Saturday, 18 February 2017

A Slow February

Yep, it's another one of these brief warnings. While we will have a few more things lined up, the remainder of February is going to be slower than usual due to work constraints elsewhere. So, while I will attempt to keep up to date with the usual mix of works, and we will be finishing off Fracture of Biel-Tan, you might notice a sudden drop off in the ability to produce new work every other day. My hope is that this should be back to normal with the start of next month, but that remains to be seen.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Gathering Storm: Fracture of Biel-Tan Part 2 - The Special Rules, Units and Relics (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)


Going from the story, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to know that the rules here are relatively light. With only three new - albeit brilliantly designed - units taking to the fore, it's once again a very hero based book with a few new items to help bolster your lines. Once again, a few of these heroes also delve a bit too deep into the power creep end of the game, but given their nature that's to be expected. Trust me, i'm as tried of sheer raw power and special rules dominating the tabletop as the next guy, but if a living incarnation of a god and a literal god can't pimp slap units en mass, who can?

So, with that done let's delve into the crunch side of things with the new general rules.


Special Rules

Thankfully, rather than just asking players to mash two different codices together to run the army (well, not entirely) we do get a new special rule to help vary things up. While this hardly re-writes the entire army overnight, it does at least change a few essential pillars of the Codex: Eldar and Codex: Dark Eldar forces which have existed up to now, and there's no denying the interesting meta shifts which can be brought about from this.

That said, if you were hoping this would tone down some of the sheer obscene firepower of the Craftworld Eldar, you're all out of luck.


Strength from Death is the big one here, which completely replaces Ancient Doom, Battle Focus and Power from Pain in any and all units. Initially this looks as if it actively depowers the units as this does remove the core buffs which seriously help them in the midst of battle. However, in exchange for some of that fire, they have gained a rather alarming level of rapid response which might catch a few players unawares. If a unit (non-vehicle to be specific) is completely destroyed while another is within 7" of something with this special rule, the nearby unit can immediately "Soulburst" in reaction to a foe. "Soulburst" in this case refers to being able to move, shoot and assault even out of phase.

If you don't quite get how nasty this could be, consider for a moment what could happen if a unit of Guardians happens to get mowed down by concentrated lastgun fire. Well, now you've finished them off, the unit of Banshees nearby can leapfrog forwards and get into battle all the sooner. Or, in a similar case, suddenly the Dire Avenger squad next to them can suddenly open up with Bladestorm out of turn, cutting down a major unit in your front line.

While this does always come at the cost of more and more eldar units, this potentially permits players to pull a few chess style gambits. Sacrificing their pawns so they can annihilate their foes wholesale, you could see anything from Dark Reapers shooting multiple times in an enemy turn to seeing massed assault forces abruptly jump halfway across the board in an instant.

It's too early to tell if this is actually broken (at least beyond the likes of Wraithguard - which will utterly annihilate anything they come across with these bonuses) as while it offers a few big buffs there are obvious shortcomings. Massing infantry heavy armies together means Guard armies will be able to enjoy the biggest turkey shoot in the galaxy, and it would leave them with a few obvious blind spots. Whatever the case, it's definitely an interesting change for a top tier force.


Units



The choices here on the whole are actually a nice balance between various choices. Just as Celestine, Cawl, and Greyfax played off of one another's strengths, the trio of alien figures here each focus upon a different aspect of their world. You have the duelist, the "big gun" and the support choice, with little direct crossover between their skills. While they're not ultra-focused until one cannot still oppose most units in some way, they have their own unique way of doing things, until they can work beautifully alongside one another or standard troops choices.

While the whole "one unit per style" idea might seem cliched or overplayed to some people, it is nevertheless a cornerstone of tabletop wargames of all kinds. It's also something which Codex: Eldar has always taken to absolute extremes, even turning it into an aspect of their culture, so it's hard to really object to this one. Even if it does follow the same overall format as the heroes of Fall of Cadia, it's at least fresh and flexible enough of a blueprint to still churn out a few fun and vastly different ideas one by one.

Yvraine, Herald of Ynnead

As the first choice on this list, Yvraine fits into the "Greyfax" slot for this trio. As the somewhat more fragile psyker, she comes with the big notable bonus of generating D3 Warp charges per turn (thanks primarily to the Gyrinx Familiar following her about) but also hits at Master Level 2 to allow for a bit extra power. Better yet, while she is sadly stuck with the 6+ standard save, this is somewhat mitigated by a 4++ invulnerable save and a few very nice stats bonuses. In effect, she's a standard Farseer stats line, save for the fact she has a Weapons Skill, Ballistic Skill and Initiative of 8, and a weapon which grants +1 Strength in melee.

The more interesting special rules stem more from her relationship with the new than anything else, as Herald of Ynnead takes Strength from Death to a whole new level. Should an allied model - yes, just the one - die while she's within 7" of them, she's consume their soul and regain a would on a 4+. This would usually be enough to swing the odds in her favour, but atop of this she also gains an extra Mastery Level (to a maximum of four, naturally) and can instantly generate an extra psychic power on the spot.

This is somewhat akin to what we saw with the Thousand Sons back in Wrath of Magnus, using other troops to buff the big hard hitting psykers. Rather than just serving as batteries though, in this case it's more a benefit from abrupt losses. You're not directly draining their lives, you're just having someone soaking up their energy and becoming superpowered if they happen to kill off a few too many of them. What obviously offsets this is her relative fragility, as lasgun spamming or a few lucky shots can still overcome her Invulnerable save and overcome her relatively low Toughness.

This makes her, again like Greyfax, something of a risky choice to employ. She's powerful, has definite bonuses which give her a major edge against many foes, and she can dish out enough punishment in melee to win most duels. Yet, her biggest advantages always rely upon you keeping her where she can be most easily killed in one way or another. Thanks to the high risk nature of her design, it means she's a potentially powerful foe but one you can only truly take advantage of with careful planning and good lists.

Plus, hey, any army with Aspect Warriors in it needs a good psyker.

The Visarch, Sword of Ynnead

As the "duelist" of the group, as the sort of figure you would need to throw against heroes and champions alike, the Visarch is understandably melee focused. The Ying to Yvraine's Yang, he is more durable and better made for close combat. Despite having a Weapons Skill, Ballistic Skill and Initiative of 7 compared to her 8, he retains a standard 3+ armour save and comes with no end of special rules to give him an edge in battle, namely Stubborn, Eternal Warrior, Rampage, and Precision Strikes besides the expected rules for an eldar character. The notable aspect, especially for a character of his type, stems more from his blade than anything else, as it permits +2 Strength AP 2 but also the Silence special rule, where all enemy units within close range (of 3") must use their lowest Leadership value while in combat. So, people run from him pretty quickly.

Interestingly however, he's clearly not meant to work on his own as a character. Fitting in with the lore, he serves largely as Yvraine's bodyguard and defender, and his special abilities permit him to always perform and pass Glorious Interventions for her and automatically overcome line of sight issues for her if they're in the same unit. Oh, and if you thought the lack of an Invulnerable save was going to let him down, Champion of Ynnead permits him to regenerate one wound if a friendly model dies within 7" and also an extra attack if he's consuming the soul of a character.

On the whole the Visarch is a very reliable if combat related choice and a solid option for a more militant leader for the army. While he is obviously intended to work with Yvraine and the fact their respective skills work so well off of one another is apparent for all to see, he nevertheless can take on most general purpose HQ choices without much trouble. He's not so much the Celestine you might expect and more of a Vargard Obyron choice on the whole, and certainly fairly well rounded for his cost.

Yncarne, Avatar of Ynnead

Imperial players, daemons and foes of the eldar, welcome to your clown faced nightmare for the next Edition. While Yncarne might not be able to solo Warlord Titans as some might have hoed, the sheer variety of special rules and a stats line on part with an Avatar means she will butcher anything she comes across. a 3+ standard and 5++ Invulnerable save atop of this would usually be enough on its own of course, but then you have Eternal Warrior, Fleet, Deep Strike(!!!), and Preferred Enemy: Daemons of Slaanesh; not to mention a weapon which retains AP2 with Fleshbane, Armorbane, and Soulblaze.

I take back what I said, this one probably could solo a Warlord Titan if given a decent chance.

While many of you are likely gleefully rubbing your hands at the thought of Deep Striking this mean monster behind enemy lines, you're out of luck unfortunately. Yncarne's Inevitable Death rule prevents them doing anything more than arriving out of deployment within 1" of the first friendly unit killed. This is the one downside as the first Guardian squad to fall is going to pop this guy into existence, but if you're lucky you might be able to suicide rush them far enough forwards to give them hell.

This one is difficult to pick out, but on the whole she'll probably end up being deployed as a more directly offensive version of Magnus. Rather than being used as a keystone holding together your lines, eldar players will probably send her hurtling at the tip of a spear into opposing forces. There's not much which can really stop her either, and while the model is expensive, we'll have to wait and see what can really be introduced to try and directly counter this model short of some of the extremely high grade characters on a few sides.


Relics



Corag-Hai's Locket: Welcome to something which can turn your HQ choice into a vampire. Kill one man and on the role of a 4+ they'll regain one wound. It's a fairly nice bonus to have for sure and gives a bit of added survival potential to Autarchs or the like. Definitely consider this one if you're aiming for more melee madness.

Hungering Blade: This one is a fodder felling weapon if ever there was one, as it works well against certain forces but it's almost useless against others. On the one hand, if you kill an eldar model with it, you regain all lost wounds, but on the other even with Fleshbane you can be bogged down doing little damage, or even be stuck with an overpriced chainsword. Skip this one unless you can think of a very good use for it somewhere.

The Lost Shroud: One of the more interesting choices of late, this one gives every possible damn defensive upgrade the writers could think of to a character. Eternal Warrior, Feel No Pain and It Will Not Die are all bundled in here, and it will turn your HQ choices into a one-man roadblock against your foes. The only real problem is you lose Independent Character when you add this to the figure. So, while it's well worth taking, reserve it only for lists where you definitely plan on locking someone down with a single squad of Warriors.

Mirrorgaze: This item grants Blind, Counter Attack and Night Vision to the wearer, all of which are nice, but the item is somewhat overpriced for its value. While it is worth giving it to a few select HQ choices with a rapid melee focus, those piled in with Scorpions, Banshees or Spears, leave picking this one until last.

The Song of Ynnead: This is just a Shuriken Pistol with the Poisoned (2+) rule at 18", the sort of thing we've seen quite a few times over the years. Situational, brief in use, but players will still find a place for it in the right list.


Soulsnare: As one of the one-shot weapons this is another crowd control choice. You lob it like a grenade within 8", and it hits with Strength 3 AP2 with Instant Death. While useful against a few massed troops choices, this is one you should probably just skip this one entirely as it's rare to see it have a substantial impact on an opposing army.


Verdict



As rules go, this one is competently written. While it sadly doesn't have much to really make it stand out short of sheer firepower, there's no serious weaknesses to be found nor a notable waste of points. At worst, you have a couple of items which you should probably skip, but the rest of it does hold up fairly well against most armies, even the high tier stuff when needed.

If you're after a few bonus characters to help add more variety to your army, you'll likely be fairly happy with this one.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Horus Heresy: Garro (Book Review)


While the Horus Heresy consists of a multitude of very individual stories, Garro's tale is the only one which could be considered a stand-out success. With several major audio dramas, novellas and short stories following on from Flight of the Eisenstein, he is the only character to have had a full fledged spin-off series from the main arc, with no small amount of success as a result. However, as his tale is moving towards a finale at long last, it seems that Black Library wanted to bring everyone up to speed. Unfortunately, the results are rather mixed.

Now, for once the issue isn't that the stories are bad. There are a couple of very disappointing ones in here with a few odd narrative choices but nothing truly worthy of being bad. No, the problem instead stems from the formatting, structure and style of this work. Confused yet? Well, read on as we delve into the strengths and failings of this latest book.

The Good

The big point immediately in Garro's favour is its pricing. For the cost of a single book you are getting the entire series, with everything from Oath of Moment to Vow of Faith put into a single tome. While several are spin-off stories, a number of others feature events which directly affected the main storyline itself, from the re-introduction of one major character to the establishment of a location which would become crucial to the Imperium's survival. So, this is both a mixture of events fleshing out the tale and building upon events seen elsewhere.

The story also branches across a multitude of events from across the timeline, giving a nice nostalgia rush as you see a Calth in the midst of the Word Bearer's assault, a pre-Alpha Legion attacked Terra and even a post bombardment Isstvan III. Each is extremely well described and quite atmospheric in its own right, with Swallow's typically and clean descriptions of battles holding up well amid the intensity of combat. Besides this though, there is also a definitive character arc surrounding Garro which stands out well as he moves from one location to the next. It's minor at first, but you do start to see the seeds of faith planted in Flight of the Eisenstein begin to bloom and even flourish. This creates a nice sense of continuity between the tales.

Quite a few of the side characters prove to be very interesting at times as well, with Macer Varren granting a rare look at an honourable (if still very angry) World Eater who sidestepped the Butcher's Nails. Rubio is also another good example, delving further into the mind of a psyker forced to never use his powers, and giving some nice commentary upon Nikea's overall effects. Both are hardly the most developed or fleshed out of the figures within the Heresy, but they do enough to hold up well in the fact of the more streamlined style of the series.

The book has also seen an number of expansions over the course of several scenes, expanding upon the fine details of certain actions. Quite a few of these are admittedly quite combat orientated, but a number of very nice ones do help to expand upon the features, expressions and presence of the characters in certain scenes. Furthermore, the book introduces a number of third person narrative pieces by other characters to help break up certain events, speaking of Garro and his tale from its beginning. Three guesses as to who this is.

With the stories also veering from a murder mystery to an odd character piece on Rogal Dorn, there's also plenty of variety to read through here. So, even if you don't like one story, there will be a good two more you'll definitely enjoy on from it within a few chapters.

Still, there is a very big warning light which is holding up on this book. As good as the stories individually are, and each of which do deserve an individual review, this simply isn't the right format for them. Why? Read on and find out.

The Bad

Now, a big point audio reviews have gone back and forth on several times over the course of reviews. Often an author will have a big problem in knowing when and when not to introduce details into the story, permitting the sound effects and voice actors to carry the drama. Swallow was one of the first to really get to grips with this, and his style was rapidly adapted to the more audible format with few difficulties. The problem is, while that might have been a boon there, it's a definite hindrance to this reworking of the old stories.

For starters, as you read through it you will rapidly notice that many sections of these stories are bereft of usual level of detail we have come to expect. Establishment of scenes, facial expressions, more subtle reactions and the heavy duty descriptions have all gone out the window here. As a result, it can be difficult to really get into many scenes, and many sequences which were both extremely strong and  atmospheric in the audio dramas are now bizarrely nebulous by comparison. It's difficult to get into the intensity of a massed fight against Chaos cultists, when almost all of it is conveyed by dialogue and it lacks the sound effects it was supposed to coincide with.

At the same time, while this story has supposedly been reworked into a single saga, that simply hasn't worked either. The reason I personally called this an anthology or sequence of stories is that's really what it still is. The bare basic has been redone to try and fix up a few points, but it is painfully obvious that this is a massive number of individual tales with the beginning and end chopped off. Obviously the big one is how often the story jumps about the galaxy from chapter to chapter, often completely starting over at multiple points. We're introduced to Rubio and Garro during the events on Calth, only to be re-introduced to them on Isstvan III as if it's the opening to a story, and that sort of thing just doesn't work here. 

What's more, there's no disguising that there is no typical story structure here. You don't get an introductory act, a middle and then a finale, just lots of micro-arcs which repeatedly start and end at a rapid pace. Some last a good third of the book, others perhaps nine or ten pages at the most. This makes the difficulty in getting used to the book all the more difficult, especially when it refuses to treat this as a group of stories so much as a single ongoing plot with a few time-skips. Now, that sort of thing can technically be pulled off such as with Trollslayer or Brothers of the Snake, but most of those were made from the ground up. Others, such as Ghostmaker, did link together a ton of pre-existing stories, but it didn't just tie them up. It worked them about a much larger tale before tying them into an ending conflict. This is just gluing the ends together and expecting it to work.

Perhaps the strangest thing, however, is the parts these stories actually leave out. Along with adding a few bits and pieces, anyone familiar with the audio dramas will likely realise that some vital parts have been omitted. In particular, the opening to Garro: Legion of One has been completely erased, despite it being one of the best retellings of the Great Crusade/Horus Heresy in the series. Why were they erased? Likely to try and smooth things over and ensure that there was somewhat less of an intro to each big story, but it just creates more problems. In that particular case, it's a very abrupt start which seems to begin with little to no build-up and leaps head on into the action.

As you can guess from all of this, it's not so much the tales themselves which are really bad here, just the formatting and efforts made to try and turn them into a single story. Unfortunately, that's really what kills this.

Verdict

Garro is an interesting experiment, but one which ultimately went wrong. While personally I do still argue that it is a good value for money compilation, and some fans will enjoy having a few extra bits to some tales, the audio dramas really are the way to go. Each of them is expertly voice acted (barring one or two odd choices which always seem to crop up in each one) and the story arcs do offer some fun lore moments even in the worst of tales. Sure, it might cost a little more, but it's really the best execution of this idea.

So, if you didn't get that, skip this one and stick to the CDs. Here's hoping next time we'll have something more positive to say about this series.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Gathering Storm: Fracture of Biel-Tan Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)


When Cadia fell, more than merely the Eye of Terror opened for Warhammer 40,000. With its fall, the Imperium lost its security, Chaos was given free reign to trample the galaxy in an unending tide of carnage, and the security of M42 dissipated in an instant. No more would the timeline end with Abaddon's war raging in the heavens, or the conflict at Macragge. Instead, it would need to press forwards. The writers would need to establish a new world, ask "What happens next?" and to ensure that ongoing events left an impact upon the game. More than anything else however, they would need to resolve the Gordian Knot of cliffhangers and explosive events past creators had spent years setting up.

Now, personally, I was willing to go somewhat easy on Fall of Cadia. The writers had been lumbered with a decades old storyline which had barely been updated or altered to reflect new lore in any way. In fact, most writers had just outright avoided it, and others had written so many contradictions that it was going to always be an uphill battle. Atop of this, the sheer scale of the war itself had gone from gigantic to hugeibafuckis, registering on a scale usually reserved only for Godzilla and Dragon Ball Z battles. So, while it might have been flawed and suffered in places, I was personally willing to grant them some leeway in producing a halfway decent work out of a difficult subject.

As past articles have said however, Fracture of Biel-Tan will get no such treatment.

With Cadia done, the creative team has all the freedom to do whatever they want. They have nothing tying them down, no ideas by past writers stalling them, no editions old concepts to cause them problems. They had various sources to work with, a multitude of ideas, and several fully fleshed out codices repeatedly dropping heavy hints at something big which was to come. Simply put - They have no reason to fail at all. While personally I want to see this book succeed, I am not going to pull my punches if they seriously screw up a story they have been given years to prepare.

Well, with that intro, you can probably guess how this is going to end. So, let's get this over and done with.


The Good


To start with an easy one - Games Workshop did stick to their word this time when it came to names. While it is true that Aeldari is often used to describe the race, Eldar isn't thrown aside and it does frequently arise throughout the book. It's a nice change over Astra Militarum and it at least sidesteps the massive issue of disconnecting the reader from the tale.

The book also sidesteps the other big fear we discussed a while back, that this would force the races together. While it is true that the force seen here is a massed united group of Craftworld and Dark Eldar forces, they don't make up the whole of their race. In fact, many of them seem to be following this group out of gritted-teeth teamwork, barely associating themselves with one another out of a lack of choice, and without anything stopping them just going back to the way they were afterwards.

Oh, and there are one or two very, very dumb decisions it could have resorted to help drive the story forwards, but they avoid them. The big one is remembering Nurgle can infect creatures and using basic quarantine procedures to avoid the spread of disease, something better writers have ignored.


That's about it. Yes, this is not a good one folks, so brace yourselves.


The Bad



So, let's get into the big one first - The retcons. There are a lot of them to be sure, and it's difficult to discuss them all without getting into major spoilers for the book itself. However, as you go along, you're going to start to notice that there are some very big ones being shoved into the story, the likes of which make Celestine's odd alterations in Fall of Cadia look tame by comparison. For starters, the book immediately starts going back on a vast multitude of major events and ideas surrounding the Craftworld and Dark Eldar. On the one hand this is good because many of those were pretty damn stupid and were riddled with plot holes. On the other though, it keeps trying to treat them as if they happened while ignoring the actual events.

The really big retcon here surrounds the actual event which led to Ynnead's apparent birth, all but utterly re-writing that conflict. Oh, Eldrad still pulled his faulds-on-head stupid scheme and it still resulted in a moon exploding when Artemis' merry band of psychopaths showed up, but it didn't apparently matter. According to this, the actual Infinity Circuits themselves were not drained as it treats each as if they were intact and filled with souls, Ynnead itself wasn't born but only a slight entity escaped while it went back to sleep, and the Craftworlds did not lose any power at all. This is vaguely hand-waved away by some non-answer partway through, but it just bulldozes ahead rather than actually bothering to address this.

Now, just one would be bad enough but this keeps happening over and over again. Iyanna's personal crusade which risked war with so many other species? Never brought up and it's treated as if it never existed. The whole thing about Commorragh entering a state of civil war, with something mysterious banging on its front gate? Unmentioned. The deal-with-the-devil the Imperium pulled with them? Never brought up. Even basics such as the contrasting messages and visions granted to various eldar characters, showing different futures, is never addressed and multiple secondary storylines are treated as if they never existed. Yet, despite this, they will keep calling back to them in odd ways like mentioning how Iyanna was constantly preaching in favour of Ynnead's existence.

So, apparently upon starting this book, the writers decided that the best course of action was to throw half the storylines away, but to still refer back to certain bits at random. I can only assume that this was a concerted effort to make give anyone who cared about the lore an aneurysm. After all, if every bloke who actually values storytelling over mechanics had their heads explode, who would be left to question the ridiculousness of their new campaigns?

Things are only made all the more problematic thanks to the shocking swerves and moments where the narrative goes completely off the rails. Really, there are times when this book effectively jumps genres and tries to suddenly be something else, all the while avoiding addressing what just happened. This happens so often that it honestly seems as if multiple books were mashed together all at once with some vague hand-waves thrown in to try and badly cover for this. First it's character driven, following a lone character's rise to power, only to suddenly leap into a massive Craftworld crisis. It almost starts to settle upon that, even introducing a Phoenix Lord, until it abruptly kills the Craftworld(!!!) and hurls itself into a generic RPG plot, and keeps going from there. It's not so much a plot evolution as plot ping-pong-ball, ricocheting about the galaxy and trying to make everything join together.

Even ages old issues, well established within the lore, are effectively swept under the rug. The Dark Eldar and Craftworld Eldar, for example, barely bat an eye at one another. Yes, the group who were previously canonically established to be bitter allies of necessity at the most, and frequently bright lance'd one another on sight, now just go "'sup" when they arrive. Even the massed arrival of groups on several craftworlds barely bats an eye, with the ultra-xenophobic Biel-Tan barely noting them as a possible threat and Ulthwe almost ignoring them entirely. The few times they are actually brought up as a possible danger is only used to show a character as wrong or paranoid in some way, and it's not the only time this sort of thing happens. Basic ideas behind the Craftworld and Dark Eldar, establishing defining concepts and ages old lore is brushed aside for the sake of forcing the story to make a vague degree of sense.

If you want to understand just how badly this comes across in Fracture of Biel-Tan, to borrow a skit from the ever awesome SFDebris, imagine this is the pitch by the writer to an editor for a second. One being delivered by a man with ADD, and undergoing the perfect mix of an extreme caffeine high and heroine binge:

"Ynnead has been reborn!"

"Really?"

"Yes! No, better, it's a fragment of the god's essence, born into a dying eldar in Commorragh and shows her gaining influence!"

"So it's about her fight with the Dark Eldar?"

"Yes! No, she escapes Commorragh destroying it behind her, gathering a band of followers and escaping the Webway, meeting up with a mysterious red armoured warrior and pursued by daemons! We'll call them Yvraine and Visarch!"

"So, we'll follow her journey in the Webway and explore who these new warriors are?"

"Yes! No! We'll see the Harlequins resolve all of that, and then she makes her way to Biel-Tan, warning them of a dire future!"

"Then it's all about the war for Biel-Tan, its conflict with daemons and their distrust of her?"

"Yes! No! Biel-Tan is instantly corrupted and needs to be destroyed, so she rips out its heart and summons Ynnead in the Infinity Circuit!"

"So, the Infinity Circuits have been drained then, and this begins their war to fight back?"

"Yes! No! I've got it! They need to fly to each Craftworld in turn, enlisting their help to actually summon the proper Ynnead!"

"So, this becomes an actual task to earn their trust and a long war to unite the worlds under one banner?"

"Yes! No, wait, that's all dealt with and they join in one by one, we'll just resolve it in a page or two! And it's not the actual Ynnead, but Yncarne instead! We'll then have them fly into the Eye of Terror, visiting the Crone Worlds and gathering artifacts from there."

"So, this will be an exploration of the lost history of the Eldar Empire and their fallen kingdom?"

"Yes! No! They're pursued by the same daemons from before, only there's also Haemonculus Covens fighting them as well, the self-styled true power behind Commorragh!"

"Didn't you ditch them chapters ago?"

"We'll just add them back in! They're then saved by Iyanden's forces, who appear out of nowhere to save them, guiding them back to their Craftworld!"

"So, this all links into Iyanna's visions, and the power struggle between her and Yriel?"

"Yes! No, wait, they join her instantly instead, after one conversation, and help her destroy two attacking space hulks! Then Yriel heroically dies!"

"He does?"

"No, he's instantly brought back to life! Then they enter the Webway again, fighting Ahriman and his Thousand Sons to prevent them accessing the Black Library!"

"So, it becomes a clash of wills instead, a major conflict where we see the Black Library at last? Wait, didn't Wrath of Magnus say Ahriman had already been in there?"

"That doesn't matter! Now Yncarne resurrects all of Ahriman's followers, instantly reversing the Rubric and changing the entire legion!"

"Wait, what!?"

"No, better, it's all a trick! They use this to eject them from the Webway entirely and take back the life they granted! Then they go on to join up with the Imperial forces who don't trust them!"

"... So, this is about teaming up with the humans for the sake of fate and earning their trust?"

"Well, it always was!"

This book simply can't stick to a single theme or idea long enough to really bring it to fruition, resulting in a lot of half-baked and semi-developed sections which constantly encroach in upon one another. For example, the book spends a solid twelve pages establishing who Yvraine is, her history and discovering her new powers. It then spends another eleven focusing upon a fight between Biel-Tan and an Exodite World corrupted long past the point of recovery. Finally, once Biel-Tan itself is corrupted, it races through the whole thing, breezing through the war in four pages and having them abandon it in one. Yes, what is arguably the poster child for the entire Craftworld Eldar race is barely given a page to actually express its death, and it barely has any impact upon the rest of the story.

The random introductions/abrupt drops even carries over to a vast number of secondary elements as well. Often the book will pause to introduce a lot of well known elements to the audience or tell them certain points rather than showing them, only for it to promptly forget about them within the next few pages. The big one here is Altansar. Yes, the famous Craftworld consumed by the Eye is in this, and they were even rescued off screen. Somehow. Well, they even manage to somehow show up on Ulthwe without anyone knowing about it, offer to guide the protagonists to their goal (with one slitting her own throat so the Ynnead trio gets her memories) and they're never brought up again. Oh, they're there in the background, but nothing else is is ever actually done with them.

So much here is sacrificed or thrown together so that the new heroes can stand out, and the sad truth is that they barely leave any impact upon the reader. While Fracture of Biel-Tan goes whole hog on the old "armies are just fodder for the characters" idea, no one here leaves any impact. While Yvraine gets page after page to try and flesh out her history, and a far more detailed a story than almost any other character, I could barely remember her name. Compared with Farsight, Cassius, or even the likes of Kelmon Firesight, she was barely a blip on the horizon. The same went for the other two, and they were so poorly planned out with so little impact, that I was kept going almost purely in the hopes someone else would take over from them.

Still, are the battles at least fun? Nope. No, no, not in the slightest. This is easily some of the worst storytelling we have seen with big scale battles since Sentinels of Terra, with every flaw of that book repeated tenfold. For starters, the descriptions and emotive text to help give emphasis to their abilities is awful, and is more akin to a first time writer than someone penning the next stage in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  This would be bad enough but then we get to the actual staging of the battles. These are supposed to be gigantic engagements, with tens of thousands of foes on either side, easily rivaling the battles of the ancient world. Well, going from how they're presented here, they have all the grace and mythical engagement of a Friday night pub brawl. 

Take the Tempest of Blades battle for example. Nothing even pauses to repeatedly suggest the scale of the landscape, little is done to emphaise upon size, battle plans or the length of the battle, or even the shifting combat lines. No, what we get is a couple of paragraphs about one Craftworld Eldar unit doing some damage, before moving onto the next one. No, I don't even mean a squad, I mean "The Swooping Hawks darted from the blue-grey clouds so similar in hue to their armour the winged warriors seemed no more than flickers at the limit of vision." Yes, that's a line in here. Imagine that stretched across page after page, sluggishly lumbering from one unit to the next with some very general and uninformative details, and then try to imagine someone getting paid for it.

However, perhaps the greatest crime of all his how little impact the actual writing leaves on the reader. It's an odd one to be sure, even in light of the past criticism, but it's a kind of "tone deaf narrative" where the story is desperately trying to mimic the same beats and impacts which worked elsewhere, but missing at every turn. While you can tell that there is a genuine effort to make the story engaging with the kind of terms, listings and events which worked elsewhere, it constantly misses the same beats to let them have the impact they need. This is evident as much in the action as the character drama, and it's a big reason why the battle scenes just don't work. While there is the odd genuinely decent moment like having Yriel and an assembled force of Corsairs taking on a Daemon Prince, everything else keeps failing to leave that same impact. It relies so heavily upon tried and true methods without any individual flare that it becomes practically mechanical by the end, like something churned out in a factory rather than a man's hand.

So, why is this last bit the greatest crime above all else? Well, it's for a reason I realised very early on - It makes everything here boring. So many events I would have personally found entertaining and engaging early on, from the confrontation between these Reborn Eldar and Ulthwe's leaders to the massive void battle about Iyanden, were simply dull. The descriptive nature, the presentation, the overall structure of the work bereft of the same "beats" or end-of-chapter hooks which worked elsewhere, all of it made reading this book a tedious chore in the end. Even as someone who has been enthralled with Lexicanum articles in the past, the matter-a-fact nature of the works, the sheer lack of reasons to give any investment killed this story for me. That, ultimately, is what damned the book more than anything else.


The Artwork


The artwork, what new stuff we do get, is pretty good on the whole. There are only a few basic new pieces, but each is highly detailed and a massive step up over the works of many past books, veering towards the style and designs of Fifth Edition books. A particular favourite is the image of Iyanden at war with multiple Space Hulks, with various ships waging war in space about it.

Really though, there's not much here at all, and while we have some nice new images, there should have been so much more. 


Verdict



The only reason that this review isn't drowning in screaming rage is that it doesn't deserve it. Honestly, it's so utterly tedious, so incredibly dull, that I personally felt nothing more than sheer disappointment at every turn. Mont'Ka might have been infuriating and Clan Raukaan might have been insulting, but this was so utterly dull that nothing stood out here. It was as if someone had been asked to churn out a first draft and it was rushed through, long before anything could be thought out, or even properly "emoted" to let the reader actually give a damn.

Honestly, if you're in this for the story, just read a summary online. You won't lose a damn thing with this one and we do not learn anything new about the Craftworld Eldar, Dark Eldar, Exodites or Corsairs. Hell, the second of the last two effectively only make an appearance as corpses. Culturally there is nothing new to be found here, in terms of mythology nothing is done to properly add more to the race, and what little character development we get is utterly cheap. Please, just skip this one and wait until the next part if you're remotely interested in this series at all, because this simply isn't worth your cash.

So, that's the core lore done. Join us here as we move onto the units and relics.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The 10 Best Tanks of the Second World War


So, a few months back we looked at the worst tanks of this era. While that focused squarely upon technology had gone horribly wrong, the opening did discuss how this was the golden age of the tank. It was the are where landships were dominant in combat and air power lacked the sheer variety or power to all but overwhelm ground forces in most engagements. So, in order to best reflect this, this sequel will be focusing upon the absolute best of their kind, based upon a few core factors.

You see, this was an era of constant change. The rapid advancements of technology and abrupt breakthroughs meant that the "best" tank was changing every other month, and the tanks of 1945 utterly eclipsed those from a mere two years before. So, this one is going to be based upon a few limiting factors in order to cover as broad a range of vehicles as possible:


  • Each tank will be chosen, in part, thanks to its influence upon later designs and the impact it had upon its era. If a tank failed due to poor tactics, that was the fault of the generals and not the tank itself.
  • Each nation will be limited to three tanks in total for this list, to prevent Germany and Russia from dominating every point.
  • There will be no multiple variants of the same tank selected. Either one will be picked out to best represent their designs, or a point will be made to represent all of them with a reason as to why.
  • Each tank must have entered massed production and engaged enemy forces before the end of the war. It would hardly be fair to nominate a tank which largely fought in the Korean and Cold Wars, even if they were finished in 1945, hence the absence of the Centurion on this list.
So, from this you might find a few unexpected choices on this list. Perhaps even creations you have never heard of before now. However, each one will be carefully chose and very carefully selected with the exact reasons why outlined in the text below.

So, with that over and done with, onto our list of glorious engines of carnage!



10. Souma 35



One would be forgiven for thinking the French military is cursed. Despite their ill earned reputation as "cheese eating surrender monkeys" the nation's military forces have a fair number of victories to their name. The problem is that while they were effective at winning battles, they could rarely win wars.  This seemed to have spread to some of their other projects as the Souma 35 was one of the best tanks of its era, but was hampered by archaic minds.

Built between 1936 and 1940, the Souma 35 served as the French cavalry tank of the time, and was constructed with speed, firepower and anti-tank duties in mind. With a 47 mm SA 35 gun as its primary armament, it could inflict severe damage upon any other vehicle of this era, and its thickly armoured and sloped design made it incredibly durable despite its surprising agility. While its design meant that it was expensive and high maintenance, it more than made up for this with sheer combat effectiveness. In one-on-one engagements against the Panzer Mk. IIIs, which served as the primary Nazi battle tank, the Souma 35 would emerge victorious thanks to its superior design. The problem was that they had been built with older tactics in mind, and the Nazis rarely deployed tanks on their own.

Much like the Char B1, the Souma 35 suffered from a few old ideas when it came to its use, but was hampered more by the poor planning of their commanders. Divided up and separated out, they were often given near impossible tasks to complete and were outmatched by the combined arms strategies of Germany. This was best seen with pyrrhic Battle of Hannut and Battle of Arras, where poor deployment contributed to their failures despite often inflicting heavy casualties upon their foes. While France might have lost the war, the Souma 35 still stood out as one of the best creations of its era, and often proved to be a nasty surprise for the invading German forces.



9. M3 "Lee" Medium Tank/Matilda Mk. II


This is one of those exceptionally rare occasions where two vehicles will occupy the same spot on one of these lists. Why two rather than just one? Because they ultimately ended up fulfilling a very similar role in the end. 

Built while British forces were still obsessed with the idea of cavalry and infantry support tanks, the Matilda Mk. II was intended to serve the role of a rolling bunker. Armed with a 40mm two pounder gun, it was capable of penetrating extremely heavy armour while its own heavily reinforced plating (which was notably 78mm thick on the front glacis) could shrug off most rounds. Then something odd happened. The Crusaders and Cruiser tanks intended to take on the Panzers ended up repeatedly failing thanks to the desert conditions of El Alamein and simply lacking the capabilities of Germany's best tanks. As a result, the Matilda was often left to fill in for them and rescue these vehicles, which it did a remarkably well.

While slow moving and mechanically complex thanks to its twin engine design, it was capable of enduring almost anything short of a Flak 88 gun when it came to direct combat. Furthermore, as British gunners were trained to fire their main weapons while on the move, it meant that the army could rely upon a slow but steady moving fire support platform for their troops. It was, of all the British tanks of this era, the only one which Nazi forces held any respect for.

By comparison, the M3 Lee was something America rushed out the door and was only intended as a stop-gap measure. What is often forgotten, and outright ignored in many films, was that America of this time was leagues behind everyone else when it came to certain military designs. Their M2 Light Tanks of this time were atrociously poorly designed, and the vehicles of any other nation would have barreled right through them. so, as they began to mobilize, they realized they needed something - anything - which could take the Panzers on in combat. The M3 Medium Tank was the answer. 

The big advantage of the M3 over its contemporaries was oddly enough a combination which was going out of fashion: A turret and hull mounted gun. The turret's 37mm barrel was light but rapid firing, relatively accurate and capable of ripping through the lighter elements of enemy vehicles, while the 75mm cannon could one-shot most Panzers. This proved to be a shock for Rommel's forces at the  Battle of Gazala, where they could rapidly destroy Panzer Mk. IIIs well beyond their effective range, but lacked the expected shortcomings. Their 51mm of armour was still fairly respectable, while its upper speed of 26mph meant it could keep pace with their best tanks. Its only real disadvantages stemmed from the high profile and hull mounted nature of its main weapon, meaning flanking attacks could be disastrous for M3 crews, and the bolted design of its armour could result in spalling after multiple hits. That's where the bolts themselves could ricochet about the interior after too many blows.

As Germany introduced more effective anti-tank weapons were introduced to overcome heavy armour, and the more popular M4 Sherman was pressed into service, they were recalled to secondary roles. Each would be used against the Italians in their home nation and sent to Russia as part of a lend-lease program (where the already outdated M3 earned the infamous nickname of "coffin for seven brothers"). Most, however, would be sent over to Asia where they proved to be extremely effective until the end of the war. With Japan relying upon its horribly ineffective Type 95 Ha-Go, the failing Empire ensured that these tanks would have a role right up until the Korean War.



8. Jagdpanzer 38 (Sd.Kfz. 138/2) "Hetzer"



This is a particularly curious one both thanks to its design and its origins. While recognised primarily as a mainstay of the Nazi war machine, it was one of the earliest occasions of German engineers reworking or adapting the ideas of others at an inspiring speed; specifically taking inspiration from the Romanian "Mare┼čal" tank destroyer and modifying the outdated and outclassed Panzer 38(t) chassis for a role it was never intended for. Normally this would be a recipe for complete disaster, but instead it proved to be a surprisingly effective weapon of war.

For starters, the Hetzer's fully enclosed armor gave it a major edge against its predecessors in the Marder series, permitting it to take blows which had totaled those tanks. As it was extremely well sloped at every angle save for the lower rear and retained a low profile, damaging the vehicle from the front and side was difficult save for close range engagements. Its design also ensured that it was easy to hide and camouflage whilst waiting to ambush larger vehicles, a task it proved to be incredibly effective in performing. In fact, combined with its remarkable mechanical reliability and ease of production, it proved to be a far more favourable vehicle than the supposed super-tank known as the Jagdpanther.


Ironically, despite Blitzkrieg tactics of the time and its name (which translates to "chaser") this was never intended to be an especially mobile vehicle. Instead, it was designed to serve as an ambush predator, waiting to attack enemy vehicles, nailing them in a few moments of violence and then withdrawing. While it might have been a one trick pony, the Hetzer's massed production and incredible effectiveness against larger, better armoured tanks helped assure more models survived the war than almost any other tank constructed.



7. Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M)



Looking back now, the Cruiser was hardly the most successful series of tanks ever to be fielded in battle. Often serving more as an example of how not to do it than a series of major successes, the earlier builds were most famous for frequent losses to the Nazi war machine on almost every front. However, the Cromwell was an entirely different story, and it was one of the first signs of British engineering finally starting to get things right. Introduced late into 1944, the Cromwell was made with two things in mind - speed and versatility. Heavy armour was on the way out and it had become clear that the ability to rapidly advance, adapt and engage a multitude of various targets was desperately needed.

Outfitted with a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, the Cromwell could achieve a respectable 40mph whilst moving flat out, and it was not unheard of for crews to leap rivers or chasms with their vehicles. This permitted them to escape enemy forces with ease and outflank slower moving vehicles during more trying engagements. Atop of this however, it retained a number of benefits which were largely absent in past tanks of its design. The dual purpose 75mm main gun allowed it to engage a multitude of targets. While it lacked the penetrating power of a traditional 6-pounder weapon, access to High Explosive shells ensured that - despite being unable to punch through a Tiger's armour - it was more than capable of annihilating foes like anti-tank guns. It also helped that, while lacking the sloped design needed to bounce shells, the armour could withstand far better punishment of its predecessors.

The effectiveness of this design ensured that it would remain in service for another eleven years before finally being retired, and its mechanical reliability made it popular in a large number of countries. While it might have lacked some of the qualities tanks were most famous for, and a late entry into the war, the Cromwell is nevertheless fondly remembered as the first step on the road which would lead to greats like the Centurion and Chieftain tanks.




6. PzKpfw VI Ausf. E "Tiger Mk. 1"


Of this era, few tanks could be considered more iconic than the Tiger. Regarded as the ultimate "big tank" it was built with the idea of simply annihilating all opposing armour in mind, capable of crushing the infamous T-34s which had outperformed the Panzers at almost every turn. Extremely heavily armoured in every respect and outfitted with a 8.8 cm KwK 36 gun, they were found to be capable of single-handedly spearheading major assaults and holding off entire enemy squadrons without additional support.

Initially built for the famous Battle of Kursk, they were rushed into service as a superweapon to hold back the Russian advance. Unlike the disastrous Ferdinand however, the Tiger proved to be incredibly effective, and many gains during that conflict were thanks to its involvement. It was only halted thanks to the sheer tenacity of the Russians and the massively entrenched forces, with incalculable mines, pillboxes and artillery shells guarding the area. Even then, the Nazis were only stopped from breaking through with a massed rush of these tanks in the final days of the war thanks to a desperate recall order from Berlin.

Both sides of the allied front were ill prepared to face such a monster and, save for a few fortunate engagements, any force which battled them suffered massive casualties. Their very presence in the war forced a drastic shift in weapons development among several nations, both to counter and match these vehicles with improved anti-armour weapons or the likes of the M26 Pershing. However, the Tiger often proved to be superior in arms and equipment than its rivals. So much so that, more often than not, it was defeated by itself more than enemy troops.

A tank of extremes, the Tiger had excellent armour, firepower and speed, but multiple design flaws plagued this creation. The sheer weight of these tanks meant they were often unable to use bridges, cross muddy terrain and even replacing tracks was a difficult task. Their engines were also incredibly temperamental, suffering from fuel leaks and frequent breaks downs. Even then, their sheer financial and material cost often worked against them, limiting their numbers and effectiveness.

Rather famously, desperation forced the Nazis to entrenched many of these vehicles and turn them into bunkers during the dying days of the war. Capable of denying whole towns to the allies at a time while they remained intact and with ammunition. Despite the their shortcomings which stemmed from their production costs and over-engineered design, records of 10:1 up to 19:1 kill ratios firmly establish this as one of the deadliest tanks of the War.


5. A22, Churchill Mk. III, Infantry Tank Mk. IV


While World War II might have been the death knell of the infantry tank, it had a few final success stories on each side of the conflict. One of the most famous of these was the Churchill series, which managed to beat the odds in a multitude of unexpected ways, chiefly that it was made at all. Despite bearing the name of the famed Prime Minister of this time, the Mk. I and Mk. II had been complete disasters of tanks. Rushed into service, each was found to have major blind spots and shortcomings even in terms of basic mechanical reliance. Under-powered, temperamental and prone to failure, the entire series was on the verge of being scrapped before the Mk. III was introduced. Then, everything changed.

Initially dispatched only as a minor test group of six tanks called Kingforce, they were sent into the battlefield of North Africa to test the new vehicle's capabilities. This was just in time for the Second Battle of El Alamein, and they proved to be all but unstoppable in the face of German and Italian guns. Spearheading two assaults against heavy Nazi resistance, the group faced down detachments of Panzer Mk. IIIs and Mk IVs, shrugging off hit after hit and answering in kind. Some reports estimate that at least one tank endured eighty direct hits without slowing down, and only one suffered from any noteworthy damage, which was inflicted via friendly fire. Despite suffering from overheating issues thanks to the African environment, the series was given the go ahead for massed production thanks to these victories, and became a mainstay of the British Army.

Playing a major role in the North African and the Tunisian campaign, the tank spearheaded several famous engagements where the tank repeatedly displayed its sheer fortitude. This was exemplified when two Churchills were isolated by a German ambush during Operation Ochsenkopf and found themselves heavily outnumbered. Yet, despite the Nazis having every advantage they could have wished for, each tank fought its way clear, inflicting more than two hundred enemy casualties in return. 

More impressively still, they were also used to break the bitter stalemate of Longstop Hill in 1943. While the tanks might have been slow, they were capable of climbing sheer inclines which were impassable for other tanks. This allowed them to assault an entrenched Nazi position from a direction the commanders thought was impossible, utterly routing the enemy and even managing to disable a new Tiger Mk.I through sustained fire and several fortunate hits. This would become the famous Tiger 101.

Unlike many on this list, even time would not wholly conquer this series. Despite developments in anti-tank technology, the Churchill series would yield further successes in the Italian, Seoul and Northern European campaigns thanks to its off-road capabilities, repeated upgrades and versatility. It was found to be an incredibly reliable workhorse, acting as a bridge-layer and support tank and remained in service until the late 50s, with only the creation of the legendary Centurion preventing the planned Black Prince model from coming into service.



4. Sturmgesch├╝tz "StuG" III


One of the more criminally underrated creations of World War II, the StuG was the kind of reliable, upgradable and dependable workhorse which Nazi Germany desperately needed. Much like the aforementioned Churchill, it frequently remained in service thanks to a simple skeleton of a design which permitted rapid upgrades as the war dragged on. In fact, despite being introduced in 1940, it would remain a part of the Nazi war machine right up until the very end of 1945.

Despite being better known as a Tank Destroyer, the StuG does not match up with the mental image many hold today of such designs. Often the build is more akin to something like the Hetzer, waiting and ambushing foes before moving off again, or a lightly armoured platform designed to work at extreme ranges. The StuG though, this was an effective assault gun. Capable of reaching 25mph while moving flat out, it could keep pace with the Panzer IIIs and rapidly re-position itself on the battlefield to help defensive positions behind a Blitzkrieg offensive. Their low build meant that they were difficult to pick out at range, but easy to camouflage and their 80mm of armour ensured that they could trade blows with most enemy tanks early into the war.

Outfitted at first with a 7.5 cm KwK 37 main gun, they were used in direct support with infantry units and intended to overcome the reliance upon static firepower. The previous Great War and doctrines which had developed since then saw the use of cumbersome artillery pieces and slow moving machines to dismantle and destroy bunker formations. The StuG's ability to destroy them at such a rapid pace re-wrote tactics overnight, and proved that yesterday's strategies were dead and buried. While the KwK 37 was useful against blast shielded and soft armoured targets however, it proved to have a far harder time with enemy tanks. After suffering at the hands of T-34s and KV-1s during the Russian offensive, it was upgraded with  7.5 cm StuK 40 L/43 and later 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 cannons, both of which were vastly more effective against the heavier tanks.

Even after the introduction of the  StuG IV, the III remained in service with a surprising level of effectiveness. Compared with the more costly wunderwaffe weapons or bigger vehicles it was often a more reliable choice, and frequently proved to be at least as effective as such creations. Rather infamously, after the Jagdpanzer IV was pushed into service to supplant the III, it was revealed at Kursk that the older vehicle constantly beat its replacement thanks in part to deployment constraints.



3. M4 Sherman (All Variants)


One of the much more perplexing myths of this war has become the public view of the M4. Part of this might be down to the old public perception of a single Tiger taking on waves of M4s with ease, but the truth is that they were a far cry from the junk-heaps others view as. Released as an immediate replacement for the stop-gap M3, the Sherman saw a multitude of major improvements over tank designs of the era. 

For starters, the forwards armour and turret was incredibly well sloped and surprisingly thick at 177.8mm, allowing them to shrug off firepower from light and medium tanks fielded during the late 30s to early 40s. While this gave the vehicle a conspicuously tall profile, and was a quality found in British tanks, its other benefits gave it elements Germany often held over them. The 75 mm Gun M3 (America apparently loved that designation) was superior to the Panzer III's own weapons, and its engine could reach up to 30mph, meaning it could outrun, outfight and outlast their foes. Better yet, the M4 was also vastly easier to maintain than any other tank the Allies had, with an extremely reliable engine which could be easily be repaired or modified even in the field. Plus it also helped that it consumed far less fuel than many other such vehicles with its ability to power a full 120 miles without the need to refuel.

What made it stand out all the more, however, were its qualities behind the drawing board as well. While the M4 had been pushed into early production and tested during El Alamein's Operation Torch, it had been designed to be built quickly and cheaply without compromising its quality. Better yet though, it had a strong enough skeleton to permit multiple variants to exist, each covering a variety of different roles or being adapted to counter new technology. This resulted in a staggering 49,000 Shermans being built by the war's end, and the sheer number of different designs allowed it to constantly cover blind-spots in the Allied army's structure. The 75 mm Gun M3's not good enough? Okay, add an 76 mm anti-tank gun instead! We need a bridge-layer? Okay, make these slight changes to the design.

While there is no denying that they were simply no match for the Panther or Tiger in direct combat, it was also a sign that they were learning from Germany's own ideas. After all, with the sheer variety of vehicles on hand, who said a tank needed to kill a tank, rather than close support by planes or artillery? So, while the nickname of "Tommy Cookers" was well deserved, they were nevertheless a very effective and dependable design. Without them, the Allies simply wouldn't have benefited from the sheer level of armoured support which helped them win the war.



Panzerkampfwagen IV (PzKpfw IV)




Going from a multitude of variants to a single example of a bigger series again, the Panzer IV was another major technological step in an army's development. While the III had been a solid tank on the whole, unexpected opposition and superior armour had seen it left at a disadvantage time and time again. The IV was intended to not only improve upon its flaws, but to completely annihilate the tanks which had frustrated the Nazi army. Many design processes were simplified and streamlined with this tank over its predecessor, permitting faster and easier construction of each vehicle. 

Furthermore, the 7.5 cm KwK 40 main gun adapted from a towed anti-tank gun allowed them to utterly eclipse the likes of the KV-1, blowing them wide open from a range of up to 1,500 meters. This meant that, along with lesser upgrades to reinforce its hull, it could engage and destroy most enemy vehicles at superior ranges without putting itself at risk, and withstand the blows which had brought its predecessor low. In addition to this, the three man turret design ensured that they retained a far higher rate of fire than many of the French, English and Russian vehicles of this era. This was only enhanced by further upgrades during the campaign in Eastern Europe, as designers up-gunned the tanks and experimented with armoured skirts (arguably early spaced armour) to overcome the relatively thin design.

The IV's effectiveness following its repeated upgrades is evident in a number of reports throughout the later years of the war. While the T-34 might have initially been capable of running rings about previous designs thanks to its own sloped armour, the IV could penetrate them from almost any angle. Some engagements recorded an even higher combat effectiveness than the Tiger during the later years, and made up the bulk of German armoured might. In fact, in most engagements both the M4 and T-34 came off worse following its long-barreled upgrade, and it was often only secondary factors which limited their ability to blunt advancing enemy forces.



Soviet T-34-85




This might seem like both an obvious and an odd choice. On the one hand, the T-34 was a rightfully famous and revolutionary design, you might be wondering why we're focusing upon just one here? Why not all of them like with the M4 Sherman? Well, this might as well cover all of the T-34 designs, but we're focusing upon this one as it effectively took the best elements of every other tank on this list, and beat them at their own game.

The T-34-85 was developed in response to the improved Panzer IVs and the introduction of the Tiger to battlefields. While their initial tanks had retained an edge against the Nazi armoured might, the sheer penetrating power of their new cannons was rapidly overcoming the sloped design of their machines, and exploiting design weaknesses. While the initial planned response to this was the creation of the entirely new T-43 and pressing their IS-2s into combat, until upgrading the T-34 proved to be a much more feasible option. Its armour plating was reinforced at multiple points, particularly about the vulnerable turret base, and a much more powerful 85mm ZiS-S-53 gun. While this particular cannon lacked the sheer scale of the famed Flak 88 or a significant improvement in explosive potential, its sheer penetrating power was enough to even the odds. 

Now capable of punching through the side armour of Panthers and Tigers, multiple engagements proved that the T-34-85 was more than able to outperform them. This was in part to the major upgrades, admittedly, but it was also thanks to the fact that Russia had benefited from several new strengths without losing any of their previous ones. As it still used most of the components from their previous T-34 designs, the shift in production barely caused a drop in their output, and it only cost an estimated 30% more than a standard design. Furthermore, it was still surprisingly fast and extremely numerous, allowing them to overwhelm and outflank enemy positions. In effect, while Germany had poured thousands into building new superior tanks, delaying production, and creating a nightmare for both their bankers and engineers, Russia had done the same thing with barely a single failing. It's telling that, in trying to achieve the same goal, Germany produced less than seven thousand Panthers and a mere one-thousand-three-hundred Tiger Mk. Is, Russia churned out over twenty-thousand T-34-85s.

In the end, for all the effort Nazi Germany had put into building a new super tank, Russia would have the last laugh. Not by reworking a completely new design into an almighty slow moving juggernaut, but by just improving upon what they had until it could outfight them at every turn.


So, those are the best tanks of the Second World War, at least in my opinion anyway. There are some which could have made it onto here admittedly, and a few which were very close runners up, but I personally stand by these choices. Each played a major part in shaping military tactics today, and were dominant in their fields for at least one point during the conflict. If you have your own suggestions or thoughts on what else should have been on here, please feel free to add them to the listing below with a few reasons why. After all, the more the merrier.