Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review: White Dwarf Weekly issues 1+2 and Warhammer Visions.

So it seems I may have been a little hasty with my 'Requiem for Grombrindal' article found HERE, for if WD weekly is anything to go by the spirit of the pale bearded one is very much still alive and strong. Far from the train wreck I thought it would be, it actually appears to be a publication of some merit. Of course it is still too expensive and it does essentially still exist only to show off the new releases but I actually find it more engaging and page for page more useful than the old monthly version.

The first few pages of the magazine are, as you might expect, devoted to the new releases for that week as GW totally adjust their release schedule to how it used to be ‘back in the day’ when we got something weekly. Now of course it is very likely that these weekly releases are just the monthly output broken down but at least only having 2 or 3 products a week makes it easier to focus on those releases. Of course the blurb is still there, the reams of text telling you about the release, but it actually seems a little toned down from before. The picture to word ratio is still far too heavy overall but when compared to WHV it seems most wordy.

All very familiar so far..

Onward past all the new releases then, (which incidentally do take up the same percentage of the magazine as the monthly edition) you then have the guest article, this seems to change each week. First it was Jervis, with an entertaining if simplistic mini-game to ascertain who gets the first turn. In issue two it is Phil Kelly’s turn but unfortunately it just turns into a love letter to his Tyranids not particularly insightful nor interesting. The next article is a short piece focusing on a new release, Tyranids for the first issue, the new Dwarfs for the second. Then the hobby area takes a front seat as we get Paint Splatter (not really improved from its monthly version) and Sprues and Glue which takes you through assembly of (again) whatever is new. Now some might consider this the most banal of subjects, teaching us to suck eggs, however I can say that even as a hobbyist of 20 years or so there were a few suggestions in there that I hadn’t thought of! I can see it running out of steam at some point but at the moment it is proving quite useful. 

Next up RULES!! Yes rules are back in White Dwarf! Now this actually seems a little odd as I cannot see them being exclusive to the mag yet it seems somewhat redundant to have them be copies of what is in the army book. It will be interesting to see how this continues. Still for the moment yes, rules are back in White Dwarf and their inclusion is most welcome. With a little useful tactical advice thrown in, this is bonafide hobby content, the likes of which I thought was long gone from White Dwarf’s pages. 


Designer notes is next, I always liked these, they were one of the sections I used to regularly read in the monthly White Dwarf. It was interesting to see exactly why the designers (I can’t say sculptors as nothing is sculpted anymore) made certain choices for certain models. It also brought to the fore the designer’s obvious enthusiasm for their projects as some trivial idiosyncrasy of design would be revealed that only a true fan would appreciate. So I’m pleased to see this particular segment continue. 

Bringing us to the last few pages… This more than any other section is where the spirit of Grombrindal endures. Entitled ‘This week in White Dwarf’, THIS is the one section that reminds me of White Dwarf of old. With features like ‘Weapon of the week’ ‘Readers Model of the Week’ even ‘Bit of the Week’ this is a treasure trove of sidebars and boxouts. There’s lore, there’s trivia and tidbits and mini interviews, and best of all ASK GROMBRINDAL!!! Yes a Q&A by the Great Bearded One himself! I teleported straight back to 1996 reading this and it filled me with a strange warm glow. Just a few paragraphs keeping Grombrindal alive and showing that despite people’s fears this hallowed and revered character will continue and not fade. It’s a real shame then that the digital edition of the magazine is missing much of this wonderful content. In fact the E-Dwarf falls short in general, having an inferior layout and less pictures too, somewhat baffling given it costs more.


So overall WD Weekly was a pleasant surprise, yes it is still far too heavily skewed with pictures, yes it still has far too much white space and not enough text and yes the entire thing is essentially still just an advert. BUT there is hidden depth and goodness to be found within. There were times when I was reading this magazine that I had a smile on my face and that has not happened reading White Dwarf for a long time. It’s not quite a return to the White Dwarf of old but there are snippets here and there that indicate a real desire to return to the days of quality hobby content being featured within its pages. The spirit of Grombrindal is present within, we should have known he would be far too stubborn to die without a fight, he is a Dwarf after all!

Warhammer Visions on the other hand doesn’t fare so well. More than anything else I would view this publication as an anomaly. It’s early days, there hasn’t really been anything like it before, but it is still an oddity. First off the format. It is ironically smaller and yet thicker than a White Dwarf, making itself seem much more like a catalogue (a comparison that doesn’t do it any favours). There is also the matter of its layout. When GW heralded Warhammer Visions as a ‘High Quality Visual Feast’ or something like that by which I read ‘picture book’ well, I was right. There is VERY little text involved. More or less captions for the photos and that’s about it. Of course those captions are in THREE languages.. 

Bizarre choice of layout and photos. Some of the cropping is terrible.

That’s right, Warhammer Visions is printed with English, French AND German text. I can only think that this is a cost saving exercise and not some secret desire of GW to have all their hobbyists trilingual, it’s a little jarring and I guess a little insulting and further reinforces the feeling that this is some multi country catalogue. Still some of the German translations for Tyranid weapons can be damn amusing to say the least and reading some of the captions really WILL give you a little understanding of the languages so bravo for that I guess. 

Really does just look like a catalogue

So on to content.  Well, disappointingly the first 70 pages or so are taken up with pictures of new releases. Picture after picture of (in this instance) Tyranids, pictures of Tyranid armies, of individual models, of battle scenes, you name it.  You have the funky pull out pages that were in the old monthly White Dwarf (and are so far completely absent from the new weekly one) but there is no real sense to the layout.  Some images are bizarrely cropped, you have double page pictures (which in a book with this format means you lose the middle of the image) I could go on and on. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of the Tyranids look the same which lends a certain amount of repetition to proceedings. LOTR is also included (well the Hobbit) an odd inclusion in a mag called WARHAMMER Visions. 

After the deluge of Tyranid pics it is Army of the month, a Vampire Counts army with some pretty cool ideas, (I particularly liked the ghosts emerging from walls.) Then its fifty pages of Golden Daemon entries, some of which are inexplicably blurry. Still there is some fine content there and much of it is inspiring so it certainly serves its purpose.  The Ork Idol and Lahmean Queen in particular stand out as worthy of mention. 

As is this, fabulous conversion, but very little info

Next up is one of the most pointless things I have ever seen. A Battle Report without words, I’m not kidding. You get the title, pictures of the forces, captioned pictures of the game in progress (I assume) and then a picture of the victors, and that’s it! No discussion of tactics or forces, no insight, no summary or commentary the game. It beggars belief. On one hand it DOES seem like the natural conclusion on to the way the battle reports have been evolving but nonetheless it seems completely ridiculous. Considering the total lack of any kind of battlereport in White Dwarf weekly does this mark the end of the written battle report? A sad day indeed should that prove to be the case. 

What the Fuck is this?

Kitbash is next up and I sense the potential of promise here, the Orks make a good subject for the first edition and there are some wonderfully Orky contraptions on display, even the captioned format lends itself fairly well to the ramshackle nature of the conversions although more information would certainly be required should you wish to replicate the procedure. Then its Blanchitsu, one of my favourite sections of recent times as it reminds me that 40k can still be grimdark, unlike lots of the new releases. Yes it is rubbing in our faces the fact that there really should be an Inquis-skirmish 40k game but some of the models featured are superb, and this month is no exception as Jakob Neilsen of Golden Daemon fame shows off his stunning inquisitorial warband. 

Again, with more words this would be worthwhile.

Inexplicably its more pictures of Tyranids,next  ostensibly to show off more hive fleet colour schemes but it does just feel like a retread of the FIRST 70 odd pages of the book. Still it does tie into the Paint Splatter article which shows you how to replicate a great many hive fleet colour schemes. Unfortunately it is again in the simplest way possible and feels largely redundant being the same technique but with different colours over and over. The obligatory store guide at the end takes us past the 220 page mark though it sure feels cheeky have listings for worldwide stores in a mag that does English, French and German, a small quibble I guess. 

More oddly arranged pictures of bugs. Getting a bit boring now im afraid.

So that’s Warhammer Visions and in all honesty I found it rather lacklustre, the multi language thing looks cheap, the layout of the pictures is lacking common sense, some are bizarrely and poorly cropped and others are out of focus. A Battle report without the report is the dumbest thing I have seen for a long time and although there are lots of pretty pictures of finely painted models it is FAR too repetitive and the captions just have the whole thing reading like a catalogue, it is obvious that the entire thing has been put together as cheaply as possible. There is no writing or creative effort apparent ANYWHERE within its pages. You could create the same exact thing in no time with a google image search. 

Same thing with different colours. A waste.

BUT there is promise, with a little work this could be a worthy publication. Let’s address a couple of ideas: If you are going to stick to the ideas of captions make them worth reading.  Endless pictures the same as you can see on the internet for free is pointless. To compound the issue many of the photos appear to be of the same scene just rotated a little or lazily cropped. There is also often little sense of composition. Of course this may just reflect badly because the chosen subject is Tyranids, which let’s face it are all painted more or less identically within a hive fleet, making affairs rather monotonous. Hopefully it would be a different story with a force with a little more variation. Still, what I would like to see would be highly detailed shots of some of Citadels finest miniatures with multiple angles and close ups of points of interest like a special painting technique or design point. Then USE the captions to provide information on these, make it worthwhile reading rather than a generic aside describing the scene with the very occasional trivia or tidbit thrown in. Blanchitsu is great but again where is the insight? A bit of input from the contributor or even John himself would certainly not go amiss. Same with the army of the month, the Golden Daemon winners. Its all short of INFORMATION. They say a picture tells a thousand words but that’s really not the case. While we are on the subject let’s get some of those shots in slightly sharper focus eh? The models and the paint job certainly deserve to look their best.

So overall I have to say Warhammer Visions is something of a disappointment. Not a complete write off by any means but absolutely a missed opportunity. It would be easy to dismiss it completely but let’s not forget that it is very much a brand new idea for GW and may just need refinement. WD on the other hand has already had a year in its new format to polish its content (and much of what is good about it is much older!) So maybe Warhammer Visions will turn into something worthwhile given time. We will just have to wait and see.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: Mark of Calth Edited by Laurie Golding

So it is time once again for a Heresy book to make it to the Mass Market Paperback format. This time it is Mark of Calth. Continuing the narrative set in Know No Fear,  Mark of Calth finds the Ultramarines locked in a bitter struggle with their hated enemies the Wordbearers below the ravaged remains of the titular planet as they seek to eradicate the stranded invaders. It is remarkable just how much attention has been paid to this previously understated stage of the heresy. What was once a throwaway vague reference, designed to explain why the largest of legions didn’t play a large role in the Siege of Terra, has now developed into a whole series of entries including the Heresy’s very first graphic novel!

Some might accuse BL of milking this part of the story but personally im really enjoying the expanded narrative that is being presented to us and i feel that it has fully justified its increased prescence. Eventually I am sure that they will move away from this area of the Heresy and continue the march toward Terra but I have to confess that some of the Horus Heresies finest moments have come from this splintered narrative.

Mark of Calth is an anthology of stories by premier Horus Heresy writers, within you will find efforts from ADB, Abnett, French and Sanders plus a novella length entry from Mr Graham McNeil. Rather than discuss the book as a whole I’m going to split it up into individual entries and review it that way then present a summary at the end.

1: The Shards of Erebus: By Guy Haley.
The first effort finds us joining the titular Dark Apostle as he shatters the Athame, giving the shards to various bit part characters. This plot point is never really addressed in full anywhere else in Mark of Calth (although it reoccurs from time to time) so it seems that Haley is quite content to leave this story just as a means to explain events that happen in Know No Fear. The story is totally about The World Bearers and Erebus’ machinations and to be honest not a great deal happens. Shards of Erebus is political and shadowy filler nothing more and fairly forgettable.

2: Calth that Was: by Graham McNeil.
 By far the longest instalment, actually more a novella than a short story. Calth that Was details the Ultramarines continuing campaign to eradicate the Word Bearers from Calth, be it below in the caverns underground or on the surface. The hatred that the Ultramarines and in particular the vitriol main character Ventanus feels towards the Word Bearers is palpable and well portrayed. When whole shelters start being destroyed in an insidious Word Bearer plot Ventanus must use all his guile to stop further atrocities. It’s well written and has plenty of punchy action to keep you reading, with a decent plot and great pacing with some good characters this story is one that will see you acquire a new found admiration for the Ultramarines.

3: Dark Heart: By Anthony Reynolds.
This story actually ties into Mr Reynolds 40k Word Bearer Trilogy featuring the same main character. Now im not too sure about characters featuring in both Heresy era and contemporary 40k novels, it seems to be that there are far too many 10,000 year old Marines running around in the 31st Millennium than can comfortably be accounted for. Still this is a pretty good story told in a flashback kind of way as an apprentice outgrows his mentor in the most dramatic of fashions. Much of the story takes place around a superbly visceral boarding action and again the bitter enmity between the forces is well realised. It’s a good read with a decent ending. One of the better entries.

4.The Traveller: By David Annandale:
After a series of stories from both the Ultramarines and Word Bearers perspectives here we have something from the point of view of the common man. The story concerns a worker in one of the shelters deep below the surface of Calth. Over time an indistinct whisper starts forming in his head, but is it a warning from the Emperor or something a good deal more sinister? It’s nice to have a story that isn’t Astartes dominated and this one rattles along nicely dealing with faith, influence and paranoia on the way it’s not overly clever or original and you’ll likely see where it’s going long before it ends but it’s a good read nonetheless.

5: A Deeper Darkness: By Rob Sanders.
This one read like a story out of Inferno! of old. Although it might borrow heavily from a certain Greek myth this is a great story as an Ultramarine warrior tries to hunt down the last of a group of Word Bearers only to find that all is not as it seems and he may have stumbled across more than he bargained for. With a heavy dose of mystery and suspense, marine action meets monster movie in one of the more easily assimilated entries

6: The Underworld War: By Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
A Word Bearer entry from one of the BLs big hitters, The Underworld War is easily one of the most cryptically titled stories in this book, Perhaps a little too clever for its own good, it is however wonderfully ambitious in the end with a great twist. It meanders somewhat getting there though. There’s not a great deal wrong with the story but it’s not spectacular as you might expect an ADB effort to be and plods along in self indulgent introspection for too long till the delightful pay off.

7: Athame: By John French:
I’ve read a lot of stories and books over the years. Athame may well be the first I have ready that is told from the perspective of an (arguably) inanimate object. It details the construction of the weapon and its passing through the hands of many owners and the murders it commits in their names. Of all the stories within ‘Mark of Calth’ this is one I may need to revisit as I get the feeling that Mr French is being very clever with some of the Athame’s backstory and further analysis may well provide further insight. Other than that there isn’t a great deal more to say. Certainly one of the more intriguing entries and one that may yet yield hidden merit.

8: Unmarked: By Dan Abnett:
Ahh, in Abnett we trust. A safe bet pretty much every single time, this effort is actually slightly below par for Dan Reviving the perpetual/Immortal storyline, though John Grammaticus is only featured a little. Instead the story focusses on another of his Ilk as he races through universes to an unknown destination passing though many locations on the way. Some of these will be familiar to the reader and some not so much, it’s another one that might benefit from a re-read at some point. One thing that can be said is that it is a much more metaphysical tale than others featured, mostly exposition and character development with a fair bit of dialogue, certainly not much in the way of action to be found. As usual it is well written by Abnett but it does come off as a little passive and you certainly couldn’t say that it is the most interesting or exciting of entries. Probably best taken more as an indicator that the Perpetuals will return and have a greater role to play in the Heresy yet and a promise of things yet to come….

So that’s Mark of Calth, I’d be lying if I said it was what I expected. I figured it would be far more of what was in Know no Fear, more of a direct continuation of that narrative. Instead we get a much more esoteric set of stories than I bargained for. Quite a few of them do tie into the events in KNF in one way or another but I do feel I would have liked something a little more focussed. I would also say that in the grand scheme if things that the Word Bearers get much more coverage than their enemies and we don’t REALLY get a good idea of just what is going on on/under Calth which is a shame really.
 As a whole the book doesn’t really work to be honest, it certainly isn’t cohesive and it feels like a collection of ideas rather than anything structured. However, taken individually the stories are fine, there are some that are much better than others but all of them are at least average in quality and have something unique to offer in their own way.  I’ll be surprised if this is that last of this narrative we see and on the whole it is worth the read. Just don’t expect great things as a lot of it does feel like filler, albeit filler that is well written and unorthodox in nature.