Thursday, 31 March 2016

Fallout 4: Automatron (Video Game DLC Review)

There’s always one question which surrounds each Fallout/Elder Scrolls DLC release: Will it be a Knights of the Nine or another Shivering Isles? Even all these years on, the stark contrast between those two Oblivion expansions seems to define player expectations, fitting either into a lacklustre new release or a sprawling new storyline. This has been true throughout Fallout 3, New Vegas and Skyrim, but Automatron seems to be the rare exception. While it’s hardly about to set the world on fire, it offers more substantial gains than just a new, shiny gun or two.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Dark Souls III (Video Game Preview)

Of all the video game franchises in history, few can claim to have perfected masochism to an art form as Dark Souls has. After all, it’s an easy thing to murder a player time and time again, insulting their very skill or desire to continue a-la I Wanna Be the Guy. It’s another thing entirely to have a player stumble through a world of dead nightmares, but always forcing them to stop just shy of quitting out of sheer frustration. Dark Souls III sticks closely to that winning formula, yet FromSoftware has hardly been content to merely rest on its laurels, and has once more reworked its greatest strengths.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Film Review)

Remember everything wrong with Iron Man 2? Multiply that by a few dozen times over, rob it of a lot of the likable light moments, add a very confused message, and you have this film. Really, while it's not quite as bad as many people feared, this is most definitely a mess of a production, and the fault is as much due to the director as the studio.

As the last article mentioned, Zack Snyder is a fan of comics, and is a fan of these characters, despite what some people say. The problem is that he has trouble picking up on what makes these guys work at their core, or to think of a solid, definitive take on them, and so we end up with a work focusing upon the wrong aspects. These stories, as such, become tales for the non-comic fans who think Superman should kill others and Batman should wield a minigun. This would have been problematic to be sure, but it at least would have been relatively cohesive, with a set plan, message and direction behind it. Even with misgivings behind Man of Steel, it still could have been something well worth exploring. Yet somehow it all went horribly wrong.

You all know what the plot should be if you've seen a single trailer - Batman sees people die in Superman's fight with Zod and the sheer collateral damage it inflicts upon Metropolis. This prompts him to start seeing Superman as a likely threat to humanity and, despite having retired long after Robin's death, convinces him he is needed once more to end this threat. Yet others are manipulating events, and have their own reasons for wishing these two to come to blows, ending a new era of heroism before it can come to fruition.

It's a promising premise to be sure. However, before anyone can really make use of the story, the second blow of the one-two punch which damns this production hits home. Warner Bros., having apparently learned nothing from Green Lantern, once again went about demanding the start of a big franchise. So, rather than letting it slowly evolve naturally and allowing this film to exist in its own right, we end up with a cancerous tumour of tie-in events which weigh down the plot. Really, the moment you become invested into a scene, something attempting to establish the Justice League comes along and rudely interrupts it, dragging you kicking and screaming out of the experience. If there was executive meddling throughout, it would also go quite some way to explaining the uneven tone of the film. Many sequences feel as if they're following on from events which took place off-screen, and there's no sense of time or progression here. Whole swathes of the film must have been left on the cutting room floor, as this is so schizophrenic put together that it honestly feels like one third of a finished product.

The actual themes of the story are supposed to focus upon the questions of accountability, paranoia, alliances and even acceptance of the differences of others. While there was an undercurrent of this in the Avengers, but it never really delved into it, and despite the criticisms of many, this would have justified a multi-hero crossover so early on. The actual set-up itself works absolutely fine given what they had to work with, and it ties into Man of Steel well. You get a real sense of what's at risk, and by showing the other side of the story through Bruce Wayne's eyes, the actual conflict here does seem very believable. Much of this comes down to the actual choice of actors given to pull off these roles, and hats need to be given off to all involved. Really, it takes a very specific person to pull off any member the Bat family and do them justice, and Ben Affleck proved so many of his critics wrong here. Even as a lifelong Keaton and Conroy fan, his Batman did work as an old, jaded vigilante getting back into shape and was easily the highlight of the movie. Really, even paired up with a bad script, the chemistry he has with Jeremy Irons' Alfred and visible weight of his past actions makes him one of the best Bruce Waynes we've had in decades. It might have even been enough to save the movie, if one writer hadn't apparently confused him with Midnighter.

While Affleck carried out the role excellently, someone in the script writing department simply did not get Batman. So, awesome as he was, we suddenly see the caped crusader wielding guns and killing people on sight in the name of justice. This often became the focal point of many disagreements, often by fans pointing out that this completely undermines the argument between the two characters. After all, it's hard to level accusations against someone about recklessly endangering lives and murdering a villain, when you're lobbing explosives and wielding an assault rifle for most of the film. Honestly, it's amazing they didn't become best buds at first sight, and the knee-jerk excuse to have them team up left the audience in hysterics for minutes afterwards.

Speaking of actors, sadly it seems like the more vocal elements of the fandom were right about the other choices. Jesse Eisenberg goes from scene to scene, twitching and tittering about the film. Acting like a man on a carefully balanced cocktail of raw sugar, acid and OCD, he's less the Luthor we know than an overgrown manchild who is trying to ape the Joker. There's scenes where the drama really hits exactly the right pitch, truly starts to get the ball properly rolling and work, which are promptly destroyed by him simply stumbling headlong into them. The only reason he's a threat is because the film keeps winning victories for him without rhyme nor reason. Out of nowhere he suddenly learns the identities of Batman and Superman, but this giggling nutjob seems hardly the sort who could even think his way out of prison let alone gain that kind of power.

As for Gal Gadot, her effectiveness varies depending upon what the scene requires of her. While she can certain pull off the looks, physicality and fighting style of Wonder Woman, every line of dialogue is flat, every emotion forced and every scene is just off with her. While she can certainly fight like Wonder Woman, she lacks even a fraction of the strength and charisma the character is famous for, and is just woefully forgettable as a result. Of course it's hardly helps that, once you analyse her involvement, she boils down to little more than forced fan-service. Really, her every scene amounts to little more than forced attempts to cram promo-pieces for future films down the audience's throat. Not since the Amazing Spider-Man 2 have we seen a classic character reduced to a ticket-selling near cameo appearance, and her scenes stick out like a sore thumb. Want to know how bad it gets? There is, quite literally, an entire scene devoted to Wonder Woman sitting down and watching little more than trailer footage for other DC superheros. Yes, really.

Beyond Batman himself, it's sadly clear that the creative team had no understanding or knowledge of how to handle anyone else. Once again Lois Lane is banded about the plot with little actual direction, and appears only once the scriptwriters abruptly realise she's been missing for entire scenes of the film. Even then, much like Luthor, the script performs narrative back-flips and utter contrivances to keep her invested. These are usually the kind which leave you banging your head against the nearest wall and leave a lovely plot hole in their wake. A key example is when she examines the bullets used in a certain crime scene, only to realise they're an experimental brand made and used only by LexCorp. With this single act, Luthor might as well have written his name into the walls with said bullets, announcing to the world that the mysterious man behind a certain atrocity is, in fact, him. Keep in mind, this is the first act of a plan which requires him to remain relatively unknown until his machinations come to fruition.

Even Superman, one of the two big names Warner Bros. expects to help put backsides in seats, is directionless in this production, and left without any goal or proper game plan to work with. Serving as little more than an obstacle for Batman to face, he becomes little more than a tool within the story and suffers from some of the most woeful storytelling seen since Batman and Robin. Remember that whole event with Zod, the bit which made so many audiences cry foul and comic fans everywhere flipped their collective shit at? Well, you might be surprised to know that's not the murder which triggers Batman to finally move against him. Oh, the battle in Metropolis is certainly the spark to be sure, but rather than making use of Zod's execution they instead have Superman kill yet more people in Africa. 

Now, to be fair, Sups is basically fooled into taking more lives in an act which is set up by the main villain. Also in fairness, even taking that into account the entire scene is cold, unjustified, completely unwarranted and downright callous given Sups still freely chooses to follow through with it. They took the one bright spark which might have stemmed from Zod's death, the one possible gem of having it kick-start Superman's adamant no-kill policy, and promptly crapped all over it. Given the backlash, given how frequently the film goes out of its way to set up its big explosive fights in abandoned sections of cities, it's honestly amazing that the creators looked at the backlash, and learned absolutely zilch from any of it.

Still, if that doesn't damn the film for you, perhaps the continuity problems will. Take Batman's return just for starters. The entire film sets it up so that he's basically been around for years, had a long career in crime fighting but retired two decades ago. Despite being well known enough to have fought the Joker, defended his city and set up contacts throughout Gotham, at the same time the film expects people to not know a damn thing about him. Really, it sets up this whole legacy idea and his long, experienced history, but also tries to have everyone ignore that. Times that by about twenty or thirty times, and you'll have a good idea of just how poorly planned the entire plot is. Troubled production or not, this is completely inexcusable, and the kind of thing which should have been picked up after handing in a first draft. Wait, no, that's not good enough, while writing a first draft. 

Even if you somehow do manage to sit through that though, even if you're willing to stomach every single last problem just so you can get to see two titans go at it, you're still going to leave disappointed. The fight choreography is awful, plain and simple. Often marred by bizarre visual choices and colours, it's easy to lose track of what's going on as things simply blur into one another. While, once again, a few of Batman's individual fights retain the fantastic kinetic strength and speed the Dark Knight is known for, the rest fall to bits. It honestly seems as if the very second superpowers are thrown into the mix, Snyder completely loses track of what to do. Perhaps the single worst example is the Doomsday fight, where the monstrous Goliath is shown powering up and constantly turning orange, all with very bright and orange explosions behind him. Oh, and even then the long hyped fight the trailers focused upon spans five minutes at the tail end of a two hour film. 

Speaking on a personal note, when I left the Avengers for the first time, I texted a friend one simple message: I have seen the superhero film of my dreams, I can die happy.
Upon leaving the theatre screening Superman vs Batman, I did the same thing again, expressing my feelings in one sentence: The Justice League need a restraining order against Warner Bros.

The only reason you have been sparred a bile filled, hateful rant here is because the film simply didn't earn that investment. While Fant4Stic got things so horribly wrong it left a me in a blinding rage for days. Batman vs Superman left only a sense of total apathy and extreme disappointment in its wake. If this film is anything to go by, if this forced production, this costly monstrosity is anything to go by, the DC cinematic universe is dead on arrival. Oh it might shamble on for a few years yet as Warner Bros. attempt to substitute talent and care with cold, hard cash but any hope for a big cohesive setting is now gone. While we might see a few hits - Suicide Squad among them, god willing - productions like this will ensure it will sadly never reach Marvel's standards. At best, we might see a few gems hidden among string of big budget monstrosities, shambling onward, unaware they are unwanted by fans and constantly failing to live up to the source material. 

If you honestly want to see a great DC film this year, stick to the classics. Better yet, take a look into DC's vast library of animated films and cartoons. Many treat their subjects with more maturity than what's found here, and at least aren't ashamed of their origins. As for this one, don't waste your cash. It simply doesn't deserve a single penny from you.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Why Is Zack Snyder's Watchmen Seen As A Failure, Anyway?

As many have been expecting for months now, Dawn of Justice has rolled into theaters to some very conflicted response. While hardly negative all across the board, even reviews defending the film tend to be tinged with disappointment, and some have questioned just how well director Zack Snyder truly understands the source material. While he's clearly a man who loves these comics (and I would personally argue that the bulk of any blame for this film's faults lies squarely upon Warner Bros' shoulders), there's always been the odd moment or twist to his adaptations which have made people question just how well he comprehended the meaning behind them. This has been argued time and time again, but never more so than when Watchmen hit theaters.

No doubt already there's a few of you angrily typing in to defend Snyder's efforts and the quality of this production. To those people, please be aware of this fact - I actually love this film. It's one of the most loyal adaptations made to screen, and one of the few which truly strove to be worthy of the original comics. This is evident in every scene of the film, from beginning to end, as Snyder himself repeatedly used the comic as a storyboard for his sets a-la Sin City. While there was certainly the odd change here and there, these tended to be slightly thematic at best or very minor visual alterations and some were just updates with the time. Sure Nite Owl might not look quite like his original self, but Archie, his style, story and personality are more or less spot on so far as the comics are concerned. What's more, the push to keep the film very much of its era was ultimately extremely successful. From the visuals to the politics and even the soundtrack, everything reflected the late Cold War themes and attitudes as well as it could.

Now, to many, the subject of the giant squid monster being switched out for Dr. Manhattan is a point of contention. Many tend to turn up their noses at it while a few have supported it and, admittedly, it does actually work well. For a film adaptation, it more closely links the characters into the core of the central plot, and works to more closely streamline the event as a whole. After all, to the main story the addition of a random bonus artificial alien is something oddly clunky, standing out as a tumorous bloated mass in what's otherwise a very focused character driven piece. However, it needs to be made clear that this only worked for the film adaptation, and that's a big part of where this all went wrong: Its medium.

When people talk about Watchmen being a deconstruction of comics from that era, many who read and follow it aren't merely talking about its characters and themes. While such elements are a core part of the story, it's more truthful to say that it was a broader deconstruction of the medium of comics themselves. When you first read through Watchmen, your first reaction will likely be one of ultimate confusion. The story seems almost surreal in its presentation, jumping from one environment to the next, differing massively in terms of internal subtext, thoughts, direction and the established setting itself. Many aspects, on the first read-through, can seem to come out of practically nowhere, and the very inclusion of elements like the Black Freighter can seem out of place. This is in part because it was written with repetition in mind, but also the idea of a reader repeatedly going back and forth through its pages.

More so than any other medium, comics are one which allow readers to flick back quickly to prior moments in the plot or exact scenes. Even now this remains true, as it's easier to track down an individual panel in a comic than an exact paragraph of a novel or shot from a film. As readers did this, attempting to pick out certain details, new facts started to emerge, ideas which had either been overlooked or completely missed first time around. The squid in particular is a great example of this. While at first glance it seems to simply jump into the story out of nowhere, looking over again allows people to pick out details, new hints or ideas. The brief sketch of it in one panel, the discussion alluding to its existence among certain people, or the seemingly disconnected death of the geniuses who helped to create it all tied to this.

The very universe present was built upon past comments, suggestions and asides rather than truly established in a direct way. This could be seen as a link to the more continuity heavy nature of comics in general, and how many seek to link into or follow on from prior events in some way. This means that certain ideas might be lost or forgotten at first, and only by re-reading or checking events over again that new ideas are picked out, and the picture becomes more clear. The fate of several older heroes is a notable point which should be brought up in favour of this apparent style, as should certain historical points behind Nite Owl and Rorschach. More eloquent and better informed people than I have made points covering this, and whole essays have been constructed about these points, but the simple face is that it's one of the comic's most defining elements. It's also something Snyder himself should have picked up on when attempting any adaptation, or even considering such an act. As such, it honestly seems that he's definitely a fan of such universes to the core, but much like his directorial style he seems to only pick up on the more overt or stylised elements over subtleties.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Torchwood: The Victorian Age (Audio Drama Review)

Torchwood has always retained an odd relationship with history, or the idea that it is a centuries old organisation. Often set exclusively in present day, few stories truly stopped to look into past eras or what they had accomplished. However, The Victorian Age shows just how much potential can be found in exploring past eras.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Let's Build An Exodite Army!

Welp, clearly painting space marines has gotten to me. Fun as they are, there's only so many times you can paint silver and black, or red blue and white, before it gets tiring. Even with more than a few custom edits, alterations and personal touches, there's no denying they're oddly basic in a lot of ways. Flat surfaces, big bold shapes and easy to nail guns aren't all that engaging after a while, and you can only paint a Rhino so many times before you get tired of flat surfaces. So, after talking to a friend, i'm taking a stab at the eldar instead, specifically to bring my own craftworld Yin-Sarr to life.

However, as you might have noted if you took the time to read the lengthy post - and thank you indeed to those who did - it's not the easiest army to adapt to the tabletop. The alien serf races alone would cause no end of problems, and that's before getting to the strain on my wallet. So, instead this is a project which is going to tackle this idea on two fronts. One army is going to represent the craftworld itself via a small Battlefleet Gothic flotilla, and the other is going to be a small battalion of Exodites from the allied worlds. 

Why the Exodites over just a small craftworld force? Honestly, why not. They're space amish ninja elves riding dinosaurs and carrying rayguns, what's not to love. Plus, if you ignore that one artwork which just has them kitted out in Guardian armour, they're easily one of the most unique looking forces in the game, part tribal remnant of a long gone empire. You can still re-use as much as you want from Craftworld or Dark Eldar units, but there's no end of High Elf, Dark Elf or Wood Elf bits and pieces which can be worked into their designs. Even if it's only going to be a 1,000 point force of perhaps three or four squads, it'll at least be a visually striking one.

Don't believe me? Well, here's one admittedly somewhat basic image which helped further inspire the start of this little project:

Yeah, it doesn't look like much at first, just some Shadow Warriors with shuriken and Scourge weapons. However, what's remarkable is how well they go together. So much of the basic Shadow Warrior design works as a basic eldar soldier look, and some of their more rustic elements can be put down to their lifestyle. Hell, the thing which stands out the most are the arms and legs, both of which can be easily switched out for eldar equivalents without much trouble. Not to mention that this is before we even get into the dinosaur part of things.

So, what's the plan here? Simply put, use them as a proxy for Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, with many warriors and basic units serving as substitutes for existing models. Having re-read the book recently, it's not all that hard to pull off, as quite a few Aspect Warriors fit neatly into Exodite tactics and general unit types. The sneakier hunters fit in well with Striking Scorpions, many of their laser equipped beasts of burden can take the place of weapons platforms, and the same can be said of Wraithlords. Most importantly though, the Dragon Knights and their charging strikes can easily be substituted for Shining Spears, and there's still plenty of Cold One Knights around to be modified or altered to look eldary. This also comes with the added bonus of creating an extremely fluffy army which is completely bereft of Wraithguard and Wave Serpents. You know, those things which make most people feel like they need a shower every time they read their stats. Well, even more than the rest of the codex anyway.

This is still in the early phases of course, but if you want a good idea of how the army is eventually going to shape up, here's a quick list:

1 Autarch, Power Weapon

1 Wraithlord, Starcannons

10 Striking Scorpions, Exarch

5 Shining Spears, Exarch 

5 Shining Spears, Exarch

5 Dark Reapers 5, Exarch

... Look, it's a very rough idea, it's mostly just listing off general unit types and numbers.

Anyway, we'll probably be revisiting this a few more times in the months to come, hopefully showing how i'll be building these things bit by bit once things are gathered together. Until then, expect more of the usual review nonsense which is our wheelhouse here.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Battlefleet Gothic Part 1 - The Lore (Games Workshop Specialist Games Review)

Every realm of Warhammer 40,000 is a battlefield, from the shadow wars to the front-lines. From assassination attempts to Titan combat, the stories and games have explored just about every facet of the Imperium's endless wars. However, few can ever claim to have faced it on the scale Battlefleet Gothic offered. Rather than focusing upon the troops, this was a game which examined the naval warfare of M41, and the way in which the Imperium defended itself from pirates, renegades and worse things still. Offering insight into the nature of void warfare, it gave players the chance to face a methodical, tactical game which was more in line with Fantasy than 40,000.

The story here focused largely upon one particular front and one of the Imperium's most desperate battles. Fighting to hold the line against Abaddon the Despoiler as he sought to annihilate world after world, and too the mysterious Black Stone Fortresses for himself, it was the Imperium's darkest hour since Vandire's reign. However, this is not going to be exploring story elements blow by blow. You can easily read the entire outcome of the war on 40K Wiki, as it's basically been copied and pasted into the Gothic War page. Instead, this article is going to examine just why so many story choices worked, and ultimately how the creative team nailed something so many others failed to pull off.

The Good

Perhaps the most surprising thing here is that you're going to be reading a lot of praise from this review. By that I mean the book breaks a lot of personal rules, and does the exact same thing this website has criticised many books so many times for in the past. Rather than expanding upon the universe, rather than setting the scene for multiple fleets, worlds and the universe of the game as a whole, it follows a single tale. Much of the core lore focuses purely upon the 12th Black Crusade, and the knife-edge war which raged across the Gothic sector. However, Battlefleet Gothic proves to be the exception rather than the rule, and much of its success comes down to the skilled planning, direction and storytelling of the writers.

For starters, only eleven of the one-hundred-and-sixty pages are spent on this story, but the writers clearly knew that. Rather than using this as an excuse to phone in some generic tale of war, instead they clearly opted to make good use of every square inch of space they had on hand. So, we had no massive padding via artwork and no pointless asides, and no push to have big descriptive 'splosions take the place of substantial storytelling. Instead they were handled in a manner akin to the Index Astartes articles of old; compressed down and focused until all the fat had been trimmed away, and the pages themselves radiated with raw grimdark atmosphere to help invest the player in the conflict. They didn't take the Michael Bay route of relying purely upon eye candy, they took the John Carpenter route of showing just enough to keep their audience hooked to the very end.

For starters, rather than rushing headlong into the opening act of the war, a full two pages were spent purely upon building up to the conflict. It helps to provide meaning to what's coming, depicting a gradual slide towards hell for the entire sector and the machinations of Chaos itself. In perhaps a dozen paragraphs at the most, the reader is told of the Arx Raid which served as a spark for the growing conflict, then the mysterious plague ships, the unrest and growing anarchy. It builds tension by showing the slowly spreading cracks among the Imperium's worlds, seeing their forces slowly whittled away by an unseen threat or raids by some unknown force. Snowballing from one event to the next, it quickly hooks you in as you wait for answers, and keeps you reading as you wait for war to erupt. As such, when it finally does strike, once the hidden forces emerge and the Imperium is beset by a new Black Crusade, these events have serious weight to them.

The importance of this introduction is simple: By spending half of a very rushed page, quickly sandwiched in between explosions, Curse of the Wulfen told readers that its stuff was important and that was that. By escalating events and building a tense atmosphere, and a great mystery, Battlefleet Gothic makes readers say "Sweet honking arse bandits, this is really important!" 

Once the storm finally breaks, it hits with the force of a cannon. The opening paragraph alone emphasizes the sheer scale of the invasion, and the image it builds in the reader's mind is of a vast, unstoppable armada. Striking while the sector is weak and isolated, it gives the impression in just a few pages that this is an extremely well timed hammerblow, as much by emphasising its scale as its damage. Skimming over a multitude of battles, it takes moments from the engagements to pick out the worst of the damage, from a crippled carrier to the loss of so many shipyards. Far too many modern books would just leave it there, but there's instead an emphasis upon small or odd details which helps to give the work real life. 

For example, early on into this page the book notes that the Lord Sylvanus was badly damaged in the opening attack. In most current 40,000 books that would be the end of that, but here the book lists the following: "Doomfire bombers from the Heartless Destroyer damaged the warp engines of the Lord Sylvanus so severely that it took nearly two years of constant repairs for the ship to make war jumps greater than five light years." The emphasis upon the extent of this damage and the length of these repairs adds a sense of urgency. It shows the level of attrition and harm the Chaotic assault caused and allows the damage caused to have far more meaning. What's more, it ties into following sections focusing upon the resource starved nature of the Imperial forces. Already denied outside help, the attack wave cripples or captures so many vital facilities, from shipyards to factories. This is constantly in the background and keeps the Imperials on the back-foot so often, and gives a real sense of desperation to every battle.

The attention to detail here doesn't go into any truly insane degree, but it works by focusing upon the right moment at the right time. Well, that and also juggling multiple narratives at once. Many core books work by shifting about or establishing certain ideas one after another, leaving them in the background, and then dealing with them one after the other. However, instead the Gothic narrative opts to shift focus from one element to the next. The presence of xenos pirates remains an underlying current for quite some time and a major problem for Imperial forces, as are human renegades. While this might seem unimportant, it's another element which helps to give a sense of depth to the war. Conflict allows such predators to thrive after all, and their early establishment allows several swerves to fit naturally into the plot. That and, let's face it, the game needed something to help avoid turning it into a Chaos-Imperial slugging match.

Another note well worthy of mention is how the story never rushes into things, and always holds something back for some added mystery. Despite it being Abaddon's objective in the entire war, the stations remain completely out of focus throughout much of the war. It only starts to become clear how important they are towards the second half of the initial invasion, and even then it takes time before we see them in action. This ability to stagger reveals, to hint at fresh twists and turns in the plot does keep you guessing, and there's even a few fun turns for those who know the basic premise of the war.

When the story does opt to add in characters to events, it does so sparingly, and often as a way to work around the work limit. Rather than latching purely onto each of them as a Supplement Codex would, they are used as storytelling assets and only added in as required. For example, much of the initial introduction and essential build-up to the war repeatedly brings up Inquisitor Horst's investigations. We saw some things through his eyes, and the story repeatedly stopped to bring him up, but this wasn't present to turn him into the protagonist. Instead this was done to help streamline events and deliver exposition without breaking that all essential atmosphere. After all, having an Inquisitor investigating a Chaotic infestation and machinations offers far more opportunities to get the reader invested over outright spelling out things to the reader. That and, with such a character present, it makes it easier to work those details into future events as the story goes on.

What's also notable in how sparingly the heroes were used is how many opportunities it opened up for players to tell their own stories. Longtime readers might recall a rather lengthy rant at how Sentinels of Terra robbed any opportunity for players to tell their on stories or build up their own company, because it turned almost every single Imperial Fist into a named character. Well, we thankfully don't get the same here and a big part of that is down to the sheer scale of the war. Even limited to a single sector, the number of worlds covered is huge and the story repeatedly skims over certain events to depict a broader view of the war. So, even as we have Admiral Ravensberg planning counter attacks, huge engagements and tactical withdrawals, there's still room for add their own heroes or tell their own stories throughout this. It's akin to how the Horus Heresy has been presented of late. You still have the Drop Site Massacre, Siege of Prospero, Betrayal at Calth and Siege of Terra, but there's still room for no end of new stories. It's not merely a single, narrowly defined narrative, but a vast era with new story opportunities alongside a beginning and end.

What's also notable is that, despite this fact, the tale can still stop to show just why Ravensberg is the Horatio Nelson of this tale. It's mostly put down to a couple of key battles, but it's always welcome to show that, even once they're pushed a little out of focus, the story can still prove their tactical skill and leadership.

What we have beyond the story itself is present to help build up the universe and that all important atmosphere. In a manner akin to the older codices and rulebooks, even the crunch sections of the book are peppered with quotes, minor battles and even chants. Like so much of the Gothic War story itself, this is limited to very minor things, but it's more than enough to truly get you invested in the setting as a whole. Well, that and give the impression that this is a Napoleonic ships-of-the-line style era, just with less cannonades and more nova cannons. Some have complained that this seems oddly limited and that by pinning it down to a single era, it prevents more storytelling ideas. So much of 40,000 is based off of working on past eras and adapting them for a far future setting, and there have been many naval engagements beyond that time. Really though, what else could they have picked?

Go back to the ancient world or feudal eras? You basically get a metric ton of vessels built for boarding actions over everything else, and perhaps a few long range weapons on each one. Push towards the First World War? You enter an era where naval combat was limited, and much of the real action took place on land. Second World War? You end up with the problem of super carriers reining supreme over all others, and major battleships are in their twilight era. This really was the best place to set it, as it offered just enough diversity and complexity for long range combat, enough source material for major thematic pieces, and still left room for ship-to-ship boarding actions. However, there are a few Second World War elements present, with carriers, torpedo spreads and a handful of technological ideas.

The Second World War influence is most evident in the ship descriptions, and it's here that some of the best world building is to be found. Usually, especially with modern codices, what people get is a very generic "these guys are awesome, and here's why!" description here and there. Instead, many of these vessels offer greater insight into the universe as a whole and the technological curve of the Imperium as a whole. Many Chaotic vessels are, after all, former Imperial vessels and their history goes into just how they fell to Chaos or flaws within their innate designs. Often the writers go out of the way to add in these brief historical moments and ideas, which helps to give a real sense of ancient history to the fleets without just throwing in the Vengeful Spirit or taking the easy way out. A personal favourite is actually one which does touch upon the Second World War influence, and just why every ship isn't a carrier, and the ideological conflicts within Battlefleet Tempestus.

So, there's a great deal of good here as you can see, but what about the bad?

The Bad

Let's focus on the obvious failing first - This is an almost exclusively Imperium focused book. It's well told for sure, and features no end of great lore, but unless you're sailing under the double headed eagle, you're going to be at a loss. Every other faction here, even Chaos, serves as an extension of the Imperial fleet in some way, or is shown only through human eyes. There's no opportunity for them to have their own solid narrative or even proper viewpoint moments, and this ends up hitting the xenos factions really hard. The eldar are one of the most unique and fascinating factions here for their void warfare, but they're given next to nothing to work with. Worse still, orks are basically treated as pests at best. We see them brought up as pirate forces, but not much else and they fail to play any significant role in the war.

Another frustrating factor his how Battlefleet Gothic, for all its vast scale and emphasis upon big battle, keeps resorting to smaller and smaller numbers. Many Segmentum battlefleets in existing lore are known to be made up of millions of vessels, and even small fleets are often depicted with no less than eight capital ships at a time. Here though, we see the exact opposite, with only a small handful of ships on either side of a major battle. Okay, on the one hand this does help discourage the old issue of encouraging players to buy bigger and bigget fleets as time goes by, or Apocalypse syndrome as I like to call it. On the other though, you end up with major, critical engagements supposedly featuring the bulk of each fleet featuring perhaps sixteen vessels at the most. It's very limiting and this oddly skewed nature only becomes more and more head-scratching as the story goes by.

The actual lore itself also seems to limit classes as much as it can, and in some cases this reaches a truly insane degree. Take many Chaos vessels for example, as the lore notes that many of them are pirated, stolen or just defected to Chaos and are often old Imperial designs. Because of this, some classes are no longer produced and only gain advantages thanks to gifts from the Chaos gods, and older more advanced tech. Okay, fine, that can work and helps to build that all essential atmosphere. However, when you reach the point where Despoiler Class Battleships - the big, extremely powerful Chaos warship - only had three made in total, it becomes completely nuts. Also, before anyone does comment, no there's no suggestion Chaos took the time to make more, there's only three and that's that.

When the book does take the time to properly explore a fleet on a more universal scale, even then it's all devoted towards the Imperial fleet and no one else. So, you basically just end up with one faction being favoured over everyone else, and even that's reflected in many of the ships themselves. You have more Imperial ships than any other fleet, until the eldar and orks are left with just a small fraction of their number. Really, the orks have only six classes of ships in total in this book, and nothing else.

So, that's more the more general problems out of the way, but what about the Gothic War narrative itself? It ultimately suffers from the same problem which held back the Doom of Mymeara. It's good lore, it's in-depth, well thought out, extremely well balanced and creates a great sense of tension, that anyone could win. However, partway through it shifts gears. We go from the Imperium losing but fighting hard, to a more generic and predictable "Imperium turns things around, wins and drives everyone back with sheer force". Okay, there's a bit more to it than just that, but not too much and the ending really does feature them winning out of sheer numbers and firepower above all else. Even with some great attention paid towards the aftermath of the war, it presents the idea that the second the Imperium pays full attention towards a foe, they're as good as dead. Hell, even with a full armada behind him, it doesn't take long for Abaddon to flee back towards the Eye.

The Artwork

If you ever wanted a better example of classic Games Workshop artwork, you need not look any further than this book. Sticking to the extreme grimdark, black and white look with all the spines, exaggerated skulls and explosions you'd expect. While some would call this crude by comparison to some of the more modern works found within books, it actually retains more of a unique identity because of this.

Without the added colour, softer edges or reflections of lighting, it matches the vast cathedral style of many ships and does far more to reflect on the arcane nature of their technology. Rather than looking merely like a computer console, what we get of tech engines, control nodes or even interfaces looks more like some horrific construct of science; almost something naturally grown and cultured rather than built with human hands.

The void battles themselves are, naturally, the big eye candy pieces and they tend to be the most overt works. There's actually a few basic artists they shifted between with each subject, and the depiction of ships at war tends to be the most sketchy and almost simplistic for all its detail. It's here where people are really going to decide whether they love or hate the look of the book, but personally I think it fits the nature of the setting and the battles themselves. Plus, say what you will about black and white artworks, but they're not done out of laziness here, with even the most basic of them features a level of care and attention which puts many creators to shame.


Battlefleet Gothic's lore has its problems to be sure, and it certainly could have been much lengthier. However, I do appreciate any approach which tries to maintain quality over quantity, and tries to do something very different in this old setting. It was also ultimately intended to be the starting point for more extensive books, and we did get a vast amount more lore and info from the following Armada release. Along with introducing new factions to the game, it seriously helped improve upon the treatment of xenos races as a whole and offered the eldar and orks some much needed love. As this seemed to be planned rather than some reactionary move, this review isn't hammering down quite so hard on them on that front.

If you're after something a bit different, or seriously want to see another Black Crusade depicted beyond the thirteenth assault upon the Cadian Gate, this is a good one to pick up. It features a vast wealth of new ideas, plenty of flavour text about the Imperium, and really helps to set the scene for void warfare in M41. You can usually find second hand copies going quite cheaply on eBay, and i'd personally say it's a worthy investment for any longtime 40,000 fan.

So, that's the lore done, onto the rules.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

No More Heroes - A Reflection On Marvel's Civil War

So, this is just a quick update to say that there's an exclusive article in Starburst Magazine this month. With an opportunity to write a reflection on Marvel's Civil War event in the build up to the next Cap film and Civil War II, you can only imagine I jumped at the chance. This is an article i've been planning to cover for quite a few years now, and it goes through a lot of the core problems, failings and issues which really held back what could have been a great story. If you're at all interested, it's worth taking a look.

Oh, and those concerned that this is something of a cop-out for today's update, we'll have a big one to follow tomorrow. Trust me, it'll be worth the wait.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Turning A Blind Eye To What Matters - Why Warhammer Reviews Are The Writers' Worst Enemy

As a rule, I try not to point fingers at anyone unless it's they're an author or developer. Personally, shining the spotlight on someone who has created something and done exceptionally well or produced something horrendous is always better than judging other journalists. After all, one person has opened up their work to criticism and judgement by attaching a price tag to it, while others are usually living purely off of advertising revenue. Combine that with the added problem that, on the whole, my own work is hardly bereft of flaws, and it can seem hypocritical. However, having taken time to properly reflect on the last few years of Warhammer 40,000 and Fantasy, there's a point which needs to be brought up. To put it simply, far too many reviews overlook a core component of the setting: Its lore.

It's a statement which seems ludicrous at first from almost every perspective. With so many new campaign books coming out, the success of new codices and more factions, surely this can't be the case. Yet, when you pause for just a few minutes to examine most big name or even some minor reviews, you'll notice the same thing: Rules are prioritized over everything else. Really, actually take the time to Google any random review, and this will normally be the same result. So, let's take Codex: Necrons for example. First result? Frontline Gaming, with a multi-part review format which covers every single unit type and formation, but doesn't even bother to touch upon the story. How about Codex: Tau Empire? Same again, with the Grey Splinter covering nothing but the models, and you then get the same once again even trying to review the venerated Codex: Space Marines with Index Astartes. Yeah, someone was brazen enough to name their blog that, yet couldn't be bothered to spend a paragraph on the depiction of the astartes themselves.

Still, these are just the top results, the first ones picked out from just searching "Codex: X Review" but what about the big name websites? You would think those venerated Spikey Bits might take some time to examine the actual details, but you'd be surprised. In their First Look at Codex: Eldar Craftworlds we get a lot of a guy talking about how much of the book is built up of fluff, how it's great because it takes up so many pages and it's awesome because it's such a thick book. No mention of how heavily padded it is, not a mention given to the storytelling devices used, not even a second is set aside so he might discuss how the eldar are presented. Many elements we discussed, such as how the craftworlds relentlessly lose damn near every battle and how shallow a depiction this edition was, are ignored. Instead we just get an attitude which can be regarded as rushing through things in order to reach the important stuff.

Now, true, that video was a first look and as the creator stated such early on. It was supposed to be just a general examination which is to be expanded upon in following weeks. Yet, as you pause to really think of his words, note exactly what he talks about. He talks about delving into the tactics, seeing which units are broken, and seeing the fine points of the tabletop game. No mention of the storytelling, lore or even the battles themselves here.  The closest he actually gets into discussing things is the layout, and he naturally overlooks how artwork has been reduced to padding. In fact, the closest he gets is rambling on about how great the art is, while skipping over page upon page of actual lore.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that this example from Spikey Bits really helps personify the attitude so many reviews have towards such vital sections of these books. At best they're treated as trappings, a nice addition to something but a point which is ultimately worthless. Rather than taking the time to properly examine them, devoting equal time and effort to the story as much as the rules, it's just glossed over. In many cases you're lucky to get a single paragraph devoted to the actual history or ideas of the book. Even when they do, it basically amounts to "yeah, that's all great, perfect, fantastic, moving on!" Don't believe me? Here's a quote from A Tabletop Gamer's Diary and that blog's review of Codex: Eldar Craftworlds. Keep in mind, this is supposed to cover everything in the book which doesn't feature a stats line:

"So, I have a copy of the new Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, very possibly the most controversial book released by Games Workshop since, well, ever, really. It certainly has the various gaming forums alight with people ‘debating’ the rumours and leaks that have surrounded this tome. Are they right?

The first thing you notice – it is a big book, the size of Codex: Space Marines, and with the same price tag. And if pretty Codexes are your thing, you will not be disappointed.

There are some re-used pieces of art, but plenty of brand new items too, including a nice colour picture of an entire craftworld floating through space, the first time we have really seen that kind of detail.

As you would expect with a book of this size, there is a lot of background material, covering not just the individual units but the different craftworlds too, including…

… the lesser known ones. Interesting point here, the Altansar Craftworld on the top left of that picture is almost exactly the same colour scheme as my own Altsain Craftworld. Obviously just a variant spelling from a different part of the galaxy.

And, of course, the obligatory ‘hobby’ section, which has everything you need to get inspired to do the forces of an entire craftworld.

However, I am guessing that at least 92% of you don’t give two figs about any of that in a review, and want me to get into the heart of things – the rules and army lists."

That's it. There's really nothing else, and that final note really emphasises the borderline contempt such reviewers really seem to have for the lore in the game. If it doesn't involve rolling dice, to such writers it simply doesn't matter or is unworthy of their full attention. I know such a thing seems harsh, but it's sadly an attitude reflected in far too many reviews, all of who do not value such storytelling. It's for this reason that Codex: Black Legion received such a tepid response from so many websites; all of who focused less upon the expertly handled and interesting storytelling than they did the extremely flawed rules. 

Worst of all, some reviewers go so far as to actively complain and list a book as worthless if they put lore first. Remember Codex: Legion of the Damned, and how it featured some fantastic ideas but some very limited crunch? Here's someone with an awful gimmick bitching non-stop about how it favoured awesome lore, ideas and stories over listing a massive army. True enough, it's something which someone is well within their rights to criticise, and that's not being called into question here. The simple fact they were willing to overlook so much effort and promise within a book, without sparing a moment to actually analyse it though? That's insulting to every person who actually gave a damn about taking fandom ideas into account and putting a new spin on the old army.

Oh, and don't think that the above example is isolated either. Sometimes reviewers go so far as to complain about those who actually take the time to analyse and look into the core narrative elements of a book, or its lore failings. To cite Spikey Bits as an example again, their review of Curse of the Wulfen effectively opened up with them mocking anyone worried about the story's direction. Before getting into his amaturish, unfocused and poorly coordinated rambling about the fluff, he demands his watchers ignore anyone criticising the story. Telling people to ignore those who think this could be the start of an End Times event, he scorns those who regard the book with concern and you can easily imagine the eye-rolling when he talks about those hobbyists. Personally, i'm of the opinion that this was a poorly veiled pot-shot at the one other person to really analyse and worry about the book side from myself, Arch Warhammer. It's a theory to be sure, but his tones and choice of words seemed to be very direct in who exactly they're addressing, and rather derogatory.

So, where is this all going, you might be asking. What's the whole point behind this article? It's quite simple really - 

We can do better. 
Well, no, that's not entirely true. We must do better, because we are failing this fandom. 

I say this not to the hobby as a whole, but every person who lays a hand on the keyboard. I say this to every person who desires to criticise this game, to review a book or cite these flaws. I say this to every person who takes the time to regard these books and believes that they should be the ones to help guide the fandom. Our role is supposed to be that of a vanguard, taking the bullet when a poor release is on the horizon and highlighting a success for every hobbyist who regards Warhammer 40,000 with fondness.

We are supposed to serve as a guiding light, not to all but certainly those who trust our word and opinion in such books. Our reviews have influence, no matter how small or large, on those who read them. When we throw storytelling to the dogs, when we are shown to care so little about the actual narrative and history that it can barely be spared a paragraph, we encourage others to do the same. After all, why should they care when we are shown to do nothing? This is not supposed to be some high an mighty statement, but simply to say that, when we promote no discussion, no criticism and no praise, why should anyone care about it over the rules? More importantly though, if we don't care about the lore, why should Games Workshop?

Warhammer Fantasy, Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 has been extremely hit and miss ever since the Fourth Edition closed out. Some would argue that it was problematic even before then, but that's a discussion for another time. The point is simply is that, as the Fifth Edition rolled onward, the internet became more vocal about the game. More people than ever talked about it on forums, discussed it and considered its future, and complained. Oh how they complained. This was, after all, the era of Draigod, the Blood-Necron Alliance and the Spiritual Liege, and it earned no end of ire from fans. Many were insulted from this apparent abandonment of all prior lore and the amateurish approach of the company, and the many problems which arose from several books. After all, Codex: Tyranids is still best known for refusing the Hive Fleets even a single victory.

However, the Fifth Edition also brought about new changes. Codex: Dark Eldar was released with fantastic storytelling and ideas, Codex: Dark Angels proved to be a solid release and (say what you will about its execution) Codex: Space Wolves went back to Second Edition insanity. Something which was a welcome break after all the dour, boring and ultimately bland Ward helmed astartes books. Yet, looking today, you never see those successes or changes remarked upon, or even the company's push for improved quality in the wake of Codex: Grey Knights. While many claim that Games Workshop is largely deaf to the complaints of its fans, emphasis needs to be placed on the term "largely" rather than "completely". If enough people yell about something, if there is enough of a backlash or vocal response to something, they will take action. Rob Cruddance's downgrade in the wake of Codex: Tyranids and Ward's quiet demotion are proof enough of that, as were the books which followed.

In the Sixth Edition, the codices got bigger. While there was a noted price increase, the lore of each book substantially improved, resulting in the fantastic Codex: Imperial Knights, a superior Codex: Dark Angels and many vastly improved ideas. It featured one of the best written codices to date in the form of Codex: Tau Empire, which went into vast detail about their rise and gradual successes, and presented them as a full civilisation. True, there were failings such as the many Supplements, but there were fantastic releases alongside them. All of which, thanks to reviews deciding that lore was only worthy of being ignored, went unremarked upon. This in turn seemed to trigger a new change. The Supplements were thankfully phased out after one too many failures, but the new editions of older books became pale copies of their past selves. This has been commented upon many times in this blog, but the review of the latest Codex: Imperial Knights highlights this failing the best. No one cared, so the writers simply didn't put in the effort, and what we got was a shallow copy with artwork to pad out its pages.

While Games Workshop might be to blame for many things, we cannot ignore the impact of our ignorance. I do not ask for you to prize lore above rules, merely to treat them as equal halves in reviews. Regard and examine them with the same detail you would rules, cite their strengths and weaknesses, and encourage a better world to take shape. If we do not, I see the War Zone books failing as the Supplements once did, and story elements being marginalized further in each codex. For a world as rich and storied as Warhammer 40,000, it would be a tragic loss to generations of hobbyists both new and old. The grim darkness of the far future lies not in its dice but the words of those who forged it. It's time we truly respected that fact.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Blues & Bullets - Episode 2 (Video Game Review)

After a notable absence, Blues and Bullets returns to PCs once again, picking up where the cliffhanger left off. Moving undercover, in his efforts to bring Sofia Capone’s kidnappers to justice, retired detective Elliot Ness begins to realise that there is far more at work than a simple abduction. Human trafficking has been working its way through San Esperanza for years, and he soon witnesses first-hand what kind of monsters have been buying up children by the dozen from them.

Monday, 14 March 2016

New Direction - Which 40K Faction Should Receive The Index Treatment Next?

So, as you might know we'll be having a few articles covering Battlefleet Gothic coming up soon. In the meantime, it seemed best to plan ahead and ask a brief question: Given we have four finished articles, which one do you want to see given the Index Astartes/Xenology treatment next?

Thus far the blog has covered examples of Traitor Legions, Loyalist Chapters, Tau Empire and Craftworld Eldar armies. It's a good variety, but each of them has usually been made in response to the failure of a storyline or codex in one way or another, giving examples of how they could have instead been handled. As the Space Wolves are currently being hit hard with the stupid stick however, and Curse of the Wulfen is hardly the best story to try and base a new army article off of, this could be a chance to take a stab at a less seen army or one which is often pushed out of the spotlight.

Thus far, I have been toying with a few ideas for an Imperial Guard regiment or a Necron Dynasty, each intended to help subvert a few established elements or restore old ideas. In the case of the Necrons you can probably guess what that is. Besides that however, the Dark Eldar and Adepta Sororitas are also fairly high up on the list. While not nearly as well thought out or developed in my head, there is at least a solid concept behind each one to help serve as a starting point for a future army. That said, i'd hardly be averse to taking a stab at something less known or perhaps even going back to an older idea. After all, the traitor and loyalist examples were just World Eaters and Iron Hands successors. So, if you wanted a more general force or something taken in a very different direction that's fairly viable as well.

Anyway, that's really it for today. If you have any specific thoughts or preferences for a force, please leave it in the comments. Really, i'll even take a stab at the Harlequins if anyone does want it.