving his legions forwards, he was standing open, on his own, and with his Rubric Marines marching far ahead. 

Imagine for a moment what this the scene would have looked like in a book:

Lightning illuminates the heavens silhouetting the Warband against the night. Below the Sorcerer the ancient animated suits of armour chant the lost hymns of Prospero, and bellow prayers favouring the Dark Gods. Raising his hands, he begins hurling spells ahead, throwing them into the lines of the loyalist scum, roaring his devotion to the Changer of Ways, and killing Guardsmen by the dozen. Then, a noise interrupts him, cutting his yell short. With a smell of ozone and snap of a super-accelerated round tearing through the skies, the round struck him full in the face, smashing into the Thousand Son's ancient warplate. His ancient protections flickered, failed and then he was blown in half, the two remnants of his body spinning off in opposite directions.

At the other end of their assault line, directly parallel to him, the solo Broadside Shas'vre on the battlefield stands with wisps of smoke escaping his cannon barrels. Watching his work in smug satisfaction as the Cadre is signaled for war, he declares "Yeah, sign of the Changer of Ways to you too, mate!"

... Okay, that last part got away from me but, in fairness, I did actually say that.

Well, with the cat out of the bag, it was time for the betrayal to begin in full. With the shocked expressions of both sides, one group of Fire Warriors shot at their nearest allies, while the other two promptly charged into the nearest massed unit. Now, this was where things get a little interesting. For starters, the player nearby was one who favoured odd armies like Chaos Dwarves, or in this case Genestealer Cults. For those not in the know, the Genestealer Cults were cannon fodder taken up to the Nth degree, consisting of badly trained civilians, gangers and the like, accompanied with some heavy hitters. Their big advantage stemmed from how, for the time, they could assemble massive units, of a good fifty individuals or so. As such, on one side you had eighteen Fire Warriors and an Ethereal, on the other thirty or so Cultists. This was going to probably end badly, until things promptly took a shocking swerve.

Now, Fire Warriors are terrible in combat, any player worth their salt knows that. The thing is though, despite their terrible WS, relatively poor Strength and Toughness, they have some damn good armour. So, the Tau charged in, managed to take out a good eight cultists with some surprisingly good rolls, then tanked everything thrown back at them. With a third of their number gone, the Cultists failed a Leadership Test, fled, and then were promptly run down by the vengeful Fire Caste. Killing one and a half times their number in combat, without casualties, is a good record for any army, even fodder. For Fire Warriors though? This must have seemed like an act of the Greater Good. Well, they weren't about to let that good luck go to waste, and promptly started running, screaming at the nearest enemy unit.

Well, what followed must have seemed like the Chaos Gods were playing a bad joke on people. While the Broadside hung back, firing away and blowing chunks out of a Carnifex and blowing up a couple of Wraithguard, before being dragged down by some Genestealers, every other greyskin went on the rampage. No, there's no other word for it. The Shas'Ui might as well have switched out his helmet for a Hockey Mask and started screaming "Today is a good day for someone else to die!"

Breaking past the Cultist lines, the mob promptly charged a badly mauled unit of Ork Boyz in a hellish storm of blood-splattered tan armour and broken rifles. Well, despite losing six of their number of the orks, not only did they manage to rip and tear their way through their number, but utterly annihilated them. With the Warboss falling beneath the rifle butts of the vengeful aliens, they kept running. No, really, they didn't slow down until the fifth turn. Leaving a road paved in limbs and cemented in the bloody gore of several Raptors, three Terminators, and a number of Hormagaunts, they were only stopped at the last second before reaching the objective. By a rather badly wounded Carnifex no less. By the time the last of them were run through by scything talons, they had inflicted more damage than the same number of Khorne Berserkers would usually be capable of. 

Suffice to say, this was quite the unexpected game and one which would have rarely been pulled off. Even accepting that the tau suddenly turned into a band of maniacs who would impress Deadpool, punching their way through power armour, it's the sort of situation no one would accept these days. Most managers now would sadly just stick to the plan, more concerned about basic balance or mechanics rather than storytelling or individual ideas, and in some respects that's kind of a shame. While this sort of thing would get old fast if it were allowed too often, the odd bit of random originality here and there helps considerably to keep the game interesting. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Shadowrun Hong Kong (Video Game Review)

The third game in Harebrained Schemes’ Blade Runner meets Tolkien cyberpunk saga, Shadowrun Hong Kong is a definite refinement from past titles. While the same tropes and mechanics are present, many details have been notably fine-tuned; so while turn-based shooting remains the same, hacking and the like have been given a substantial overhaul.

Playing as a criminal of your choice, you arrive back in Hong Kong after being contacted by your foster father. Things promptly go wrong from there as you and several other associates are abruptly declared terrorists, forcing you to flee the police in a hail of gunfire. From there, to discover answers, you are forced to enter a life in the shadows, acting as an espionage agent for hire.

The narrative diversity and scale of environments in particular has seen some notable improvements. The missions themselves are substantially more interesting and vastly in terms of scale and narrative, offering a few extremely interesting scenarios from the start. As a result many are akin to Dragonfall’s Bloodlines quest, allowing a person with the right planning and skills to reach their target without ever needing to fire a shot. Far more freedom is offered in terms of ways to approach a mission or ways you can conclude your objectives. There is always the option to fight it out, even after an initially peaceful resolution, but hacking, charisma and magic usually offers quieter or more profitable avenues of approach. 

The environments themselves have also seen a sharp rise in quality, with substantially more detailed characters, animations and lighting. In particular, the entire hacking grid has been given a massive overhaul, completely altering the way in which combat, hacking and movement works. Rather than strolling about until a few defence programs show up, you have to actively avoid them, and there is far more of a risk that you will trigger alarms. Sentries move in real-time and hacking consists of a series of predictions and memory mini-games. While this removes some of the prior control and predictability players had, it also forces you to more frequently think on your feet. 

The game’s combat has seen a few varied changes with character progression trees and points systems. While sticking primarily to what we had prior to now, the spread and design means you have to more carefully plan and consider what to put points into. Being too varied hurts the game considerably, and you’ll never be able to end up with a character as versatile or diverse as some prior game-breaking builds. Atop of this, balance between classes have been better handled than past outings, with the Physical Adepts at long last finally reaching a status which isn’t broken or useless.

The new area which serves as your base of operations is more active and fluid than in past stories. There is a more tangible sense of the passage of time, with new NPCs showing up and secondary quests abruptly emerging. Even minor shop dealers gain progressive storylines with entirely new dialogue trees, each consistently featuring writing leagues above most big budget releases. No, seriously, go back and talk to the guy with poison spiders and swords every chance you get, some of his stuff is gold. Even without this though, some of the excuses and dialogue exclusive to certain character combinations on missions is a wonder to behold, especially one sequence involving recruits Racter and Gaichû.

Unfortunately, for all its improvements, Shadowrun Hong Kong hits a few unfortunate snags in its efforts to one up its predecessor. The first among these is the crew, few of who prove to be even remotely memorable or interesting as Glory, Dietrich, Eiger and Blitz. While one or two exceptions do arise with great storylines, the starting trio of NPCs are a substantial step down as worthwhile characters go. This is hardly helped by a surprisingly weak opening act and a story which seems oddly bloated. While the individual scenarios themselves and side quests prove to be fantastic, the main arc itself often meanders about and lacks a clear direction. This isn’t helped by a sense that the story was to be on a massive scale for the sake of keeping up with past instalments, which may well have hurt it sadly.

Even without the narrative elements, a few problems will crop up for players. Along with featuring some surprising recycled environments (including parts of that damn cave network from Dragonfall’s finale) and some odd freezing issues. While Hong Kong doesn’t quite chug when too many characters are on the screen, you end up with lengthy pauses between turns or failing to highlight certain actions. It can be frustrating, and very concerning given the save system involved. 

So, with all this accounted for, is it actually any good? The answer is a resounding yes.

Hong Kong is another gem in Harebrained Schemes’ long line of successful releases, and is likely to be your time vampire for the next month or two. With all the options available, choices on offer and new paths exclusive to certain character set-ups or classes, there is such an insane wealth of replay value here that you’ll be coming back again and again. Definitely pick this one up, but you might still want to look into its predecessors first before grabbing this one.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Q.U.B.E. (Video Game Review)

Making a first-person puzzle game these days can’t be easy, especially in the shadow of Portal’s runaway success. Still domineering even now, it can make any new entry problematic to say the least, and Q.U.B.E. seems to realise that. Taking a few of the visual concepts and design choices to heart, it can seem overly derivative at first glance. Thankfully, Toxic Games were more than talented enough to have it stand on its own two legs.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Ballad of Davamros - A D&D Tale of Looting, Loyalty, Lawful Evil and Party-Killing

A constant shortcoming when it comes to writing this blog has always been a lack of experience with Dungeons & Dragons. Despite being the granddaddy of them all, and having read a few of the Dragonlance novels, it's never been a system often used here. Beyond the odd testing game for a new edition or Pathfinder, most RPG campaigns with the local group tend to either be Shadowrun, Dark Heresy, or one of the other systems along those lines. Part of that is down to a lack of interest, but also due to the initial experience with it on the roleplaying end. It didn't end well.

Unlike most folks, my introduction into this world was Inquisitor rather than traditional pen and paper systems. As such, when a group got together in college, creating a few varied characters, the one I rolled was Lawful Evil, sticking to what I knew of 40K. The result was a party of diverse figures, two Paladins, a Sorcerer, a bucket load of Fighters, a Barbarian, and a Cleric, all of various Good or Neutral alignments. Then, sitting with them, was Davamros, effectively a Raven Queen worshiping Cleric styled as an unholy warlord.

To most parties, having a sore thumb like this tended to cause problems. After all, you can hardly have several just, brave and noble warriors upholding the peace, and then have one guy willing to carve a man's face off in the name of furthering his goals. It causes a clash among the group as a rule,and the main way we got by this was by having him basically be the kind of villain who follows a code. Loyal to his cause over himself, he had effectively been tasked with heading to a war-torn part of the world and putting as many souls to rest as he could. It was too dangerous to stroll about alone, so he'd aligned himself with this band of sell-swords with an oath of loyalty to them until they parted ways. Basically the point was that he'd given his word not to back-stab the group, so while he'd probably turn a blind eye to muggings, or use brutal methods, he'd follow their lead as a rule.

The idea of an oath of loyalty seemed fine, and it was a good way to avoid the traditional death-knell of moral quandaries with one half of the group arguing against the other. So long as he was pushed further towards his goals, he'd probably go along with whatever they felt was best. If it wasted time, he'd certainly complain or raise a few problems, but that was about it. As such, when the group started seeking coin and found the head of a strange mystic stronghold hiring adventurers, he was less concerned about coin than where it was heading. Oh the coin helped, but it wasn't his primary goal.

To make it clear, while Davamros was a complete bastard, he still had a few laws he wouldn't break. He'd usually shrug his shoulders at murder, torture, exploitation or thievery unless it directly involved him, or a few things core to his creed. The most important among his beliefs revolved around those dying or departed, all of which were berserk buttons. If you were tormenting someone on the edge of passing into the afterlife or making their final days a living nightmare, he'd ensure you lived in terror for what little remained of your life. The same went for the departed, using undead as servants or defiling corpses would sent this guy into a rage and he'd hunt the perpetrator to the ends of the earth, then drown him. In lava. That's not an exaggeration either. Upon encountering a minor boss on our campaign, a Necromancer with a zombie swarm, on a pillar above a lava flow, he used Control Undead to have them grab him and leap off together.

More than a few times the Cleric either went off from the group, or delayed them advancing, to deal with a restless ghost or build funeral pyres to fallen adventurers they found. In the latter case, upon finding the body of a Border Prince torn asunder by a dragon, he took everything of value (including a rather nice ancestral sword), burned the corpse, then returned those items to his family. So, what's the point in all of this? Well, to show exactly where he would draw the line and end a person. You can probably guess what was to follow next.

About three sessions into our planned campaign and having gone through the wilderness, we had a few more members join us. They were passed off as other adventuring parties after the same goal, so no problem there. Save for the elf. Personally I can't remember the guy's name, or even his exact character class, only that he might as well have arrived with a sign marked "I AM HERE TO RUIN EVERYTHING!"
Our task by this point had developed more and more. The mystic had hired us to find his missing apprentice, who had disappeared after stealing a tome valuable to him. Tracking down and to discover her fate, we had followed her deeper and deeper into the nation's version of the badlands. After dealing with a few goblin raiders, a few zombies, a number of hostile threats, we eventually found her trail leading inside a mountain. Cue dragon. The fight itself was pretty damn hard to say the least given we were only the fourth level, only for us to find that it was an infant.

With the monster's bigger, badder mamma probably on the way back, we opted to quickly grab anything we could, find out how the apprentice had gotten there and any information we could get. Unfortunately, after finding her half devoured corpse and being distracted by a magic alter, the elf revealed he was a necrophiliac. No, you did just read that. During one of those awkward times where the entire group has split up, communication had broken down and we'd argued among ourselves, he apparently announced this to the GM. The GM allowed him to go ahead with defiling the corpse, taking his time in doing so, then purposefully burying it so Davamros couldn't offer proper rites.

This probably would have turned into a bloodbath were it not for the return of the bigger, badder dragon. Managing to block off the entrance it was trying to enter from, we high tailed it off into the forest surrounding the mountain. What followed was two hours of playing hide and seek against a vengeful big, black and enraged dragon, before eventually managing to make it back to town. At this point the only thing holding back Davamros was the fact he and Monsieur Corpse-Fucker were technically in the same party he'd sworn an oath to. Naturally, they immediately headed back to the mystic stronghold and handed over the recovered tome, her items and all information we had. At this point he thanked us, turned to leave with our services done, and the rapist promptly tried to shoot him in the back. Why? Not a damn clue, he just felt like it. Drawing a crossbow, he pointed it at the back of our employer and opened fire as half the group tackled him. Thankfully, being head of such a stronghold means you're pretty damn powerful in terms of magic. The crossbow bolt was casually blocked telekinetically, with a warning that the only reason we were still standing was thanks to a rule not to spill blood on the premises. 

Heading back to the tavern, Davamros waited for a short bit and then heard the group was splitting up. At this poinbt he decided it was time for his revenge, and after learning the tavern only had a law against drawing weapons, took up his fists. The sad thing is that this was one of the most inventive fights i've ever seen in an RPG. Effectively turning into the fantasy version of the They Live brawl, this started at a table and promptly went throughout the building. Just as an example, it reached the point where Davamros had a stone statue smashed over his head, then promptly suplexed the elf down a flight of stairs. Lasting half an hour and wrecking most of the tavern, it was cut short when the Watch finally entered and clubbed Davamros unconscious before he could land the finishing blow.

Yeah, another problem was that the GM seemed to prefer to defend and protect his players, even if they were on the verge of killing one another. It didn't matter if it was a character driven fight or one well established as being the right thing to do, he'd really go out of his way to block it. Well, this causes ongoing strife among the group and the fighting actually caused a few people to leave as a result. This actually is kind of a problem, as it honestly seemed he'd entered with the intention of avoiding the party killing one another but was unable or unwilling to resolve the issues causing the killing. Actually in-character behaviour seemed secondary to keeping everyone alive and he did little to nothing to curb the elf's actions. Yeah, there were a good few more corpses he did this to until eventually getting himself killed by trying to bypass a horde of zombies Shaun of the Dead style. Unfortunately by that point i'd learned my character was being held in jail for assault, locked away for months, and I just left it there.

There's no real moral to this story or message, it's more just an example of how badly things can go wrong under a GM. Even when you're determined to keep people alive or fudging roles in favour of them (nothing wrong with that), it's a bit hard to justify when someone is actively trying to get the party killed. Sure, common sense tends to go out of the window in most games. At the same time though, there's a world of difference between that and drawing a crossbow on your employer.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Blues and Bullets - Episode 1 (Video Game Review)

Some games serve to set the bar, raising standards higher than ever before and becoming the title all future releases of its genre should be measured against. If Blues and Bullets keeps up the quality and intensity of this first episode, it could easily become this for the episodic, narratively-driven titles Telltale Games made famous.

Set in an alternate universe similar to our own, the story follows Elliot Ness, the detective who brought down Al Capone. Jaded and several years into his retirement from police work, he receives a call from an unexpected source. Children in the city are being abducted, and Ness is the only one who can be trusted to follow the trail of blood left in their wake…

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Electronic Arts: Complaints against On-Disc DLC are "Nonsense."

Oh dear, oh dear. With Konami currently serving as a heat sink of hatred for all of gaming, it seems Electronic Arts has tried to get a few anti-consumer statements under the radar. In typical EA fashion, not only did they manage to utterly balls this up, but they managed to completely ignore examples set by other industries.

So, what have they done this time? Peter Moore (Infamous executive and the same man who claimed gamers were utterly opposed to change) is now claiming any criticism against on-disc DLC is wrong. No, no, it's worse, he's claiming that any and all complaints are utter nonsense, as if people have no right to criticise such acts.

In an interview with Gamespot, Moore stated the following in regards to DLC practices:

"Well a lot of that resistance comes from the erroneous belief that somehow companies will ship a game incomplete, and then try to sell you stuff they have already made and held back. Nonsense. You come and stand where I am, next to Visceral's studio, and you see the work that is being done right now. And it's not just DLC, this is free updates and ongoing balance changes."

Furthermore, when asked to elaborate he added that on-disc DLC itself isn't technically "content" in its own right, and instead that it should be viewed as the support code to help the game run smoothly. Claiming that people should "Think of them as APIs," Moore further stated that "Knowing down the road that something needs to sit on what you've already made, means you have to put some foundations down. What people are confused about is they think DLC is secretly on the disc, and that it's somehow unlocked when we say."

This is supreme stupidity at its finest in more ways than one, the first being that a simple Google search could have shown just how badly this went the last time another company claimed this. Capcom, a company whose decisions to ignore any and all customer opinions exploded in their face not too long ago, was the big example with Street Fighter X Tekken along with their other big names like Resident Evil and Marvel Vs. Capcom. Even three years down the line, no one has quite forgiven them for this, so in an age where EA is trying to claw its back into a positive relationship with the public, this is the last thing they should be saying.

The other reason this is utterly stupid is because EA's own behaviour is infamous and well known. While Moore might claim here that sections have not been removed from the game or sold off separately, we've had cited examples and proof brought up over the years, especially with story heavy titles. Mass Effect 3 is easily the most infamous one when it came to the subject of Javik, a character whose inclusion not only dramatically changed the game but was core to the most basic lore of the universe itself. Released practically from the start, Javik's scenes were still on the disc but walled off from the player. They were only activated at a later date and, unlike all other story driven DLC which were largely self-contained side stories, this was woven into the core narrative. Even prior to the ending controversy, this caused a fresh wave of simmering dislike and distrust for the company, even causing some people to boycott the game.

So, in the wake of all that, we have an EA executive outright lying by claiming they have never removed parts from a game. Not only that, but one also ignoring every backlash surrounding this subject of on-disc DLC and treating it less as a debate so much as a black/white "you're wrong, we're right" debacle. Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg isn't it. Let's get into the problems with his actual statements.

First of all, Moore's main defence is being made based upon something no one can see. He asks us to see things from his perspective, to look at things from his position, but then doesn't substantiate that. Rather than giving something more honest like a relatively in depth answer surrounding the business side of things or even admitting their past mistakes but how the new system has somehow changed, he gives nothing. All he states is effectively "Look things are going fine behind the scenes, just take my word for it."
Really, look at exactly what he states, in the initial response, simply saying "if you were me" and then trying to deflect it with a non answer. Even when he does start to approach the subject of the DLC itself, he tries to hide it amid mentions of balancing and fixing issues. Last I checked, patches and fixes to games weren't usually counted alongside on-disc DLC, and as a rule people didn't usually have to pay for them.

His later follow-up suffers from the same issue. They avoid the actual subject of on-disc DLC itself, so while he cites his support for it, he refuses to back that up with anything truly substantial. At the most his claims bring up the point of trying to claim that parts of it are simply there to help with the download, and nothing else. This would be fine were it not for the fact that Electronic Arts has openly lied about such subjects in the past, including one incident surrounding the aforementioned Mass Effect controversy. Also, it's not actually following up his exact point, just dancing around it as before rather than giving a straight answer. 

Like so many of his statements, this really comes down to Moore claiming full support for anti-consumer practices which benefit his company, but actively trying to misrepresent them so the consumers are in the wrong. Given his condescending attitude tied with his unwillingness to actually address the past, it's a wonder how they can keep claiming they are somehow improving.

Even if you were somehow defending this, even if you were somehow thinking that this might somehow be justified, consider the following:
Let's say that you bought an album from a band on CD, paid the full retail price which was standard for the company at that time, but found out that only twenty of the thirty songs were accessible. The remaining ten were ones you had to instead pay additional cash to unlock, despite you buying it and paying a fair amount.
In an example closer to home, let's say you purchased an Imperial Guard Baneblade/Shadowsword set. However, upon opening it up, you find you're limited only to the Baneblade cannon and heavy bolters. The rest of the weapons are there, but they're in a padlocked box you need to pay extra to access.

The real crux of the problem is that these practices are infuriating and insulting to customers. In their minds, you're pushing for extra cash from something they have purchased, hold in their hands, and by rights own. They've bought it, they hold it and have it all, and the company has devoted time and their budget to making it, but that same company is expecting them to still pay extra. Quite how this is apparently going over Moore's head is a mystery for the ages.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Galak-Z: The Dimensional (Video Game Review)

About as anime as it gets, Galak-Z: The Dimensional draws up memories of Space Battleship Yamato and Macross before the first cutscene is even over. From its ship aesthetics to cell-shaded look, the entire game is effectively a love letter to the classic retro genre. However, 17-BIT backed up such trappings with a very solid set of mechanics which offer this game set of relatively light roguelike elements.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Celestian Tales: Old North (Video Game Review)

Celestian Tales: Old North sadly proves to promise the world but ultimately falls short. Promoted upon the idea of high replay value thanks to multiple protagonists and morally confrontational choices impactful to the plot, neither really has much bearing on the story itself.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Thunder: The Problematic Nature of Dream Therapy and The Rehabilitation of Felons (Book Review)

Thunder is yet another of those stories which are problematic to judge to say the least. There’s a great idea at its core, many aspects are nailed and there’s definitely a fun element to it which fits the comic book approach the author was going for. At the same time though, as a first outing this is one which is extremely rough around the edges. It’s promising to be sure, and there’s more than a few definite signs of greatness in here, but in more than a few areas it seems to be more than a little off of the mark in terms of presentation.

The story here follows the dreams of a criminal, Thor Kazan, sentenced to Dream Therapy Rehabilitation, locked away within his mind as others outside manipulate the illusions in his head. In his head,  Thor’s thoughts follow a pair of thirteen year old boys, who find a ring linking them to a superhuman protector who can be summoned via a word. However, in the world beyond, the analysts and operators probe his thoughts and twist them one way or the next. as they learn more of what goes on within, the dreams begin to quickly dissolve into nightmares…

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fantastic Four (Film Review)

The world owes Joel Schumacher an apology. 

No, really, Batman & Robin has long been held up as this sign of superhero movies gone wrong, but that was nothing compared to this. The bloated pile of fecal matter which is Fant4stic doesn't just surpass that the worst Batman film, it eclipses it. It makes Green Lantern looks fun. It makes X-Men Origins: Wolverine seem coherent, and makes Blade Trinity and Steel look good by comparison! The Amazing Spider-Man 2? That film actually starts to look passable when put side-by-side with this one. This isn't just a bad superhero film, it's the absolute epitome of superhero films gone wrong, 

The story here... actually, you know what, you know the story. Several people are involved in an experiment which goes kaput, they come back with weird powers, a man calling himself Doom comes back later, they fight him, they kill him, the end. There is literally nothing in this film which will come as a surprise to you, and in fact many bits you might be disappointed to find are entirely missing. The big money shot with the Thing dropping out of the sky and frog-splashing a Humvee? Nope, not in the film. Hell, from the trailers alone it seems Fox must have been repeating Sony's treatment of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 and left half the bloody film on the cutting room floor.

I am being completely honest here when I say that there is nothing redeeming, no smidgen of quality to be found which might allow you to give it a slight pass. What we get is so devoid of action, investment and pacing you'd probably have more fun just going out and buying the actual comics. Hell, do that and you'll have a better idea of what makes these characters tick than the damn creative team! 

In one example shown early on you can easily see just how badly derailed the entire group was in their desperation to make this darker and more edgy. You needn't read anything else, just hear this bit to know they royally buggered this production over with a fish fork, utterly jumping the shark before the film even picked up speed. 
The Thing? His famous gloriously hammy battle cry of "It's clobberin' time!"? The yell which is as iconic to Marvel as "To me my X-Men!" and "Avengers Assemble!"? Do you want to know what origin the filmmakers inflicted upon this glorious part of their identity? They associated it with physical abuse. It was the same declaration Ben Grimm's brother made just before beating the living shit out of him on a daily basis. I'm not sure you could manage to utterly fuck this up worse, even if you tried!

To make matters worse, every character here is badly written and so horrifically mishandled that they don't even feel like heroes let alone the Fantastic Four. 

For all the controversy surrounding the racial changes, Johnny Storm is written as any old generic hothead, with little more than a few cliched outbursts to help define his character. 

Susan Storm might as well not even be in the film, being left so out of focus that, sad as it is, it's a step down from Jessica Alba's treatment in the previous duology. 

Ben Grimm might have been halfway worthwhile, and Jamie Bell really could have been the saving grace here, but terrible CGI torpedoes any chance of truly taking him seriously. 

Finally, Reed Richards doesn't reflect any of his positive characteristics save for his intelligence, and sometimes not even that. Blank faced, and barely reacting to his surroundings, Miles Teller seems bored with the material he's given. Though, given the insipid dialogue and excruciatingly poor storytelling, who can blame him. Honestly, as if the above example wasn't bad enough we have Johnny calling the pre-Doomified Victor "Adolf" purely out of personal dislike.

Now, all of you are probably asking yourselves what happened to Doom? Well, we've got good news and bad news. The good news is that the background reported on a while back isn't anywhere to be seen in the film. The bad news, that might have actually been an improvement over what ended up being plastered all over the big screen. Doom's characterisation begins and ends with him being obsessed with Susan, getting left behind on the planet they visit, and then coming back as a blank, faceless generic doomsday villain. Stumbling about from place to place, killing everyone in his path in a directionless rampage, before the four "heroes" go in and murder him. Really, that's it. He's not even in most of the film, and what little we get has less emotional range than the average Dalek. Despite such an astoundingly botched handling of a brilliant villain, both the actor and crew have made comments about this being an improvement over the old animated series.  Yeah, let's compare that for a second.



Personally I think i'm going to stick the sorcerer-mad scientist-masked dictator with the voice of Kain over the one in a SHODAN possessed gimp suit.

Even if you're going into this film for some basic superheroing and super powered fighting, caring nothing for character development or pathos, you're still out of luck. The film drags endlessly throughout the whole damn thing, and it takes almost the entire run time to actually reach the point where there's a genuine super-fight. Even then, here's what you can expect:

"It's not working, perhaps we should punch him all at once!"
*Doom Dies, FATALITY*

The CGI is laughably bad, and the green screen effects even worse at times. Sure, you can perhaps overlook that if you have a halfway good story or it's immersive enough, but not when things are reaching truly insulting levels. A certain face morphing scene for starters looks as if it was done just at the dawn of computer generated effects, when people were still learning the ropes.

Ponderous, joyless, pathetically made and with such an inept investment you'd be forgiven for falling asleep before the first act is done, this is most definitely one to skip. As bad as Batman & Robin was, at least that film was laughing at itself. This? It's so utterly serious, so hellbent upon being seen as a "realistic and gritty" superhero film that you're left with no remorse, no sympathy and no entertainment. 

With so many talented people involved, it's honestly disheartening to walk away from this one as a train-wreck rather than a triumph. This said it's not hard to see why. I stand by what I said previously: Josh Trank is a talented man but simply the wrong one for the job. The film he wanted to make would have better suited countless other franchises from the X-Men to the Runaways, but never the high adventure the Fantastic Four wholeheartedly embraced. While his decisions were bad, even then it's hard not to blame Fox given all we've heard and what happened with their last superhero franchise. With all the re-shoots and obvious shilling here to try and set up a cinematic universe yet again, triggering another Amazing Spider-Man 2. The sad thing is, their mistake might have buried any big screen adaptations of this group once and for all.

Don't waste your money on this one, don't even try to get invested. Spend your money on Ant-Man instead, or just re-watch Iron Man and see the same ideas done vastly better than what's here. Hell, better yet, you could spend that ticket money on Fantastic Four: Dark Reign and see a far, far better story. Just forget about this film and hope that the rest of the world does the same before the year is up.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Submerged (Video Game Review)

Short, sweet and brimming with beautiful environments, Submerged is an game which proves to be entertaining, but is far more a proof of concept than a full title. What we get is certainly tantalising, showing great promise for this developer but at the same time it’s also very short and very limited.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Ant-Man (Film Review)

Some have questioned whether Marvel is still capable of introducing new heroes in stand alone films after the first wave. Following Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, it truly seems that most new ones are added as secondary characters in one of the big three films. Even with the likes of Doctor Strange on the horizon, many still had doubts surrounding Ant-Man and whether it could be a truly successful outing. In all honesty, if this is the standard we can expect from new heroes, we're most definitely in safe hands.

The film follows the story of Scott Lang, a cat burglar with a heart of gold. Actively avoiding harming others, his most infamous crime was acting as a modern day Robin Hood in taking down the illicit dealings of a major corporation. Unfortunately, no matter how good the intentions, crime simply doesn't pay and he finds himself unable to retain a job with his criminal record. Forced into undertaking another job, he raids then steals from millionaire genius Hank Pym. However, Pym has been watching him for some time, and requires Lang to perform a very specific heist of his own to get his life back on track...

The fact Ant-Man revolves around a heist is one of two key elements which helps to keep the film fresh. Focusing more upon Lang's history than his better known heroics, this nevertheless puts a new spin on the proceedings so audiences aren't left with the same story we've seen many times. Great as they've always been, after so many films and with DC Comics now in the mix, superheroics are definitely a genre which needs to find ways to branch out and experiment to avoid falling into a creative rut. While the actual heist plan itself is relatively by the numbers, the cast, characters and a fairly odd spin on things prevents it feeling utterly derivative. These are certainly not the elite band of experts such films so often utilise, and instead the group are left working simply with those they can get a hold of. The group is certainly shaky to start with, and while some groundwork is made to building a more professional group, it's made very obvious each has a long way to go.

The actual heist itself is made much more entertaining thanks to the powers of the titular superhero. While people often mock Aquaman for merely being able to control fish (admittedly often ignoring his dozen or so other powers) this is a film which shows just how powerful control over one animal can truly be. Utilising everything from common to full blown Bullet Ants, we see Lang infiltrating the building through his powers and taking the systems down one by one. The obvious fun the writers were having in handling the size changing and animal control translates well onto the screen, as from start to finish they find no end of ways to put these powers to good use. This eventually results in one of the single most entertaining villain battles in the franchise so far, putting everything save for Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers to shame.

The film's cinematography proves to be fantastic throughout, proving to be fast, fluid and kinetic from start to finish. It's one of those few ones which can truly pull off the rapid cuts, and quirky cinematography found in Edgar Wright's other films. While certainly toned down from the likes of Hot Fuzz, you can still easily tell his fingerprints are all over the directing, with abrupt shifts in scenes which only someone with his talent can pull off. Unfortunately, as big a plus as it is, Wright's involvement proves to simultaneously be its single greatest weakness. Having departed the project long before its completion, watching the film honestly does make it seem like a production started by one person and finished by another. Much of the opening act and certain sections of the film fail to truly gel together, and all too often there are certain bits which look off by comparison. As if section have, ultimately, been made trying to replicate Wright's style without fully nailing it.

Sadly the problems don't end with an awkward cinematography, as the characters often prove to be underwhelming. While Michael Douglas pulls off a very different type of Hank Pym than fans will be used to, and Paul Rudd nails Scott Lang as a lovable loser, the same cannot be said of the others. All too often the characters lack much in the way of real introduction or substance, and sadly a great deal of the writing often seems as if it doesn't fully know what to do with them. Hope Van Dyne's character sadly just seems to be going through the motions, and while Evangeline Lilly does her best, all too often her story evolves sporadically rather than naturally. Even the comedic relief doesn't get off too lightly here, as you'll be left wondering who these people are for most of the film's early act, without much screen time to detail given to help flesh them out.

The one who is hit the hardest by the problematic characterisation proves to be the main villain, Yellowjacket played by Corey Stoll. People complained about Malekith's lack of real substance or development in his film, but by comparison he proves to be a deep, complex character. We get little to nothing here beyond jaded, frustrated resentment at his mentor and a sudden sadistically reckless streak. Even then, even when obviously villainous from the start, the twists come out of nowhere as he gradually becomes more insane, trying to excuse his suit's imperfect size shifting technology as the cause. Both the abrupt killing of a potential business partner and sudden abrupt alliance with an old Marvel villain come out of nowhere, and there's just never enough here to really justify his actions.

Is Ant-Man good despite this? Definitely. Despite a rocky start and a few awkward moments, the film proves to be a resounding success and a truly entertaining outing. The worst you can really say is that there was obviously a far better film in here, and that this proves to be extremely rough around the edges at times. However, the good ultimately more than outweighs the bad and you'd be missing out on an incredibly fun production should you choose to skip this one. With the threat of Civil War still hanging over each film, this could be one last chance to have some real fun before the universe is drowned in pointless, unwanted misery.

Monday, 3 August 2015

10 Underrated Space Marine Chapters Who Deserve A Second Look

Of all the armies in Games Workshop, few are more iconic and spend more time in the spotlight than the Adeptus Astartes. In many regards they are what defines the game to the casual viewer as much as its core polar opposites. From the exaggerated pauldrons and big gun to the grim pseudo-Shakespearean aspects which give the setting more substance than any would believe, they're often the poster by for the entire game. Even the setting itself has been argued to primarily be a conflict between different sects of Space Marines, the war between the Imperial loyalists and Traitor Legions, with the xenos wars being more of a sideshow.

The company's focus upon one faction has brought as much criticism as it has praise over the years, and rightfully so as there are some definite negatives to this. However, today we're here to focus upon a few chapters within this army who deserve a little more attention from writers. After all, even within the masses of poster boys, there are armies who get overshadowed and deserve a little more attention than their peers.

To judge this there were only three requirements limiting these options:

  • No Chaos aligned chapters. That is another list for another time.
  • No First Founding legions, as all have seen substantial attention over the past few years. Well, save for the Iron Hands who seem to have been killed off and impostors put in their place.
  • Each needed to have a true history to the army. Something of substance to give them more than just a colour scheme, generic gimmick and name.
  • No chapter on this list could be prominent enough to have tabletop rules. Sorry, Crimson Fists fans.

That done, onto our list.

10 - Doom Eagles

Despite having shown up in both the Soul Drinkers and the Blood Angels sagas, the Doom Eagles have never received that much attention. They're one which has been given just about enough attention for people to know about them, but never enough for people to know much more than their name. A damn shame as the chapter has a very distinct and unusual nature about it.

Retaining a bizarrely fatalistic streak, each battle brother of this chapter believes that they are ultimately already dead. Their very driving ideology focuses upon the awareness of their own mortality, failings and recruiting those who have effectively given up all hope. It should also be noted that those being recruited are from a dying world. What's more is that several depictions have shown their librarians behaving in an almost detective-like manner, with one by the name of Varnica in particular, seeking out catastrophes.

Despite their grim and dour nature, there are some interestingly contradictory ways of war which the chapter engages in. Despite having apparently given up all hope, they are astoundingly good Assault Marines and favour close range melee. How good? They culled countless times their number of plague zombies without a single casualty. Not bad given how often Warhammer 40,000 depicts hot blooded rage giving others an edge in melee. In addition to this though, despite their emphasis upon death, the chapter retains a large number of active dreadnoughts among its numbers. Perhaps as much to remind their kind to "detach themselves from glory, or honour or jealousy from life itself" as much as offer their wisdom in eternal war.

The reason for their low placement on this list is ultimately due to the number of short stories they have featured in. While lacking a full novel, the chapter has shown up in several prominent series and even an exclusive audio drama. Despite this however, they always seem to only ever be on the edge of the fandom's consciousness.

9 - Charnel Guard

As a whole, the Charnel Guard are one of those chapters who keep cropping up yet we know little to nothing about them. What little we do know however, is extremely interesting and with a great deal of storytelling potential. Suspected to be an early Founding chapter of the Blood Angels, the Charnel Guard carry a vast amount of archaic and relic weapons into battle. Along with at least one Fellblade, they retain a large number of Storm Eagle variants despite their rarity, yet remain exclusively fleet based despite this.

The chapter has been utilised as a weapon of massed destruction, to be loosed upon others when complete and utter ruthless annihilation is required. Along with the likes of the Red Talons and Carcharodons, they fought in the War of the False Primarch in systematically destroying eleven other chapters deemed Traitoris Perdita. Others such as the Great Malagantine Purge and The Death of the Witching Moon were equally bloody, costly and massive wars. Almost every battle they have fought has been a major front requiring the presence of multiple chapters, sometimes entire Segmentum battle-fleets.

Most interestingly, the chapter was a part of the Maelstrom Warders along with the Astral Claws, Lamenters and others. It was called away during a time of major conflict, and it has been thought that their withdraw at the behest of Terra may have sparked Huron's path to treachery. However, when the Badab War broke out they were nowhere to be seen and never made any contact with the forces on either side. This may in part be due to their extremely reclusive nature, as the chapter is curiously noted to seal themselves away in stasis between campaigns. Their exact reasons for doing so are as of yet unknown.

Like the Minotaurs and Red Scorpions, they just seem to be a chapter the writers behind the Imperial Armour series have taken a liking to. Perhaps, thanks to this, we might see something of real substance about them sometime in years to come.

8 - Brazen Claws

For a long time the Brazen Claws were little more than a name and colour scheme, and it's only been in the last few years that something of real substance has emerged around them. One of the several Second Founding chapters carrying Ferrus' Manus' gene-seed, they were certainly an unusual choice.

Lacking heraldry reminiscent of their parent chapter, and choosing to follow the Codex Astartes' formations, they nevertheless retained their primarch's unyielding nature. Often described as unassailable and relentless in their ways of war, even among the astartes they were noted for their limitless vigor and determination to continue their fight no matter how high the cost. So close to the Eye of Terror, this bought them a great deal of fame and turned back the tide of Chaos again and again. However, this changed towards the end of M41 with the complete decimation of their homeworld thanks to a horde of daemons. In an act of hopelessness or sheer rage, the entire chapter stormed headlong into the Eye of Terror, determined to wreck havoc against their old enemies.

What makes this story different is thanks to the fact that the Brazen Claws neither died out nor wholly turned to Chaos. In fact, in comparison to the disastrous Abyssal Crusade, they pulled off some astounding successes. It's been noted that the chapter was able to completely destroy several Chaos strongholds within the Eye itself. Furthermore, despite Chaos corruption and attrition depleting their numbers, they departed the Eye at just under half strength, attacking the rearguard of the Thirteenth Black Crusade.

While normally a chapter's nature being hinged upon or based largely around a single event would be a narrative weakness, this one is an exception. Why? Because in many respects it handles a much darker and more interesting version of Rynn's World. The Brazen Claws lost their planet, they initiated a war of retribution which cost them heavily, only to emerge again facing a vastly greater threat to the Imperium. Along with finding a new recruiting world to rebuild, perhaps even human survivors to help repopulate it, they also face their duty to humanity in holding back the Black Legion. Atop of all that however, they also face the serious potential for corruption within their ranks and severe depletion of vital resources. Top this off with the question of what might happen if other companies emerge after them, trying to rejoin them as loyalists or a new Chaos warband; or what will happen if those the waged war against come hunting for them now they're weakened. Quite frankly, this has enough story potential for an entirely new trilogy of books.

The Brazen Claws themselves have received a couple of short stories covering their retreat from the Eye of Terror and its impact, and even a brief mention in the codex which will not be named. Beyond that, they sadly have lacked much in the way of focus, but there is so much more here which could be worked with.

7 - White Consuls

Another chapter which served as a secondary role in a greater series, the White Consuls were the primary antagonist in the final book of the Word Bearers trilogy. One of the several Astartes Praeses chapters tasked with guarding the Eye of Terror, they were a hard bitten force who in represented exactly what Guilliman wished the Adeptus Astartes to be.

While also serving their holy duty of holding back the hordes of the Ruinous Powers, the White Consuls served a special role in guarding the Boros Gate. A massive wormhole capable of allowing the Imperium to rapidly reinforce the sector under an attack, the Gate was a linchpin in any initial defense effort in the entire sector. It was also, by contrast, a key way the for Chaos to directly strike at the Imperium's heart should it ever be taken. It's a testament to their abilities that, in ten thousand years, Chaos never managed to claim this vital location even once.

While many would expect such a chapter serving in the Praeses to be grim stone-faced sentinels against Chaos, they proved to be quite the opposite. The White Consuls' depiction showed them to be one of the most human and politically aware chapters in the Black Library. While still post-human, they were often polite to their charges, retained positive ties with the Ecclesiarchy, and had a unique break from the Codex structure. Rather than a single leader, it retained two Chapter Masters. One to oversee defense against Chaos incursions and deal with diplomacy, and the other to command operations in other warzones beyond their home system. Many of their veterans were also expected to serve as governors to their protectorates, and their system in promoting battle brothers was oddly reminiscent of the Roman Senate in a few ways. What's more is that their homeworld and its system was closer to being Ultramar than Cadia, and despite the close proximity to the Traitor Legions it was able to flourish as a small empire. Well, at least until the Word Bearers and Necrons turned it into a war zone.

Tactically the chapter holds to most of the Codex Astartes' decrees, but it has been noted to excel in massed drop pod assaults and urban fighting. While certainly not the most gimmicky chapter, the way in which they integrated themselves into Imperial society and their capabilities certainly warrants more stories involving them.

6 - Scythes of the Emperor

Another chapter sadly better known for its losses than victories, the Scythes of the Emperor were one of those caught in the initial assault by Hive Fleet Kraken. Drawn to their homeworld, the chapter fought a doomed war against a relentless tide of foes as they battled to hold their Fortress Monastery. Losing world after world, they were eventually reduced to all but a fraction of their original numbers and bereft of much of their original equipment. Fighting to return their chapter to its original glory, they now fight to reclaim their relics, rebuild their numbers and find new worlds to serve as recruiting grounds.

While on the surface this might sound a lot like the Brazen Claws, the difference here comes from their history. While the stories have been great, the Brazen Claws' potential largely surrounds the events at the end of M41. By comparison, we actually have a great deal of information surrounding the Scythes of the Emperor before the Hive Fleet invasion. Along with being a part of the Corinth Crusade which drove the Ork Empire of Charadon back from Imperial borders, they actively participated in the Damocles Gulf Crusade against the Tau Empire. As such we have several records of them participating in major crusades, massive wars, prior to their defeat at the hands scything talons of Behemoth.

The stories which have followed in the wake of their loss have made use of their changed state and the way the chapter now operates. As opposed to the crusaders they were before, the Scythes are effectively scavengers. They now have entire units devoted to sneaking about, recovering lost weapons, relics and equipment in order for them to gradually rebuild. This has had a notable effect on the chapter, with a gradual schism between the old guard and newer recruits forming. Rather than fighting as a single battle company, the Veterans find themselves separated with training the same neophytes who are gradually dissolving the traditions they hold dear. At the same time, rather than fighting in crusades, the chapter has found itself divided and separated into countless individual Salvation Teams, hunting for survivors and lost equipment.

The entire story here reflects how a chapter might need to change in order to survive a horrific event, and what they would need to give up should they lose almost everything. As such, the Scythes are definitely a chapter we need to so more of; both to solidify what made them such a legendary force in the first place and reflect upon how they are being shaped in the face of staunch pragmatism.

5 - Mortifactors

Chilling beyond all belief, the Mortifactors are one of the big chapters who wholeheartedly embrace grimdark to its fullest. How so? Skirting the very edges of turning into full blown Hammer Horror cheese, the introduction many readers had was two Ultramarines walking into a chapel built out of the skeletons of the chapter's dead. The warriors were then honoured, in the Mortifactors' own way, by being effectively measured for their coffins.

Heralding from the perpetually dusk world of Posul, the chapter's recruits are joyless savages encouraged to actively slay one another to earn their place. Watched by the Chaplains, they are gathered and then brought into their orbiting fortress monastery, the Basilica Mortis. Many of the world's feral rituals have reflected upon the chapter itself, from cannibalistic practices to shamanistic beliefs in their ancestors, and even an almost joyless way of war. Those who fall in the Emperor's service are revered even beyond those living, and the chapter as a whole views the rigid adherence to any dogma as being a weakness. It's suspected that this may have carried over so strongly thanks to the Chaplains being exclusively recruited from the shaman caste of the world, something which had surprising benefits.

While countless chapters have many traditions of their own, what makes the Mortifactors very unique is that there was more to this than simple cultural identity. The reason the chapter so focuses upon practices of consuming flesh, blood and revering elders, is because of the psychic effects it offers them. Drinking the blood of certain warriors has led to precognitive visions of future wars, equal to that of the Emperor's tarot, and even rituals have led to certain warriors calling upon the spirits of their elders to effectively perform recon for them. While highly suspicious, and occasionally suspected of corruption, nothing has come of any corrupting influences or mass defection to Chaos.

Now, this is a chapter who effectively opposes any ingrained doctrine and dogma in favour of individual followings or interpretations. One who embraced the grim nature of their homeworld entirely and follows a very ritualised way of life, more akin to the White Scars, Space Wolves or Black Templars. So, would it surprise you to know that this is an Ultramarines successor, of the Second Founding no less? Along with some extremely interesting lore and an identity in of itself, this is a rare example of a chapter totally divorcing itself of its progenitor. 

All too often we see chapters either reflect their progenitor entirely, something especially problematic with the White Scars, or simply reflect one aspect of that and stick to it, like the Black Templars. Here we have a chapter who evolved, developed and changed over time. Death of Integrity was content to present the Novamarines as little more than an Ultramarines garrison, more closely connected with Ultramar than their own homeworld; yet here we have a chapter who changed with the times. To further their story would be a chance to truly show how a chapter can evolve over time, along with a much broader and more interesting depiction of faith than the traditional Ecclesiarchy presentation.

4 - Mentors (Mentor Legion)

Of all the chapters on this list, the Mentors are easily the oldest established, first appearing in Rogue Trader. Since that time they have sadly fallen by the wayside, yet despite this they have proven themselves to be quite an unusual army and very adaptable chapter. In effect, their main duty is not to just combat the Imperium's foes but strengthen its armies however they can. As a result, they have some very unique ties to both the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Imperial Guard.

The whole idea of the Mentors is that they are effectively a reverse of the Deathwatch. In many depictions, that chapter is seen sending recruits to their organisation and learning by example, learning the tactics and knowledge of other chapters. By comparison, the Mentors come to other armies in order to do the same. Attaching themselves as secondary squads rather than whole companies, they serve as a kind of "force multiplier" in working closely with other armies but serving to breach and take down critical targets. Nothing too unique about that except that the marines are there to learn and pass on information as much as fight. They pass from army to army, gathering information about certain forces while passing on new concepts from other regiments and tactical regimens to increase their combat effectiveness. At the same time, further information is compiled about their ways of war for their Librarium, as they build a comprehensive archive of the Imperium's ways of war.

Gathering information in battle is assisted greatly by a genetic quirk born of their gene-seed. One which allows their battle brothers to near-genius ability to observe, memorize and adapt to any situation. This has led to two additional developments within the chapter. 
The first being the creation of the Elite Cadre, a group who undertake "important semi-military roles, from counter-terrorist operations to undertaking complex undercover special forces missions." In effect they are deployed in a manner akin to a Deathwatch Kill-Team, against threats which are beyond traditional commanders and the scope of an astartes chapter's doctrines. While relatively unknown, they are frequently called upon by the Inquisition to serve in battle and are thought to be some of the most proficient warriors within the Adeptus Astartes.
The second development ties into their link with the Adeptus Mechanicus. Large chunks of the chapter effectively serve as a test bed for new technology, to take it into multiple battlefields, estimate its value, worth, reliability and use to the Imperium. Yeah, they're a walking, talking sign that the Imperium still develops new tech and have been noted to wield plasma missiles among other things.

So, why don't more people know about them? In all honesty it often seemed that writers just didn't know what to do with them. They were brought up a few times, often left in the background and like the Rainbow Warriors served as a point of curiosity. Also, the one time a writer did try to expand upon their lore in a codex, he only gave them a single paragraph which retconned them into being staunch isolationists. Yeah, someone might need to re-retcon that last bit for this to work.

3 - Excoriators

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a few years certainly saw this one coming from the other side of the planet. Of all the chapters created in recent years, the Excoriators are easily one of the most fleshed out and most interesting, from their origins to their ideals. As such, it's baffling beyond all reason that they have only been featured in a single novel and a thousand word short story.

One of the Imperial Fists' immediate successors, the Excoriators were founded from the most hard bitten elements of their legion; specifically from companies left to handle the worst of the fighting while he departed to try and kill Horus. Before he left he gave them one simple command: "Do not lose." It's one they've been following ever since. To them the very act of survival counts as a victory and they make a point of ensuring as few battle brothers die in any conflict as possible, wearing down and stripping the enemy of strength before they truly engage them.

Now, from that brief description some of you might be wondering how this can be praised after citing the problems of successors showing no signs of evolving beyond their Founding. Well, this is primarily because their creator Rob Sanders used this event only as a starting point. The impact from the Imperial Palace was ingrained into them, becoming more extreme over several millennia. Rather than simply focusing upon surviving, they display their wounds openly. Many of their rituals involving flaying their bodies, and as a matter of pride and psychological warfare they repair armour and heal wounds in such a way which still leaves as much visible damage as possible. It makes them look as if they've been through hell and back yet are still fighting strong, with some members showing insane levels of endurance even for space marines. Really, there's a mention of one being run over by a Land Raider only to get back up again seconds later.

While the Excoriators might be based around a single concept, its broad nature shows just how far an idea can be taken when presented in the right way. Plus, with a great author behind them and a long history with plenty of storytelling opportunities, they're ripe for plenty of new stories. I'd add more but most of that just comes down to "Read Legion of the Damned and see just how awesome they are."

2 - Sons of Antaeus

The Sons of Antaeus are a chapter who really got the short end of the stick above all else. One of the several Cursed Founding creations, they were brought into being alongside the Black Dragons, Fire Hawks and Flame Falcons. With their own individual history, ideas and genetic mutation, they stood out as a very interesting idea yet seemed to be completely overlooked by other authors. Since their introduction, just about every other chapter has received substantial updates and new lore, save for these guys. How bad is it? Not only have new ones been introduced in that time and been given whole novels devoted to them (Blood Gorgons) but even after ten years we don't even have a chapter sigil for these guys.

All the lore surrounding the Sons stems from a single White Dwarf article which introduced most of the Cursed Founding. In a record known as the Chronicles of the Third Inter-Guild War, a captain of the Subjugators chapter reported multiple sightings of mysterious space marines in grey and black livery on his front. As they engaged xenos pirates, the new astartes launched a flanking attack which succeeded in destroying the enemy force, disappearing as rapidly as they had arrived. During this, witnesses reported that they proved to be incredibly hard to kill, shrugging off blows which would have killed an astartes several times over.

The big reason for their durability has been thought to range from massive skeletal mutations to a massive alteration of their basic genetic code. Even from one battle and an incredibly small amount of information, there's more than enough here to start building a substantial army from them. For starters, some detractors darkly note that their nature and traits seem oddly similar to those of the pre-Heresy Death Guard, wondering if they bear Mortarion's gene-seed. If this were true, and it were discovered by the Inquisition, it could produce some interesting narrative concepts. Others meanwhile connect their name with the Ultramarines, questioning if this is what happens should the usually pure genetic strands of Guilliman mutate. After all, we've seen what happens with almost every other primarch besides him. Atop of all this, you then have the point of exactly why they avoid contact with Imperial organisations. There's nothing here to suggest they are outcasts, nothing to suggest that they are renegades, barely even anything to suggest most forces know of them. So, were they created in secret, hide their identity out of shame, or is it something else?

In one way or another most of the Cursed Founding stories have been successes. The Minotaurs, Fire Hawks and Lamanters have all gained substantial attention and great lore thanks to Imperial Armour, and the Black Dragons fandom has grown thanks to Death of Antagonis. Even the Flame Falcons, for as little attention as they've received, still have a few die hard fans here and there. Perhaps it's time to give another one of the Imperium's flawed creations a moment in the spotlight and see what stories can be made with them.

1 - Steel Confessors

Chances are that if you have heard of this chapter it will either have been in passing or referenced by someone a few year back. Usually they're a footnote when talking about the Iron Hands or some of the more unusual successor chapters, which is truly a damn shame given the sheer amount of effort put into their creation. Thought up back in 2005, the chapter was made as a part of a massive Games Day event, probably the biggest one possible. How big? Games Workshop made a full space marine chapter, following the Codex structure, and put it into a war with unending waves of Hive Fleet Leviathan. A full one thousand astartes, with one hundred terminators, one hundred scouts, a hundred assault marines, and more firepower than you see in the average Apocalypse game. All of who were facing down several times their number of Hive Tyrants, Carnifexes and far worse things.

The battle itself was to decide the fate of the entire chapter, to see whether they would be annihilated, lose their homeworld, and a blow struck against the Imperium. This would have been enough in of itself, but Games Workshop went all out in promoting the Steel Confessors. They had a uniquely crafted Chapter Master, several replicas were made of their equipment from a bolter and terminator helm to an honest-to-Russ full size space marine replica. Oh, and a detailed background worthy of the Index Astartes.

The curious thing about their history is that the chapter was not only created in secret, but with no oversight by Terra. Following a costly war to retake a major research facility, the Mechanicum decide that they might need a few more chapters at their command. Using the gene-seed donated by the Iron Hands, the Steel Confessors were trained, recruited and gradually developed over time. A great deal of information is actually put into this whole event, from the battle which sparked their creation to the process behind it, and even their equipment to a degree. However, this isn't where things really get interesting. The Ordo Hereticus eventually put a spanner in the works when they discover the chapter's existence, and the unauthorised founding. While lashing back against the Mechanicum, the High Lords were unwilling to let a vital resource like a new chapter go to waste. As such, along with severing the connection between the two groups, the Confessors swear an oath to serve Terra above all else.

Taking the Forge World of Kraksis IV as their base of operations, the chapter served both the Imperium while at the same time retaining ties to the Mechanicus. While frequently under scrutiny from the Inquisition, this proved to be beneficial, rearming and equipping the chapter with far better armaments than many of their contemporaries. In addition to this, the world was heavily populated, providing them with no end of recruits and loyal to the point where the chapter felt little need to defend it. A strength which unfortunately proved to be their undoing when a Tyranid Hive Fleet attacked the system, leaving the chapter under-strength. Losing one world, they later relocated to Kalevala after being fleet based for a time, a vital planet with a massive industrial output and a major hub for Astropathic communications. The chapter managed to hold their ground against a later attack by another Leviathan splinter, albeit with heavy casualties.

While relatively newly founded, the Steel Confessors retain a number of traditions and legends of their own. Along with myths of their foudning Chapter Master being held in a hidden tomb, locked away in stasis until he is needed, they have a very different religious dogma from other forces. Perhaps thanks more to their origins and distant relations with the Iron Hands, they believe in a divine trinity of beings: "The Omnissiah, the spirit that provides provides succour and strength to all things, whilst rewarding the quest for knowledge and improvement. The Emperor, the physical embodiment of the Omnissiah, there to crush the weak and provide an embodiment of knowledge incarnate. His ascendance to the golden throne is seen as his final step to achieving omnipotence. The final part of this trinity is Ferrus Manus, the messenger of the Omnissiah and the bringer of light. He is seen as the closest to the Omnissiah that a mortal can get and is there to provide an inspiration to the Chapter."

There is far more than this of course. Details range from a strained relationship with their progenitor chapter despite their warriors being required to make pilgrimages to Medusa and serve under a clan company, to the entire chapter being taught as demi-Techmarines. Even their formation, while largely Codex adherent, retains Council aspects despite being united by a Chapter Master. The Master himself being voted into place by the Dreadnoughts, Librarians, Chaplains, Veteran Sergeants and the like. The point is though that, of all those on this list, the Steel Confessors have easily the most background supporting their ideas. The reason this has taken up so much space is to really emphasise just how much information there is on the chapter, unused and largely forgotten, but ripe for new stories. Every other one on here has only a fraction of the work and information on this one, yet the Confessors have been completely forgotten and nothing done with them.

In all honesty if there is any chapter which does deserve to be brought back in force, it's easily these guys. From the fascinating concepts behind them to their unique origins, and the storytelling potential behind internal conflicts with the Imperium, they present a wealth of great ideas. Now all we need is for Codex: Clan Raukaan to be ignored, so we can reverse the damage of that book retconning the Confessors from existence.

So, those are ten underrated chapters of the Adeptus Astartes who desperately deserve more attention. Whether it be a few more short stories, a full novel or even an individual codex to themselves, each would greatly assist in helping flesh out the universe. There were certainly a few others who do deserve another look or a story to themselves, the Flame Falcons for one, but these are the ones who stand out the most personally. Still, if you have your own recommendations or ideas, please feel free to list them below. It would be interesting to see just who you think deserves a second look at why.