Thursday, 30 June 2016

Eldar Exodite Army WIP - Dire Avengers, Striking Scorpions & Wraithknights and others

It's been a while since we followed up on this project. After there wasn't much response to the initial posts serving as a conversion guide despite reasonable traffic, I opted to just press ahead with the project. Between grabbing the right bits and pieces and experimenting what I had on hand, most of what's intended to be a small to medium scale army is relatively complete. While the Wraithknight was admittedly a last minute addition (mostly thanks to a personal love of the old Exodite Knights) the rest of it is intended to serve as a relatively fluffy reflection of a War Clan associated with Yin-Sarr. As such, the look is distinctly less pagan and far more feudal than many modelers tend to go for, but that at least helps it stand out.

So first up on the short list we have the Dire Avenger stand-ins, the Household Guard. This is probably the simplest conversion of the bunch, but it proved to be remarkably effective for something which is merely swapping over a set of arms and a head. In order to reflect a more ornate and heavily armoured design, the Warhammer Fantasy Phoenix Guard were used as a basis, specifically their torso and legs. From there it was just a case of trimming down the neck until it could be fitted with a Guardian head and then flattening the inner sides of the arms.

The armoured skirts offered the unit a nice ceremonial quality alongside the capes, giving them a somewhat static and purposeful look as most would expect a fire-support unit to be. While obviously still capable of running when needed, combined with the guns it just gave the appearance of a unit readying itself for a firing formation; as if they had recently disembarked from a transport or holding their ground against a foe. A useful element given that's largely what they'll be doing in the game. Even the Exarch himself, the most dynamic of the bunch, looks more as if he's directing their fire or giving the order to loose a blade-storm than charging into battle, and it's a nice change from the norm for this army.

The Exarch himself underwent a few more changes than the standard grunts, albeit not much. Besides keeping the standard Phoenix Guard head, the torso was replaced with that of a standard Guardian, with it and the cape filed down until they would properly link together. The sword itself was then trimmed at the shoulder until it fitted the right angle, and some green stuff was used to create the impression of a thick belt or sash to hide the oddly thin waistline. That last bit is something you'll see a few more times on here. Finally, a minor addition was adding a thin layer of glue to the face, slightly rounding his features. Combined with the paint, i'm hoping this will help give the impression of a mask upon completion.

The Lord is largely uncharged in his current state, and is just a fantasy model. Using the sadly often forgotten Eltharion the Blind (one of the coolest characters ever to be retconned) in place of an Autarch, the robes and more gaudy elements give him something of a connection to the Guard while standing out on his own. The actual blade can also easily be left as it is, serving as a substitute for one of the many weapons on offer for HQ choices. Admittedly, this one will undergo a few big changes, but besides a halfway decent pain job i'm uncertain as of yet just what those will be. 

Next up we have the Guardian Host, stand-ins for the Striking Scorpions. There's going to be some lore written up behind these guys at some point, but they basically serve as a combination of scouts, law enforcers and hunters among the Exodites. As such, they're more lightly plated than the likes of the Household Guard and built with speed in mind, but there's still enough there to give them a formidable armoured look. Built from a mixture of Guardian and Shadow Warrior parts, they are an odd mixture of things to help give them a bit more of a patchwork design. While there's still a uniformed look to them, some arms and sections are more visibly protected or better designed than others, to help reflect a lack of resources or cruder design. Also, given the problem with their female ball joints on either side, green stuff was used to fill the gap.

As before, the Exarch stands out a little more thank to her torso design and weapons. These used a pike from the Dark Eldar Raider set, and also a Guardian torso combined with the cape. As before, this required each side to be filed down and then glued together. Not much else to be said really, as it's a relatively straight forwards conversion.

The heavy support unit here (a Dark Reaper stand-in) is the Stormborn. Despite lacking the same missile launcher designs, the grim Dark Reaper aesthetic was still an influence here. As such, it combined elements of Cold One Knights with Kabalite Warriors to give the impression of spiked plate armour with a feudal element. To prevent things going too far towards a Dark Eldar look, Guardian heads were put in place of Knight or Kabalite versions. As before green stuff was required to join each section together, fixing the torso to the legs, but also to work around some of the weak spots. Admittedly, they're still at something of a basic stage here, as the guns themselves are still being converted into oversized harpoon weapons and the armour on some of the more basic models still require a little more bulking out.

The Exarch here stands out thanks largely to his pose, holding the sword aloft and kneeling. Admittedly this was more an experiment to diversify design choices beyond the usual charging/aiming gun position or looking as if they were directly in battle, but it works out remarkably well all things considered. Admittedly, thanks to that same pose though, it was an absolute nightmare to keep the upper and lower halves together without them shifting out of position.

Another one still being worked on - and is actually yet to be converted - are the Ranger stand-ins here. Yeah, they're nothing more than Heavy Weapons crewmen, but that's actually why they were picked out. Most rangers lean a little too much towards the DĂșnedain in space look, and even those from Craftworlds give the impression of warriors reliant upon personal skill, knowing the lay of the land and a very rustic way of life. Given that this would hardly stand out among an Exodite force, it made sense to for with the other extreme, making them look ultra- high tech, outfitted with all kinds of gizmos to scan the environment. It still gives the impression of a scouting unit, but less one which is a band of hunters than an elite and well equipped force of professionals.

The impending conversions are pretty simple - Capes and better guns. Those shuriken weapons will be elongated and built upon to reflect a much greater range than the usual guns, and capes added to give the impression of a more stealthy unit. Each might need to be fully custom made via green stuff rather than taken from other units, but it's an experimental process.

So, this now brings us onto the thing the Exodites are best known for: The dinosaurs. The few models this army gained beyond their mini-mecha were infamous for riding tyrannosaurs, raptors and the like and it would be criminal to ignore that little detail. Thankfully Cold Ones exist, so there was an obvious choice to reflect the fleeting, fast moving nature. of the Dragon Knights. As you can imagine this one retained a lot of core elements from the Dark Elf Cold One Knights, from the mounts to the legs and weapons. While some players opt to give these guys shuriken weapons and add them as standard jetbike substitutes, it just somehow seemed wrong really, given their knightly nature in the lore. As such, these guys are stand-ins for Shining Spears instead.

They key differences stemmed only from the choice of heads and torsos, which were taken from a variety of different sources. While the torsos were from Guardians once again, the heads originated from all kinds of kits from across both games. This, oddly enough, was actually enough to give an impression of some variety despite their overall uniformed design. Given the variety of helmets, heads and adornments, it suggested some individuality among them, far more than what you usually end up with in helmeted forces. Once again green stuff was used as a sash or belt to hide the mismatched waistlines, and combined with the shield it works surprisingly well.

The Exarchs here were easy enough to present, using more ornate helmet designs but also banners. To give the impression of a little more diversity, these were carried in different manners, with one held by its rider while the other was linked into its back, hidden behind a green stuff'd bag of supplies. 

The other big dinosaur is the grav tank stand in - The Stegadon. Despite initially looking like one of the more complex elements of the armies, it proved to be one of the simplest, mashing together two different kits. Despite its massive size, the Raider served as a remarkably effective howdah for transportation and customisation purposes. With enough greenstuff on the underside it fitted well against the flattened sections of the Segadon's back, which was further supported by joining elements on the sides. Leftover bits from the Lizardmen kit this originated from were added to offer a little more tribalism in its outwards appearance, especially when it came to reinforcing the battering ram. Like everything else, this is going to see a few more changes as it's up-gunned to serve the role of a bigger tank (most likely a Wave Serpent) but that really remains to be seen.

The side sections will be used to carry a few more secondary weapons, and besides further crewmen there might also be a menhir thrown in to help it seem a little more distinctive. Overall though, the core of this minature is complete and it just needs to be seen what else can be thrown on to really make it more of a centerpiece. 

In stark contrast to the Stegadon we have the Wraithlord substitute. As the Exodites actually lack most small scale wraith constructs, this once again meant we needed a giant angry lizard to stand in as an alternate, offering the guns and hitting power it retained. In this case the answer was found in Lord of the Rings, specifically the Fell Beast miniature. Robbed of its wings, the sides of the model served as an effective mount for its main cannons, and green stuff easily fitted them into place. What's more, while the rider is still being made, the standard Guardian legs are big and broad enough to fit around the saddle, so it should be easy enough to find a rider.

The main difficulty with this one as time goes by will be disguising that the guns themselves are directly glued on. To this end it will likely need armour plating around the torso and rear, probably taken from vehicles or turrets, or re-purposed from smaller scale eldar miniatures. Plasticard or other sources are obviously a potential choice, but the real difficulty there would be to give them the rounded or organic look of wraithbone while cutting it into shape.

Finally, we have the one which underwent the least conversions but still stands out as incredibly distinct despite that. After realising that it would be an absolute knightmare to actually build one of the four legged Knights of old, not to mention expensive, a Wraithknight was seen as a middle-ground option. Despite largely sticking to the prior build elements here and there are being tweaked to make it look a little more archaic. Besides that, the battle damage helps to make it stand out and give it more personality. This was actually made by someone else as a part of a bigger diorama originally, but I have been gradually reworking many design elements here and there, notably the sword the pilot now carries.

So, that's what's currently under construction. Most of this will see more than a few changes before we even reach the point of actually painting them, but I hope it gives you a good idea of the general direction we're moving in, and some of the aesthetic choices. Once that is done, and free time is an option once again, you can expect a mini-Index Xenos akin to that of the Tau Empire piece to help outline some of their more unique aspects. Still, that's a long way off yet, and until then we have many games, codices and novels to cover until we reach that point. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Operation: Stormwalker (Warhammer 40,000 Narrative Battle Report)

So here we are, just a little experiment. One of the odd things I keep hearing people complain about is how hard it is to write about in-game events and to turn them into a single story. Some games are mere landslide victories, others are boring to read about while more still simply aren't suited to any kind of story; or at least so they claim. Well, to show a possibly easier path, this is an alternative way of approaching things, presenting it as a kind of Imperial Armour document giving a general overview of the war. One part to emphasise the stakes and importance of the world, another for the battle, and a final paragraph to wrap up the whole thing. The general idea behind these is also to only show one side of the story, so you're left with two accounts of the conflict, history and outcome, with each side offering something fresh. It's an old idea admittedly, but a fun one which a few at my local Games Workshop have done for some time.

This is going to be a little less eloquent as usual as it's going to be hammered out in a single evening, just to prove that this sort of thing need not be time consuming and that there is an easy way to focus upon lore in your games, even single ones with a very easy victory. So, without further ado here's the conflict, and I hope you enjoy reading.

Confirming Identity....

Identity confirmed. Access Level: Alphus Majoris, Litinarch Sub-Sector

Welcome Lord Inquisitor Dante.

Seeking file: Segmentum Obscurus... Forge World Conflicts... Necron Conflicts... Adeptus Astartes Iron Hands... Stronos Heresy...

File located. Uploading all known reports and compiled data on the Ixius War - Operation: Stormwalker.

Relevant History & Founding Data: 
Founded in early M34, Ixius was among the outlying worlds planned as part of the Ossterman advancement decreed by the High-Lords of Terra. Intended to assist in better reinforcing multiple sectors against rebel elements, it established a multitude of new Fortress worlds with Ixius, Valgar IV, and Chaeroneia supplying the necessary tanks and munitions. Initial founding efforts proved to be successful, and within 10.9 standard years Ixius itself entered initial stages of production. Beyond its supply of Leman Russ variants and Vanquisher pattern Mecharius Heavy Tanks centuries on, the world itself proved of little interest to outsiders. Save for some minor indications of habitation by a xenos race millennia before the Imperium's rise to power, the world was unremarkable, and the Magi governing the world proved to be exemplary in meeting production demands.

Late into M40 efforts by Magos Tarkan discovered that a number of major energy sources emanating from the planet's heart could be harvested by Imperial machinery. Using technologically arcane means, the Mechanicus constructed a number of modified Augustgrad pattern energy siphons across the world, harvesting this energy from the core. Despite some minor voices of displeasure among the Mechanicus hierarchy, few objected to this move as it quickly allowed the world to more than triple its prior output over the course of a decade. However, Mechanicus forces began to detect unknown sensor readings and new disturbances below the planet's surface, emanating from the same source of this energy. Powerful and matching no known frequency, they seemed to originate from the metal core of the world itself. Several expeditions were mounted to explore this deep region, but few returned and those who did were unsuccessful in their efforts.

The last of these was made almost a thousand years later. With the impeding threat of a Thirteenth Black Crusade by the damnable traitor Ezekiel Abaddon, Magos Belleran sought to uncover this source and further augment their powers. Using a substantial amount of the Forge World's resources, Belleran was able to bypass many of the failings which had ruined his predecessors, and successfully reached the core within one year. A few scant minutes following their arrival however, all contact was lost with the expedition. Sixteen hours later, Belleran returned, accompanied not by his Skitarii battalions but a vanguard of  silver xenos automata.

Taking the Ixian forces by surprise, the Necrontyr forces devastated the main site used to guide the forces towards the core, and then the nearby Factorum Majoris. While few in number, they were capable of quickly penetrating its defences, and carving their way through to its very heart before reaching its Augustgrad siphons. Upon its destruction, they disappeared, only to arise again supported by flying heavy weapons platforms (Category: Destroyers, Heavy Destroyers) as they targeted another Factorum, seeking to destroy its siphon. Worse still, Belleran was actively assisting them. Shackled by some unknown xenotech, the Magos was able to sway over a third of the Forge World's Skitarii to his banner, turning them against the Imperium. Using his knowledge of the world, the Necrons were able to inflict several crippling defeats on veteran units, slowly pushing them back to a handful of strongholds across the planet.

Despite their successes, the Necron forces constantly prioritized the Augustgrad siphons over all other objectives, forgoing even mounting assaults upon retreating forces in favour of shutting these machines down. Many have since theorized that the energy drawn from Ixius' core had been taken from the Tomb complex itself, rendering much of this Dynasty's legion inert; a detail supported by the xenos' limited numbers during the war's opening stages. As a scant hundred or so Necrontyr had been enough to cripple the world, the Tech Priests quietly dreaded the thought of combating a fully armed and supported force of such monstrosities.

It was only the surprising arrival of Clan Company Raukaan In-Exile under the command of Iron Father Romulus, which staved off total defeat. Having entered orbit with the intention of forming an alliance with Ixius, the astartes initially attempted to decapitate the Necron hierarchy with a series of orbital bombardments. Upon discovering their survival second effort was then mounted, attempting to split the xenos force and annihilate them with massed firepower while weakened, only to be disrupted by rebel Skitarii elements. The Iron Hands proceeded to mount succeeding in delaying the xenos' advance but failed to inflict substantial casualties on any attacking force. Upon losing two of their Ancients during a failed push towards the Tomb complex itself, Romulus was eventually pressed to pull back to a more defensive footing.

Dubbed Operation: Stormwalker, Romulus' plan was based upon older Legiones Astartes tactics, intended to draw out the enemy forces before crippling them with a single strike. Regrouping with the shattered remnants of the Skitarii War Cohorts guarding Factorum Majoris Pacificum, the Iron Hands began reinforcing a its shattered ferrocrete battlements with their armoured elements. Dividing their remaining Tactical Squads into small combat units, each outfitted with a lascannon, they were then sent to the uppermost spires, tasked with sniping the heavy armour as they came into range.

Once each was in position Romulus gave the command to slowly increase the Augustgrad siphon's output, forcing it to draw upon more and more energy. Even as its ancient machine spirit raged against this treatment as it was pushed into dangerously high levels, Whips of emerald energy cascaded from the machine as it glowed red from overexertion, klaxons warning that immediate shutdown was required even as serfs and Tech-Priests alike retreated from the machine. Yet, in the face of it, a few stayed at their posts fighting to keep it operational at this heightened state, desperate to ensure Romulus' success. It worked. As the orange glow of Ixus' sunrise penetrated the thick choking clouds of smog, scouts picked up the massed, regimented movement of a Necrontyr attack force, with their gaudily clad skeletal king at their forefront. Win or lose, the fate of the world was to be decided in this one conflict.

The Battle is Joined:
In the little time they had, Mechanicus forces had spent the day solidifying their defensive network. While gaping holes had been left in the outermost bastion walls, each large enough to freely drive a Leman Russ through at full speed, the remaining battlements were reinforced. Outlying windows were made into patchwork firing slits and the crumbling platforms secured and then extended, turning each one into minor castle unto itself. Beyond it, entire buildings had been demolished and the battlefield beyond swept clean. The ruins of Skitarii vehicles and bodies were swept away, pushed back into the ruined storage hangers beyond or fed into the great engines of the forges for renewal. Every fragmented wall was destroyed, every corpse retrieved and every loose stone swept away until the forty meters beyond the walls were a barren killing ground bereft of cover.

It was an obvious ploy and the Necrons knew this, but they needed to press forwards whereas Romulus merely needed to wait and goad them into advancing. As he knelt behind the derelict building which had once been a habitation block, watching the positions of his units and their requests for firing confirmation, he sized up each Necron force. While outnumbering his, it lacked the same armoured elements of his own defenders. Two units of their standard infantry, a single force of their Immortals, the flying attack platforms sighted before in several squadrons, and the xenos king himself surrounded by shielded guards. While small by the standards of the Astra Militarum and Skitarii, he had seen them decimating their foes by the hundreds.

Without taking his eyes off of the display, the Iron Father reached out, waving two of the awaiting Razorbacks forwards into the southern breach in their defences. While the remaining four were secured behind armoured walls, these two were needed to goad their foe into action. Slewing to a halt, the two waited just long enough to pick out the the silhouettes of enemy infantry awaiting between buildings before opening fire. Their twin assault cannons chewed through the broken steel and crumbling ferrocrete alike, before two eight heavy bolts cut down into the warriors themselves, felling three in a shower of sparks. At this signal, the lascannon teams took aim before loosing their own searing crimson beams into the Necron lines, probing the enemy attacking forces. Several more infantry were clain, reduced to bubbling silver even as one of the massive Heavy Destroyers took a hit to the chest, veering out of sight as it left smoke in its wake.

The skeletal rictus expression of their leader betrayed no emotion as his troops were cut down, fixing his pale gaze upon the black clad angels before him. At some unspoken command the hovering Destroyers began to advance, moving out into the open and firing as they came, cutting into the buildings and forcing humanity's champions into cover. Among their number, unseen before now, a scepter wielding Destroyer moved at their head, charging into the open and making for the centre of the Iron Hands's lines. Then, in their wake, their leader advanced with his bodyguard, making for the southernmost gap and the Razorbacks which occupied it. An unprecedented move to be sure. Romulus had hoped that a show of force would drive them towards the massive gap at the centre of their lines, just as the Destroyers had, forcing them into the guns of three Predator Annihilators. The waiting enfilade would have been enough to overcome even their inhuman durability, but instead the Iron Father was now risking splitting his forces against foes on two fronts. Worse still, the bulk of the Destroyers were targeting the northernmost units, forcing the two squads and their Razorbacks into a pitch firefight across the buildings. Rather than a single concentrated strike, they were now forced to divert their focus to multiple units at once, each capable of breaking their line if permitted to close the gap fully.

Pulling back from their position, the Razorbacks began to slowly retreat, assault cannons opening fire upon the Necron leader and his cohort as they advanced, each round deflecting from the massive shields they bore. Several lascannons from the upper tiers joined them, succeeding in only slaying a single bodyguard while the rest concentrated their efforts upon their foremost targets. Several Destroyers met their end as well, as the remainder of the units ignored the northern contingent to focus upon the Destroyer leader. Two of his own unit fell to their guns, before a third joined them as the Predators advanced, firing as they came. Freed from their suppressing fire though, several Destroyer took movements to pick out Iron Hands and slew them before they could fall back into cover. Merely half the enemy army was engaging now, leaving the remainder behind them, ready to advance into any breach they forced. Among them, Romulus could see the grey skinned figure of Belleran, moving spasmodically as his bionics fought to resist the controlling xenos influence.

As the gaps closed, each side unleashed the full force of their weapons upon the other, and soon bolter shells and gauss beams streaked between buildings. Each chipping away at the others' iron clad defences, trying to force their luck to run out or overcome them with sheer number of blasts. It was clear who was winning. Having foregone their own defences in the name of a rapid victory, the open ground was filling with slowly dissipating Necron bodies. Durable as they were, one shell in every two dozen would find its mark, punching through their defences and ending the unlife of a metal born warrior. In return the Iron Hands had perhaps lost one astartes for every four Destroyers, and as the Destroyer champion charged forwards, fighting to engage a concealed Razorback with his staff, another two of his bodyguard met their end alongside him.

Towards the south of the battlefield meanwhile, the Necron leader and his Lychguards advanced into the Iron Hands' lines. Almost unimpeded by the hails of gunfire being poured into their number, a mere three Lychguard had been lost in their advance, The remaining five were more than capable of finishing the job, and as their two targeted Razorbacks retreated further, they passed into the Iron Hands defensive formation. It was then that Romulus made his move. Born of desperation, he gathered each of the Tactical Squads close by, co-ordinating with their mental implants and devising a firing solution on the enemy. Mere meters from the tomb's elite it was an almost suicidal act, but one needed to end this threat before it could cripple their flank. Nine astartes opened fire on full auto with their bolters, with the two lascannon wielding marines trying and failing to hit their foe on the move. Peppering their foe with a barrage of explosive rounds, dispersing them across the field, several bolts tore through at weak points, felling two more bodyguards even as the Razorbacks brought yet another of their number low. Apparently astonished at this turn, the Necron leader faltered mid charge before the Iron Father.

Towards the center of their lines meanwhile, the Destroyers had finally engaged the tanks. For all the Iron Hands' efforts, two Razorbacks lay on their sides, reduced to a smoldering wreck by the Destroyers while a third slumped amid a ruin, robbed of its turret. Its carnage had been bought with the lives of its guards, protecting it even as it had faced the full firepower of a battle company. There were non left to finish the job. All three Predators fired upon the Destroyer, tearing chunks from its body before a lascannon blast from the northern defences ended its threat once and for all. The remaining Destroyers, those who had clung to the protection of the ruins, were little more than a fragmented collection of depleted squads riddled with gunfire. The bulk of the Necron army stood unmoving, awaiting in the ruins even as their leader quickly found himself cut off from all escape.

One final burst from several assault cannons bore his Lychguard to the ground, slowly fading into nothingness. Romulus knew they would return. In the short time they had fought the Necrons, he had seen them arise form mortal wounds which would have annihilated any other being, or fading into nothingness only to return in full strength once more. With their leader at his mercy, he was not one to let this opportunity slip through his grasp. As the xenos king charged one final time, the Iron Father unhooked an arcane device from a lost age from his belt before hurling it at the automata. It bounced against its metallic ribcage before unleashing a cyan burst of sheer blinding light, surrounding the Necron lord in a semi-sphere of energy. For a moment it stood there, pinned in place by its power, before the weapon took effect. With the secret to their creation long lost to the Imperium, chrono grenades were a valued relic revered by those who carried them. The antithesis of a stasis grenade, their role was to accelerate time, allowing thousands of years to past in seconds for those trapped within. Even the Iron Hands themselves held but six in total, reserved for the worst of foes.

Within the energy the Necron began to shudder, vibrating at some unseen speed before it began to fade. Its silvered body first began to tarnish, rapidly blackening before giving away to the brown decay. The ice blue of its eyes began to flicker and die, the intricate circuitry forged by alien gods withering inside its metal skull even as the gold plating which befitted its rank cracked apart. Then, it began to die. Its body crumbled away, falling into nothingness, save for a few slivered flakes of decaying metal as the grenade deactivated, born away by the industrial breeze. The Necrons would return again, but not with this same warrior king to guide them. Yet it was only a partial victory, with Belleran still guiding the xenos forces the war would continue for years yet.

With their leadership decapitated, the Necron forces seemed to take on a new approach to war. As opposed to the sudden strikes and defined targets of the initial battles, they began to meaninglessly assault all in sight, rampaging across the surface of Ixus. Belleran continued to preach to the Skitarii, turning them upon one another in growing orgies of violence until the forge world's once proud armies were little more than a fragment of their former selves.

It would take a full year of bloody fighting and the direct intervention of the Ordo Xenos to end the Necron threat, sealing it within their own tombs. Ixus itself would never fully recover from the onslaught, as the forge world was placed under full Inquisitorial investigation following their activities and source of power. This act denied Clan Raukaan In-Exile the resources and allies it so desperately needed, and Romulus has never fully forgiven he Ordo Xenos as a result.

Mighty No. 9 (Video Game Review)

For years, critics and analysts have been predicting the crowd-funding bubble finally bursting thanks to one high-profile failure too many. Thanks to the likes of Might No. 9, it’s not hard to see why. This should have been a simple task to accomplish – develop a successor to the Mega Man series bereft of Capcom’s interference,  stick to what worked a dozen times before, and make the fans happy. What we ended up with were lengthy delays, drama and a cheap platformer any competent indie dev could have squirted out in a few months.

Monday, 27 June 2016

10 Exemplary Games Buyers Overlook In Every Steam Sale

So another year has come and another tidal wave of money floods Valve's coffers. With another Steam sale under way, we can expect to see folks searching for those favourite games they've been itching to nab for a cheap price, but sadly this all too often comes at the cost of the lesser known titles. Scratch the surface, look past Skyrim, Deus Ex or the like for a minute and you'd see a wealth of games heavily discounted month after month, each well worth a few dozen hours per playthrough. Here's just a few personal favourites which really should  be allowed to stand out from the crowd.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Current discount: 60%

This is about as Zelda as you can get without throwing in an annoying fairy or playing as a green garbed hero. Clearly tapping into the spirit of Wind Waker, the game sees players traversing the cel-shaded seas in order to solve puzzles, riddles and an overarching mystery surrounding the protagonist's father. It's one of those few titles which can truly tap into a classic look, aesthetic and style of approaching tasks but still retain that sense of wonder many older titles were famed for. Really, the second you think that you've found the limits of what you can do, some new item or twist will abruptly emerge making you want to backtrack to see just what's changed.

While it admittedly relies upon a "smoke and mirrors" approach to presenting a vast world, unless you really stretch to push its boundaries you never feel constrained. The levels are carefully cultivated both in structure and visual presentation that it never really seems to hurt the game, and you never truly notice it unless you absolutely go out of your way to test its limitations. This actually helped it stand out on a number of platforms, as combined with the smooth controls and interface, it proved to retain its fun and engaging nature even on iOS.

Besides the beautiful world and atmosphere, the mechanics themselves are solidly put together and remarkably well structured. While they're hardly the most original concept ever to be written to code - find an arsenal of items, build it and access more of the game - and they're Zelda through and through, there's no denying the developers nailed the ideas here. What's notable is that the game manages a far better balance between combat and puzzle solving than the average Zelda clone, with a wide variety of weapons and simple spells to overcome each foe.

The core story will last the average player a good fifteen to seventeen hours. However, you can easily add on another five once you account for the side quests and bonus content hidden across multiple islands. There's really not much more to be said in all honesty, it's a good, fun and cheap alternative to a classic which does its AAA inspiration justice. 

The Perils of Man

Current discount: 55%

Throwing together steampunk visual aspects, time warping puzzles, classic point & click mechanics and an astoundingly well crafted story; it's amazing to think that The Perils of Man has been so criminally overlooked. This is one of those few titles which proved that the right developer can accomplish more than anyone could imagine even on the most stringent of budgets, and how memorable a character can be in just a few scant hours. While the driving force is akin to that of Oceanhorn - mysteriously missing parent - it approaches the subject in an entirely different manner. In this case you follow the story of Ana Eberling, searching for her missing scientist father through the inventions and technology he left behind.

Focusing more upon strong character moments than ab event driven narrative, the writing provides some remarkably engaging and heartfelt moments in its own quirky way. Having been created by two ex-LucasArts developers, it goes for a semi-minimalist approach, of hinging upon character cutscenes and commentary about damn near everything. When done badly this can easily kill a game, but here it's very Guybursh-esque, offering just about enough humorous thoughts from Ana before it becomes truly grating. Equally, many of the supporting NPCs retain that odd minimalist combination of being unpredictable but presenting a strong character. A factor which allows them to remain engaging while still keeping you guessing as to what their rule in the story.

The puzzles themselves are going to be something of a mixed bag for many people, as some certainly nail it while others are frustrating to the point of tedium. Despite the expertise behind the game, you're going to run into that moment where you're stuck at a dead end, hunting for that one pixel you need to click to keep progressing. That said, this is a factor many expect from the series, and save for that one moment the rest of the puzzles prove to be intelligent, engaging and extremely creative. This is helped in no small part by the magical “risk assessment goggles” which you'll use throughout the game. By putting these on you can predict certain outcomes to puzzles or possible futures, adding a new dimension to the mechanics themselves.

Plus, the visuals are about as Tim Burton-esque as you can get without Vincent Price narrating over them; so take that for what it's worth.

Rogue Trooper

Current discount: 75%

Remarkably, despite the long history of comicbook screw-ups when it comes to video game adaptations, 2000AD has had a solid track record. While many of its biggest hits are set firmly in Judge Dredd's universe, Rogue Trooper managed to outdo damn near all of them. Following the story of the comics, the game follows Rogue, a Genetic Infantrymen built to fight in the polluted hell of Nu Earth and defeat the power hungry Nort government. While they were intended to serve as a war-ending superweapon, betrayal from within saw the army wiped out in its opening engagement, save for Rogue himself. now it's up to him to take revenge upon the Norts and turncoats alike.

The mechanics and core gameplay are an odd mix of Fall of Cybertron and Gears of War elements. Cover based combat is encouraged as you can't last long in the open, and quite a few weapon types will feel very familiar to those of recent generations. Really, the rocket launcher might as well just be called the Hammer of Dawn Mk. 0. This makes it an odd but effective blend of modern and classic mechanics when combined with the likes of the Duke Nukem style Holo Decoy.

While some of the elements taken for granted today are undeniably rough around the edges, it never devolves into full on chunkiness thanks its core design elements. The enemy AI holds up well even today when it comes to squad based tactics, and the alarmingly effective snipers will leave you always on edge. What's more, the level design and variety is well paced but remarkably open to the elements, allowing the world to seem big even while it keeps you firmly on track. 

However, this isn't simply a "best of" compilation pinched from the creations of other developers, and its own ideas hold up remarkably well. The big one - famous from the comics - is your sentient equipment. Rogue's helmet, rifle and backpack all retain the memory chips taken from his fallen comrades, allowing them some autonomy and a fair degree of snarky commentary. The helmet can hack and bypass a multitude of security locks, while your backpack can turn scrap into new supplies and equipment. Even dropping your rifle and switching to your side-arm has its advantages, as it can be set-up as a remote turret. 

Finally, despite largely consisting of future Nazis, there's a surprising amount of enemy variety to be found on the polluted battlefields. Mini-mecha, tanks, aircraft and super soldiers all show up, and even the basics have a few fun bonuses to mix things up. After all, it's hard to get bored of assault rifle wielding fodder when the gas mask equipped goons all have a very explosive oxygen tank strapped to their backs.


Current discount: 40%

This is the first of three RPG Maker creations to make this list, and it is quite frankly amazing more people have not played this one. Not only does it take an extremely ambitious stab at a fascinatingly grim concept, but it offers a level of replay value found in few other games.

The story this time follows that of Henry Shackelton, inventor in a steampunk world who is assaulted and murdered mere hours before he could fully perfect his magnum opus. Thanks to his technology he has been offered a second chance at life, but only has a single hour left to live. As time ticks away, the question remains if he can uncover the secret behind his own murder, or accomplish some other feat as his final mark upon the world.

Of all those here, Crudelis is easily the most story driven of the bunch, yet offers a remarkable level of freedom despite that. The story branches off into a multitude of different paths, with events and moments in time taking place simultaneously. Following just one will immediately lock off all others, and you will need to start over to fully experience them. What's more, even following a story to its end might still result in a surprisingly different outcome if you rush through it or overlook something. With twelve different endings, there's any number of points were you could shift or alter the outcome of your remaining time on this earth. You really can do anything from hunting down the bandits to unleash bloody murder, finish your day performing an act of unparalleled charity, or just drown your sorrows in the nearest pub.

The presentation here is amazing, especially when it comes to the core soundtrack. While it might be grim and it might retain the steampunk look, this stands out from any other example on this list thanks to its grim and bitter atmosphere as you traverse the dystopian city. While the graphics themselves are nothing to write home about, what you learn of the world and the grim, dreary trappings make it all the more engaging given your limited time there. Between the copious lore and some remarkable choices present in the game (bar, whorehouse, library, the sort of things most games would skip any meaningful interaction with) the city seems far more alive than the vast majority of SquareEnix releases.

If there is a criticism to be made here, it's that the game can seem misleading. There's little in the way of real RPG elements here, and in terms of mechanics Crudelis is extremely light. There's no turn based combat, no truly skill or planning based engagements, just you and your choices. As such, it has more in common with visual novels than anything else, and some players might find this to be a little insubstantial as a result. What's more, the story offers little in the way of true set-up or introduction which can be off-putting at first, and a few of its efforts to be "mature" can come across as laughable. That said, you'd be hard pressed to find a game which doesn't offer you better value for your money.

Last Dream

Current discount: 40% 

This is one of those games you've probably seen discounted time and time again in each sale, and constantly overlooked each time. If you did this, it's probably one of the biggest mistakes you've ever made on Steam. You see, this isn't simply an RPG Maker creation, this is the definitive RPG Maker game. This is the one all others should be measured against, in terms of scope, story, presentation and sheer grandeur; near perfectly capturing the classic Final Fantasy experience as a result.

We reviewed this last year, but if you want the quick version it: The game is fully customization from the start, allowing you to pick and choose your entire party from a variety of traditional classes before delving into the adventure. This means you can choose four white mages, four knights, or any combination you want. What's more, the story itself is both complex and unobtrusive at once. Built in order to cater to both story fanatics and speed runners alike, you can tick off the option to skip all cutscenes or story details at once. So for the latter it can be an easy task of an evil empire trying to conquer all, while for the former it becomes a story of a tragic villain and the horrible mistakes stemming from ten thousand years prior. Choice is a key factor in the game and multiple occasions allow you to seriously alter how the world views your character. For example, the late game offers a chance to battle a legendary beast known only as the kraken. While you can beat this by instantly petrifying it, taking the harder route earns you praise and renown from just about any NPC. A welcome change from how NPCs in the likes of Skyrim will overlook you slaying hundreds of dragons at a time.

The map is truly massive, capping off at roughly size as Final Fantasy VI in terms of its sheer scale. It can take minutes at a time to travel from one continent to the next and you need to fully explore each segment of the continent for yourself, picking out and discovering each land in turn. It's entirely possible to stumble upon a more advanced area of the game long before the story even asks you to visit it, and in some cases it's even encouraged because of what it can offer. Accidentally walking into a city occupied by your foes means you can end up tied up in a resistance effort to rescue its imprisoned leader, a moment some can miss entirely. Even without this though, Last Dream is brimming with countless major and minor locations or quests left to those willing to explore. Among these are several vehicles, two major cities and even several surprisingly rewarding secondary quests. Don't believe me? Sail into the wrong part of the sea and you can end up consumed by a leviathan and forced to kill it from within.

At any point players can opt to stop and alter the game's most basic settings, from the general difficulty to monster encounters. Even the very structure of your class can be changed over time, and the crafting system proves to be one of the best examples from an RPG Maker release to date. Top all this off with some genuinely rewarding changes and shifts every time you revisit major locations as the story advances, and you're left with a criminally underrated gem of a game. With Last Dream's lengthy expansion close to completion, there's never been a better time to grab this one.

Elven Legacy

Current discount: 75/66%

Much like the above entry, Elven Legacy is one of those games which seems to be perpetually discounted. Between being often so heavily reduced that it costs the fraction of the average supermarket sandwich and its outdated graphics, many tend to pass this one over as being some bargain bin failure. However, this couldn't be further from the truth, as the experience experiments with many traditional turn-based and army building formulas.

The actual lore and style on display here will seem very faimilar to fans of Games Workshop. Alongside the exaggerated pauldrons and big tusked orcs, the elves themselves are not exactly polite and the human faction is an odd mix of ye olde French and Germanic qualities. However, the appeal here comes from seeing things from the elves' perspective, arrogant and manipulative as it is, rather than using them as a secondary enemy. Seeking to lock away the forbidden knowledge and believing the lesser races cannot be trusted to confront the darkness creeping back into the corners of the world.

There's a definite element of self-parody on display here, delving into Warhammer Fantasy style satire at times, but this is largely limited to the brief cutscenes. Like many releases of this era this means you get about two minutes of story and a two hour long mission, albeit a very fun and enjoyable one with a few twists. For starters, this is one of those few turn based army releases where your units carry over from one battle to the next. Requiring you to divide your points between leveling up existing forces and buying essential new forces, there's a great deal of planning and thought to be had outside of the battlefield. No single unit is invincible, so while a massively over-leveled dragon might hold its own for a while, the right units will shred it in moments. However, you can't simply opt to spam units en mass thanks to mission limitations, and the bonus abilities offered from leveled up are too useful to simply overlook.

Once you reach the battlefield itself, you'll quickly notice just how layered and complex each engagement is. Formations and careful planning are essential to any victory, and leaving one side exposed or trying to wing it will result in a quick death. That makes every victory all the more satisfying though, especially when you drag your foe into a trap or nail multiple targets at once. As each and every side has completely unique units, there is still an element of trial and error to be had here though, and certain missions will be quick to throw curve balls your way. Some of these can stem from the sudden arrival of new foes or abrupt power-ups, to timed missions which can directly affect the mission. For example, an early mission can allow summon an advanced and powerful dragon if you move fast enough, and later ones will hide away wargear in distant corners of the map.

While the story might be a somewhat predictable (and facepalming) affair at times and it can push your GPU a little too hard, the mechanics see this one through. If you're after a great alternative to Heroes of Might and Magic, definitely grab this one at the earliest opportunity.

Echoes Of Aetheria/Skyborn

Current discount: 72%

Yes, this one is a tie but with good reason. Both are by the same developer, both have been built with RPG Maker, and both retain many of the core qualities which made them so engaging. Oh, and both have been bundled together in this current sale along with other games.

As with some previous examples, we have previously reviewed both Skyborn and Echoes, but let's stick with the core essentials - 

Skyborn is the earlier of the two, compressing many of the most beloved qualities of classic RPGs into a brief but fun experience. Tailored to those desiring a relatively short but world shaking story, the experience lasts a good eight to ten hours. However, it still retains strong characterisation, a very likable party of diverse characters, and an ancient mystery worthy of any SquareEnix game. The combat itself is solidly made with a focus upon using an aggro-system to balance out damage, timing and impact during prolonged fights. There's a little more depth offered by the multitude of sidequests on offer which can be completed with a small amount of backtracking. It does a great job of hiding what is a surprisingly linear game once you finally finish it, and there's a solid variety of environments sprinkled throughout its length. This is very much a bite sized release but it earns every penny, and it's well worth picking up by those who don't have the time for a full blown JRPG release.

Echoes Of Aetheria is a massive scale, world spanning story by comparison. Featuring a very different combat system with a grid-based combat arena, the emphasis is instead placed upon keeping your own party in formation while dragging the enemy out of formation. Pulling mages or engineers out from behind the tanks allows them to be quickly destroyed, while pushing enemies into single groups means they're more easily targeted by AOE spells. Timing remains an essential element as you need to charge up certain abilities as well, and multiple secondary quests or new abilities can emerge at every turn. The linearity of the environments are unfortunately more noticeable here as they don't flow from one to the next and you instead travel about via worldmap. This said, the ability to quickly backtrack proves to be a godsend many times over, and the multiple narrative twists are hard hitting at each turn.

If this is short, it's only because we've got full reviews on here already. These are both well worth any cash you drop on them, and as classically inspired RPG releases go you can't do much better than Dancing Dragon.


Current discount: 75%

As easily the most visually distinct release on this list, Apotheon is surprisingly both well known and utterly overlooked. Really, for the first week of its release there was a surprisingly massive splash but then nada. Without showing a screenshot, you'd be lucky to find someone who remembers this one, and that's truly disheartening. While the ancient Greek artwork is stunning and a true testament to the entire creative team, it tends to overshadow its other qualities.

Playing out as an oddly metroidvania style release, it focuses more upon hack and slash elements over true problem solving or backtracking. While there is the odd puzzle to engage with or NPC to confront, most of it will boil down to stabbing things, which Apotheon utterly nails. The controls are extremely tight and very responsive when it comes to even the slightest movement, switching back and forth between an array of weapons as needed. These are classed in terms of speed, range and damage, with no one truly being superior to any other until quite some way into the game. What's more though, you can't just blitz through fights as your hero retains a limited stamina bar and weapons degrade over time. Both of these prevent players from simply spamming attacks and reward precision over mere flailing assaults.

While the story itself is relatively basic (Zeus killed your hometown, thus you must kill Zeus) there is a surprising number of side-quests which helps to give this game life. While certainly basic and boiling down to exploring, looting or killing, the specifics of each task is remarkably varied and rarely resorts to the usual "collect ten bear arses" which plagued MMOs and RPGs alike since their inception. These in turn link into merchant choices and a number of crafting systems, which combined with stamina system makes it feel akin to a Dark Souls

Finally though, we have the big boss battles. Even limited to a single, very minimalist, artistic style and was a little too fond of giants, each proved to be incredibly creative. The multi-tiered combat sequence against Goliath and sea based battle to bring down Poseidon are stand-out examples, each more frantic and knife-edge than the last. The second you think you've nailed the exact tactics required for the job and pattern of attack, they change entirely or pull a fast one on you. 

There's little else to say on this one at all - Anything it tries it accomplishes damn near perfectly. If you have any love at all of for extremely combat heavy platformers definitely grab this one before the sale draws to a close.


Current discount: 65%

While lacking some of the fine polish of other titles on here, there's no denying that Toren well and truly deserves its place on this list. The story here is one of rebirth and accomplishment, rising to the challenge as it is offered and discovering a new tale among the ruins of an older era. From the very start there's a great sense of mystery as to what exactly is going on, but an extremely engaging one as the truth is slowly peeled away. Gradually you come to learn of the history behind the place, the world and how things came to be, but it never drowns the player in exposition. Instead it's worked into the game's tasks, giving you brief shreds of a greater tale as it goes on, something not too dissimilar to Journey's own saga.

The visuals and presentation are key to its success and much of the actual gameplay comes down to a series of platforming segments. While there is some combat present in the game, it's fairly limited, allowing for a very light and almost casual experience in comparison to the many others on this list. This is actually to the game's benefit, allowing far more opportunities to truly admire the environments and explore the ruins, especially given the unique and creative decisions present in each one. Really, if you grab this actually stop and take a few minutes to admire what is going on, and you might find yourself surprised at the level of detail put into how each area is structured.

Toren also manages to reflect the passage of time far better than many other games of its genre, with the environment subtly shifting as you move up through a ruined tower. This is evident through the protagonist as much as the slow decay or growing fauna, something which is bold at first but becomes surprisingly more subtle as you move towards the end. It's a nice touch given the emphasis upon age and a new generation overtaking the old one, and it's only further reflected in the rather cryptic finale.

Now, Toren does unfortunately have a few problematic shortcomings. For starters, the whole experience caps off at roughly three hours and the final boss battle is little more than an extended chore. What's more, the camera is your nemesis in this game, constantly spinning about to give the best cinematic view rather than actually being helpful. However, with that said, its positives do shine through and with a substantial discount it's well worth dropping a few quid on it to experience what it has to offer.

Foul Play

Current discount: 75%

Fittingly the last option on this list, Foul Play is simply out and out fun. While the others here have sought to have dynamic stories, a developed narrative or tackling weighty themes, this one is just a truly glorious beat-em-up with endless fun and hilarity from start to finish. Many of the best gags stem from its framing device, with the protagonist Dashforth recounting his demon hunting adventures to a theatre audience. This is naturally promptly played out in front of them, with stagehands and men in rubber suits taking the place of those old foes. So, yes, werewolves are guys in unconvincing wolf heads, robots are actors in tinfoil costumes and ghosts are displayed via swinging wireworks. 

The sheer number of gags present in the theatre range from backstage failures to stuntmen not knowing when to die. Combined with the beat-em-up appearance and the artistic aesthetic, this has led to certain detractors unkindly listing this as a Castle Crashers clone, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Whereas Castle Crashers was extremely reliant upon loot hoarding and switching out weapons, Foul Play's strengths lie in its vast array of combos and QTE style deflections. Responding at the right time can allow a player to air juggle a foe for minutes on end or hurl an enemy like a cannonball through a swarm of weaker foes. This is definitely needed as the heroes themselves can't actually take that many hits. How so? Well, as the stagehands can't actually hurt the heroes, each impact instead lessens the audience's engagement with the play and ruins your score modifier. Let it drop too low and it is declared a failure.

It's definitely a simple system to say the least, but there's no denying it's extremely effective. Thanks to the extremely responsive controls and excellent staging - preventing you losing sight of your character amid a mob of foes - this is a breeze to get through, and that only adds to its charm. Really, it's not hard to get through and a determined gamer can shunt through it in an afternoon, but what will keep you coming back time and time again is the bonus objectives. A number of hidden tasks arise in each mission, alongside those listed at the start, often demanded by excited members of the audience. 

The addition of a co-op mode only adds further replay value to the game, as its short levels and constant gags make it great for brief evening runs with a friend. Disconnections as a result of the game's netcode are rare indeed, and it's easily one of the most stable outside of Lethal League. Top that all off with some fantastic boss battles against a variety of fantasy foes, and it's an essential purchase for any Steam sale.

So those are the hidden (and somewhat forgotten) gems missed in each Steam sale. While there are certainly quite a few more out there, these are the ones which stood out for this year an just seem to have been forgotten by too many current gamers. If you have some cash left over from buying the Witcher 3 or the Bioshock trilogy, definitely consider grabbing a couple of these in the days to come.