Sunday, 4 December 2016

Fenris: Wrath of Magnus Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)


There are few ways better than cliffhangers to keep an audience hooked, especially with an impending long wait. It keeps fans questioning and it keeps people speculating, even when almost a year passes by before we get any real resolution to the story. The key problem is, however, that the actual set-up has to be good. Sadly that can't be said of Curse of the Wulfen. Back in February we looked into the book's lore and found it wanting. 

The story of Cursed was fueled by character stupidity. The retcons left gaping holes in the universe, there were some suspiciously similar story ideas we had seen in past Space Wolf books, and the padding was unforgivable. It also has the dubious distinction of being the only rulebook which drove me to make a booze fueled attempt to re-write the damn thing from scratch, just to prove a drunk fan could do a better job of penning the story.

To cut a long story short - The Wulfen (now retconned to never having been encountered at all by the Space Wolves past M31) show up out of the Warp and the Space Wolves take them in. More start showing up out of massed Warp storms, seemingly causing them, and forcing the Great Companies to try and catch 'em all before anyone notices. Unfortunately, they manage to get the attention of both the Grey Knights and the Dark Angels. Stupidity ensues, Grimnar learns that Fenris is under attack while he is away. After some very, very obvious manipulation on Chaos' part, the Imperium begins preparing to bomb the Fenris system into oblivion to kill the Wolves and daemons alike.

Still, that was last time. This time should be given a fresh chance to prove itself, as even if an opening to a trilogy screws things up, it can always be redeemed by a great ending. With the promise of Magnus making his first proper appearance in millennia and risk of an Imperial civil war between multiple First Founding chapters, the writers have plenty of material to work with. Let's see if they can take advantage of it.

The Good



Whatever else is said about this book, let one thing be made clear - The writers were listening to criticism. Many of the key failings of the last book are directly tackled here, and there does seem to have been a serious concerted effort to massively turn things around. While it doesn't always work, and a few major problems remain, it's at least heartening to know what someone on the team looked at the negative response from reviews (the few which actually examined the story) and went "You know what, we can do better." It might even by why this second half took quite so long to produce.

The big thing which stands out first and foremost is that the opening act seems to be a single massive push to avoid a few of the expected cliches or problems. While it does involve the introduction of new characters, members of the fleet attacking Fenris seem far more dubious of the evidence put before them than in the past outing. Quite a few (one Inquisitor in particular) seem to remember that the Dark Angels do have a shadowy past, so even while they're going full Crusade on the Wolves, there's at least a hint that not everyone is fully behind this. Better yet, there's no Inspector Javert ignoring all evidence before him and still hounding the Wolves even as the world goes to hell. It would have been an easy thing to force on the tale to keep conflict going, albeit at the cost of one facepalm per page, but they react with far more sense than last time. The second any daemonic influence is confirmed, remembering that Chaos is dubious, they decide to stop and focus on putting that down before all else.


Unlike last time, the villains here are much, much more prominent in the story and stand out against the heroes. Whereas before the Alpha Legion led by Lord Skayle the Forgettable (yes, I had to actually look up his name) were little more than a side-story to be killed off and move the plot along, Chaos has a much stronger showing this time. Avoiding the more subtle tactics of last time, we see them hitting the Wolves head on with a variety of innovative and downright insane tactics. Given that this is the Thousand Sons, fully united under a single banner once more, you would hope for some colourful characters and stunning examples of sorcery to arise throughout the book. While we don't quite end up with Magnus the Red riding a Warp Leviathan into battle, what we get is still very impressive.

The first time the legion fully reveals its involvement (after pulling a galaxy-wide version of Prospero's Bat Signal) they pull out all the stops to try and make this as big an event as possible. We have hundreds of titanic spires forged by the Warp itself crashing into Fenris, corrupting the very ground they hover over. There are countless daemons spilling from the Warp at every moment, and even the very stars themselves are reshaped to reflect the old legends of the Wolftime. Many times go the extra mile to take advantage of the heightened Warp activity, presenting the idea that there is a perpetually boiling sea of hatred rolling away beneath reality itself; so much so that even the slightest anchor could allow a legion of Warp entities to spill through at any moment. It's one of the few times where daemonic influence is presented as something which is a constant threat, perpetually ready to overwhelm any mortal beneath the gaze of the Ruinous Powers.

Speaking of threats, something has been done to salvage the Sons' plan despite the sheer stupidity of the last outing. While many of the critically flawed and downright moronic moments remain, the actual presentation this time has definitely been taken up a notch. For example, the very concept behind the Wulfen itself is something Magnus devised as a grim parody of his own legion's fate, and to turn the brotherhood of the Wolves against themselves. There's some genius to how it explains the idea behind the Wulfen enhancing the mutations within them as they are gathered among the chapter's warriors, and how the sheer determination of the chapter to find its lost warriors could be used against them. While it might be built upon stupidity, it does more to reflect upon Magnus' nature and manipulative ways than any of the damn obvious tactics seen last time -


"Magnus' desire to visit the pain of betrayal and wrongful execution upon the Space Wolves was not born entirely of spite, nor some twisted sense of poetic justice. Even an apprentice mage knows that like affects like, and there is power in the echoes of form and deed. Possessing the likeness of a victim makes the spell easier to achieve, and to include a part of the target in the ritual - a fingernail, hair or treasured item - increases its connective potency ninefold. Such petty curses were beneath one such as Magnus. His concern was not to use an echo of a single adversary's physical form, but of cataclysmic events that had resonated throughout history. One in particular, in fact: the burning of Prospero.

The mutative Curse of the Wulfen had been seeded deep, the lupine flesh-change so cunning in its delivery it was welcomes and spread by the very warriors it would soon lay low. Even now, the Space Wolves were being changed by proximity to their feral brethren, proud and handsome warriors devolving into atavistic caricatures as the most bestial aspects of their natures were made manifest. It was a calculated affliction, and one that had caused the intolerance and suspicion of the Imperium to turn upon the warriors of Fenris with a vengeance. By having the Changeling play so expertly (Hah!) upon the rivalry between the Dark Angels and Space Wolves, Magnus had shown the Sons of Russ what it was like to be persecuted for their genetic deviance. More than that, it had given them a taste of what it was like to have their sovereign domain bombarded by those they had once called brothers.

The works of the Cyclops did not stop there. In bringing  fire and damnation to Fenris, Magnus had given his adversaries a taste of his own people's fate; the gene-stock of the Space Wolves was tainted by mutation and madness, and monstrous tentacled fiends hunted those still hale and strong. In turning one brotherhood of Space Marines against the strongholds of another, he had ensured the flames of the Horus Heresy roared back into horrible life. More specifically, by manipulating the Space Wolves into destroying a world populated by their former allies, Magnus had echoed the execution of his own planet - and expertly harnessed the psychic backlash of billions of dying souls in the process."

As before, the tone of the book is quite serious without pushing into deadpan grimdumb, but it is also tempered and enhanced in a few distinct ways. While the varied battlefields and scattered nature of the book's narrative is a problem carried over from Curse of the Wulfen, there is far more purpose to it than before. There is a direct threat now and since the book has settled down to a single location, the actual chapters aren't nearly as scattershot or seemingly pointless as last time, and actually presenting the idea of a vastly bigger battle shown from multiple perspectives. Not, as we had last time, just tons and tons pointless action showing off the wonderful toys people should buy for their armies. So, while it might be wall to all action, it at least has far more purpose here than what was seen previously.

Finally, whatever else is said below, there are some genuinely awesome moments in the book. Usually these are tied closely into the combat itself, and reserved for the small excerpts to help add a bit of flavour to the fights. Often these will pause, focus upon a major character from one of the chapters or legion, and offer either some insight into their role or show them being badasses. For once this is actually done right, as it's semi-self contained and surprisingly atmospheric, adding to the story rather than taking up unnecessary space. A personal favourite is on page 28 where we see Belial leading the Deathwing into a complete rout of a battle, all but yelling "I have a bolter, your sorcery is invalid!"

So, with all that you would expect a solid outing right? Well, sadly no. There are still many, many major problems which plague this book.

The Bad


One key point brought up against Curse of the Wulfen was just how many of its plot points closely resembled a vast number of famous Space Wolf novels. From Ragnar's saga to Aaron Dembski-Bowden's work on the Grey Knights, it seemed to keep introducing ideas created by other authors, situations very close to anything we had seen before, and quietly omitted the originals from the canon. Not all of them, but enough for it to certainly be eyebrow raising in the wake of several past codices doing the same thing. Well, Wrath of Magnus tries to fix this, and then stumbles back into the same problem all over again. 

Rather than simply taking the core concept behind Battle of the Fang, the book tries to build upon it. It suggests that the invasion during M32 was examined, detailed and looked over for flaws, before the legion made its second true strike to corrupt Fenris itself (let's ignore all the other times they were suggested to have tried this, just for the sake of argument). Now, this is good because it uses continuity to build upon its own event, augmenting it and turning the story into an extension of the timeline, making the scale of the actions all the more understandable. However, the rulebook then starts doubling back to recreate certain scenes from that same book with only a few minor differences or shifts in context. This is bad. It's not a joke either, unfortunately. Page 74 features a war within the Fang itself as the outnumbered Wolves fight a horde of Tizcan sorcerers, with a few running into its depths to awaken all the remaining ancients. We then have a scene of the Dreadnoughts striking as one against them, with Bjorn among them, and defending the Fang while the rest of the chapter is elsewhere. 


The fact it keeps referring back to the M32 war doesn't help in this regard. It's a very flimsy push to say "we're aware of the similar thing that proceeded us, we referenced it, so it's not the same" you see a few films doing on occasion to deflect accusations of copying ideas. The problem is that in doing so, the rulebook just keeps opening up more and more plot holes. Just to cite the most obvious one - Why weren't the Dreadnoughts already active? Even if you accept the vague justification that waking them is time consuming, the Space Wolves have been facing crisis after crisis in a matter of days, and a discovery where their wisdom was desperately needed. To help accept this, you need to believe that the Wolves felt only the near uncontrollable Murderfang needed to be awakened, and ignored the few dozen far more sane warriors lurking beneath the Fang. 

The Dreadnoughts are also just one example, as a few other moments keep arising which seem to be contextually similar to moments from Fang, right up to Magnus' end at the hands of Logan Grimnar's sudden arrival. The odd thing is, part of me is starting to think this might not even be intentional. It's not the one-for-one translation you might expect, it's just that some many core ideas seem to have been built over the same skeleton and follow the same path, until it's sticking to the same general formula of what came before. It's akin to seeing someone writing fanfiction where their story sticks to the core elements of whatever they're writing about; changing only a few characters, their presence and position in the setting, but sticking to every last major event beat for beat until it's more of a reworked version of a story than an original piece. It is (assuming this theory is correct) not intentionally mimicking stories, it's just so heavily influenced that it can't help but reshuffle the same storytelling building blocks.

However, despite having so much on hand, it's also very clear that the authors can't make use of so many storytelling ideas showing up at once. There are over a dozen characters present (without getting into the minor ones, of course) leading their own armies, fighting their own battles and needing their own moments. There are forces from roughly half the First Founding chapters present, entire regiments of Imperial Guard troops, representatives of the Inquisition and full detachments of Knight households in the Dark Angels allied fleet. Barely any of them are given a moment's notice, and despite the sheer scale of the impending battle teased at Curse of the Wulfen's conclusion, almost all of them are ditched at the start of the story. Save for the brief mention of a couple of forces here and there, the campaign quickly limits itself to the Dark Angels, Grey Knights, Space Wolves and Thousand Sons, even quickly abandoning the first two at the earliest opportunity.


Many points are even resolved "off-screen" until the book can be pulled back to a very narrow focus. On the one hand, yes, this helps the story in many regards, but on the other it honestly just makes the reader feel as if they're missing out in many big events, and wastes half the potential behind having so many varied forces in one place. To cite one example - Both the siege of Moraki's Keep and the involvement of the Iron Hands (yes, they were briefly in the last book) is limited to a single sentence on one initial page, where it just confirms they bombed the daemons from orbit, and that's that. The same goes for many similar ideas, and it just seems as if the book had story ideas it wanted to explore there, but promptly skipped over them. 

Now, as a space saving measure to help fully develop the core plotline this would have been fine. The whole situation surrounding the Dark Angels was a complicated one after all, and spending the first third to half of the book slowly turning them to their side would have excused this. Would have, had the writers not opted to blitz right through the whole thing. The second the book actually starts to follow on from the Rock's initial bombardment, we get Stern, Ragnar and a few Grey Knights abruptly teleporting onto the command centre of the Dark Angels' fleet somehow. They they immediately look at one random serf and in effect state "Oi! That be a Changeling that is!"

As if this scene couldn't get any more ridiculous, the Changeling abruptly transforms back into his normal state thanks to the Grey Knights, revealing to everyone that this entire event had been a Chaos ploy, and runs. You could not have written a more manic and unintentionally comedic scene if the heavens parted to reveal Tzeentch himself playing Yakety Sax. Admittedly, to try and cover his escape, the Changeling does somehow spawn a few thousand daemons onto the Rock via clown-car effect as he runs. This mostly amounts to a reason for the Dark Angels to fight for a while before they disappear from the narrative. Really, that's not an exaggeration either, as once the immediate problem is resolved, they basically drop out of the story entirely.


What little we do get unfortunately makes a complete mockery of the sons of El'Johnson in the meantime. This is supposed to be the single most secretive and clandestine chapter among the First Founding, arguably one of the single most ardent hunters of heretics among their number, and the best suited to counter Chaos. The Rock itself is supposed to be well defended, protected and constantly monitored for signs of incursions, so naturally these daemons run rampant for quite a while afterwards. While the Deathwing and Ravenwing forces kick the living hell out of the invaders, the Changeling switches tactics and decides he's just going to up and reveal stuff about the Fallen to everyone. Cue said daemon casually strolling by every single last one of the Dark Angels' defenders by impersonating Azazel himself. It's embarrassing just how easily he gets away with this, without even a single Librarian sensing something is up with their Supreme Grand Master; or even their greatest guardians wondering why the hell he's going to the middle of the Rock in the midst of a massive battle. No, instead he's all but completely unopposed until the last second, and then he decides to leave the story.

So, some of you might be wondering where those famous hooded midgets, the Watchers in the Dark, are. You know the ones, the guys who are complete anathema to Chaos? The ones whose mere presence can repel attacking daemonic forces and they can pick out an invading daemon from who knows how far away? The ones who can imprison world-shattering abominations of the Warp with some concerted effort? The authors of this book apparently forgot about them entirely until the last second. Just before the Changeling can achieve his goal, one suddenly appears, and he legs it. That's it, end of story arc, and the book moves on.

While I would like to say this is the only time the Wrath of Magnus does it, the sad truth is that it keeps showing up. Really, the second the writers need something to happen, or resolve itself, it just does because they need it to. No drama, no twists, no events, things just happen as needed. The next big one which really arises is the recovery of Logan Grimnar. Last he was seen in Curse of the Wulfen, the Great Wolf was stuck far beneath a corrupted world fighting for his life alongside his elite guard. So, how does he escape? Egil Iron Wolf finds part of his armour, and uses it to teleport him back to their ranks. Yeah, that's it, and it's so rushed that the narrative whiplash of the event can throw you through a loop for minutes afterwards. It's as if entire pages were suddenly omitted from the book, as it goes from worry about his very survival, the desperate battle he is facing, to suddenly being home and safe. In fact, the story does so little with him at this point that it honestly seems as if his entire story arc was thrown together purely to keep him out of the way.

Other characters suffer the same fate as Grimnar, with major character moments being passed off with a single sentence or abruptly resolved without explanation. Believe it or not but there is an epic clash between Arvann Stern and his archenemy M'Kachen which is limited to about five words before the story moves on. Hell, you know what's worse though? Ahriman is in this. Yes, the exiled lord of the Thousand Sons, happily working with Magnus the Red again and allied with the legion who hates him. What comes of this? Nada. We just get a bit of background lifted from John French's trilogy, some use in a ritual, and then he's done. Yeah, that's that, the greatest mortal sorcerer of the legion and we get barely any focus left to him. This cannot be stressed enough - The story brings up and abruptly drops so many varied characters that you could honestly make a drinking game out of it. Hell, I actually encourage it, as it makes reading this damn thing far more tolerable.

It's not even characters alone who suffer from this, but entire sub-plots as well. Remember how the whole issue behind the Wulfen was that the Space Wolves wanted to keep them hidden, wanted to defend them, but they were corrupting them? That's dropped almost entirely a few pages into the book. Really, we get one major bit of Wulfen action, and then they disappear from the story. Were they actually the Wulfen? How did Magnus find them? Were they with Russ himself? Has the curse actually been stopped, and if so, how? What tales can the sentient ones offer the astartes? Not answered. No, instead the book decides that it's much more interested in Magnus so all of its time and effort is devoted to him instead.

Now, to give credit where credit is due, Magnus here isn't actually too bad. He's certainly arrogant and somewhat more petty than in other depictions, but he's given the strength and power he deserves as a daemon prinarch. We see him bending an entire world to his will and even torturing the Space Wolves by using the Silver Towers (screaming daemonic creations from the Planet of Sorcerers) to siphon off power from Fenris' heart and corrupt it from within. He then uses the death of another world to further fuel him and increase his power to entirely new heights. At this exact point his sheer strength is cemented by one line:

"Fenris had a new monarch, and he was mighty indeed."

And then he's immediately defeated. 

No, really, in less than half a page he is just beaten, and that's that. We get nine paragraphs (and that is being generous calling some of the single line statements "paragraphs") with lots of splash-pages of artwork showing various stages of a fight, and Magnus is banished back into the Warp. To call this an anti-fucking-climax is an unbelievable understatement, as it effectively rushes through what should have been a titanic and epic conflict just to suddenly wrap everything up. This would be bad enough on its own - hell, I would even argue that this cripples the entire story even if you can accept everything else - but what makes it worse is how the book taunts you with the knowledge of how epic the fight is. We get Magnus shrugging off lace strikes, lascannons and focused psychic attacks. We're hinted that he's performing the kind of rampage only rivaled by Angron's Armageddon blood binge, annihilating whole swathes of warriors; and we see none of it. There's a few mild bits but the rest is just shunted to one side so it can be over and done with ASAP.

Of course, then there's the matter of just how he is defeated - Heresy. Oh, but not just any Chaos, the kind of Chaos carried by the Imperium. You see, certain Space Wolf fans know that Logan Grimnar's famed weapon - the Axe of Morkai - was claimed from a Khornate Champion, purified and reforged into a new blade. Apparently someone forgot about that last bit, as the writers seemed to think it was, in fact, a Khorne daemon weapon carried by a Space Wolf. So, when all else fails, the fight against Magnus is suddenly ended by Grimnar showing up and stabbing the primarch with this, and it banishes him. 

Oh, you don't believe me? here's the last bit in its entirety:

"Egil Iron Wolf howled in outrage, driving his Spear of Russ towards the monstrous Primarch at full speed. Ruby beams spat from the Land Raiders’ godhammer lascannons – potent weapons indeed, but rendered pitiful in comparison to the lance strikes Magnus had weathered moments before. The Crimson King snarled in impatience, reaching out a clawed hand and clenching it into a fist. Egil Iron Wolf leapt clear as his armoured steed was crushed by an invisible force, buckling like a paper sculpture in an armoured gauntlet. The Wolf Lord took up a lascannon from a dead Long Fang and knelt into a sniper’s crouch, sending a deadeye shot stabbing towards Magnus’ eye. The Primarch froze the las-beam in place with a pinch of his fingers. With a beckoning gesture he caught Egil Iron Wolf in his telekinetic grip, yanked him in front of his own kill-shot, and released the laser from its stasis. The lascannon beam slammed into Lord Iron Wolf, vaporising him from the waist up.


It was an ignominious end to a mighty saga, but it had bought Logan Grimnar the time he needed. Jumping from Stormriderat the edge of the chasm, the Great Wolf called out a mighty challenge. Magnus turned, a sneer of disdain on his cyclopean features. No mortal weapon could harm him, and thanks to the work of the Blue Scribes, neither could the enchanted relics of the Imperium.

But the Axe Morkai was not of the Imperium. It had first been forged as a weapon of Khorne, bane of sorcerers.

Logan leapt. The double-headed power axe slammed into Magnus’s chest, shattering arcane wards and piercing his breastplate to bite deep.

In the distance, thunder rumbled long and loud. Only the psykers present heard it for what it was – the laughter of the Blood God himself.

With a deafening roar of pain, Magnus swatted Grimnar back over the lip of the precipice. His allies were close at hand, and more than ready to seize their chance. A gleaming throng of Grey Knight Purifiers gained the chasm’s edge, blades extended to pour the white fires of banishment into the Daemon Primarch’s wound. Magnus’ arcane aura had been compromised badly, for though he possessed wards against every weapon the Imperium might throw at him, he could not guard against an axe once forged in the name of the Blood God. He lashed out with his immense staff, its blade cutting nine of the Grey Knights in half at the waist, but it was a blow of spite rather than conquest. The psychic might of the Grey Knights, still ranged against him, poured through the gap torn in his arcane shielding, incandescent in their power as they burned away the Daemon Primarch’s flesh. In moments, he was wreathed head to toe in blazing white fire.

For a heartbeat, Magnus glowed brighter than the Wolf’s Eye. The immense energies playing around him turned him from giant to burning supernova. Every Imperial warrior for miles around was blasted backwards to land steaming in the snow.

When they got back to their feet, the Thousand Sons, the Daemon hordes and their cyclopean master alike had vanished from existence."

Given that Magnus was depicted swatting away five Dreadknights with ease barely a few pages beforehand, this is one hell of a massive letdown. The book might as well have just declared that Khorne himself decided to get involved because Tzeentch was having too much fun, for all the sense it makes here. Oh, and as some of you might have noted, the Grey Knights are psykers. so, yes, they all heard that laughter right after the axe hit and probably felt its corruption as well. Do they take it for themselves? Nope, apparently they willingly ignore the moment of heresy and decide to just carry on from there.

The last two pages amount to little more than some basic tying up of a few loose ends. For all the prominence he had in the book, Egil's death is barely acknowledged and everything is all but swept under the rug. Rather than actually taking advantage of the massive shift in the status quo thanks to these events, what we get is basically the same but with a couple of minor differences. Really, it notes that the Dark Angels are on slightly worse terms with them than before and the Inquisition hates them, but that's that. Nothing actually changes within the chapter itself, there's no sense of loss, no major shifts in power, not even a moment of reflection on their actions. Hell, all we get is Grimnar declaring that now is the Wolftime, some hints about the War in Cadia, and then some shadowy nonsense on Terra.

For all the promises and suggestions made that this would bring about an End Times event, things just went back to business as usual. It's no exaggeration to say that the events here seemed to have little to no impact upon any chapters involved, and almost everything here was so cleanly resolved that it might as well have never happened. Sure, the Fenris system lost a planet, but that was only added into the canon barely a year or two before this book hit shelves. As terrible an idea as it is to ever attempt an End Times 40,000, it's all the worse to look at some earth-shattering event and go "yep, none of that mattered! Move on!"

However, this still might have worked had it not been for one thing: The padding. There were story elements here which could have been elaborated upon, ideas which could have been expanded, even fights which could have been extended to help seem far more meaningful, Instead, countless pages were wasted by stretching out this book even further than usual. Yes, this is a point these reviews harp on quite a bit, but just consider the following for a second: 


The first twelve pages are all feature recycled artwork and information fans already know, recapping Curse of the Wulfen and even the Battle of Prospero. This could have easily been covered in one if the writers had actually compiled it all together. Then, for no apparent reason, the last fourteen pages of the book (one of the four entire chapters) is devoted entirely to explaining who the Thousand Sons are. Well, actually, no, that might have at least been somewhat understandable. No, instead, it's page after page of slight re-colours of various warbands with very minor bits of text. Yes, the padding has gotten so bad here that they transferred padding which should belong to an entirely different book, and shoved it into this one.

So, what you end up with is the second half of a story which starts late and finishes early in its own volume. It's really no small wonder the tale ended up seeming so truncated as it did.

The Artwork



The artwork here is mixed really, but it's definitely an upgrade over the last book. As usual, we have plenty of recycled bits for the Dark Angels and Grey Knights, and more than a few for the Wolves themselves, but the Thousand Sons new works are spectacular. Many of the pieces are far more tonally consistent with the themes and style than prior artists, and the level of detail is truly exceptional. Whatever else is said about this book, the new art is astounding and it truly helps bring the forces of the Crimson King to life with every page. 

Verdict




This is a failure. As galling as it is to write this, Wrath of Magnus takes a few steps in the right direction before falling flat on its face. Incapable or unwilling to deliver upon even a few of the themes suggested, Games Workshop's creative team ended up pulling a Stephen King and botched the entire ending. Terrible as it is to say, but it honestly would have been a better option just to start over. If the Wulfen storyline was so poorly planned out, so badly thrown together that even the writers were ready to abandon it in favour of the Thousand Sons, then they should have focused upon getting this story right. Even if it wasn't a full retcon, even if it did just conveniently ignore everything the past book had set up, that would have done less damage to the setting than actually finishing this saga.

If you're in this for the storytelling and lore, do not get this book. There's no perverse pleasure at seeing it crash and burn, no eye-popping moment of "How the hell did they get this wrong!?" as it turns into a spectacular train crash. It's just a depressing, disappointing failure of a story which can't decide if it wants to play it safe or change the world, and ultimately accomplishes neither.

If you have cash to burn, Master of Mankind just hit the shelves at long last and (while far from perfect) it manages to offer everything Wrath of Magnus failed to achieve. If you don't want to focus on M31, then there's a rather nice book about the skin-coated mad scientist Fabius Bile about to hit the market, titled Primorgenitor. Just, whatever you do, avoid dropping cash on this one.

Still, if you're not one of those devoted to the setting and its stories, we have a little while to go yet. Join us for the second part here as we delve into the book's core rules.

6 comments:

  1. Also worth noting I popped into my local GW yesterday to check out the new Sons models (the Tau are my favorite army, but I love the tragedy of the Sons and their design), and I asked the manager if the rules would be in Traitor Legions and he said they will. So in a few weeks IIRC you won't even need Wrath for the rules either.

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    1. Kind of guessed that might be the case in all honesty, but given what we covered last time I might still do them here. Given their extent and the fact we have formations, Magnus and wargear to cover as well, there's a great deal to work with anyway.

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  2. So... would you say that GW needs new writers, or just a head writer/director to keep everything on keel?

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    1. Both to a bigger and lesser degree. I would definitely say that they can produce great books - we have covered quite a few on here, after all - but they keep making a few serious errors when it comes to their more ambitious works. Better talent would be key in the writing department, but better guidance and editorial oversight would help to fix a lot of the problems (uncertain rules, mass padding etc).

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  3. Been busy, glad I came back to this though.

    I'm honestly stunned that this is the worst of the two books and in fact I don't even know that this was supposed to tie into Curse of the Wulfen initially. It seems as if the authors were writing their own story about the Thousand Sons attacking, maybe doing a rulebook version of the Battle of the Fang (why not, given how many times they re-wrote other major battles), however at the last second decided to make it a part of Warzone: Fenris. Just add a few paragraphs mentioning the Wulfen here and there, and we're done.

    I wonder if the sequel to Curse was even planned when they came up with the original ending, and I know that these books are planned out years in advance, however this reads as if they'd run out of ideas so they began drawing ideas out of a hat, especially with how quickly these various plots are wrapped up.

    The only way I could see this getting fixed is if you had a companion book released that would tie up the other plot threads, but then that defeats the purpose of this one, which was already supposed to tie up the plot threads. We had enough to make a book without Magnus crashing the party too and featuring a civil war battle would at least be a new thing for the Warzone books, rather than being the Imperium vs every other faction in the game.

    A part of me does like to think that this isn't GW doing an End Times scenario, it's GW killing off all the factions that they don't like. Tau? Trapped for who knows how long behind a firewall. Eldar? Essentially dead. Thousand Sons? Gone, somehow and speaking of that, why did all of the physical sorcerers disappear? Did they all die too? I'd bring up Khorne's Marines and the Crimson Slaughter but to be honest I haven't read Angel's Blade yet.
    The only reason I kind of get a kick out of thinking of that sort of thing is because I'm trying to find method in GW's madness, and that's the best I could come up with. The alternative is that they're just churning out whatever random idea the writers have without any sort of critical thought process, though given that The Beast Arises series exists, that's probably the more likely of the two.

    I'm looking forward to when you tackle the rules, I honestly thought Magnus was all right (so long as the opponent doesn't use that re-rollable 2+ Invuln bullshit) however I'd love to see your take on what they did to the pink horrors.
    I never thought they'd be the most broken unit in the game but that's life I guess.

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    1. I'm somewhat unsure which is worse in all honesty, as both feature some truly staggering (not to mention astounding flaws) for what's supposed to be official material. On the one hand Wrath of Magnus left some massive plot holes in the story, failed to follow on at all from what was set up, and ditched half the story ideas of the first. on the other hand, well, the first one was almost more offensively bad in just how brazenly it ignored common sense. I might need to re-read the pair of them before really thinking this over.

      Well, you're not missing much with Angel's Blade really, as it was a relatively straight forwards brawl of a battle. That said, I do agree entirely with the others as they just don't match up. The only way the Tau Empire's situation might work is if they ended up in a massed campaign against the Tyranid Hive Fleets or GW pushed for a civil war between them and the Farsight Enclaves. As for the Eldar, if they are to continue, i'm dreading that we'll see something akin to what happened to the elves in the End Times setting; with all three factions mashed together into a single force and we're told they'll just get on well from here on. The others? I have no idea, but even the apparent solutions seem to be problematic to say the least.

      Well, you won't be waiting long, I'm currently covering the units and, thus far, they're pretty decent. There's certainly some problem ones or new units which seem to be useless, but others are still useful without being overpowered.

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