Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Genius of Betheda's Review Policy - Why We're As Much To Blame


So, something stupid has happened in the world of video games publishers. As redundant as that sounds we are not talking your common or garden variety stupid, but the kind of weapons grade idiocy driven by greed. The kind of one which loops back around to being a work of genius for those who crave power, and bad news for those who just want to enjoy a few great titles.

Earlier on today, Bethesda announced that from here on all review copies will only be handed over one single day prior to a game's release date. Whether you're a Youtube personality or a journalist churning out written articles, you will only get your copy at the same time as everyone else. 

The disadvantages of this are quite obvious, at least for audiences. All of a sudden anyone whose livelihood is built upon putting out reviews of games is suddenly put into a race with everyone else. As getting out a review first results in the lion's share of traffic being diverted towards you, and many websites rely upon that "first strike" element ahead of all others, it weakens them. It forces them to rush ahead pushing out reviews before those who played them have fully formulated their thoughts, and means they lack the (relative) financial stability they currently benefit from. Few, save for the likes of Angry Joe, can afford to put out a review several weeks late and still garner a massive number of hits after all.

What's more, it means that buyers are obviously not going to know if a game is a stinker before purchasing it. There will be no early warnings keeping others away from games which betray their audiences, promote themselves on lies or fall short of what was promised by the developers. While one could argue that this would allow reviews to be more accurate in some regards thanks to day-one patches and the like, the very fact those exist proves that these publishers do not value quality. They value sales, and if that means that the games the churn out are left in a broken, near unplayable state, then so be it.

Bethesda has claimed that this entire move was done to "we want everyone, including those in the media, to experience our games at the same time." What it doesn't cite is why. Simple - They want control, and they want power. To put a tighter leash on games media and turn what is already a joke of an industry into even more of a glorified PR firm than it already is, ensuring there are fewer chances to let their sales take a plunge. It's pushing back on what each outlet is capable of, making it clear just how tentative that lifeline truly is, and how easily it can be severed by blacklisting them. We have already seen efforts to do this in the past from other companies and to other outlets, with Electronic Arts, Konami and even Bethesda itself stonewalling those likely to give out a lower score or a more honest opinion. We have even seen pushes to control new media, with the underhanded Shadows of Mordor fiasco, where only those who promised positive feedback were granted review copies.

Yet, despite knowing this, despite seeing this for so long, we have just accepted it. We have either pretended it was not there or even defended it at times. All too often you will see people morons proclaiming that those who earn a living reviewing games should get a "real job" and buy their titles like everyone else. They have railed against those who gain review copies, often out of sheer greed and the idea that they are being denied something they want. Worse still, others hyped to high heaven about a game will jump on anyone who brings its validity or quality into question, unleashing a tidal wave of hate upon them. If an outlet even so much as tries to offer a few negative points on a game, a fandom can turn into the developer's personal attack squad. No Man's Sky is the pinnacle of such examples, with a news report of its possible delay prompting fans to level death threats at the writer.

Such fans are those who will celebrate this, who will support this, and will actively try to spin this as a good thing. What's worse though is that there are those who simply will not care. Oh they might get outraged for a moment, perhaps even show a brief sign of offense, but then move on with their day. No matter what a publisher does, so long as it does not irk them too much, that's fine with them. If they release a major game in a badly broken state? They move on. If it suddenly arrives stuffed to the gills with microtransactions, having been divided up into two games? No one raises a fuss past the first week. If the developers outright lie to their audience? No one rocks the boat.

Apathy is death, and yet we have become so expectant of this sort of behaviour these days, the kind of two-faced betrayal we would have once railed against; that barely anyone pays attention to it past the first week. Developers merely batten down the hatches for the momentary storm of hate, wait for us to stop bringing it up, and do the same damn thing all over again. They know they can get away with it after all, and if it helps ensure pre-order culture remains a steady source of income, they're all for it.

If you think for a moment that this is a lie, just consider what the last few years brought us in the big name industry alone-
Sword of the Stars II
Duke Nukem Forever
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Arkham Origins (a game infamously left in a buggy state because the devs could not be bothered to fix it, focusing on DLC instead)
Assassin's Creed: Unity
No Man's Sky

Each and every one of those games lied to their audience. They barely resembled the very thing fans were promised, hyped pre-orders to ensure the publishers would have a big briefcase full of cash up front and then moved on. The only reason Arkham Knight is not listed on there is thanks to Steam's refund policy coming into effect, despite the permanently broken state of the PC port. At one time these moments would have been once in a lifetime occasions, something to be infamously listed as a major failing of the industry never to be seen again, but instead we now have an almost yearly influx of them. In the face of betrayal after betrayal, even the likes of Mass Effect 3's ending debacle seems tame by comparison. While the Bethesda announcement tries to cite DOOM as a success proving late review copies are not a problem, that is very much the exception rather than the rule. For every surprising success there are a dozen high profile failures, each worse than the last.

While the publishers are the ones taking more control for themselves each year, while they are the ones guilty of caring so little for their customers they will gladly shovel out complete crap despite the backlash, we are just as bad. We are guilty of complacency, a willing blindness to their actions and in the worst of cases even actively defending them. For all the failings rightfully piled upon their doorstep, we must accept an equal level of failure to keep them in line, and to keep purchasing their games despite all that has happened. For, in doing so, we are slowly robbing the gaming community of its early warning system. There are fewer and fewer writers to slam a game for its shortcomings, take the bullet for a high profile disaster, or even shine a light on an underrated indie. 

Ceasing pre-orders is no longer enough. If gamers are to halt this once and for all, they must recognise where we have failed, accept it, and begin truly pushing back against them once and for all. The gaming industry has proven cannot stay on the straight and narrow without a gun to its head, perhaps its fans should remind them just what they truly rely upon us for.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Delays, Delays...

So, you might have noticed things have been slow around here recently. Well, there's a few reasons for that, and sadly it's not going to stop any time soon. To skip the usually detailed and eloquent descriptions citing why - Someone seriously screwed up, it badly effected my schedule for the month, it's still effecting myself and several others, and I am desperately playing catch-up with several vital tasks. This supreme fucking-over of any plans and ruination of any efforts to stay atop of things has meant I am very late with a few works I promised for a friend, not to mention a few on here.

Admittedly, there have been issues beyond this. Despite three separate submissions to the magazine, my coverage of Battlefield 1 still has not been put onto a certain website. While I understand times are hard, given that I am putting in seventeen hours into a game around both writing on here and two full time jobs, I would hope someone could take a minute or two to copy and paste some words onto a website.

Because of this we're lacking a few usual outings and coverage pieces unfortunately, and with the hellish snowy season known as Christmas coming up, that might not change. I will be trying to get at least three articles up in the next two weeks, but beyond that it depends upon how life goes elsewhere. I apologise for keeping you waiting and hope I can offer you something worth your time at the end of all this.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Red Lightsabers Are Everything Wrong With Disney's Star Wars


There's a question which should always be asked of any reboot - What are you going to accomplish here, that you couldn't do with the old universe?

It's a simple one of course, quite a reasonable one, but something so many previous revamps fail. While you get the odd one which manages to prove its point, many others (especially those from the comicbook side of media) constantly fail it at every turn. More often than not, because of this, the new settings end up just stealing countless ideas from the old one, turning into "stuff the fans already know, stuff they've seen, but we're claiming it's new, so it's okay to still crap on the old setting." The only thing which tends to be worse is when the company tries to do something new, and it ends up being worse than the original.

Today's case is a near perfect example of the latter problem: A needless retcon which only undermines the bigger broader universe and simplifies all which came before it. In this case it's from E.K. Johnston's Disney Star Wars novel Ahsoka, which decides to retcon everything which ever existed surrounding lightsaber crystals. To quote Movieweb.com's explanation -

"In Ahsoka, it is revealed that the Kyber crystals are actually force sensitive. They choose their desired users and present themselves to the Jedi in question. Those who use the Dark Side of the Force, such as the Sith, don't have this unique connection to the crystals. The only way a Sith can get ahold of a Kyber crystal is by stealing them or taking them away from the defeated Jedi.

The crystal loses its original hue as the Sith, or other Dark Side users of the Force bends the Kyber to their own will. This results in the Kyber crystal 'bleeding', thus turning it red. A crystal that has been tainted by the Dark Side can be healed. But it doesn't return to its normal color, it instead turns white."

This might seem fine at first glance, or even an interesting concept on the whole, until you ask that same question - What does this add which wasn't already there? 


Okay, lightsabers retain some Force sensitive elements and are tailored to their creator. We already knew that, but rather than it being down to a potentially mythical trance or moment of self-discovery on the part of the wielder, we get into some drawn out destiny nonsense. Something which, even counting the mystical qualities of such an idea, is already heavily overdone in this setting.

Lightsaber colours now mean different things and reflect the user's abilities, okay. The problem is, we also already had that as well. The colours themselves (while not universal) were generally associated with a certain Order or sect within the Jedi, and some were closely linked to certain groups over others. What's more, the fact the user chose the crystals for themselves quite often reflected more of their personality because it was an intentional choice, and often reflected their background in some way.

Well, we do also know that a Dark Side lightsaber can be carried by a Jedi, and vice versa. True enough, but once again, we already knew this as well. More than a few stories featured Jedi carrying the blade of a fallen foe, or a warrior taking a lightsaber as a trophy from a fallen enemy. The Jedi Order even kept certain blades for itself, guarding them and studying them, which is how Exar Kun came upon one of his more famous weapons. In addition to this, one of the most famous lightsabers repeatedly changed hands several times. Anakin Skywalker's weapon was first carried by himself, then his son, then Luke's insane clone, and was finally then earned by Mara Jade. That, and the history its wielders could feel through the Force surrounding it, was usually enough to give it a sense of legacy without it flipping colours every other minute.

Finally, we then have the detail that the Sith cannot use these crystals for themselves, and follow a different pattern of life from the Jedi. Okay, again, that's not really all that different from last time. The Jedi and Sith previously operated on completely different mental wavelengths when it came to constructing these blades, and the Sith did not actively hunt them down for themselves. 

Once you truly sit down, once you truly start looking into this, it's quickly clear all we have gained is an exceptionally vast plot hole. Really, this is quite simply lore destroying stuff, and it is quite astounding that an author could get away with putting this into a book. Don't believe me? Consider that bit about the Sith for a moment, and then ask yourself this - Why is the lightsaber the official weapon of a Sith?


The fact the Sith themselves cannot take up such a weapon without murdering another makes it extremely difficult to obtain. It means that every single Sith recruit needs to hunt down and kill a Jedi just  to be accepted into their rank and, combined with their typical attrition rate born of backstabbing, this means they would have a fraction of the Jedi Order's numbers. Worse still, it limits them to a weapon they can only obtain by leeching off of their worst foes, making their whole conflict pointless and at best turning events like Order 66 into a kind of mutual kill for their kind. Sure, they've killed off the Jedi like they always wanted, but they have no means for their apprentices to forge new weapons.

This also undermines their image. Rather than using something more beneficial like swords forged from mandalorian iron (assuming those are not going to be screwed over as well), this theft approach means the Sith aren't so much dark overlords as opportunistic thieves. A group hanging around and stealing things from others, incapable of making their own way in the galaxy without taking the Jedi's stuff. There's no longer this sense of balance between two different but ultimately equal sides. It's just one side being dominant, and the other trying to murder their members and live off of their scraps.

Then, atop of this, you have to factor in how this suddenly makes the Dark Side appear as if it is no natural part of the Force itself. These crystals are supposed to reflect the Force, right? Okay, then surely the whole destiny angle - something which works as strongly within the Sith as it does the Jedi - should mean there are those bound for Dark Side practitioners. Nope, apparently we're ignoring that. 

Really, it's not a hard question to ask, and the more you think about it, the less sense their use of these weapons makes. Even without getting to insane stuff, like the Death Star running on these things (because you just had to go and pinch lightsaber inspired superweapon ideas from Darksaber of all places, didn't you Disney) this creates more continuity problems and questions than anything it resolves. 

So, nothing of any real worth has been added. It just has most of the same qualities but different terms. What, then, have we lost?

Well, a great deal of subtext highlighting the differences between the two orders and a large chunk of their history. You see, the Sith and Jedi originated from the same world in the Expanded Universe, and their split stemmed from an ideological conflict. The lightsaber's very history stemmed from that dark time, and ironically enough it was this conflict which ultimately spawned it. It was as much a symbol for the changing galaxy as it was their evolution, and how it was used by each side better reflected their nature. In the simplest terms - As the Jedi valued harmony and slower means, using natural crystals made sense, while the more forceful and driven Sith's artificial creations emphasized how they took the quick and easy path. The path which allowed them to bend aspects of the galaxy to their power and will.

Even beyond this though, the actual nature of the crystals themselves was highly flexible. Originally, there were a multitude of other designs, other materials which could be used to focus and forge the blades. While some were faulty or ill advised, it allowed a Jedi or Sith to have more a reflection upon their background and more character to the weapons they built. In its place now, all we have is a rock which chooses its owner. So, in short, what we've lost is a sense of legacy and history to the setting, and what's we've gained is illogical gibberish. 


If this was even just a one off, that might have been acceptable. Yet the problem is that this keeps happening, over and over again. No thought has been put into any of this, no preperation, and going from what has been written elsewhere, there is no communication either. This is akin to allowing authors to run rampant across a setting with no guidance or established taboos. This is something harmful enough for an established universe, just look at what Karen Traviss did to the Expanded Universe's later arcs, but allowing this to happen so early on is tantamount to suicide. There's no effort to establish set rules here, so everything is already breaking down. As more and more cracks appear as it goes along, the thing will slowly collapse into itself thanks to a sheer lack of cohesion. 

Yet, Disney does not care. They aren't bothered that this is the treatment their new universe is receiving, nor that the quality of the new novels is in the gutter and sinking fast. So long as it can tie into their big, shiny new cash cow they plan to milk dry, so long as it earns them a bit more cash while they ride it into the ground, that's fine to them. It's as simple as that - They don't want a good universe. They don't even want good stories, they just want a few more bucks from Star Wars fans who don't give a damn. The sort who would never have bothered to pick up a book until someone showed them something big, shiny and exciting on a big screen.

Does this mean that Star Wars is going to die? No. It's too massive to outright kill, but it's not immune to decay. As it goes along, as it is dragged out, I honestly think the overall franchise will start to slump inwards and become something akin to the current DC Comics Cinematic Universe; a bloated failure churning out poorly constructed or incoherent messes of works as times marches on.

While the term "they changed it, now it sucks" might be eye-rolling, in this case they did change it and it does suck. It's one of a multitude of abrupt changes which really adds nothing to the overall universe, and seems to change things without any rhyme or reason. From the insane Stormtrooper retcon to try and reinforce their ineptitude, to cortosis being abruptly changed from a lightsaber resistant/deactivating metal to something which can slightly resist blaster bolts, each one is change purely for the sake of change. The only thing this retcon has added, like so much of the new Star Wars setting, is to force gaping contradictions into the new universe they're trying to build. 

Retcons like this only serve to prove that Disney is either drunk at the wheel, or they're trying to build a skyscraper without bothering with its foundations. Take your pick.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Seraph (Video Game Review)



Early Access can be summed up as a great idea gone horribly wrong. While good in theory, years of abuse, inaction and a complete lack of moderation on Valve’s part have turned it into a byword for poor quality. However, amid the sea of asset flipped clones and unfinished open world RPGs, you occasionally find the rare gem. One such gem is today’s example – Seraph.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Film Review)


This film is arguably one of the single best releases of 2016. Really, there are no other words for it. Right from start to finish, this is an absolute joy to watch and will leave you grinning from ear to ear. This is the Yang to Batman Vs. Superman's Yin, managing to be bright, colourful and thrilling from start to finish. Nailing the rare lightning-in-a-bottle effect cheesiness which made Flash Gordon such a classic, it manages not only to play many ridiculous scenes absolutely straight faced, but still somehow shifts into self-parody without ever hurting this effect.

The story here involves all the villains teaming up once more, returning to plague the citizens of Gotham with their fiendish schemes. In response, the dynamic duo once more leap into action, but things might be slightly different this time.

There are ultimately going to be two camps of audiences watching this film, those who have seen the 60s television show and those who have not. Trying to focus upon one or the other is always going to be problematic, as it means you're cutting off a significant chunk of your viewership, while trying to cover both is a balancing act few films nail. Thankfully, this one gets it absolutely right. There are enough subtleties and details here for fans of the franchise to pick up on, from certain adapted quotes from the comics to some surprisingly smart turns when it comes to commenting on the direction of the character post Silver Age. Those who lack this context will find just as much fun in the sheer ridiculousness of it, sheer volume of jokes and the ability for the script to lean on the show's better known scenes without turning them into a crutch.

The beauty of the film is that even if you don't get one gag, there will be four or five more along in a minute to make you laugh. While it doesn't completely bombard the viewer with jokes until it becomes exhausting, each is so well worked into the script that it never becomes bothersome. Seeing it is akin to watching Airplane! where, many of the visual aspects work seamlessly around the scenes themselves, and those inserted into the dialogue fit naturally into conversations. Because the film sells you on the idea that it's in it's own little world so early on, many of the quirky or odd elements quickly just fit into place. The fact it manages to keep gearing this up as the film goes along means by the end, you're willing to accept damn near anything without it ever feeling at odds with the world.

The animation is definitely spot on, arguably even more so than in other DC Animated productions. While The Killing Joke's adaptation has been better known for its story problems more than anything else, there's no denying that the animation proved to be surprisingly low grade at points. While it was certainly great for anything on the small screen, and still featured Bruce Timm's distinctive qualities, it suffered from odd choppiness or limited movement. This was most evident during the Joker's dance number, and despite being of a similar quality, Return of the Caped Crusaders manages to get away with it. Much of this is admittedly down to style, emulating elements of Hanna Barbera animation and visuals; yet at the same time the smooth movement and ease at which certain complicated fights are handled cannot be denied.

As for the voice actors, do you even need to ask? An unfortunate number of the older actors have sadly passed way in the decades since the series ended, and finding a good replacement is difficult at the best of times. This said, while they aren't performing full fledged impressions of Cesar Romero or Meredith Burgess, many of the key choices do nail the exact style of the characters. In fact, the only ones who do seem out of place at times are the leading men who, it has to be said, do sound definitely older compared to the show. It's an unavoidable issue for sure, but in the case of Adam West it's hard not to pick up on how certain terms or statements are dragged out. Of course, this thankfully hardly hurts his performance, but it can seem jarring to those who have recently seen the show.

At the end of the day, is Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders worth seeing? Do you really need to ask. While it's hard to say anyone will enjoy watching this, those with a difficulty accepting the sheer zaniness of the concept will probably find many of the jokes jarring. That aside however, if this trailer makes you even start to crack a grin, definitely grab this one at the earliest opportunity.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Index Militarum: Scarran Irregulars

So, you might recall a while back that we were planning upon doing this for a Necron Dynasty. Well, that is still coming, but a lot of core ideas and issues need to be ironed out first. Plus, let's be honest, quite a few of these articles have been getting fairly lengthy of late. As such, this is just an experiment in the meantime, to further prove you can write a unique and distinctly characterised force in a few words without falling into the more cliched gimmicks or hinging upon a character driven narrative.

Also, after reading War Zone Damocles: Mont'Ka again, I wanted the Imperial Guard to be seen kicking the living hell out of the Tau Empire for once.





Regiment Name: 1st Scarran Irregulars

Founding: 998.M41
Homeworld: Scarra
Combat Doctrine: Infantry Assaults, Commando Raids, Mobile Warfare
Favoured Enemy: Tau Empire
Battlecry: Various. Thanks to originating from so many worlds, the regiment is noted to feature more than two dozen major regimental battlecries and sixty minor variations. 
Strength: Unknown. Estimated 60,000-87,000.

History: Unique among the major Imperial regiments of the Eastern Rim, 1st Scarran Irregulars neither received an official founding nor sanction to claim their homeworld for themselves. Driven by desperation rather than Administratum law, their order retains no true command structure nor single homeworld in which they mustered from. Instead, they were forged in hatred of a single foe: The Tau Empire.


Even after the bloody stalemate of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, the Imperium of Man woefully underestimated its xenos foe. Advancing at an exponential rate both militarily and technologically, multiple outlying worlds found themselves hard pressed by Fire Caste attacks as M41 drew to a close. Under the direction of Commander Shadowsun, Puretide's legendary disciple, world after world fell under their guns. Yet in each battle, each invasion and each failed counter offensive there were survivors. Some regiments would be forced to flee from doomed worlds without ever setting foot on the ground, or lead a fighting retreat from doomed worlds, or never even arrive before they fell; many losing themselves as the Imperial lines collapsed. Unable to regroup with Imperial command, these lost soldiers would often follow ancient doctrines ordering them to regroup at the abandoned fortress world of Scarra.

Ammunition starved, bereft of armoured support and with the Air Caste fleets at their heels, sane men would have surrendered. Instead, vengeful men led them. Under the direction of Cadian Lord General Jävian, the growing number of stragglers were reunified under a new loosely-formed command structure and descended to the crumbling ruins below, fortifying it as best they could. A mere three weeks later the Tau Empire arrived, ready to deal the killing blow to the Guardsmen remnants, and dispatching a sizable force to annihilate them. 

Upon arrival, the Shas'O anticipated an easy victory, delaying their fleets by a few rotaa at most. They were sorely mistaken. Using the hard learned lessons of past defeats and Scarra's hostile atmosphere to their advantage, the Fire Caste task force soon found themselves fighting a grueling street by street battle; with Jävian's forces limiting their best units and forcing them to advance piecemeal towards the enemy. Within two decs, the orbiting vessels had lost contact with the entirety of their ground forces. Then, the tau fleet was offered a single, awkwardly translated message:

"Try harder."

Since that time, each side has been locked in a bitter stalemate. While Scarran Irregulars, as they have come to be known, have resisted multiple assaults and launched their own strikes against the Empire's local forces, each solider knows they live on borrowed time. The cadres they have combated thus far have been little more than auxiliaries drawn away from the front lines, and sooner or later the relentless tau advance or sheer attrition will win out. Until that day, the Guardsmen intend to sell their lives dearly, buying what little time they can for the Imperium and fighting back however possible.

Organisation: 

Working with whatever they have on hand and whoever they can muster, the Irregulars lack the more rigid organisational structures of better established forces. With their forces ranging from Adeptus Arbites survivors to Penal Legion troops, the army as a whole is little more than a loose coalition unit of varying forces, guided by Jävian's taskforce. Largely left to their own devices, each commanding officer is expected to see to negotiate with other units for specialists, information or more precious supplies, even as the core command structure keeps them fed and armed as best as possible.

Despite the distant nature of this command structure, no unit is truly isolated or left completely to its own devices. Communication and gatherings between company remnants is frequent, and while they rarely remain together for long, there is a surprisingly effective level of communication between units over certain regions. While crude, the decentralized structure permits them a better response time to threats than the vaster forces often micro-managed by their Warmasters. The obvious downside is that such independence can easily lead to rebellion, or to be caught off guard by a trap. For this reason, brief alliances or joint missions are actively encouraged, so that companies might watch one another for signs of possible dissent.

Each company is stripped to its bare minimum assets. If it cannot be carried by hand, it is a liability in their eyes, slowing them down and limiting the effectiveness of their guerrilla tactics. Organised into squads of twenty Guardsmen, each is supported by four man portable heavy weapons, often lascannons or autocannons. Few to none of these companies retain any armoured support of any kind, save for the occasional and extremely rare Chimera APC. These are reserved for rapid response units or scouting vehicles, monitoring the more inhospitable areas of the continent the Irregulars have called their home. Besides these, a small number also serve as highly mobile medical clinics, moving between regiments as needed for more vital wounds. Unfortunately, their resource starved nature means that fewer still run between units with each passing day, and any loss is keenly felt across the army.

Many soldiers are expected to carry out multiple roles in the field, and with the exception of Tech Priests or extremely skilled roles, multi task ranks have emerged among troops. Medicae-Sergeants and Acting Commissars are among the most prevalent among troops, each trained in the basic skills and talents of their creed. While lacking the finer points of any such career, this diversity prevents any company from being wholly crippled by the loss of one man.

Combat Doctrine: 

Many of the various regiments have been forced to abandon the very ideals they were founded upon since joining the Irregulars. Open combat, reliance upon vehicles, massed assaults and total adherence to the word of officers are among just a few such points. Instead, they have been trained to fight the Tau Empire move by move, having benefited from many hard learned mistakes and flaws within their stratagems. Instead, two overriding rules have been set down when facing their foe - "Use any resource at your disposal to hurt the tau. Always let them come to you."

Rather than allowing the Empire to engage their forces on their own terms, the Irregulars have begun initiating various tactics to limit the Fire Caste's combat effectiveness. While they cannot hope to match the innate maneuverability of their chosen foe, nor their superior technology, the Irregulars often opt to subvert it. Many defensive engagements have focused upon urban environments or running battles throughout the towering artificial canyons of the world, limiting their use of greater ranged weaponry and narrowing them into a series of tight bottlenecks. Unable to maintain a war of attrition the Empire's forces often retreat, usually right into the guns of another company. Even in the face of advanced sensors, the Irregulars' greater understanding of the land is enough to give them a considerable edge, and few locations are ever used twice for such battles.

If given the choice however, the Irregulars often prefer to wear down or limit their foe soon after arrival. Rather than outright destroying them in a sudden assault, an enemy cadre will be targeted by scouts and then briefly attacked by heavy weapons teams. Using coordinated fire from man portable lascannons, these groups will prioritize the Empire's larger war machines before falling back, forcing the Fire Caste to either hold position or continue without a critical part of their force. A Hammerhead Gunship can hardly fight with its main engines destroyed, after all, and a Crisis Battlesuit is near useless with only one leg. Such attacks serve to both leave an enemy force open to an assault, and following strikes divide then further disable crucial units, until they are forced to retreat.

While such acts might appear cowardly, the frustration of such failures and demoralizing effect is enough of a victory in of itself; destabilizing the front as a whole and gradually weakening morale among their forces. Most of all though, it often leaves vital supplies ready for the taking, to be used against the xenos forces. In spite of the Imperium's stringent policies against using xenotech, Jävian has quietly ignored this heresy in order to further learn of their foe and harry them. This is done not merely to learn of a technology's weak points, but how it might be put to their own disposal. From converting pulse rifle charge packs into lasgun magazines to turning enemy dropships into makeshift missiles, the Irregulars have all but outright taken the enemy's weapons for themselves. While each soldier knows that they would be tried and executed for such heresy in any other battlefield, their desire to see the Tau Empire fall overrides all else.

Many of these strategies are difficult to replicate elsewhere, as they hinge upon Scarra's hostile atmosphere and unique terrain. However, the Irregulars have applied several in rare off-world engagements, notably the Glei'Tsun Raid. Using a captured supply transport, a number of Harakoni and Valhallan volunteers launched a suicidal assault upon an vital enemy shipyard. While victory came at the cost of all those involved, their delaying tactics were enough for demolition teams to find the facility's reactors and totally destroy the facility. Several such actions have followed, and every time the Fire Caste prepares to focus its efforts elsewhere, the Irregulars offer them a reminder of how dangerous a foe they can be.

Homeworld: 

A forgotten blighted ruin, Scarra's history is a grim one indeed. Terraformed to suit human needs towards the end of the Great Crusade, Scarra was initially a defensive lynchpin among several sectors of the Eastern Rim. With every square inch of its surface covered by defensive fortifications, it was an ambitious task built to rival the works of both Dorn and Purturabo. Even after the outbreak of the Heresy interrupted completion of this project, and more pressing rebuilding efforts hindered its progress, it remained a key defensive structure until late M37 when the terraforming process began to fail. 

While few understood the exact reason for it thanks to the long lost secrets of the process, theories ranged from mysterious instabilities within the star system to the works of a Chaos cult. Whatever the case, Scarra was soon wracked by turbulent storms seemingly drawn to powerful electronic energies. Capable of easily downing smaller aircraft and tearing shuttles from the air, all but heavily armoured landers were destroyed outright the moment they entered the atmosphere. Worse still, the frequency of the storms and the unstable nature of the atmosphere severely hampered sensor readings from orbiting ships.

Ironically, while both aspects drove the Imperium from the world, they ultimately proved to be the Irregulars' greatest asset. Preventing the Tau Empire from launching massed assaults or support their ground troops with Air Caste fighters, it forced the Empire to rely almost entirely upon ground assets. Any exposed creature caught on the surface in such a storm would often find itself ripped from the ground or burned alive, and centuries of such storms ultimately ruined the once mighty bastions of the world. However, while they were severely damaged, none could be wholly destroyed. 

The crumbling fortified spires of the planet ultimately still stand despite their dilapidated nature, and kilometers of labyrinthine tunnels run beneath Scarra's surface. While many have collapsed under the strain of these storms, countless others still stand, allowing for easy transport for those familiar with the world's layout. While the Tau Empire's forces have repeatedly attempted to storm these tunnels, both the world's subterranean predators and ambushes by the Irregulars and dissuaded their efforts thus far.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Revenge of the Sith - The Underrated Star Wars Gem


It goes without saying that the Star Wars prequels are not held in high regard by the general public. Critically mixed at the best of times, and often remembered for the honky dialogue and terrible romance subplot, many seem to reflect upon it as a flawed idea at the best of times. However, while such a reputation is certainly well deserved, it stems almost entirely from the first two films of the trilogy. People will cite how tedious the banal Padme-Anakin sequences in Attack of the Clones were to sit through, or slam Jake Lloyd's performance, but Revenge of the Sith receives comparatively little flak; and rightfully so. The finale to the prequel trilogy not only managed to be the strongest of the bunch, but in terms of story quality it rivaled that of the original films.

While Empire Strikes Back is commonly regarded as being the best of the franchise, Revenge is often discussed as a close second if not its equal. Mark Hughes of Forbes described it as a "operatic, exciting, visually stunning final chapter for that era"[1] whilst analyzing the saga, and it's a verdict supported by other writers as well, from Tom Bond of Little White Lies[2] to Lisa Gransaw of Blastr[3]. Each cited many of the same points, strengths and failings of the film, but also why it succeeded despite those issues.

For starters, it was evident that the creative forces behind Revenge of the Sith had taken a long, hard look back at the two previous films. Just as before, where Jar Jar's presence had been limited thanks to poor audience reactions and political dealings took a back seat to action, the romance sub-plot was scaled back. While it would hardly be removed entirely, it was instead limited to a few key scenes rather than taking up fully half of the film, with the focus being upon Anakin's decisions his responsibilities; thus leading to two of its best scenes, first with Yoda discussing the way of the Jedi, and then with Palpatine offering a sinister alternative. Equally, whereas the other films were criticized for their slow starts and lack of action[4], this one opened up with a full scale battle, actions sequences, explosions and a major death. It was enough to get audiences hooked from the get-go and establish that, yes, this trilogy was going out with a bang.

The battle itself, and what followed was also a new change for the films. One definitely for the better. Despite its name, Star Wars was never especially great at depicting full scale war. Outside of the fleet battle in Return of the Jedi, we were offered only skirmishes and adventures by the main characters, not whole armies clashing over territories or making pushes to claim worlds for themselves. While it would take Dark Horse Comics and the New Jedi Order to properly depict this on a vast scale, Revenge of the Sith did enough to give the impression of a galactic conflict without it completely overwhelming the film. Audiences were offered a taste of this with the large scale battle, shown signs of emerging fronts and countless fleets, and even the final montage of the Jedi Order's destruction impressed that there was still a war raging about them.

Revenge of the Sith also retains one of the series most powerful scenes and its only real montage - The execution of Order 66. It depicted how the Jedi had fallen even as they had won the war, impressed upon the audience how they had been played from the start and truly had no hope of real victory. The situations, the battles and the core sequences all presented events well enough to make it clear that each Jedi was a hero of their own story, fighting their own battles on a front away from the protagonists. Enough to make each death meaningful even if an audience was not overly familiar with the characters via the stories beyond the films.

Speaking personally, I would even go so far as to say that it did a far better job at respecting the setting than the likes of The Force Awakens. What J J Abrams ultimately made in his push to revitalize the franchise was little more than a Frankenstein's monster of other people's ideas. There was no twist to reflect his own additions to the franchise, no personal mark to show he had his own plans for what was to follow, just the same beats we had seen a hundred times over. Even ignoring how countless Expanded Universe ideas showed up recycled here after Disney murdered that particular branch of the franchise, the film's core was little more than a rehash of ideas from the original trilogy. It wasn't so much a new chapter as an attempt to cash in on nostalgia to offset creative bankruptcy.

By comparison, Revenge of the Sith kept its own nods to a relatively low-key affair. There was a surprising degree of restraint on display, keeping shout outs down to small jokes, minor re-uses of dialogue, and also the opening and closing shots[5]. It was enough that they could pass over the heads of many fans, or get a slight chuckle out of those with knowledge of the saga, but without overriding the film's own identity. It was no repeatedly slamming moments from the original trilogy into the faces of the audience and demanding they love it because they loved the first films. Rather than re-using a Death Star idea and a massive final space battle, we had an opening conflict above Coruscant and an attempt to land a critically damaged battleship. Rather than simply leaving the ideas behind the Force vague and using the same lessons Yoda had offered, we ended up with examples of why the Jedi favoured detachment, and the history of Darth Plagueis.

Of course, there are still problems surrounding Revenge of the Sith. The acting in many places was still obviously questionable and despite some overall improvements the dialogue in many places was still problematic. Few will ever forget the face-palming "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" line Ewan McGregor was forced to deliver along with the likes of "I have the high ground!" and "Not Even the Younglings Survived." These are undeniable failings of the film,but they are hardly unique to Revenge of the Sith. Even the best films of the saga were hurt by some cringe-worthy lines of dialogue and poor deliveries, with Harrison Ford famously saying "George, you can type this [expletive] but you sure can't say it."[6] A point he has gone back and forth on admittedly, but it is nevertheless an opinion supported by the likes of Alec Guinness. In his personal notes the actor cited his frustrations at being handed "new rubbish dialogue" which he claimed "none of it makes my character clear or even bearable."[7] As such, while some aspects of the script are certainly weaknesses within the film, it is wrong to hold it purely against Revenge of the Sith. To truly overcome it, the prequels would have needed individuals capable of countering George Lucas' will, or later Directors who would permit certain changes by the actors such as Han's "I know" moment.

What is certainly a greater criticism worth leveling against the film is the quality of its effects. Even at the time the CGI failed to properly blend with the actors and had a clearly unrealistic sheen to it. Compared with the likes of Lord of the Rings[8] or Jurassic Park[9], it lacked the input from special effects houses who had worked on more practical designs, to allow models to blend with lighting or the right textures. This is true across the entire prequel trilogy, and it remains one core reason why the originals are considered to be visually superior; not to mention why the Special Edition re-releases were held in such poor regard with their CGI'd additions. Quite frankly, to truly overcome this issue, it would have needed far more grounding or advice from very different veterans from those they hired. However, when it works, such effects pull of sights and sequences the original trilogy never could have hoped to accomplish. In this particular case, the chase between Kenobi and Grievous, the Invisible Hand's crash landing and the final lightsaber duel of the film all accomplished visuals no film from the 70s could have matched.

That said, there's no defending what the film did do General Grievous. Thankfully though, we had other media to more than make up for that.

The primary reason Revenge of the Sith stands out above all others is not thanks to the film itself, but what it led to. The two trilogies were not the entire story, nor should they ever have been. What was seen on the screen should always have been a starting point for a bigger and broader universe, for novels, comic books and video games capable of telling the stories the films never could. Revenge of the Sith allowed for this, presenting an end to the prequels which could satisfy the average film-goer, but left the universe open to future installments. It wasn't the end of the story, it was the end of that chapter.

The remaining conflicts of the Clone Wars had yet to be fully examined, the sagas of the surviving Jedi and the later purges were left open to audiences. The rise of the Empire, Palpatine's ambitions and the wars to secure its dominance were left to the imagination of future creators. Compared with Return of the Jedi's attempt at an absolute finale, what we had here was as much a conclusion as it was the bedrock for new saga. From it, we gained tales such as Dark Horse's Darth Vader series which greatly expanded upon the Sith Lord's formative years as Palpatine's right hand. What we gained was a film which knew it was the starting point for something bigger and, while telling its own tale, left the door open for others to follow.

Ultimately, to contrast it with the film others cite as the series' greatest success, the Empire Strikes Back took an already winning formula and shifted its focus to a broader setting. Revenge of the Sith took an extremely flawed and failing trilogy, and managed to give it a grand finale worthy of the franchise's legacy. It comes down to what you truly consider to be better really: The film which accomplished greatness after being offered everything, or the film which started with nothing and ended in success. Beyond anything else, that is why it stands out as a personal favourite though.

BIBLIOGRAPHY -

[1] - Hughes, M. (2015, December 17). Ranking The 'Star Wars' Movies From Best To Worst. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2015/12/17/ranking-the-star-wars-movies-from-best-to-worst/2/#32136d26651d

[2] - Bond, T. (2015, December 17). Why Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://lwlies.com/articles/why-revenge-of-the-sith-is-the-best-star-wars-movie/

[3] - Grinshaw, L. (2015, May 27). Not Guilty: In defense of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.blastr.com/2015-5-27/not-guilty-defense-star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-sith

[4] - Obias, R. (2013, August 14). What If The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy Had Been Good? Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/scifi/star-wars-prequel-trilogy-good.html

[5] - Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith - References to other Star Wars films. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith#References_to_other_Star_Wars_films

[6] - Covert, C. (2010, November 10). Harrison Ford: 'I'm like old shoes' Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://www.startribune.com/harrison-ford-i-m-like-old-shoes/106731043/?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUsr

[7] - Anders, C. J. (2013, August 01). Alec Guinness thought Star Wars was "fairytale rubbish" and Harrison Ford's first name was "Tennyson" Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://io9.gizmodo.com/5974242/alec-guinness-thought-star-wars-was-fairytale-rubbish-and-harrison-fords-first-name-was-tennyson

[8] - (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lordoftherings.net/film/production/pr_visua.html

[9] - Watercutter, A. (2014, October 06). Jurassic Park Turns 21: A Look Back at How It Revolutionized Special Effects. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from https://www.wired.com/2014/06/jurassic-park-cgi/

Friday, 14 October 2016

Sunless Sea - Zubmariner (Video Game Review)


Few worlds are more wonderful and surreal than those created by Failbetter Games. Whether you're strolling through the streets of Fallen London via text adventures or sailing the open starlit sea and trying to retain your sanity, you can always be guaranteed one of the best written experiences in gaming. Surreal, humourous, serious and often downright insane, it's one of the few settings short of Discworld capable of accomplishing almost anything; switching from one theme to the next with remarkable ease. With Sunless Sea's staggering success, an expansion was inevitable, and Zubmariner now offers players the chance to delve below the black waves.

Read The Article In Full Here

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Syndrome (Video Game Review)


Syndrome is one of those titles which should be held up as an example to others. It’s a guideline for future developers to follow, showing how emulating successes and good ideas can make a competent game, but not a great one. That’s really the key problem here, this is well made and reasonably well paced and programmed, but it does so little to stand out from its inspirations that the experience lacks impact. Within the first hour, you’re sure to find countless reminders of Alien Isolation, a good dozen concepts System Shock 2 set the standard for, and a substantial amount of Dead Space’s artistic direction has been replicated here. There’s rarely a moment where you’re not being reminded of those games in some way, and that hurts what could have been a genuinely great product.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Mafia 3 (Video Game Review)


Grand accomplishments always spawn mimics. Whether it’s World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto, the titans which define a genre will always be used as a measuring stick by others and lead to developers trying to beat them at their own game. While you can find the odd success, most inevitably fail, and those which are truly successful usually emerge triumphant by going their own way. The odd thing about the Mafia series is that it has ultimately gone in reverse. After the second game established a vastly different take on the old open world crime tropes, Mafia 3 has ditched nearly everything in favour of aping Grand Theft Auto. Suffice to say, it’s a big step backwards.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Overwatch - Sombra Revealed?


For some time now, Overwatch fans have been chomping at the bit with news of an upcoming hero. Known only as "Sombra", Blizzard has slowly built up hype with a scant few details, ideas and suggestions of just who she might be, leaving the fandom going mad with guesswork. Well, today brought about a first possible look at the character.

Leaked onto multiple message boards and websites, a screenshot of a monitor showed a purple clad woman and a few details of an upcoming event -


The text, while fragmented, reads as follows -

[...](p)rotect the castle doors from the Zomnics and Dr. Junkenstein’s evil allies.”[...]

[...](t)ry your hand at three different difficulties – the harder the difficulty, the more points you can earn!

Hero: Sombra (she will be hacking her way into the build later tonight)

[...](Som)bra is one of the world’s best and most notorious hackers. As a child she lost everything during the Omnic Cris(is)[...]

[...]ies with computers to survive. She worked with the Los Muertos gang in Mexico, executing increasingly more h[...]

[...]s until she attracted to much unwanted attention and had to go underground. During that time, she upgraded h[...]


[...](i)nentations and was recruited by the mysterious Talon organization. While Sombra seems content to work with[...]

All of this certainly sounds genuine thus far, as we have been hearing for some time that there would be a few major events in the pipeline. Plus, given their love of new skins, Halloween is too big an even to merely overlook. What also supports the credibility of this image is the level of detail which has been put into the character, the fact it fits in perfectly with a cyberpunk hacker aesthetic without breaking Overwatch's designs, and her load-out. We have yet to see a full on uzi in the game, and what looks to be a kind of hacking claw would fit in with the game's usual fast paced style of gameplay.

However, you might want to take this reveal with a fist full of salt. Many ideas and points do align with this being Sombra and fit in well, but there are quite a few notable discrepancies. For starters, the hacker's famous skull sigil is completely missing from the front of her oufit, and this design does conflict with past hints which players were given. Prior designs depicted a dark, cloaked figure more akin to Reaper than anyone else, and lack the brighter or more overt elements of this character design. Each could be accomplished or added one way or the other of course, or it could simply be out of sight, but these are factors worth considering.

As exciting as this reveal is, it would be best to maintain a tempered and skeptical approach to any news. There have also been a number of high profile hoaxes akin to this in the past - including the ancient but infamous Mewthree from Pokemon's early years - and one more would not be surprising to the gaming community. Even if it required an incredible level of effort as seen here, such things are far from unheard of.

We'll just have to wait until later on this month to learn whether or not this leak is correct or not.

Genestealer Cults Part 3 - Formations & Relics (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)


For the first part of the rules section of this review, please click here.

So, after a brief break we're back at last with the final part analyzing the book. While there will be a part four to discuss ideas for the future of this army, and how it can expand upon what has been established here, this is going to be it for the full on actual examination. So, if you've yet to fully look into the codex, here's the lowdown on the quality and concepts of this book's formations and special items -


Relics


This is a curious thing to have for sure. While having a Genestealer Cult gaining some lost or venerable wargear is hardly unsurprising, having something born purely of the Cult itself is questionable. Each is only supposed to be about for a few hundred years at the most and then die out, with their brethren and ideologies consumed by the coming Hive Fleet. So, for them to forge these "Sacred Relics of the Cult" - items powerful enough to be handed from one group to the next - is dubious to say the least. Personally speaking, it would have made more sense to have them pillaging certain items from other armies or retaining the relics of Imperial nobility. What we get isn't bad, and there has been a concerted effort to avoid the obvious problems, but it could have definitely been better handed for sure.

Still, that doesn't say much about their actual quality on the tabletop does it. So, let's get into their rules -

Icon of the Cult Ascendant: This is a platinum icon which has been bathed in the psychic energies of the patriarch for so long it has become infused with an echo of his power. As such, along with the typical morale boosting effect such an item retains, there are a few bonus effects to help your troops along. 

It's an interesting idea, but it basically comes down to repeating the same "bubble" effect of the Magus, but with a few bonuses to it. While it remains active, all friendly Cult units within 12" get Furious Charge and can re-roll failed Morale, Pinning and Fear tests, but with the added bonus of +1 attack in combat. This is unfortunately very mixed as it's another idea repeated yet again, and it already laps over something very similar. It's not usefulness so much as sulfurous, and you'd be hard pressed to find a real use for this item.

Dagger of Swift Sacrifice: A sacrificial dagger used by the Cult to perform a quick kill, this is laced with poison and has a few nasty surprises for a foe. While the lore is sadly a little generic, it more than makes up for this with the basic effect. During combat, the user can opt to make a single attack with this weapon over his usual claws/swords. This works with his strength, but it has Instant Death and Poisoned (2+). This is a very welcome bonus among this arsenal, giving the weedier HQ choices some much needed killing power, and a nasty surprise for the harder-to-slay enemy characters. There's certainly risk involved with it though, so it's not the usual "uber skilly hacky sword" you would expect. Simple, but definitely quite nice.

Scourge of Distant Stars: This is odd and its existence opens up a world of questions surrounding the Hive Mind. It's supposedly a sentient aspect of the guiding force behind the Tyranid Hive Fleets, imbuing itself within the blades or weapons of the various Cults, blessing them with its passing.

You can use this to force an opposing model to take a Toughness test. Should they fail, not only do they immediately take a wound, but they suffer a -1 against both their Initiative stat and Attacks for that turn. Much like the above weapon this is an interesting choice but not too bad a one either. It's the other side of the coin from the dagger, where that one serves as a killing stroke, this one opens the way for others to bring him down. The main issue is that the Initiative order means it's difficult to pair this up with Purestrain units, which could have made this very effective indeed.

Staff of the Subterranean Master: Making a minor shout-out towards the Cthulhu Mythos, this one is another item which has somehow attained the psychic essence of their alien progenitors, and has been passed from one Cult to the next as a result. This would be fine, but its effects are rather odd, turning the bearer suddenly into the Beastmaster somehow, despite the creatures involved lacking any form of Hive Mind influence.

In effect, rather than shooting, the wielder can target a unit within 18" and slam the staff onto the ground, turning any vermin or insects about them violent. This in turn causes ten Strength 2 AP- Attacks, which Ignore Cover and retain Rending. The low Strength is obviously the Achilles' Heel here, and it is better used for massed crowd control or occasionally finishing off some big monsters than anything else. This ironically makes it most useful against Codex: Tyranids units, thanks to their fodder-like state, and against most other armies you'd be hard pressed to find a situation where it's truly effective. Combined with the fact Purestrain units will rip through just about anything this thing is best at combating, you would do best just to skip this one.

Sword of the Void's Eye: This is the more traditionally kill crazy weapon you would expect to find in a codex. To stick with the short version - It conveys an extra point of Strength, hits at AP3, rerolls failed hits and wound rolls of 1, also causes Instant Death when wounding on a 6. This is definitely a weapon well worth giving to your Primus as, in the hands of anyone else, it's going to be pretty useless. With this, the guy can walk through enemy heavy forces, and while he will be overwhelmed by swarms, it's another opportunity to help take down big, tough units which would usually slaughter all in their wake. Not too bad, a tad overpowered, but shortcomings elsewhere make up for it.

The Crouchling: This is an odd one, as it's almost a special character in its own right. This is a very special genestealer familiar which can be used to general extra points of psychic power, but without increasing the psyker's mastery level. This is a must for anyone looking to bring the Magus into battle given how reliant they are upon their psychic abilities, and its low points cost means you should seriously consider using this in just about any game.

So, overall, not too bad at all really. For once we actually ditched a lot of the old, typical tropes and the only one which remained was actually well justified. Let's see if that streak stays for the final part where we examine the formations.


Formations


Lord of the Cult

This is just a Patriarch, Magus, Primus or Cult Iconward.  There are no special rules here, it's just an excuse to get all of them together as one in a single list. Possibly helpful in big games, but it's really quite unremarkable. 


The First Curse


This is probably the most obvious one to have - Massing together the purest elements of the Hive Mind's servants and amassing them into a single force. With Invulnerable saves and hard-hitting attacks aplenty, it's a solid mix to begin with, but given how simple it is, the addition of special rules for this just seems a little unfair. It's not even a reward for fitting into a certain thematic idea, it's just putting two obvious units together and getting free, instant special rules.

The special rules in question are a random table, where a random bonus rule comes about thanks to a dice roll at the start of the game-

1. Fleshhooks: Grenades, effectively
2. Hardened Carapace: 4+ saves
3. Toxin Glands: Poisoned attacks
4. Adrenal Sacs: Rage 
5. Feeder Tendrils: Preferred Enemy 

6. Perfect Killing Machine: choose your result.

Some of these are good, while others are fantastic, but for the most part you're going to get something useful. Unlike other random chart it's not so diversely widespread that it's completely wasted on the unit in question, nor will it end up potentially screwing up your army formation. It's unnecessary in terms of gaming design, but mostly harmless really.

Broodcoven

And we bump into our first cliche. Damn, and to think the codex was doing so well up to this point. This is the usual expected combination of HQ choices we have bumped into a thousand times over now, with each conferring a single special rule to the others - Patriarch gives them Fleet, the Magus gives them Counter-Attack, and Primus passes on Preferred Enemy. This is overly expensive, and quite counter-intuitive. Even if this is the best combination we have seen to date, it doesn't take much to kill the Magus, and you would need to seriously buff out the more human leaders to make them truly viable in close combat. If you have a couple of templates land on them, that's a lot-a points down the drain.

Brood Cycle

This is the "kitchen sink" formation for those playing the codex cliche game. By this point we could probably have formation bingo given how often certain ideas show up. This one consists of a Cult Iconward, three squads of Acolyte Hybrids, two units of Neophyte Hybrids, a single force of Metamorph Hybrids, one unit of Purestrain Genestealers, up to a single squad of Aberrants, and up to one Goliath Rockgrinder. A hell of a lot, in other words. It's basically a full army list in of itself, and anything of this scale should be put down purely to the player's intuitive or genius. Having a codex make the army for them, and then giving them special rules just seems so wrong.

The rules this time are especially wince worthy. While not overtly bad and certainly useful, it's what they can do and how easily they're pulled off which is so alarming. In effect, squash any two units from this formation near one another (within 6" specifically) and they instantly gain +1WS and Leadership. This covers anything, so if you have a group of Purestrains next to some Abberants, they are going to rip anything they bump into limb from limb without much difficulty. However, this isn't the only bonus. Get within 24" of the Iconward, and the units not only gain Feel No Pain, but Furious Charge as well meaning it's chunky salsa time for any Guardsmen in the nearby vicinity. 

The only thing which really balances this out is that it can be easily outmaneuvered thanks to its size, and anyone with a mass of template weapons is going to have a field day. Still, something like this really should not have needed to exist.

Neophyte Cavalcade

This is a bit of a predicable one, but admittedly also a fun choice. It's basically the closest thing the Genestealer Cults come to an armoured company, amassing together a host of tanks, vehicles and the like. It's a nice contrast to a standard army which is much more generally focused upon infantry combat over all else, and admittedly this is one of those few examples where innate special rules are both thematic and justified.

Consisting of a single Leman Russ Squadron, 1-2 Sentinel squads, and two units of  Neophyte Hybrids in Chimera APCs. Perfect for an Imperial Guard company turning upon Imperial defenders and joining the Cult in open battle. All vehicles get the Outflank special rule, overcoming the most obvious failing of the Genestealer Cults' vehicles (being unable to keep up with the ambushing troops), and giving ranged units hanging back a living hell. It makes them easy to hurt an army quite considerably, admittedly, but it lacks the immediate bonuses to BS or whatnot. So, not too bad at all, and it is a fun contrast to the usual things.

Subterranean Uprising

While not nearly so overly large as the Brood Cycle, this formation is nevertheless still pretty damn big. Led by a Primus, you can take between one to three Hybrid Metamorph squads, two to four Acolyte Hybrids squads, and up to three Aberrant squads. The big bonus of this one is offering each squad the ability to Infiltrate onto the battlefield and, when paired up with the big army special rules, Shrouded on the first turn.

Like before they're good bonuses on the whole, and do fit with the army's thematic elements. This time though, I do have to question this extra set of over all else here. It doesn't do that much to enhance what is already there, and for the most part it means the Genestealers will be getting in one quick shot before falling back. Some might appreciate or find a good use for that, but against a fast moving army this just seems like a way to get very quickly bogged down in close combat when you least need it. Especially if you have infiltrated all units as far forwards as you can, and you're fighting the likes of the White Scars.

Deliverance Broodsurge

Everyone gets a transport. Really, that's the main theme of this one, you take between two and six squads of Neophyte Hybrids and all of them gain a Goliath Truck to wheel them about the tabletop. Already you can imagine the thousand and one players jumping at the chance to create a Genestealer Cult led by an Immortan Joe stand-in. Apparently the developers must have been watching Fury Road as well, because all of the special rules seem to reflect the antics seen in that film.

Each truck now gains the ability to ignore Crew Shaken/Stunned results, and the squads within gain the ability to pile out so long as it's not moving flat out. This said, the latter do need to take Dangerous Terrain tests each time for obvious reasons. As a result of these elements, this is both a good and bad formation, depending upon how you look at it. On the one hand, the Trucks are more an auxiliary force rather than something you should use en mass, and any direct charge towards a gunline is likely to leave burning vehicles scattered across the tabletop. That said, in certain environments this might be the only option. Tabletops which lack obvious cover for ambushes or areas to fall back on are going to require the ability to hit hard and hit fast, getting troops into combat as soon as they can. Equally, the autocannons on these vehicles serve as far more effective transport poppers than anything on the Chimeras. Against massed lighter vehicles or APCs, the extra firepower would be very helpful in fully immobilizing a force.

Overall, this does have a place in the army, but you really have to work hard to find a game where this can work to its fullest.

Demolition Claw

This combines together between two to three units of Acolyte Hybrids - each with a Demolition Charge or four - and two to three Goliath Rockgrinders with the "Cache of Demolition Charges" upgrade. Yes, this is grenade spam galore, and it seems almost intended to go hand in hand with the previous example. Why? Because it immediately gives each and every unit in the formation Tank Hunter, the ability to re-roll scattered Demolition Charges, and the ability to grab more Charges when a squad using them is within 6" of a vehicle.

The idea here is admittedly a good, fun and exaggerated one, but it clearly comes at something of a cost. For starters, the Acolytes you have here are the sort you would want starting far ahead of your deployment zone, getting a shot in on the enemy first and then moving in for the kill. This is fine, but the Rockgrinders need to deploy conventionally, so either you end up with half your army moving ahead of the rest, or you're forced to abandon your one big advantage. Even if you add them onto the Rockgrinders, the limited space means you're stuck with very fragile low number squads. Not a good situation to be sure.

The only viable way I see of getting around this is taking advantage of the lack of any limitations surrounding transport options. Keep the Rockgrinders, of course, but have the Acolytes on their own standard Trucks separate from the main units, and race them into battle as one. It will present more targets for a foe, and might give your vehicles a sightly better chance of survival despite their poor side armour.

Overall, it's good for the "Witness Me!" approach to Cults, but it clearly needed to be reworked from scratch to be competative.

The Doting Throng

This time it's back to the massed infantry lists, with this one combining together up to one Magus and between three to six units of Acolyte or Neophyte Hybrids. So, what's the big special rule this time? Everyone gains Zealot when they're within 12" of a Magus and re-rolls fails to hit in close combat if the HQ choice joins a unit, and the added bonus of re-rolling any blessings. Now, there's a key factor your need to pay attention to here - The codex specifies a Magus, not the Magus. As such, this can easily be worked around or combined with other formations to add multiple Magi into the battlefield and boost their strengths. 

Like its predecessor, it's one which has been oddly thought out. It's much more combat effective to be sure, and it doesn't quite cross into the territory of just handing out special abilities, but this limit to only one Magus (and an optional one at that) just hurts it. One to three would have made far more sense overall, and because of this it's difficult to fit this one into certain games. Give it a look if you're considering using a more directly offensive force, but make sure you back this formation up with a few other options.

Shadow Skulkers and Cult Mutants

These are two very basic formations which really lack any details or special rules of any kind. The first is just a single unit of Purestrain Genestealers, while the second consists of a single unit of Aberrants or Hybrid Metamorphs. Some are defending this as an extra option for the armies - a kind of bonus force to "fill in the gaps" between bigger formations, but it only serves to highlight how flawed a system formations are. While the old Force Organisation Chart had its issues, it was more clearly structured and direct, without need for these sorts of oddly conflicting measures. The closest you might get is minimum requirement for two Troops choices and and HQ, but that just prevented players focusing upon spamming a single unit above all else.

Really, there's nothing to say here, it just shows how difficult a system this one is.

Brood Brothers

Like the above examples, this one is bereft of any special rules and consists only of a single unit (well, squadron in this case). Here you have the option to take a trio of Leman Russ battle tanks, or a Sentinel squad. Full stop, nothing to add, moving on.


Verdict:


The formations are easily the weakest part of the whole codex, which is sadly to be expected by this point. Beyond that though, this is honestly a very solid book. We have good if not great lore, a very nice mixture of basic units, some surprisingly original bits of wargear, a rare example of combining armies done well, and a concerted effort to avoid cliches. Even at its worst, this codex can still be respected for trying to get out of the creative rut Games Workshop has been in for a while, and working its way back towards the better codices we were seeing a few years back. 

Is it going to be the most popular codex on the planet because of this? In all honestly, sadly not. With the Craftworld Eldar and Tau Empire still rampaging about the tabletop game, there's not much here which can really counter their sheer refined cheese, masses of Strength D weapons and super heavy murderers. The old habits are going to beat out the good in a full fledged conflict, but in terms of which is creatively better and more stable, Codex: Genestealer Cults is definitely a winner. It's a definite step in the right diction, and a definite improvement over many past books. Here's just hoping future writers follow its example. 

Still, we're not quite done. Join us in a few days when we look into what the book could have accomplished by pushing things a bit further, or future ideas which could help to build upon what's been established here.