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9/22/2016

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Echoes of the Long War" by David Guymer

This is the sixth entry in "The Beast Arises" series, and the first 40K novel by David Guymer, a Warhammer Fantasy veteran. So how well does it hold, when compared to the rest of the series?




Pretty well actually, but with some minor problems here and there. Finally we've reached the half of the series, and The Beast is still doing its thing - conquering the entire galaxy. The Imperium's forces are reeling, and with endless politicking and squabbling from the High Lords, the things are looking grim indeed. However "Echoes of the Long War" concentrate on an entirely different matter - the unlikely alliance between the Fists Exemplar and the traitorous Iron Warriors. Most of the book details the interactions between Captain Zerberyn, a lotal son of Dorn, and Kalkator, Warsmith from the IVth Legion. The unlikely duo is presented much better in this book, then Kalkator-Magneric in the Throneworld, since Zerberyn is a much better developed character than the ancient Black Templar. While being a steadfast follower of Rogal Dorn's vision, he also knows that sometimes you need to make a deal with the devil, in order to combat a bigger threat.

Even if his helmet looks kinda goofy

Meanwhile Kalkator quickly became my second favorite character of this series, after Drakan Vangorich, the Grandmaster of Cool. Kalkator is methodical, cruel and cynical to the extreme, but also possesses a strong sense of honor and brotherhood, even with those, who not so long ago stood on the opposite site of the barricade, but are now forced to fight by his side. Him calling Zerberyn "little cousin" is simply delightful, showing a degree of dark humor and irony from the Iron Warrior. Kalkator's disdain for the Imperium in its current state is obvious, and he dosen't shy from pointintg it out to his "brother" at every possible turn. Guymer presents him in a very sympathetic, albeit morbid way - a warrior from out of time, who remembers the grand dream and realises that it was always a lie. There is a real tragedy in here, under all the layers of Warsmith's brutality, cynicism and dry sense of humor.
The author plays upon this sense of nostalgia and loss even more, when the two foes reach the planet of Prax, a stronghold of the Iron Warriors, now taken over by Orks. The Greenskins are doing horrible things to people on the planet, almost as bad as the famed Daemonculaba from Graham McNeill's "Ultramarines" series, but it is what Kalkator and Zerberyn find there, that makes the reader feel the unfairness and cruelty of history in the universe of Warhammer 40,000. Without any spoilers, let's just say that the Iron Warriors betrayal could've been completely avoided, if only the Imperium cared more for all of their sons, even those who were not Angels or Statesmen.

The Orks themsevles are also presented in a way, that empaphises more their hyper evolution. These Greenskins are tactically flexible, capable of outsmarting both the Imperials and Traitors alike, and their methods of waging war are highly unorthodox for Orks. David Guymer really decided to amp the old "Grim&Dark" meter up a bit, when he decided to explain how exactly, the Xenos feed their gargantuan armies. You want to know how? Well, take a look at the picture below and then switch that cow with a human being. Happy nightmares.

On a sidenote: that's pretty fucked up

Aside from the Fists Exemplar/Iron Warriors plot, there is not much going on in the book. Vangorich is still awesome, but his time is seriously limited this time around. He tries to keep tabs on what is going on on Mars, where Mechanicum are still trying to do everything to save their bacon, even at the cost of the wider Imperium. Those red bastards! The High Lords continue to squabble and scheme, especially Mesring, the Ecclesiarch, who continues to be even more unhinged and desperate to avoid his own death from the poison, introduced to his system by the Officio Assassinorum.

Koorland is also developing nicely as a character. Now a Chapter Master, he knows that there will be many tough decisions ahead, and he will not be able to escape from them. The last of the Imperial Fists will have much to do in the coming future, have no doubt about it.

Now a mild spolier, as I believe it is important to mention why I think that the ending is not very good.

WARNING, SPOILERS!

You have been warned

At the end of "Echoes..." it is revealed that the Orks homeworld is... Ullanor! Yup, the same world upon which Horus was named Warmaster by the Emperor. Now my question is: why? Why Ullanor? I mean, I get the symbolism. After all it was the planet where the Imperium crashed the greatest Ork empire of its time, but honestly I was expecting something better. It looks like the Black Library authors can't or don't want to let go off the Horus Heresy, their premier product. Sure, I understand that when HH will (finally) come to an end, there won't be much else to write about, except maybe Scouring, which in all honesty sounds like a very boring series, but come on! Guymer coul've placed the Greenskins homeworld anywhere, he could have developed his own, unique planet. Instead we've got a, not so fresh, leftover. Completely unnecessary.

Aside from that last part, the book itself is very solid. It's not as good as "Throneworld", but then again Guy Haley is a much better 40K author than David Guymer, who still has a long way ahead of him in that department. I'm optimistic tough. With "Echoes of the Long War" he has shown great promise and if he'll continue on this path, I envision many great stories from him in the future.

Just don't return to Ullanor, David. Please.

Pros:

- The relationship between Fists Exemplar and Iron Warriors.
- Kalkator the Warsmith.
- Orks and their sick methods of waging war.
- Martian scheming.

Cons:

- The truth about Greenskins homeworld.
- Too little focus on characters who are not Space Marines.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

9/08/2016

Xathrodox86 reviews: Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide

I used to be a huge online games player. The act of pitting one's skill against a living opponent is always fun, but there is one thing in online gaming that I absolutely adore - cooperation.

"Left 4 Dead", "Sniper Elite", "Far Cry 3" - these are only some of the games that I've played with friends in a cooperative mode. We had a blast during those sessions, helping each other, yelling through microphones late in the night, and generally just having a grand time. Now, after a two year brake, I've returned to the wonderful world of coop a few weeks ago, after finally purchasing "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide". All I have to say are three words: money well spent.

Damn straight!
"Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide" is a first person coop game, made by Fatshark, a company previously known for such titles as "War of the Roses" and "Hamilton's Great Adventure". Certainly they can't be considered a heavy hitter among the video game devs, but with "Vermintide" they've really made their mark in the buisness and in a positive way no less. This title really shows that smaller devs can create great games, on par with companies like EA or Ubisoft.

"Vermintide" let's you play with 3 of your friends, as adventurers who just arrived in the town of Ubersreik in the Empire, a place recently invaded by the hordes of Skaven from clan Fester. The situation is grim and perilous, but with your power combined, and a bit of help from a friendly "Red Moon" Tavern owner Franz Lohner (who might or might not be an imperial intelligence operative), you will be able to free the city from mangy rat-men and postpone the apocalyptic End Times, for just a bit. There are five heroes available, including a Witch Hunter Victor Saltzpyre, Soldier Markus Kruber, Wood Elf Waywatcher Kerillian, Bright Wizard Sienna Fuegonasus and Dwarven Ranger Bardin Goreksson. Each of them is very colorfoul and well developed, through in game dialogue and interactions with other players. That's actually really neat, since it's not something to be easily expected from an online coop game. I still remember with fondness the stories about Keith from "L4D 2", but they pale in comparison to Bardin's outrageous tales about his cousin Okri and his magnificent deeds. The entire time there is this feeling of our heroes being alive and not just some avatars, with an occasional line of dialogue. For me that's very important in any game, since it helps me get into the world that I'm currently exploring.

Each of the heroes has a different play style of course. The Witch Hunter is a fast melee specialist, with even faster trigger finger. He can literally drown the enemy in a hail of lead, however he's not so tough in close combat, as his blocking leaves much to be desired. Same with the Sienna, who is probably the weakest melee combatant, but whose ranged attacks, especially when they're charged up, can leave whole enemy swarms burned to a crisp. I must say that playing her is great fun, especially since she's a complete pyromaniac nutter who won't shut up about frying Skaven to cinders.

All different, all determined and ready to kill some vermin!
Dwarf and Soldier are quite similar. They're essentialy tanks with the ability to use shields and heavy duty melee weapons. They're perfect for blocking narrow paths with their superior parrying gear and can repel enemies better, than their comrades. It's a really useful thing as well, since many maps have chasms, drops and narrow walkways, perfect for plunging a few rat-men right to their deserving deaths. Also their attacks are the most powerful, especially Bardin's. However the offest lies in speed and a lack of really decent shooting. Sure, the Soldier's Arquebus is powerful, but it is also slow to reload, and less ubiquitous to Waywatcher's Long Bow.

Speaking of Waywatcher, she's probably the best character overall. Her ranged weapon shoots lightning fast and she has access, later on, to a bow that fires homing arrows, able to pierce multiple enemies with a single arrow. Sure, she eats ammo like crazy and isn't especially tough in CC, but her Glaive will devastate everything it hits. Naturally it takes some time to get to the good stuff, but it's completely worth it with this Asrai badass lady. Kerillian all the way, especially since she's also wonderfully racist, in that special, elven way. There's not a second where she's not criticising the lesser races craftsmanship, skill with weapons or... everything else really.

Ah yes, it should be mentioned that in this game you can kinda, sorta level up. There is an XP system, that allows you to get some free goodies, every time you level up. The stats remain unchanged, but getting free loot is always nice. What can you do with said loot? Well, there are a couple things available. You can merge 5 pieces of the same type (white, green, blue, purple and orange) to get a single piece of higher type. You can scrap them for basic components, from which you can either upgrade or even craft a new piece of gear. Every character has a couple slots for different types of equipement, which can be changed in the Inn (your standard hub) or at the beginning of every mission. At any one time it is possible to hold a single CC weapon, a ranged weapon, a headgear and a trinket with the possible option to unlock more trinket slots. Headgear and trinkets give special, passive bonuses, like better loot at the end of the mission or being more resistant to certain enemies attacks. During the actual mission, there are also potions, medical packs and bombs to be found, "Left 4 Dead" style. Again, a very nice thing to see such a complex weapon/gear system in a "Left 4 Dead" style game. Good job Fatshark.

A very neat feature is Ranald's game of chance. You see, after successfully finishing a mission, you will be able to roll some dice, in honor of the Trickster God. On the right, there is a list of random gear you can get, starting from common at the bottom. Every time a face with a symbol comes on top, you'll make a progress up the bar, with 7 successes even granting you a pointless achievement. You can help your chances by collecting special tomes during missions, each of them giving you additiona die. If you'll manage to nick a special Skaven tome, bound in human flesh and gazing at you with creepy eyes, you'll get a unique, warpstone die that always rolls true. However the Skaven tome, in conjuction with all other books, halves the entire party's health by half. On higher difficulty levels that's really problematic. Also tomes take up a potion/health kit slot, so carrying them can be potentialy dangerous for you and your mates. Alas you can block with them, albeit rather weakly so it's probably best to maintain a strong communication with the rest of your team.

The alternative is grim and perilous indeed!
The levels are simply awesome. "Vermintide" actually has a cohersive storyline, divided into three acts. Each of them tell a different set of tales about our heroes trying to repel the Skaven invasion with the ultimate goal of defeating the Grey Seer that is leading clan Fester on the surface of the Old World. There are all kind of missions, from gathering food and gunpowder to enlisting the help of a local Grey Wizard, to sabotaging a bunch of Doomwheels. Some of them are very quick, while others can take a good half an hour, if not more to finish. Every mission feels different, has a different tone and feel and that's what makes them great. Not once did I felt that boredom or repetitiveness have crept into my games. Simply put, the devs really took a lot of care to make every, single mission as interesting as possible.

Clan Fester is not taking any chances, and decided to send a lot of troop to capture Ubersreik. Aside from Clanrats and Slaves, alwyas attacking player en masse, we have black furred and heavily armoured Stormvermin, the elite shock troops of the Underempire. These bad boys usually appear in patrols of 4 to 6, tough as nails rat-men, and let me tell you, they do mean buisness. Only the strongest attacks can pierce their armour, and it is reccomneded to target their heads from afar, or to blow them up with explosives. Up close, even one of them can be a match for a single adventurer. When en entire pack pounces at you, it's time to say your prayers.

"We've come to punch your ticket foolish thing, yes-yes!"
The vile Skaven also decided to dispatch some more specialised troops against the surface dwellers. The analogue between these elites and "Left 4 Dead's" unique zombies is obvious. There's your Hunter in the guise of Clan Eshin's Gutter Runner, who also doubles for the infamous Witch, since it attakcs in a similar, vicious fassion with its Warpstone blades. The Rat Ogre takes the place of Tank, but is much, much stronger and much more resilient. "Vermintide's" Spitter is, of course, a Clan Skryre Poison Wind Globadier. Moulder's Packmaster will catch unsuspecting heroes with his Mancatcher, just like Smoker did so to Bill and his company. A kind of unique enemy is the Rattling Gunner, who wields an experimental protoype of Skaven's signature weapon, unleashing a hail of Warpstone bullets against the foe... and those rat-men who got in his way! Every single one of these enemies has unique set of tactics, that can really surprise players. For example the Eshin Assassin will actively hunt for a lone hero, far from his mates, while the Gas Rat will make sure to cover the biggest number of enemies with his toxic wind, Skaven friendly fire be damned! Even standard Clanrats and Slaves actively try to encircle the heroes and will not shy away from fleeing and cowering in fear under a wall, once most of their number gets slaughtered. This is a perfect example of Fatshark's attention to details and canon.

That's not going to end well for old Victor here...
There is also a Last Stand mode, in which the brave party of misfits must stand for as long as possible, against the (wait for it) tide of vermin. Bad jokes aside, this game mode is pretty standard, with  a "survive for as long as possible and get a cool stuff, or not" style of gameplay. I was never a huge fan of such games, but it's not bad, altough I still think that it is easier to play normal missions, if you want a good loot drop.

Graphics and sound are great. As is the case with almost every Warhammer game, the soundtrack and audio effects are top notch. I suggest running around the "Red Moon" Inn for a bit, listening to the music, playing inside. Absolutely awesome. The sounds of battle, of swords swinging and booming firearms is greatly satisfying, just like listening to the sounds of butchered Skaven. The graphics are dark and gritty, beffiting the theme of Warhammer Fantasy, and they serve well the atmosphere of "Vermintide". Models are greatly detailed, both hero and Skaven alike, and it's nice to see that the rat-men bleed ichor and not a healthy red of human blood. Sometimes there's so much of the vile stuff on the screen, that it's hard to see anything! The city of Ubersreik deserves a special mention, as it is incredibly well detailed, making the player believe that he actually is traversing its narrow streets and tight corners, in the search of Skaven to slay. Signs of Sigmar's comet and an abundance of skulls are ever present, just as they should be.

Those who know me well, also know that I love references of any kind in my media. Somebody probably told this to guys at Fatshark, because "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide" is full of them. "Dark Omen", one of the most successful WFB game ever made, is mentioned at least twice, sometimes by the Bright Wizard, and inside the Inn, as there's a Grudgebringer shield behind the counter. The "Red Moon" itself appeared in a WFRP adventure "A Day Late, A Shilling Short", for the 3rd edition of the game. There are many other little nuiances here and there, as the heroes comment on the encroaching End Times, while remaining steadfast and determined to save the city.

Ok, so you know what's coming now. So far I've been commenting on the good sides of the game, but unfortunately it also has a few downsides as well. For starters it's buggy as hell. Maybe not so much, as after its premiere, but the ammount of times I've been sent packing to my desktop was infuriating. There are also constant problems with game's servers, often kicking players from the game and crashing occassionaly. Special enemies have annoying tendency to appear out of mid air in front, or behind a hero. Trust me, there's nothing quite like a fucking Rat Ogre spawning in pure daylight, behind a Witch Hunter of Sigmar. Now this is some grade A Horned Rat miracle right there.

The game is also extremly hard, to the point of being merciless. I've played "Left 4 Dead 2" for hundreds of hours, and even on the most die hard, fan-made map I've managed to come on top, but here... Spawning multiple special enemies at the same time, on a normal difficulty level, isn't something unique in "Vermintide". I once got myself between two Rattling gunners, a Rat Ogre, and a horde of Slaves charging my rear. Fun times were had by all... except for me. I'd also like a chance to break free from Gutter Runner's and Packmaster's attacks, since it can be infuriating to get caught by one, saved by a team member, and then immediately get caught by another, similar enemy. Also, since the bots, just like their counterparts in "L4D", are dumber than dumb, it is almost impossible to finish some missions solo. Bots won't carry barrels and other, mission critical equipement, making it necessary for more than one player to finish, even the simplest of assingments. Not to mention they do tend to occassionaly get stuck or recieve some other kind of brain fart.

The loot system also needs a fix, me thinks. Too often players roll only a single die, or even none at all, even with the damn books amassed by the whole party. I've lost track of how many basic Bright Wizard swords, I've managed to amass during the course of the game. Since most levels are quite lengthy and unforgiving, I'd expect a slightly better gear for my troubles, and more diversed one at that, especially at the end of any given Last Stand scenario. Fortunately the crafting system works really good and devs did not included any microtransaction bullshit, so at least there's that.

On the other hand who needs a sword, when you have the power of fire at your disposal?
I've decided to buy "Vermintide" with the "Drachenfels" DLC, which allows players to explore the Great Enchanter's might castle and it's surroundings. For a price of approximately 6 pounds the players get 3 new maps and a few pieces of gear for their characters. There are no new enemies and Drachenfels does not make an appearance, sadly. However the interior of his castle is really well made, as are the references to the books about the famous sorcerer and his vile exploits. Unfortunately the other two maps are kinda bland, with the last being a "destroy the generators" type quest, which is a really, really boring way to end a campaign with the word "Drachenfels" in it. Still, I didn't had a feeling of money wasted, so at least there is that.

In the end I honestly "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide" is one of the coolest game that's been recently developed. This is by no means a simple "Left 4 Dead" clone. In my opinion "Vermintide" leaves that game far behind, in terms of complexity and style. It's good to see that Fatshark took into account the feedback from the beta tests, that took place last year and tried to polish their game as best as possible. Sure, there are still things to improve, but as of now I can safely say that "Vermintide" is on par with "Mordheim" and "Warhammer Quest", when it comes to faithful Warhammer Fantasy game adaptations. For all you WFRP lovers and enthusiasts out there, this is a must have, as it really reminds me of a well made, combat-oriented roleplay adventure. Once again I can't ignore the irony of seeing a well made WFB game, after its parent world has been scrapped. For some time now we've been getting very good or even excellent Warhammer Fantasy games, that could bring so many new players to the hobby, but in the end it's not going to happen. So we are left with "just" a few, good games, set in the Old World and beyond. Eh, it could've been worse I guess. After all, titles such as "Total War: Warhammer" and the upcoming "Man O' War Corsair" will help us remember the good, old times, and not... this.

Apage, Satanas!
Until next time, when we'll see if the Imperium of Man finally managed to defeat the infamous Beast. Stay tuned!

Xathrodox86