Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett (Warhammer 40,000 Book Review)

You might have been expecting Lukas after we were done with The Magos. Well, don't worry, it's coming up next, but this is something I have been sitting on for a long time. Brothers of the Snake is considered by many to be a classic. It was Dan Abnett's first real stab at writing the Adeptus Astartes, it features a unique chapter, and for many it was a measuring stick on how to write chapters for years. It's high praise indeed, but upon opening it up, you might be surprised at how it presents events. It's good, there's no denying that, but if you let its reputation preceded it, you might be a bit disappointed. With the re-release of the novel in softcover, now seemed like the best time to discuss this story.

The Synopsis

Set in the Reef Stars, the story follows Damocles Squad of the Iron Snakes. One of a multitude of units dispatched by the chapter to secure and patrol their territories, the squad is tasked with intercepting threats and answering calls for help. When Praid is forced into the role of Sergeant, he must rise to the occasion and adapt to his new role within the chapter. Yet, life is rarely simple for members of the Adeptus Astartes, and Praid finds that the Reef Stars hold many secrets which must be confronted if they are to survive.

The Good

Read any past review, commentary or opinion piece, and you will find one thing praised above all others: The depiction of the Astartes, and the chapter itself. A common criticism of other books was that the marines shown there were often all too human, and lacked the more noted mental reshaping the lore stressed. While this is often leveled against books which didn't deserve such complaints, Brothers of the Snake took this as far as it could be taken. It is evident at many points that the members of Damocles Squad are a world apart from humanity, and their constant training, rituals and focus on combat dominate their lives. Diligent and focused to the point of being almost robotic, the book manages to depict them as Knights Templar taken to an extreme without crossing over into outright camp.

Some of the best moments with the marines which depict their superhuman nature are around more commonplace people. Everything from Inquisitors to Imperial nobility displays a distance through a number of narrative means. Most marines show completely lack a sense of human social niceties, style of humour or even basic subtleties thanks both to their long lives and internal programming. Many are even surprised at how rapidly unenhanced humans age, or cannot pick out things like puns. The areas of their minds given to that sort of subject matter have been replaced by sleep taught combat doctrines and weapons training. In the hands of a lesser writer this would have turned them into the edgelord legion, or made them unlikable, but Abnett manages to avert this issue.

The Iron Snakes chapter itself also notably diverts from many expected tropes. While they have descended directly from Guilliman and largely follow the Codex Astartes, they differ in a number of ways. A major one stems from their increased emphasis upon the use of infantry and deploying their units more as kill teams than full companies. Favouring proportionate responses over a multitude of units at a time, we see everything from a single marine to the entire chapter responding to threats. This would be enough on its own, but the book also works in a number of additional factors to further flesh out their culture. While largely Greek inspired, it retains hints of New Zealand and Indonisia in its nature, and you can easily see just how their world has shaped them over time. While the likes of the Excoriators are much more distinct and emphasise this point, Brothers of the Snake more subtly works it into the narrative.

The core story itself is divided up into a multitude of short stories spanning decades, and features Damocles Squad doing everything from training recruits to engaging Chaos warbands. This allows it to do more than focus on a single battlefield, and gives more of a general impression of the overall duties of a space marine chapter. While it's not quite Training Day 40,000, it is somewhat along those lines and the story has less of an epic saga feel than most. That's not to its detriment either, as some of the book's best moments stem from its ability to create an engaging plot without some ancient crisis arising. Better yet, when it does add in a large scale battle or three, it feels natural to the work and remains just as engaging as the skirmish battles.

The world building also extends beyond the chapter itself. This is easily one of the best novels in the setting to explore the futuristic feudalism which dominates large chunks of the Imperium, and the stark contrasts there. This is very evident within the first story, which is largely told through the eyes of an administrator on a semi-feudal world, and the surprising contrasts in technology there. While this bizzaro contrast could have easily thrown things off, the presentation and use of atmosphere help to make the reader more easily accept them. It also helps that, especially in this opening part, it's used to create a further disconnect between the Iron Snakes and those they defend. This said, however, the rituals and internal culture of the chapter still feels like something from another age. Something which, at least, gives them a sense of being ancient heroes without overstepping such boundaries.

Many of the later turns within the book also work to better build upon the hierarchy of the chapter. There is a much closer link between the upper echelons and standard marines than you might expect, but Abnett manages to make this work. It creates more of a stark contrast, especially with the Chief Librarian, and it's only further enhanced by the presence of Dreadnoughts in the final story. Plus that bit introduces one of the best characters of the entire saga, even if we only see an extremely small amount of him, unfortunately.

The Bad

The ironic thing about Brothers of the Snake is that almost every one of its strengths is a double-edged blade, holding it back or limiting what you would normally expect of it in some way. The experimental style of writing the book was something which would be better refined with later tales, and as such at least some of this can be put down to adjusting to writing superhuman Knights Templar.

The big one is how the episodic structure of the story can make it seem very lightweight and incidental. Rather than the massive crisis or grand campaigns of other tales, it can seem too unimportant or even unworthy of the supposedly grand scale of events. While this is intended to carry out the strengths cited above, the nature of it undermines this somewhat. Using fill-in exposition for many stories and an outsider's viewpoint for the opening arc, combined with the time-skip, makes it feel far too divided in places. Whereas the likes of the first Last Chancers book, for all its flaws, managed to string together a coherent narrative of multiple events and a final strong arc, the same cannot quite be said here. 

A particular problem is how the final crisis in question is very, very loosely linked to the initial story, but there is no narrative thread or suggested connection between the start and finish. You can argue that this is the point, given the long lives of the enemy that devised this act, but as it only comes into play at the start and end, it's more a sudden reminder. This is also further hindered by the fact that most of the characters in question are relatively flat. This was part of an intended design to be sure, and Priad himself is pushed into something of a character arc, but it doesn't quite work. He adjusts to the role of leader a little too easily, and learns his lessons as just part of the overall events rather than having any distinct turning point. There needed to be more to him than just the honourable strategic leader type, and that same criticism can be leveled at the others. Only Khiron seemed to truly stand out, and that was as much thanks to his unique role as his introduction. They are intentionally robotic and intentionally removed from humanity, but it lacks the additional elements which would benefit later sagas.

More than a few moments in the story suffer from narrative convenience to the point where a few break the suspension of disbelief. A big one in the third story surrounded how easily a group of glorified cultists could remove the armour plating of a marine without any indication of sorcery or technical know-how. Others, such as the surprising ease in which a daemonic infestation enters a highly secure location without the detection of multiple highly trained psykers, never quite seem to work. As well told as they are, there is more than one occasion where you have to seriously stretch your suspense of disbelief, even in a setting with chainswords.

Moreso than anything else, however, a great flaw lies in the book's enemies of choice. Abnett typically uses Chaos as a major enemy above all others, and the same criticism can be leveled at more than a few writers. You can almost be certain that Chaos will be the ultimate villain of the work, forsaking Xenos threats or even civil wars. As such, the more watchman-esque nature of the Iron Snakes seemed as if it would be a chance to focus on more commonplace threats. Certainly, have the odd ancient conspiracy or Chaos possession to keep things interesting, but this was a chance to focus more on Eldar Corsairs, pirate threats or the like. We don't really get that, and outside of two short stories. Even then, the tales themselves largely work around direct combat or even depicting the fights in one way or another. This ends up making the galaxy, even the Reef Stars, seem unfortunately small.

The Verdict

Brothers of the Snake is still a classic with good reason, but there's no denying that the lessons it laid down have become so commonplace they can easily be taken for granted. It's akin to introducing someone to Babylon 5 today, hyping it up and telling them of all it pioneered, only for it to seem like nothing special at first. You need to be patient with it to see what makes it special and accept some of its limitations were just a product of the time; each one setting the stage for later greats. We couldn't have had The Exorcist without Nosferatu making those first few steps, after all.

Verdict: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, 26 February 2018

Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Video Game Review)

The last few years have seen no shortage of open-world fantasy successes, with the likes of Witcher III, Dragon Age: Inquisition and even Skyrim breaking the usual genre stigma. Yet, all of these emphasise the fantasy part of the experience, with magic and monsters a-plenty. Described as ‘Dungeons & no Dragons’ by its developer, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set to subvert this.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Magos by Dan Abnett (Warhammer 40,000 Book Review)

There's one thing that should be made clear before this begins: This isn't simply a new novel.

People seeking to pick up this new release might be surprised to find that it is an omnibus length book, retaining the same page count as the entire Eisenhorn trilogy leading up to this work. The reason for this is that it retains more or less every short story published surrounding the series to date. From a few rare examples to several audio-to-text adaptations, over half of the book is made up of things we have seen before from across Eisenhorn's career. Is this bad? No, because it gives Games Workshop a reason to reprint those stories, and there's not a bad one among them.

That said, for time constraints, this is going to skip those for the moment. Instead, this will focus purely on The Magos itself, and judge the qualities of that work. Brief bite-sized reviews of the short stories might come at a later date, but this is just going to cover the new story.

The Synopsis

"Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn has spent his life stalking the darkest and most dangerous limits of the Imperium in pursuit of heresy and Chaos. But how long can a man walk that path without succumbing to the lure of the Warp? Is Eisenhorn still a champion of the Throne, or has he been seduced by the very evil that he hunts?"

It's not often we simply stick to the official blurb, but there's a lot here which can easily be spoiled. If the review as a whole seems as if it is attempting to write around certain details, that's only because it is. This is definitely a great addition to the saga, but you need to go in blind to fully appreciate more than a few of its best points. As such, the review below will highlight its best and worst qualities, but it might not be nearly so detailed as the usual reviews.

The Good

It would be easy to say "It's Eisenhorn" and then drop the metaphorical mic and leave. You know this is going to be good as, even in the absolute worst of the short stories, they are still miles ahead of many of their contemporaries. However, to offer a more detailed outline of the best qualities found within The Magos, you need to look into how it is set up.

By the end of Hereticus, everything was more or less finished. The titular Inquisitor had come to the very end of his promised arc, only to disappear in the final afterward. The characters broke up to follow their own lives, with several crossing over into the Ravenor trilogy. As such, this could have easily seemed like a needless one-shot, and yet it works near perfectly. This is thanks as much to the overall depiction of its protagonist in its current state as the core villain. 

The Eisenhorn that we see here has more than a simple "I've gone off of the deep end" tone to him, nor even the acceptance of his Radicalism. Instead, there is a noted effort to almost mentally ignore it. This isn't so much an outright effort to blind himself to having gone so far, nor even to try and live out a life now lost to him, but simply to not register it. While difficult to describe without spoiling a few notable scenes, it makes for an interesting contrast with most variants of Inquisitor gone bad. Eisenhorn as he is neither fits into the extremist insisting that he is right nor even the unwitting pawn of Chaos. Instead, it's a bizarre twist which makes his descent all the more chilling. You can still easily see the man who fought against Glaw in there, and at times he seems almost unchanged. The moment you do start to accept that, the book adds a brief but very sharp reminder of just what has transpired and what he now associates himself with.

The core villain of the book is also a definite strength, turning what could have easily been a one-shot figure into a surprisingly memorable foe. In the past books, we had a solid string of antagonists. First there was the Glaw Household, with a full introduction and outline of their personas. Then it was a shadowy figure of such power that Eisenhorn only confronted and even directly spoke with him at the last moment. Then it was a sin Eisenhorn had created, born of his own desperate need and a sign of how his compromises would come back to bite him. Each filled out a specific role in reflecting the Inquisitor's own state and indicating things to come. So, adding in a figure for a single novel, after that character arc is finished, could have turned him into a simple obstacle to be overcome.

Instead, the "oldest and most constant foe" the blurb promises establishes something which could be seen as a manifestation of the Imperium's greatest failings. Something which is parallel to the protagonist himself, and yet has been born from a very different origin. Saying anything more would be spoiling an excellent book but it is a welcome twist which grants the tome an identity of its own, rather than being some tacked on adventure.

The presentation of the fights and the engagements here are low key up to a point. You'll know the exact moment when it does throw things out the window and goes into the sort of battle Ravenor is known for. Prior to that, however, the book tries to better emphasise the investigation and drama angles the series is best famed for. In fact, it handles it better than more than a few previous installments, as it doesn't feel the need to throw in nearly as many battles or Die Hard stunts to keep things interesting. It's a different flavour of storytelling, but it fits in well with the age in which it is set, and even the style of storytelling present in the short tales leading up to it.

The characters accompanying Eisnehorn himself are spectacularly written, as is to be expected by this point. With a few returning faces and one particular daemonic entity, the story has plenty of well-developed individuals to call upon. How some have reacted following the fall-out of past series is commented upon, and it is used to reflect on the current state of the group. Specifically what they have become and how they are required to operate now. Most are given a chance to shine within the work, and a few even benefit from short character arcs which cover several chapters. This offers them more to do than what was typically found in the main trilogy, and helps to better integrate the new faces into the overall work.

However, the use of interrogatories, detective work and subterfuge is where The Magos truly shines. While it is far less Mission Impossible than what Ravenor usually offered, there's a degree more engagement in seeing how the characters adapt, work and overcome challenges with very finite resources. It's clear that they have little to fall back on, which turns it into less of a spy thriller and more of a Shadowrun experience with Inquisitorial figures involved.

The Bad

The obvious inherent weakness of the book is simply the flaw all singular series suffer from - Continuity lockout. With an intended ongoing one, one with multiple arcs and planned to keep going as needed, you can create jumping on points and ease new readers into them. Many of you are likely thinking of comics, but even Gaunt's Ghosts features this. In the case of The Magos, an inherent familiarity of the past tales is required to truly get to grips with it. Many minor or secondary elements which old hands might have forgotten and cannot simply be gleaned from skimming over a wikia page are present here, which makes it difficult to dive headlong into without prior preparation. This might sound odd, but even as someone who has read the original Eisenhorn and Ravenor series a dozen times over each, I was finding myself having to go back to see if I was misremembering events.

Furthermore, the book also pushes to be semi-self contained in a manner akin to the previous entries. Unlike those, a few later segments seem rushed in how they close out events. While past books - Especially Xenos - could write off characters thanks to the substantial time-skips or even the lifestyle of an Inquisitor, in this case it seems to force them closed. This ends with more than a few stories coming to a very abrupt end, and while this is infinitely less jarring than it might have been under another penman, it's a noted difference from past works. Almost as if part of the book were attempting to wipe the slate clean, while the other half left enough dangling elements to follow on later. The problem is, the two do not quite mesh, creating a somewhat jarring situation.

With the presence of many new characters here, especially among Eisenhorn's entourage, there are more than a few occasions where they seem notably superfluous. While previous installments had their fair share of shock deaths, dispensible fodder and minor figures, there was always a solid core of figures to fall back on. With so many of them removed here, several of the major players end up carrying out a very similar role. They are thankfully their own characters and remain distinct enough to be more than a simple substitute, but you can easily find yourself mentally noting that they have been added to cover for a specific role.

Perhaps the greatest flaw to be found within The Magos is how it ultimately tries to rely on atmosphere more than descriptions. Abnett himself tends to go back and forth on this point, with some works favouring creating a sense or specific emotion within a scene over lengthy details, while others build a distinct image. Neither one is particularly wrong, and Abnett tends to use one or the other depending upon what he is writing. The thing is, however, that the past Eisenhorn works favoured the latter, whereas The Magos is very much the former. Many scenes in past books hinged very heavily on extremely detailed and very distinct environments, so to jump right from that to a very different approach can be discordant. You can argue that this isn't an inherent problem with this book, but when it ties so closely into a larger series, it is worth citing as a flaw in the overall narrative.

The Verdict

This was definitely the sort of book Pariah should have been. Along with the action being centred on a familiar protagonist over a new figure stuck in an invisible war on unfamiliar factions, it fills in many gaps and helps to set the scene for the events to come. While Eisenhorn's character arc had dome to a natural end with Hereticus, this manages to keep the story going without feeling like a superfluous extension.

The only serious criticism truly is that it is heavily tied into past series continuity, and has been written with old fans in mind. Combined with a rather abrupt conclusion, it's definitely not something new fans or even those with a passing familiarity with the series will be able to get into. Then again, that merely justifies introducing them to one of Black Library's greatest trilogies.

Verdict: 8.3 out of 10

Friday, 23 February 2018

Metal Gear Survive (Video Game Review)

Metal Gear Survive accomplishes the one thing no Metal Gear game has ever managed before. It’s boring. Banal, generic and surprisingly unremarkable, the combination of zombies with survival elements is as well handled as you might expect. The sad thing is, were it not for the Fox Engine, the mechanics could be mistaken for any of the thousands of unfinished zombie games in Steam Early Access.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Space Marine/Thunder Warrior Hybrids Confirmed As Canon?

It seems every fan has some small part of some franchise they're obsessed with. Some small part that we barely see, but people keep coming back to because of what they represent and the ideas they offer. While the Eldar Exodites are a personal one, for many fans of the Imperium of Man this comes in the form of the Thunder Warriors. Short-lived, violently psychotic and utterly unstable, they were utterly loyal to the Emperor while emulating many of mankind's worst traits.

While little more than a genetic stop-gap measure on the way to the more refined Adeptus Astartes, more than a few fans have developed a fondness for these hulking brutes. We know little of their victories or even culture save for what little was gleaned from the likes of the Outcast Dead. It seemed short of a few one-shots that Black Library was a whole were done with them. Well, sort of. Blackshields: The False War suggests something very, very interesting which might change a few things surrounding the lore of these mysterious figures.

While the audio drama itself is a fine one (and the rare example of a heist involving the Adeptus Astartes), the story dropped a surprising bombshell in the form of Endryd Haar. Nicknamed the "Riven Hound", Haar was the rare example of a World Eaters loyalist who had fully embraced his savage ways. While Captain Varren showed a surprising degree of nobility hinting as to what the legion could have become without the Nails, Haar was brutality incarnate. Willing to enforce his rule through executions, maiming and honour duels, all that was known was that he was Terran born and was one of the first of his legion.

Bit by bit, however, Blackshields added a few interesting details, seemingly building off of a statement from the Forge World rulebooks: "Endryd Haar and his three battle-brothers were part of the first initiate company of the XIIth Legion created in the Imperial Geneworks on Terra, long before his brethren had taken the name of the War Hounds, and many decades before they would become Angron's "eaters of worlds." Only he would go on to survive that company; a remnant of a lost age, a living weapon akin to his Legion brothers that came after and yet subtly different in his controlled savagery."

While this was initially put down to him merely being the first among their kind in a manner akin to Merir Astelan of the Dark Angels, the story kept going further and further with this idea. 

One of the first points cited very early on was his size, dwarfing even the Death Guard remnants among his force and surprising those familiar with the Legionaries. Then, along with his savage methods, it began to note other things, such as the fact he had no Nails. Instead, that his savagery and spite was born of something else:

"There were no Nails in his skull. His savagery comes from a deeper well."

This point is only driven further with a few hints surrounding Terra, that he effectively escaped from the place of his gene-forging, and later even his views on Horus himself. Determining that he must personally slay the rebellion's leader, he is driven more by a deep-seated contempt over anything we have seen with other characters. It's not so much betrayal or even the loss of his comrades as the nature of his act. A specific moment of which hinted heavily that this related to Horus having a far greater purpose planned than he had.

Even without all the above connecting this together, a man with notable inside knowledge of the Imperium's darkest secrets quietly asks him a very interesting question:

"Do you dream of thunder?"

Normally this would be the point where the article says "This is just a theory so please treat it as such" but given the sheer number of hints present here, it's difficult to say that this wasn't planned. Perhaps this is intended as a bait-and-switch or even an alteration to be built upon later on. Yet, with this all originating from one audio drama and all by one mind? That speaks less of different creative minds offering dots to join up and more of a plan. 

The question now surrounds just what Haar himself actually is. A missing link between the Thunder Warriors and Astartes, or perhaps even a variant of the older superhuman psychopaths implanted with Angron's gene-seed, forging a mongrel breed of warrior. Both are certainly possible, but you then need to consider other things atop of this. Particularly the subject of how the Thunder Warriors' bodies burned themselves out within a few years and even those left on Terra were on the verge of death.

The most obvious answer might be that Haar was a prototype, or a direct experiment. Master of Mankind threw in a questionable scene where the Emperor directly opted not to remove Angron's Nails due to the enhanced ferocity they offered, leaving many to question why he didn't just keep the Thunder Warriors if he sought such a creation. Perhaps he experimented with just that but disliked the end result.

With another Blackshields audio drama having already been announced and promoted, the chances are we might end up with a few more answers along with details surrounding this faction of Space Marines. Until then, we will just have to wait and think over the scraps of lore we have been given for the time being.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Corsair: The Face of the Void (Warhammer 40,000 Audio Drama Review)

Even among the diverse battlefields of the 41st Millenium, Rogue Traders have a special place. They offer a chance to step away from planetary warfare to something purely space based, sidestep many of the big problems surrounding xenophobia and open up story possibilities military tales cannot easily access. The sense of adventure, discovery and emphasis upon loot over "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" or "HERESY!" is often a welcome change as well.

While Andy Hoare delved into this with his own duology, it's been some time since Black Library devoted time purely to such a character, at least until a few weeks ago. With James Swallow's return, this audio drama looks as if it's set to be the beginning of an entirely new series, and it has to be said it's off to a promising start.

The Synopsis

Sailing through the void, the Corsair hunts for abhuman pirates who have recently pillaged an Imperial world. Under the command of Captain Athene Santiago, the ship bears down upon its prey within a dense asteroid field. Yet, few truly know just what the pirates have pillaged, nor even of the mysterious objects origin. The Rogue Trader soon finds that her treasure is far more dangerous than anyone could have imagined.

The Good

This is one of a handful of efforts by Black Library to develop true audio dramas. While most have followed transcripts, narration and a few actors in the lead roles, this dispenses entirely with the narrator in favour of actors. In many cases, this can easily prove to be awkward, as every action, expression, description, and statement needs to be conveyed by word. However, the vocal direction in Corsair: The Face of the Void is easily on par with the likes of Big Finish and benefits from some very talented and experienced voice actors. This allows them to perform a great deal of the heavy lifting, and carry the relevant exposition without it feeling too out of place. While there are certainly one or two forced moments, there is nothing truly out of place here.

A further point in the work's benefit is how the characters quickly distinguish themselves within the first few minutes. From an Imperial Naval Academy washout to an Eldar Outcast, the group is as diverse and colourful as you would expect. While the audio drama's style and brisk pacing permit very little in the way of background details or true introductions, what is conveyed through dialogue proves to be very interesting. 

The key focus is on the Captain and two other characters, but it's a credit to the overall production that you can immediately single one character out from the other. Their histories, relationships, familiarity with one another and even disposition towards the life of a Rogue Trader are conveyed within the opening few minutes. Compared with many longer and larger scope tales, this one does an excellent job of making sure you never forget who is who even with relatively few scenes.

As you might imagine, executing combat in this format is a difficult task. Without a narrator to describe blows or more complex movements, it's left almost entirely to the sound effects and actors to convey this point. Naturally, this means that any direct duel or conflict was out of the question, leaving them to work around it. However, the production turned this weakness into a strength. Much of the action is delivered through statistical data and shipborne combat, while the few direct face-to-face engagements are won almost entirely through trickery. This is especially helpful, given the story throws a few exceptionally powerful enemies at them, so any conventional victory would have seemed implausible at best.

The story also performs a decent amount of world building in this time. While we are only granted a few basic facts through conversations and moments of exposition, it's clearly a sort of pirate haven. Less the orderly sub-sectors akin to Helican or even Ultramar, and more a hive of scum and villainy filled with pirates and lost treasure. It substantially helps that we are given a chance to see just who rules this realm, and her brief appearance adds to the mythos of this place substantially. This might sound as if it's glorifying a secondary aspect of the story, but it helps to alter the atmosphere of the tale substantially. This is less the realm of gene-forged Knights Templar and entities from beyond the realm of mortals, and one of profit, high adventure and lost secrets. It's the same place, but simply a different take on it.

Yet perhaps the greatest strength is that the overall story makes a point of subverting most expectations. While the Imperium of Man is a much larger and more varied realm than many would give it credit for, there's no denying that authors tend to favour a few distinct tropes over others. That's not so much the case here. In fact, the big mystery behind a certain item proves to be anything but what you might expect it to be. There are a few clever signs, obvious ones in retrospect, but it performs such an excellent bluff that its presence is a welcome change to the norm in these tales. The same is true of the characters themselves as well. They might retain shades or general aspects of what you might expect, but it never goes overboard at any point.

Yet, there are a few distinct problems here despite all o this good. Ones which, while margnial, are still evident very early on.

The Bad

It's very clear that this is intended to be a pilot for a bigger series. On the one hand, this is certainly no bad thing. It has a solid story, potential for bigger tales, and James Swallow's work on the Garro series proved that he can pull this off. Unfortunately, however, the story leaves a few too many questions unanswered for this stage. In a longer tale or even a more extensive audio drama this might not have been so much of an issue, but with its brisk pace and emphasis on action over character moments, it can leave you feeling a bit insubstantial. Or suffering from Lost flashbacks. That's a definite possibility as well.

The audio drama also tries to be both episodic and long-reaching in terms of its stories, but this compounds the point above. It resolves the core threat in of itself and tries to neatly wrap up the core events while leaving many threads for later stories. It's clear just why this was done and how someone might have considered this to be an apt method of keeping the story going. With that said, there are a few choice actions which simply end too swiftly or lack the sort of impact you would expect.

The audio drama's brisk nature also works against it on some occasions. While a swift story is hardly ever a bad one, when it focuses upon a select few characters it's usually worth keeping it focused upon a key location. Perhaps a few places or an ongoing journey, but with this one the story jumps around a great deal. While it's clear it would be difficult to get around this otherwise, the need to do so really feels as if it's speeding through events and not leaving them enough time to fully register certain actions. As a result, on the whole this is one which lacks the sort of memorable impact you would expect.

The Verdict

The best thing to say about Corsair: The Face of the Void is that it feels like a Ciaphas Cain short story. It uses humour in places, runs through events quite quickly and has clear links to a much bigger universe we do not get to see. Yet the charm of the characters, the excellent execution of the core story and obvious hooks to make people come back overwhelms the weaknesses inherent within the plot itself. It's certainly not nearly as heavy going as other stories, but that was never the point here.

If you're looking for an audio drama which doesn't focus on the Adeptus Astartes or Imperial Guard, this is easily the best option we've had in years. Definitely consider picking this one up, especially if you're a fan of the Fantasy Flight Games RPG adaptations.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Dynasty Warriors 9 (Video Game Review)

By all rights, Dynasty Warriors should be an impossible series to screw up. You have a few thousand mooks on each side, a variety of maps, some fun mission objectives, and a lot of colourful heroes. The formula is an effective one as it can be adapted to a variety of settings and characters, with the likes of Fire Emblem, Gundam and Legend of Zelda getting in on the action. Looking at Dynasty Warriors 9, however, you would be forgiven for thinking Koei Tecmo was attempting to torch its own franchise.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Secret of Mana (Video Game Review)

While the company is best known for Final Fantasy, Square Enix has churned out no end of cult classics. From Star Ocean: The Second Story to Chrono Trigger, you can point to any number of secondary series which have helped to shape the JRPG genre as a whole. Secret of Mana is one of those, and its return has been long awaited by many fans for well over a decade now. Upon playing it, however, it’s clear it might not have been made with them in mind.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Codex: Adeptus Custodes Part 2 - Special Rules, Units and Relics (Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition Review)

So, with the lore out of the way, here we are with the rules. To give the brief version: It's an upscaled variation of what we were given last Edition. The armies are small, focus heavily upon rapid attacks and hitting hard with a few people, backed with some heavy armour and fast units. It's the sort of thing most will likely want for an allies list due to a few inherent weaknesses, but it's just about good enough to stand up on its own two legs.

Also, no, it's not Movie Marines 2: Marine Harder, as some had feared. They're tough, but they can die if you're overconfident, dumb, or you have an enemy who can exploit your shortcomings. They could even be viewed as a more durable version of the Dark Eldar or Tempestus Scions in this regard. They hit hard, can inflict heavy casualties early on, but a few stupid mistakes can see your strong assault shatter under the weight of a counter attack. That said, it's not perfect, and a few bad habits do rear their ugly head once more, as you'll see here.

Still, you're probably wanting to hear more about this in detail, so let's get onto the rules themselves.

Special Rules

To further separate them out from the Astartes, the Custodes have a number of interesting special rules to reflect their finer breed. While most of these align in some way or another with a few distinct chapters or general tactics, the fact that you get them automatically helps to give the army a different starting point to work from. You're spending more points per model, so it's to be expected that they would have a few tricks up their collective sleeve.

Aegis of the Emperor: Besides having a name which makes me wonder if it's Graven Ashe we have secretly sitting on the Golden Throne, the Aegis is known by many names. To more than a few it's a simple blessing but to his chosen followers it's an energy shield to go with their shiny armour. The result? Everyone in your army has a 5+ invulnerable save, giving them some surprising moments of shrugging off railgun rounds when needed.

The Emperor's Chosen: This only works with a purely Custodes force, and serves primarily to augment the rule listed above. If the Custodes are a pure detachment with no allies, you can add +1 to that above save to everything there, from elite grunts to the Terminators. Also, yes, the ones on the jetbikes have this as well.

Admittedly, this is personally something I view as the only major misstep within the rules here, as it takes things too far. Sure, you might be fielding an army of perhaps twenty-five models in total, but when they stand a chance of merrily marching through gunfire from Titans with only a few casualties, this stops becoming "strong but few" and into turning the force into a golden battering ram. If you think this is too much of an exaggeration then (outside of a few of the more ludicrous detachments) the only ones to have this sort of thing previously were supposed to be individuals. HQ choices, the odd heavy support, perhaps a Monstrous Creature. A whole army though? Unless you can rely on sheer weight of numbers to win the day, that's going to seriously weight things in the Custodes' players favour from the get-go.

Sworn Protectors: Compared with the moment of insanity above, this is one of the much more understandable ones.With this work in effect, all Custodes from infantry to bikers can secure objectives. It's again something we see a variant of quite often, but in this case, it's needed to allow them an edge in situations where larger boards would render them unusable. Larger or faster-moving forces such as the eldar or even Tyranids would likely be able to keep them constantly bogged down with waves of fodder or rush the positions early on.

The only issue is that it seems as if this should have had an asterisk at the end. Custodes on foot? They'll take a while to get there. In transports? Same result. Jetbikes? They're few in number and have a few notable weaknesses to exploit when they're on their lonesome. Deep Striking Terminators with +2 basic saves and 4+ Invulnerable options? Okay, now we've gone a bit too far. At least with other armies you have people being fired across the board on bikes or need to spend a few points on Drop Pods. It's not too bad thanks to a few counters, but it's one which could have been scaled back slightly.


As outlined above, there's not too many units to cover here. Enough for the basic skeleton of an army, and a limited force which can be allied with bigger units to greater effect while (mostly) standing up on its own two legs.


Shield Captain: Costing 122 points, the Shield Captain is your standard all-rounder for frontline generals on this list. While sticking to a basic Custodes stats line of M6" ES2+ BS+ S5 T5 Ld10 Sv2+, he also has the advantage of five Attacks and six Wounds. Expect a lot of that last bit in this list, as the Custodes are built to take more than a few blows.

He's a fairly versatile option, capable of taking most gear the army has to offer, from Guardian Spears to an oversized blade on a stick which would give Gotrek axe envy. His main special rule is Inspirational Fighter, which gives all Custodes units within 6" of his position re-rolls to hit. This makes him viable as a spearhead to blunt enemy attacks, and more importantly to help with holding certain positions.

Atop of this, his Allarus Terminator version gives him an extra wound, and gains the From Golden Light special rule all terminators in this army would benefit from. What's more his jetbike version grants him +1 to Wounds and Toughness along with high-speed movement, but it comes with the debatable downside of limiting him to the Interceptor lance. "Debatable" is the key term here as, while it limits his options and is the most expensive choice, he can still take certain relics to cover the benefits offered by others and is hitting harder than most close combat options.

Like most of this army, he's a Space Marine Captain on steroids.
Captain-General Trajann Valoris: This is the big boss here. The only named character, and likely someone whose name has already been scored out and replaced with "Kitten" in a thousand codices. Oh come on, you were thinking that as well. Still, whatever Alfabusa has to answer for, there' no denying that he's a solid option in most situations.

Sharing the same overall stats line of the Shield Captains with the bonus of seven Wounds, Leadership 10 and a 3+ invulnerable save, he's unlikely to run and will keep most powerful units stonewalled for an essential turn or two. Armed with a Watcher's Axe, he's also hitting at Strength 10 AP3, and Strength 5 while shooting. 

In terms of special rules he has a rather incredible assortment of options, as two rules allow him to regen beneficial aspects, one for D3 wounds per turn and the other D3 CP after using a Stragegem. Thankfully each has limits, as he cannot outright resurrect himself, and he cannot restore more CP than used in the Strategem for that turn.

The last one only skims past being up there with the others due to a notable flaw most people miss at first. He can attack twice in the Close Combat phase. Now, this sounds like it would be excellent, but it ends up being fairly situational. Against an enemy HQ choice or something big it can be helpful, but unless he's alone against a horde (at which point he's likely going to fall due to sheer attrition) it tends to allow him to wipe out entire units. Thus leaving him completely in the open for everything to open fire on him in the next turn.

Why am I not ranting about this and how unfair it is? They're all technically one special rule named Moment Shackle, and he can only do one of these once per game. It's a major benefit and he still stands a chance of doing damage even if this isn't truly successful, but it has a good chance of failing or backfiring on him. So, while it's powerful and usually quite beneficial, this major draw can fail a player at the last second. Perhaps i'm being too kind to this, but not too long ago it wouldn't be surprising to see him being allowed to select one to use once per turn. 

His last special rule, Legendary Commander, allows all Custodes within "6 to reroll their hits and wounds

Overall, he's an oversized and extremely tough Chapter Master with a few too many wounds and (ugh) a Strength 10 attack, but he's still on the right side of fun. It does also help that he's expensive.


The elites choices within the army stick largely to prior artworks. While it's worth clarifying we're not getting into some of the gorgeous things Forge World have produced for this army, most of what we have seems limited to the artwork from the Collected Visions series. So, yes, for the time being that means mostly Terminators, beefier Custodians and Contemptor Dreadnoughts. Each with a slight twist.

Custodian Wardens: This is the Custodes option to emulate the hardier troops among the Guard. They stick to the same stats line, the same basic overall use and general tactics, but with a few nice bonuses.The big one is the bonus of an Iron Hands style Feel No Pain of 6+, and an extra point to their Attacks and Leadership. Furthermore, they come with the ability to carry castellan axes into battle, which places a much greater emphasis on close combat over Guardian Spears.

The main use of these units will likely be to cull troops and as a rapid response choice for more assault orientated lists. While many other options are superior when it comes to capturing objectives, taking hits and the like, the Wardens can move quickly and inflict heavy casualties. Combined with the presence of Land Raiders, they make a slower moving but more versatile alternative to the likes of the jetbikes. Overall a good choice, but you would want to seriously consider how your list is formulated before throwing them in.

Allarus Custodians: This is easily one of the most ridiculous options on here, as if someone decided that Terminators simply weren't durable enough and decided to correct that as best as possible. They're the Terminator units you would expect them to be, but along with benefiting from a Custodes stats line and a high save, they're armed with grenade launchers and have four wounds each. You will need that. They might be good, but they have a points cost which reflects this fact, and they have been made with two obvious roles in mind. The first is claiming areas via Deep Strikes, and the second stems from their capacity to behead armies thanks to the Slayers of Tyrants rule. This allows them to move about an extra 3" toward any named character when consolidating or piling into combat.

The main issue with the Terminators themselves is the fact that they easily turn into a rather expensive distraction. Drop them into a zone and they will fight to hold that area to the last man, by they will likely be overwhelmed when the rest of an army heads their way. Equally, because they're such a threat to most HQ choices, it's not uncommon to see them be dogpiled by mooks to prevent them from nailing their leader. Most of the easy answers to this aren't openly available to the player due to the Custodes' limited numbers, so they're very good, but like so much here it can easily backfire if you expect the army's raw strength to win the battle for you.

Venerable Contemptor Dreadnought: So, this was an interesting one. The return of the Contemptors in this list was always going to be an obvious one, due as much to the Contemptors' age as the old artwork of the gaudily clad upright battle coffins. This alone would be enough in of itself, but with the benefit of a 5+ invulnerable save and a new special rule called Unyielding Ancient special rule. As if these things weren't tough enough, you can now ignore attacks on the roll of a 6.

Even with all the new toys, these are going to be your heavy hitters in close combat, and any Custodes army should take at least one. While they're pricey, you have to account for all the benefits listed above giving them some much-needed durability along with a heftier punch. A power fist is going to hurt no matter what you do, but under the revised rules, these units hit at Strength 14 and can rip most vehicles in half. It also serves as a good bullet magnet, drawing firepower away from the bulk of your troops for a short while at least, even if it's only the heavy weapons at times.

Vexilus Praetors: An odd one, to say the least, the Praetors are the sword and shield combos promoted throughout the artwork. While not quite on par with the Veteran squads seen in the usual Space Marine lists, the unit somewhat gravitates towards that same overall role. The unit in question is a mix of storm shields, guardian spears and axes as the player needs, but with the added benefit of a large buffing banner which grants them a new effect.

The unit in question can be divided up into three choices thanks to the banner, each with an independent effect on the board which alters their overall role These are basic area related buffs, but there's no denying that these general alterations benefit the unit. For example, Vexilla Imperius offers a 6" range which grants every single non-vehicle Custodes unit nearby an extra attack. Vexilla Defensor then swaps this out for a 5+ invulnerable save to all Imperial units within 9", while Vexilla Magnifica limits the enemy shooting results by -1.

Due to the inherent toughness of the Custodes themselves, some of these are best left to certain lists or enemies. The Magnifica certainly works if you're facing down an especially star cannon happy Craftworld Eldar player, while the Defensor is of limited use to Custodes armies, but a godsend to allied lists such as the Imperial Guard. While you can take the Praetors in Terminator armour, outside of certain key lists this doesn't convey a massive benefit to the squad.


Custodian Guard Squad: This is admittedly quite a frustrating point within the codex. While the army itself is thankfully quite infantry heavy and does place a key emphasis on having variations of a single base stat line (and thus presumably a soldier) there's only a single Troops choice. It's not a bad one by any means, and it ultimately sticks to what makes the list work, but it slides back toward the top-heavy structure the game has been working its way back from for some time. This might well have been made with the intent of limiting the capacity to simply spam massive horde armies of Custodes troops, but the high points costs should have resolved that on their own.

Getting to the squad itself, the unit comes with the bizarre choice of between 3-10 Custodes overall, the low end of which seems too fragile to truly be of much use. Aside from this detail, the unit is largely unchanged from the previous Edition, albeit with greater encouragement present to divide up the squad between storm shield and guardian spear equipped troops for added durability. The bonus of a troop transport is still present as well, and is actively encouraged in order to make the best use of their close combat capabilities. Despite remaining the baseline unit for the army, these guys can still take on forces several times their number with reckless abandon, to the point where you can simply slaughter most lesser troops with carefully planned strikes. This said, they are expensive as ever, so even losing half of a squad is still going to hit you hard.

Overall, it's a basic but perfectly fine and tactically versitile troops choice for this style of army.


Much like the above option, there is only one Fast Attack option on hand for players who do not wish to fork over some cash to Forge World. That being said, it's arguably one of the most entertaining ones in the entire army - Imperial Jetbikes!

Vertus Praetors: Tactically versatile and capable of finding use in almost any list, the Praetors are easily capable of filling out the role of crowd control and elite killer with barely any changes. Outfitted with a set of Hurricane Bolters as a standard weapon (yes, as in the wall of high explosive rapid-firing jet-propelled mini rocket launchers usually reserved for Land Raiders), these can be swapped out for grenade launchers and a set of Interceptor lances of melee engagements. As a result, you can have two squadrons operating in coordination with one another, one thinning out the horde while the other sweeps through and turns the survivors into heretical kababs.

What benefits the Praetors the most is how they cover a number of what seems to be quite open blind spots in the army as well. The lances make them remarkably effective tank hunters when push comes to shove, and against anything short of a Necron Monolith or Land Raider, these will typically puncture the vehicle to death. What's more, the general grey area surrounding their presence means that these can technically melee aircraft. The rule only specifies that fliers cannot be engaged by units without the fly rule, and most will fall quickly before these things.

There's just two very big shortcomings on their part - 
1. They're expensive. Un-upgraded and without extra units, they're the most expensive thing on here short of the Land Raider. That's only for three of them as well. So, unless you're going for a large scale game, you're likely not going to have enough here to cover all of your bases. 

2. Their sheer mobility often works against them. Throw them ahead or keep sending them into combat, and they will rapidly outrun every other thing in your army. This makes them easier to pick out and bog down with a few key strategies, and then to overwhelm them when isolated from any supporting units. That 14" movement might be of help, and the 6" to advance is a killer, but if you fail to fully predict everything you can see a big part of your army suddenly go down the drain.


Finally, we get to the last one. It's a powered up Land Raider, nothing more and nothing less.

Venerable Land Raider: As you might have predicted from the name, this has undergone an archeotech upgrade akin to that of the Contemptor. With the Unyielding Ancient rule arising again, it has another level of durability to the sixteen wounds and 2+ saves Land Raiders are known for. It's the next best anti-tank option short of the jetbikes and the only transport, so short of Deep Strikes this is another one you should keep in mind when writing a list. As expensive as it is, there's usually a good reason to take it in moderate to large forces.


The relics here are an interesting mix of things, as it offers far, far more an arsenal than most codices. With thirteen items in total, you have no small number of things to pick from, and to use to help give a bit of added variety to the army itself.

Gatekeeper: Used to supplant the typical guardian spear, this is a nice bonus for a relatively cheap list on here. While it sticks to the overall melee stats of a basic spear, the benefit of  3+ hits on Overwatch and the capacity to Rapid Fire three shots in total. Useful for quickly culling the remnants of squads, but unremarkable overall.

The Veiled Blade: Another "the same but-!" option as above, but this time with the sentinel blade. A relic weapon, this one offers an additional two attacks when close to an objective marker. On the one hand, this is a great idea and does assist with helping to cover for a general shortcoming of the army, but for a slight bonus. On the other, it's limited entirely to a 3" range, so unless you're directly atop of the marker you're all out of luck. This might be worthwhile for a Deep Striking Captain, but otherwise it's skippable.

Emperor's Light: This one is a replacement misericordia (a short dagger and secondary weapon with a rather flowery name) which offers an interesting bonus. A nice bonus is that it forces enemy units within 12" of the bearer must add 1 to their Morale tests. Oh and it gives him an extra attack. Again, it's inoffensive but cheap and a good bonus to a figure.

Auric Aquilas: Limited to the bikers, this is an essential one if you plan on having a Captain zooming about the world. Why? An invulnerable save of 3+ and the ability to reroll failed charge rolls when you move in to melee a squad. A very nice extra element, which avoids becoming gimmicky while remaining useful throughout the game.

Auric Shackles: The nullifier option, this is limited to engagements with enemy characters, but removes one Attack value from them at all times in combat. Interestingly, he does not need to be directly engaged against the character in question, but takes effect so long as they are within 6" of guy carrying this. Yet, if you do manage to slay the Warlord with whoever is carrying this, you gain D3 Victory Points in the game. A good choice, and an interesting one in countering the more Herohammer aspects which are leftover in the game.

Eagle's Eye: It's a +1 bonus to the unit's invulnerable save. While it has some interesting lore in regards to how it operates in this regard, enhancing the user's perceptions and reactions of the world. Still, honestly, it's a very bland option which could have been skipped.

Fulminaris Aggressor: The Vexilla Defensor replacement on here, this one opts to expand its abilities somewhat. Along with allied Imperial footsoldiers, this also expands to bikes as well, meaning you have every reason to have these guys team up with the White Scars or Raven Wing at some point. 

This thankfully isn't just it, as the massive totem can be used as a very entertaining weapon. At range this offers 8" Strength 4 AP-1 D1 Assault D6 shots which autohit and act like a flamer. In melee, this then offers S+2 AP-1 D1. So, overall, you sacrifice raw killing power for a broader buff to surrounding units and a very useful assault weapon. It's a nice extra to have, and a rather creative one compared to most of these items.

The Praetorian Plate: Limited to Terminators, this works in conjunction with other Imperial characters. When the other character moves about, at the end of your opponent's Charge phase, you can immediately teleport the person with this Terminator plating to an enemy model within 1" of the character, up to 3" inches from them. It's a rather nasty surprise, especially if you can get this off right at the very end, and work it in coordination with highly mobile heroes which can zoom about the board without too many issues. Jump packs? Yeah, that's a good one, but think of just what you could do with Saint Celestine for a moment.

Rainment of Sorrows: Another bonus element on here, this isn't quite so much the usual +1 or -1 option you would expect of this. Instead, if a Custodian dies within 6" of the person carrying this, on the roll of a 4+ they make one last attack before falling, either shooting or in melee. This is very dependant upon who you team them up with, but there are some definite options where this could be of use against very tough targets. Magnus, Mortarion or some of the bigger damage sponges at the ones which certainly come to mind, especially if you have two Dreadnoughts.

Wrath Angelis: Serving as a replacement for the Vexilla Magnifica, this gives Fearless to bikes and infantry units of Imperial armies. While it has the same usual range, it also comes with a 6" Nova ability which deals D3 mortal wounds on a 4+ to all targets within range. Save for the Custodes, who are limited to a 6+. Because gold armour is reflective, I suppose.

Castellan's Mark: This is one of the much more of an irritating one than most. While many have been limited or playing it safe, there's little here which can truly be called bad, but this is a step too far. In effect, it takes the Swarmlord ability to re-deploy whoever is carrying this item and one squad right at the beginning of the game. 

Obliteratum: A Terminator exclusive in the arsenal, it supplants the Balistus grenade launcher with another bloody Strength 10 weapon. This time a Strength 10 AP-4 which can inflict D3 hits. Admittedly, this is one of the few anti-tank options on here which isn't a Dreadnought or Land Raider, and it does at least try to give a bit more variety to the item with the D3 option.

Faith Absolute: Another Vexillia exclusive, this one allows the bearer to perform Deny the Witch rolls as needed. Meh. It's an interesting idea, but a very half-baked one.

Overall, it's a flawed list, but a good one. There are some definite inherent problems to be found within the overall structure and presentation of the Custodes, and while it mostly gets their core concepts right, there are definite moments where it steps too far. Or too short in the case of how most of the list is limited to the Elites choices. So, it's alright on the whole and while there is room for improvement it's a big step in the right direction.

Well, that's part 2 done. Just the Strategems, Tactical Objectives and Warlord traits to go.