Monday, 26 May 2014

Warhammer 40k: Revenge of the Sixth or Seventh Heaven? Part Two.

Book 2: Dark Millennium

Welcome back to the ongoing review of the new 40k 7th edition. In this part we are going to look at the Background, or 'fluff' book, Dark Millennium. After the disappointment of A Galaxy of War can the 41st Millennium's impressive background level the playing field?

Well unfortunately there are certainly a few issues here as well. One problem is that 90% of the text in this book is a direct copy and paste from 6th edition with a few minor layout edits and a  font change. Now i suppose you might say 'if it's not broken don't fix it' but It doesn't really help against the preconception of many that this is a desperate cash grab by GW. They had been doing the same thing with their codexes too for the most part however so i guess it shouldn't really come as any great surprise that so much here is replicated. It does make this comparison review slightly problematic however in that there is little to compare.  






So, lets talk about the few things that HAVE been altered. Well first thing you might notice is that GWs new copyright friendly names are all present in the new edition, but only in the title. So the title of a section may read Astra Militarium but everywhere they are still referred to as the Imperial Guard. Now i hate the Astra Militarium term, (they will always be Guard to me) but it is just another indicator of GWs laziness when it comes to this book and further reinforces the impression this is a phoned in and rushed update. Knights also have their own section now which may have well been ripped straight out of the Imperial Knight Codex, i cant be sure. 

Astra Militarium, in title only. 

Aside from these minor edits there are a couple of other changes. The timeline section has been altered with a few bits being omitted all together in favour of pieces which reinforce the recent pieces of fluff in the Codexes. A few of the more esoteric entries have lost out, the ones that added a little more atmosphere to the universe such as 'The Emperors Tears.' Instead every entry is now about a battle of some kind. Now i know in the Grim Darkness of the Far Future there is only War, but i really liked the slightly more whimsical elements that the old timeline incorporated. It made the 41st Millennium seem a much more realised and palpable place. Now it is just army vs army ad infinatum. Still there are a few cool new entries within that make for good reading, i just feel its lost something in the process. 

Even the map of the Imperium is more boring now....

One of the other major syntax changes is a bit of an odd one really, The piece of text describing Waaagh Grax has been replaced by all new text detailing Waagh Gruuk. Could this actually be the first bit of content from the new Ork Codex? (The Ork Codex front cover is in here as well) i guess we will find out in a week or so. The section on the Armageddon War is also missing, presumably because Apocalypse Warzone Armageddon is now available.

which i guess makes it a little odd that the entire of the fluff section from Warzone Pandorax has been lifted from that book and placed here. Its a large section of the book and it feels a little misplaced, i would have much preferred a series of smaller sections which covered more of the Warzones but i guess that would have demanded that they actually write something new for this book and that's just not on the cards.

The fluff from Pandorax appears in its entirety, shoehorned in the middle of the book. 

There are a few other little bits that have been lost between editions, these are mainly the little extra bits of text in boxes that the design team clearly could not cram into the book anywhere else.  Again, these just added a little bit of extra depth that is sorely missed from this book. Thankfully one of the best bits of the 6th edition book HAS survived intact and that is the Appendices. Dark Millennium. GW don't bother renaming it so its title is the same as the entire books title, (which is a little odd) but i would have been really miffed if it had not made it across to 7th Ed.

Well that more or less covers the text so lets have a look at the artwork. Also available as a premium picture only version of Dark Millennium with extra art, a lot of the artwork is also recycled, though not as much as the text. some of it is cropped slightly different and on the whole a lot of it is harder to see than that in 6th due to a distress filter they seem to have overlaid on a lot of the pictures for Emperor only knows why. 

New: with totally not required filter
Overall the Artwork is fairly good, there are no awful pieces like i found with the Space Marine codex and it is comfortably described as a mixed bag. Some pieces are fantastic and some are not, thankfully we don't have anything that is as bad as the CCG art that has infested previous books although some pieces are a little more cartoony than i would like. Some of the pieces that have previously been included as greyscale also suffer from the translation to full colour as has previously been my experience with the full colour codexes. Unfortunately this can lead to some illustrations looking rushed or unfinished and the less said about the little page break designs that litter the pages the better. there is definitely a noticeable reduction in the amount of Blanche and a nearly all of Raymond Swanlons codex covers make an appearance. 

One of the highlights Art wise

a lot of the smaller pieces of art have been removed for a more unified and clean look to the book. Again these are sorely missed and overall i feel the book lacks character. The overall layout of the book is very crisp and clinical with a lot more white space same as A Galaxy of war. It is clear that the new books have been designed to tie in with the design lay out of the Codexes and i feel that they are diminished in the extreme in the process. It makes the book come across as slightly boring and large sections of pages are simply text on white background. There are also sections of the book that (like the Space Marine codex) copy the arrangement of text and pictures from 6th edition completely. This is likely to make it easier to produce as a digital product. 

These delightfully characterful illustrations didnt make the cut in the new edition unfortunately. 

Your new Ork Codex cover ladies and gentlemen. 

So overall Dark Millennium is again a disappointment. Firstly, it is 90% the same text that you have already read previously. Very little has actually changed and the minor edits that have occurred in my opinion diminish the character of the book. However it is more slick and professional looking than its predecessor and your own preference will vary. Dark Millennium certainly functions better as a background book than A Galaxy of War worked as an introduction to the hobby, it gives the reader a decent overview of the universe and some of the illustrations are wonderfully evocative though overall the amount of pictures used is reduced. The book also lacks the fold out pages of 6th Edition which added to the epic and sweeping nature of some of the works within. The little pictures that feature here and there and are also the design for the Psychic Cards are also abysmal, they look like they have been knocked up in 5 minutes. Its almost like the design team realised there was a little TOO much white space and ordered some last minute designs that didn't have time to be finished. 

WTF is this?!

As a separate background book Dark Millennium works just fine, it is STILL inferior in many ways to what has come before however and in its replication of the 6th edition background section adds further credence to this update being entirely unnecessary.

Still, 40k is at the end of the day a game, and what would a game be without rules? Keep an eye out for the 3rd part of our review series where i take an in depth look at Book 3: The Rules with a special guest.... 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Warhammer 40k: Revenge of the Sixth or Seventh Heaven? Part One.

So, it can hardly have escaped anyone's attention that there is a new edition of Warhammer 40,000 out, a scant 2 years after the last. With a return to the multibook format yielding separate tomes for Hobby, Background and of course The Rules. In this series of reviews we will look at each of these books in turn, comparing them with 6th edition in detail. Is the new edition a worthy replacement for 6th or is this yet another cynical cash grab by GW?

The overall Package:

First up lets take a look at the set as a whole. Presented in a rather nice and sturdy slip case which dwarfs the 6th edition ‘big book’ the feel of the case is very pleasant, its almost like a moleskin effect in places with nice embossing that adds to the feel of a luxury product. The actuall cover illustration (Dark Angels making the first ever consecutive appearance) is presented in a high gloss and overall it does look real quality. Im not sure on the art direction, the red black and white blocky design is a radical departure from anything GW have presented before and comes across as a bit too slick and cold for something supposed to represent the 41st Millenium. Another thing to note is the softer textures of the box picks up dirt and marks incredibly easily, something to bear in mind. I like the way each of the books has the number on the spine, it certainly made the construction of this review series more straightforward!

Book I: A Galaxy of War

The first book is obstensibly billed as the hobby book, a role that was fulfilled by multiple sections of the 6th Edition rules. So first of all lets have a look at the old.

6th Edition:

Essentially comprised of 3 sections, the hobby bits in the old BRB were an introduction to the hobby, the actual Hobby section and a miniatures gallery, detailing each of the different races. The introduction section did exactly what it suggested, showed you the game, what you would need to play it and ‘shock’ a few pics of people actually playing the game and enjoying the hobby. There are even a few paragraphs detailing the game and the obligatory shot of post game (non alcoholic of course) drinks. 

Ooo, that looks like fun! 

Perfect. Alas now out of date due to all the supplements in the game.

The hobby section is likewise a semi detailed look at the hobby itself, starting with the game as a whole but moving on to models, assembly, painting and converting with pictures for each showing the basics. Never really going into mass detail (that’s not what the book is there for) but just giving you an idea with a gentle push towards the products that GW produces to get you the rest of the way. It also has sections on Warhammer World and Golden Daemon, with a small gallery of winners. 

Again, perfect. unfortuantely now fulfilled by Sprues and Glue in WD weekly, buy that instead. 

Same here, there is no reason for this to be omitted. Its hardly a tutorial just presenting another aspect to the hobby. 


Conversions? You got it!

The Gallery is, well more or less what it says on the tin, race by race showing pictures of the various models available in a great variety of different colour schemes, with conversions and hobbyists models thrown in for good measure. An inspirational pictorial record of what is available and what has been done by others, full of ideas for your own projects. 

Black Templars, Raven Guard, Salamanders, Crimson Fists, and Legion of the Damned, ALL absent in the new book. 

7th Edition:

The new edition has, are you ready for this? NONE of that. This is what the new version offers us: A very brief overview of the different aspects of the hobby, which GW have decided are legend, painting and the game itself. Of course they decide not to really show you any of these (I mean where would be the point right?) There is not ONE photo of the game being played, there is not one photo of any people playing the game (or of any people at all). The majority of A Galaxy at Wars text is taken up by (admittedly) narrative descriptions of the various elements of armies presented with some extremely fine photography. Starting with Strike Force Ultra (now where have I heard that before – oh yes it’s the new army deal GW are selling) and moving on to The Crimson Slaughter, who GW seem convinced we want to hear about more than any of the actual legendary Traitor Legions. Before finally featuring a combined Imperial army with all sorts of elements like Marines, Knights and Imperial Guard. 

That rather nice captain has a backstory now. 

Now I appreciate the narrative and descriptive elements that GW are including here (indeed Forging the Narrative is a recurrent phrase in this edition of 40k) and some effort has at least been imparted in this section of the book, it can be quite interesting reading about the different characters and their histories, but did we really need THREE armies to be featured? You are looking at 35 of the 45 pages of text being entirely encompassed by models and descriptions of who they are. 

Expect lots of this. They are VERY nice Photos though.

Hang on, 45 pages? A Galaxy of War is over 100 pages long! Well this is true my friend but the text stops after 45. The remaining pages are taken up by GWs favourite thing, pictures of their models. It reads very much like a copy of Warhammer Visions without the trilingual aspect. As I have already mentioned the photography IS top notch, there are some close up shots that are bordering on Macro and show some of GWs better painted models off in exquisite detail. It is a feast for the eyes. The models are well lit and in sharp focus, adding a lot of atmosphere to the pictures (which are nearly exclusively in battle shots)

And lots of this.....

It is unfortunate then that it is all so monotonous, just like Warhammer Visions. All the models featured are studio ones, hardly any of them are even named (only a few characters) it is nothing more than a picture book, a catalogue without prices. Barebones, there are no variant factions featured at all. THERE IS MORE TO THE HOBBY THAN JUST YOUR MODELS GW!!

To be fair, they managed to make Abaddon look decent and thats no mean feat.....
That's your section on painting and converting

Would you like to know more? 

There is a pathetic section on painting and converting (maybe a paragraph on each) with NO pictures of anything being painted or converted. In fact there are NO unpainted models in the book at all. Then there is a double spread advert with the painting guides and digital editions that GW sells. There are similar promos for WD Apocalypse and Black Library, Dataslates and the various Codexes available. 


A Galaxy of War is staggeringly inept at being a ‘hobby introduction.’ It bullishly refuses to even feature a great deal of what makes the hobby so great and instead functions solely as an advert for GWs products. It makes no mention of community or the hobby on a wider scale and having no pictures of the process of painting or gaming is in my eyes completely unforgivable. Im not even sure what its function is, and I mean that, it completely escapes me. On the plus side the photography is sumptuous, by far the best I have seen from GW. The product is glossy and high quality, though the moleskin spine is already getting very mucky. The internal design is also very slick if a little bland with lots of white space like the now defunct White Dwarf. It looks like the product has been primarily designed with the digital format in mind and has suffered a massive loss of character due to the concessions made. Once you have read the limited amount of text that there is and flicked through the pretty pictures there is little to entice you to pick the book up again. 

The pictures themselves are nearly always battle shots which can make it difficult for individual models to stand out, indeed as some are in sharp focus others are always blurry in the same shot. The old edition at least focussed individual models giving you a better idea of the variety available tyo the hobbyist. In the new book it all starts to look a bit samey and fatiguing with little standing out. 

At the end of the day A Galaxy of War is akin to a blonde bimbo supermodel, pretty and might hold your attention for 5 minutes but of little substance and indeed utterly vapid with regards to the grander scheme of things. This is a book like Michael Bay might produce; all looks and explosions but of little value elsewhere. Inferior to the content held in 6th Edition in nearly every way. Bitterly disappointing. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Warhammer Book Review: Headtaker by David Guymer

It’s no secret that generally I’d much rather pick up a 40k novel than a Fantasy one when it comes to the Black Library, I have recently rediscovered my love for the Horus Heresy Series, as you may have read from previous reviews and there always seems to be something else on the list to read to do with the Warp and Boltguns. However from time to time ill immerse myself in tales of Skaven and Dwarves and the like and it was with such a mindset that I delved into Headtaker by David Guymer. 

My only previous exposure to this Authors work was a series of short stories in the Hammer and Bolter series that were of mixed quality to say the least, so it would be interesting to see how he would fare with the extended narrative of a novel. The Skaven also make for quite easy writing with much of the groundwork having already been laid by Authors such as Bill King in his Gotrek and Felix Books and I was looking forward to seeing how Guymer would portray Queek Headtaker without the character devolving to a shallow caricature.

In this at least I was not disappointed. The authors ability for characterization is excellent. Queek is savage, cunning and malicious just like a Skaven should be, but above all else he is batshit crazy. His insanity fairly blazes off the pages and it is to the authors credit that he does not come off as some lunatic toon instead being conveyed with a startling amount of depth. There is a palpable danger to Queek and it is very evident, he’s not just another mad rat (though he does enjoy a good natter with his trophies) Definitely a very memorable character and the lynchpin of the book, though obviously there are a number of supporting rats vying for supremacy. 

These too are well written, just the right side of sneaky and cowardly without being two dimensional. They are also refreshingly different, without becoming clones of each other or generic. I would go as far as to say that this is probably the best outing for the Skaven I have ever read, musk of fear, doublespeak, scurrying and backstabbing pervade the pages yet without the comedic aspect that can often feature and diminish the Ratmen. Guymer if nothing else should be applauded for giving the Skaven a real edge here and portraying them with menace. They are a credible threat throughout, Queek in particular, the difference of course being that Queek is capable of feats on his own that other Skaven rely on numbers to perform.

The Dwarf characters in the book also fare well, doughty and stubborn where needed yet portrayed with a refreshing amount of depth. Of course drinking, grudges and honour all feature prominently but there are some backstories and character developments that really enhance the readers enjoyment, including a great passage on how a Dwarf becomes a Slayer. Although the King Kazador is given short shrift in the characterization department the supporting (no not his Shieldbearers) cast is excellent with some good variety. From Beardlings to the most Venerable Longbeards the diminutive warriors are given a good account. There is also a small supporting cast of Humans and Orcs and Goblins but these feature relatively little in the story and certainly don’t hold up to the main protagonists.

Which makes it a shame that the plot is so throwaway, im not sure if it is the way it was written or if it is just a weak story in general but it certainly didn’t grab me, there are a few sections here and there that were memorable but the overall narrative arc left me very nonplussed. Its not like it’s the twists or inevitable Skaven betrayals that cause problems, and I don’t think that there are too many subplots and threads or ‘Spiderman 3 Syndrome’ its just not very gripping. Even Lee, who lent me the book in the first place couldn’t recall the plot when we were discussing it. It’s a real shame and the characters in the book deserved much more. Overall I would describe Headtaker as a novel with outstanding vivid characters that are the highpoint of an otherwise unmemorable book. Not a complete write off by any means but it’ll not live long in the memory and hasnt convinced me to abandon the 41st Millennium anytime soon. 

3 Scheming ratmen out of 5.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: Scars, by Chris Wraight

This review brings me bang up to date with the Horus Heresy so will be my last from that series (well at least till Vengeful Spirit is released in August – Suddenly I am glad I have made the transition to Trade Paperback and wont have to wait so long.) Actually, a quick word on that subject; I was most reticent to move from one format to the other initially. It seemed nothing more than a cynical cash grab by BL to eke out a little more money out of their readership. However, having filled one shelf completely with the old mass market size and facing a rather intolerable wait for Vulkan Lives, I made the leap and bought into the larger format. I’ll be honest, I expected nothing more than an enlarged version of the smaller books so was most gratified when I discovered the fold out covers detailing Neil Roberts stunning cover art in all its glory, i'm even giving thought to replacing all my battered old books into this crisp new shiny format! (curse you BL!)

Anyways I digress, this is all about Scars Chris Wraight's second bash at the V legion after his Limited edition novella Brotherhood of the Storm. If you read my review of that book you’ll remember that I said that it feels like 3 introductory stories crammed into one narrative, and so it is proved to be here as much of the content of that novella leads directly into Scars. Thankfully Wraight has the space needed here to do much more justice to the White Scars such as they deserve, and utilizes that space superbly. This said, it does frequently refer back to events in Brotherhood of the Storm and if you haven’t read that particular book you may feel disadvantaged somewhat. 

Scars feels a lot more meaty than the last couple of efforts in the Horus Heresy series, if I had to choose one word to describe it it would be rich. Wraight displays some excellent characterization skills and creates much more rounded personas than many of his peers though he does push the whole Mongol thing a little far for my taste in places. This said there were no characters I hated in Scars and Wraight crams quite the dramatis personae into the book. Though ostensibly the book features only a handful of the V Legion, the supporting cast is quite diverse, featuring amongst their number no less than half of all the Primarchs! Some achievement indeed although it must be said that some of them play rather minor roles.

Admittedly the book starts in a rather cliched fashion, detailing the initiation process of two aspirants. Its something we have seen many times before and has frankly been done to death though admittedly it does have some importance to the overall narrative. It also grants us further insight into some major events that occur later in the book so perhaps it can be forgiven. Once this prologue of sorts is out of the way the bulk of the book deals with the White Scars isolation and ambiguity with regards to allegiance in the greater scheme of the Heresy. In this way this book is probably the most ‘pure’ Heresy entry we have had in a while, though in essence it is still filler. It is filler however, that practically demands you have read earlier entries, in particular Prospero Burns and A Thousand Sons. Jaghati's legion, stranded by the warp storms that have suddenly wrought the Imperium, are the only legion that have not declared their allegiance, largely forgotten by the larger Imperium it is only now that they are being considered and they receive conflicting reports regarding what is going on whilst at the same time suffering attacks from their supposed brothers. Confusion reigns as Jaghati endeavours to discover the truth and work out who to trust whilst keeping his own legion from disintegrating

Although this book is one of the first in a while to address the Horus Heresy on a larger scale, it by no means skips on the action, void war, boarding actions and ground based combat all featuring in various amounts. The battles are well described and punchy without lapsing too much into bolter porn, like a Space Marine the action is functional and brutal. This does mean that we do not quite get as much of the in depth character analysis and interactions we have recently enjoyed in other efforts but this aspect of the book is still present and Wraight has overall achieved a decent ratio, you do not feel short changed in any department. Wraight also shows marked deference to previous authors works, the Space Wolves that turn up are notably Abnetts incarnation and Russ is well portrayed, perhaps even surpassing Dans version. Elsewhere the collaboration that clearly takes place between the writers is clearly visible as Scars interweaves itself skillfully into the wider narrative of the heresy. This is a book that unlike Unremembered Empire doesn’t forget what it is about, having no outstanding niggling plot details or arcs to resolve 

It does however resolve its own plot points, and although certain elements of the book will have repercussion for books to come it ties itself up rather neatly. The nature of the White Scars, whist perhaps overlaboured is explored well and the legion is given a character of their very own. Normally after reading a GOOD novel based in the GW universes you will have a hankering to go out and collect that army and certainly that was the case with the Scars although Wraight does take a few liberties here and there (void jetbikes?) in the name of the rule of cool. Wraight also writes a story that doesn’t rely too heavily on macguffins or unlikely coincidence which shows how well the narrative has been constructed. He crams an awful lot of different threads in as well, not just with the V Legion but also with a side plot involving survivors from Isstvan (As seems to be tradition these days). Alongside this he portrays perhaps in a way not seen since the opening trilogy of the Heresy the uncertainty and disparate nature of the Astartes, perhaps no small surprise as Scars heavily features the Warrior Lodge from those times and their role in the hierarchy of the Legiones Astartes. Also featured are the Space Wolves, Word Bearers and Alpha Legion, it is quite the juggling act that is pulled off. 

So overall I enjoyed Scars a lot, It would have been interesting to read it In its original serialized format as the narrative is fairly seamless and I would have been interested to know where the breaks were put in. It’s a richly packed book and although it lacks any real revelations you don’t miss them in anyway as what is presented in their stead is so good. Wraight deserves much praise for juggling a good half dozen Legions and their Primarchs in one book and still presenting such a cohesive plot. It doesn't get bogged down and proceeds along at a fair lick despite its ambitious cast due to its tightly focused narrative. I devoured it in a few short sittings and it definitely sits in the upper tier of HH books. The fractious nature of the Scars is well portrayed and the narrative getting back to the meat the Heresy as a whole is welcome indeed. Much of this come from Wraights embracing of the earlier part of the Horus Heresy series, the inclusion of the lodges and the uncertain loyalty of the V Legion really put me in mind of the first three or four books in the series and this was also very welcome. Now begins the wait for the next book, fear not I have plenty of reading to do in the meantime, i'm plodding through Malodrax and i've been meaning to read the Tome of Fire Series for a while now……

4/5 Al