Monday, 23 January 2017

The Changing Face of the Eldar - New Aeldari Models Revealed, Thoughts on the Future



A few days ago an article on here speculated about a trailer Games Workshop had released. In effect it discussed the potential meanings behind the cryptic quotes, new symbol and how it might relate to a few changes brought about by the events of Death Masque. Well, the company has released a few minatures to reflect these changes and our first look is both extremely good, and insanely bad.

The follow-up trailer released for the second book of the Gathering Storm series, Fracture of Biel-Tan, reflects this perfectly-


So, to start with the obvious: Yes, Ynnead's fractured remnant did survive. It seems to be so weak that it is effectively an Avatar of that form akin to how Khaine survived through his Avatars. This will be the crux of the new story, and from the sounds of things it will focus upon a major conflict, split or breaking point on the craftworld of Biel-Tan. An interesting choice to be sure given Ulthw√©'s closer proximity to the Eye of Terror and the major battle being waged about Cadia, so this might be a side event. It could be the start of something to help cover the galaxy as a whole rather than sticking purely to one location, untying the Gordian Knot of narrative threads writers have built up over the last three Editions.

Furthermore, and this needs to be made absolutely clear, this models are spectacular. Really, much as people might complain when something like the Centurion is produced, this is a clear sign that the design department is capable of churning out wonders for Warhammer 40,000, just as they can with Age of Sigmar. Each is clearly distinct, unique and with a few solid shout-outs to past creations, and is a perfect mix of beauty, menace and disturbing lethality.

Now, with that said however, there are a few very big warning lights showing up looking at these models alone. Why, when I praised them so highly just a moment ago? Well, ask yourself this question: Could you see any of these working with a Craftworld Eldar army? The menacing edges, gaudy designs, exaggerated non-human traits and Slaaneshi qualities are all something far more in line with the Dark Eldar than anyone else. Some already suspect that the figure with the exaggerated headdress, Yvraine, is in fact  Lady Malys from the Codex: Dark Eldar books. Something which would make sense given her history and relationship with the Harlequins. 

Personally, I would even go so far as to argue little to nothing of the Craftworld Eldar designs actually remain here at all. Given that this is supposed to be a new set of heroes devoted to this faction, it makes the previously discussed idea of a forced unity between the armies all the more likely. We have a similar situation as the start there, royally screwing over the less-evil race and depowering them until they are in a severely weakened state. Combined with the name, it wouldn't surprise me if we start to see the destruction of the Craftworlds and Commorragh as well. Given how forced, nonsensical and downright rushed the whole Elf storyline was in Warhammer: End Times even without the retcons, this seems like it could be a recipe for disaster. Just another "WHAM! Now you're one race again, no problems and you all work together fine!" whilst sweeping the old problems under the rug.

Now, some will likely argue that his is more easily pulled off here as a comment left in the previous article brought up the idea that there is less of a divide between the species. This is entirely wrong right from their societies upwards. You have one race taught to fight Slaanesh through focus, self control, constant discipline and constant use of their psychic powers. The other, meanwhile, is taught to embrace excess, use emotion as a constant drive, and to perpetually feed Slaanesh and gain fresh souls to extend their lives. One is taught to follow order, obey a strict hierarchy and become attuned to the will of their elders. The other is taught to kill those elders, consume their souls, back-stab everyone in sight and keep bumping people off so they remain at the top.

Even without getting into that however, the Dark Eldar have been doing a damn good job of making themselves the enemies of every other sub-sect of their race over the years. The few times they have allied with others have been rare exceptions or performed out of a twisted sense of spite. As for the rest, well, see for yourself - 

- Ishareq, an Exodite World, repels an attack by the Dark Eldar who value them as slaves. In response, the Kabalite Warriors poison the World Spirit before leaving. This leads to the death of the world and its entire populace.

- Biel-tan and several Kabals wage a decades long war in the Webway to rob the other of its control, killing thousands on either side. This only ends when it becomes clear it will lead to mutual annihilation, but even then the Dark Eldar make a point to provoke and attack the craftworld following this.

- Upon discovering a small Craftworld trapped in the Webway from the days of the Fall itself, the Dark Eldar enter it, greet their lost kin, and then slaughter them all. Shattering spirit stones and stealing anything of worth (including the wraithbone so precious to them) they commit an act of massed genocide in the name of power. The Harlequins are forced to perform the Masque of Vyle and hunt down the perpetrators of this attack, keeping the event hidden from the Craftworlds to avoid all out war.

- The Dark Eldar trick the Tau Empire into launching a retaliatory strike against an Exodite world following their own raids. This leads to it being stripped of all life by the Empire, and even a brief war with Iyanden while they retreat into the Webway.

- Eldar slaves, victims and technology is prized beyond all else. As such, even the likes of Vect have been known to align himself purely to spite them. During the Gothic War he briefly sided with Abaddon the Despoiler to destroy a possible Imperial-Eldar alliance against the Twelfth Black Crusade following the promise of eldar slaves. Furthermore, he retains a personal force of Wraithguard tortured to the point of insanity and imprisoned beneath his fortress, to be used as a hidden army when needed. 

Yeah, these aren't the sorts of people who would agree to suddenly stop fighting and permanently ally. They would be trying to use one another as cannon fodder in place of their own troops at the best of times, and likely murder one another shortly after any actual victory. As such, while I personally think the models themselves are certainly fantastically designed and expertly made, I am worried just what kind of future story they might be heralding for this army.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Rise & Shine (Video Game Review)


Rise & Shine is another of those experiences which might as well be called a game about games. With a story which intentionally mashes together a dozen old hero stories, and shout outs to everything from Duck Hunt to Gears of War, it could have easily been a nostalgia cash in. Yet, Super Mega Team's creativity, art direction and the uncanny ability to blend bullet hell, puzzle platforming and arcade shooter mechanics results in a single game.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Gathering Storm: Fall of Cadia Part 3 - Formations & Detachments (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)


Like last time, this is going to be a relatively short piece as there are only a few formations left, and that's it. True, there are the mission objectives and a battlezone, but these reviews tend to stick to the meat of the work asking "how well does it tell this story, and how well does it reflect the army?" Plus, given we tried to cover those with the Supplements only to be frustrated at their shortcomings a good six or seven times in a row, it seemed like the sort of thing best left to the other reviewers. Probably the ones who say "The lore is good, moving onto the rules" when it comes to the story.

So, let's finish up this section of the book and get ready for what happens next.


Formations


Triumvirate of the Imperium

This is really what people were predicting from the start, and another of the classic tropes which keeps arising. Mashing together three of the big characters from the book into one formation, they gain a few special rules to give them a bit more of an edge against their foes. This one is certainly far tamer than usual and, while obscenely expensive, does have a few more benefits in coordinating their attacks than the average trio formation.

Usually when a book mashes together three HQ choices like this, they tend to interfere with one another. We have seen this repeatedly where codices will place Librarians, Chaplains and Techmarines together as a single formation, only for their individual abilities to screw with the effectiveness of the other two. This time however, it honestly seems like they're covering one another's bases. Cawl can provide something of a shield for the other two, absorbing hits and attacks, and serving as both crowd control and ranged killer when needed. Celestine and her perpetually re-spawning angels provide further wounds for them to shrug off attacks - assuming Cawl can actually be hurt enough for that to be needed - and deal with characters, vehicles or anyone who might be stupid enough to get without melee range. Greyfax, benefiting from the extra security, is then free to lob about her psychic powers with impunity, soften up targets for their assault and generally limit the enemy's ability to counter them.

Each can work either at range or in combat, and the only serious concern stems mostly from volcano cannons or similar Strength D template weapons. Yes, it's powerful as all hell, but you are seriously paying the price for that.

As for the special rules, we have Exemplars of the Imperium (which allows one model here to be the Warlord, and pass on all their benefits to the others of this formation) and Inspiring Presence AKA the interesting one. Well, somewhat interesting anyway. It basically allows all friendly units (as in any you're allied with at all) to gain Fearless if they're within range of all three, or Stubborn and the ability to immediately pass pinning tests if they're within range of two. It's odd that this doesn't stack but there we go.

Really, it's nothing all that remarkable here, but the sheer power of throwing three such characters together is enough to justify this one alone. Anything more and it would be registering on the Draigo scale of insanity.


Conclave Acquisitorius

At this point the book branches off into a few two distinct forces, starting with the Mechanicus. This one consists of the following:

Cawl.
1-2 Battle Maniples or 1 War Cohort
1 Holy Requisitioner
0-1 Cohort Cybernetica
0-1 Numinorus Conclave
1-3 Imperial Knights

So, yes, it's exceptionally bloody big. The sheer numbers of Mechanicus troops makes fielding this one somewhat questionable to be sure, and the requirement to have three other codices on hand to make it work. There's a reason people think Warhammer 40,000's rules have become a bit unwieldy, and needing several codices just to use a formation in yet another book is a perfect example of just why.

The odd thing is that, for all this firepower, the actual benefits are oddly tame. If anything they're downright generic in all honesty. Armoury of the Archmagos is a simple and straight forwards upgrade, permitting each character to upgrade one weapon to master-crafted for free. Not bad admittedly, but not all that inventive either. Meanwhile, Synchronized Data Network allows for units to use a rule normally exclusive to Codex: Skitarii, specifically Doctrina Imperatives. The problem is that this only works if the squad contains the maximum number of units. This isn't clear if this just counts points or the casualties taken thanks to the working, so if it's the latter then you lose a major benefit thanks to one casualty. If that is the case, it is remarkably dumb. Even if it's not, it's really not all that interesting or helpful to something of this scale.


Wrathful Crusade

Now we get to the faith side of things. Well, faith and torture, there is an Inquisitor among them after all. The formation this time blends together the Space Marine (specifically Black Templar) and Scions units, without even bothering to add a single Sister of Battle besides Celestine's posse. Feel free to make the joke, I imagine you know the exact one right now. So, this one consists of the following:

Celestine
Greyfax
1 Space MarineCaptain
0-1 Sternguard Veteran Squad
2-4 Crusader Squads
1-2 Assault Squads
1 Militarum Tempestus Platoon

There's obviously a heavy assault focus here with plenty of close combat efforts, with the Scions offering a little variety and the ability to perform some ranged fire support. It's a decent combination admittedly, and the sort of one which fans have been working with quite a few times since the allies rules were released. Well, when they can't use something like the Tyrant's Legion anyway. Some heavy weapons teams or a bit more bite when it comes to anti-tank measures would have definitely been welcome here though, as the Sternguard marines themselves cannot take drop pods to pull off their favoured tactics.

That said, we do have some special rules again, this time automatically giving each unit Crusader as standard and with two unique bonuses. The first of these is Collective Fanaticism, which is again a "maximum number of units" special rule, which simply gives them Zealot. So, it could be very beneficial, or utterly useless depending upon how this is meant to be taken. The second of these though, Unbridled Fury, offers the ability for all units to re-roll their charge rolls. This is always something exceptionally welcome even if it is a bit simple, but comes with one added bonus: If you end up with an overall result of 10 or more, the unit gains Furious Charge for that turn. Not too bad at all really.


Detachments


Breaking things up again into the Mechanicus and everyone else camps, we have two here which are supposed to cover the entirety of the book's various rules. These are meant to be big, downright huge overall, and the sheer size of the maximum unit numbers on each one reflects this fact, with few real restrictions on offer.


Grand Convocation Detachment

Despite being the definite Mechanicus choice for this list, you're not merely limited to the Cult Mechanicus, Imperial Knights and Skitarii options here. No, you can also take the Engineseer from the Imperial Guard book as well. Yay.

Consisting of two to four HQ choices, four or more Troops choices, up to six Elites choices, up to six Fast Attack, up to six Heavy Support choices, and three Lords of War, you have plenty to work with. Again, yeah, this is supposed to be big and you're practically encouraged to take as much firepower as you can. Well, at least as many vehicles as you can anyway, as the Agents of the Adeptus Mechanicus rule means they all have It Will Not Die and any within 6" of an HQ choice have Power of the Machine Spirit. The other two special rules are sadly not quite so interesting however, as Chosen of the Omnissiah is the usual required "re-roll Warlord traits" rule and Noospheric Choir just means they all have Canticles of the Omnissiah if you take lots of them. Something almost all of them have anyway, so that's pretty damn useless as well.


Castellans of the Imperium Detachment

Now we move onto the second one which might as well be defined as "Every single other thing in the Imperium" with the rules listed citing books from Mont'Ka to Angels of Death. The unit choices are exactly the same as last time, two to four HQ choices, four or more Troops choices, up to six Elites choices, up to six Fast Attack, up to six Heavy Support choices, and three Lords of War, with no restrictions beyond this.

As for special rules, they're again sadly quite pedestrian with the Lord Castellan rule just being the usual "re-roll Warlord trait" stunt we keep seeing over and over again. Equally, Zealous Defenders is the same as Noospheric Choir, just switch out Canticles with Zealot. Something which is definitely much, much more useful by comparison and is welcome with the sheer variety of units you can take with this one. The most inventive one is sadly also just another rehashed concept we have seen quite a few times before. Flock to the Front Line permits destroyed Troops choices to be resurrected on the roll of a 5+ on a D6 at the beginning of each turn, and arrive on the table edge. 

Been there, done that, bought the cuirass.


Verdict


This is actually quite disappointing overall, really. There's honestly nothing special here besides the size of the formations involved, and almost all the rules present are just concepts we have seen so many times before. Yes, okay, it's fine to repeat an idea on occasion and to even to use them as a baseline concept for something, but there's little to nothing original here at all. In fact, most of this stuff seems to be falling back on the old issue we cited with the Supplements so many times before. They seem less like something crafted for an army and more like something churned off of a production line. This only adds to the sense of the book being rushed others have cited in the comments section, and really robs it of the importance this event deserves.

Overall, it's a lackluster note to end on here. We have a decent if deeply flawed story, a few very fun characters, but with the formations and detachments remaining so unremarkable, there's little to nothing here to really support a proper army. Here's hoping the next stage of the Gathering Storm will reflect upon these flaws and improve, because with a little more time and effort something of this length could be truly great.

Still, we're not entirely done with this book just yet. In a few days time we will be returning to this one with a few thoughts on the execution and what could be done to improve all that is to come.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Craftworld Eldar to be Renamed, Ynnead Coming? - Update on the Gathering Storm


It seems that we are losing more than just Cadia in the Gathering Storm. Despite the first book in the series only being a few days old, Games Workshop are apparently pushing full steam ahead with this storyline. On Monday, a trailer was released via the company's Youtube channel hinting at the conflict to come, and offering a few odd bits of news.



As you might have guessed from the iconography and mention of souls, this next book in the series will heavily involve the Craftworld Eldar. It's not that big of a surprise really given the ending featured a massed Warhost arriving to reinforce the Imperium's badly beaten troops, but one word in there stands out as a bit odd. Specifically "Aeldari" in place of "Eldar". Yes, this is the whole Astra Militarum nonsense arising all over again, and it's likely for the same reason Elves, Dwarfs and Lizardmen have been replaced by more unique names in Age of Sigmar; It's easier to defend in courts of law if someone ends up using it without Games Workshop's permission.

This was further confirmed by writer Robbie MacNiven (AKA The guy who is thankfully forcing the spotlight back onto the Space Sharks) on his blog when a fan queried him over the question:

"Oh please tell me the Eldar are getting renamed to Aeldari. That's such a good name."

"They are indeed, and I know right? I was actually going to make a post about this. I’ve almost forgotten a dozen times since November not to call them Aeldari before the announcement. 
Also, for you traditionalists (or whiners), the name Eldar isn’t being removed from the canon either, they still are called/call themselves that, it’s just they can be called both in the same way the Imperial Guard are the Imperial Guard and the Astra Militarum. As a writer it sure is easier when there are multiple names you can use for things. "

Obviously, open trolling of traditionalists aside, this raises a few problematic points and suggestions. Oh, not due to the name itself of course, but mostly thanks to how it will be executed and the implication it offers.

The first and most obvious one can be found simply be looking at the Imperial Guard. Specifically, when was the last time you actually saw Imperial Guard written in a book? Really, sit back and think for a moment about this sort of thing and consider if you have seen it at all. Despite all comments to the contrary, it has completely supplanted the term in every form, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything beyond "Guardsmen" suggesting that it had ever existed at all. 

Now, even as a hobbyist who has followed this universe for over a decade, i'll not weep too many tears over the loss of Eldar as a name. That said, it is a part of their identity, one which has been about for more than thirty years and it's something fans recognise. Changing something so basic as that can hurt a faction for old and new fans, or even cause discontent within those who follow them. After all, if Superman's name was to be changed tomorrow, that would hardly go down well on either a marketing or fandom perspective. Klingons would be the same, in fact most well established things from science fiction settings. Ridiculous sounding as they often are, they're what people recognise, and old and new fans alike are often willing to accept the inherent silliness as part of a grandfather clause. Something which was acceptable in its time, but is so well ingrained into the franchise it would do more damage than good to change it.

However, the more pressing issue which might arise from this is what it might imply for the Craftworld Eldar themselves. Specifically, that it could be an indication of an Aelf situation here, where all Eldar are forced into being one people rather than the variety of factions we had before. The company pulled this with Age of Sigmar, and the repeated disasters they have piled upon the species of late does make it seem likely it could happen again here. In fact, it's somewhat supported by the final pages of Fall of Cadia.

While the sudden involvement of the Craftworld Eldar was something I was trying to keep  whilst reviewing Fall of Cadia, the final page revealed a vast army from multiple craftworlds arriving at once. Not just alone however, but with Harlequins and Dark Eldar among them, apparently fighting as a single force. 

The good news about this is that, unless someone in the photography department was handed the wrong memo, the vehicles belonging to this faction still work. We still have Aspect Warriors showing up among their number and their technology seems to be fine, so apparently only the Infinity Circuits were drained rather than all spirit stones. The bad news is that, well, it only supports the "one people" angle some players are dreading. You have two arch enemies lined up side by side, every single army from a very isolated and scattered people shunted together, and most of them forced to work thanks to the great disaster that had befallen them.

This point is only further implied by the symbol in the trailer. which seems to be combined together from a variety of Craftworld sigils. You can pick out several details of the symbol which seem to have been incorporated from the likes of Biel-Tan, Saim-Hann and Altansar among others. If it was to be a major change like this, the chances are that we would see various older details or icons being altered like this, or even the army's defining symbol being changed to reflect their altered state. 

Some have gone so far as to argue that this could be a symbol for Ynnead instead, an ascendant or diminished god rather than the old symbol, but that could lean towards this as well. After all, the Craftworlds were hedging  their bets on this god showing up and dealing with Chaos for centuries, and the subject of souls introduced in this trailer links in heavily to her. The god's active presence would be enough to unite them and, combined with Age of Sigmar's preference for big god characters leading their new armies, it still fits into the depiction mentioned.

Is this speculation? Yes. It might be based upon the narrative arcs of Games Workshop's existing properties and the words of an author, but it is still merely just a theory. We will only know more once the next book of the Gathering Storm is out, but one thing should be clear beyond anything else - Times are changing. Whatever we know of Warhammer now, the universe could be something utterly alien within just a few years. That will be the price of advancing the storyline.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Gathering Storm: Fall of Cadia Part 2 - Special Rules, Units and Relics (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)


So, with the story done we're onto the core rules. This time there's actually not much in the way of them, oddly enough. Oh there are certainly a few fun things to work with to be sure, and a few nice ideas here and there, but it's far more trimmed down than what we'd usually expect from a rulebook of this sort. A big part of this is down to the length of the lore describing the campaign, which took up the bulk of the tome and, speaking personally for a moment, that seems like a fair trade-off. 

As important as rules generally are, the universe needs a solid story at its core and the final Black Crusade was an event which could have been so easily screwed up. Personally, for all the complaints made here, it's a small miracle that Aaron Dembski-Bowden pulled off the story half as well as he did.

Plus, for those about to complain, we did get two brand new heroes and one vastly revamped one, all from relatively minor factions on the tabletop. So, it's not like this was completely weighted in favour of one faction.

So, without further delay, here's a look into the rules you can find in this particular book, starting with the aforementioned characters.

Units

It's fairly obvious looking at these that Games Workshop are attempting to mix and match elements as best they can. Each of the characters found here are capable of imbuing armies with the benefits usually reserved to their forces. This is extremely evident with the Archmagos and the Saint, while the Inquisitor provides more of a durable and extremely powerful psyker for other armies. The sort of thing which most Imperial armies outside of the astartes are usually unable to get their hands on. 

This seems more akin to an Age of Sigmar idea more than anything else, especially when you look at the buff heavy god tier characters and how they effectively symbolise every key benefit of the army in one model. That said, Age of Sigmar is still something of a different game, and the inclusion of such characters here is disconcerting to be sure. After all, we just had Celestine removed from her own army, only to show up here with the ability to grant Sisters exclusive benefits to any army she's attached to. 

Given their extremely limited support over the past decade, the fact the recent re-release fixed nothing and and the lack of new models, some could take this as bumping off the army and leaving only a figurehead to be passed about from force to force. Then again, you could argue that this equally might be a way of dragging attention back towards the Sisters and is an opportunity to test the waters to see how much attention she can garner. It's too early to do much more than speculate admittedly, so whether or not this is a positive thing or not will vary from person to person.

Still, we're here to judge the rules as much as the concepts behind their use, so let's start with the Embodiment of the Emperor's Will.


Saint Celestine



One known as the elite-troll-option for characters, at least in the days before super heavy choices and others, Celestine's development has been an odd rollercoaster ride of developments. As her use was shifted about from one Edition to the next thanks to a lack of updates, a nerf eventually left her weaker than before until it seemed the writers were desperately trying to push Confessor Jacobus as a better character choice for the army. That seems to have changed here however, as Celestine has undergone arguably one of the single biggest rules buffs ever seen in the game. 

Hiking her overall value up to a full two hundred points, the Saint is now capable of shrugging off the various one-shots which tended to bring her down during the Fifth and Sixth Editions. This is thanks to now having five (!) wounds, Eternal Warrior and a 2+ save as standard, meaning she's fully capable of going toe to toe with some of the more power mad marine characters. This does admittedly go hand in hand with the fact that she can now only resurrect herself once per game, but that in of itself is offset by her new bodyguards. The mysterious Geminae Superia act more or less as flying Seraphim with two wounds, WS 5, a 4+ Invulnerable save and power swords, but each can be continually resurrected by the Saint herself, over and over again. The end result? Perpetual "Look out, sir!" saves, meaning she can use these guys as easy extra wounds, Gun Drone style.

While she does still retain the Strength and Toughness of a standard human (three), her weapons more than make up for this limitation. The Strength 4 AP 5 flamer stands out for quick horde annihilation options, but more importantly her sword now confers +2 Strength and hits at AP 3, and comes with Armourbane to boot. Oh, and if that wasn't enough killing potential she now has an ability which is effectively the Orbital Strike blast usually reserved for Chapter Masters. This means that she has the ability to hack her way through enemy transports, entire squads of foes, and even give Abaddon a run for his money if the dice are right.

Finally, as mentioned previously, she can confer War Hyms and Acts of Faith onto other units, albeit only those within a "12 range. Well, sort of anyway. While she can only support and buff those who already have them within range (by using her Leadership 10 stat in stead of their own one) she has a number of Saintly Blessings which work in a similar way, but tend to be a lot more effective on the whole. These also have a 12" range to them, but, well, see for yourself what they can offer:

HQ Choices: The unit gains Zealot until the start of the next turn.
Troops Choices: Each gains Feel No Pain 6+ until the start of next turn, or a +1 buff if they already have the rule (You can see why Blood Angels players are suddenly very interested in her).
Elites Choices: Each gains both Counter-Attack and Furious Charge until start of next turn.
Fast Attack Choices: Each gains Crusader and Fleet until start of next turn.
Heavy Support Choices: Each gains Relentless until start of next turn.

Lord of War: It Will Not Die for the rest of the game.

Suffice to say, personally I think the devs went a bit overboard with this. Please don't get me wrong, this is bound to get the Sisters some long deserved attention (and it is definitely a very good thing the character still can be brought down via plasma guns or heavy weapons, and that her main benefit is that she works with another army) but some of these seem to be going a bit too far for her points cost. It only gets worse when you realise she gives the army access to most of the relics in this book, so overall it honestly seems like she should have been shunted up in points slightly more.

Still, given some of the things we have seen in this Edition, she's more on the extremely powerful and versatile end of things than the "I will win the entire battle on my lonesome!" scale of obscene characters.


Inquisitor Greyfax



Also known as the Eye of the Emperor (with the book getting in a welcome First Heretic reference with her title) this is the same character who was once trapped by Trazyn within a seemingly inescapable tesseract labyrinth. As such, despite being a new character she has some history to her within the setting and despite being branded a Radical by her superiors for her use of psychic powers, her beliefs align her more with the Monodominant secs of the Inquisition. It's an interesting contrast to be sure, and if handled correctly she could be an interesting character. Admittedly though, personally i'm not a fan of the armour (really, a literal breast plate and high heels? That's going five steps too far) even if the Van Helsing look is always a welcome addition to this sort of thing.

Moving onto her rules though, she's a definitely step down from Saint "Look what I can do now!" Celestine, but still has a fair bit of power behind her. With a standard but solid Inquisitor's stats line and a 3+ standard save, her cost of one hundred and fifty points will net you a master crafted power sword and boltgun, along with a few fun extras. The Psyocculum and Psyk-out grenades come equipped as standard with this character, giving her an edge against enemy psykers while responding with her own powers via a Psychic Mastery level of two and the Aura of Oppression. This is a malediction ability with a range of 12" and forces the target to immediately take a pinning test. No matter the result though, the enemy unit cannot Run, use Overwatch, Turbo-boost or performing Sweeping Advances. Plus, if this isn't enough, you can boost it to three Warp charges until it hits every foe within 12" 

There's also quite a unique Warlord Trait known as the Master of Interrogation, which prevents any enemy Infiltrators from emerging within 12" of her. As these things go, that one is pretty damn useful for sure. Combined with the aforementioned psychic power, it makes her a useful spearhead unit against gun-lines or fast moving armies, even if she is a bit on the fragile side.


Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl



It has to be said, of all the new models here this is definitely the most impressive of the bunch. It matches up almost perfectly with some of the most over-the-top and grandiose descriptions of powerful Magos seen in various black library books, especially the avarice driven maniac in Soul Drinker. Honestly, it's probably one of the single best character design seen in 40,000 in the last few years, and it manages to somehow balance out the complexity of the sheer details of the model with a singular distinct appearance. If the Wulfen are a Rob Liefeld creation spat out of a factory, this is a John Blanche sketch brought to life.

Given the sheer size of the model himself and the rather large base he occupies, we should be thankful that he has some pretty damn great rules to back him up, starting with an especially beefy stats line. In short:

WS5 BS5 S5 T6 W5 I3 A3 Ld10 Sv2+

Along with a Refractor Field to help him endure a bit more firepower, he has an Arc Scourge, a Master-crafted power axe, Scryerskull and a Mechadendrite Hive. That last one is rather useful, as it can unleash either 2D6 Strength 4 attacks or a single Haywire attack at Initiative 10. To add to the stonewall effect this guy can pull off, he can regenerate D3 wounds per turn and can even be repaired by a Dominus in his unit. This basically turns him into a staggeringly effective bullet sponge, capable of absorbing railgun rounds and remaining effectively immune to small arms fire. Most people have this habit of trying to overcome Terminators by lining up row upon row of lasguns until a few shots get through, but you can't bring this guy down through sheer attrition. Oh, he'll still die to a few Strength D hits or bad rolls, but it helps to justify his high cost of two hundred points.

Besides being a massive wall of armour, he naturally has a few rules to actually help the army overall. The power axe is one obvious one, and the Arc Sourge is a S+1 AP4 Master-crafted cudgel which has a re-rollable Haywire effect to screw over vehicles. So, if you can get him within range of things he's going to promptly chomp through vehicles and troops alike like there's no tomorrow. Just don't expect him to solo too many heroes any time soon, as he'll likely fall quickly in the face of Grimnar, Mephiston or Anrakyr. Even the Solar Atomiser - a raygun fanatic's wet dream - has a limited range of "12 and while obscenely effective (S 10 AP 1 Assault D3, Master-crafted) there are still ways he can be bogged down in combat until someone can come along to ruin his day. 

As a result, he should probably be regarded as a kind of armoured battering ram as much as anything else. You use him to keep fire away away from the rest of your army, keep him towards the front, and then use his variety of attacks to break the enemy's lines or bog down their best units.

The big bonus here is that, as mentioned previously, he can pass on a few fun bonuses in the form of his army scale buffs. He still has Canticles of the Omnissiah, but much like Celestine he now has the new and improved Canticles of the Archmagos which can affect Imperial vehicles. As in all of the Imperial vehicles, from Knights to Rhinos. They permit the following, and work in the same way as past options:

Harmony of Metalurgy
1-3 Units Within Range: Each unit gains It Will Not Die.
4-7 Units: It Will Not Die.  Make two ITWND rolls for affected units instead of only one.

8+ Units: It Will Not Die.  Make three ITWND rolls for affected units instead of only one.

Utterance of Neutralisation
1-3 Units Within Range: Each unit gains +1 Ballistic Skill.
4-7 Units: +2 Ballistic Skill.

8+ Units: +3 Ballistic Skill.

War Hymnal of Fortitude
1-3 Units Within Range: Each unit gains a 6+ Invulnerable Save.
4-7 Units: 5+ Invulnerable Save.

8+ Units: 4+ Invulnerable Save.

Personally speaking, I think this is where the book really, truly, jumped the shark and never looked back. Personal buffs via characters is nothing new, and they're usually a welcome addition to such books, but something like this is completely and utterly obscene. Even if you rule out the possibility of multiple Imperial Knights all suddenly gaining standard 4+ invulnerable saves, just consider what this could do for the average APC. Personally, I run an Iron Hands force with a great deal of assault cannon equipped Razorbacks. So, imagine for a moment if all of those suddenly gained three It Will Not Die rolls atop of their standard enhanced defences. It won't be unstoppable, but it'll need one hell of an opposing force to actually bring them down.

The most tame among these is that Utterance of Neutralisation, but even then if you just have a few tanks nearby it will turn them into squad shredders. So, six Leman Russ tanks? Yeah, welcome to BS5 Imperial Guard tanks. There's nothing wrong with being powerful of course, but there's something wrong with being borderline indestructible and having the capacity to do the same to anyone nearby.


Relics



There are two sets of relics this time around, the first being the Arcana Mechanicum with more technological abilities and benefits, and the second is simply listed as Ecclesiarchy Relics. Naturally these are limited to the involvement of certain characters or armies, but besides thematic qualities you won't find too many differences here. They seem to be written more to use certain special rules and fit into certain item categories more than anything else.

Arcana Mechanicum

Numinasta's Casket of Electromancy - Another in the long line of powerful-but-one-shot weapons, this one is rather surprising as it hits everything within range of it. Yes, everything, so once your character pulls the trigger all foes from flyers to monsterous creatures will instantly be hit by it. That said, don't expect it to do that much damage against the bigger, badder characters as it does have a fairly weedy Strength 3 hit despite having a range of 2d6", AP -, Assault 1 and Haywire.

Quantum Annihilator - Another ranged weapon, this one strikes at 18", S2d6 and AP2, but has Assault D3 shots. Obviously something which can hit at Strength 12 will have quite an impact, and thankfully the special rule actually accounts for this. In effect, if you roll that high after selecting the target unit, the suffer Instant Death with an automatic wound, or at least an automatic penetration if it's a vehicle you're shooting at.

Sacrifactum Autorepulsor - Much like some of the stuff seen in Wrath of Magnus, this one limits the charging range of enemy units. Anyone looking to hurl themselves headlong into the unit retaining this bearer suffer -2" from their overall result. It's useful to be sure, and fifteen points is an easy thing to help justify.

Memento-Morispex - ... Ignoring the terrible, terrible pun, this one is odd to be sure. In effect, the weapon conveys one of the following: Cognis Weapons (BS2 while using Snapfire, and Flamers have a standard three with Wall of Death in Overwatch), Monster Hunter, Skyfire or Tank Hunter. It's probably one of the best options on here as it allows for a bit more tailoring than usual, and can be changed at the beginning of each turn. So, if you want to shoot down a plane, blow up a tank and then butcher a squad before they charge, this is well worth the thirty point price tag.

Omnissiah's Grace - This instantly offers a 6+ Invulnerable save to the bearer, but it sadly doesn't cover the entire squad this person is with. However, it does stack with existing saves, to a maximum of 3+, so it can be a nice bonus for just ten points.

Saint Curia's Autopurger - Now, this is a very odd but very useful one to be sure. It doesn't directly harm the enemy in the conventional manner, but it hinders and limits squads locked in combat with them. For starters, anyone charging this unit do not gain their additional attack on the charge, and every time turn they remain in combat they are required to pass a Toughness test or they will lose a wound (with saves as per usual). Normally this is the sort of thing I would personally argue would still work well with close combat engagements as well, as it limits their ability to counter them.


Ecclesiarchy Relics

Skull of Petronella the Pious - Conferring a 6+ Invulnerable save, at first this one doesn't look like it's worth the thirty points the book charges you to take it. However, there's one key difference here a few people have overlooked: This isn't limited to just the wielder, but can be spread to the entire squad. So, your command squad or anyone with this character now has a permanent 6+ save, allowing them to benefit from a bit more added durability. Not too bad atall.

Blade of the Worthy - At the same price as the above choice, this is the killing weapon of the book. It's mostly just a hand-me-down version of Celestine's own blade, with an oddly unreliable nature to it. In its normal state, it hits at the users Strength and AP3, but if you pass a Leadership test before each combat, it benefits from a +2 Strength and AP3 boost. Honestly, this is a bit overpriced and over-engineered for its design, so while it can certainly deliver the goods (well, the heads of your foes) we have seen far better ideas in previous books.

Castigator - So, with the melee weapon done we now have the ranged one, specifically a pistol. Striking at 12" with Strength 4 and AP2, it doesn't look like anything truly special at first, until you get to the special rule: It ignores invulnerable saves. For fifteen points this is an almost essential grab, as even if you're loosing only a single round before entering combat with a character, knocking off that wound is well worth its cost. 

The Font of Fury - Another one-shot weapon again, this one is something you can use as a back-up ranged attack. With a very odd range of 8" and Strength 3, AP-, Assault 1, Poison 4+ and a Large blast template, it's designed largely as something to fire into squads before charging/being charged. We've seen this sort of thing quite a few times before, and it can be useful if a little temperamental and unpredictable. With such a massively short range though, you might want to think very carefully before taking this one, despite costing a cheap fifteen points.

Bane of Evil: Oddly enough this is a potent weapon, but one limited to a few specific foes. It allows the user's attacks to have Poison 2+ against units from Chaos Space Marine, Chaos Demon or Khorne Demonkin related books, not no one else. So, it's situational but it could be enough to have a major edge against certain foes. It will certainly give daemon princes one hell of a surprise though, that's for sure.

Shroud of the Anti-Martyr - For thirty-five points, the bearer now has Eternal Warrior. Yep, that's it, nothing more. Moving on.


Desvalle's Holy Circle - This one is a somewhat useful one actually as it confers a 4+ Invulnerable save against all attacks, but it also produces a 12" radius which enemy units simply cannot Deep Strike into. So, shove them onto an objective and the usual Terminator trick becomes much harder to pull off. Furthermore, if an enemy units scatters within that range, they suffer an immediate Deep Strike Mishap. Overall, not too shabby really.


Verdict



Overall, this is hit and miss to be sure and it does still delve into a few bad habits. Those ones should definitely be obvious here, but there is definitely still some good to be found. In particular, the fact many of the characters have been pushed to work more with armies despite their power and the originality of a few items stand out here. It does genuinely seem like the writers were aware of the old problems so many codices kept suffering from, but the sheer power suggests they wanted it to still be competitive against the more powerful books.

As a result, overall this is most definitely a very mixed book than a truly middling one, suffering from several extremes at once more than falling short on something completely. So, on the tabletop front it's still not entirely worthless and the abilities of a few characters are certainly worth it to be sure, but you might want to stick to this one for the story more than the tabletop mechanics.

So, that's two parts done, join us here as we move on to the formations.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Gathering Storm: Fall of Cadia Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)



So, here we are again at Armageddon. Several editions on from the Thirteenth Black Crusade, almost a decade since Games Workshop attempted to push the timeline forwards, and the company stands ready to make another attempt at reshaping the setting. For good or ill, the Warhammer 40,000 the fans know will likely end here, and with it perhaps many of the armies they have long loved.

Abaddon the Despoiler's latest crusade - perhaps his final crusade - batters the walls of Cadia. Having long stood against the invasion of the Traitor Legions, having braved assault after assault, the planet is key to the balance of power within the galaxy. If it holds, the bulk of Abaddon's forces will remain trapped within the Warp maelstrom known as the Eye of Terror. If it falls, he will be ready to take revenge upon Holy Terra itself, and perhaps even crown himself as the new master of mankind.

This is the way a world dies, with the scream of a billion lasguns and the laughter of tyrannous gods.

Whatever the result here, the bravery of this action cannot be understated. Perhaps it will be a mistake, perhaps this will be the moment Games Workshop kills the golden goose, but it takes bravery to look back at an event which almost tanked the company and say "Let's give it another shot, and let's do it right this time." Okay, perhaps bravery and stupidity in equal parts, but the company does seem to have learned from its past lessons and - whatever else might be said for their quality - experimented with this formula repeatedly with War Zone books before taking another stab at it.

Did it pay off? Well, read the sections below and find out for yourself.


The Good


Let's begin with one major improvement here - The padding. Oh, not the fact there is padding (because we unfortunately still have a fair amount of it) but because it's considerably scaled back from previous works. There are still splash pages, full page artworks and over-sized images, but they have been pushed aside to make more room for the written lore, and compliment the work rather than overwhelm it. There's no moment akin to the split-second meeting seen Curse of the Wulfen, the one the book tried to hide being rushed through by adding a gigantic splash page directly above it, and the events themselves are vastly better planned out. 

There is more of a direct narrative arc to this book, with more of the natural twists and turns you would expect of a campaign than the almost mechanical three act structure of past works. You know the kind, where they follow the usual plot format so predictably that you've guessed the general thematic twists for the story long before they happen. As such, it helps to sidestep many of the inherent problems of these books. Even with it openly advertising that Cadia itself will fall before Chaos, the writers handle the subject matter well enough to keep you guessing when, where and how it will happen. Hell, even after it is finally conquered, the book is good enough to ask "so, what then?" and show some of the immediate circumstances. Not too many admittedly, but enough to keep you hooked for the next story.

Another factor well worth adding is that, despite the sheer number of characters involved, Fall of Cadia does a vastly better job of balancing the importance of characters and armies than other tales. They do unfortunately still hijack the plot and a substantial chunk of the story nevertheless focuses more upon the heroes than the troops themselves. That said however, there is far more here to help focus upon the wider galaxy than you might think. The entire introductory section focuses far more upon Cadia itself than any individual character, and even when Creed is mentioned it is only to reflect the measures he is pushing to defend the planet. In fact, large chunks of the book do pause to look into the more secondary elements of the story or areas which would otherwise seem as if they're needless. However, by including them, it prevents the usual funnel vision problem which afflicted previous books, turning campaigns into stories focusing upon just a few key individuals. 

These moments tend to be akin to the description of the initial assault during Know No Fear - particularly the shipyard sequence - some of the larger battles, or even moments reserved to cover an entire battle in full. It certainly pulls away from the core of the action, but it's welcome thanks to just how much it fleshes out events. A personal favourite takes place during the retreat from Cadia itself, where several paragraphs are spent outlining the tactics used, fleet formations and the ships Emperor's Wrath and Dominus Victor, both of who suffer a particularly sadistic fate. Plus it gives the book an excuse to show void battles, which is always a bonus in these sorts of stories.


In all honesty, even when the book does become character focused, ways are introduced to make the armies themselves feel important. Their individual regiment names, positions and roles, details which would have otherwise been skipped in most releases, are all put at the forefront of various pages. It might not be much, but it is a reminder that these are armies with a long history behind them rather than mere fodder for the important people. Hell, even when they are being used as fodder, they're given enough dignity to put up a standing fight before going down, such as during Urkanthos' rampage through the Cadian ranks.

Much of the focus here is on the Imperium first and foremost, but oddly enough this actually works here. It helps that the ending makes it very clear that this is a battle which is far from over, and combined with enough awesome Chaotic moments it's enough to define this as their book, with the Traitor Legions' moment in the spotlight to follow later on. Well, that and the fact that the Traitors earn their victory here. This isn't the overdone curb-stomping some people feared, and while it does lean a little too heavily in Chaos' favour at points it's by no means another Mont'Ka. By focusing this upon the losing side and giving them enough moments to shine, and making it clear that this is the start of a new conflict, it sidesteps the old problems which tend to bring about such bad blood. No one feels as if they are losing out, and even when the Imperium is depicted as failing and retreating, there are enough awesome moments to show them putting up a fight.

The book doesn't leave such moments purely down to the characters however, but uses them carefully to help augment each battle. As much as these reviews might have ragged on their presence, it was usually only in books where they dominated what should have been an army's story. Here though? They're a storytelling device, used to push or maneuver the plot about, and to augment the grander elements of the storyline; each working itself deeper into the tale and about the armies involved. So, when the Cadian 8th makes a stand alongside the Sororitas and astartes, that moment still takes precedent, and the character driven battles which follow are more a punctuation mark added onto the end. An exceptional one to be sure - and there is no small amount of satisfaction in seeing Celestine being given the glory she has long deserved - but it is never enough to overwhelm the book.

Perhaps, what is most notable more than anything else, however, is how it weaves the character pieces and larger text together. Past books have usually had some difficulty trying to balance out the small segments written in a manner akin to novels, and the larger overall text. Often it seemed as if a writer had a certain quota to fill by adding in so many ones per book rather than any exact plan, and while Traitor's Hate and a few others had some great scenes, a number of moments still felt out of place. Here though, many have been almost perfectly placed time and time again, often coinciding or expanding upon certain events. While the core story will tell you the essentials to a satisfying degree, and will still provide enough details for you to go by that alone, the character segments add more context to certain scenes. For example, the finale features a major battle between the Vengeful Spirit and an Ark Mechanicus warship, and focuses upon the battle. This initially looks as if it is simply due to their constant hunt for their enemy, but a side text provides more context for this action.


Another particularly great example runs throughout most of the book, following a Dark Angels marine across multiple fronts. Each helps to show more of the battle away from the areas the heroes are focusing upon, along with providing an astartes character in the conflict, but also mitigates the book's limitations. We all know that this is going to be primarily focused upon the Guard, Mechanicus and Sororitas, so having a representative of another army showing up several times in the book helps to give some sense of a larger invasion force. It certainly helps that each of these segments is excellently written, and more often than not they exist as an excerpt of a bigger tale. As such, despite the minimal information, there's enough there to keep you interested and engaged from one moment to the next, even when days or hours are skipped at a time. It's an old trick to be sure, but one we've not seen done this well since the days of Mordheim.

Besides the more story-esque moments of Fall of Cadia, other segments opt to shed light upon the ongoing battles in another manner. For the first time in a very long time we have a few in-universe documents showing up in these books, featured in side columns as Cadia desperately calls for reinforcements. Using them is sadly something of a lost art these days, so to see them showing up here once again is a thing of sheer beauty. Even without the nostalgic kick however,  these utterly nail the exact semi-mechanical semi-feudal style of a Servitor is a welcome addition to the atmosphere.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is how the book starts to work with a few old ideas. Having tried and failed to keep people interested with just a direct link from one story to the next, the writers opted to offer multiple hints and threads for potential future plotlines with this one. While we're going to leave most of these to the next book, let's just say that a few unexpected twists are in store for the galaxy. Some very big ones, which could change the expected outcome of the Long War for better or worse.

Unfortunately, there are some very definite problems which plague this book despite their best efforts, which we'll be getting into next.

The Bad



You might recall back during the initial thoughts article that I was worried this book simply wouldn't be large enough to cover the war surrounding Cadia. Specifically, that the actual conflict itself was too vast to properly reflect in any War Zone book, and that it wouldn't be able to cover all the armies involved. Well, unfortunately that is most definitely the case here, and despite the writers' best efforts it doesn't quite pull off the sort of narrative cohesion they were hoping for.

The most obvious issue which will hit you very early on is the fact this isn't showing the entire war. Rather than depicting the fight from beginning to end, Fall of Cadia jumps right to the last few days of the conflict, with Cadia already in ruins and most of its fleet breaking up in orbit. It's jarring at first glance to be sure, as the story rolls right into this event almost expecting the reader to be ready for this, and only an extremely brief explanation covering this fact. It's only made worse given how much the story itself relies upon reader familiarity with Cadia, the Eye of Terror and this big event, and how the explanatory page outlining the build up comes directly before this. So, in effect, what you get is this:


"There's going to be a big, big battle to decide the fate of creation, and we might not survive it. We need everything to stand in these last moments, to fight until their guns run dry and die screaming into the heavens.
...
So, here's the end of that battle right before we lose it!"

In complete fairness, what follows afterwards is solidly written and does do a good job of building up the dread towards this final onslaught, but you'd be forgiven for getting whiplash from the sudden jump. On its own this might be somewhat forgivable, but Fall of Cadia promptly bumps into the next two big problems; with the book trying to simultaneously set-up a vague hint of an incomplete cosmic plan by the Emperor and tie off a rather moronic storyline set up in an entirely different book.

The first is a hint at Saint Celestine, which is extremely vaguely written on her part and seems to suggest she is part of the Emperor's long standing plan. This comes completely out of nowhere with little to no prior establishment, and while it might have worked if the book had bothered to explain anything, what we're left with is a bunch of incredibly vague and infuriating non-answers or hints. A problem for sure given this sort of thing only tends to work if there's more of a definitive answer as it goes along. This goes hand in hand with the problem of seemingly re-writing what little there was about Celestine from the start, and treating her like an entirely new character. An issue which only becomes far, far worse later on as the battle progresses.

The second, and far more eye-rolling issue however, is the inclusion of the Phalanx here. Yes, the Imperial Fists are showing up. Not a bad idea on the whole, and admittedly dropping a stonking great planetoid of guns atop of Abddon's fleet would serve as a solid deterrent to his assaults. However, this isn't just them showing up. No, this is them flying out of control fighting a bunch of daemons within the ship. Yes, apparently Fall of Cadia needed to dignify Sentinels of Terra by acknowledging its existence. Lord only knows why given it was one of those ruelbooks which would do a better job as bonfire fuel than actually developing the game's lore, but there we go. So, what we get is a very rushed explanation of how daemons suddenly arrived on the ship - making no more sense than it did in Sentinels of Terra - before they're abruptly dealt with by the Legion of the Damned. Then, the Phalanx arrives over Cadia having finished its brief jaunt through the Warp.

This event is so blatantly tacked on to help resolve that codex's shoehorned addition that it hurts the book more than helps it. It's just the first of what are likely to be a few big solutions to dangling plot threads we'll be seeing in the books to come, shoved in so the story can move forwards. While the Phalanx itself does have a couple of somewhat useful roles within the overall battle, little is really done with the Imperial Fists. Once again, they really just die a lot before being sidelined to a secondary role away from the story. Yes, apparently we're not done killing the sons of Dorn just yet, so even a company which has only just rebuilt its strength is tossed once more into the meat grinder so other characters can have glory moments. The story doesn't even throw in something which might make sense, like their presence justifying Lysander arriving given he was last seen striking Chaos strongholds on the fringes of the Eye. They just show up and die.

You'll keep running into bits like this throughout the book where certain things are crammed in purely to resolve all questions as fast as humanly possible. Take for example the old looming threat of the Blackstone Fortresses, the giant Warp driven Death Stars capable of soloing planets. Their capture was the whole point of the previous Black Crusade, and something needed to be done quickly to counter why they couldn't just nuke Cadia itself. The answer: The pylons, combined with some vague Imperial tech, can be used to block its main guns. Now, given they're effectively giant Warp rift guns, that's not a bad answer. It's concise, simple and resolves the big problem, but the story then just keeps going. 

Partway through, one pylon is damaged, it looks like it could allow the Blackstones to be used, but a certain meddling xenos race promptly pops up and resolves it before leaving again. So, yes, the book had a moment for genuine drama, but took it out back and beat it to death, never to bring it up again. Reincorporation is a big part of any great story, so to have several such potentially game-changing events show up only to be abruptly addressed and never discussed again is just head-scratching. That or perhaps they were thrown in to address old fan arguments, though if this is the case they're certainly ones I have personally never heard of before.

On other occasions, certain secondary events just keep arising without much reasoning at all. It's to the point where you can start to see the gaps in the script where things must have been rushed, with time and space warping for the sake of plot convenience. Take for example Trazyn the Infinite's involvement in all this, who decides to ally with the Imperium out of continence. While he might be a complete bastard of a xenos - and gloriously so - he realises that Chaos is the bigger threat and needs to be taken down, and decides to talk to Archmagos Cawl (the Mechanicus head-honcho of the area) about turning the pylons into weapons against the Eye of Terror. 

Now, while some of this is a little suspect, for the most part you can make some sense of it. Both are in a state of desperation with a much bigger evil on their doorstep, so old hatred or contempt being set aside in a rather nicely written conversation is all fine and good. However, when the pylons fire into the Eye, it's apparently akin to openly up a Warp plughole in the bathtub of the universe. With such speed it honestly stops becoming dramatic and suddenly devolves into absolute hilarity, the Eye of Terror begins shrinking light years at a time. Yes, really, it's not even a slow or gradual dissipation, but it just instantly starts falling back in upon itself at such a rate that anyone on Cadia and pick it out in a second. 


So, what happens then? All of a sudden Abaddon knows exactly where Cawl is, and shows up to stop him. How does he know? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine, as it's mostly just there to justify steamy character on character combat. Well, that and have the final pylon be destroyed meaning the plughole is suddenly sealed, and Chaos opens up the faucet, allowing the Eye to suddenly engulf the planet. This goes back and forth within just a few pages. Were this delivered via the chapters of a novel it likely would have worked, and the descriptions do give some serious weight to the actions of the characters, but pressed in so close together it just seems rushed.

Again, at various points this sort of thing just keeps happening, where it just seems certain rules of the universe have been briefly lessened or narrative causality hijacks events to streamline things together. One or twice would have been fine and all, but when you run into moments like Inquisitor Greyfax entering a near perpetual bitching contest with Saint Celestine because she thinks she's a heretic (no, sadly that's not something I just made up) it weakens the overall tale.

However, there is one exceptionally big failing which hangs over this book above all else. The kind of one which introduces an especially big plot hole into the mix and leaves you just wondering why no one fixed it: Abaddon the Despoiler himself. Now, to be completely fair, Abaddon does still do a hell of a lot of damage in this book. He personally wrecks Cadia multiple times over throughout this book on foot and in space, and puts up one hell of a fight against anyone who comes his way. The problem is, while the book makes it clear he has the brawn, his depictions lacks some of the brains shown in the likes of Talon of Horus

For starters, a particularly nasty retcon has changed things so he just needs to blow up a few certain pylons on Cadia to make way for his overall plans of conquest rather than using the planet as a staging area. Exactly why he really needs to isn't entirely clear, his plans to have the Eye of Terror to encompass even Terra via the Crimson Path strategy counter both this obvious goal and the need for Cadia to maintain a semi-stable corridor for Warp travel all the way to Terra. Even accepting that however, Fall of Cadia never bothers to fully explore why he needs to land there and destroy them. The Imperium, overall, is largely beaten and its forces severely diminished both in orbit and on the ground. 

So, why doesn't he just deign this task of finishing things up on Cadia to a few trusted lieutenants and send the rest of his forces all the way to Terra effectively unopposed? Not answered. 
What about just having the Blackstones fly away from Cadia (where they're useless) and towards Terra (where they can actually do damage) backed by a substantial portion of his fleet? Not truly considered.
How about just dropping a warship onto the pylons and using the explosion to get rid of them? Believe it or not, Abaddon only does this at the last second when he's standing under the falling wreckage.

Now, with each of these there's a legitimate answer as to why this isn't done: Because without it there wouldn't be a campaign. Now, suspension of disbelief aside, that's not the worst reason in the world, but it needs to be backed up by a few counterpoints. Even if you're not going to use these, just a general statement as to why Abaddon is still here rather than pushing ahead would be fine. Really, a single well thought out paragraph, and BOOM, you have your campaign without the plot holes! Really, there's no point where it justifies Chaos actually staying there short of Abaddon's single minded goals. Combined with his seething rage at most things, it sadly plays more into the old "Armless" depiction than the new and vastly improved portrayals of recent years.

The Artwork



Let's start this small section off with a major gripe - The cover. Yes, this is going to sound petty, but damn it, this is necessary! In my personal opinion, this is a downright awful cover to have. Really, you have a particularly blurry, dirt coloured and ill detailed version of Abaddon standing there, with a bare bones background and the expression of a man who stumbled upon something disgusting. That's neither inspiring nor engaging, and this is supposed to be the very start of a revolutionary series! Hell, if they just managed to give him some menace that would be one thing, but making the man look as if he's just trodden on a dog turd? How in the hell is that supposed to grab a reader's attention.


It's made all the worse when you stop for five seconds to compare it to the cover of Codex: Eye of Terror. Say what you will about that book's problems, but the cover remains one of the quintessential pieces of Warhammer art, and a staggering masterpiece by any measure. Abaddon might be front and center, but his expression is a gaunt mask of hatred, spite and malice. Beneath him marches a hundred ancient warriors wreathed in fire, bearing the banners of the dark gods, while Cadia itself cracks within its grip. This is the kind of thing classic movie posters aspire to be, and even the book's creators seemed to realise just how iconic a visual it was. How so? The story barely even starts before an entire page devotes itself to displaying this piece in all its glory.

The rest of the book is equal parts new artwork and old stuff, with the team having gone back to grab anything Cadian related they could lay their hands on. Sometimes this is forgivable and it works quite well, as it makes sense to use fantastic and barely utilized pieces - notably the cover to Talon of Horus - to bring the Warmaster to life. In other cases, they're intentionally present to help reflect upon the era which led up to this conflict; with the cover to the Third Edition rulebook making a welcome return alongside a page recounting the nightmarish state of the Imperium. 

Others fail to really stand out however, and it overuses a few particular pieces we have seen a hundred times over by this point, from the Sergeant aiming his mini-bolter with a Shadowsword in the background to the Fourth Edition Codex: Chaos Space Marines cover. Someone honestly needs to tell these creators that re-using art like this is akin to stock footage: You can only wheel it out so many times before the audience stops seeing it as an impressive way of bringing the setting to life, and just a picture they have seen a few too many times before.

Now, with this said, the new artwork we get is also equal parts good and bad. Some of it is fantastic while a few other bits are questionable. In particular, the piece with Saint Celestine swooping into battle over an unstoppable tide of daemons is perfectly presented. It is fantastically designed, quite frankly masterfully planned, but the oddly blurred and softened details means it doesn't stand out half as well as it should. By comparison, the stunning depiction of a Necron Warrior, the beautiful chapter by chapter depictions of key characters and the massive piece showing the Cadian 8th holding their ground are far better. They're added at the right moments to help compliment the lore here, and it helps to truly reinforce the poignant moments of the book or the sheer size of the ongoing battle.


Verdict



Despite all my complaints, and with total honesty, Fall of Cadia is actually remarkably enjoyable. I will freely admit I am going somewhat easy on this one for a few reasons, but it seems like this was a story with a solid core where the secondary elements just kept screwing it over. Many of these turned out to be old problems we suspected from the start, like the effort of tying off so many loose ends would interfere with the story, and that the book's relatively short length would hurt it. Despite these though, the writers did an admirable job of putting together a very fun and (at times) surprisingly intelligent tale which far surpassed some very negative expectations. As such, while it's hardly the stunning single masterpiece one might have hoped to see, it's a success where only failure seemed like a possible outcome.

If you want a good comparison to the experience of reading Fall of Cadia, think of Die Hard for a second. No, honestly, think about it for just a few seconds. While the actual story of that film itself is ridiculous when you actually pause to think about it, and retains so many questionable moments, it pulls it off by presenting them in the right way. At a certain point, from certain justifications on screen, it manages to be dumb enough while offering smart answers that you stop caring and just enjoy the ride to the end. Really, that sums up this book's best overall qualities from start to finish.

Would I recommend this on the basis of its lore after all that though? Actually, yes, for all the entertainment this provided, I would say it's one of the better choices of the past couple of years. It still doesn't match up to our hopes, but in all honesty short of a full fledged Imperial Armour book there honestly wasn't much here which could truly get this event right. It ends on a hopeful and quite engaging note for what's to come, and if Games Workshop can maintain this as their standard quality, Warhammer 40,000 will be all the better for it.

So, that's the story done and out of the way. Join us here as we move on once more to the rules and new units this book provides.