Sunday, 26 February 2017

New Contributions, New Direction - Playne



So, after a brief moment of quiet - and to try and cover for the lack of content for today - we have a brief announcement to make. This is nothing major, no new changes to the website or new reviews, but my work will be appearing elsewhere from here on. Along with working for Starburst Magazine, I will now be writing for Playne.com to cover video game summaries.

So, what's Playne do? Well, simply put it's there to cover another of Steam's shortcomings. Serving as a social media and connecting website, any game you look at will list off its full information, but you'll also be able to pick out several dozen similar titles from other series. These can be major releases or minor ones, but the idea is to ultimately shed more light on lesser known titles and convince people to give games they would have otherwise avoided a try. 

This thankfully means I won't need to pull my punches with a few bad ones (although trying to summarize Aliens: Colonial Marines is certainly going to be interesting) simply that you'll have a few hundred words citing the key strengths of a game, and what they share with similar titles. We may be featuring links to a few of these on here in the weeks to come, but for the moment this is a mere heads up to let you know that, if i'm running late with a review, this is likely the main reason why.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Star Wars: Aftermath Empire's End by Chuck Wendig (Book Review)


Why are we here?

It's a reasonable question to ask in this case, because really, what is even the point of looking into this work? Twice now we have delved deep into the gibbering insanity of this failing series, and found nothing but the antithesis of good storytelling in our path. The reason is simple. Many years ago, another universe was trying to revamp itself and failing horribly. With an ill thought out multi-book story arc, Doctor Who tried to kick-start its own growing universe with Timewyrm. It was a mess of incoherent and poorly planned books, right until the end, where it closed out in one of the most spectacular releases of the franchise. Personally, I was hoping to see the same again here.

Unfortunately, hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.

Rather than the legendary why-the-hell-hasn't-he-been-knighted Paul Cornell, we have been left at the mercy of a madman who may have unintentionally forged a multi-part Necronomicon. This is a man who understands storytelling like Donald Trump comprehends charisma. Everything plastered onto this paper is a poorly ham-fisted attempt to ape storytelling devices of other books. A man whose Aftermath trilogy is the Chinese knock-off of an epic saga, falling apart at the seams even as the creator drunkenly swerves about trying to steer it towards its intended goal, almost fighting against the very thing he was hired for. A man whose only skills in life seems to be riling up hordes of hipsters on social media with cries of homophobia and injustice, while basking in sheer narcissism.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what we have is Chuck Wendig. Brace yourselves, this is going to be painful.


The Good

Now, to give credit where it is due, this book does seem to at least try to give some indication of improvement over past releases. In fact, in some regards it is a hundred times better than its past book. The problem is that zero multiplied by a hundred is still zero, so what we end up with is something which might pass as a sub-par start if you were feeling charitable. Rather than invoking sheer incomprehension and extreme pain, what we get is intrigue and mild pain. It's difficult to get through, poorly crafted and almost destroys the very atmosphere it's trying to set-up, but any opening with Palpatine issuing secret orders right before Luke shows up is going to get the reader's attention.

In addition to this, this trilogy at long last tries to actually do what it was supposed to bloody well do in the first place(!) and builds a road towards The Force Awakens. We get some insight and a few brief moments of something which might be interesting if given to a better writer in the future, and it does at least grant a brief look into what Jakku was like before the big war went down. Yes, it's three books late and it's forced in at the end, but quite frankly i'm going to count its presence here alone as a win.

Finally - and this is an even bigger double edged sword than the rest - Jar Jar shows up and is verbally slapped about for his stupidity. The good news is that we're shown him living as a homeless man, wracked with guilt over his actions in bringing the Empire about, and is on the receiving end of some righteous karma as a result. The bad news is that we have to read about it, and Wending teases the reader with suggestions something horrible is going to happen only to promptly forget about him entirely, making the whole thing rather unsatisfying. It certainly doesn't make up for having to read Jar Jar's insipid dialogue here, which managed to burst a whole new layer of veins in my already bleeding eyes.

If this sounds back-handed for the "good" bits it's only because i've been forced to actively hunt down anything remotely decent here. This is also all I can honestly praise, with the rest falling into the kind of swirling mass of near unreadable garbage that it might well be the fabled singularity of science fiction suckitude; an ancient manifestation capable of ruining any setting no matter its strengths.


The Bad

Now, let's start with the other half of those moments praised AKA the really bad bits which followed on from them. Take the road to The Force Awakens for example. We all know the conflict between the Empire and the New Republic ended in a big battle over Jakku right, so surely this should be the big focus? Well, not if you're this writer it seems. Instead most of the book pushes to sideline everyone besides Wendig's pet characters, reducing their roles further and further while actively pushing the spotlight onto his crew saying "No, no, you want to see these guys instead!"

His efforts to sideline the big actions in the broader galaxy eventually veer into an almost surreal tone worthy of parody. We get brief mentions or asides of stuff going on in the universe, even signs of a big battle with the Empire, before the book smash-cuts to a trivial meandering scene with his pet creations. Few of these ever actually tie into the big grand finale in play until the very end, resulting in scene upon scene of what's effectively dead air. It's Tarantino in reverse, where you're not left enjoying the wordplay, just screaming at the book to shut up and get back to the important bits. Or, in the rare moments when it isn't doing this, it's brushing off everything else and downplaying the abilities of others until the Wendig bunch are the only competent people in the galaxy.

Take the opening chapters for example. What we get from Han and Leia is something out of a bad rom-com, with more than a few painful jokes about Han being overly worried (and insisting that Leia consume a small jungle's worth of fruit) and covering her impending pregnancy. This is delivered with the kind of forced, farcical smugness of a daytime television drama show, and the only entertaining bits suggested stem from the New Republic having some difficulties in establishing its new domain. 

Apparently no one else is actually keeping a close eye the Empire though, and rather than suggesting that the Republic is doing its best, the new characters are shilled with several insane victories in quick succession to make up for its failings. This starts with managing to track down the one bounty hunter with knowledge of Jakku being the Empire's staging ground, threatening to torture the information out of him, getting to Jakku to confirm the Imperials are there, escaping a fleet of over a dozen Star Destroyers, then simultaneously bringing word to the Republic and starting scouting/resistance efforts on the surface.

Now, such a series of stunts would indeed be quite impressive were it not for two things: One, this is front-loaded within the first fifty pages. You barely get anyone re-introduced at all before it tries to breeze through the actual set-up necessary for this book to work, with a few extremely forced emotional moments shoved in amid the action. Two, the book is trying so hard to make them look impressive that the story makes the New Republic increasingly incompetent with every passing chapter. 

Now, not knowing about a full scale assault fleet and a super star destroyer on a remote world? It's questionable that they would overlook this to be sure, but it's a big galaxy, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt. However, the rest of the book keeps pushing things further and further until you're left uttering the line "You have got to be fucking kidding me!" at every passing chapter. It eventually becomes so bad that, to try and justify the Resistance and greater involvement of the new characters, the New Republic repeatedly opts to veto and blocks efforts to break the military force holding Jakku hostage. The story would honestly make more sense if every politician's line was replaced with "#YOLO!" for the entire book!

Oh, if you're hoping that the politics of the book might actually offer some greater insight to the tale or even interesting counterpoints to various subjects, don't kid yourself. Bloodline's mangled attempts at political intriguer were bad enough, but here we're left with such a stunningly simplified and utterly moronic take on politics that it couldn't pass for a bad episode of Yes Minster. The ploys are so obvious you'll be predicting the twists five chapters in advance, and the few you don't pick up on will come so far out of left field that they might as well come with an asterisk with small  notes stating "The Force did it!" The story doesn't evolve or develop here, it just bulldozes through everything to try and get from point A to point B. This is something which would usually elicit anger at one author destroying another's efforts to build the galaxy, were this not the same author!

So, what about the characters then, do they work well at all? Nope. No, not in any way. On the one hand we have a few returning faces who end off generally bad on the whole. Han and Leia's chemistry dissipates in every scene until you're left with a weeping pile of cliches over actual characters, both of who are usually pushed to one side in favour of the newer figures. Chewbacca is initially so far outside of the story that his own plot might as well be stuck in an entirely different book for the first act, and the wookiee himself is little more than a walking plot device to help shove things along when he does get involved. Wedge and Mon Mothma are no better, treated once again as excuses for the plot to pile humiliating abuse unto them; with the former kicked so far upstairs he's practically a joke, while the latter seems to be suffering from amnesia. At least she presumably is, as the political leader of the Rebellion apparently can't get anyone to agree on anything, with the book presenting her as an ineffectual failing leader.

Even the new heroes are no better, and you'd be hard pressed to summarize them beyond their general role and species. This is amateurishly shoved into the rushed opening, which might as well be summed up as "Exposition, Expoisition, Exposition, By The Way We're Mother And Child, Oh Shit, It's The Empire!" for all the effect it has upon the reader. There is little to no re-introduction of anyone here at first, and what little we do get not only doesn't make you want to root for them, but comes across as forced and flawed. Starting with the above example first, what we get is little more than a page-and-a-half of exchanges between the two before they start getting shot at. It boils down their relationship to, once again, a lot of cliches about the mother being protective and the son wanting to prove himself. This is a terrible way to introduce the characters to a new reader as it displays none of their depth or dynamic. Or, at least it would, were there anything more to actually be had between the two.

Matters are only made worse with the rest of the bunch, who are introduced ready to torture information out of a bounty hunter. Not a very nice hunter to be sure, and one protagonist is established to be somewhat immoral to justify this, but there's an almost gleefully sadistic tone to the scene. The story quickly goes into details about smashing his hands, cutting off his hands, poisoning his blood, ripping out his bones, and threats to devolve into a Star Wars snuff story. Thankfully they don't go ahead with it, but it is made very clear to the reader they would have happily reduced the man to a bloody wreck. Now, this sort of angle could work with a kind of Suicide Squad style story, but scene after scene keeps treating these guys like unambiguous heroes. So, yes, apparently the shining paragons of hope of this particular tale happily condone torture; either by actively practicing it or happily turning a blind eye to the act. Feel free to pick your narrative poison!

Of course, it hardly helps matters that half the time you can't tell one person from the other. It's always essential in every book that each character have their own voice, their own personality quirks or even just basic ideas they represent to help them stand out. Without it, the reader just starts to see one person in every single role. You can probably guess what happened here. If not, please allow me to sum up the length and breadth of this book's emotional spectrum with one word: Snark. We have a lot of it. A ton of it. A veritable smorgasbord of sarcastic terms and moments thrown in between lines to try and turn everyone into Deadpool. Don't believe me? Please read the following:

"I'm sorry? Am I short-circuiting like a wet droid? What are we talking about here exactly?"

"Hardly, I quit drinking Kowakian rum, because even though it tastes like the sweet, syrup of pure liquid stardust, it invokes the kind of hangover that makes you feel as if you've been romanced by an irascible rancor. It is the kind of hangover that makes you plead for death while hiding in the darkness under your bedcovers or even under the bed itself. No more Kowakian rum for me."

"You insignificant spec of insect waste-"

"Your mind is wandering like a child in a toy market."

"I'm going to either give you these credits, or i'm going to throw you out the hole in that wall over there. You can leave here with some extra currency in your pocket, or with two broken legs. Maybe even two broken arms."

"Your son, Armitage. I know you don't like him. I suspect you hurt him - psychologically or physically, I don't know, and I don't care. You will leave him alone. And you will teach the boy everything that you know. Are we clear?"

Those words were spoken by an Imperial defector, a battle droid, a bounty hunter, a combat eager son, an Imperial loyalist, and a character from the old films. Really, can you even begin to guess which one might be which? It becomes so bad that the only one who ever stands out is the bloody combat droid, as the author drops all pretenses of turning him into a poor man's HK-47, and has him speak exactly like HK-47 for the entirety of the last act. This runs throughout the entire book, and you'll be forgiven for not only losing track of who is who in each conversation, but who is even in the damn scene because of this. Or, for that matter, where the hell the scene is even set. If the dialogue was bad, the environmental descriptions and planetary establishments are downright unforgivably atrocious. Usually these boil down to perhaps one or two sentences at the start followed by nothing else. 

Star Wars is infamous, of course, for having films full of single-biome worlds, but the book takes things a step further by practically defining scenes by just a scant few details. If it's set on a forest world we just get "there were some trees nearby" or with a desolate planet nothing but "oh, there was a lot of sand" accompanied by a few background oddities. The story is much more obsessed with the minor odd or strange details, or background people who help make them up, rather than actually describing where they are or what it's like. In fact, the rare exceptions such as the lengthy outline of Nakadia's environment are so broad that it loops back around to being damn near useless, obsessed with nation scale details without ever bothering to outline anything nearby. Combined with the story's habit of bouncing about, from one end of the galaxy to the next, after extremely short chapters (or even mid-chapter in a few unfortunate cases) you can be left reading about an entirely new world and not realise it for several pages.

So, we have poor characters, poor environments, poor storytelling, poor dialogue, and a plot which is fueled by the sheer stupidity of others to make the author's pet favourites look better. Some of you might be wondering, well, if it at least does the world-building any justice.

Short answer: 

No.

Long answer: 

AarrghaarrghpleeassennononoUGH!

The world building here consists of quite frankly one of the most bizarre mixes of great-but-mishandled and downright terrible ideas I have ever seen. Time and again - like so many of Disney's creations - the book opts to loot bits and pieces from the old Expanded Universe and treat them like its own. The problem is, rather than keeping them in a decent state, apparently no one can help but meddle with them, resulting in a number of self-contradictory ideas or retcons thrown in purely for a cheap gag. Or at least what I assume was supposed to be a cheap gag. The problem is that it's hard to tell when the book is being serious or not.

Take, for example, the big driving plan behind this whole event: Palpatine's fall. Apparently, like all good villains, the Emperor had a contingency plan ready to be rolled for the moment of his defeat. Okay, not a bad idea and the Expanded Universe has something to work with, so what's Palpatine's come-back plan? Nothing. Nope, not one thing. Nothing to maintain the Empire, nothing to restore his rule, nothing to establish a dynasty. Apparently, rather than pulling ye olde clone trick, his plan was to blow up the entire galaxy. His reasoning? No empire incapable of defending its Emperor deserves to exist.

Yes, this is in the book. Yes, apparently this is supposed to be some great grand ending to the whole thing, despite it showing up with little to no prior establishment in any way. There is no word in English, German or Mandarin which could possibly describe the sheer unrelenting stupidity of this reveal. Believe it or not, but the execution is even worse, as that's lobbed in at the last moment as well. Having read this twice over now, folks, we owe Kevin J Anderson an apology. At least his stuff never reached levels so inhumanly bad that I am left questioning if a book's publication was some kind of Springtime for Hitler stunt in the making.

When Empire's End does try to add in new things, it also keeps making the same old mistakes over and over again. A big one back in Aftermath was how everyone knew about the Jedi, the Force, the history of the Republic and things the Emperor was established to have wiped out back in A New Hope. A very basic mistake to be sure, but one which could be forgiven if you have a trilogy to go back and fix it with, right? Nope, wrong. Instead, if you're the creator of this series, you double down and make this error as dementedly egregious as possible!

Rather than there just being a few sects or people left who know about the Force, there are entire bloody cults! Everywhere! By this book if a character walks down a road, they're going to stumble across three different Force cults without even bothering to look under a rock. Part of the book delves into this, trying to make them menacing and threatening, but rapidly turning them into something the average Chaos Magos would just laugh at and call them adorable. We're given the impression that these things were bubbling under the surface for an age, kept barely in line and only just about hidden away from the world. Why didn't Palpatine stamp them out, to prevent the obvious competition rising to threaten his power-base? Because without them we wouldn't have yet another inane sub-plot adding bugger all to the book past padding out its word count.

So, the characters, dialogue, descriptions, actions and depiction of the factions are all terrible, topped off the kind of world-building which serves to only punch plot holes into the setting. Out of anything - anything - here, many of you are likely asking if at least the combat proves to be halfway decent.

Short answer:

No.

Long and very large answer:



In almost twenty-five years of enjoying science fiction, in six of actively covering and reviewing media of all forms, I have personally never seen battles this anemic. There is no structure to them, no build-up, no effort to present the scale of events nor even to stage engagements one sweeping fight at a time. Even the vast general descriptions which some authors can get away with don't come into play here, until the entire - supposedly bloody huge - Battle of Jakku might as well just be a massed fighter engagement with a couple of capital ships. 

Of course, you probably don't believe this, do you? How could anyone possibly screw up the one thing Star Wars is best known for - the Wars!? Well, apparently you hire the guy who spent most of the last book actively avoiding writing battles. Having seen how this plays out, I can understand why:

"One of the Star Destroyers - the Punishment - turns its nose drastically starboard. It turns right towards the Starhawk Amity. And the Amity has little room to maneuver given its proximity to both Agate's Concord and to the battle raging all around it.
It's suicide, Ackbar thinks. He believe it must be an accident, but it seems to be deliberate. The Punishment's nose is like a sweeping blade, and it crashes into the blunt fore of the Amity, shearing though it. Fire blooms in space. Bodies drift. And the Punishment keeps going. Thrusters burn at the back and repulsors fire along the side - the Destroyer becomes a weapon as it cuts the Starhawk in half, debris from both ships cascading outward as lightning coruscates between the two obliterated vessels.
Agate's own ship is right in the middle of it all.
He hurriedly opens a channel."

Believe it or not, but you're often lucky to even get that much. That entire section was preceded by a long, drawn out conversation between Admiral Ackbar and another General on the other side of the galaxy. In the middle of a battle. With no indications of threat, damage or pressing tactics coming into the mix at any point. Oh, and right after that bit? Yep, you guessed it, right back to the communicated conversations between characters! The entire Battle of Jakku, the massive great damn event which ended the Civil War, the thing this entire trilogy has been supposedly building towards, takes place off-screen! I kid you not, there is more stuff following Wendig's creations and between character conversations than anything spent on the ships, the ground battle, the space battle or even the tactics involved. It's treated as just flavour text amid the more "important" stuff of reading some tripe family drama between one character and the Grand Admiral who murdered her husband.

Top all of this off with a non-ending which barely bothers to resolve anything which actually mattered to this series - and pushes to make one of Wendig's cardboard cut-outs the new Empress - and you have a complete cluster-fuck of a finale which shouldn't have made it past the first draft.

At this point, mass recycling this book is permitted, and indeed actively encouraged so it can contribute something of worth to this world.


Verdict

There has never been a bigger missed opportunity in the history of science fiction. This trilogy, this event which was supposed to kick-start an entire new saga, has been built upon some of the worst storytelling ever to be put onto paper. At least examples like Twilight had the excuse of a relatively overlooked genre with few hits, but this abomination? The author was handed the keys to the kingdom here. He had a fresh slate to start over with all he wanted, a basic request to build towards a new films, an entire library of lore to delve into, and a beloved franchise to milk cash off of. It had every advantage it could have asked for, and it didn't just fail, it failed spectacularly. It dug a grave for itself so deep it basically walked into Satan's domain and handed itself over willingly. 

Let me be absolutely clear please - This isn't a car crash of a work. No, no, it's a freight train filled with crashing cars, derailing itself over a sea of megalodons. This is the kind of sheer, raw unrelenting failure that now amount of expertise or training could ever hope to match; and it was supposed to be this universe's Heir to the Empire. I honestly don't know whether to laugh or weep at the fact we have lost so much, and have only gained a stinking turd of a failed story in its place.

So, with all that, you might be wondering why it's gotten so much positive reception in so many places? So many great quotes, so many glowing reviews on Goodreads. Well, there's a reason for that, and it's quite simple: This series is still hiding behind a shield of homophobia. People still believe the lie that all criticism, all derision and mockery of this work is born of blind hatred of gay characters, a lie promoted by Wendig himself. In fact, it was so bad that the first review of this book was up months before its release, and looked like this - 



It wasn't the only one either. That lie right there, that final mocking declaration of "Oh, you don't praise this? You don't deserve to live you homophobic scumbag!" is the final nail in the coffin. When a book proves to be so bad it requires faux discrimination as a shield against all criticism, it has transcended to a level of moral and creative repugnance I simply do not have the words for.

People, do not buy this book. Really, don't. While I don't condone piracy, I will just say that this is not worth handing over your cash for. If you are masochistic enough to want it, wait for it to come out of a charity book shop, or buy it second-hand months down the line when someone has inevitably ditched it upon realizing the mistake they made. Disney cares only for its coffers, perhaps it's time to make sure they know they can't get away with churning out shit and calling it gold dust.


Verdict: 0.5 out of 10

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Gathering Storm: Fracture of Biel-Tan Part 3 - Formations, Detachments, Psychic Powers (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)



So, welcome to the second half of the rules now we're done with the units. Unlike Cadia, there is actually a great deal more to work with here this time. What we have isn't so much a single jumbled combination of almost everything, and is instead a proper blend of various different choices. Even as someone who has repeatedly confessed to having a personal dislike over these aspects, I won't deny that this is definitely the better choice to go with on the whole. Sure, it's still effectively rewarding people bonus powers for using pre-designed lists, but at least this time it's something which doesn't cover whole armies at a time.


So, with that over and done with, let's finish off the rules starting with its formations.


Formations



Now, this is just going to focus upon those newly introduced into this book. While the armybook does recycle and mix together a vast number of other choices from each codex from this race, the new ones are the most interesting options. Plus, barring rare exceptions, new books are judged by new content, not the stuff they've picked out from past works.


Triumvirate of Ynnead

This is more or less the mirror image of the Triumvirate of the Imperium from the last book, mashing together the three big heroes, at least in terms of general role. The idea is that each of them once again combines their abilities into a single near-unstoppable advancing force, with each covering their blind spots. Their abilities and beneficial extra rules differ, but the idea is very much the same despite this.

The big special rule present here this time serves both to make them a linchpin for an army and buff their durability to new heights. In particular, the various models gain +1 to their Champion/Herald/Avatar roles, at least when all three are on the tabletop. This, unfortunately, makes sense but also makes them damn near unstoppable as the Yncarne can now re-roll wounds on a 2+ while the others can do the same on a 3+. As a brief aside, the test games against this army proved that massed high Strength firepower was effectively the only way to take them down at this point, and required enough lascannons to level a city. The second rules, which are admittedly much closer to the Imperium option, is that everyone within 12" of two of these foes gains Fearless, or all allied Eldar units if all three are on here at once.

It's definitely a juggernaut option, but it's also the point when these rules step over the line from "extremely tough and borderline easy mode" or "okay, now you're just mocking us".


Aeldari Bladehost

This is the first of several choices on here which effectively just takes the gimmick of having Craftworld and Dark Eldar along with Harlequins in the same army and runs with it. In this case, we have two units of Wyches, two units of Troupes, and two squads of Guardians from either variety.

If you've not guessed, this is basically a force with some basic fodder to distract them from the more fragile forces which back them up. It also has a very big close combat focus, requiring several units to team up and mob into combat. If you have two units at once in melee they gain Hatred, and with three  they gain Preferred Enemy.

Honestly, this is pretty dull on the whole as it's a very basic upgrade which is almost standard for every last book. There's nothing especially wrong with it of course, but when you see these two rules showing up as a basic upgrade in just about every single book, it stops becoming special and starts becoming a creative crutch after a while. The much bigger bonus here seems to be the fact that all units here can use Soulburst as a single force, which is insanely beneficial thanks to the Wytches' fragility and the Guardians' short range. The problem is that it's not entirely clear if this refers to the unit itself though, so you could potentially have one unit from this formation die and everyone else in it gain Soulburst. Normally this is something which would be brushed off as insane, but after Codex: Eldar Craftworlds damn near anything is possible.

So, either this is very basic with a few almost basic bonuses by today's standards, or horribly, insanely broken. It all depends on what the Errata might say in the future.


Soulbound Vanguard

This is surprisingly very similar to the Bladehost, albeit with something of an upgrade in terms of unit choices. So, rather than two squads of Guardians we have Dire Avengers, and rather than two units of Harlequins we have one squad of Incubi, with one squad of Wyches to back them up. If two squads are within 7" of one another they gain Furious Charge, and each unit is now capable of Soulbursting within 14" of another destroyed unit. Unfortunately, this is still somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not this counts for units from the same formation, but even without that it's a major benefit and makes for a very effective core to your army.

There is also a big emphasis on throwing the Visarch or Yvraine into the formation as well, as the squad with them immediately gains +1 to their Balliastic and Weapons Skills. So, yeah, this makes the Incubi incredibly tough and exceptionally effective shock troops. If you're after this army, this is probably the formation you'd do well to pick above all others.


Ynnead's Net

This is the high speed assault option, and the choice which will leave Saim Hann players screaming in sheer ecstasy. What you have here this time combined together four Warlocks on bikes, a unit of Skyweavers, a squad of Reavers, and one unit of Jetbikes Windriders. This is also, somewhat uniquely, also the psychic heavy choice this time around, as the big bonus rules here allow it to act as a kind of life force vampire. If the formation (any one of it) kills off an enemy squad, the Warlocks instantly gain an extra psychic dice for the next turn.

The squads start in reserve, so this makes for some very, very nasty flanking attacks if a player knows what they're doing. Especially as, what many took note of, they can all arrive and show up at once with a single reserve role. However, the one very odd and extremely irksome element which will make some people hesitant to pick this up, will be its reserve limitations. Rather than having everyone come on from one table edge, each one comes on from a different one. On the one hand, this arguably makes them better at exploiting certain opportunities and making kills to buff the Warlocks. On the other, this makes it much easier to pick off the squads and will likely leave one stuck away from the battle for the first couple of turns.

Ultimately, this could be a very effective choice in the right hands, but it's very much left to the whims of the dice at many points.


Whispering Ghost Hall

So, with the psychic and fast choices rolled into a single option, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that the big one is next. You know the exact kind, the one which throws almost everything together into a single army, permitting them to all benefit from special rules and hit that much harder. In this case, what we have is almost Iyanden Mk. 2, as it relies extremely heavily upon Wraith units and is dominated almost entirely by Craftworld choices. You have a Farseer, a Spiritseer, one Shadowseer, two Wraithlords, and three units of either Wraithguard or Wraithblades depending upon what you feel like taking.

While there are no Soulburst bonuses with this one (thankfully, given the Wraithguard options) it does still come with a few eyebrow raising options here. The big one is the fact that anything and everything within this formation is permitted to re-roll ones when attacking a foe within 12". This would be bad enough given the Strength D weapons the Wraithguard now wield, but the wording also doesn't specify that this needs to be for shooting. So, you also have Wraithlords re-rolling ones in melee, which is a wince-worthy bonus if ever there was one.

What's a lesser bonus here, albeit a very helpful one against certain fodder units, is the fact it upgrades each unit within the formation with Fear. This makes it useful as a line-breaker against the Tau Empire (if you can get them close enough at least) given it forces a -2 penalty to their Leadership tests, but it can be somewhat situational. So, in the end you're left with one extremely hard hitting rule and one somewhat useful one.


On the whole, the new choices here are certainly quite mixed. We have seen far, far worse but none are what I would personally call "good" as each seems to take one step back for every one forwards. Few really add anything of real tactical note for the armies, and while a few are interesting, they seem extremely gimmicky in terms of their design. All in all, it's not great but it could be far, far worse. Which is exactly what we're going to see next.


Detachments


Reborn Warhost

Oh sweet merciful Khorne. If there was one thing to say about Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, it was that the core detachment wasn't that bad in the grand scheme of things. While the rest of the units might have been powerful bordering upon sheer insanity, there was some restraint shown there. With this one, not so much.

While the force is limited to the expected HQ and two Troops choices, it starts to quickly go off of the rails either due to poor wording or just generally odd choices. For example, a big one many previous reviewers have cited is how the detachment can accept any number of formations, as it states "one of the following" when it comes to the table, only to quickly follow it up with "any number" of formations when it cites restrictions. So, welcome to the formation spam list from hell.

Things only get worse when you get to the actual special rules, all of which delve deep into the realms of near Grey Knights level madness. For starters, everyone gains Stubborn. Everyone. If they're in this detachment, they have it no matter what. This already mitigates one big potential way to combat their corpse supercharging special rules, but the follow-up takes things several steps further. Any model within 7" of a friendly unit will not flee thanks to wounds inflicted by ranged attacks, and completely ignore morale tests entirely shot of melee combat. Oh, and then the spectral steroids can be spread among the masses if you have more than seven units in this detachment. If you do, well, a single Soulburst can now be spread to two units at a time.

So, not only does this overwhelm the immediate counter for Soulburst - forcing units to fall back and flee to prevent squads repeatedly leapfrogging forwards - but they can both offer fire support and lead their advantages to multiple units at a time.

Gentlemen, we have cheese levels the likes of which God has never seen.


Ulthwe Strike Force Detachment

This is an odd one, more akin to something you would find in Codex: Imperial Agents more than a full armybook. It consists of one Elites choice backed by up to four more Elites choices and not much else. The units present consist of the usual Black versions of standard Troops and Fast Attack choices, and a few bonus rules.

This stuff isn't the sheer raging tide of Cheddar which the past detachment was, but neither is it really outstanding. You have Stubborn again, albeit this isn't quite so bad as it doesn't line up with Soulburst rules, but also Preferred Enemy against all forces of Chaos. Really, any of them, if someone has a love of the Ruinous Powers these guys have a bonus against them. It's not the biggest buff with the normal Storm Guardians and the like, but it's a nice bonus with the heavier hitting options on bikes. It's not bad for flavour and an auxiliary force, but it doesn't really justify the book's purchase on its own.


Psychic Powers



The psychic powers here are unique to this faction, and to give credit where it is due there does seem to have been a push to really make use of the lore. This is supposed to be a very weird, very new combo of thematic elements, and the powers push to at least reflect that in some way.

Primaris - Spirit Hook: With an 18" range and costing a single Warp Charge, this one is based heavily upon Leadership for its damage. If your Leadership stat is equal to that of a foe or more, it hits at Strength 6, but if not it's only at Strength 3, but blocks Armour or Cover saves in either way. This is actually a good choice on the whole, and it's almost something you can use like a psychic melta gun (well, save for the fact it doesn't work on vehicles at all). 

Shield of Ynnead: This is an odd choice to try and supplant another psychic power by offering a weaker version. While it costs only a single Warp Charge, and has a 7" range, it grants only a 6++ Invulnerable save for anything nearby. Compared with Sanctuary's 5++ Invulnerable, it doesn't do much to stand out really. It's better than nothing, bit not one you'd want to take up very often.

Storm of Whispers: This is the shorter range "shotgun" version of the Spirit Hook, which unleashes 2D6 worth of Strength 3 AP2 hits onto an enemy target, which both ignores cover and pinning tests. At the cost of a single Warp Charge there's little to really complain about, but the 9" range means you'll likely only use it once to weaken a target.

Word of the Phoenix: Well, we had to get at least one Soulburst option in here, didn't we. This is fairly basic, allowing you to pick out a unit with Strength of Death within 24", and allows them to instantly take a Soulburst action. Useful in the right circumstances to be sure and it can lead to some fun ideas tactically, and two Warp Charges isn't too much for its capabilities.

Ancestor's Grace: While the Shield might have been a weaker version of another power, this one does the reverse. At the cost of two Warp Charges, you can pick out a single subject, to improve the Weapons Skill, Ballistic Skill, Initiative, Attacks and Leadership, while also offering them Adamantium Will. Having used this a few times personally, this is a very fun and very useful one, permitting units to abruptly Hulk out at will. Really, you can suddenly have melees turn into complete routs within seconds if you can get it off.

Unbind Souls: This is another Witchfire choice here, though only hitting at Strength 4. It's an odd one, as it permits you to get off one shot at the target unit for every model it has. For every casualty removed from them, it offers a nearby unit a single Soulburst action. So, yes, this could be utterly insane if you can manage to set this up properly. That is, however, an exceptionally big if when all things are considered.


Gaze of Ynnead: Well, this isn't one we've seen in a while: The psychic railgun. You know the kind, short ranged (12" in this case), costs three Warp Charges and hits like a train. In this case it's not Strength D at least but Strength 10 AP1 Assault 1, but it comes with the bonuses of Ignores Cover and blocks Invulnerable Saves. This would be horrendous, but it can't be used in melee and you can still miss with your one shot. Even if you get it off as well, that's still three Warp Charges you've lost.


Verdict

Largely the same as the lore really. There are a couple of halfway decent ideas present at points, but for the most part this is fairly unremarkable or veers right into cheese country. This is likely going to be used more for the detachment and army special rules more than anything else, and it's certainly not going to help even things out at the Eldar end of the meta spectrum any time soon.

With that done, join us for the final part where we look into the potential fixes for the core story.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Video Game Review)


Despite a poor showing with the last Killzone release, Guerrilla Games have gone the extra mile to make up for Shadow Fall’s failings with Horizon: Zero Dawn. Blending together a variety of mechanics and concepts from Far Cry to Tomb Raider, the world presented here is one of post-apocalyptic survival amid robotic animals. Rather than taking the Fallout route, this game tries to be bright, colourful and vibrant as it can, while showing shades of a world lost.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A Slow February

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

Friday, 17 February 2017

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


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

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


Special Rules

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

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


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

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

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

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


Units



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

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

Yvraine, Herald of Ynnead

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

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

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

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

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

The Visarch, Sword of Ynnead

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

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

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

Yncarne, Avatar of Ynnead

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

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

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

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


Relics



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

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

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

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

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


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


Verdict



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

If you're after a few bonus characters to help add more variety to your army, you'll likely be fairly happy with this one. Join us here as we finish up the rules at long last for this book.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Horus Heresy: Garro (Book Review)


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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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

Verdict: 4 out of 10