Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume One (Video Game Review)

Welcome to the Ride To Hell: Retribution of anime adaptations. Not to mince words here, if you want a true guide on how to get a game utterly wrong you need look no further than Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume One.  An atrocity almost beyond words, it’s astounding someone managed to make a worse licenced anime game than Dragon Ball Z for Kinect.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Simpsons Given Possible Finale Deadline

It's not often we go into animation or television news here save for Doctor Who and a few particular others. This one, however, couldn't be overlooked. After the better part of thirty years of constantly being on air, The Simpsons have been given a possible deadline to finally close things out, specifically three years from now.

Quoted on a very interesting interview on The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Al Jean gave an interesting answer on the subject of the show's double renewal until season 28:

"You’re renewed through season 28, with the cast signed on with options through season 30. Do you want to do more after 30?

It’s quite possible that we don’t have to go through the whole negotiation for 30. I wouldn’t be stunned if we stopped at 28 but my bet is on at least 30. But then you’d have to resign them again. If you made me pick one, I’d say the likeliest is ending after 30, but I’ve been wrong before. I thought five seasons was good when I got there (laughs)."

While the show has admittedly been repeatedly renewed multiple times over, it's an interesting point to be sure. The main reason this time is thanks to the show's prior budget cuts and downsizing of its production crew. It's certainly not a death knell by any means, and the show still draws in plenty of viewers, but if they were to end it I could personally see the creators choosing a round number. After all, infamous as they have been about dragging things out, such shows do tend to make a determined effort to go out on a high note. Futurama in particular pulled off a rather special one, and that was following production troubles The Simpsons could only dream of.

The other core reason which comes to mind is that, not to beat about the bush, many people want the series to finally end once and for all. It's not simply some hipster vibe, but a lot of criticism has arisen over the years surrounding the writers' lack of restraint in plots, simply trying everything, and losing a lot of their original meaning. When people speak about the classics, it's usually from the first ten to fifteen years with very few exceptions overall, and the magic really seems to have seeped out of it.

Still, this could easily go either way and no matter what happens this will be a few years off yet before we see any results. Whatever the case, when the do finally opt to close things out, we can be assured that it will be a memorable one.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar (Episode Review)

Being a two parter, you can probably guess that some spoilers for part one will need to be brought up here. Sidestepped and avoided as best as possible in The Magician's Apprentice, it's impossible not to bring them up here. If you have yet to see that episode, please do and then visit this one.

Now, with the usual warning out of the way, how was The Witch's Familiar? Second verse same as the first, really. Hit and miss throughout, we had both some extremely good ideas mixed in with some very dubious ones. However, this time there was a definite push for greater consistency and at least less recycled ideas.

Having been captured by the Daleks, with his companion and oldest enemy seemingly annihilated before him, the Doctor is being pushed further and further towards the edge. Davros seems almost gleeful at the thought of this, and yet things soon take a curious turn. The last of the kaleds brought the Doctor before him as one final request, one final question he has to make, and it is the last one the Doctor would ever expect of him...

If there's something to praise, the story sidesteps the blindingly obvious and seems to acknowledge the faults people had with the first half. Well, at least some of them anyway. Ending with Clara and Missy dead, it plays upon the original details of death being cheap to bring them back almost immediately. At the same time, it does not instantly cut to the Doctor cutting down a younger Davros, and instead it plays things out until the end. It only returns to that point during the closing scenes, rather than utilising it as some immediately resolved moment of tension.

Much of the story itself revolves purely around the Doctor and Davros' chemistry, with the two trapped in a room conversing with one another. A bold move on the part of the writers, this definitely gives the audience what it wanted to see, as despite being old enemies the two were often only meeting face to face very briefly in the classic series. Taking such a different route here is most welcome, and being able to focus upon Capaldi and Julian Bleach's chemistry seriously helps to buff the story's overall quality. The writers were obviously having a fair bit of fun working with them as well, given we have several quite unexpected turns play out. Well, and one very expected one, but in fairness that's the very first thing they do and the writing utterly nails it.

Davros' actual character and personality here prove to be surprisingly effective. While it might be a song and dance we've seen done before (if you've at least listened to the audio dramas anyway) Bleach's performance sells it. The story plays up a few tropes and elements which make it almost believable despite everything, and it really does look for a few moments as if the series will try something very different with its villains. When the sudden but inevitable betrayal occurs, in some regards it's almost a disappointment as you're left wondering what might have happened had Davros' gambit not been a ruse.

The story also manages to sidestep the issue of pushing them into the background while focusing upon Davros. While they're sadly regulated more to henchman role than we'd normally see, each act does go out of its way to give them something to do. Whether it's via the Doctor's escape attempts or pushing to include Clara and Missy's own sub-plot, they're woven into the story to the point  where they never feel as if they're stuck on the sidelines. Better yet, the episode also makes full use of the classic designs on hand. Despite limiting the Special Weapons Dalek to a simple cameo, we see the older designs continually appearing alongside the new ones, and it's definitely a welcome return albeit a brief one.

Oh, and it does also help that the episode is brimming with dialogue laced with sly wit. Really, if nothing else, that is one thing the series has always had in its favour under Moffat.

It's unfortunately once the story moves away from anything directly involving the Doctor and Davros' scenes where things start to go wrong. There's a lot of plot holes to say the least in this one, and none more obvious than those surrounding Missy and Clara. Trying to delve into some deeper ideas behind the daleks, the script sadly just opens up a few problematic plot holes. Foremost among these is the idea that the daleks have no concept can cannot even utter the word "mercy" in a rather facepalming scene. Sure, past stories might have cited it as a weakness, but they certainly understand the damn emotion!
This proves to be problem which is further compounded when it tries to extend the emotional ideas further, by having dalek armour simply be a power ring. It's not the dalek firing the guns according to this, it's the armour using their emotion to charge itself, reload and fire. These are points which might have been brushed over were they simple background comments, but instead they're key points in the plot.

Matters keep being made worse as the story keeps playing fast and loose with ideas on how the daleks operate as well as their very abilities. Asylum of the Daleks already introduced one exceptionally big contradiction with the abrupt retcon of killing insane members of their kind, but now we have them pointlessly keeping alive flawed and failed mutants. Along with flying in the face of their core nature as a allegory of fascism, their very drive stems from their determination to annihilate and destroy those inferior to themselves. Keeping a vast number of failed and flawed creations alive, is so woefully out of character it's utterly mind bending. It's supposed to serve as a clever element, perhaps even tying into the angle of "mercy" the story aims for, but it ends up making the episode all the dumber for its inclusion.

The Missy-Clara dynamic here is sadly far weaker this time than in the prior episode. While Clara herself might have been dragged along a least a little, she was given more moments in the story to really shine, showing her intelligence and skill. Here she is, at best, used as a tool by Missy to show off. Held captive, manipulated and left to simply follow in her wake, she did little beyond serve the damsel in distress role within the story. This isn't to say that Missy herself was perfect by any means. Losing some of her crueler edge, while she does have more than a few fun moments the episode seems far less willing to use her as the villain. At best there is a moment right towards the end where she starts to shine through, but that's sadly overshadowed by the stupidity of the scene itself.

Overall, The Witch's Familiar is fun, engaging and well acted, but suffers from writing which is far more style than substance. The integration of Classic Who elements to be more than just window dressing continues, and is a welcome improvement, but too many loose plot threads and a unwieldy narrative leaves something to be desired. It's still worth watching, and there's a definite step up in quality from the last week at the Doctor's end, but the show definitely needs to up its game during the coming series.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Dying of the Light (Book Review)

With the success of A Song of Ice and Fire and its adaptations, some often forget George R. R. Martin’s other accomplishments. Having written varied series of tales across a broad spectrum of genres, his works show his true versatility as a writer. Despite this however, Dying of the Light is sadly not a good book to start moving beyond Westros. While it certainly has its strengths, they don’t fully overshadow its failings.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice (Episode Review)

As a series' opener, The Magician's Apprentice is a hard tale to judge. How so? Because it really exemplifies the best and worst qualities of the current era. As many seem to have judged, Series Eight was extremely hit and miss, for some it highlighted the finest qualities of the franchise but for others it was a misstep of the worst kind. While the latter point would certainly be a gross exaggeration, The Magician's Apprentice really varies in quality from scene to scene.

Having parted way from the Doctor once again, Clara has returned to her normal life. Teaching children and keeping order in her classroom, her day to day life is soon disrupted when the skies themselves freeze. Countless aircraft are held hostage in the skies, with some unknown force threatening to drop them on the populations below and killing millions. However, as the mysterious force comes forwards, worse news comes to light. The Doctor is dying, and in his final days two old foes seek a reckoning with him...

To be simple, the episode aims to go big or go home. It throws practically every staggeringly massive idea it can think of at the screen to hook in audiences from the start. The first third of the episode is spent raising the stakes over and over again, getting the audience invested until they are hungry just to know how the hell this can possibly resolve itself. While it certainly might have seemed overblown if mishandled, this actually works for once. Rather than simply front-loading every little detail all at once, the audience is let in on things bit by bit. The effect is staggered with one revelation being surpassed by one which utterly dwarfs it, before expanding further upon the concepts it introduces. In many respects it really seems like a modern variation of classic Who. Rather than simply rushing the whole tale in a narrow window, everything here is effectively serving as the first act of a story before ending on a massive cliffhanger. It ensures that the introduction is far from small, and reminds audiences from the very start as to why they tune in each week.

Perhaps the most noted quality on hand is that there really seems to have been a push to address a few old failures which hung over past stories. Not every one of course, but enough of the more vocal ones focusing upon how the Classic era was being treated, often sidelined or left purely to fan-service. In this case, while it can't be discussed without spoilers, we have several events from past Doctors which become core to the story's driving point. Much of the actual tale, and what will follow, hinges upon one of Tom Baker's most famous serials, and there are some very direct call-backs to old encounters. Atop of this, the classic depiction of certain old foes (sidelined in their past appearance) are seen as being very alive and very mobile here.

The actors on hand are definitely at their best here, and even those I previously criticised were definitely far more on point this time around. While one in particular feels far too much like River Song lite (yet again) she's more acting as her personal self here, and it feels as if the actress is more certain of her role. Clara herself is sadly not given too much to do, but there's more a sense of power behind her actions and, again, a degree of certainty. She takes more control here than we see usually and the way she handled particular events was oddly intelligent in some regards, while admittedly very stupid in others. As for Capaldi, well, this image sums up how much fun he's having here:

So, with all that good, what exactly does the episode do wrong? More than anything else, it unfortunately keeps falling back on old habits. The episode wants to start up big, no problems there, but even in the excitement of the final chapter you might find yourself thinking it's too much. It really seems to be pushing everything it can up to the Nth degree to evoke as much drama as possible, but within as little time as it can. What we have here is effectively a series' finale worth of events, yet it doesn't take the time to really develop or run up to that point. It ends up cutting corners in many places, falling back on the attitude of "this is happening now, don't question it" and hand-waving away past story decisions. The most infamous of these has been the return of a foe seemingly killed off for good last time, only to show up here without a hair on her head harmed, and offering no explanation as to how. The script seems to flaunt this very fact, and after so long it really seems to becoming less flippantly charming and more downright frustrating.

The lack of explanations would be one thing, but this is also compounded by a few other old failings. Some scenes seem to exist purely for their own sake and to get social media hyped. While in this case i'm tempted to give one particularly egregious offender a pass thanks to its sheer entertainment value (you'll know it when you see the Doctor picks up an axe) you might notice that for all its pacing it's kind of spinning its wheels. 

We have a big build up to one revelation which is just the tip of the iceberg. It then leads into a second one following a bigger one, and then it never stops to really let the audience feel the weight of that impact. This might be something you miss at first, but you'll pick up on it as things go along, and once you do you'll also start to notice that we have a lot of very familiar ideas showing up once again. Until the end of this paragraph there will be spoilers, so skip if you need to. Those left, how many times have we seen the following now? The Doctor is dying, seemingly inescapably so. Earth is under threat on its own and needs to contact the Doctor, with that being the big crux of the opening tale. We have a monster whose main gimmick is "don't do X if you want to live". We even have the Doctor partying like hell to celebrate his death. 

The series' creative spark seems gone and the enthusiasm for new ideas has gradually ebbed away. It's a sad thing to see, as that creativity and genius determination to try new things was really what helped to get people so invested in the first place. With it gone, the series is still good in some regards, but it honestly feels like the scripts are running on borrowed time. It isn't helped that some of these recycled elements and ideas even contradict one another. A certain event with the TARDIS during the conclusion highlights it the best, which should have royally wrecked the whole universe. Even ignoring that, just look at this line of dialogue and ask yourself if this even sounds like the relationship the Doctor would have with a very old foe:

Clara: He's not your friend. You keep trying to kill him.

X: He keeps trying to kill me.

Now, all of this isn't to say that the episode is bad in any regard. There's plenty here to like and if you switch off your brain you'll certainly be kept thoroughly entertained for the better part of an hour. Even if you are sitting by and picking at some erogenous problems, thinking things through, you'll be in the right mindset to appreciate some of the well thought out shout-outs slipped in here and there. The real issue simply is that the series just keeps making the same old mistakes for some inexplicable reason, and there's no real push to seriously improve upon them.
Should you watch The Magician's Apprentice? Definitely. You'll see plenty of fun scenes here and there, and grin more than a few times, but don't be too surprised if you feel a little underwhelmed by the end.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

SOMA (Video Game Review)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Frictional Games redefined the Survival Horror genre. Thanks to both its thick atmosphere and deadly foes, Amnesia: The Dark Descent spearheaded the revolution still going on today, with its concepts present in indie and AAA releases alike. After handing over Amnesia to The Chinese Room, Frictional have shifted their focus from fantasy to full blown science fiction. The result is an astounding masterpiece, and the game all future horror releases should be measured against.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Authority RPG and Resource Book: The Rules (Tabletop Roleplay Review)

So, now we've dealt with the lore in as spoiler free a manner as possible, (hopefully to encourage some of you to check out Warren Ellis' work on StormWatch and The Authority) we're here's a few thoughts on the rules. This not going to be too simple given that the rules and details themselves are fine, but the core system itself is fairly divisive among people. It's based upon the Tri-Stat System, a somewhat uncommon set compared with GURPS or traditional D20 RPGs, and no one seems to have a set opinion on it. Just Google it and you'll find people adamantly loving it, adamantly hating it, praising one area but disposing others, with no dominant group. True, this is hardly uncommon among most systems, but if you were to get eight RPG fanatics to read this thing, no one opinion would even begin to cross over with the other.

However, as this is opinion driven, I personally think that the system itself is serviceable. Certainly not outstanding, and lacking some of the more fun elements of Shadowrun and Dark Heresy, but it's not nearly as convoluted as Exalted or bad by any standard. 

So, how does it work as a whole? Well, the Tri-Stat system itself proves to be oddly simplified, with characters having three primary stats covering all the usual groups. To compare with D&D, this means that Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are effectively all rolled into one stat (Body), Intelligence and some more scholarly aspects of Wisdom are rolled into another (Mind) and the other half are combined with Charisma to make one more (Soul). On the one hand, this does nicely streamline things in many regards and makes certain parts of the system far less clunky, easing people into RPGs as a whole. On the other though, it does remove too much depth and dynamic ideas for my personal liking. Linking in Strength and Constitution for example, that's all fine, but Dexterity as well seems to be going a bit far. It just doesn't allow for enough "sub-genres" for fighter to exist, even with the Less Capable Defect elements in play. That last Defect choice is what helps event out certain points, differing hard hitting glass cannons from slow but extremely strong tanks. 

Say for example you had a very high body stat, to turn your guy into more of a juggernaut and free up some points to spend on other areas (because there are always points) you could turn Speed or Agility into a defect. This would mean he was strong, tough and all the rest, but would be slower by comparison. The effects vary, as it inflicts a -3 penalty on major widespread attributes like those mentioned, or a -6 to more specialised areas. How good this is really will vary from person to person, as it can seem quite extreme. The system covering these areas goes from an inept individual (1), a normal human (4), an Olympian (12), and then to basically a Super Saiyan (20).

As a whole, the system just seems to play things too safe, and you'll quickly realise this when the group runs into enemy encounters. Given their power levels, most checks by the players are usually going to be relatively easily passed, and the few times the system offered some serious challenges was thanks to large negative modifiers. The problem is that this works both ways, so when you end up with enemies on roughly the same level as the characters, it can just result in continual no-selling of attacks as they repeatedly pass on their defensive checks. Okay, this can encourage parties to be very original with their own rolls, but it also means that the more straight forwards battles can be a real slog at times.

So, with so many negative qualities in mind, does it really cover many good aspects if any? More than you'd expect. The foremost being that the system is actually extremely easy to get into and very streamlined. This isn't to say it's simple by any means, and there's still a learning curve to be had, but it means that games move forwards very quickly. There's none of the usual waiting or speed bumps you run into with the likes of Shadowrun or the other games cited above. You could have a character hacking into a computer system, someone interrogating another character, a third person on a firing range, and a forth trying to survive torture, and it would be smoothly running. You wouldn't run into those same sort of bits or elongated sequences where one character's story hijacks the entire session for half an hour.

The actual book itself brings up multiple examples and cites how to keep things balanced between players in session, and in the tests runs we've done it works fairly well. It's quite easy to shift about and rearrange the narrative to suit an ongoing story, and the mechanics are speedily handled enough to have a story built upon them without strangling character moments. This, combined with its rapid combat and fast sequences, means that it's surprisingly open to new players. Being open to any new person of any kind is always a bonus, and it goes hand in hand in this case with a staggering level of flexibility.

When pointing out that the book covers a vast array of characters and figures in the first part of this review, that also went into the stats. You have everything here started out and covered from the main team to an overweight politician. While that might seem very general and obvious, please take into account that this ranges from a man who can bench press Everest and cauterise the moon to someone who can barely shoot a pistol. Then keep in mind all of that is covered on this basic system, and it goes to even greater extremes. The Authority being statted out didn't just stop at its humanoid members, but also went into its several kilometer long flying headquarters, the Carrier, and it works. You could have practically anything covered under this system, and while it might not be perfectly covered, it's adaptable enough for you to take a stab at almost any nutso idea you want.

The flexability of the game is greatly assisted by a staggering number of skills and character attributes which are on offer to new players. These are the parts which really assist in the greater flexibility on offer and allow players to fully tailor characters as and how they wish. So, while you might get certain abilities and points you'd expect such as being fated to follow a certain path or being ultra accurate with certain weapons, you then have some of the truly insane stuff. 

Want to have a skill in the domestic arts of housekeeping? It's got you covered. 

Want to have a literal divine relationship to call upon or the ability to transform cities into personal mecha? Yep, it's in there. 

Want to have force fields? The book has several pages devoted to sub-catagories of that ability. 

Hell, that goes that for quite a few of them, from alternate forms to a stylised combat technique involving guns. Again, it's simple so don't expect it to be ultra-detailed as with other systems, but it's wide and varied enough for you to basically build whatever combination of hero archetypes you might want. A personal favourite was basically combining the abilities of Mister Fantastic with Nick Fury, elasticity, genius, personal army of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and all.

In addition to such a variety of attributes, you then have the bonus of the exact nature of special attacks. These go on for several pages at a time, and the few which don't offer such a wide variety of points or ideas are always simple enough for the GM to develop house rules surrounding them. This can be especially helpful on the subjects of energy or damage absorption, or replicating the ever increasing power telekinesis has in all fiction. The overall point, however, is that it's really a system where freedom was their big emphasis without it ever over-complicating the game, and on that front it remains a definite success.

There's really little else to truly talk about beyond this save for how certain characters are presented. As mentioned in the first part, players are given the opportunity and freedom to play as members of the Authority and those figures are statted up. However, like so much present in the book, the writers emphasised that their variations were guidelines more than anything else. As such, they offered ideas and points present to shift things about with these characters or build upon them as they players wished. So, if someone wanted to focus primarily upon Midnighter's nature as a brutally efficient killer over all else, the book suggests ways to really focus upon this. It even goes so far as to use this in the example sessions and gives the players freedom to mess about with things.

Between this and the lore section, The Authority RPG and Resource Book is a very solid RPG choice. It's not perfect by any means, and certainly not utterly outstanding. The real attraction here is going to be the depth the book goes into the lore and the freedom on offer more than anything else. However, as a fan of the series it's more than enough to satisfy those familiar with the team's exploits and covers more than enough information for new fans. If you're familiar with the team or just like the general themes the comic was going for, this is a definite recommendation. Given the quality on offer here, it's a damn shame Guardians of Order weren't about for longer, or that their long planned StormWatch book never saw the light of day. Still, at least Wildstorm fans can be happy in the knowledge they utterly nailed this one.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Undertale (Video Game Review)

Over the past few years choice has become a key selling point in gaming. Whether it’s your moral standing or shaping the entire story it’s the flavour of the era, and we’ve seen entire development houses built upon selling this to players. However, all too often this comes down to a veneer of freedom, and following a series of narrative railroads to a conclusion. Undertale bucks this trend by giving the players the ability to not only win without harming a single person, but by the very nature of save scumming.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Star Wars: Aftermath's Gay Old Failing

... So, I wonder how many people will rush to hurl abuse in the comments before reading this opening line.

For those still reading, this isn't complaining about the presence of homosexual characters in the book. There's certainly nothing wrong with them and thankfully it's more widely accepted these days than in the past fifty years, though that's not saying much. People certainly didn't complain when past Star Wars media included such characters (Juhani of Knights of the Old Republic being the first) and science fiction in general. 

No, I don't have a problem with the presence of gay characters. What I do have a problem with is them being used as a shield against criticism.

For regular readers who didn't see my review of Star Wars: Aftermath, it's pretty sodding bad to say the least. Barely skirting above The Crystal Star in terms of narrative quality and barely maintaining any semblance of a coherent plot, it all but insults the reader for being stupid enough to purchase it. Look to Goodreads and you will find a plethora of one star reviews slating this book thanks to its poor prose, terrible structure and awkward storytelling. The problem is that all of this is overshadowed, and buried under the presence of homosexual characters in the book.

Having people who feel romantic interests with people of the same gender? That's sadly always going to draw insults from a few morons. It should have been something minor, the usual stupidity of a minority but then its effect was exaggerated, the point focused upon by the media and its backlash stirred up by the author himself, Chuck Wendig. After initial responses, the writer produced a massive essay length article which addressed these points. Wait, no, sorry, he didn't address the points themselves but instead started making pot-shots at anyone who objected to their presence at all, openly insulting them:

“And if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming,” 

“You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.”

Any attempts to comment upon Wendig's confrontational and insulting approach just left him slamming the door and refusing to talk about it, hiding behind the point of homophobia to defend his attitude. Whether or not you think this was a deserved response or not, it was far from professional conduct and served to do only two things: 

1. Create publicity for his book.
2. Make it look as if any and all criticism towards his work was stemming from those determined to perform acts of gay bashing, baiting them into a further frenzy.

As a result, it's presenting and encouraging the idea that all objections to the novel are stemming purely from gay bashing and have no legitimate standing. What's more is that it's effectively using the guise of promoting equal rights as a barrier against any analytical critique or objections of any kind. We've seen this done by others more times than can be counted, and hell, this blog features an article covering very similar tactics in comics. Electronic Arts has done the same, in the face of its many acts of stupidity and customer unfriendly decisions, it repeatedly tried to defend itself by saying "Hey, go easy on us, we support the LGBT community!" Or, more infamously, it will blame anti-gay groups for any backlash. What bearing does this have on the quality of the creator or work itself? None. At the end of the day the book is still horribly written, but because of this raging shitstorm we have that fact being overlooked entirely. 

Perhaps worse still though, the defence Aftermath is being done without covering the actual presentation of homosexuality in the books. As with everything else, it's being done badly. What we have here are a number of jokes, minor moments and extremely tacked on character traits plastered into throw away sections of the novel. While Aftermath might feature several characters who are openly LGBT, much of it is played for laughs at best. At worst, they're sides sections which can be instantly forgotten. 

One rather quoted moment is effectively a throwaway line when an alien is attempting to hit on one such character, Velus, only to respond he's not into women. It's set up as a one-line throwaway joke and little else. Omit these bits and you have nothing in the book to suggest he is homesexual in the slightest. The same goes for every character in here, and it highlights a critical problem: These sections mentioning homosexual leanings aren't core to their character, they're a tacked on addition. They're not a building block used to better shape them into a person, they're just trappings thrown on at the last second. Take them away and the character doesn't change. For all its hype, for all the attempts to promote the book on this point, it effectively boils down to "Did I mention i'm gay recently?"

The result of treating someone's preferences as a tacked on element is not only insulting but a clear case of horrifically bad writing. It treats this personal element as being a paper-thin trait which has no bearing on their personality, as something which can easily be settled by merely spamming mention of it throughout the book. While there are certainly characters who can be cited as homosexuals but without the narrative focusing utterly upon it (Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority come to mind) these are still core to their identities. This approach? It's crude at best. It's akin to trying to have a person presented as being African by saying "Oh, would you look at how dark skinned I am!?" People are supposed to defend this book as being progressive. Quite frankly I wonder how many would call this book progressive after actually seeing how Aftermath treated its characters.

Gay shield tactics are simply a smokescreen, an attempt to distract people from the actual quality of a work by drawing something heavily contested into the mix. It's used to demonize one side, insult them and try to present them as pro-discrimination, while the defenders are presented as open-minded and entirely in the right. Quite frankly, it's the worst elements of blind internet activist tendencies applied on a mob level. The tactic is always the same and it always will be just as morally repugnant as the narrow-minded scumbags who encourage discrimination against homosexuals. It turns a demographic into an easy way of sidestepping criticism, easily rallying people en mass to defend a work and decrying all those who would dare to question its quality. It boils down a push for progressive acceptance into an easy way to have sub-standard work accepted by the masses, and quite frankly the LGBT population deserves better than this.

Given Wendig's own Star Wars response, it would be easy to make a final paragraph Wendig the Senator Palpatine of the new canon; equating him to some arsehole presenting himself as the benevolent ruler, all while manipulating others better than him to unwittingly assist in his success. Quite frankly i'll settle for the more obvious jab proving his desperation to have others defend his works, to the point of him openly calling for people to give him five-star reviews on Amazon because readers didn't like his book:

Being pro-gay won't turn a toddler's scribble into the Mona Lisa and won't turn Ride to Hell into Witcher 3. More importantly, it won't turn Star Wars: Aftermath into the next Outbound Flight. If it's to be remembered as a classic, it can damn well do so by standing up on its own merits, not by trying to turn LGBT supporters into the author's personal army.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Xeelee Endurance (Book Review)

Spanning across eons, Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence is very unique take on a galactic war. It’s a universe where the humans were effectively a bit player, a minor faction at best. Oblivious to the greater war around them, as humanity’s power waxed and waned, two other species fought in a greater clash, slowly leading the galaxy to its heat death. Noted for its grand scale, mind expanding ideas and fascinating use of scientific concepts, it has become one of the essential hard science fiction series all should read alongside 2001. This latest release, Endurance, serves to combine a multitude of tales throughout the timeline, further expanding upon humanity’s plight in this setting.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

New Tau Empire Images Leaked - New Battlesuit Variants On The Horizon

In another group of linked images via White Dwarf photographs, it has been confirmed that the Tau Empire will be seeing a new update. Having recieved a substantial number of new toys in the last edition, it was not entirely sure what line the new group would follow. However, what we have here looks like an extremely tasty mix of Super Heavy, Elite and Troops choices.

The first of these is a point which seems to have been overlooked by many outlets reporting on this leak. Arrayed alongside the new battlesuits are several small bands of Fire Warriors, all of who have been given a minor overhaul. 

While nothing truly substantial and sticking to their main aesthetic, there is no denying the subtle changes to their helms, carbines and shoulder shields. This could be a new unit, but personally I predict that this is a revamp of an old one. We have not had a substantial upgrade to the old Pathfinders in quite some time, and the helmet sensor array does reflect their look subtly. This is further assisted by what appears to be small signal markers slung under their guns, though of course these could just be grenade launchers. It's also made a little more questionable by the presence of traditional Pathfinders in one image, though we have had hold-over models in the past.

Next up we have something especially interesting, as it could dramatically change the overall dynamic of Elite or possible even HQ choices. Namely something which is being referred to as the XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit.

Now, it might not be obvious at first, but there's a clear resemblance to another unit, a famed and unique one, Commander Shadowsun. While often ditched in favour of her bare head, the helmet on this design seems very similar to that of her XV22 Battlesuit and even the twin Fusion Blaster armaments seem extremely similar as well. Combine that with a hard hitting anti-tank weapon and drone controller, and it truly does look like a bulked up version of the smaller design. Personally I think this could be being brought in as a new commander option or, more likely, a bigger bulked up Stealth Suit to operate alongside, or perhaps even serve as an expensive alternative to, the traditional Stealth Teams.

Now, finally we get to the big one, the release's mini-Titan. With the success of the Riptide it was only a matter of time before another was released, and now we have an alternative. One which, even from first glance, fully embraces the doctrines of long range firepower the Tau Empire lives and dies by: The XV128 Stormsurge.

What the Riptide was to the Crisis, I personally think this will be to the Broadside. It bares the same sort of overall aesthetic with a single over-sized cannon, then multiple anti-infantry and smaller weapons to back it up. Atop of it, the pose is similar to that of the Broadside and there is no indication at all of it having a jump pack of any kind. Most of these weapons also look like fairly new designs, perhaps some entirely new and others variants on old ones. This will probably be the ones to draw the most interest given the importance of Super Heavies now.

The Third Doctor Adventures Vol. 1 (Audio Drama Review)

For all its success in keeping the classic era of Doctor Who alive, Big Finish has faced many trials and tragedies, and none more so than Jon Pertwee. Passing away after only two audio dramas, Big Finish have found a few inventive ways to keep his era alive, but recasting the Third Doctor entirely was always going to be a gamble. Thankfully it’s one which has paid off extraordinarily well.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Star Wars: Aftermath (Book Review)

The subject of the new canon in Star Wars has been met with both hope and derision. Many old fans still are understandably irate at having everything they cared about deemed to have never mattered and starting over. At the same time, more optimistic views hope that this could overcome some old failings, and should be given the chance to stand on its own and prove itself. Aftermath manages to thoroughly demolish any remnants of goodwill after the author practically drops his britches and starts defecating on the Thrawn trilogy in the first chapter; not only taking the time to mock one of the trilogy’s most famous moments, but pick out every single little problem the author had with it. Things rapidly proceed to go downhill from there.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada - Gameplay And Promising Plans

There are ships, there are big guns, and everything looks like a skull crested cathedral. If nothing else, they've got the look down. With so many Games Workshop video game releases being promoted via mobile, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada has been a subject of interest for many. While not exactly a Space Marine II or Dawn of War III, it's the closest the franchise has to a truly big budget new release and something set on a massive scale. While fans have had little to go on beyond a few basic interviews and cinematic trailers, the developer has finally opted to release some detailed info via a gameplay trailer.

While certainly less stylised than the average AAA bombastic trailer, and certainly less blood pumping, what we have here is better in many regards. Direct, succinct, and brimming with good information, it relies upon narration backed by some gameplay but still features some of the great eye candy. Given it's aiming for demographics more interested in tactical engagement than raging battles, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Furthermore, it also still keeps its cards close to its chest. While we have some basic information for the Imperial and Chaos fleets, little to nothing of the Ork WAAAAGH!fleet or Eldar Wraithfleets are mentioned. The two there are also covered in very basic information at most, leaving plenty of room for great surprises in the future.

The real meat here instead focuses upon how the game will play overall. Along with depicting a two dimensional plane (which is likely to draw some ire from space RTS fans over the tabletop loyalists) the maps is riddled with environmental hazards, navigational issues and areas to exploit. Better yet, it goes into informing the players how this will influence the outcome of each engagement, with some special focus upon certain bits and pieces which might go unnoticed at first. Chief among these is how each fleet and each death seems to have more meaning here than with the average RTS. Along with focusing upon smaller groups of fleets at a time, there's the detail mentioned that wrecks and derelicts can be used as cover between warships, showing enemy cruisers are not simply consigned to oblivion.

However, the most interesting point is the emphasis upon suitability and progression. Along with mentioning, perhaps even encouraging, a ship's ability to warp out of combat and return later, progression is a big part of each warship. On Chaos' side they can manifest unique tributes to the Ruinous Powers, gaining favour with one force or another and bonuses as a result. However, with others you have crews upgrading and officers benefiting from experience, with many covering multiple areas of the ship and enhancing its capabilities across each point. While an idea carried over from the tabletop game, it means you're viewing the fleet as truly yours. Most RTS titles always make the mistake of treating units as offer, puffing out of existence and never carrying over to the next engagement. This means that each unit now has more value, as you grow attached to them. It's really what made Homeworld so memorable, building your fleet over time, and that lacked this same method of gaining experience.

So, do we need more information? Oh most definitely, but it certainly holds a great deal of promise. Here's hoping future promotional material expands upon what we've seen thus far.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Authority RPG and Resource Book: The Lore (Tabletop Roleplay Review)

So, after much talk and promise, welcome to some non-Warhammer related tabletop content. Deciding to go with something decidedly different but still extremely dark, this time we're delving into the world of superheroes, specifically this extension of the Wildstorm Universe.

One of the several universes spawned in the Dark Age of the early 90s, Wildstorm has quite an interesting publisher despite its initially sub-standard content. Founded by the famed Jim Lee, it was a part of Image Comics before later breaking off. Consisting entirely of your grimdumb, dull ultraviolence and (surprisingly) Liefeldian artwork, it wasn't anything special until two men came along. The first of these was the legendary Alan Moore, working on the WildC.A.T.s and upping the quality of that series. The second came some years later, the venerable Warren Ellis, creator of Transmetropolitan among many famous indie works. Ellis turned the failing StormWatch into a cult classic, and after that comic sadly ended sparked up what was to become its famed spiritual successor: The Authority.

The Authority is effectively what you get when you combine the Suicide Squad with the Justice League. These are powerful heroes, defenders of earth consisting of people who are determined to change the world for the better. However, they are also those who operate as a semi-covert paramilitary operation, operating on the mantra of the end justifying the means, with many haunted by dark powers or pasts. 

This is the group who almost certainly served as inspiration for the film Justice League: Gods and Monsters, and the sort of people who are simply villains trying to do the best they can to improve a dark world. The sort of people who, unlike Superman, would happily teleport into a dictator's office and snap his neck to end a bigger war. The sort of people who have seen how badly wrong humanity can go under its own steam, and can't be left to its own devices. This isn't an exaggeration either. Want to know how far this group went in the comics? They declared Tibet to be a protectorate of themselves, declared it a free state, and repeatedly annihilated China's attempts to take it back.

The reason for the group's actions are that, unlike other vigilantes, they attempted to first operate within the system as a part of StormWatch (the United Nations' metahuman taskforce). However, after corruption, red tape and interference from above hamstrung them, and the organisation was disbanded following most of its members being declared K.I.A. stopping an alien invasion, they went rogue. As a result of this, much of the lore within the book effectively comes down to recapping Ellis' initial run on the comic. It goes into great detail covering the three main arcs of home threats, alien threats and interdimensional threats. For added flavour it then goes into the Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority miniseries, with mixed results. While it gives some added details and ideas for GMs, and more narrative hooks for players to work with, but the quality is definitely less than that of the big series.

While simply listing the history and events of the comic might seem cheap, it actually works to its benefit in many regards. It gives a good impression of the sorts of scale, the exact sorts of threats the heroes and party are supposed to be fighting. There's no small scale stopping a store robbery, no immediate attempts to deal with street level crime, when the Authority gets involved it's because there is at least city scale devastation at risk. More often than not what they get involved in is usually planetary or continental actually, largely because of the collateral risk involved. Unlike Man of Steel or a few unfortunate comics of late, the Authority addresses that damage control and limiting civilian causalities is an absolute necessity, When two super-powered beings get to grips with one another, someone is almost certainly going to die in the crossfire, no matter how careful you are, and being cocky will likely just result in more deaths. It's in part for this reason that the comic goes into so much detail surrounding their initial engagement with a big threat in London, which focuses upon exactly this, and Apollo's later battle with an alien fleet. 

The book is really giving you all you can to impress the big, main ideas behind each fight, each battle and each running conflict to allow you to create your own. It even suggests a few later ones building off of prior events as possible starting points. Not just the usual sort of throwaway ideas either, but some BIG impact stuff, like the idea of StormWatch's space station crash landing in America rather than being fired into the sun, unleashing thousands of facehuggers. Another is effectively what might happen if the rapture occurred, with more atop of all of that.

While the book impresses big ideas upon the reader and builds up a few concepts, it thankfully does actually provide plenty of material for people to build their own tales. What isn't devoted to the early series is impressing upon the reader some of the big events in the universe. This covers a varied number of subjects from what led to StormWatch's creation, the politics in play, and even the interstellar war between the Kherubim and Daemonites, WildC.A.T.s' main villains. This further extends into the planet's unique events, some of the stuff focusing upon certain individual nations, before then moving onto the series' own big threats at long last. Yeah, there's a lot to work with, a lot more than what's actually in the comics. Along with all of this, if players really what to go off of the beaten track, the GM is given full profiles for just about any and every character in the comics with a name. This means the likes of Lord Windsor, a character who lasted all of four pages in the comic, now has as fully fleshed out a profile as the big players. There's plenty of material here to really mold the setting or story to however you wish, showing you the exact points on where to go and how to expand upon concepts. It's basically more Horus Heresy than it is The End Times, offering you all the background information you need to create your own story rather than saying "yeah, do something else if you want."

If there is a problem to be cited with all of this, it's that the big characters of Apollo, Midnighter, Swift, the Engineer, Hawksmoor, the Doctor (no, not that one) and Jenny Sparks are left a little vague. Okay, most people want to create their own characters much of the time, but in the case of Apollo and the Doctor especially, what details you're given makes them seem very limited or shallow. A sad problem given that it doesn't properly reflect the greater depth the comic would later show beyond the initial run, especially with the former becoming a parent. Even when it does go into certain character ideas, it unfortunately tends to stick largely to tropes or basic concepts, such as the Aquaman archetype and the like. So, at times it really seems like the authors were seriously sticking to what they knew from the comic.

The issue of sticking purely to the comic's information is also carried over to its themes and certain subjects. While it emphasises big power, big impact and a global scale, it doesn't really do enough to build things up to that. It sticks to this scale from the very start and there's little here to ease other players into something truly massive, or how to think exactly in this way. It's hard enough to get certain people to adjust to the likes of Exalted where you're playing demigods who can leap over mountains, but being able to punch planets out of orbit? Yeah, that takes a lot of experience and a specific mindset. This can be just as bad for the GM as it is the players, and you can unfortunately all too easily find them thinking along the lines of traditional superhero antics such as stopping bank robberies or the like. As such, it's great for those who already have plenty of experience and a good understanding of this type of game, but offers little help for those trying to get there. Combined with the massive costs and some of the darker aspects, it's really not for the faint hearted.

However, above all else there is one critical problem with the RPG which was also at the core of the big series itself far too much of the time. The Authority sells itself upon the idea of changing the world for the bigger, the idea of having a big impact and being able to push for a better society and be about more than just punching people. For all of that however, there's very little here which doesn't focus purely upon fighting. This was an issue of the main comic itself, especially during the main series and always seemed secondary to the fights. For example, helping the world in the first arc came down to killing a superhuman army and crushing an empire. This wasn't really anything new, and the real changes came from quieter moments like helping with post-battle relief efforts and making contacts within certain government offices. Even the big moment there came down to basically manipulating events to ensure certain technology fell into the hands of the United Nations, but that's really about it. This is even more notable in the second arc with Sliding Albion, where liberating an entire planet boils down to killing off the core command infrastructure and that's about it.

For all the background the book offers on the universe, for all the details, information and wealth of minute facts to help GMs, there's nothing to help the core message. You're given a few general ideas at best, perhaps a few vague concepts, but there's no page which really stops to explain and give a solid bit of grounding to operate off of. It would certainly help to just have even a basic list of ideas, concepts and thoughts to work with, but so much just seems to be relying upon the GM being inventive and little else. Not a bad idea in some cases, but definitely not when it comes to the book's core theme. This is only made worse by how making the world better seems so oddly contradictory to the violent methods within the group and lack of grey morality. There's no ambiguity in the examples found here, with every villain being a full on bastard coated monstrous bastards with a bastard filling. This even extends to the army themselves, so there's never a moment where they're forced to use restraint or second guess anything. As a result of all this, it's sadly more a book which talks about its themes of changing the world while only making a few concessions towards that overall goal.

Still, as an adaptation in terms of lore and concepts, The Authority RPG and Resource Book is pretty damn good. When the main flaws stem more from the source material itself, it's hard to really mark something like this down. With its biggest sin being just sticking far too much to what was established by others, all the while offering more than enough information to people to put their own spin on things, this still remains a sold RPG. While in terms of overall lore it's one which should have GMs be very aware of its flaws and scope before starting, this is definitely pretty damn good. It might not push quite so far as Rogue Trader, but for the universe at hand and set on a single world it's hard to ask for more, really. Plus, it's easily one of the most beautiful looking RPG books about thanks to Bryan Hitch's work. I'd say more but, really, just look at a few of the images posted on here and they speak for themselves.

So, off to a flawed but good start, but how do the rules hold up? See for yourself right here.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Asurman: Hand of Asuryan (Book Review)

Whether or not you'll like Asurman: Hand of Asuryan comes down to an incredibly simple question - Did you enjoy the last work Gav Thrope produced for the eldar. If you did, you'll love this. If you didn't, you'll find a few interesting qualities here and a few improvements, but not enough to really justify the purchase. Really, there's nothing else to say about this, and really it has the same strengths and failings we can cite as last time.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Mad Max (Video Game Review)

If ever there was a flawed gem to be singled out in this generation, it would have to be Mad Max. Sharply contrasting positive design aesthetics and the savage wasteland tone of the films, it simultaneously accomplishes so much but botches so many essential elements. As a result this makes for a positive if very uneven experience.

Friday, 4 September 2015

King Art Games (Game Developer Interview)

Following several previously successful crowd funding projects, KING Art Games has returned to adapt The Dwarves novels to PC and gaming consoles. Having launched the Kickstarter with considerable support and fanfare, Starburst took the opportunity to sit down and speak with Narrative Designer Marco Rosenberg about their plans for the game.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Good That Games Workshop Does - A Few Opinionated Thoughts On The Age Of Sigmar

It seems all too often that when we talk about Games Workshop, it focuses upon the negatives. Oh the opinion varies depending upon the quality of its products, with some utterly outstanding and some questionable, but the company itself seems to have generated a stigmata. Many of the articles on here have focused upon that, however, while I might be an arsehole, I try to be a fair one. As such, this one is going to focus upon one of the moves I personally think the company has done right of late, and has actually responded to a few fan complaints. Namely, the Age of Sigmar and how it has developed.

Wait, before you all go rushing to the comments, the system isn't perfect. Yes, there is a laundry list of problems people have with the setting, some of which I even agree with. You can find plenty of those documented online, and we'll even address a couple towards the end. However, for the most part, I personally consider the universe and direction itself to be a sign of positive change in many respects.

One of the big criticisms you'll always find on here tends to revolve around the obsession with characters and big units. We saw this become an ever increasing problem with Fantasy in many regards, and it's still a big one with 40,000, as many of the elements intended to be kept purely for Apocalypse have slowly bled into normal games. We even saw this quite frequently cropping up in The End Times, another problem I personally have with that series of events, yet Age of Sigmar seems to have largely sidestepped it. While the setting is certainly rife with a number of heroes for each side, every new release doesn't utterly hinge upon them. 

Save for the Celestant-Prime and a few others, we don't have that many being released for the setting with any great deal of fanfare. For the most part they're ultimately being treated once more as cogs in an army. Not, as has so often been the case, the beginning and end of the army itself, with anything which doesn't have a unique name or serve as a big unit boiling down to basic fodder. Rather than everything focusing upon some massive dragon, siege engine or guy who can punch out a Bloodthirster in seconds, we now have more of a focus placed upon promoting the army as a whole. After all, in their focus upon the new Stormcast Eternals and Khorne units, we've had more efforts to shill Judicators, Blood Warriors and the like rather than unique characters.

Perhaps more importantly, the focus upon more general units has led to a general down-scaling of armies. Now, some people prefer huge armies, huge battles and throwing nothing but big expensive units at people. No complaints there, there's certainly an attraction to that. However, in efforts to emphasise that side of things, the other end was all too often forgotten or ignored entirely. We saw average army sizes increase exponentially, the smaller squad or platoon based games withered and died, and the systems which featured perhaps a dozen units at the most were gradually killed off. The Age of Sigmar, by comparison, focuses upon smaller battles. The starter set itself features half the number you would normally expect for an opening force, and resembles a Mordheim warband or Infinity army than anything else in terms of size and structure.

As a result of the smaller scale of armies, the system itself is much more open and friendly to new players. While you can certainly argue the price issue of models and the like, but in terms of sheer scale it's far less daunting. Most small scale or starter games I have personally seen in Warhammer 40,000 over they years have been at 1,000 or 1,200 points, rather than the 500 or 700 they were back in the days of Fourth Edition. This, combined with the prices of rulebooks, codices and the like lock people out of the setting. It's why so often the likes of Firestorm Armada, Infinity and, well, most of Spartan Games has seemed so attractive by comparison. You could easily start with a much smaller army, a more balanced force, and weren't required to go all in and have a full legion of troops before you were even sure you wanted to devote yourself to the game.

Even ignoring all else, the fact that so many older models can he happily re-used without too much issue shows that the company wants this to be accessible. They don't want to alienate players from past editions in their efforts to open it up to new people, or render past purchases pointless. Many players have still shown up using Empire Greatswords and the like in their games, even newly painted ones to help give their army a little more flavour. It would have been extremely easy to wipe them away or force people to buy entirely new sets, but keeping them shows a heightened level of acceptance for long term players.

Atop of everything else, there's actually the setting as a whole. Now, this is where one of those criticisms is going to arise, one of the few we'll mention here. Namely the Stormcast Eternals. The problem for so many is that the company is quite visibly determined to turn these into the Fantasy version of the Adeptus Astartes, whereas before there was nothing of the like. As a result, we've seen a massive amount of focus, publicity and attention placed upon them, with the company determined to have them be the poster boys. This has turned more than a few people away, and the general pauldronification of Khorne hasn't helped. No, really, just looked right and tell me those aren't Khorne Berserkers.

However, while the focus and promotional campaigns by the company are definitely problematic, the overall setting is fascinating. While we do have a few unfortunate hold-overs in terms of characters and elements from the previous game (for which the Aelves have suffered especially badly) many others have taken a new and very interesting turn. We now see Lizardmen (or Seraphon) more akin to daemons in nature, with their bones replaced by raw magic and taking on a very interesting direction. Dwarf Slayers have become living totems of fire and soldiers of fortune, and we've seen some very weird concepts from Chaos itself. Nurgle in particular, from what little we've seen of their fiefdoms, has shown what would follow a Chaotic victory in a new light. While certainly retaining traces of daemon worlds and the like, there's more of a general sense of writers trying to push new things with how such corruption might progress and fester.

The point is that there is a fantastic setting here, and if writers were to just broaden their focus a little more we would see that. It's this focus upon trying to use the Sigmarines (as the Eternals so often been nicknamed) as the spearhead to help promote this setting which is in some ways hurting it the hardest and shutting out new people. However, even in terms of basic concept, I personally still argue the setting has merit. Why? Because it's taking a familiar overall approach to a very fondly remembered and successful past franchise.

To put it simply, Age of Sigmar is to Fantasy what Spelljammer was to Dungeons & Dragons. Just as in that case we have certain races, individuals, gods and weapons all appear, but warped until they're a part of a high science fantasy setting, with stargates and crossbow laser guns and the like. That sort of twist is something very new and very different for the setting, but it's not being done out of malice or determination to surpass the old ideas. It seems to be more a case of the creative forces simply attempting new things on a blank canvas, using the same paints to try new things. We've certainly had enough shout-outs and callbacks to the classics to show there's no ill will towards them, from Gorkamorka to Slaves to Darkness, and genuine care has been put into this evolving setting and how it works. Some might be underdeveloped at the moment, some might certainly need more attention as time goes by, but there are still the seeds of new elements and ideas to come. In some regards this is actually comparable with Firestorm Armada, setting up certain basic narrative points and ideas only to return to them in full later on.

Of course, the subject of seeding narrative ideas returns to the big selling point of the setting - An ongoing narrative. Now, i've personally argued that in many cases the setting of each game needed to move back and flesh out past events and eras. However, despite that, many fans were growing understandably frustrated at each setting being mired in effectively a single end point. 40,000 is never going to move past the 13th Black Crusade and for a long time Fantasy was stuck in a vague undefined point about an impending Chaos invasion. Hell, the few new ideas introduced in the latter case primarily came down to old ones which didn't really go anywhere or have any impact, notably a WAAAGH! launched at Ulthuan.

By comparison to the other games, what we have here is really the opposite. Rather than revolving around an impending end, we have something launching from a single starting point. The war between each side is in full swing, there has been just about enough time to give some substantial background points and ideas in order to serve as a basis for the game. Even without counting what was established in Fantasy itself, there's a great deal of material present here. There has been enough time for certain alliances to be built, fall apart, new factions to emerge and even gods to fall. In many regards it's quite similar to what we saw with Battletech, especially quite early on, with the formation of the various empires there. Despite that start, despite the status quo of Steiner fighting Davion etc, we did see that broken up and new ideas gradually emerge over time. Whatever else you might say about it, this could be Games Workshop's one big chance to seriously push a wargame with a developing narrative.

Now, again, I want to stress that this doesn't mean Age of Sigmar is perfect. It still suffers from plenty of problems, both in terms of fluff and basic rules. I'd personally go even so far as to argue that having it replace Fantasy was a big error in judgement. The game should have served as an alternative, perhaps replacing Lord of the Rings, to better serve the role Mordbeim had once played as a window into the hobby. By having one replace the other, it just served to go to the other extreme and alienate a large portion of the fanbase. Combined with the animosity drawn from utterly replacing another, well beloved, setting following a lacklustre finale and it just sent many people the wrong message. It's largely due to the small firestorm of hatred I held of covering this, just until people might be a little more level headed about the setting.

Look, if you dislike Age of Sigmar for one reason or another, that's absolutely fine. However, please just make sure you're doing so after giving it a decent look. Personally, while it most definitely needs work, I think both as a storytelling setting and general game there is promise to be found here. For everything it does wrong, there's at least one thing it does right, and ultimately it has the potential to turn into something great over time.