Saturday, 17 March 2018

Devil May Cry HD Collection (Video Game Review)

The past few years have been good to Capcom of late. Having managed to pull themselves out of something of a rut, Resident Evil 7 and Monster Hunter: World have both taken their classic franchises to new heights. Unfortunately, while there has been rumblings of a new Devil May Cry for months now, nothing definitive has come to light. In its place, the company has decided to placate fans with an HD release. Unfortunately, it’s a very mixed bag.

The series - for the most part - follows the half-demon Dante. A monster slayer for hire, Dante makes his living taking jobs dealing with the supernatural and often ending them via violent means. Effectively you’re playing Hellboy if he went the way of Deadpool.

Each of the games follows a different chapter in Dante’s life, with some Resident Evil style puzzles but less survival and far more air juggling. While certainly clunky in the earlier releases, the combat has aged surprisingly well thanks to its sheer variety of combos and multitude of weapons. The prompts, combos and reactions have translated well onto PC, while the baroque environments and massive bosses offer a level of engagement and atmosphere the DmC reboot sadly lacked. Unfortunately, while these are solid ports there’s little to say about the HD efforts put into them.

Each of the games looks their age, with blocky and angular polygons and little done to improve the texture work. The lighting is also surprisingly flat, with nothing done to truly improve the tones or textures save for a few minimal upgrades in places. Irritatingly, a number of older flaws are also evident here, with a few surprisingly glitchy camera angles holding back the combat. You can end up blindsided due to an unexpected perspective flip, and so many mechanics are still constrained by technology from seventeen years ago.

Furthermore, while each game can thankfully run at a full 60FPS and at 1080p, this comes hand in hand with a few new problems. Minor audio glitches are hardly an uncommon flaw, especially in the cutscenes of the first game, and you can often pinpoint exactly where the new speed has created problems for this release.

The Devil May Cry HD Collection is ultimately sharp, but its not without a few notable flaws. The HD upgrade itself only does just enough to satisfy the player and nothing more, while little has been done to fix inherent problems found in the originals. It’s certainly better than the Bioshock Collection and puts embarrassments like the Chrono Trigger PC port to shame, but it could have still used a lot more polish.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Why There Has Never Been A Better Time For Female Space Marines

The subject of female Space Marines was something I had personally hoped to address once and never again. In a previous article on this blog, I briefly summed up the problems with adding them into the lore, issues with how to depict them, and thematic problems. This ended with what seemed to be the only viable way to add them into the setting though, in order to show just how fans could create chapters without disrupting the status quo. Well, if the large scar of Warp energy dividing the galaxy wasn't enough of a clue, the status quo has been shaken up a bit.

This is no longer a timeline which ends on (and in one or two cases slightly after) M42. We have crossed that event horizon and into a desperate age which is infinitely more hopeful and infinitely bleaker at once. While it has stumbled in a few places, and people will almost certainly lament the need to press forward, overall it's a move Games Workshop has handled extremely well. While it isn't demanding that players forget the past, while it is frequently revisiting previous eras and using older characters, we're off the edge of the map here. This can be seen in nothing better than the Primaris Space Marines themselves.

For those who somehow missed them, these are effectively a Mk. II version of the Adeptus Astartes. Taller, tougher, with enhanced reaction times and largely bereft of genetic failings, they are Guilliman's new secret weapon. Yet, they were not made by his hand. The man responsible for this was Belisarius Cawl, an ancient cog in the Imperium's machine. Almost ten thousand years old himself, the Archmagos Dominus has spent much of his long life working on this project, but more importantly also innovating on it. While we know little of his history, it's evident that Cawl is a rare figure in the Adeptus Mechanicus. Someone who can, rather than repurpose existing components or recreate advanced lost technology, completely innovate on a design. In most settings, this would make him a revolutionary, but this is Warhammer where even the best man tends to have a shade of darkness to him.

Cawl is a Heretek, either borderline or outright, and has broken more than a few rules. Along with effectively building a personal AI and redefining the Mechanicus' boundaries, he is power hungry and has few scruples. He is detached from most human morals and even the most general sense of honour. In fact, the idea that he has spent so long on this project means that it would not be a surprise to learn that he had a hand in the Cursed Founding. Using it either as a test bed for his ideas, or perhaps even intentionally sabotaging it so that it wouldn't overshadow his own accomplishments. 

With those character flaws in mind, one of the major things he pushed for was to take full advantage of the genetic information behind the Primarchs. Simply ignoring the genetic material of who had turned on the Emperor, was a waste in his eyes, and given the scale of their threat they needed every resource they could access. So, with that in mind, one of the great weaknesses of the Space Marines was that their gene-seed could only work with one gender. Wouldn't he think of adapting it to both? It's hardly an impossible idea, after all. Given that his work has erased so many prior flaws and even refined the overall process of making an Astartes, tweaking the shortcoming which meant it worked only with males isn't out of the question. We even know of "mongrel" creations in M41 which have been made from the gene-seed of multiple primarchs, after all, so you could even use that as a justification for why he might experiment further.

Even if he did not wish to openly admit to this, you could perhaps have Cawl attempt it in secret. Perhaps he could find somewhere primitive enough for his needs, and use his resources to found a private chapter. Something akin to the Steel Confessors, where a force has been privately funded and assembled without outside knowledge. Given the fact that - as discussed in the previous article - these would likely only have minor physical differences once they had fully matured, it would not be impossible for them to remain openly active with no one noticing any true oddities. Given how varied and diverse chapters are in their cultures and genetics, many qualities could simply be written off as a genetic quirk.

Even without this aspect, however, you could even argue in favour of another faction benefitting from gene-modification. The Sisters of Battle have long lacked an equivalent to Terminators in their armies, or a harder hitting elite option. If Cawl or another were to experiment with gene-forging a limited number of members (at least of those Orders who would be open to the idea, rather than those who deem the Adeptus Astartes as mutants) it would open the door there as well. Perhaps their process might even be closer to that of the Custodes, where each is individually rebuilt and tailor-made, rather than being reliant upon the gene-seed process. This would help them somewhat sidestep the issue of simply being the alternative to Space Marines, and would further diversify that army for those seeking to give them more time in the spotlight.

The state of the Imperium overall also means that a multitude of new story opportunities have arisen. There are new threats, new cataclysms and new fronts in each war, obviously. However, the lore also notes rather nebulously that several hundred chapters are currently unaccounted for, and that others were outright destroyed. Both would allow fans the opportunity to experiment with their personal lore and depiction of existing chapters. Perhaps a new one was created based on this experimental gene-seed alternative under the name of a destroyed one, either to respect their loss or for Cawl to hide their existence. Others would even be able to exist alongside them due to poor communication or simply serving as a replacement while the original was MIA.

Why is this important exactly? The first reason is simple - In the original article, a big problem cited emphasised how many existing cultures were already heavily used for the basis certain existing chapters. Some are obvious such as the Space Wolves being the Norse faction of the setting, while the Thousand Sons served as the Egyptian group. Part of the problem here cited from how many were already taken up, but also in how a substantial number benefitted from having that closer link to reality due to the gender choices. The fact that fans can easily alter, supplant or re-arrange the lesser known chapters means that there are more options to work with female Space Marines now. It allows them access to cultures previously more closely associated with others, while the actual planets themselves can be somewhat rewritten due to the state of the galaxy at large. 

Few worlds seem to have escaped from the recent years unscathed after all, which gives writers leeway to re-write certain elements due to cataclysms or even social changes borne by new threats. Due to this method, and the fact that the timeline is now moving forward, this means that you're not having to overwrite or even erase ideas previously set in stone. Instead, you can have one evolve from the previous lore into something new, which sidesteps many obvious issues in terms of canon or continuity.

None of this is to say that Games Workshop must have female versions of the Adeptus Astartes of course. Many previous points in the prior article still remain relevant, and I personally still stand by them. However, if there ever was a time to start creating these as fans or even the company as a whole, now is the best time possible to justify their presence.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Order: Daughters of Khaine Part 2 - The Units (Warhammer Age of Sigmar Battletome Review, 1st Edition)

As an army with limited clothing, relatively little armour and plenty of swords, the Daughters of Khaine are what you would expect. They're a glass cannon. Fast, numerous and with a variety of units which can deal a substantial amount of damage, they take the Sylvaneth's core qualities and push them to an extreme. However, this isn't to simply say that they are the Sylvaneth in a new and scantily clad style. Their greater emphasis on melee, special rules and unique units quickly makes it clear that you need to approach this army in a very different way.

To be blunt, the Daughters of Khaine are the sort of army which rewards careful tactical thinking. It's less the reliance upon multiple fall-back rules or even singular focused attacks than it is the capacity to engage on multiple fronts. The ability to divide up an enemy force, conquer them in a number of careful overlapping battles and steadily use one victory to chain into the next. To borrow an analogy used in the discussion of Battlefleet Gothic ships, they're a rapier. Using just enough force to cut through the enemy will lead to easy victories, but try to swing it about like a broadsword or engage in battles of attrition, and it will just shatter.

So, that's the short version of this anyway. Let's take a look at the individual units.

Morathi, High Oracle of Khaine

If you have looked into most Age of Sigmar armies, you will notice a theme: Many have a big god-tier unit. This isn't universally true, as there are a few exceptions, but it's to be expected in most forces now. Morathi easily fits into this, but she is less a utility and army enhancer than she is a blender. Throw her at an enemy unit, and you will watch them be reduced to piles of well-sliced gore. 

This said, she is a wizard above all else, and comes with a unique spell. Arnzipals Black Horror is the spammable one many will favour, as it allows her to instantly inflict a random number of mortal wounds onto enemy units. It's cheap to be sure, but with this game style and so many characters at this tier, it's to be expected. This would make her effective on its own, but the bigger bonus is how her spells work. She has the ability to cast three spells per turn and twice with unbind, which adds +1 to her rolls and doubles her spells' range. You can easily have her hang back and cause all sorts of hell without too much trouble, and her hardy stats line means she can soak up a fair amount of punishment.

The more aspect of the character (which will likely be overlooked by many) is Worship Through Bloodshed, a command ability. This allows two nearby units of Daughters of Khaine within 14" inches to instantly make a shooting attack, which is perfect for thinning out mobs prior to an assault.

Even in direct combat, Morathi still slices through plenty of squads. While she has six wounds and cannot be healed, the Iron Heart of Khaine rule means that she cannot have more than three removed in one turn. This means that it is outright impossible to one-shot the character, and she will always get a chance to hack her way through a few things before going down. Furthermore, her nine 3+/3+/-1/1 damage attacks or D3 attacks thanks to her Heartrender and her Bladed Wings makes her a force to be reckoned with. Combined with a -1 imposed on units trying hit her, she will keep standing for quite some time.

Yet, what is more interesting is that this version is the Jekyll of the book. The rule The Truth Revealed means that upon being wounded her personal Hyde might come out, should you roll on par or less than her current wounds in a test each turn. This can be activated willingly, but it comes with a step forward and backward.

Morathi, the Shadow Queen

As her true form, Morathi's guise here is less enchanting than her humanoid form but it is certainly far more powerful. For one thing, her six wounds are instantly boosted to twelve, meaning she can tank far more hits, but this is impacted by her previous state. Rather than simply hulking out and recovering everything, not only are her previous wounds retained but the number is doubled. As such, the Shadow Queen is less of an easy escape than she is a trap to be activated when needed in many situations.

Along with gaining flight, boosted versions of her melee attacks (including an especially nasty version of Heartrender) and new weapons in the form of a stinger tail and snake hair, she also has a few notable buffs. Every attack by her hits on a 3+, meaning that she will decimate whole squads at a time if given half of a chance. The fact that she has access to Blood Rites means that this will steadily snowball as the game continues as well, gaining more buffs throughout the battles. 

However, while she is hardier and notably much more melee focused, Morathi is still intended as a spellcaster above all else. As such, much of this seems to have been made with her unleashing long ranged attacks and then closing in to finish them off. This is best displayed when, for all her deadliness in close combat, one of her most potent abilities is a ranged shot - Which allows you to pick out and instantly remove an enemy unit from a squad if a dice roll you make beats their wound characteristic. Her spells are admittedly dulled in this state though, so it's less the extreme contrast of spellcaster and warrior, and more that one focuses on areas the other falls short in.

Overall, it's an interesting contrast and a mechanic which helps to give her a creative edge these big hero units need.

Slaughter Queen

Much like the leader of their order, the usual head honcho of the Death Hag has been divided in two. Unlike her, however, you can't switch back and forth between the two modes. The Slaughter Queen here is the Priest option, offering minor buffs while engaging in close range melee combat. She's poor at the former due to a few odd spells, but decent at the latter, thanks to the brilliantly named but irritatingly bland Blade of Khaine, but the hilarious yet deadly Deathsword with its D3 damage. That's not a slight against the Deathsword either, as there's something utterly hilarious in how bold faced it is in giving it that term. It's like the fantasy version of a 40,000 character showing up with a weapon called The Death Ray. It's just hard not to like it.

The odd thing about the character is that she is a decent spellcaster, with successfully casting her spells on 3+ rolls but always botching on 1s, which isn't a bad trade off. The issue stems from how she is only good for buffing herself, with Rune of Khaine turning her Blade into another D3 weapon, and doubling her attacks each turn with Dance of Doom. Rouch of Death, however, is extremely short ranged at 3" despite the D3 Mortal Wounds it can inflict. Orgy of Slaughter - the only one specifically devoted to assisting other Daughters - is fairly boring, as it just assists them when attacking and piling in, but only if there is another enemy squad within 3"

The 5+ save and a fragile stats line means that she does take the glass cannon aspects of the army to an extreme. As such, while it is clear how someone can use her to good effect, at the same time she is needlessly complex and reliant upon skills to constantly buff herself.

Hag Queen

At a glance, the Hag Queen is more or less identical to the Slaughter Queen. Both have the same overall stats line with only minor variations, share most of the same abilities, but whereas one has the Deathsword (Sorry, the DEATHSWORD!!! *guitar riff*) she only has a Blade of Khaine.

However, whereas the Slaughter Queen has been made with more direct combat in mind, the Hag Queen is a drug dealer. Her Witchbrew allows any Daughters unit within 3" of her to re-roll their wounds in combat, giving them some additional killing potential on her charge. Overall, she's the cheaper option, but can be quite a nice force multiplier if you need to inflict massive immediate damage to an enemy, or someone cheap to animate the army's Behemoth unit.

Cauldron of Blood

This is something just about everyone predicted would be reused here, and it's an essential part of any Daughters army. This can serve as an upgrade for both Queens listed above, and can also benefit from extra attacks via its attendants, inflicting D3 Mortal Wounds on enemy units who finish their charge within 1". This seems like a small amount, but given the model's size and the fact that many of its special rules require being used at close range, it becomes surprisingly beneficial.

The Cauldron can be used to also animate the army's Behemoth, but it comes with a +1 to Bravery for all Daughters within 7" of it. Furthermore, the spell of Bloodshield grants +1 to saving throws of nearby Daughters units, albeit with the note that units cannot be influenced by multiple Cauldrons at a time. The model's main attacks stem from both the nearby elves, but also the aforementioned Behemoth standing atop of it - An Avatar of Khaine. We'll get into the specifics of him at the end, but save for the fact it has +5 as a save and 13 wounds, it shares many of his attributes.

Overall, it's a good tanky option for a hero choice.

Bloodwrack Medusae

These are the closest the army has to a big tough Troll-style unit despite its Greek myth-inspired qualities. While they are quite effective in melee thanks to having a 2"/D6/+4/+4/1 tail along with the standard four attacks offered by Whisperclaws and two by its Bloodwrack Spear, their advantage lies in their ranged attacks. Bloodwrack Stare, for example, is a unique ability which targets one of every member of a unit, and rolls a dice for each of them. On the roll of a 5+ it's an instant Mortal Wound. A small group working in coordination with one another can quickly cut their way through the core of an army, but they are still somewhat vulnerable to attacks. It's only their 5+ save and sheer expense which stops them from crossing over into downright broken territory overall, and the fact that pressing forward can quickly backfire thanks to flanking assaults.

Bloodwrack Shrine

The Bloodwrack Shrine is an odd one here, as it doesn't quite fulfil the Cauldron's overall role, but at the same time it doesn't quite stand out from it either. The model benefits from the Bloodwrack Stare of the Medusae and the D3 Mortal Wound rule of the Cauldron itself. However, its benefits stem from how it can counter certain key foes if it remains close to allied forces. The Aura of Agony can target every enemy unit within 7" of it, and can inflict D3 Mortal Wounds on them. However, this diminishes quite rapidly depending on the damage inflicted. While it has 13 wounds overall, it only takes three for it to start dropping off.

The Enfeebling Foe is quite a tasty one, however. A spell which is core to the Shrine, it has a value of 5 and retains an 18" Range. For the rest of the turn, the unit targeted suffers from -1 to all wound rolls, something which is especially helpful in killing heavily armoured opponents. 

It can work with most lists but this is one either left to armies specifically built with this model in mind, or those which have separated the Cauldron and Avatar, but still desire to have most of its effects.

Witch Aelves

Welcome to your frontline troops here, and they're exactly what you would ultimately expect. Well, mostly. They are fast, they do rely on multiple attacks per model and their numbers to win fights, but the rules have tweaked this with various buffs and special rules. For one thing, the Blade Buckler special rule gives them a 5+ save but with the benefit of inflicting a Mortal Wound if they roll a 6. So, yes, this is the rare example of basic infantry potentially murdering the enemy if they roll extremely well on saves. Furthermore, the Frenzied Fervour rule grants them an additional attack per turn when they are within 8" of the army's hero choice, allowing them to have quite a high damage output. This can then be taken further by carrying another blade, albeit at the cost of the Buckler rule. 

With this being said, if they are caught outside of melee in the open they will die. As such, you need to use their speed to either get them into combat ASAP, or constantly move under the cover of your archers. It can work if the dice are with you, but you can also screw up badly with them as well.

Sisters of Slaughter

Another obvious option for the army's backbone, the Sisters of Slaughter share the Bladed Buckler rule but come with a few better melee weapons. The Shield and Barbed Whip offers them a 2" range in combat which, as any old Lord of the Rings player can tell you, quickly stacks up at close range. This is further enhanced by the 6" pile in range over the 3" which helps them to close in and hack smaller groups of models to bits with their sheer range of attacks. Besides this, however, most of their benefits are shared by the Witch Aelves. They're a better option overall, but they also share many of the same weaknesses.

Blood Sisters

This is the Battleline if your main hero is a Medusae and these are an interesting addition to be sure. They're a more elite option to be sure, as they're smaller in number, have greater rules and benefits and can serve as a major stonewall against enemy attacks if used correctly. Their standard glaives come with a 2" 3+/3+/-1/1 attack and they share the capacity to benefit from Blood Rites and the like. While they are admittedly more fragile than most models their size (and yes, I am sorry, but that word is going to keep showing up) they do benefit from an obscene Crystal Touch special rule. In effect, they cause an instant Mortal Wound with every hit. Quite frankly this one is fairly ridiculous even giving Age of Sigmar all the leeway it needs, and they are on the very edge of being Wraithguard levels of cheese. That being said, the fact they have a 5+ save with two wounds per model and very small unit sizes means that they will be whittled down quickly if isolated, but they will seriously damage anything which comes into contact with them.

Blood Stalkers

These are the ranged counterpart to the example above, as they share more than a few qualities but with bows in their place. Hitting on a 6 at long range will inflict a Mortal Wound, and they are highly mobile, capable of falling back and retreating when required. However, what is far less wince-worthy than the above example is how they operate in that area. They have fewer attacks due to the ranges involved and cannot benefit from massed volley firing on units, meaning it is harder to get multiple Mortal Wounds off.

Unfortunately, the unit's seemingly awesome upgrade is sadly quite underwhelming, as the Bloodwyrm (a pet dragon) cannot be used warhawk style and is limited purely to melee. Also, no they will not do too well in melee at all. While they stand out above the Stormcast Judicators in terms of their capacity to engage in combat while mixing things up at range, you should use them largely to pick off tough targets in the turns leading into an attack.

Khinerai Lifetakers

So, we've had the Aelves, the snake-women and now we have the Harpies. The Lifetakers are basically the Witch Aelves of the air, with even the Heartpiercer Shield effectively serving as their own Blade Buckler. However, while they share largely the same stats line, their abilities are where they differ once again. This unit is airborne for starters, meaning you have increased speed but they can also effectively Deep Strike into battle. So long as they are outside of 9" from the enemy, they can pop up and start causing havoc. This is further augmented thanks to their ability to add +1 onto attacks when charging into battle, giving them a bit more of an edge in sudden arrivals. Oh, and for those who enjoyed the ability to jump back out of combat, these guys can do that as well on a 4+, right after performing their attacks.

Overall, the Kinerai Lifetakers are a solid option, but it feels as if so much more could be done with them. The fact that they show so many interesting combinations in terms of rules, but have a core which is effectively identical to the Witch Aelves is frustrating. It seems as if so much more could be done if they simply spent a bit more time tweaking them, and granted the army some greater variety. This is supposed to be a force of monsters and mythical Greek creatures, but it seems as if there should be more to it than just this.

Khinerai Heartrenders

Three guesses as to what these guys do, and the first two don't count. Yep, it's a range version of the above unit, same as what we had with the snakes. They also carry out a somewhat similar role, focusing far more on a few very strong attacks over massed strikes. This is due to their 12" 3+/3+/-1/1 spear throws, which means they can drop out of the sky and instantly cause all kinds of hell for their enemy. Combined with their Rend ability being boosted to -2, the unit can inflict some very, very severe damage quite early on.

They come quite close to Sternguard in how they drop out of the sky and then kill something, only to often die in return. Still, unfortunately unlike those squads from 40,000, the Heartrenders do have an irritating flaw. There's multiple ways you can have them come down and pull this on the very first turn, meaning that they can cause all sorts of hell for other players. This is its main weakness, but besides that they're a nicely tactical choice for the army.

Doomfire Warlocks

These are the only male units in the entire army, as you might have guessed from the name. They also might have sprung up from an old joke on 1d4Chan. Some time ago there was a gag suggesting what might happen if an entire Imperial Guard regiment of psykers was formed. Well, on a squad-based level, they might well resemble this lot. The Warlocks are fast moving, lightly armoured and have severe spell damage they can inflict on others. This is based entirely on how many people in the unit you have left, but at the usual 10+ numbers, you are effectively unleashing an immediate 6 Mortal Wounds on a target at a casting value of 5. Plus, when you can't do that or have other things in mind, their repeater crossbows serve to thin numbers in a way other ranged units cannot.

Most interestingly, while they are expensive they do sidestep the glass cannon quality found in other units here. You will rarely field more than one, but this makes them a costly but very effective distraction to draw fire away from the numbers of blade-wielding blood nuns who could be hurt by concentrated attacks.

Avatar of Khaine

Yes, this was a surprise to me as well. Apparently having jumped universes, the Eldar Avatar has shown up here to start a few fights with the Chaos boys. However, there are a few crucial differences. While this is an Avatar and it is related to the Bloody-Handed God, it operates on a different wavelength than the version found among Craftworlds.

This counts as the book's major Behemoth unit, this is less the entombed shard of a dead god than it is an animated black golem. As such, you need a Wizard close by to keep it animated and active. A living one at that, otherwise it just becomes a hunk of metal. As an aside, I thought that this was a minor but quite nice touch to reflect the differences between the two universes. Okay, it can be animated from turn three onward via Blood Rites, but you have lost half of the game by that point.

Anyway, the Avatar can wade into battle with four  -2 rend and 3 damage attacks, while taking a severe amount of punishment in return with its 9 wounds and a 4+ save. However, it also benefits from a ranged attack which can inflict six 3+/3+/-1/1 shots at its intended target, giving it a damage output on par with most ranged units. Furthermore, the +1 Bravery it offers to all Daughters units within 7" means that it offsets the difficulties in initiating a massed singular charge if needed.

Overall, while it has a distinct weakness, the Avatar is a solid character killer and an interesting bullet magnet which can return fire with ease.

The Verdict

Like the lore, this is very much hit and miss. It's okay on the whole, as there's nothing truly wrong with it, but it seems to be playing things very safe in a lot of areas. I do wish that a few more risks had been taken with some of the more creative units, but it's still a solid baseline for armies and for future editions to build on.

So, that's that done, next time we will finish this off with the remainder of their rules.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Never Stop Sneakin' (Video Game Review)

Never Stop Sneakin’ is a rare thing indeed. Attempting to emulate a game of the PSX era, it retains the blocky graphics, colourful visual cues and top-down design of a game from that time. It’s also the single best Metal Gear Solid parody ever devised, right down to the time paradoxes and vampires.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Battlezone: Combat Commander (Video Game Review)

The tragedy of Battlezone II: Combat Commander was a lesson the industry never fully learned from. It was a successor to a popular release, hyped and had more than enough enthusiastic fans looking forward to seeing this new chapter in the story. Unfortunately, the poorly optimised and bug riddled mess it arrived as quickly turned away customers while it was still on the shelf. This re-release is set to fix that, with enhanced graphics, retooled optimisation and open support for Steam Workshop to keep the modding community alive.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Hunt Down The Freeman (Video Game Review)

It’s astounding to think that in a month which saw the release of Metal Gear Survive, something worse could be inflicted on another revered franchise. Hunt Down The Freeman is every bad cliche, every poor concept, every terrible design choice it is possible to make in a fan game. While only loosely connected to the Half-Life franchise, it somehow manages to get bare basics of style, story presentation and even mechanics utterly wrong. You could give a developer ten years, tell them to create the perfect bad game, and it would still fall short of the abomination we have here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Order: Daughters of Khaine Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer Age of Sigmar Battletome Review, 1st Edition)

The return of the elves was something we have long expected. The panzees (No, no, sorry, wrong universe), have been silent for quite some time with only the odd slight appearance or cameo offering confirmation that they are a part of this new setting. Most of what players were given links almost entirely to the fact a few were reborn as Stormcast Eternals while She Who Thirsts' absence was down to their actions.

So, to have a faction reappear wasn't too much of a surprise. What is something of a shock is how initially traditionalist their look was. At a brief glance, the Daughters of Khaine are just a Wytch Cult given its own army, with a few familiar faces showing up. They even still worship Khaine as well, Cauldron of Blood and all. However, while there are certainly more than a few similarities to be made, the key differences lie in how they have adapted, evolved and stand in the world. Just as the Kharadron Overlords evolved from the more machine-minded Dwarves, the Khainite Dark Elves have become something distinctly different in this new setting.

The Good

What is going to surprise many people very early on is how well the Daughters of Khaine work in their intended role. An old problem with both the Dark Elves and Dark Eldar is how Games Workshop is repeatedly trying to force them into an evil-but-allied-with-the-good-guys role, which hasn't quite worked. This has been especially bad the latter case where the Craftworld Eldar's brightlance to the face policy keeps being rescinded until the Dark Eldar are effectively welcome in their homes. The latter started to have this hit hard during The End Times as well, especially during the revelation surrounding Malekith. Here though? It's the same thing but more effectively executed.

Much of the story behind the faction is spent expressing how the Daughters came to power, and where that came from. It takes a considerable amount of time to even fully express just how and where they developed to justify their position within the world. Much of this surrounds Morathi, their founder, and in many cases, her role within the larger aelf society is one borne of necessity over a true source of trust. While she undergoes a major character shift and it is made clear that her opposition to Chaos is unquestionable, the fact the leaders of all other aelf factions know of her scheming means she's treated with suspicion. This naturally extends to her followers and, even without their darker aspects, it's only enhanced further thanks to their workship of a seemingly dead god.

A very curious point stems from how the book's lore also takes a considerable amount of time to comment on other armies. Much of this is done to help emphaise the Daughters' position in their eyes, but it nevertheless also gives a good deal of insight into them. As the first look into the aelves as a whole, the lore fills in a lot of details. A big one surrounds the sudden shift in body and design, but also just how they recovered and seemingly rebuilt despite the substantial losses they took during past conflicts. A large chunk of it even directly links into Morathi's own altered status along with their victory over an old enemy.

The timeline behind this army is quite substantial, and while it repeats much of the initial story covered at the start, it also helps to fill in a few gaps it glosses over. While normally this would be a cause to dock the book a few points over repeating known information, it actually works in its favour. One is a very mythical tale clearly set up to be a legendary epic of sorts, with titanic figures, and a woman rising to power. The other is a far less aggrandized version, and the fact one skims over a few moments or even suggests minor alterations helps to impress that Morathi's account might not be wholly true. Plus, it also has to be said, it's an easier way to go back and check through events as well.

When the book finishes up with its history of the army as a whole, it takes some time to go into each of the units. This is what you would normally expect, with some artwork accompanied by some text outlining who and what they are. Almost every book by Games Workshop does this, but a few have been learning to use this to their advantage. In this case, the descriptions and lore are used to cover a few notable physical alterations present in their kind. It outlines their role within their larger society, what aspect of Khaine's will they favour and even how their faith is interperated. Most of this does naturally boil down to killing, but it's a better take on things than the usual directly military version of things.

The book does take some time to also flesh out the minor factions even beyond this, and each is immediately distinct from one another. This is more down to the artwork than words,  but it makes one thing clear: This is a diverse and varied army. They might share many aspects but they are ultimately unique from one another, and this is executed better than just using a single template image with a few colours swapped about.

The Bad

The most distinctive problem lies largely with this armybook's presentation - as a saga. The entire history is built up as some ongoing journey, and a constant effort to reclaim power. This might have worked well if it were covering a people in general, but unfortunately, much of it instead follows Morathi on her own. The character has undergone a notable rebirth both in direction and in design, and the origin of her new powers makes sense in terms of where the army's inspiration stems from. The problem is that, rather than simply being a critical part of the overall story, she is almost the complete whole of it.

Read any part of the Daughters' history, everything from its distant origins to later actions and then try to remove Morathi from any point in it. You'll soon realise that you can't, as she encompasses the whole of their history. It's the old problem which dominated the previous two editions of Warhammer 40,000, where characters stopped becoming simply part of an army and instead became its whole. Because of this factor, anything which does not directly involve Morathi quickly becomes relatively sparse or unremarkable.

For example, the book does take the time to offer up a number of varied factions within the Daughters and tries to make them individual. To a degree it does succeed, as outlined above, and yet at the same time it seems almost entirely regulated to this single area of the book. There needed to be more of this throughout the overall timeline to help flesh things out and give it a greater sense of purpose. That the Daughters themselves were a sizable force and a power unto themselves, not simply one person and her bodyguard.

Another quite notable issue stems from the fact that the book never quite seems to push far enough with the more evil aspects of the faction. They fit into an odd morally grey area, this is true, and as mentioned before they do work into the Dark Elves idea authors kept trying to force the aforementioned army into. However, with all that being said, the book keeps seeming to pull its punches. There's nothing quite like the more vicious moments or dark humour found in the likes of the Vampire Counts books to really give this a bit more of an edge. It's not as if Games Workshop didn't have a few ideas in mind either, as The Prynce And The Serpente parody video depicted. The book didn't need too many of these moments, just one or two-page length or five paragraph long short stories to give it more of a bite.

Finally, the actual land in which the Daughters live is extremely sparsely described. A few of the previous examples from this setting suffered from a similar flaw, but they did at least give you a general impression of what life was like for them. Basic colours, aesthetics, or even a general atmosphere work well up to a point, but you need more than that to solidly define it. Say what you will about some of the previous settings, but with the Empire, Ulthan, Naggaroth and the like it was easy to think of just what they were like. It's much more nebulous here.

The Artwork

Whatever the criticisms of the story might be, there is nothing wrong with the art in the slightest. This is an excellent take on the faction overall, and thematically it's one of the best ones we've seen in a while. I say this as - while the work in Kharadron Overlords was spectacular - those in Daughters of Khaine had a much more uphill battle. It needed to make the army look appealing and reflect the more sensual aspects without it looking overtly glorified or exploited in ways. While it does admittedly dip into that territory a few times - especially on the cover - in looking at it I am personally reminded less of fantasy porn than Conan or John Carter stories. The nudity is part of the overall aesthetic more than anything else.

This is made clear due to how it balances the traditional sketchiness of older works with more detailed tones of current artists. It's a great balance between the different worlds and, while it wouldn't work with every army, this is a solid take which shows both sides of the overall force: The untrustworthy fanatics and the reborn armies waging war against Chaos.

The Verdict

The overall verdict behind Daughters of Khaine's lore is that it makes a halfway decent start, but it's lacking in substance. The ability to build up a Conan style saga fits with the army's aesthetic and world, while the links to other forces does help to give it a sense of grandeur. However, the focus on the creation of a journey and those who survived it really makes this feel like it's just Morathi and some cannon fodder over a full nation in of itself. 

For all its flaws, the Sylvaneth did more or less the same thing but with a better sense of world-building and establishing the force as an identity in its own right. As such, old fans of the Dark Elves will likely take interest in this new force, but I wouldn't blame anyone for looking into many of the others for inspiration due to the better backgrounds.

So, that's the lore done. Next time we move onto the first set of rules and all that this army uses on the battlefield.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Codex: Adeptus Custodes Part 3 - Stratagems, Tactical Objectives and Warlord Traits (Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition Review)

So, this was a bit delayed due to Black Library weekend. Having to go through several novels and open world games left me a little burned out, hence the brief break. However, we're back now, and rather than just leaving this unfinished (like two previous reviews which might as well be written off by this point, sadly) we're going to close this out for good. We'll move onto Battletome: Daughters of Khaine tomorrow, starting with the lore.

Okay, with that done, on with the review.


The obvious limitation placed on the Custodes is their high cost and small numbers. Along with making them easy to outflank and overwhelm if mishandled, it also limits their capacity to utilise Command Points. This might help to explain why such a substantial number of those cost only a single point each, and just why they seem to focus on very individual or singular situations. They're less the general purpose buff most armies can use in a variety of situations and more something keyed to a handful of very similar encounters. Much like Formations, i'm personally not a big fan of these, but at least they offer some more freedom in terms of an army's structure.

Avatars of the Emperor (1 Point): When the Morale phase states, the player picks out a Custodes unit which isn't a vehicle. All Imperial infantry units within 6" match this model's Leadership for that phase. 

A nice general bonus, as it throws a bone to those wanting to integrate Custodes into bigger armies as a spearhead. The fact it works with bikes is a welcome addition as well, and it seems like a useful thing to keep Guardsmen holding the line for a little longer against an enemy. Whether this is to attain victory or serve as a speed bump is up to you.

Avenge the Fallen (1 Point): During the fight phase, pick out a single Custodes unit. Every model un the unit gains an additional attack for every model slain during this turn.

This is an old idea we have seen done many times before, and it's a more refined one than many. Along with limiting this buff to a single turn, it seems to emphasise the ability to quickly thin out horde numbers if a Custodian unit is being bogged down. Against Tyranids, Orks or the like this should be quite effective, and perhaps some players can even find a use for throwing it against certain important characters.

Bringers of the Emperor's Justice (1 Point): Ah, welcome to the first cloned rule of this book! This is a very situational one which is shared by the Blood Angels, where your extra swing on a 6+ is multiplied to a 4+ role. While this does further help to enhance squads in combat with the Legion, it doesn't fully fit their character. Even if you accept that Horus killed the Emperor, the Custodes have little connection or link to the Black Legion outside of the Siege of Terra.

Burst Missile Net (1 Point): A fairly dull one which allows bikes to re-roll damage when firing flakkburst at a shared target. Good with some lists, but unremarkable.

Castellan Strike (1 Point): A very similar option to the above example, briefly boosting attack potential, but focusing more on units outfitted with castellan axes. All models armed with one in a unit gain +1 to their AP if they are focusing their attacks on a single target. It's a nice momentary power buff for some of the more expensive units the Custodes field, and as a brief opportunity to bring down something big.

Concussion Grenade (1 Point): This allows a unit of Allarus Terminators to attack in the shooting phase with AP0 grenades. What's the advantage of this? Infantry units struck cannot use Overwatch and take a -1 when rolling to hit certain targets. So, it's effectively a glorified shock grenade.

Admittedly, given how close combat orientated the Custodes are, and their limited capacity to engage at range, it's a welcome alternative to bikes when breaking a gun line.

Even in Death... (2 Points): This is effectively a "Fight to survive!" mechanic recreated on a tabletop level. When a Custodes character (unfortunately, yes, that said character) is killed he can make a single shooting or fight action right before being removed. The problem is that there's only one character that this can be applied to, and for two points it's not a very good additional option.

Plus, this is more or less a direct replication of "Only in Death Does Duty End" from Codex: Space Marines. At least there you had plenty of choices to apply this to.

Ever Vigilant (2 Points): This is intended for close range shooting to drive back forces as they close in. When an enemy unit lands within 12", the Custodes are capable of hitting them with a -1 result to their BS. Admittedly, Space Marines get the same thing, but the increased Custodes BS means that they have a notable advantage here. Plus it immediately blunts Sternguard attacks which could be harmful to your small numbers.

Eyes of the Emperor (1 Point): This is a situational creation taken to the extreme, where it allows the Custodes player to throw away one tactical objective and draw a new one. It can help to abruptly turn the tide of certain games, but short of one or two choices it's not something you will use often.

From Golden Light They Come (1 Point or 3 Points): This is an exceptionally useful one for the army despite the potentially high cost. During your deployment phase, you can pick out up to two units of Custodes infantry, bikes or Dreadnoughts to Deep Strike into the enemy. This costs a single point for one unit and three for two, and it can only be used once per game. However, for the enhanced mobility, disruption and the capacity to easily outflank an advancing force, this is worth its weight in gold.

Indomitable Guardians (1 Point): Following an enemy charge and fight phase, you can pick out one Custodes unit engaged with the enemy. You can then choose a unit within 3" of an objective and fight with them against a target. This might sound odd, but given the difficulties Custodes can end up having when it comes to objectives, the momentary bonus can be a surprisingly effective push.

Inescapable Vengeance (2 Points): This effectively nullifies one immediate rule often used to protect characters. In picking out a unit of Allarus Terminators during the Shooting phase, the can ignore the closest target rule and opt to fire at an enemy character within range. As many of the character killing bonuses and skills stem from close range weapons, this is a nice bonus to really make use of their grenade launchers and to disrupt tactics built on a familiar core rule. If you end up killing him, well, that's one less problem to worry about in melee.

Inspire Fear (1 Point): This gives a -1 to enemy Leadership. Nothing much, and not all that useful in the grand scheme of things, even if it's not an inherently bad option. There are just many more Stratagems which are effective for this same cost.

Networked Machine Spirits (1 Point): The rare example of a vehicle one, and a nice option for Land Raider heavy forces. When two Ven. Land Raiders are within 6" of one another, this can be used to briefly render them immune to negative to-hit modifiers. This makes them very useful in taking out a variety of Eldar units along with those fielded by the likes of the Alpha Legion.

Piercing Strike (1 Point): This is a good general-purpose option in having your basic Custodes deal with some tougher targets like the odd Greater Daemon. In effect, during the fight phase, you can add +1 to any wound rolls when attacking with Guardian Spears. If this lasted past a single phase or could be used for more than one unit, this would be downright broken, but in its limited form this is a brief power boost which allows them to potentially fight out of unwinnable situations.

Plant the Vexilla (1 Point): An exceptionally useful one, this adds another 6" to the vexilla's range so long as the model carrying it does not move. When paired up with a teleport homer or even the right formation this can be downright deadly.

Sentinel Storm (2 Points): An odd option which is more of a reaction than a truly useful one, at the very end of your enemy's shooting phase, a unit can open fire with its sentinel blades. It could help to further thin the ranks of a charging unit, but we have better options for that on here.

Shoulder the Mantle (1 Point): This creates the rare option of battlefield promotions in Warhammer 40,000, as it allows another figure to serve as Warlord if your current one dies. This is limited only to Shield-Captains, but it also allows you to re-roll those traits anew and denies your opponent a Victory Point for slaying the Warlord. Overall, not a directly helpful one in regards to winning fights, but a useful option for limiting the enemy's capacity to win games.

Spark of Divinity (1 Point): A psyker booster, this allows any figure casting a psychic power within 12" of a Custodes unit to deny the power as if the Custodes themselves were psykers. Another one which can obviously only be used with allies.

Stooping Dive (3 Points): Focusing on the bikes once more, this allows you to pick a single unit within 12" of an enemy model at the end of an enemy charge phase. This unit can then immediately charge them as if it were your phase, with all the bonuses you would expect. This also allows them to fight first in combat, even if the enemy has a special rule which could normally allow them to go first.

It's clear just why this costs so many points, but the benefits are clear even at a glance. This can rapidly turn the tide of an enemy assault and quickly inflict considerable damage against the typical Death Star choices similarly small and elite armies favour. Overall, it's one well worth considering picking up.

Tanglefoot Grenade (1 Point): You can guess what this does from the very name. While it doesn't work on flying units, at the start of the enemy movement or charge phase you can select an enemy unit within 12" of a Custodes squad. Roll one D6 and reduce the target's movement value by that much for the rest of the phase. Note phase, not turn. Still, anyone who has missed a charge by one inch knows how much this might hurt them, and the more lumbering close combat squads such as Terminators will dread this being thrown their way.

Unflinching (1 Point): You gain a 5+ Overwatch ability, which works well with the standard sentinel blade abilities. A good option for further thinning out swarm armies.

Unleash the Lions (2 Point): Something tells me that someone wanted to put "Kraken" in here, but it didn't quite fit with the Custodes' spirit animal of choice. In this case, during the movement phase, you pick out a unit of Allarus Terminators. These split up into single one-model units which can move and fight separately. In most cases, this would be useless, but given each Terminator has four wounds, this is intended for them to engage multiple varied targets at once. I could definitely see it being used to rapidly mop up enemy squads or further drive infantry into retreat, but it does open them up to being overwhelmed by counter-charges. It's risky but better than you might think at first glance.

Vexilla Teleport Homer(3 Points): This one was mentioned very briefly earlier, but it is an utterly amazing combo-ability if you can get it off. This allows for a unit to Deep strike within "6 of a vexilla, and for them to act accordingly. While this sadly cannot be used in the same turn that a vexilla bearer Deep Strikes into the game, it does mean that you can immediately have them come down and benefit from the buffs it typically grants. Overall, this has the potential to shred armies who do not see it coming.

Victor of the Blood Games (2 Points): Well, there had to be at least one reference to this tradition in here, didn't there. Before the game starts, you must choose a character from your Custodes force. You then grant him a permenant ability for the rest of the game, as he can now reroll a single hit, wound or save role each turn. This is very useful in duelling or singular engagements, and can even be pushed into using your character as a wrecking ball without turning them into an all-powerful nightmare. Combined with some of their better defensive wargear, you can end up with someone being able to stonewall attack after attack thrown their way. It's not the greatest one on here, but it is quite useful.

Wisdom Of The Ancients (1 Point): This is a dreadnought focused one, which allows any one in your army to have a 6" buff bubble about them, letting them reroll 1s on hits. The best thing about this is that it doesn't override or nulify further bonuses from other sources such as the vexilla, and it's not limited to shooting or melee only. So, stick a Dreadnought in the middle of a moving wedge of squads or even a Deep Striking force, and suddenly you have a far better chance of inflicting a few more casualties on the enemy.

Despite a couple of cloned examples, this was a nice series of rules to work with. Most of them made sense thematically, both in terms of the army and even the individual squads, and reflected on their history as well. It's definitely a guideline that further reviews will judge future Stratagems by, and a perfect example of how to make an army powerful without getting into Plasma Siphon territory.

Tactical Objectives

Deliver Victory

This one is honestly fairly broken, as it allows the army to start snowballing Victory Points. All you need to do is gain one Victory Point in the previous turn from an Objective, and this one will grant you another one. Instantly. It's a fairly cheap method of quickly racking them up early on in the game, and it seems as if there should have been more to this.

Eliminate Threats

This is a victory point for completely destroying an enemy unit. Standard stuff, even if it does highlight the problem with the above option, but it comes with an interesting bonus. If you destroy at least three enemy units, this gets bumped up to D3 Victory Points, which adds an element of risk to this if you're relying on it.

War Zone Secure

A definite uphill battle for the army, this one requires you to control at least three objectives on the board for a single Victory Point. Given the army's limited numbers, you'd be hard-pressed to get it in most scenarios.

Keep Them At Spear's Length

An interesting one to be sure, this grants you a Victory Point if there are no other units within 3" of the Custodes, including both allies and enemies. The only good thing is that this cannot be pulled off on the very first turn but, really, this one seriously seems like something which is far, far too easy to use to get a quick win.

Crush Their Resistance

A very simple one - Your opponent picks out an objective, and you gain D3 Victory Points if you claim it at the end. The only benefit is that this can be effectively anywhere, which can force the Custodes player to bend over backwards to try and get them.

The Emperor's Vengeance

Another simple and surprisingly easy one, you're given D3 Victory Points if you steal an objective from your enemy. This is upped to D3+3 if you steal another three, which then snowballs into the War Zone Secure example above.

Compared with the great Stratagems outlined above, this one was surprisingly boring on the whole. There were so many other inventive things which could be done with it, and even if they were going for the most straightforward example so they can work with new rules, even just a bit more thought would have gone a long way. Overall, it's easily the weakest part of the codex.

Warlord Traits

Champion of the Imperium: An obvious one, this allows all non-vehicle Custodes units within 12" to make heroic interventions as if they were characters. Valoris has this as a standard ability, but it is an interestingly entertaining one.

Impregnable Mind: The ability is one of the anti-psyker choices in here, where the Warlord can now perform Deny the Witch rolls as if he were a psyker. this adds a +1 to the results of all relevant tests and gives him some much-needed sorcery kevlar thanks to the lack of Librarians or the like among them.

Superior Creation: Highlighting the gene-forging which goes on behind the scenes, this highlights the idea that certain Custodes are more effectively made than others. In terms of mechanics this just translates to a 5+ Feel No Pain save, but if you stack this atop of a Jetbike and Auric Aquilas, this guy is never going to die. Well, he will, but it will take more firepower than you need to kill half an army of Terminators to bring him down.

Emperor's Companion: Your Warlord rerolls his damage, which is beneficial given that many weapons are based on a D3 system.

Radiant Mantle: This reduces all efforts to shoot him by -1. Useful but not essential.

Peerless Warrior: On a roll of a 6+ you gain an extra attack, but this sadly does not result in true exploding dice.

This is more the sort of thing I had hoped we might see when Warlord Traits were first wheeled out, as they serve as general buffs and bonuses but they're not so ultra-specific that they can end up being useless. In almost any situation Imprednable Mind will be useful, while the likes of Emperor's Champion will always come into play in some way. It's not overly bold or determined to push the envelope, but I would personally take something controlled and carefully made any day.

The Final Verdict

Overall, Codex: Adeptus Custodes is a pretty damn good book. It does admittedly get away with a few things thanks to being the Custodes, and the lore isn't written with anything overly ambitious in mind. With that being said, there is exceptionally little that it screws up, and in most situations the army is extremely well balanced against enemy forces. The definiton of "tough but brittle" fits them well, and you can see why they were marked as the elite, but never saw widespread use in both the lore and tabletop. This is substantially better than many books we covered in the past Edition, and it's a sign of hope for things to come.