Sunday, 31 July 2016
Every fandom has its little divides. From Doctor Who fanatics favouring the current era over the classic to Star Wars fans who deride everything besides the original trilogy, there is always natural split which arises over time. However, few ever become so pronounced as those of the Fallout franchise with its older and newer generation. There remains sadly little crossover between lovers of the old and new games, and in the minds of many you either love Bethesda’s work or you stand adamantly by Black Isle Studios’ legacy. It goes without saying that the latter group has had very little fortune in the past few years, with few to no releases truly capturing the depth or style of the old '90s duology. At least until now.
Saturday, 30 July 2016
Marvel has seen better days. While the company thrives under Disney, while it endures and presses forwards with its films, there's no denying that the comics themselves are mixed at best. It's not simply that for every good comic there's a bad one, but that every good comic is infected by the bad. There are cancerous blights which choke out the good storytelling, infesting promising storylines and corrupting the few true gems which really stand out above all others. These viral infections go by two names: Shock factor and crossover crises.
You might recall not too long ago that we discussed how Captain America was, for lack of a better expression, all but openly sodomized by
The original Civil War itself is infamous for its countless failings. Everything from writer infighting to inconsistent details and poor characterisation all but utterly ruined its pages. Despite being brought back time and time again, most comics fans will often cite how it. As such, the very idea of a sequel was met with disdain and extreme distrust at best. Even ten years on, very few truly wanted to see a second Civil War, and fewer displayed genuine enthusiasm for the story. Still, after a decade's worth of feedback, some hoped that Marvel would have learned its lesson. Well, Marvel took that feedback into account, wiped its backside with it, and presented what was left as Civil War II. It's one of those rare events which not only disregarded all warnings, but used the complaints as suggestions for what to do next. Either out of open contempt or sheer blind insanity, Brian Bendis proved that Marvel can always make things worse somehow.
Almost any story which starts with the abrupt, pointless and shocking deaths of major characters is always off to a bad start. Slaughtering War Machine and She-Hulk in the most moronic ways imaginable (AKA War Machine dies to sudden out-of-nowhere Thanos and She-Hulk is apparently killed by a bloody man portable rocket of all things) the crossover promptly careened into various other comics, barging in and making things worse. The whole idea is basically Minority Report with capes, but the precog himself is somewhat unreliable. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) arguing that precognition should be used to block these attacks, while Iron Man argues otherwise.
As before, what was promised to be a balanced and fair debate with no right answer has devolved into a Crossing class cluster-fuck. Repeatedly taking the side of Stark, the comic is all but beating the reader over the head with how wrong Captain Marvel is, proving that precognition is unreliable at best. Slowly wrecking her character that bit more in each issue, the "debate" has devolved into little more than this:
Iron Man - "The premise you were acting under was incorrect."
Captain Marvel - "lolno"
Of course, Iron Man is hardly all that sympathetic given some of his actions (abduction of a teenager being just one crime) so it looks like Marvel is trying to make both sides as unsympathetic as possible. In all honesty, the entire event could take up multiple essays to cover all that has gone horribly wrong thus far. Thankfully, we instead have one shining moment of such pure unrefined excrement that it isn't needed - The Bruce Banner scene.
Long story short, Captain Marvel and co. get a flash of the Hulk going on a rampage and standing over the bloodied corpses of his allies. Between the bodies, the burning buildings and the Hulk looking as if he could challenge Satan himself for most evil being in existence, it's a grim look at the future. Still, it's one they should be able to easily handle. After all, the Hulk losing his temper and going on a rampage? The heroes have dealt with that a thousand times before. They endured him pulling a full-on Jihad against the entire Earth after crippling many of its heroes, and many have even talked him down out of sheer reason.
So, with a single vague idea of what might happen in the future - one single image of a possible outcome bereft of context or the events leading up to it - how do you think they handle it? Do you think that Captain Marvel might approach Banner warning him of this, monitoring Gamma Radiation around him, and generally trying to keep him calm? Do you think that, being a founding member of the Avengers and a being who has saved the Earth countless times over, his long standing comrades might give him the benefit of the dobut thanks to his experience? Well, if you're Brian Bendis then no, apparently he doesn't deserve any of this.
Instead here's what happens - The Avengers decide to ignore the billion times General Ross only made things worse via this tactic, and try to beat Banner into submission with sheer brute force. The Avengers show up en mass, spoiling for a fight and practically looking for an excuse to rip Banner's head off. Apparently forgetting that stress and violence tend to bring out the angry green giant of the Apocalypse, they all start aiming their guns/bows/fists/powers at them. Well, some of them do. In the only possible move which could make things worse, apparently they didn't even properly decide upon what to do before arriving. As such, half the Avengers start getting ready to arrest and/or kill Banner, while the other half effectively respond with "Wait, we're doing what!?"
So, not only has Danvers risked unleashing the very thing she wants to stop, she brings the Avengers themselves to the brink of full on civil war out of sheer stupidity and lack of forethought. Apparently that military training and tactical planning must have leaked out of her head the second Bendis got hold of her. As you might imagine, this does a lot to start stressing Banner out, and in his confused, betrayed and understandably angry state, he looks as if he could lose control any second. In fact it's so bad it looks as if it would take only a slight push to finally drive him over the edge, which is helpfully provided by Beast.
Hank McCoy has always been one of those fun and fondly thought of characters from the X-Men roster. Like Banner, he was a hero there at the very beginning of his team's foundation and stayed throughout its many changes. Among many other threats, he has repeatedly opposed governmental snooping, invasion of personal privacy and governments using profiling to attack and abduct/kill others. How does he ruin things exactly? Hank starts invading Banner's privacy, stealing his files and investigating his personal history. Through this he learns that Banner is still experimenting with Gamma radiation, an understandable concern and something to obviously discuss in private with Captain Marvel. Wait, no, instead he decides only once they arrive at Banner's location, successfully pissing him off further.
Banner is understandably fuming at this betrayal, this despicable treatment by his old friends, and starts to give them a piece of his mind. He then promptly gets an arrow to the head for his troubles. Yep, Banner just dies there and then, murdering one of Marvel's oldest and most beloved heroes at the drop of a hat. Who offed him? Why Hawkeye of course! Yes, the Avenger who (until the last couple of years) was best known for adamantly arguing against murder as a solution to their problems resorts to killing people when prompted. Once again, established history and the work of a hundred past writers is just up and forgotten.
Oh, do you want to know the punch-line to this blight upon Marvel's history? Banner isn't even the Hulk anymore. Really, he's actually managed to achieve his long-term goal of ridding himself of the Hulk for good, and has settled down in retirement. So, all those worries about him turning into the Hulk again, and then killing him out of fear of him changing? Yep, all utterly pointless. Civil War II tries to show some sign of awareness for this in a later issue with a character briefly bringing up this fact, but it fails to address the problem. This information was widespread and well known, and there's no way a character would make this error.
This really represents everything wrong with Civil War II. The plot is driven by the sheer stupidity of its characters, it ignores anything the author hasn't written personally, and it murders heroes purely because the author can do it. Banner himself marks the third major death since this event started, and Bendis seems to only know how to do two things these days - Cause suffering and have people snark. That's really it, and any other story idea is driven almost purely by sheer stupidity or the author forgoing logic in favour of having events just happen. All of it is made just to shock the reader rather than produce anything worthwhile, and it's not only painful but tedious by this point. Fans aren't going "Wow! What could happen this time!?" so much as "Alright, what are they going to fuck up this time?"
None of this is to say Bendis can't produce great stuff of course (just see Ultimate Spider-Man among many accomplishments) but he keeps dropping the ball when it comes to almost anything involving the big Marvel universe.
Now, all of these problems are big enough in of themselves. You have a big flagship event failing miserably, a badly written story and characters being treated like crap. All of that is a recipe for a turd pie if ever there was one. However, that isn't what truly makes this so much worse. It's the fact that these events are actively invading and harming otherwise good comics.
Ever since Carol Danvers finally took up the mantle of Captain Marvel, her series has been relatively strong throughout, ranging from middling to great. She has been allowed to stand out on her own and many of her cosmic tales have been able to establish her under this new name. Now, in the wake of this, all we are going to get is a lengthy series about the aftermath of Civil War II, dealing with how badly she screwed up under other writers. It's actually gotten so bad that even Ms Marvel seems to have distanced herself from her icon, so we can expect that fun and engaging comic to get dragged into shitville as well. The same goes with Hulk. Ever since Cho took over the role as Hulk, the series had a few interesting arcs exploring Banner finally gaining the freedom he wanted despite a lack of powers. Even after having been separated so many times before, the subjects were genuinely interesting, and all that has just been ended by needless murder. When a crossover even is bad, it isn't just a bad comic, it lessens the company as a whole.
Personally, this is the straw which has broken the camel's back. While previously I was personally able to hold out hope for the few good series still being made by this company, it just proves there is no safety. Even if you gain a genuinely great creative team and lack DC's infamous editorial demands, some moron overseeing a big event can wreck everything for you. Simply put, the company can't be trusted to actually offer fun and engaging stories without resorting to misery the second they are given half of an opportunity.
Perhaps others will argue against this, but speaking as someone who has read through comics from the early Avengers years to the dark age itself, there is simply no reason to stay. Until Marvel actually gets its act together and remembers that meaningful pathos is required to actually drive a story onward, not simply death and misery, we won't be covering this company's antics. Quite frankly it's too tedious and too painful to bother anymore, and I have grown extraordinarily tired of seeing the worst in what was once a great franchise. As such, the next comicbook articles will focus upon the better series still running today, and the ones which actually deserve your cash. Not those who kill characters while demanding you pay attention to their controversy.
Thursday, 28 July 2016
So, welcome to part two. Those joining us, you can find part one and our look at the lore here.
Now, some of you are immediately wondering why this took so long to do. After all, Age of Sigmar is a simple and easy beer and pretzels game, so this should have been a cinch to deal with. Well, there are three reasons. The first was that this was new territory for us, given that this is both a relatively new game and the book itself changes up quite a few things, so rushing in was never an option. The second meanwhile was that barely anyone seemed to care.
Really, compared with the few thousand the average Codex review generates, barely a hundred of you looked into the lore for the new book. This blog was always made to give established fans what they wanted, so it was put on the back burner until a few more prominent topics could be covered in its place. As a result, this is likely to be the last battletome we'll cover for the moment. While I personally quite like the game and have enjoyed Age of Sigmar warts and all, there's simply no point in covering something barely anyone is interested in at the moment.
Right, with all that done, onto the core rules.
Despite their Wood Elf origins, the Sylvaneth here are more akin to the Craftworld Eldar in their role. You have a few highly specialised and very specific units built with a single role in mind, and a few big ones to help take some hits. What's more, the common grunts are relatively fragile, relying upon speed and swarm tactics when they're not serving as a big arrow/magic/cavalry magnet to keep casualties down on your more valued troops. This isn't to say that it's a perfect translation of course, as the Sylvaneth are overall somewhat more durable and there is more of a crossover between units in terms of abilities. It's just that out of all of Warhammer's armies, they fit into that one more clearly than any others.
Also, some of their units seem to have gone right past powerful into full weapons-grade game-breaking levels of insanity.
So, starting with the named characters, we have Alarielle the Everqueen. Returning to the game with a beautiful model and hitting like a freight train, she's been the one hogging the spotlight both in and out of universe for some time now. Then again, with sixteen wounds and a standard 3+ save, not to mention a D3 regen, who wouldn't. In most games this would immediately push her into overpowered territory but Age of Sigmar keeps going. If being an absolute Behemoth class anvil capable of soaking up damage from whole units weren't enough, her Soul Amphorae extends 30" about her and extends that D3 regen to any Sylvaneth unit nearby. Oh, and just to cap this off, this same ability can be used to summon units all the way up to the powerful and extremely hard to kill Treelords. Yes, she can summon Treebeard on steroids while handling all this.
Even her offensive magic proves to be at least as effective as her bolstering abilities. Known as Metamorphosis, this unique spell basically transforms enemy units into her personal fodder. Really, with a casting value of five (the only thing which balances out its power somewhat) it allows her to throw an equal number of dice as her casting result at an enemy target within 16”. On a roll of a 4+ or more for each dice rolled, an enemy model is instantly slain and replaced with a standard Dryad. The Dryads in of themselves aren't the impressive part of course, it's largely the ability to rob an army of its Death Star squads which makes this stand out. Target that unit of pesky Phoenix Guard with this spell a few times, and your foe has lost one of its big scale heavy hitters. Keep in mind, she can also perform this stunt on single models as well, so any guy with a Bloodthirster is going to be cowering in fear from her from here on.
Alarielle's main weapon, the Talon of the Dwindling, also scythes through just about anything which makes the mistake of getting within arm's reach. Four attacks is fairly impressive for a single unit in any game, but atop of this she also has the ability to roll 2D6 per attack. If this rises above the enemy unit's total number of wounds or she gets double sixes, that unit is a gonner. No questions asked, they just get booted right into oblivion without a second thought.
Oh, and just to top this all off, she also has a very nice command ability. Any and all Sylvaneth units on the table can promptly re-roll any failed wounds until the next hero phase, even going through your opponent's turn.
So, now most other Age of Sigmar players have been sent screaming for the hills and we've set the tone for this army, what other monstrosities can we expect as well? Drycha Hamadreth just for starters AKA The bitch who will cover your army in bees.
Notable as much for her bipolar and extremely hostile temperamental nature as effectively piloting a woodman mecha, she's another durable and heavy hitting named unit. Capable of leaping across the board with an insanely speedy 9" move, one which isn't altered by any damaged state no less, she has a wound and damage output which easily rivals that of Alarielle. This might have been somewhat eased up by her lack of spammable healing abilities, but instead she gets the chance to spam bugs (Flitterfuries) at her foe.
Damaging any unit within 18", both your own and your enemy's, this causes one wound per unit within the model, slowly whittling down their numbers the longer you're in range of her. This can be focused instead as a shorter range and more focused attack by launching giant centipedes (Squirmlings) at targets within 10", with a D6 rolled per model. On a 3+ result while undamaged, this instantly deals a Mortal Wound. While this impact is admittedly limited in the face of multi-wound foes, it means she acts like a buzzsaw to any common or garden grunts who get in her way. At the very least, this severely weakens units she charges in against, meaning within a couple of turns of exposure, you're likely to lose anything she's facing down.
Drycha also retains the ability to switch her mode and boost certain attacks depending upon what she's set to at the start of the turn. There's an Enraged state which turns her into a bark-skinned Angron for a while, boosting her main attacks and allowing her Flitterfuries to extend to a much wider area. On the other, there's her Embittered state, which negates up to two wounds which might be slowing her down and boosts the power of her Squirmlings.
Oh, and finally, she also has a Primal Terror ability which extends to 10" around her and lessens the leadership of enemy units. It's not by much admittedly, and against anything with a Bravery of eight or more they're just going to laugh at this, but it'll play hell with standard troops.
While certainly not the beetle riding treekin' Godzilla which is Alarielle, Drycha is still hitting extraordinarily hard. Just pairing her up with a couple of basic supporting units will offset most of her shortcomings, and she seems to have almost been tailor made to work with the Spite-Revenants (no surprises there). In fact, she's so good at that she has a unique spell which ties into them, allowing her to use their Bravery lowering abilities to charge her own powers, then in turn offering them re-rolls to Wound. Much like the above Drycha also counts as a Behemoth, taking up one of those very useful monster slots, but she's still a strong choice for someone facing down swarm armies.
The Wyldwood is the one which stands out above all others as an oddity, as it's more of a terrain feature than a true attacking force. You effectively just stick them about the board, more or less wherever you want save for the enemy deployment zone, and that's about it. So, how do they benefit you in the game? Many unit abilities tie into these forests, ranging from punting them about the board to some major defensive bonuses when they're close by. What's more, these things serve as excellent roadblocks for holding back any enemy force, cavalry or otherwise. Basically, each and every one counts as if it's Dangerous Terrain for any non-Sylvaneth units close by, so any unit which moves in needs to roll a D6. If they get a one as a result, it's lights out for them.
The Spirit of Durthu is up next and, ironically despite the title, isn't a unique named character in any way. While this means you can field multiple figures in a single game, the fact they also count as a Behemoth and consume a staggering amount of points means you'll rarely get the chance to use them in mass. This, after seeing their stats, is an extraordinarily good thing, as these things are only a step below eldar Wraithknights in terms of comparative damage output.
Outfitted with three weapons - two melee options and a single ranged choice - he's relatively versatile for his price. While the ranged option is effectively just a Stranglevines attack on steroids, the 10” combined with a higher number of attacks and damage output makes it useful for softening up targets before an assault. It can also be further reinforced by channeling his life-force into these shots, upping the number of attacks at the cost of taking on a few wounds. While there are admittedly a few occasions where this would be useful, his sheer toughness and raw power at close range means he's better off just sticking to the vanilla version before charging into close range.
Up close and personal, Durthu shares the standard Treelord ability, Massive Impaling Talons. Serving as a somewhat weaker version of Alarielle's own mass slaying attack, it does offer him the chance to instantly kill most things he bumps into, even if you're stuck to 1D6-1 per model to pull it off. However, what makes him stand out (and worth his weight in gold) is that rather nasty looking sword he carries. Anyone made of highly flammable bark has to be something of a badass to carry a perpetually burning blade of course, and his attacks with this truly prove it; hitting on a 3+ with a -2 option to Rend a foe. This would be meaty enough on its own of course, but it promptly follows this up with 6 to D6+D3 attacks, allowing him to utterly ream entire units at a time. The only thing you're going to see once he bumps into Sigmar's boys in gold is a lot of armoured bisected bodies going flying.
Durthu also retains a few other abilities with his fellow Treelords, notably Groundshaking Stomp and Spirit Paths. While it does mean he's a bit less special and fails to fully stand out from the crowd, both of these are hard hitting and fairly reliable options, with the first (provided it's used at the start of the combat phase) forcing a -1 onto enemy attacks against him. A good choice to be sure, as combined with his heightened stats, it means it's hard for him to ever be mobbed to death in a single assault. Spirit Paths is the much more dangerous one however, as it gives him limited teleportation. It's the old Wood Elf tactic of having him move into a wood (a Wyldwood) to be specific, and having him instantly beam himself between them. This wouldn't be bad on its own, but what pushes him a little too close towards broken territory is Durthu's bonus ability, which further augments this the Spirit Paths. Known as Tree Singing, it permits him to summon a Wyldwood within 30” of him.
On paper this seems fine, but it effectively allows him to instantly fall back from an army should he risk being overwhelmed. Atop of this, it means he can be allowed to summon a portal for other units after teleporting himself about the battlefield, effectively doubling up Imperial Knight level damage and durability with full on Webway portal potential. Unless you have a solid and very powerful flying units (read: dragon) you're in for a bitch of a time to actually bring him down.
The Sylvaneth Treelord Ancient and standard Treelords are the next obvious option given how closely in line they are with Durthu himself. Most of their core abilities and basic traits have already been outlined above. Along with counting as a Behemoth choice, armed with Massive Impaling Talons, Groundshaking Stomp and Spirit Paths, they are extraordinarily durable and solid speed bumps even for the most determined assaults. However, unlike the common or garden Treelord, the Ancient is a Wizard with more than a few fun abilities as a result. As he can can cast one spell and unbind one spell, this offers him a little versatility and some potential for screwing with certain units before moving in for the kill. It's admittedly more of a secondary ability than a primary focus - anything more on a Treelord would have turned this thing into mini-Alarielle - but it's a nice choice to be sure. The Ancient is also further augmented by a much higher Bravery stat and a couple of unique spells atop of this, notably allowing all nearby Sylvaneth to reroll ones on armour saves.
Overall, both are solid units with the Ancient being a solid, big and beefy option for anyone who doesn't want a named character in play, and the standard Treelords still serve as excellent living battering rams.
The Branchwraith is up next, an old carryover from Warhammer Fantasy, and while useful she's not nearly as essential as she used to be. For starters, the models themselves are relatively fragile, both in physical terms and stats. With only a 5+ save, she's the sort of leader you'd want to keep as far out of the fight as you can, lobbing spells at long range. Thankfully she gains quite a bit more durability in a Wyldwood, allowing her to withstand a few volleys from opportunistic archers. Blessings of the Forest is to thank for this, as her unique power forces any rolls to attack against her to subtract one from any rolls to hit.
Even if they do get in close, she does also have the ability to summon 2D6 Dryads per turn herself, giving her some fodder to serve as a wooden shield or slowly throw into melees. Ultimately this is probably what you should have her doing more than anything else, as it is incredibly infuriating to have someone show up close to the front lines and spam reinforcements.
To contrast with the Branchwraith we have the Branchwych. Fitting the more offensive minded players, she contrasts heavily with her more unit spammy counterpart by ditching the Dryad summoning for a Sorcerous Blast. Well, not exactly a Sorcerous Blast admittedly, but it's just as unreliable but utterly infuriating for enemy players; driving back any mob forces and ripping through any carefully formed attacking groups. In addition to this, these are units you want up close and personal, leading the fight with surprisingly decent melee capabilities.
While they still remain relatively fragile thanks to the basic stats, they make up for this with anther Wyldwood ability. Rather than blocking enemy attacks, they gain a number of attack bonuses when they stand within 3" of one of these things. The downside sadly is that this is only activated once she is hurt, meaning after a while this is offset by the standard limitations of being wounded. As such, she's useful for spearheading initial attacks so long as you can ensure enemy forces aren't going to bunch up in front of her; or if you seriously need a major speedbump to cull a massed assault close to a Wyldwood. Personally speaking, I would recommend the Branchwraith over her unless you have a very specific list in mind.
Anyway, since we've been talking about them so much, what are the benefits and positives of the Dryads anyway? Well, you've probably guessed that their role is basically to run in and die a lot unfortunately, with only a 5+ standard save, they're likely to die in droves against the likes of Stormcast Eternal Liberators. The fact that, even with two attacks basic, each one only retains a 4+/4+/-/1 chance of killing someone means you're unlikely to actually bring anyone down. As you might imagine then, their strength lies in sheer numbers to help overwhelm a foe, but this works in more ways than one.
Okay, spamming attacks at close range until a bigger unit fails a save and absorbing plenty of heavy hits, that's nothing new. However, the Dryads have a special rule to help back this up. Mob them together into units of twelve upwards and they suddenly gain 2" attack radiuses, allowing you to line them up like spearmen against a target, and their hit ratio is also boosted to 3+. What's even more surprising is that, aside from a rather speedy 7" basic movement, these guys also have some major benefits to being used in cover. Keep them back in a Wyldwood in certain games, and they can be a major headache to an enemy player's advances.
Despite these bonuses, the Dryads are still the workhorse of the army, there to serve as a backbone but largely to die. They can certainly do some serious damage in the right circumstances, but it's difficult to balance out the right options. Mass them together into a single unit and you end up with too many arrows flying at them at once. Spread them too thin and you lose that big, very useful bonus. Ultimately, you should regard them as a very brittle hammer. Allow them to take too much punishment and they break; but place them in the right location and balance out their benefits properly, and they can cause some surprising damage when combined with a bigger unit.
Tree-Revenants are the second Battleline choice, and the newer option which no one seems to be as of yet decided upon. On the one hand, they have some very useful benefits and interesting standard rules. On the other though, their standard stats and capabilities are somewhat weedy.
Their chief benefit is their sheer mobility and offensive power. Capable of teleporting between Wyldwoods, and table edged as well, they're adept at hit and fade attacks. Backed up with the ability to move a full 6" while piling into combat, at least when paired up with a musician, they can ambush units and get everyone hitting them almost all at once. Oh, and they also have the Rend special rule just to assist with a few basic wounding re-rolls. This means they can dish out serious damage against basic infantry, but they simply cannot take it in return. They remain just as fragile as the Dryads, but suffer from a much shorter movement. While this can be re-rolled to judge distances both on the charge and running flat out, there's plenty of opportunities for them to be cut down by ranged units.
This is a difficult one for sure as they have a high points cost but suffer from a problematic lack of any serious durability. What's more, if they're caught in combat for too long you can usually kiss them goodbye, as they're not built for fighting whilst outnumbered either. Because of this, you should probably treat them as ambush predators and distractions. If they can tie up an enemy unit while the rest of the army engages the main force, that can work. What's more, their potential to harry and tie down ranged units and siege weapons means they're a godsend to anyone fearing massed dakka lines. Overall, they're good but somewhat unreliable and oddly situational as well.
Spite-Revenants are the much more hostile and less gimmicky alternative to the standard Tree-Wraiths. Playing up fears and demoralizing the enemy (again, something we see a lot here) their role is to sap the Bravery of enemy forces. There's little to really say besides that, as they don't have any kind of major alpha damage or serious durability, so they're more a unit you'd want distributed among Dryads or general front-line forces. It's not much admittedly, but it can be enough of a bonus to cut through more fodder heavy armies like the Skaven. That's really it unfortunately.
Now, if some of this has sounded a little tame with the last few options, then the Kurnoth Hunters will change your mind. To put it simply, these guys have about the same kind of damage output as a basic Hero and you can expect them to ream damn near anything they bump into. The unit has several weapons to choose from but the primary one is, a bow capable of targeting units from a massive 30" out (well, massive for this game at any rate) can firing two shots a turn. Each shot itself is capable of unleashing D3 damage, so these guys will quickly cut through more lightly armoured foes with ease, and even the infantry decked out in heavy duty plating won't last long against them. This is definitely their most advantageous weapon of choice here, as they fill out a nearly unparalleled level of ranged damage few armies can truly match.
The other alternatives are a sword or scythe, each with their own unique benefits. The sword hits with four attacks basic per turn, with a -1 Rend special rule to back that up, and a basic damage of two. The scythe, meanwhile, does the opposite, with three attacks at -2 Rend and D3 damage, sacrificing numbers for higher overall damage. What does admittedly offset the bows somewhat is the addition of a Quiverbug when taking blades. These are small extra units which are surprisingly durable and retain the ability to shoot into combat, giving just a slight extra bonus in battle. That quiet whimpering you just heard was a Dark Elf Executioner realising he's been replaced as official elf badass.
Now, thus far all this certainly sounds dangerous to be sure, but nothing overly horrendous by any standard. Well, that quickly changes when you look into their other stats. Combined with a decent 4+ save, these guys have five wounds per model, an excessive amount even for a melee character, let alone a full unit. In effect, even just three of these guys can absorb several rounds worth of firepower without flinching and promptly kill all of them in return. In a head on fight, these guys have a serious chance of taking out Treelords at range, and there's really not much which can truly topple them outside of named characters.
So, those are the units. On the one hand, I will credit the book this - It's obvious that they are testing out ideas for a new setting while trying to remain loyal to some basic Warhammer Fantasy concepts. That said, the problem here is that they seem to have skipped a great deal of the tactical nuance in favour of sheer power and bigger models. You can see traces of where they are trying to match games like Infinity in this regard, and it does even work out in quite a few places, but there's also a lack of restraint as well. Let's face it, few sane designers would ever add in Kurnoth Hunters as a standard unit.
Now, that said, there is a much greater sense of grandeur and power here, and there is more of a push to have each unit play off one another. There's also a much more notable sense of fun to the book, and the units are angled towards quick, exciting and costly games. The best kind, in other words. These are all positive traits, but it just desperately needs a hell of a lot more work in order to smooth things out. Personally, I just wish "more power" wasn't treated as the best answer.
Still, we're not quite done yet. Join us in a few days time when we finish things up, looking over the equipment, traits and battalions.
Tuesday, 26 July 2016
To say that Star Trek's rebirth has been tumultuous would be an understatement.
For every step forwards it has taken at least another back, and for all its successes it has never truly had an out an out win. Really, think about it. The 2009 outing rebooted things with a fresh sense of energy, a focus upon classic action, and managed to reopen the universe to mainstream audiences while preserving the old setting (a treatment Star Wars apparently didn't deserve), but the film itself was flawed. The plot holes were huge, the structure sloppy, it lacked the ideological or moral conflict of the old series and Kirk himself lacked many of the original character's qualities.
Into Darkness promptly improved upon almost all of the first film's failings, but promptly failed in the final act. After opting to rip off Wrath of Khan for the entire finale, betraying the very idea of a reboot, and destroying a potentially complex; it promptly followed this up with a series of plot holes so large they could be seen from space.
Star Trek Beyond follows on from this fine tradition despite Justin Lin's creative control, albeit having learned a great deal from his predecessor's mistakes. While it's certainly not akin to First Contact or Undiscovered Country, and action remains the big appeal, it's the first film since the reboot to truly feel like something a truly unapologetic Trek experience.
Some years after the events of Into Darkness, the Enterprise crew have found themselves at a crossroads. Many of the characters are beginning to question their role in Starfleet, with Kirk finding that captaincy has lost its charm, Spock considering departing to better help his people and Scotty himself having trouble just keeping the ship going. Just as each of them are set to go their separate ways, a mysterious escape pod arrives while docked with the star base Yorktown which requires their immediate aid. Joining together for what could be one last time, the Enterprise sets out and soon sails into the jaws of hell itself.
Given how character focused a tale this is, it's worth mentioning that Beyond does a vastly better job of distributing the importance and screen-time between the crew than past films. While films would always find something for the majority of the cast to do, the focus always tended to be on the three core characters of Kirk, Spock and Bones (or Picard, Riker and Data for TNG) with everyone else pushed aside. Oh they'd have their roles for sure, but they were perpetually stuck as members of the supporting cast. Here however, it does the best job of offering them something to do since The Voyage Home, dividing up the crew and giving many their own minor plotlines.
While the focus is once more placed primarily upon Kirk and co. you have stories like Scotty trying to use his engineering knowledge to survive against a superior foe, Sulu serving as a captive for the big bad and whatnot. Even once the heroes are all together after being separated out, their actions and general roles still remain distinct within the film, allowing them to retain a far stronger screen presence as a result.
The character dynamics and presentation truly is what helps to elevate the film above its contemporaries, as the main story itself remains relatively straight forwards. It's still primarily an action romp, and still sticks to a lot of the main beats, but it uses that to its advantage. By having a traditional (if a little unoriginal) core story, the film is freed up to use secondary elements to help itself stand out. The character arcs are distinct part of this, but aside from that you have some of the best humour of the rebooted trilogy thus far, a tightly written and well performed villain and subtle yet interesting pushes to explore the new universe. In a way, it's akin to what audiences (those who saw it) loved about Dredd, as the film treats the core plot as little more than a simple skeleton to flesh out the fun stuff atop of.
Basically it's what separates James Gunn from Michael Bay.
Of course, as this is all moot if Beyond lacks a few strong action sequences. With trailer after trailer hyping a big, explosive outing, many fans were wondering just how Lin would tackle a full on space conflict. The only moment any promo piece ever focused upon was the loss of the Enterprise to an attacking fleet of smaller vessels. Only a scant few clips even highlighted later spaceborne skirmishes, and offered little insight into the actual staging or presentation of any later battles. Thankfully however, there isn't a bad fight in the entire film. From the requisite Kirk fistfight (the first one he actually wins against a named foe in this rebooted franchise no less) to the hectic battles throughout a derelict vessel, there is a fantastic sense of kinetic enthusiasm which resonates through the screen. Both slick editing and excellent environmental staging allows each fight to constantly be on the move. Constantly twisting against expectations, you can never fully predict how any battle will progress, and it's always fun just to see what new element could be possibly thrown into a fight to keep things moving.
Sadly though, Beyond is hardly without its problems. For starers, while the cinematography is solid overall and present some truly engaging battle sequences, there is a distinct lack of money shots. You'll rarely be left thinking of that one truly awesome moment which stands out above all others or single shot which personifies the film. It never pauses long enough to emphasise this or fully make use of the overall environment, and as a result a few technically fantastic sequences lack the post-film impact they deserve.
This directorial problem is only further compounded by the fact that the camerawork cannot make the settings seem alien no matter their scale or features. Whether or not this was an ingenious tip of the hat to the classic series or simply a creative failing, the alien worlds are little more than barren rocky wastes bereft of truly alien features. As a result, no matter how hard you try, it's difficult to consider certain scenes as anything more than a big budget film pulling the old BBC Quarry trick.
The script also fails on two fronts, holding back what was otherwise a truly outstanding film. First and foremost, all too often it honestly seems to be playing it safe, unwilling to fully commit to any character moments. Oh they're a welcome addition to be sure and certainly a strong point of the story, but their resolutions or twists are often rushed. For example, Spock's entire character arc is resolved with little fanfare, coming to a decision in an alarmingly short amount of time. While the ideas, concepts and conversations are welcome, the actual conclusion seems to have been rushed through in order to get to more violence. The same goes for a few other character moments as Spock and Uhura's budding romance is unceremoniously killed off, and Sulu's (un)surprising familial revelation sadly amounts to nothing. This often makes the film feel like Wrath of Khan lite, with the action/drama ratio reversed.
Finally we have the villain who, while certainly not the weakest foe ever featured on Star Trek, is sadly a little shallow. Much of his serious menace and presence comes down to Idris Elba turning in an outstanding performance through heavy prosthetics. Quite frankly that shouldn't be a surprise, as the man can practically make something from nothing in just about any role, but there's no denying that the character on paper is relatively flat. He's a warlord, wants to destroy the Federation and is bloodthirsty to a fault. The only real depth we're given to his persona shows up in the last few minutes with several major bombshells, but given this is deep into the third and final act there's sadly little opportunity to react to this.
Really, Beyond is flawed but undeniably entertaining. It hits all the right notes for an engaging and downright fun summer blockbuster adventure, and proves to be a fine Trek film in its own right. It does sadly still lack a lot of the qualities which made this franchise famous in the first place, but the creative team did a fine job of weaving older themes into an action heavy script. Even if you were disheartened by Into Darkness, this is most definitely not a film to be missed so go out and watch it on the big screen while you still have a chance.
Thursday, 21 July 2016
A light grows in the far south-west. It begins like a distant bonfire, but very rapidly, it becomes brighter, brighter. It looks remarkably like sunrise. Some of your crew fall to their knees: others duck behind cover or shield their eyes. One cries, "Dawn Machine waking!""
You keep your eyes to the ground. This is something uncanny.
Light sheets over you. Your hair crackles as if a storm were rising. You squint your eyes shut, but the radiance around you is bright enough you see the pink of your eyelids. The light fades, suddenly. Men and women cry out, curse. One weeps.
Due to Apollo deciding to bring his flaming chariot a few million miles closer to the Earth this week, don't expect much in the way of new articles. It's too damn hot as it is, and both my workplace and home tend to add another six degrees atop of the daily temperature. Life is not fun at the moment.
Monday, 18 July 2016
The sad thing about this is that I want to stop writing these pieces. As said before, the first of these articles criticising Disney's treatment of the Expanded Universe was supposed to be it. One last great slam of the door before turning away from a once great franchise cannibalizing itself in the name of appealing to the masses. Then, however, we had The Force Awakens openly stealing characters, ideas and plot elements from prior books Disney had crapped all over. Then, even after that, the new novels were spearheaded by works so bad they might as well have starred John Freeman; the opening chapters of which actively mocked the Thrawn trilogy itself.
As you can imagine, personal opinions on the new canon were hardly glowing when it came to this new universe stomping all over the old one. So, you can probably understand my surprise when people proclaimed that I should be happy now that Grand Admiral Mitth'raw'nuruodo Thrawn has been made "canon". Well, i'm not happy in the slightest. In fact i'm livid, as this proves the very thing I have personally railed against since this whole debacle began.
Now, let's be clear here, this criticism isn't directed against many secondary elements. The fact he has been made to look like Tom Riddle's malformed brother is something which can be overlooked. The fact that this horrifying snakeman is being pushed into an alarmingly poorly written show as some Skeletor-like villain to be beaten every other week is irksome, yes, but even that can be accepted on some level. Then, however, we have exactly what this represents in terms of Disney's treatment of the Expanded Universe, and Disney's staggering hypocrisy.
Let's start with the obvious shall we?
The Expanded Universe has been something Disney has actively hated from the start, bordering upon ridiculously. Casting off everything involved, ditching even the opportunity to exist within its own right, they did all but actively remove it from existence. Declaring that the EU stories were merely myths or hearsay (their justification for the "Legends" brand), they shunted them off to one side as outright falsehoods before declaring that their new releases were the "true" versions people should actually care about. This did not sit well with quite a few people as you can imagine, as Disney were actively ignoring the obvious alternative timeline or mirror universe answers which they had allowed Star Trek to start over. That at least allowed both past and presence to be equally respected. Instead Disney actively refused to allow the Expanded Universe any degree of legitimacy or right to be seen as equal to their replacement universe starting over.
This would have been enough but the apparent hatred - if not at least a rather extreme level of derision - started to creep in. For starters, as mentioned above editors permitted Chuck Wendig to crap all over a famous part of Heir to the Empire, becoming a tumorous lump in the opening prologue as he took the time to spell out everything he saw wrong with it. While this was certainly extremely unprofessional on Wendig's part, the fact that an editor greenlit this personal filibuster was even worse, showing how little respect was held for the older setting. The same even goes for the new Marvel comics, with some rather immature snipes on Jason Aaron's part after Disney took the licence back off of Dark horse. Comments, scenes and acts which were rather less than subtly mocking the older setting Dark Horse had supported or even major storylines kept showing up, and each and every one was permitted by the mouse overlords.
Things would become worse over time, as things began to escalate from derision into an outright Orwellian refusal to recognise any accomplishment of the old setting. We started seeing declarations stating that Aftermath featured the first homosexual Star Wars character, that The Force Awakens featured the first coloured Stormtrooper or turncoat trooper, proving they were human. Things even became so ridiculous that we started seeing promotions and fans favouring the new films promoting Rey as the first major female Star Wars character to carry a lightsaber. A fact which is, if you are even vaguely aware of the Expanded Universe, is not just suspect but outright false. To cover the sheer range of these details would take an entire article unto itself, so here's just a quick question instead -
When Disney promoted its Star Wars style #Maythe4thbewithyou campaigns on social media, where was the Expanded Universe material?
Really, think about it, where was anything related to the EU at all? There were no reminders of characters, no comments upon past storylines, no effort to venerate the setting which had kept Star Wars alive for decades at a time. Even the most mainstream of works such as Bioware or Obsidian's contributions, or even the Force Unleashed games, were all shunned in favour of shilling the new setting. Disney did not want to even acknowledge its existence let alone celebrate it, and the very effort to remind people that it was there apparently offended them.
We've talked before about how Expanded Universe fans have been thrown under the bus and scapegoated en mass for the actions of morons, by fans as much as the media. However, there have been signs and pushes just requesting that the Expanded Universe be brought back. The most famous of these was a massive billboard, funded by fans and requesting that the old setting be allowed to continue. There were no demands, no arguments that it replace the existing books, merely a request that it be allowed to stand in its own right. Disney's response to this act, proving there was an audience willing to pay out for more books? Nothing. No statements at all. Nada. To them, even when this billboard was almost directly across from their offices, it was only worthy of being ignored rather than officially responded to in any way. Why was that exactly? Creative control and cash.
To Disney, the Expanded Universe setting and all that was established is merely a junkyard of ideas. It is not to be venerated or respected, but to be treated to a "rape and pillage" approach to past works, stealing elements wholesale whenever possible. We have seen everything from superweapons to well established characters showing up as little more than slight colour swaps and little else. Oh there would be changes here and there, perhaps to the origins or visual appearance, but make one slight switch and they're back to their old selves.
Doing so allows Disney all the profit, creative control and ideas it wants, but it means it doesn't have to pay royalties to the people who actually made them beloved or created them in the first place. If you think this is insane, just keep in mind that this guy has almost exactly the same appearance and personality as this guy, and it only takes a minute in Photoshop to show they look almost exactly the same. Even the recent sequel to the abomination known as Aftermath got in on the action, with Life Debt introducing a shadowy background military genius in control of the remaining Imperials. One who (from what I could make out from Chuck Wendig's atrocious descriptions) retained a body language and trace elements which were Thrawn to the core.
Not only does this character (okay he's known as Gallius Rax, but read this book and you'll just be mentally calling him not!Thrawn almost immediately upon seeing him) retain a love of opera, classical music and art to help concentrate upon beating his foes, but he's a warlord, tactical genius and reserved, shrewd man known for pulling off the impossible. Known for pulling off unconventional tactics, using anything to his advantage and cultured ruthlessness, he's basically presented as retaining the Empire's best qualities. This is basically akin to a DC Comics writer showing up and creating an orphan who took a night beast as his sigil and trained with monks to become a heroic superhero, but isn't Batman at all.
So, how does this relate to Thrawn himself exactly? For starters, all of this certainly hasn't put devoted Expanded Universe fans in the best of moods. Quite a few are frustrated and many more are extraordinarily furious at this continuous mistreatment of a setting they were immersed in. Disney knows this and the fact it keeps making headlines in various places (notably via public acts such as the billboard) are not helping with the company's PR. So, their result is to basically take a character wholesale from the supposedly crap and irredeemable setting they have opposed, and put him in their new one. So, besides the aforementioned theft of prior ideas and elements, this only further reinforces the point that Disney is talking out of its arse when it comes to the EU and its quality. That, however, is just the tip of the iceburg. You see, this is just a minor response, a move some people have nicknamed "Cue Cullen" when a creator needs to deflect attention from failings or negative PR.
Think of the Michael Bay Transformers films for a second. They're widely recognised for being financially profitable, but critically panned across the board and these days you will find few who will say positive things about them. Perhaps the only nice thing you'll find fans saying about them is that they brought public attention back to the franchise and kicked off a few better comics/series. In fact, initially things were so bad with the fandom that the company and Bay himself had to take steps to stop them badmouthing the film upon its announcement.
Their solution - hire Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, to reprise his role. It worked, and for a while people were more positive towards the film, at least until they bought tickets and saw the damn thing. The same promptly went for every following film. Each time they would try to sidestep backlash or badmouthing by digging up some beloved part of the franchise to try and maintain a positive word of mouth. First it was the Matrix and more characters, then Shockwave and the Wreckers, and then the Dinobots. At no point were any of the actual flaws people had ever fixed. They just distracted enough fans with the idea of seeing something they loved showing up on the big screen long enough to make them forget about the severe failings of the films.
Such a stunt is akin to jangling keys in front of a child to distract them from something terrible - it doesn't solve anything, it just makes them laugh for a few seconds. It just makes them consider opening their wallets and giving out more cash to the corporation, without them actually dealing with the massive problems fans still have. Those who still hold out to solve actual problems to resurrect the EU will find more opposition, or they will be treated as being an unpleasant fandom acting irrationally towards others.
Don't believe me? Even without going into these predictions, even ignoring all of history and how many times this little stunt has been wheeled out by others, the author himself has come out and requested it. Mere weeks before it was revealed that Timothy Zahn, one of a scant few Expanded Universe authors now working with Disney, would be producing a new book he had this to say:
"You just have to take a deep breath and [say], ‘OK, that is over. We accept it. We go on. We’ve got the book.'"
Except, of course, we don't. That book is being stolen, picked apart by Disney to fuel its new stories or treated as if it never existed. As if it is nothing worthy of remembrance and never contributed anything of worth to the world. As if it never mattered. It pains me personally to see someone like Zahn, whose works I respected no matter the setting, open up and serve as a PR shill against fans. His words are little more than encouragement for fans of the EU to effectively not give a damn about the setting they loved; to ignore that it is being set alight and burned away, and that it is being scavenged by the same creators who sneer at its existence.
This is why Thrawn's return ultimately changes nothing. He is not returning to bring back the EU or right some wrong, he is merely returning as a weapon; a way of using a beloved character to distract people from Disney's failings, or beat down those who will not support them.