Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Overwatch (Video Game Review)

Riding the wave of hype right up to its release date, Blizzard’s Pixar-esque version of Team Fortress 2 finally exploded out of beta in a full release. After heavy marketing, multiple short films and heavy promotion via popular streamers, Blizzard was clearly confident they had a winner on their hands with this one, and they were entirely right.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Our Battle Barge Has Been Named!

So, this got out of hand quite quickly. A couple of days ago I posted this as a brief filler report during a busy period for some fun, posted a couple of threads on Warhammer websites I frequent and walked away. Welp, upon returning there was a storm of names to sort through. Really, after it went onto a few social media groups or whatnot there were an alarming number to sift through. Plenty were good and a vast number were great - ones which may be re-used for this vessel's escorts - but sadly there can be only one winner.

Still, to give the creators the credit they deserve, here's a breakdown of the suggestions and their sources before we get to our name of choice.

Litany of the Forge

Mistakes Were Made

Aspiring Concept

Odyssey via Logic

Hasta Ferratus

Ferrus Fister

The Wolf Fanged Fist

1001 0011 1010 1111 1100 1001 1001 1000 0000 0110 0011

Iron's Irony (the ship was a present to the Iron Hands during the Great Crusade, gifted by the Iron Warriors)

Socal Media (Twitter):

Ferrus Manus' Muthafuckin' Pimp Hand (this was actually the more profane version of the original name I mentioned)

The Wraithslayer

Steel Rain of Plasma

Ultra Manus

Vengeful Battering Ram

The Havoc

Gorgon's Revenge

The Kingslayer

Black Barge of Death

The Manflayer

One Punch Barge

Ferrus' Revenge

Pride of Medusa

Xenocidal Fury

Give Us Back His Head!

Ferrus Angelus


Herald of Stronos

Fist of Ferrus

Hand of Ferrus

Back of my Hand

Dread Fist

Iron Smasher



Aquea Homina

Mallus Ferrum 

Dominus Metallum

Fleshbuster of Ferrus

Fist of Bannus

The Hand Job



Wrath of Iron

Iron Wrath



Mettle of Manus 

The Cake is a Lie

Cake or Death? 

Ferreus Aeternum



The Irate Iron Bus

Shut Down, Reboot.

Burning Horison

Voice of the Unavenged

Essence of Rage


The Drinks Cabinet

Sadly however there can be only one victor and while many came quite close to victory, few were quite so fitting for a steel armoured leviathan dispensing death as one early result:

Judge Dreadnought

So yes, the Clan Company is now occupying the Judge Dreadnought commanded by Admiral Race Bannon. This does mean that there's a Raven Guard in command of Iron Hands fleet assets, but most of the crew are probably counting their blessings it wasn't a Son of Russ in control of the ship.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Why Captain America Reeks of Desperation - The Many Failings of Marvel

They say the definition of madness is to keep repeating the same act, expecting a different result. If that's true, just about every damn fan of Marvel might as well be locked up in a loony bin by this point. Well, them and anyone at Marvel who thought pulling this stunt was a good idea.

Taking up the mantle of Captain America once more, Steve Rogers returned to the role which had made him a legend in the aptly named Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. For the first time in years we were going to see the man return to his old role, truly becoming the Sentinel of Liberty once more. Fans were understandably excited to see this taking place after he was put out of action for so long, and within hours of the comic's release they were talking up a storm about it on Twitter. A shitstorm, to be precise. Penned by Nick Spencer, the creative team decided to celebrate Cap's 75th Anniversary by giving him the single biggest retcon of his entire run. "How big a retcon?" You might ask, well, the kind which dates back to his very conception, changing his entire history.

They made Captain America into a Nazi.

Oh, not just any Nazi, but a full on "white men are the ubermensch!" Jew killing, baby eating, genocide promoting agent of Hydra. This isn't down to mind control. This isn't down to some twist or even replacement memories. Steve Rogers always was, and always has been, a fucking Nazi according to this, serving as an agent of theirs within the Avengers and working against freedom, liberty and the American way. There are many, many problems with this idea, with no end of logical, continuity and moral failings which have left many readers red with rage. Many fans are irate that this makes so many of the stories they loved or enjoyed a lie, and that his very persona was always a mask. Many others are irked at what is little more than cheap, lazy shock style "storytelling" which exists to do little beyond draw attention away from DC Comics' own attention grabbing controversy. Most however, are disgusted and disturbed that someone would take a character made by Jewish creators, used to express their own anti-Nazi feelings even in the face of death threats, and promptly turn him into a Nazi icon.

However, this reader felt something different when he looked at it. While it earned my disgust for that last reason, there was no hatred there, just extreme disappointment and apathy. This issue only proved that, once again, Marvel is incapable of learning from past mistakes or the creative rut it has fallen into.

You see, this isn't the first time Marvel has pulled a stunt like this. Hell, it's not even the twelfth by this point, and each and every time the results are the same - Mass fan backlash, a dwindling readership, and some very hurried retcons to try and fix it all as sales go down the drain. 

The earliest and arguably the most infamous example of this sort of villainous retcon was an old event known as The Crossing. In its pages Iron Man was revealed to be a spy for Kang the Conqueror, and that for his entire superheroic career he had secretly been a villain. This was "fixed" by an overly complex plot involving time travel which eventually led to Stark's younger self taking over from him, and the rest becomes a level of insanity people try to forget these days. The entire story and what followed in its wake was regarded as one of the biggest mistakes of comicbooks up to then, and an example of damn near everything wrong with early 90s comics. The problem is that these days apparently "mistake" stands for "guideline" in the minds of comics writers.

Time and time again, despite it often pushing down sales or just causing the characters' fans to hate the creative team, writers will keep pulling this stuff. Charles Xavier, one of the kindest men devoted to peace in the Marvel universe, was retconned into always being a monster who willingly wiped winds, destroyed lives and slaughtered others for his personal benefit. This was never fixed and, soon after Deadly Genesis established this, he was killed off by his protege Cyclops during a battle; just in time for Cyke to begin his own retcon driven villainous turn. Iron Man would then follow him twice over in recent years alone, first in Civil War and then in the atrocious Superior Iron Man; both of which so badly harmed the character that it took the literal erasure of his memory each time to put him back on track. Others would follow this to one extent or another, from Avengers Arena to Ultimatum to Avengers Disassembled, and even Superior Spider-Man in some regards. It just keeps happening over and over again, with the only outcome being more misery for those who stick with these characters. It has become an endless cycle, with the same errors made over and over and over again, without anyone ever learning from them.

But what's the point in all this, anyway?

The simple answer is attention. Marvel's mantra these days is that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" and they will roll on ahead with just about any plan they have in mind. No matter how bad, no matter how horrific, they will stick to it so long as it proves a reaction. After all, a cry of rage sadly carries more weight than a legitimate praise these days, and draws far more attention. As such, Marvel does something horrific, they get a reaction, and as they begin to lose attention of their audience they promptly do something worse to try and reel them back in.

However, drawing audiences based upon outrage and bile fascination is only half the point behind this. The other? Simply put, Marvel has an extreme case of identity crisis. While they might rule superheroics on the big screen, the comics themselves have become little more than fodder for film ideas. While they thankfully credit their sources of inspiration (unlike some, hello The Force Awakens) and adapt them openly, there's no denying that they overshadow the original source material. While certainly far more grounded, it's more accessible to the average Joe, gains them more moolah and has led them into a new golden age. As such, it seems that few know what to do with the comics themselves. Half the time they want to "upgrade" things to bring them in line with the cinematic universe, and the rest they want to go in their own direction. Unfortunately, Marvel is a company of extremes, so it ends up doing extreme damage while trying to follow either one at a time.

Let's take Nick Fury for example. While the grizzled war veteran has been around for decades, new fans only know him via his dark skinned Ultimate self and little else. How to they introduce him into the setting? Give Nick Fury a hitherto unknown dark skinned son who looks exactly like Samuel L Jackson. Then, give him the nickname of Fury, force the original character out of the picture and add some nonsense about the serum keeping him alive failing. Clunky, but it works, yet that's not enough for Marvel. Just to be sure that he was completely out of the way and never coming back, Original Sin retconned the original Fury to have always been secretly evil the entire time, and that the serum never worked. Instead he simply always used robot clones of himself. Then, whilst killing multiple characters and attempting to murder the Avengers, he made himself irredeemable and got shunted off to some dark corner of the universe. 

Original Sin also showed the other problem where writers will go to the complete opposite extreme, or at least led into it. During the fight, Fury suddenly attains knowledge out of nowhere of how to completely disarm Thor. By whispering a single unheard word into Thor's ear, the god of thunder is abruptly made unworthy and loses Mjolnir. Really, that's it, nothing more. This then led into the previously discussed event where Thor was basically kicked out of his own comic and Jason Aaron's pet was put in his place: She-Thor. Doing everything up to and including stealing his name, Aaron went about radically changing the world of the original hero and hyping the living hell out of his new replacement. This quickly devolved into full on defilement of the original canon, radically altering entire histories, personalities and motives of long established characters overnight, and dragging them into a plot driven by idiocy. The comic was desperately trying to be different, trying to be new, but in doing so it shattered the very bedrock it was built upon, caring little for the work of prior writers.

So, as an end result of this you have half the setting pandering to an entirely different audience, while the other half ditches all prior lore and rapidly becomes borderline unrecognizable. The end result is a setting which abandons any established fans and rewards loyalty with pain and betrayal, leaving no room for them in this shift. While this is speaking only from personal experience and fellow fans, there's a growing number of longtime jaded fans who have just given up on this setting. While they will still stick around for the odd Ms. Marvel or equally awesome middle tier comic, they no longer care about the setting as a whole because it keeps screwing them over. Just as Marvel has its own cycle, these readers have theirs: They start to hear about interesting Marvel events, slowly consider taking a look at a couple of A-list heroes, see something horrific which betrays the fans, and refuse to buy anything until it all gets sorted out. 

Now, Marvel still has plenty of readers to be sure, but any audience can only be pushed so far before then reach breaking point. Eventually some straw is going to break the camel's back and whether that's from the frustrated comments of former fanatical readers or yet one more betrayal, eventually something is going to cause a comic's decline. Then, given how heavily reliant they are upon big events, they may even stop paying attention to those as well.

Despite the open vitriol displayed by many people at this latest twist, a few have tried to defend this move by claiming it should be excused thanks to being planned out or thanks to the politics behind it. In this case it's how America seems to have emulated certain racist or blind undertones and has become its own worst enemy in some regards (make your own Trump joke folks). However, this is just another problem rather than any kind of solution. This is a classic case of a writer putting their personal message and idea before the story itself. Rather than sorting anything out, rather than establishing any basic concept or even considering how to establish it within the universe, we get a trite excuse before they bulldoze ahead with their plan. 

Imagine for a second that there was a Sherlock Holmes story, fully canon today and in-line with the originals, which involved subliminal messages and how it can affect the mind. The writer would announce that it would explore themes of psychosis, self-delusions and insanity, in depth and with great detail. Imagine then that the book not only treated Holmes as an abusive madman, but all prior stories were his own fevered dreams and he was in fact just a homeless man living in modern day London. It would indeed be in a prime place to explore the ideas; yet it only does so by crapping on the work of every other writer and effectively destroying the very series it's supposed to reflect. This issue of Captain America is the same, only working because the writer has decided "I didn't write it, so clearly it doesn't matter!" It's ultimately just lazy, refusing to respect the series or franchise in favour of personal ego. What's more is that, simply put, this is merely yet another smokescreen against criticism; another half-baked stab at political leanings made in order to prevent people from fully criticising it just as a bad story. The aforementioned Thor disaster did the same thing, adding on baggage to the comic to help make it seem like critics were attacking certain ideologies, not just a bad story by a bad author.

At the end of the day, events like this from Marvel are merely horrific acts to try and force people to keep reading. The modern day company is akin to a spiteful child, hungry for any attention he can get and willing to go the full mile in order to attain even a moment of his parent's focus. When one horrific act fails to get what they want, they will simply follow it up with an even worse tantrum. Who knows, if this issue didn't gain them the sales the needed, perhaps they'll drop all pretenses and simply have Steve Rogers eating roasted infants next.  Perhaps that will finally push people to start abandoning these comics and refuse to go back until they start treating their characters with some measure of respect.

Still, this is just one general and very jaded view on this latest twist in comicbook history, and the last few years of Marvel in general. If you have something else you want to add, whether it's a point missed or even just a contradiction, feel free to add it. After all, alternative views on events so controversial as this one always require more than once voice.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Name Our Battle Barge

So, it turns out that naming Craftworld Eldar ships is far easier than naming astartes ones. Who would have thought.

In all seriousness, this is just a bit of fun to try and solve a current problem. Ever since Leeroy the Baneblade solo'd three Monoliths and emerged nearly unscathed, it's been a personal tradition of mine to name the most powerful unit in my army something ridiculous. Unfortunately, this time the intended option of "Pimp Hand of Ferrus" was sadly vetoed by fellow Gothic players, as was the more profane version.

Because of this, it seemed like it might be funny to leave this open to others. Whoever comes up with the best name will have the ship named after it and, as thanks, listed as the vessel's captain, just so people will know who to blame. Please keep any suggestions to two or three names at the most, just to avoid over-saturation.

That said, the first one to suggest any variation on "Bargy McBargehand" will be summarily executed. We're open to silliness here people, all I ask for is a little originality.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Roleplaying Dillemas - How To Kill Off The Wizard Master Race

"Those bloody fireball hurling bastards always ruin everything!"

That rather irate response came from an old friend back during a D&D session, just after his Barbarian had been utterly eclipsed by a Sorcerer. While certainly fired off in anger, it's a comment often shared by many a player who opts to take the sword over the staff, or even others who opt to take the path of the Thief, Ranger or Samurai. In the end, the spellcasters always have them beat, hands down, and will always win in the end. You see this in even the best of systems, and given their sheer firepower and versatility it's admittedly hard to avoid.

No matter where you look this issue keeps arising. Dungeons and Dragons attempted to get around this by primarily focusing upon one class eventually taking over from the other. While spellcasters would be limited at first, they would grow in power until they completely eclipsed the warriors. At this point the idea was usually to have the warriors play support, fighting mooks or playing secondary roles, but the abilities of wizards have this nasty habit of overtaking them entirely. Dragon Age promised to avoid this exact trope, only to fall face first right into it, not only making them one of the best classes but effectively giving them a sub-class which turned them super saiyan. This only became more notable in the sequels, especially with II where the entire trailer focused upon a mage.

There are only a few exceptions which have evened out the problem of all powerful wizards, but these are few and far between, with mixed results. Dark Heresy and its similar games featured psykers being able to burn away entire armies with mind bullets, block Titan level weaponry and play Jedi mind tricks, but you at least had to worry about a daemon turning up to say "hello neighbor, can I borrow a cup of souls?" Equally, other games have tried to get around this by some very basic methods, like creating anti-magic runes, enemies or going to the other extreme by making everyone a spellcaster. Obviously, neither is a great answer.

So, what are the best solutions then? Well, in all honesty there's no simple one. If there were, the fact of roleplaying games would look very different right about now. However, there are certainly a few ideas which tend to be quite frequently overlooked which might help to elevate this problem.

The first and foremost way to truly balance this out would be by accounting for how they need to learn their skills. They need to use their mind, hone their abilities and absorb new information over time. While you can argue that the likes of Barbarians, Swashbucklers and Kenesi can all learn their abilities through experience, it's difficult to justify Wizards shooting enough fireballs until they can summon the foot of God himself to stomp down upon his foes. Rather than merely leveling up and instantly gaining a new skill, magic could be treated as a true learning experience; with its practitioners slowly and unevenly developing, with the rate at which they comprehend their new spells varying from one person to the next. One might be able to understand the finer points of Necromancy, but could be completely stumped when it comes to the subject of Tyromancy.

Equally, given that this is a learning experience, the quality of their books or teacher they are should also be taken into consideration. This could relate to their background or general place of origin as much as their personality traits, limiting their progression or even curving it in a certain direction. This could even be to their benefit, perhaps min-maxing certain areas and allowing them access to higher tier spells in certain fields to start with, but limiting their progressions as they skipped the basics. There's even a possibility of being a self-taught Mage, which would open up an entirely new possible avenue of leveling up their abilities or forging a new character. Now, while this idea could again be adapted to other classes, it would have the most impact here. After all, it's easier for a Knight to learn how to keep his shield up a bit more often than it is for a Wizard to remember the exact incantation to banish a ghost.

A further concept could lean towards far more required preparation, or a much greater focus being placed upon ingredients than many settings. A good example of this balancing out with power would be the Witcher series. There, Sorcerers and Sorceresses are immortal, are worth their weight in gold and have access to some very fun abilities such as limited teleportation, duplication and projectile attacks early on. However, that immortality is needed thanks to the lengthy and extremely steep learning curve for many schools of magic, and the most powerful of abilities require specific item. An entire quest in Witcher 2 revolved around retrieving a powerful source of magic, a rare flower and a weed only found in the deepest, darkest mines of the world. This naturally involved risking facing down multiple monsters, or having to barter with rather unsavory individuals. Plus, even then, sorceresses could overexert themselves by rapidly burning through their power, often with painful consequences. This would ultimately leave them with all the power they had before, but it would require far effort more effort to truly earn it.

Still, much of this so far is focusing primarily upon limiting spellcasters rather than boosting the other classes, so what could be done there? Well, a core idea might be having magic turn inwards. While Wizards express it in bright, flashy and vibrant ways, perhaps a setting could have the other classes take in magic in a more passive way. This could be down to exaggerating or extending certain abilities until they reach near superhuman levels, or even to take them to their logical extreme. 

High level Rangers, for example, could gain abilities akin to Aquaman or Falcon, effectively mind controlling powerful monsters or seeing through the eyes of hundreds of smaller creatures. Expert swordsmen could become so skilled at their abilities that they could learn to literally read the body language of their foes right down to the individual thought or general personality quirks. Trappers or Thieves might be able to scan out and examine entire rooms at once a-la Sherlock Holmes or even quickly piece together the history of a room. This could even focus more upon dedicated weapons over classes with those focusing upon Archery turning effectively into Legolas, with the extreme accuracy and enhanced senses he always displayed.

Now, such an approach would admittedly only work on a high fantasy setting, with more commonplace magical or superhuman elements. It would also remove some of the Batman style badasses of normality ideas behind certain classes as well, but at the same time there would be a solid balance of practicality between the groups. Even if Wizards were capable of incinerating whole armies at a time, there would still be room for the other classes in direct combat or even just doing more of the groundwork. The low fantasy equivalent would be to perform the reverse of what's expected and turn Wizards into something more akin to fighters, focusing upon their physicality.

Spells, in many settings, focus largely upon MP or the general use of certain stored points of magic through items or whatnot. Instead though, a system could instead have spells cast through stamina, physically affecting them as they deployed more spells. Now, it sounds basic for sure, but think for a moment of how this might affect spellcasting classes. For starters, this would encourage games to have fitter or more physically robust Mages to help have them cast more spells. This would allow them to be remarkably useful in fights and also encourage a more hands on approach to things, balancing out physical tasks with merely getting magic to do it all. Some spells could even relate to certain physical movements akin to Avatar style bending, with longer or more complex routines for the most powerful of their spells.

The physical role would also mean that players would need to more carefully choose what they focused upon per level, rather than freely spending skills. After all, they would need to more carefully divide any progression points between physical health and knowledge, so they wouldn't become the be all and end all of classes they're often depicted as. Better yet, this would also leave them open to certain status impairments capping their abilities for a time; with affects ranging from malnourishment to disease or exhaustion, the usual sorts of things systems have this unfortunate tendency to overlook when it comes to spellcasting. Ultimately, rather than just spamming high level spells, it would leave Wizards just as screwed as the other classes in such a state. Plus you get the odd contrast of the old, hunchbacked Mage being knowledgeable but hardly all-powerful like so many other settings.

Now, again, this isn't the full answer to these problems or even a full range of options. This really is just a few general concepts and ideas thought up to help sort out an old genre problem. Any one of these could prove to be a viable cornerstone in an overall system with some time and thought put behind it, and probably a great deal of reworking to get it to fully gel with a true system. Overall though, it would be a start to kicking a trend which unfortunately dominates too many major RPGs, and leveling the playing field for a few other classes.

If you have your own suggestions or ideas you want to throw into the mix, please feel free to add them into the comments below. As this really is just a general purpose article touching on the basics for certain ideas - and mostly the result of spit-balling ideas with a friend - any in-depth details or alternatives would be welcome as always.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor - Three Years On

Back in 2013, our review of Day of the Doctor cited one major concern about the anniversary special's future - "It will not age well and as time goes by and the excitement begins to fade, it may well diminish in the eyes of fans." Tempted as it was just to leave that hanging and press on into bigger things, it seemed unfair not to give the episode a second look to see whether this rang true or not. After all, many essential classics of the science fiction genre only became definitive legends thanks to audiences looking back and seeing their greatness at a later date; with The Thing and Blade Runner regarded as the poster children for this issue. So, this is going to be a retrospective. Not so much an outright review as another look at the story and wondering if those same criticisms leveled at it then are true today.

The foremost point brought up against the episode focused upon the zygons, and how superfluous their role seemed to be. Apparently added for little more than fan-service, they seemed superfluous and their own invasion plot was almost tacked on, isolated even within the episode itself. If anything it seemed like an entirely new story had been crammed into the episode at the last minute, purely for a bit extra action and to have a physical threat to the tale. Atop of this however, it forces the War Doctor himself into playing little more than a secondary role throughout the story, isolated or contributing little more than commentary for most of the episode, save for a few key moments. While these problems still ring true, there is another angle seen on repeated viewings which does help to justify it. 

When you stop to really look at the War Doctor's role, he plays that of a complete outsider utterly detached from events. He has little history which directly relates to those involved with the conflict, and departs just as soon as he arrives - specifically via time travel. While detached, the few moments he does fully involve himself helps to shift events for the better and prevents the end of the world. You see, the anniversary is effectively a Doctor Who story of a Doctor Who story, allowing the character to reflect upon events before coming to his decision. It's oddly subtle - or at least subtle enough that you don't realise it first time around thanks to the overt nature of the rest of the episode - but it's certainly an avenue which has not been explored in the past.

When the previous Doctors have run into one another, they have all featured as the protagonist in some way, taking the center stage to solve the episode's threat. This would have been difficult to handle thanks to Christopher Eccleston opting not to show up, and as such this different approach allowed Hurt to have far more material to work with. When he judges his future incarnations, there's more meaning to it than in other such specials, as there's more than playful banter at work. As fantastic as the "dandy and a clown" line in The Three Doctors is, most of those moments in that serial stem more from the spectacle of seeing three incarnations conflicting with one another . In the case of Day of the Doctor, we instead have such contrast much more strongly resonating with him for two reasons. The first and most obvious of these is woven into the story itself and the decision the War Doctor needs to make, seeing if his act of genocide is truly worthwhile. The second, however, reflects the shift in culture within the show and the contrasting nature between the classic and new series. Really, just re-read these lines for a second:

"Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?"

"Timey What? Timey Whimey?!"

"Oh, the pointing again! They're screwdrivers! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?"

They're all statements made by the War Doctor throughout it, and they're honestly the kind of semi-cantankerous criticisms which you'd expect to hear from old fans. If you took someone disconnected from the new series entirely, who perhaps only watched the classic era, these are the sort of comments you might expect to hear. They're ones which are less focused upon the individual character quirks and personalities of the Doctor's current incarnations (well, save possibly for the hand comment) so much as the very style and direction of the show itself. As a result, the show becomes an amusing clash of fan expectations than anything else, channeled through the War Doctor himself. While it doesn't overwhelm the entire story, it's an added element of meta narrative which certainly keeps things interesting, and it allows there to be a few general callbacks without relying completely upon fanservice.

The problem with this approach is that, while it does allow for those fun moments and some surprising intelligence, it means that the story structure is remarkably sloppy as a result. To be blunt, trying to force the zygon plot into the episode as it was extended the narrative further, bloating the story and forced in a number of unnecessary elements. This is largely down to the Tenth Doctor's involvement sadly, specifically his moments with Queen Elizabeth. Much like the War Doctor and Eleventh Doctor, this is supposed to show this incarnation in the middle of his own tale and form a bridge between three separate narratives, intertwining into one another. For once this story actually had the time to pull if off, and it is actually added without it constraining the other two. However, its failings stem from how the story is used within the episode.

While the War and Eleventh Doctor's timelines focus upon some relatively grim theme,s and exist within their own right, the Tenth Doctor's segment is effectively forced to do everything else. You have the introductory moments with them all meeting one another, the establishment of what's going on in the Eleventh Doctor's era, the awkward funny moments involving the Tenth Doctor, and the banter. Lots and lots of banter. Much of the time here basically devolves into the story spinning its wheels for a while until the Doctors can get together and start to figure out what to do. While this does allow for that ever important banter - which is admittedly solid as it ranges from serious criticism to humorous jabs - we see little in the way of real plot progression. 

Very little of what's stated here really carries over to the finale involving the zygons or even the overarching plot, and even the period piece elements are wasted here. There was probably some intelligent thought in having a period piece, modern era and future war all in the same episode, but you don't get anything out of it. Even Elizabeth herself contributes little to nothing to the story, and could have been written as any noblewoman. There's simply little staying power here, and it's just fluff more than anything else.

The zygons themselves are also a mixed bag no matter which way you look at it, and further contribute to the clutter. Their most threatening scenes work as isolated moments, either stalking figures or quietly overtaking U.N.I.T. but it fails to truly gel as a cohesive whole. You never get a true impression of the scale of their invasion - and the fact it is spanning so many timelines with the focus placed squarely upon the Doctors - means they don't seem to fully register within the story. This has the unfortunate side effect of making them seem like a tacked on addition and, despite the intelligent episode invasion angle, weakens the story by dividing the plot between these elements.

The actual finale itself is held up more by its outcome than the actual execution of events. While the last events of the Time War does help to offer plenty of eye candy, it undermines so much of what the show established about it. The reason the war itself was never truly shown or brought up was thanks to the unseen horrors the BBC simply didn't have the budget to cover. This was supposed to feature battles so vast that its very shockwaves annihilated entire species, with entire solar systems transformed into gigantic weapons platforms, and countless abominations stalking among the stars. This was supposed to be the era of the Nightmare Child, the Skaro Degradations, the Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres led by the Could've Been King, and the Horde of Travesties. Instead, what we get is a few daleks on the ground and a lot of ships in orbit, all of which are dealt with in little more than a few scant minutes. On its own its certainly fun, but with over a decade of hype and anticipation behind it? It did leave fans questioning just what was truly so bad about this war.

So, how does Day of the Doctor hold up after all this time? As an episode this definitely works despite its flaws, and even as an event there's enough gravity and spectacle to its story to really make it stand out. The story does know how to best use combination of Doctors on screen at any one time and, despite leaning a little too close to being weapons grade fan-wankery, their banter does hold up. Finally, the conclusion does cement a major game-changer within the series, shifting its direction and pushing it towards a new future. However, as a true anniversary it falls short. There's more focus placed upon the new series than the classic era save for a few minor shout-outs, and even then there's little time really spent truly reflecting upon the actual history of the show. Is it a truly good episode? Indisputably, but it's most certainly not the well deserved monument to a fifty year franchise fans had hoped for. Still, we got to see John Hurt as the Doctor, and that's a reward in of itself.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Doom (Video Game Review)

Some games offer high quality pathos, drama and complex character dynamics. Others offer you the chance to beat hellspawn to death with their own arms. Guess which one this is.

Doom really is Doom here, offering nothing but non-stop brutal violence. It doesn't just dodge the trappings of a complex story, it openly thumbs its nose at the very idea of it, going out of its way to mock such ideas. Not only do you leap right in - skipping any opening cut-scene - and gun down three nearby mooks, but the protagonist actively avoids the serious story going on in the background; going so far as to cut off the mandatory radio support team and smash supposedly vital items.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Stormhawk Interceptor - The Ultimate Failure of Space Marines

As the year rolls on towards the Summer, death is ready to descend upon the Emperor's foes. Taking the form of an boxy, outright anti-aerodynamic fighter outfitted with enough guns to solo whole squadrons of tanks, the Stormhawk is set to be Games Workshop's latest big money maker. True, the orks are getting a much needed and very well deserved bomber of their own, but the interceptor has been at the forefront of promotional material. Each release pushes to emphasise its speed, abilities and how it further augments the astartes' already considerable flying corps. 

Snark aside there is admittedly an odd classsic charm to the vehicle's aesthetics. The stubby design and sheer number of guns allow it to look as if someone unearthed an old design for a Rogue Trader model. Yet, despite this, it just about manages to draw the line at its insanity just before getting into Stormraven territory. This said, there's an innate problem behind the model, one which has been quietly bubbling under the surface for a while now: 

The Stormhawk's very existence is a betrayal of the very ideals the space marines stand for.

Now, let's be fair, the Stormhawk Interceptor isn't alone in this act of blasphemy. The Stormtalon falls into that same category, the Nephilim and Dark Talon brazenly stroll right on into it, and even the Xiphon Pattern Interceptor straddles the line with its post-Heresy antics. Ever since their introduction, they have helped to emphasise a growing problem behind the astartes. Specifically, how Games Workshop is willing to employ lore only as and when it needs to, especially when it comes to the Codex Astartes. 

You see, many players are unfortunately sick of the Codex itself. Likely all those reading will know of the moaning, the frustrated groans and even the desire to criticise the book's every decision, spurred on by Games Workshop's own antics. It all started with an infamous edition of Codex: Space Marines, all the way back in 2008 and it has continued to spread since then. Whereas army variety was once accepted, the Codex was reshaped from a big book of war into a cudgel for writers to beat other chapters into matching the Ultramarines. 

While many of the most insulting aspects of the 2008 Codex: Space Marines have thankfully disappeared, this desire to enforce it as the one true way of war has quietly kept going. We have seen this in the continued restructuring of chapters to match it The retcons of multiple First Founding successors into following its every word, and even some suspicious bits with the Black Templars are all proof of that. While there is admittedly certainly some argument for promoting the importance of the Codex - and even Logan's Wolves retained a copy out of respect for its ways of war - the desire to emphasise its importance often overwhelms certain founding ideas.

While writers focus upon the tactics, the structures and the SUPERIORITY it offered, they forget just what limits the Codex imposed upon chapters. Just take a look at this little extract from Battlefleet Gothic when it comes to astartes and their ships:

The Codex stripped them of several major offensive assets and gave them to new organisations to more evenly distribute power; specifically to prevent one force from having enough control to start a new Heresy. While that article specifically cites starships as its key example (and now you know why their capital ship is dubbed a "barge") this was supposed to extend to almost all aircraft. It's one reason why for so many years the Thunderhawk Gunship was the only aircraft fielded by the astartes - To retain devoted interceptors, bombers and attack craft would be seen as a breach in the Codex. True, many forces were subservient to the astartes, but there were more high ranking officers who could prevent the marines strong-arming them into following every order. As discussed a while back in our two joint essays about the Codex, it really was a way of ensuring chapters had to remain with the Imperium; its limits forcing them to negotiate with other powers than strike out purely on their own.

The very existence of devoted fighter craft goes completely against Guilliman's ideas, and that makes it all the more galling when so many images always present them with Ultramarine colours. By rights, the Mechanicum or Lords of Terra would have taken one look at these designs and instead handed them over to the Imperial Navy to help their own conflicts. There really would have been nothing to stop Games Workshop doing this, as the allies table does accurately reflect the unity between strictly defined individual militaries the Codex encouraged. All they would have needed was their own supplement or, if push came to shove, to even include them in Codex: Space Marines but with the note that they were seconded to them via the Imperial Navy.

The sheer variety of them is a growing concern as well. Despite being the one army in the entire game who is by law supposed to have no attack aircraft, they have more between their chapters than several rival armies combined. Throw in the likes of the very dubious Stormraven and they have far more tactical flexibility as well, far more than even the Imperial Guard. You know, the guys most frequently operating directly alongside the Imperial Navy and using their dropships, freighters and troop transports. However, let's say that we were to openly ignore this gross violation of the astartes' founding laws. Well, even if you do that then you bump into the next big problem - There's a space marine in the cockpit.

If you ever get the chance, go back and read some classic Black Library novels about the astartes. Most will do, although Wolf's Honour does stand out personally, and you'll quickly notice something odd: Nearly all the pilots are human, or at least once were at any rate. Rather than astartes, these duties were fulfilled by serfs and servitors; skilled ones to be sure and experiences warriors, but ultimately those who were not limited by the Codex. Given each chapter was limited to roughly a thousand marines (with certain specialists excluded from that small number), they could ill afford to have warriors carrying out roles which could just as effectively be performed by humans. Sure, sometimes a Techmarine or Sergeant would take the controls of a gunship for vital missions, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. By limiting an astartes purely to the role of pilot, many decades of training, generic enhancements and rare power armour were going to waste; with a rare metahuman warrior stuck behind a cockpit rather than on the frontlines where they are best suited to.

Yet, despite the long established role of serfs as pilots, if you look into just about every model now you will always find an astartes in these aircraft. Why? Honestly, that's a difficult one to decide upon. The best guess most people have is either to just stick with the definitive look of the army's personnel or even to just definitively declare that these fighters belonged to the marines. Whatever the thought process behind it, it's difficult to justify within the established lore and many founding ideas seem to have been thrown side at a moment's notice, despite the multiple books making it clear this is a big no-no.

So, if so much of the lore is against the very existence of these models, why are they being made? Honestly, because they're what's selling at the moment. Alongside Knights and super-heavy walkers, flyers are making a big splash, and plenty of folks will happily shill out big money for them. They make for great centerpieces, they're an aspect of tabletop warfare people can will afford to ignore and, unlike the Knights, many armies are more reliant upon having multiple fighters working in unison to have a big impact upon enemy units. Now, this isn't inherently bad and unlike the super heavy vehicles it's not nearly as over-saturated or causing so many problems for the game in terms of firepower/balance. The problem instead stems from the lore reasons cited above and the attitude present there.

You see, it's not the fact that these models break the codex which is wrong here. There could have been ways to write around that, many countless ones which could have made plenty of sense. It's the fact that the lore was ignored entirely, thrown to one side and quietly throttled to death in some dark back alley to make way for new units, which is so galling. No sane fan minds the lore evolving, developing and building over time or adapting in certain ways, so long as it accounts for past ideas or improves upon what we have. What truly irks them is when the nuances and themes are thrown aside as if they never mattered or openly ignored in favour of cold hard cash. It's only made all the more galling when, as pointed out above, certain ideas are rammed down the fandom's throat and treated as gospel, while equally important elements of the same subject are cast aside.

Lore is supposed to matter to this universe. It's supposed to be the foundation of this very setting, but models like the Stormhawk Interceptor prove that it's all too often treated as little more than window dressing. Will we still get great stories and ideas? Yes, there's more than enough talent and enthusiasm there to see great codices now and again. At the same time though, it's hard to not take a cynical view at the world when - even after the likes of Codex: Grey Knights - the building blocks of entire armies are so easily overturned to make a bit extra cash.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (Film Review)

It's rare to find a film which resonates so strongly with its subject matter as X-Men: Apocalypse. Well, at least on a remarkably meta level anyway. Internally you have a film about a new generation of outcasts linked to an ancient and successful dynasty, slammed and opposed by the established governing bodies; yet externally it's a push for a new, revitalized brand of an established franchise, undeservedly slammed by veteran critics for the strangest of reasons. Yes, it's not often on here you'll see these reviews going against critical opinion, but it's hardly half as bad as many are claiming. Not great to be sure, but it's hardly the abomination some would have you believe it is.

Set years after the time crisis of Days of Future Past and the aversion of the dark, dystopian future promised by the Sentinels, the Xavier School is thriving once more. New generations of mutants have taken up residence to hone their skill and self control, and it's a time of relative peace for the enclave of fledgling superheroes. However, something sinister lurks in the dark places of the world, awakening for the first time in thousands of years. It looks upon the world as it is with disdain, and now seeks to reshape it in its own demented image...

As the first big step towards establishing a new franchise after Days of Future Past all but utterly ended the original saga, Apocalypse naturally had a great deal riding upon it; needing to maintain a balancing act of both avoiding repeating events on the same scale as its predecessor and yet still feel like a step forwards despite this. This is a challenge to be sure given Apocalypse's best material stems from the world-ending, time travelling crisis Age of Apocalypse, and tapping into that would have given audiences a keen sense of deja vu. As such, the story here instead focuses more upon a new generation overcoming the past, and the conflict between new ideals against an old order, and what must be done in the face of a changing world. It's a quintessentially X-Men style story, and the strong character pathos helps to clinch this.

While past tales suffered from the unfortunate failing of being either overly Wolverine or overtly Xavier focused, the attention this time is more evenly distributed throughout the team. Despite boasting one of the largest casts short of Captain America: Civil War, the careful juggling act made here helps to ensure the majority of the heroes have at least one memorable bit within the story. While the focus of the film is certainly upon Apocalypse, Magneto, Xavier and Raven, the likes of Quicksilver, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Night Crawler all have their moments to shine. While they certainly don't get nearly as much of the individual time as they might deserve, the way in which the film presents the team dynamic as an organised force helps keep them important to the story. Their clash of personalities, powers and innate approaches to conflict all helps to keep the story flowing onward, and few among them are actually lost in the mix of things.

The film also takes its time to work towards Apocalypse as the main villain. Of all those the X-Men have faced, from Magneto to Mr Sinister, Apocalypse has often held a special place as the destroyer. When he rears his head, it's akin to dropping an atom bomb on the story line, as he can easily walk through the heroes in question. This unfortunately often left him as little more than physical muscle in many later stories from the mid-90s onward, so instead the film focuses more upon his messiah-like elements. We see his history from the start, how he was formed and the power he once wielded, allowing audiences to quickly see just what kind of monster awaits the heroes. As such, when it focuses upon the mutants during a time of relative safety, it allows this threat to actively hang over the story like a dangling sword. You just know at any point it will drop, but seeing what it's capable of, the true destruction right around the corner, keeps you engaged at every turn.

It also helps that Apocalypse is something of a departure from his usual self for both better and worse. While he lacks some of the more bombastic scenery chewing moments the character is best known for, he's less Sauron than he is an evil prophet, a tempter who twists the despair or pain of others until they're his weapons. While hardly the most subdued or original approach, and admittedly lacking some of his innate strength, this gives Oscar Isaac room to show off his skills as an actor. A wise decision to be sure as his performance seriously elevates the quality of his character, even when the film is piling on the cliches. Yes, we'll get to that in a bit in a minute.

As you might guess from most X-Men films these days, the tone here is notably dark, focusing heavily upon the themes of loss, prejudice and abuse of power. It's intended to be a very bleak and desperate chapter in the team's history, and for many of their number it serves a trial by fire. However, what needs to be emphasised above all else is that there is balance here. Rather than making Batman vs Superman's mistake of piling on the misery and subduing many moments of joy or genuine mirth, there is genuine levity to help break up the film's darkest bits. These range from the sort of brief one-off jokes Marvel associated films are best known for to even just brief bits of the characters having genuine fun. Yes, this might sound like a minor and very obvious element, but given how often it has been screwed up of late it seemed worthy of being mentioned.

As for the fight scenes, well, you have a woman with a psychic katana cutting a car in half, a superhuman with illusions of godhood slamming a man into the ground, and the Quicksilver scene to end all Quicksilver scenes. Really, if nothing else, the X-Men films have always remained extremely fun and inventive when it comes to the use of their powers, and the cinematography shows every glorious second of it. There's a constant sense of energy and dynamic, flowing movement to each shot, and the entirety of the last massive battle easily rivals Captain America's recent melee.

Still, we mentioned this film had more than a few flaws, so what are the problems here? For starters, the story unfortunately starts to pick up more than a few cliches as it speeds along. A few are to be expected for most superhero films given the age of the storylines they are often working from, and the innate nature of the genre. However, it doesn't take long for some very old and extremely tired general tropes to start showing up again and again. This starts to hit the core of the story especially hard, and robs many dramatic scenes of their weight. Worse still, it even reaches the point of abrupt character deaths, sadly wasting some rather underdeveloped characters and resulting in some of the most forced drama seen in an X-Men film yet.

The writing hits the villains especially hard, as many quickly start to become little more than obstacles for the heroes. While the X-Men themselves hold up well despite their numbers, those aligned with Apocalypse really are little more than basic muscle within the film, and lack the engaging qualities which could have given them staying power. It's all the more unfortunate to consider given how each of them is a famed figure within X-Men lore, and several plot points seem to come out of nowhere thanks to this lack of development. This is to say nothing of Apocalypse himself of course who, despite the aforementioned qualities and positive aspects, nevertheless fails to truly escape his role as generic doomsday villain. By the end, even with a few great speeches, Apocalypse himself becomes little more than an obstacle for the villains rather than a true character or arch-nemesis for them to combat.

Sticking with the villainous problems, we then have Magneto. Despite being a high point within the franchise no matter who was playing him and when, the character here is simply wasted on some astoundingly trite writing. Ham handed and extremely forced, even those willing to accept the alarming moment which forces him to side with Apocalypse will have difficulty adjusting to certain actions on his part. Some become so overt it borders upon hilarity, and his eventual last minute twist is sadly all too predictable. Rather than being an asset to the film, the X-Men's old foe seems to have been added purely for the sake of inclusion and little else. It's definitely a waste of great talent and story potential here, and the very act of adding him back into this tale is so forced that it honesty seems like a last minute addition on the director's part.

Above all else however, X-Men: Apocalypse falls into the old problem of retreading the same territory too many times. The themes, ideas and great concepts all stand out as promising starting points - and a few do even offer some insightful moments - but before long it falls into the same fight, same ideas and same elements we've seen so many times before. When it came to genuinely breaking new ground, unfortunately it seems that the film squandered its potential in favour of playing it safe. True, perhaps it's better to do that than really try to break the mold sometimes, and ingenuity isn't its own reward. That said, when the last act repeats so many ideas and events as the original 2000 film, it's hard not to ask if they couldn't have done something better.

Despite all its flaws however, this is still a solid film. Again,it's certainly not a great one to be sure, and First Class remains the best of the relatively recent bunch, but its by no means terrible. If you're after a fun diversion for a few hours, or even just wish to see many classic X-Men in their rookie years, it still holds up extremely well, but it certainly doesn't surpass Days of Future Past.