Wednesday, 31 August 2016
This should have happened sooner. What you're reading is just a quick update to say that i'm going to be leaving the blog for a good week or so, just to try and get a few affairs in order. Truth be told, this past week was time I was taking off from my day job, and I had hoped to use that to recharge my batteries. That didn't happen.
The problem was that, lacking the constant pressure or frustration of work, I overdid things on the blog front, shoving out a mass of video game reviews all at once and several lengthy pieces. It's certainly been healthy for the blog's traffic, but not my mental state. Plus, the fact that summer will not take a hint and finally bugger off has not helped. If you think you have it bad, my home tends to be a good six to eight degrees higher than outside temperatures, due to the designer being a sadistic rabid gibbon apparently.
As a result, things are going to be quiet for a while. You can expect plenty of conent in the month to come, but before we get to that I just need to get my own house in order. So, until then, I hope life treats you well and we'll have plenty of articles to help entertain you again soon.
Tuesday, 30 August 2016
"I'll make my own film, with blackjack and hookers!"
Futurama reference aside, this is the sort of declaration people have made more than once in response to a failed outing. When fans are jaded, some will be pushed so far as to make their own stab at producing something, with past results ranging from The Punisher: Dirty Laundry to Hawk the Slayer. Yeah, just because a devoted enthusiast knows what they want doesn't mean they're the one who can bring it to life.
Still, after more than a few audiences were left disappointed with Ultramarines: The Movie, one in particular decided he was going to bring a better example of Warhammer 40,000 to the small screen. Now, after years of behind the scenes videos and trailers, we at long last have some solid footage. The only problem is that this is a cold opening; a warm-up example before the main event to truly get viewers invested. As such, this may or may not be quite the video you were expecting.
Set on Holy Terra itself, a celebratory procession of armed Imperial troops march across the skyways. With Lord Inquisitor Torquemada Coteaz himself sitting atop the central plinth, the Emperor's mailed fist tower before the cheering citizens. However, even in this moment the Inquisition moves to silence those who would blaspheme against the Emperor's name. Acting under Coteaz's orders, Acolyte Marcus Allenbrisk leads several agents to end the life of a corrupted noble in the uppermost houses...
In each and every trailer, fans were drawn to one thing above all else - the visuals. Gorgeously detailed and eclipsing the examples found even in big budget modern shows, forums were abuzz with excitement at the idea of seeing the Imperium truly brought to life. Well, if that's what you're after you won't be disappointed here. This isn't so much scenery porn as full on landscape orgy, as the video pans across Terra, starting from space before moving down to the vast cities themselves. Taking elements in detail by detail, the viewer is given a stunning view of a high class Hive City, and the odd culture clash of Imperial life. While certainly not nearly so extreme as some literary examples, the city manages to nail the Blade Runner meets Napoleonic Europe look, with stately homes and streets alike proving to be a perfect blend of each aspect.
The procession itself offers a great example of the sort of visual qualities and direction in the film to come. Between remarkably high tech Guardsmen, Imperial Fists, Dreadnoughts and even more unusual machines, there is plenty to enjoy. Special mention needs to go to the astartes here, as the video captures their strength and sheer brutal immensity in a several second clip. Something people would want to be reassured of given the involvement of the Grey Knights in the upcoming film. What's more though, it manages to tip the hat to the more obviously dystopian elements without taking things too far. Copious numbers of skulls aside, the march itself is reminiscent of a fascist army on the march during certain shots, and the sight of servitor slaves pushing a giant vehicle is inserted at several key points.
The music and sound quality here is also absolutely top notch, capturing the deep Gothic atmosphere while giving a sense of weight and presence to each of the troops. Given the sheer scale of the procession, it would have been an easy thing to screw up, but what we have is absolutely perfect. Equally, the cinematography is definitely competent, and while lacking some of the finer points of shooting a closed environment or capturing a quiet moment, it does a good job of pairing up two very different events simultaneously playing out.
Unfortunately, the audio quality only serves to highlight the film's more obvious failing - the voice acting. Even from the trailer, it was clear we weren't going to be seeing so clear and talented a set of vocals as Terence Stamp or Sean Pertwee. In fact, parts were downright cheesy at times, and that hasn't helped here. What we have here is akin to Team Four Star in their earlier years, where you can see some talent behind the mic, but between the muffled tones and more openly scripted speech, it's a bit hard to appreciate. It doesn't help that the script only allows Allenbrisk to voice his thoughts, and his actor has a habit of chewing the scenery.
The actual key event - capturing the noble - is relatively unremarkable. The man barely resists and there's no major fight of any kind. As such, besides reflecting upon the more oppressive nature of the Imperium itself, it's more of an opportunity to look into the writing behind the film. While Aaron Dembski-Bowden himself has admitted that he left the project before its completion, this opening does show more than a few of his fingerprints are present on the script's final draft. The actual staging and story structure is reminiscent of his other works - particularly Throne of Lies - and Allenbrisk's lines do set him up as one of the snarkier figures who often show up in his books. Beyond this there is very little to say at the moment, save for Allenbrisk's nature as an Acolyte - Cocksure, snarky and teasing. He's a younger man who knows of the power he carries and flaunts it with glee.
While unfortunately by no means another Prelude to Axanar, and lacking a more independent story structure to help it stand out on its own, the prologue is a hit. It offers the kind of proof of concept fans have long been waiting for and leaves hope for the future. Hope that we'll see a classic film worthy of the decades old brand, and that we'll see the film hit Youtube before the century is up.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Given the Horus Heresy's sheer scale, it was inevitable that certain figures tend to slip through the cracks. Oh, you get retcons to explain away certain ideas, changes to the lore to suit others or even full novels later on, but in many cases certain aspects are conspicuously absent. In this particular case, authors seem to have this habit of playing favourites with certain legions, focusing upon certain ones while others have lacked a true novel to themselves. As such, Imperial Fists supporters were initially elated to see Dorn on the front cover and hoped for a true novel exploring the legion. If you're one of those fans, this might not be the novel you're expecting though.
Holding their ground on Terra, the veterans of the VIIth continue to construct their defences against the impending traitor threat. With Mars still blockaded and the Sol System under threat, the cradle of humanity has been secured by their long vigil. However, traitor elements have already arrived in strength, and soon inflict more damage than Dorn or Malcador himself could ever predict. With the Alpha Legion inflicting untold damage across the planet, many wonder if even the Praetorian himself can truly guard Terra's gates for much longer.
So, this is less a solo Imperial Fists novel than one following the Alpha Legion and their shadow war with the Fists. While this is sure to put off some readers thanks to the XXth's overexposure in a few novels and their relentless "all your base are belong to us" invincibility. However, Praetorian of Dorn manages to correct many long standing issues, both with the legions and the novel formats themselves. Much of this is down to the author for this book, John French, and the subjects he's most familiar with.
While sadly overlooked compared with the likes of Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett, French is one of Black Library's most reliable authors and displays a clear understanding of how to use flaws or failure; something which was a prominent theme in his Ahriman trilogy. However, despite this he never repeats Betrayer's mistake of examining or exaggerating these flaws until they are a non-threatening joke of an army; never losing sight of what made them such an effective force in the first place. Oh the Alpha Legion breach the Fists' defences easily enough and unleash a blistering sequence of diversionary tactics, but the Fists quickly recover quickly enough and even turn this act against them. This keeps the reader guessing who might come out worse from this fight, and a few surprising deaths helps to reinforce this uncertainty. Really, there are some big name characters who meet their end here, and you won't see it coming until the very end.
What's more interesting however, is how the book is structured. Even more so than many of the bigger and bulkier tomes, this proves to be a story of stories, weaving a very complex and layered multi-story arc. From the very beginning, we have a broad spectrum of individual tales across the Sol System, from the slums to a cargo vessel, setting things up for the expected diverse series of stories. Or we do, at least until there is a remarkable bait and switch which perfectly reflects Alpha Legion tactics. Equally, at first the Fists themselves are shown only following a single narrative thread which seems ready to fail, only for it to immediately override many of the others, countering and blocking them as they come up against it. The very narrative structure of the book is worked and woven to reflect their tactical doctrines, even as it explores themes of pride, duty, stagnation and paranoia. It's something which is hard to truly pick up upon at first, but it's a subtle edge which makes the book stand out all the more. Especially when it starts to shift to reflect their own innate failings and shifting tactics.
So, we've spoken a great deal about the story structure and how it presents its forces, but what about the world and its characters? Well, it's a John French novel. As such, it relies upon upon certain detailed actions and building a very distinct atmosphere than the sorts of lengthy, world building, descriptions you might expect. This is sure to be a make or break point for many readers, as many locations can seem oddly nebulous or indistinct at times, and it lacks some of the vivid imagery which other authors have long since mastered. However, the book overcomes this thanks to its complex and diverse protagonists and how it presents them. Rather than a single hero, we follow a single figure from each legion, each following a more unconventional approach to what we would expect.
Neither is your common or garden example from either legion, or even the pinnacle of what they are capable of, and this allows them to reflect upon some of the stranger aspects of the VII and XX. Through their eyes we see a different shade of the forces we're used to, which goes a long way to adding more life to these legions, but also to the characters themselves. We often see them in conflict or communication with the upper echelons of their respective forces, and in playing off one another the reader is given a better sense of where they stand. Even if that were not enough, we also have some quite extensive flashbacks to their lives, from their initiation to rising through the ranks. While each is extensive, practically a brilliant short story in their own right, French manages to prevent them bringing the narrative to a screeching halt by placing them during lulls in the action or where a time-skip is needed. It's one of an exceptionally small number of novels which can truly pull off this stunt.
Best all of all however, Praetorian of Dorn reflects one of the best ways to truly depict a protagonist. We never see things through Dorn's eyes, we never fully get inside his head until quite late on, and for the most part we see him through others. Oh, we learn details about him and his personality, but it gives him an edge of mystery. It's that aspect of separation which can make a character all the more engaging when done well, especially when they're shown to be so much more powerful than the average human. It's one reason why, until Paul Cornell's excellent works, we never saw inside the Doctor's head in Doctor Who.
Oddly enough, Praetorian of Dorn's problems lie more in its length and focus more than anything else. While offering an extremely strong middle, much of the start proves to be oddly chaotic at first, and the reader is dropped into a bewildering forest of separate sub-plots all at once. While they are quickly sorted out, it can leave a reader confused for the first fifty pages, or forced to go back and re-try the book's opening segments more than once. What's more, the final few chapters seem oddly sparse, almost rushed in how they were presented. While featuring some very interesting twists - and one of the best duels the series has had to date - the events about them were dragged out, almost to the point of padding in some places.
Many of the human characters also suffer in the presence of the astartes, and French's style of writing sadly rarely favoured them. While the man can certainly nail the ultra-disciplined and controlled approach of the astartes, and even highly trained operatives, it does not work half as well with the Imperium's more common denizens. Even then, a few secondary characters who leave a big impact by founding certain later chapters seem to have been boiled down to their bare essentials at times. They're not so much the men who might forge these armies as amalgamations of their best qualities, and this is only occasionally offset by some quite memorable conversations.
However, the big one which is likely to stand out more than anything else is how surprisingly small scale the whole book can seem. While this is certainly a shadow war, the massive opening strike and sheer immensity of some of the initial terror attacks never seemed to resonate within the book. Despite the Alpha Legion using relatively small teams, they unleash an assault so large that, at first, the Imperial Fists believe that the Warmaster's invasion has started early. However, so little is done to truly reflect upon this, or depict the damage in detail, that their efforts lack the narrative punch they definitely need. It makes man events outside of direct combat almost ineffectual when it comes down to it.
Still, while it is hindered by a few obvious flaws, Praetorian of Dorn is still a definite success. As the latest in a winning streak of great novels for this franchise, what we get marches the story further along, provides some shocking twists, a few new details, but isn't afraid to try something new. Even if you're not a fan of the Fists or are perhaps even a little jaded when it comes to the Alphas, this is still highly recommended and proof French definitely needs to be commissioned for more novels in this series. So long as he's kept far away from Perturabo, it seems there is little he can do wrong.
Verdict: 7.4 out of 10
Saturday, 27 August 2016
Nothing builds a haunting atmosphere quite like isolation. With the right approach, setting a player down among a hostile world makes it seem all the more vibrant, all the more alive and engaging. It’s why gamers fondly remember the likes of Tallon IV or the Spencer Mansion over a decade after playing them, and the developers of Breached seemed set to recreate this experience once again. Unfortunately, they fell just short of true success.
Friday, 26 August 2016
There are few sub-genres more ill regarded than walking simulators these days. The term itself has practically become a derogatory insult, referring to titles which lack true interaction, forcing players to slowly trudge across a world looking at another person's story. While Valley keeps many aspects of this genre, from the scattered story to the beautiful ruins, it proves how the right developer can take a flawed idea and turn it into something truly exciting. In this case, by allowing the player to practically break the sound barrier.
Thursday, 25 August 2016
Indie games always seem to take one of two directions. Either they promise the world, attempting to construct a vast universe of possibilities by words, choices or (when required) smoke and mirrors; or they stick to a distinctly minimalist approach and build the game to make everything out of nothing. The Girl and the Robot is definitely the latter option, offering an experience thematically similar to that of Submerged or Toren, but backing up those ideas with far more mechanical substance.
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
In the world of video games, there are few cows more sacred than Deus Ex. Held by some above even the likes of Mario, Mega Man and big name icons of the first generation, the series is best remembered for its genre breaking cyberpunk story, choices and dynamic ending. Well, that and a terrible sequel which we will not speak of. After 2011's Human Revolution revitalized the franchise, it was naturally only a matter of time before Square Enix sought to continue the franchise.
Sunday, 21 August 2016
Few environments are quite so daunting for a game as the ocean. So far removed from the land that it lacks the familiarity of human settings, so far removed from space it lacks the sense of adventure, it can all too often seem like a barren, empty waste. It's often treated as secondary to any land environments at the best of times, and only a key few can truly get it right. ABZÛ is the latest and one of the brightest of those few, eclipsing even the likes of Subnautica in its sheer beauty.
Friday, 19 August 2016
Deathwatch Part 4 - Retcons, Reasoning and Missed Opportunities (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)
So, we've now covered the whole book from the lore, to the weapons and units, to the Formations and detailed each in full. Well, as full as can be expected given the bare bones nature of the last one. By the end, it's clear that this is a very problematic book to be sure, and for everything good here there's at least one big mistake. This goes as much for the lore as the rules themselves, many of which lack direction, reasoning or even real imagination.
One point, left by the ever awesome grdaat, noted that this book is a mess, and in all honesty it really is. Many ideas seem to have been thrown together with little to no thought, there is a very problematic lack of awareness on several topics, and if this thing had an editor he needs to seriously up his game. Even ignoring the outside universe and sticking squarely to the book's strengths, pages upon pages kept contradicting one another or seemed to have been written without awareness of the book's other pages. One other comment, made during the second part, pointed out how I should not have bothered to list the Stalker bolter alongside the Banebolts as no HQ choice can equip it. Problem is, the stats for the book itself lists stats for the Stalker firing these exact shots, so it's intentionally stated the weapon should be able to use them. Any five minute check should have been able to pick up this sort of thing yet it didn't, and other issues such as the remarkably fuzzy details surrounding Vanguard Veterans' jump packs only made things much worse.
In all honesty, while there is direction here and the start of a real identity to this army, it almost seems half finished in many areas. The artwork is stunning yet the lore is decidedly mixed. Units like the Veterans are a fantastic option yet others seem barely changed from other astartes codices, and all Formations save one were something which could have easily been written in five minutes. Hell, the vast majority of them were little more than a copy/past job with one another, just with the bits re-arranged; each was a Kill-Team, and each featured the same unit options. The only bit which changed was who the Veterans were were required to team up with, and who they had a bonus to help kill. That sort of repetition surpasses simple padding or experimenting with a single theme, it crosses over into simple sloppiness.
The book itself is rife with underdeveloped ideas, and were it not for the fully published cover and the fact it's on the shelves, this could have been mistaken for a work in progress. Vast chunks of it seem to have barely been developed past the conceptual phase, and speaking personally that seems to be the aspect which hurts this the most. It's not a formulated or finished idea, it's something where the writers have been apparently spit-balling concepts onto a book. Really, think about it for a second. Many core points introduced which break away from the traditional identity of the Deathwatch - or even certain rules - seem to be little more than a stub of an idea. It's as if someone asked "Well, what if this happened?" and promptly added it, but never bothered to follow up on it.
So, the Deathwatch are no longer part of the Inquisiton? Interesting, what can be done with this and how does it affect them? According to this codex, bugger all.
They have Guardian Spears now, why do they have them and what does this mean for their relationship with the fabled Adeptus Custodes? Your guess is as good as mine. At best, here is a vague hint that they were gifted them thanks to serving as the Imperium's guardians, but even that is frustratingly vague and simply says that it's "symbolic of their role as sentinel."
The book retains extremely similar Formations, each built to combat a different threat? Great, how does that work? It just means they all gain re-rolls to wound against certain units.
This sort of problem keeps turning up time and time again, when by rights it honestly did not deserve to. There was so much lore here, so much work laid down for Games Workshop to so easily adapt, so many rules and ideas that they basically had a guide on how to do it laid out before out for them. Okay, there would have been stumbling point still on how to adapt an army of this type, and issues when it came to retaining its own identity, but this was hardly an impossible task by any means. To accomplish this failure would require astounding incompetence, an alarming lack of imagination, continuous outside interference, a rushed deadline, or all of the above. That last one would explain a great deal, especially if there were repeated last second demands made of the creators, given how certain concepts panned out. This isn't, after all, the raging Ward level fuckwittery we have quite come to expect from truly bad writers so much as something directionless, scattershot and bizarrely half-done
Take the infamous removal of any link with the Inquisition, for example. Okay, they need to remove any link to the Inquistion, fine, that's difficult, needlessly problematic and creates a ton of new continuity problems across the franchise, but it can be done. But the results they come up with? Trying to justify the Inquisitorial sigil of their order by claiming "they both defend the Imperium"? Refusing to deal with any of the problems this causes where their authority clashes, the issues in lacking the Inquisition's resources, or even how it's basically thrown into the story via a minor sub-paragraph? That reads less like someone actually planned this out or really wanted it, so much as someone demanded it be thrown in at the last second. Whether this was a writer with seniority or an editor, or a writer suddenly striking out on their own, who can tell, but it certainly isn't well thought out in the slightest.
Also, for those wondering, this doesn't seem like the result of The Beast Arises. True, the new Imperial Fists origin was hinted at in the timeline without any real depth or detail, but if they were at least willing to latch onto that new retcon, you would think they would emphasize some greater connection with certain chapters. That or find something to help replace the void left by the Ordo Xenos being booted out of the army, allowing them to have much more of a backbone or something to help further reinforce their unique nature in the galaxy.
As for why it was removed, well, that's the bigger question. The obvious one which comes to mind before everything else is the tabletop mechanics. With Games Workshop having segmented each army, regulating the Inquisition into some minor online-only codex, it seems as if they wanted them to stay that way. Doing this supposedly helps present the space marines as a power unto themselves, answering to no one and being in charge of their own destinies - The sort of thing which might seem as if it were a good marketing hinge to help build up a fandom, until you think about it for more than five seconds. Yes, I know we're harping on this particular point, but that last bit really does emphasise the problem: No one apparently bothered to think about so much of this book for more than five seconds.
What we ended up with here, for all its promise and some admittedly solid baseline ideas, seems akin to an Early Access codex. It's a half finished product, one which is competent and with certainly quite an interesting work for sure, but desperately needed much more time in development before it saw a release. That and, let's be honest here, a lot more imagination when it came to the rules involved. The Formations were little more than a throwaway section at best, and it really had no right to be that. Even if you accept that this was rushed, so much more could have been done to be more inclusive of the army's themes or even more of its units. Nothing there even tried to use the Land Raiders, Dreadnoughts or even the venerated Rhinos, instead opting for infantry heavy choices; and those we did get were pretty bloody disappointing to say the least.
Look, let's be fair and just accept that they were required to do little more than mash together infantry choices. Let's even be fair and say that they did need to have a multitude of very basic lists, similar to one another and each focusing upon combating a specific foe. Let's even just consider that certain ones did need to combine extremely inopportune choices of units, like putting Terminators and Bikes in the same squad for all the problems it causes. Even if we accept all these limitations, there is still a great deal they could do to help make each one feel distinct and allow them to stand out.
For starters, consider what the Deathwatch really are: A bunch of very individual, very distinct and varied marines bunched together and forced to act as a unit. Few share the same background or culture, and fewer still share the same talents. Their real strength stems from how each one is able to use their natures or specialist aspects to help cover one another and work as an extremely highly effective units. It is, ironically, the same ideology the Craftworld Eldar work on implemented on a squad based scale, so already you have a few ideas which could be worked with.
Let's say, for example, that one Formation required you to pair up a small number of Vanguard Veterans with a much larger number of standard Veterans. The former is intended only for rapid, fast paced assaults while the latter can be combined to work with any number of things despite a focus upon ranged attacks. So, why not have one influence the other, treating them as acting in unison despite their varied nature. As they move forwards, perhaps claim that the influence of the Vanguard Veterans allows them to run further or retain a much longer charge range. As they move in, perhaps they could also briefly break up, with the combat focused Veterans hurling themselves into combat while the guys with the guns stand back and lay down suppression fire. You know, something which could do anything from limiting the effectiveness of Overwatch volleys to effectiveness in melee or even piling into combat
The same goes for stranger ones like mashing together Terminators with Veterans. Perhaps you could alter rules so that the Terminators keep being hit first by certain strikes over the Veterans despite their positions towards enemy fire, or even acting as a living shield-wall. Think of it as a kind of Roman tortoise formation or a flying wedge. One would be forsaking their ability to act in combat in order to help boost their saves in some way, allowing the rest of the squad to fire between them.
Even some of the more bizzare ones could just work a bit by allowing them to act in combination in some way. The bike squadron could gain benefits thanks to better knowing the lay of the land, or breaking off to help run down fleeing enemies Kroot Hounds style. They could even acting as spotters for the rest of the kill team to boost their BS skill. Others could even just help serve in other ways, like focusing upon co-ordination in battle, allowing others to pick up fallen heavy weapons and use them in place of their comrades.
Even if you just wanted to go for the most basic option, they could merely gain a few abilities or bonuses to help take down certain enemies. Rather than unit types, perhaps the kill teams could focus upon certain armies instead, and have some ways to counter them. Against the Orks, this could help in beheading an enemy leader or forcing them to break from combat sooner than expected. Against the Craftworld Eldar, this could be moving in a certain way, allowing their armour to cover certain weak spots shuriken weapons exploit. Well, that or put the fear of She Who Thirsts into them by targeting their spirit stones. Even against the likes of the Traitor Legions, you could have the squad acting intelligently; use certain jibes or tactics to goad enemies towards them, or even baiting them with members from First Founding forces they have score to settle against.
Still, for the sake of being fair, let's say you can't even do all that. Let's say instead that everything you have must instead be focused upon the squad itself over enemy units. Let's say they can't cover the entire squad at a time and instead need to focus exclusively upon those leading it. So, use the varied origins to your advantage. No rule within this codex even seems to acknowledge that the armies stem from a thousand differing forces, from the Space Wolves to the Fire Hawks to the Excoriators; opting instead to treat them all as if they were little more than Codex adherent warriors no different from one another. So, have the sergeant lead them influence them somehow. Put a Dark Angel at their head, and have his mysterious knowledge of certain Chaotic foes or parts of the universe give them an edge in some areas. If a Space Wolf is heading them, have his pack mentality alter how they operate to a degree or let his enhanced senses to pick out enemy infiltrators or traps.
Even if this just comes down to giving a kill team led by an Imperial Fist the Bolter Drill rule, that's still something to work with. It gives more of an impression of a varied and unique force than anything on offer here, and it would be a chance to suggest this is a coalition rather than a bunch of guys all recruited from the same world. It would be a chance to try something just a little different here and there, and add some character to what is sadly a surprisingly soulless army. Again, this isn't hard. Each of the points brought up in the prior paragraphs were stuff I came up with while typing this article. Sure, they need work, but it's better than just putting some variation of "you re-roll to wound your enemy" on every single bloody one.
The community deserves better books than the likes of this. While Codex: Deathwatch certainly does have its merits and stands out with a few strengths, no one in their right mind would deny that this is an extremely flawed release. It required a great deal more work to truly do the army justice, and this honestly seems more akin to a dressed up early draft than a true finished product. Given that we are expected to hand over a solid £30.00 for these books now, even those with countless recycled units in them and half the size of a full army, I think it's only right we get what we pay for.
Thursday, 18 August 2016
So, finally we reach the end of the rules. Not the review entirely, we do have a highly opinionated finale for this book, but this will be it for the crunch. Many readers will now of a personal dislike for Formations, their effects and how easily they can be abused. Just to reiterate for those joining - In effect I personally see them as encouraging players to follow a certain army build by the designer rather than being creative, and then rewarding them with buffs. This would be bad enough in of itself, but you often get those which take things a step too far. The Tau Gun Drone Factory is a particularly infamous example of where what was intended to be a light hit and run attack design, turned into a way to spam dozens of free Gun Drones onto the board each turn.
However, Formations can on occasion be done properly to help better reflect the lore or innate nature of an army. The Deathwing for example - for as often as their main appeal is stolen and gifted to other armies - retains some unique rules and ideas to help emphasie their innate tactics. Sometimes it works, other times it can fall a bit short or fail to be truly competitive, but with the Deathwatch the writers have a fresh slate. Given how often they're combining together wildly diverse troops into single units, their varying tactics and unique mix of troops for their Kill-Teams, it's a golden opportunity for something new. Sadly, what we get is not only unoriginal, but completely and utterly boring for the most part. In fact, it's easy to argue this one really is downright bad at the end of the day.
So, with that out of the way, let's get a move on with this list.
Aquila Kill Team
The Aquila Kill Team is the first one you're introduced to upon opening up the book, and it's quite surprisingly bland. On the one hand, it does encourage multi-unit combinations and high cost, hard hitting, forces pressed into extremely small units. What you have here is a unit of Veterans as a starting point, and then an ability to add one or more of the following choices - A Librarian, any number of Bikes, Vanguard Veterans, and Terminators.
The Formation itself has a couple of relatively basic special rules, one which it shares with quite a few various squads here. Listed simply as Kill Team, which combines the various units of this formation into a single force. So, they act, fight and move as a single squad, but unlike usual you can't break them up into Combat Squads at any point during the battle. Even with an Independent Character, you're required to keep them all together. It's not much but it really is a basic thing to help give the sense of a varied force mashed together. It's a minor thing admittedly, but something like this was definitely essential to help get things running smoothly. Given how often this arises here, we'll just note that it's present for the relevant ones rather than repeating this every single time.
The other rule here is sadly also quite basic overall. Basically, anything you target allows you to re-roll ones on dice when attempting to wound or penetrate the armour of targets. There's little to really say about it besides that as it's serviceable, but half the rules in this book already surround this sort of thing. The problem is that the book doesn't say whether or not this stacks up with some of the other rules or Mission Tactics, otherwise you could end up with a re-roll of a re-roll against certain targets.
Furor Kill Team
This one is pretty much the same as the last one. You have the Kill Team special rule once again, and a Furor Doctrine is basically the same as the prior listing with a couple of tweaks. Whereas the previous one covers just about everyone, this one works only on vehicles and Troops. Yes, we're going to be seeing this a lot.
The combination of units here consists of a group of Veterans (at least one of who must be armed with a Frag Cannon or the flambe heavy bolter), a unit of Terminators and any number of Librarians, Vanguard Veterans or Bikers. So, second verse same as the first, but with a slightly different melody.
Venator Kill Team
Switch out the Terminators from last time with a full unit of Bikers, and ditch the Frag Cannon restriction with the requirement for at least two bikes; from there you can guess exactly what this is like. Oh, and you can instead re-roll to wound Fast Attack choices over Troops.
Dominatus Kill Team
Combine Veterans with Vanguard Veterans. Have them gain bonuses for killing Elites choices, and require them to take two Vanguard models.
Yes, we're going to keep these ones quite short as they're basically xerox versions of one another with a few slight edits.
Malleus Kill Team
Mash together Terminators with Veterans once again, this time with a restriction placed upon Thunder Hammers or Heavy Thunder Hammers. Two models are required to carry these, and the kill team gains bonuses to help murder Heavy Support choices, each is the same as the prior examples.
Purgatus Kill Team
As you can guess, this one helps to focus upon killing HQ choices and it's the same re-rolling ones on Wounds which they gain as a bonus. Rather than a single unit, a Librarian and Terminators are paired up with the Veterans here and at least one Veteran must be armed with a Stalker pattern boltgun. So, yep, there's that as well. Thankfully this is the last of this very basic combination here, so the good news is that from this point on things start to get a bit more interesting. The bad news is that we only have three Formations left to cover.
Strategium Command Team
This is basically a very solid choice, with you mixing together a Watch Captain, Chaplain and Librarian, and then pairing them up with almost any option of your choice. Really, the unit listed consist of a basic unit of Veterans, or any other kill team Formation listed thus far. This somewhat helps to justify the previous mix of choices, but even counting them as the building blocks for everything else here, it's still a lot of wasted space.
The special rules on this one are thankfully much more interesting than past choices and a lot more interesting by comparison. Fight to the Last Breath, for example, allows all models within this formation a standard 6+ Feel No Pain save so long as the Watch Captain remains standing, offering some solid durability in the face of staggering odds. The Chaplain, meanwhile, ties into the Suffer Not the Alien to Live special rule. So long as he stands you get the Furious Assault special rule for all involved in this Formation. Finally, we have the Pure of Spirit, Strong of Soul which ties into the Librarian; in this case this grants them Stubborn and Adamantium Will.
On the one hand, this is once more very heavy on pressing HQ choices to prominence and making everything here hook upon them. On the other hand though, it does help to seriously reflect upon how the varied units combine their abilities together to assist one another, and how badly their loss affects the unit on the whole. So, it's problematic but it's somewhat forgivable given what it offers here. That said, the lack of any points cost at all to using this Formation as the sheer number of new bonuses it offers really aren't balanced out by any major shortcoming of any kind.
The sad thing is, this is as good as any of the formations get with this codex. Really, this is the single most inventive and creative Formation in the entire damn book, and it comes down to spamming certain buffs via HQ choices. It's all down mountain from here folks.
Welcome to the spam list. Whereas every previous one was merely a mash up of two units, this one is a mix-up of four of the previous kill team Formations, led by a Watch Captain. Unlike before you don't need to mob them together, and they gain a new special rules atop of the previous ones they're offered. Unfortunately this is once again just a re-roll to Wound option, once more against everything. This renders most of the previous Formations pretty damn useless in their own innate buffs, and once again it needs to be stated that the codex doesn't confirm if this stacks with the previous special rules.
This is very boring, very lazily written, and a waste of potentially great material. Moving on.
Corvus Dropship Wing
So, the final one is, of course, one intended to help buy as many of the new fliers as possible. You basically group together three Blackstars at once, and then roll into battle with no limitations of any kind. While it doesn't specify whether or not you're allowed to actually carry troops in their holds or not, it does make it clear that these are intended to be used as Gunships. How? Guess how, we've been repeating it for this entire damn article. Yes, it's another re-roll to wound special rule, but this time it's limited to enemy fliers and Monstrous Creatures. That's it nothing else, nothing exciting, no push to make anything stand out.
This was bad. No effort, nothing interesting, no push to take advantage of fun combos, just a very boring series of recycled ideas and very basic themes. I'd say more, but if the writers aren't going to put in the effort, i'm not going to waste time on this either.
We're almost done here now, so join us here for one final section of this review before we close this book for good.
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
So here we are then, getting into the meat of things. Challenging as the lore had been, the real point of contention behind this book was its rules. After all, the Deathwatch are usually little more than a "multiplier" aspect to an Imperial army rather than a massed force unto themselves, and emerge in small numbers at best. Thankfully the codex as a whole reflects this, building up the Deathwatch as a force of small, extraordinary well equipped and diverse squads sent in to annihilate a foe. While they certainly have access to the likes of Tactical Dreadnought Armour, Dreanoughts and bike squadrons, the structural dynamic and formations within the force are decidedly different to hose of Codex adherent chapters. Plus, even when the Deathwatch are deployed as a massed army, it's presented more as a small series of strike teams than a rolling tide of firepower intended for direct engagements.
Naturally their equipment is what helps them stay ahead and shoulders above most other marines. Besides the likes of bolters outfitted with high grade ammo a sight more effective than the usual BOOM BOOM rounds, you also have the likes of the frag cannon, beefed up astartes shotguns and weapons. Plus, atop of this, you have the unit structure which poroves to be remarkably flexible, and almost serves as a kind of concentrated version of a standard astartes company. Oh you have all the big guns, assault specialists, terminators and bikes there, but they're all focused into smaller groups than usual.
Strike Force & Special Rules
The actual nature of the Deathwatch and their aptitude at carrying out their mission is surprisingly well tempered here. Rather than creating a bunch of Toughness 8 marines with Assault 4 missile launchers or D100 attacks per turn, it is represented via existing sources. You can pair up certain units into single kill-teams via Formations, the bonuses offered via its Strike Force, and use the unique Mission Tactics to tailor them to a certain task. Each of these reflects upon tried and tested astartes elements from prior codices, but they have been tweaked somewhat to work with the new army. Personally, despite the lack of originality here, this is actually something I like. It's far removed enough to have certain ideas make them stand out, but still hold close ties to their progenitor chapters. Plus it makes life easier to mix and match the force with existing armies, in the manner it was intended for in the lore - Smaller units and detachments pairing themselves up with larger Imperial companies.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned Mission Tactics themselves are the most unique thing here, serving as a bonus to each squad which takes them. These are used in a manner similar to the Ultramarines' own unique tactics, buffing the army as a whole for a single turn before being switched out for something else. The problem is that, whereas the Ultramarines abilities reflected their planning and tactical discipline remarkably well, what we get here is rather underwhelming and can only be switched once per game. Really, read this for yourself and say you don't think this seems a little too simple -
Furor Tactics - When targeting Troops choices, re-roll 1s to hit on all dice.
Venator Tactics - When targeting Fast Attack choices, re-roll 1s to hit on all dice.
Dominatus Tactics - When targeting Elites choices, re-roll 1s to hit on all dice.
Malleus Tactics - When targeting Heavy Support choices, re-roll 1s to hit on all dice.
Purgatus Tactics - When targeting HQ choices, re-roll 1s to hit on all dice.
Really, all of this could be rolled into a single rule with the player picking which one they want and a few others beefed up to cover more diverse tactics. Honestly, damn near anything else would be an improvement here, even if it was just a slight tip of the hat to their relationship with the Inquisition or multiple origins. All a writer would need to do would be to add something like "Combat Preparations: Sabotage" and have a few enemy vehicles risk not showing up on the board.
What makes matters worse though is that even once you get into their Strike Force command benefits, the big one just ties into this. Really, all we get is "Veteran Master of the Watch" which allows you to re-roll your Warlord Traits, "Sudden Onslaught" which allows everything to Deep Strike at once (causing yet more pain to already maimed Deathwing fans) and "Flexible Mission Tactics" which is as follows:
"If your army contains one or more Black Spear Strike Forces, you can change the army's Mission Tactic one extra time during a mission. Usually this will allow you to change Mission Tactics twice during the game rather than only once, but if your Warlord is a Watch Master or has the Vigilance Incarnate Warlord Trait you will be able to change mission Tactics up to three or four times!"
Oh, yay. So, no fun things like raiding an Omega Vault or using their vast resources to help pin down the army, or even ensuring they can wipe out their target in one assault. Plus, if you take a Watch Lord in your army, you get a smaller scale version of this exact rule free of charge.
Units & Ranged Equipment
Many of the core units are, for the most part, fairly similar to those of your common or garden astartes. There are no exceptionally unique marine choices, no vastly differing stats and the likes of Dreadnoughts, Land Raiders and all the usual combos put in an appearance. Admittedly, i'm having a hard time thinking of when any story mentioned the Deathwatch using Land Raiders at all, but it's in there for some reason. Aside from the lack of standard Tactical Squads and focus upon Veteran squads, it's more or less what you'd expect from a traditional marine force.
The force does lack certain aspects which either don't fully suit the Deathwatch on the whole or would fit a larger force used to slugging matches. So, Centurions don't put in a showing, there are no Land Speeders, many of the Anti-Air units are not present, and most of the big guns don't put in a showing. So, you don't get access to Predators, Whirlwinds, Thunderfire Cannons, Convergence Beamers, Ironclad Dreadnoughts or the like. While problematic, i'm not entirely against this as it does suit the thematic elements of the army and it is a nice change to have an astartes force which can't immediately cover all its bases. Hell, it might encourage some people to actually take the Imperial Guard with them as a meat shield, or put their guns to good use.
What makes this army stand out instead is a few bonus special rules and the guns they have access to. For example, their Assault Marines (well, Vanguard Veterans) roll into battle with all the stuff you would usually expect, from their Heroic Intervention tactics to general stats. However, they also have access to Inferno Pistols, Hand Flamers, heavy Thunder hammers, and special bolter ammunition. As such, they carry out the same role but with a good deal more tactical flexibility and a few new choices.
This is even more evident with the Veterans than anyone else where you can effectively combine together just about anything you want. Really, it specifies the following - "Any model may take items from the Melee Weapons, Ranged Weapons and/or Special Weapons list." Thanks to this you can put together some costly if downright hilarious combos, with a personal favourite being pairing up bolter wielding units with Storm Shields. Really, it's even more gloriously frustrating for a foe than you can imagine.
That said, there are a number of weird choices with each listing for certain units. This could be down to poor editing, but multiple sections of the book keeps either omitting certain obvious ideas or contradicting itself. For example, Bike Squadrons, Veterans and a lot of choices lack bolt pistols as a back up weapon, even when it would not truly limit them or cause any issues in terms of game balance. Equally, While Vanguard Veterans are noted as "Jump Infantry" their trademark jump packs are not noted either as wargear or an equipment option. Equally, no HQ choice can take a bike or jump pack as an optional piece of wargear, which is sure to upset certain players.
The only thing here which truly stands out as a brand new addition is, of course, the Corvus Blackstar. Intended as the big centerpiece model of the army (because apparently we need a new one of those per codex these days) it's basically a more lightweight version of a Stormraven combined with the abilities of a Drop Pod. Lightweight, relatively small scale, and built with extremely rapid insertions in mind, it lacks the capacity to deploy Dreadnoughts but gains the ability to carry bikes. With a twelve model capacity in total (and lacking the pig ugly look of the Stormraven, even if it is still a flying brick) the Blackstar is basically intended to turn up, kill a few things, drop marines, and then run. It can admittedly take a minor upgrade to its Jink and even a Skyfire capable weapon, but it's not the sort of model you want to leave in the line of fire for long.
What has caught the eyes of many people is its landing ramps. Retaining three in total, with two at the front and a larger third section at the rear, it makes life surprisingly easy to drop down units in the right place. Combined with a rather meaty assault cannon and several missile options ranging from the cluster (S4 AP6, Bomb 1, Large Blast or S5 AP4 Bomb 1, Large Blast and Ignores Cover) to the Stormstrike missiles (S8 AP2 Heavy 1, Concussive, One Use Only) it can do serious damage upon arrival. Of course, it's likely to die shortly after arrival thanks to having relatively paper thin armour and few defences despite three hull Points, but that's to be expected. It is a flyer after all, and anything more would just be plane wrong. It is only twenty points cheaper than the Stormraven though and the option to upgrade it with hurricane bolters is still overkill, but it lacks a few of the more infamous special rules which made others hate that model.
So, with that done, what equipment can you expect to find with this army?
To start with the obvious first, there is the Special Issue Ammunition options which can be offered to just about any unit in this army. This is what you would expect by this point from the Deathwatch, from the Dragonfire rounds to the Vengeance bolts, which are once again hilariously underpowered for what is effectively an anti-matter assault weapon. Each has a different role and can be offered to a number of bolt weapons from the pistol to the Stalker (yes, they're in this and we'll be getting to those in a moment). To list them off one at a time though:
Strength 4, AP 5, Strength X with Stalker.
Type: Ignores cover
Strength 1, AP 5, Strength X with Stalker.
Type: Poisoned (2+)
Strength 4, AP 4, Strength X with Stalker.
Type: Increased range.
Pistol - 15"
Bolter - 30"
Stalker - 36"
Strength 4, AP 3, Strength X with Stalker.
Type: Adds the "Gets Hot" special rule. Limits range.
Pistol - 9"
Boltgun - 18"
Stalker - 24"
They're not a bad mix at all for what's basically intended to be a nice bonus atop of some good equipment, and they do a solid job of reflecting the rules without going too far. The Kraken bolt is probably the one we'll be seeing the most of followed by the Dragonfire round, and perhaps the Vengance bolts showing up for Deep Strike antics. While they're not the most powerful weapons in the game, we should at least be thankful that one of thse didn't turn into a Strength D bolt round for entire squads.
This naturally brings us to some of the more exotic weapons on the list, with the likes of the Frag Cannon and Infernus Heavy Bolter quickly catching the eyes of many fans. No surprises there, as each is on the verge of being able to annihilate whole squads on their lonesome, and the Frag Cannon in particular waltzes over into downright broken territory. Really, take a look at its ammo stats for yourself and just consider the possibilities:
Frag round - Range: Template, Strength 6, AP -, Type Assault 2, Rending
Solid Shell - Range: 24", Strength 7, AP 3, Assault 2, Impact (If the target unit is within 12", this weapon's Strength is increased to 9 and its AP increased to 2.
So, squads of Guardians, Fire Warriors, Guardsmen or Gaunts are probably going to die by the dozen to this damn thing, and any of their heavy units like Warriors, Crisis Suits or tanks won't be far behind. It's the Assault special rule and multiple shots which really pushes this into the "what were you thinking!?" territory, Really, think about it for a moment. Have two or three models in a unit armed with these drop out of a Blackstar, open fire all at once on something close by, and then either have the vehicle or another squad mop them up in a second. Unless you're the Tau Empire (who, let's face it, seem to be damn near impervious to all tactics these days) you're in for an extremely bad start to the session.
The Infernus Heavy Bolter is just as bad in many regards, also focusing upon the Assault aspects of the gun and retaining an obscene range despite that. In effect, you have the standard stats for botha Heavy Flamer and Heavy Bolter, but both can be used on the move without any penalties. Again, imagine an entire squad of these guys rolling into battle for a second. It would be expensive for sure, but they'd stand a damn good chance at wiping out anything they run into.
The flexibility of the Deathwatch themselves is really what hurts this as much as anything else, as you can have several of these guns working on the move the entire time, but have a guy with a Storm Shield taking the brunt of each attack. Even once you fire well within assault range, the squad can have a few units armed with power weapons ready to utterly ream whoever is left. This wouldn't be so bad if the veterans were the single unit the codex was intended to focus upon, but it can easily be backed up by other forces to help keep them out of combat or free them up if they bump into a roadblock unit. So, once again, rather than tactical planning or reactions, a lot of your potential for victory comes down to buying the right stuff and running forwards.
Of course, there are some better ranged weapons among this list which prove to be fun without stepping headlong into the power gaming territory. The Deathwatch Shotgun in particular proves to be a fun new addition to the game, offering a variety of new close range rounds without pulling something like the Frag Cannon's special rule. To list off its ammo abilities in full:
Range: 16", Strength 4, AP -.
Type: Assault 2, Shred.
Range: 16", Strength 4, AP 4.
Type: Assault 2.
Range: Template, Strength 3, AP 6.
Type: Assault 1.
It's honestly not bad at all. Combined with a relatively cheap price, some fun opportunities for initial attacks and multiple shots, it makes for a great crowd control weapon. The gun itself is a solid second option to back up bolters and more assault orientated squads. While it would have admittedly have been nice to have an underslung grenade launcher, what we get isn't all that bad at all.
The other fun option is the Stalker Pattern Bolter, quite a famous weapon with a rather godly reputation. One which, going from these stats, it wholly deserves. The aforementioned ammo choices offer this gun a great deal of flexibility when it comes to downing multi-wound models, heavy infantry and cover clinging units alike. However, even its basic stats are certainly nothing to sneer at:
Range: 30", Strength X, AP 5.
Type: Heavy 2, Sniper
This means it's a good multi-purpose choice for a unit you don't mind staying in one place too often. It's perfect for weakening units at long range, picking off leaders in squads and deterring an enemy from advancing towards your lines. It's also a good bonus option for any unit you want to help secure an objective as well, as the Heavy 2 stat does mean you can't use this all that well while you're on the move. Certainly a mixed start for sure, but not an entirely bad one.
Melee Weapons, Special Issue Wargear & Relics
Before we get into anything else here, there are two rather jaw dropping choices for weapons which just seem questionable at best if not facepalming at worst. Normally this is the sort of thing we would go into via the lore section of course, but given their stats the lore isn't the only problem here.
The first of these is the xenophase blade, which seems to be an attempt to hearken back to the old idea that the Imperium has been using necron tech among their own warriors or machines. Originally we saw this with certain assassins and characters, as both Cypher the Fallen One and the Callidus Temple were both known for using them. Originally this was to help add a little depth to the game by adding that slight element of hypocrisy to the xenocidal warriors of the Imperium and set down the seeds for the necrons arising at a later date. However, what was different was that they were used among less puritanical forces, whereas here, we have an alien weapon being used among extremely devout marines. In fairness, the lore does note that some "believe it has its origins amongst long-defeated xenos dynasties," but we're only given a poor defense as it states "speaking of its history has long been forbidden on pain of excoriation."
It's a moment of "yeah, just accept this and move on" which doesn't sit well with the army or its identity, and seems extremely out of character. The few times the Deathwatch have used alien devices in the past have been fleeting and, here's the fun part, often always at the behest of the Inquisition. So, without that influence or political pressure, there's really no justification for them carrying this damn thing rather than breaking them on sight.
In terms of rules, it's basically a weapon built to screw with invulnerable saces. While it uses the wielder's Strength, it hits at AP 3 and uses a special rule called the "Molecular Realignment Field". Yeah, because that doesn't scream "Necrotyr" at all, does it. Basically any successful invulnerable saves made against this weapon must be immediately re-rolled, turning it into a nightmare weapons for the likes of Aspect Warriors.
The other weapon which will stick out like a sore thumb is going to be a rather infamous one. You might well know this weapon as it's supposed to only belong to the Adeptus Custodes - The Guardian Spear. Yes, the Deathwatch has access to the same armory as the Emperor's personal guards, but exactly why is never clear. At all. The Watch Masters just show up and they're suddenly armed with this damn thing, which is supposed to be one of the rarest and single most sacred weapons produced within the Imperium. It wouldn't be so bad if there were some genuine detail or justification for this, but all we get is a brief note stating it's "borne only by the Emperor's most trusted warriors" and nothing else.
At the very least, this one does live up to its reputation without the rules going overboard here. The melee mode increases the wielders Strength by a single point, gives it AP 2 attacks, and has its own special role: Block. It's basically what it sounds like, with the wielder sacrificing a single attack to block a swing being made in their direction, meaning it's useful against certain one shot weapons and power fists, but not too great against big monsters. Honestly, its presence here is more baffling than anything else, as the Deathwatch do have big two-handed glaves already, all of which could have fitted these stats without any issue at all. Hell, the oversized two handed power axes the Keepers wield wouldn't be a bad choice for this.
Beyond these two previous examples, the book does once more retain a few good choices. Returning favourites of note are the Relic Blade and Crozius Arcanum, with a few completely new weapons to help back them up. First and foremost among them is the Heavy Thunder Hammer, a two handed variant of the weapon typically wielded by terminators. Considered to be the single largest man-portable melee weapon fielded by the Deathwatch and even eclipsing the Evicerator in its sheer power, this thing packs a serious punch.
Limited to a single marine per squad, and with good reason, this thing hits at Strength 10 AP2, with Concussive effects. However, it is also a Two-Handed weapon and suffers from the Unwieldy rule, meaning there's a solid chance of blows missing or failing during the strike. As such, it basically serves as a variant of your common or garden power fist, but with a bit more flexability in terms of general lore and an interesting special rule: Pulverize. Basically, if you roll a six to wound a target in combat, that blow counts as having Instant Death. Most readers would probably be expecting me to rail against this one and declare that it breaks the game, but this is admittedly a rare case where it does work. Between the opportunities to kill the wielder early on, its limitations and a fairly hefty cost of thirty points, it mostly balances itself out. Plus, unlike other examples here, it's limited to one model per unit. So, overall this was actually a decent edition.
Most of the others consist of other weapons we know quite well from the chainsword to the venerable Lightning Claws; save for one slight bonus which is a quite fantastic mash-up between two extremely deadly weapons. Known as the Power Fist and Auxiliary Meltagun, it's exactly what it sounds like, with a meltagun glued directly onto a power fist for twice the tank killing power. So, basically you can carry two guns and a melee weapon with this; use the melta gun at close range while shooting and then switch over to the power fist during assault. Honestly, simple as it is, I have no complaints about this at all. Really, this is hilarious and even the lore seems to get in on the joke, noting that the Mechanicus usually consider this sort of thing to be heresy, but don't give a damn thanks to a loophole.
The remaining bits of equipment are secondary items and non-killy bonuses to help with survival or boosting stats. Combat Shields, Digital Weapons, Storm Shields, Iron Halos, Auspex devices and Jump Packs; it's all the usual mix of things save for just a couple of new additions. The only truly new ones are the Clavis and, to a degree, the Deathwatch Teleport Homer and that's unfortunately about it.
The Clavis, for starters, is an ancient machine spirit device which can be used to royally screw with the enemy - specifically focusing upon enemy vehicles. Once you get within 6" with this sucker, all enemy vehicles immediately lose a point of BS, WS, and Initiative, making this thing horrendously effective against combat walkers. So, if you're looking to screw with Hellbrutes and their ilk, this is a definite essential to help drag that machine down. Well, that or small mobs like Killa Kans.
The Teleport Homer, meanwhile, is mostly what you'd expect it to be. It helps teleport in certain units onto certain locations and that's about it. What makes it a little different than usual is that alongside units in Tactical Dreadnought Armour, it also works on just about anyone with the Sudden Onslaught special rule; so just about any non-vehicle unit in the Black Spear Strike Force. In other words, if you didn't want to bring them in via Drop Pod, you can have squads of Veterans suddenly appear right next to an allied unit. Quite frankly, as open to abuse as this was, the sheer rage of certain players at having Sternguard show up right on objectives was too funny to truly hate.
So, as the remaining items are once again largely what we've seen a thousand times over in various astartes codices, that just leaves the relic list to look through. Listed as the Relics of the Vigilant, this is actually the moment where the codex should truly shine. Really, any person who has read through the Fantasy Flight books should know just how many relics, ancient weapons and blades the Deathwatch inherits from other chapters; given either via donation or by other means. Even if you want to stick to just the popular chapters, that's a good eleven or twelve very distinct and very different forces to take equipment from, so by rights this should be strongest point of the book. Well, to be fair, it does try to do a few different things and does repeatedly note that the items have been taken by various chapters. On the other hand though, it's not really pushing the boundaries on what could really be done with them.
First up we have the best and worst option in the game, the Banebolts of Eryxia. The best as it's nice to have a relic which augments another weapon for once, and the worst due to, well, just look at the name. These are basically a different variant of the ammo found elsewhere, boosting its stats to Strength 5, AP4 and gaining the Kill Shot special rule. Basically the rule works the same way as the big Thunder Hammer - Roll a six while wounding and the shot counts as an Instant Death attack. As the pistol and bolter can each only shoot one round, reducing the latter to an Assault 1 weapon, the Stalker is the way to go with its Heavy 2 rounds. Or at least it would be if you can find any way to actually use the damn thing, given the lack of HQ choices permitted to take the gun. This is why I keep stating that Veteran Sergeants should be allowed to wield relics.
Following that we have the Beacon Angelis, which is a standard Teleport Homer with a few tricks up its sleeve. While you can use it as standard, it can also be used once per game to teleport an allied unit about the board, where you remove them from the board and then immediately drop them within 6" of whoever is carrying this. On the downside, this can only be used with Deathwatch units, but on the upside it has no range limitations and the rules specify you can use this even when the allied unit is in combat. Admittedly it can only be done in the Movement phase, but it's a fun little addition to the game.
The Dominus Aegis is a giant shield, as you might have guessed from the name, and it's surprisingly not made by the Imperial Fists. What it does do is offers a 4+ invulnerable save to any unit with the wielder so long as they stand still, making it perfect for holding an area after a sudden deployment or securing an objective. Useful, slightly flawed, durable and open to flexable tactics. Not entirely original, but a good option for sure.
The Osseus Key, while oddly lacking anything machine spirit related, counts as a clavis with a few odd additional effects. Made from the bones of dead Imperial Fist heroes (their finger bones to be exact) it can inflict a bit more damage to a targeted vehicle. So, during the Assault phase once an enemy vehicle is within range, roll a D6. On the roll of a 2-3 the enemy vehicle suffers a glancing hit, while on the roll of a 4-6 it's an immediate penetrating hit. This would obviously be open to abuse and rather broken were it given a substantial range, but given this seems to retain the previous 6" limitation, this is a solid option on the whole. Now you just have the problem getting there.
The Key of Secrets is, oddly enough, a sword. Once it stabs a foe, it drinks deep of its blood, takes samples, analyses its target and decides how best to next help kill it. Hitting at AP3, it has a unique special rule by the name of Biophage. Basically, if it wounds a specific unit type it immediately gains better knowledge of how to kill them in the following turns. So, stab a Carnifex and hurt the big chitin bastard, and you're wounding on 2+ from there on. This unfortunately is taking things a bit too far here as it makes the weapon a bit too easy to wield against mob units. After all, if all you need to do is kill a single ork to start scything through all orks, that is more than a little easy to abuse. While it states that this focuses upon exact units, it's not clear where the limitations are in terms of species, so you're probably going to bump into a few nasty debates surrounding this weapon as well. Here's hoping it doesn't prove to be another Plasma Syphon.
Finally, we have the Tome of Ectoclades, which is really the boring one here. It basically allows you to switch Mission Tactics again, and allows you to use the widespread advantages of two for an entire turn. That's about it really, and more than anything else it's a little frustrating to see something like this just turn into another opportunity to shill that particular aspect of the book. Not bad, but not very fun either, really.
Overall it's a very mixed bunch to be sure as most are certainly decent or at least entertaining, but they once more fall into the old categories we've seen many times prior to now. At least this time there was a push to experiment a bit more with the rules in question though, and throw out a few original concepts here and there.
The overall rules here are problematic. They're okay but rather unremarkable, and it seems that for every step forwards there was a missed opportunity or an immediate step backwards. The book in itself is solid, going for an offshoot or experimental design intended to compliment or contrast with the standard astartes armies; basically what you get when you compare the standard Imperial Guard to Tempestus Scions. What hurts it more than anything else is a lack of real direction at points, poor editing in places and a few downright broken weapons; all of which stick out like a sore thumb. Still, it has plenty of good high points despite its flaws and there are some very fun units present in the book on the whole. If you're interested in fielding the Deathwatch you should be in for a fun time, but you might want to spend time remodeling the Veteran choices. You're going to want plenty of pins or magnets to switch out arms and weapons.
And expect to be hated by everyone if you turn up with half a squad full of Frag Cannons or burning heavy bolters of firey doom.
Next up, we'll be finishing our look at this codex's rules with the Formations.