The Ultramarines Omnibus

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

A good book to read for the uninitiated? One for chaps who are new to the works of the Black Library?

Well, that’s kind of tough to answer. Some books are easier than others to figure out and understand. But there’s no escaping that a person’s first trip into Warhammer 40k is likely to be like slamming a person’s head into a bucket of ice cold water. There’s a lot to learn, from the terminology to the factions, the history of each race.

So I can’t say with absolutely certainty, but Graham McNeill’s The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the better bets.

The Ultramarines Space Marine chapter is probably one of the few who are fairly more benevolent than most. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe. Nothing in the universe is ever that simple, and the moral grey areas lend themselves to complexities that make almost every faction and character more well rounded than we are ever first led to believe. But for a new guy, this is fine.

In Nightbringer, Uriel Ventris is the main character of the series, who is captain of the 4th Company. Together with his ally and close friend Pasanius, the 4th Company is sent to look into the civil unrest and Dark Eldar raids against the planet of Pavonis. I cannot really say much more without risking plot spoilers.

Of the three books in the trilogy, Nightbringer is actually my least favorite. It goes for some mystery elements that do not particularly mesh with the direction Ultramarines are expected to take in my opinion. But for the new guy, the first of the three books will do them a favor in illustrating the infighting and complications of life and politics on just about every world in the Imperium. Still, despite any personal misgivings about the first book, the second and third ones make up for it.

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

In Warriors of Ultramar, Uriel Ventris joins Chief Librarian Tiberius in forging an alliance with the Mortifactors, another Space Marine chapter descended from Roboute Guilliman. Together they join in the defense of Tarsis Ultra, who is in the path of a Tyranid fleet. Given that Tyranids cannot be reasoned with and seek to devour all the bio-matter on a planet (including yours truly), you would think the story would be straight forward good guys versus the bad dudes. But McNeill isn’t going to let the reader off that easy. In the defense of the system, various characters sacrifice lives to protect Tarsis Ultra. Or to save their own bacon.

Dead Sky Black Sun takes place very shortly after Warriors of Ultramar and, ironically, as a direct result of Uriel Ventris’ actions within the previous book. Punished for not sticking to the Codex Astartes, Uriel Ventris is stripped of command of the 4th Company and sent with his friend Pasanius on a quest of redemption. Due to an unforeseen and very bloody supernatural intervention however, Ventris and Pasanius are dumped on Medrengard, the industrial world home to the unforgiving Iron Warriors legion.  The situation is even worse given the power struggle between two Iron Warrior factions, one of whom is led by Warsmith Honsou. Who is Honsou, you may ask? I haven’t time to explain. But at the rate this guy is accumulating fame, you’ll find out sooner or later.

Dead Sky Black Sun has a back story to it that is told in McNeill’s other book, Storm of Iron. A first time reader can probably wing it without too much difficulty, but the previous book answers many questions that may pop up throughout Uriel Ventris’ quest on the Iron Warrior’s home world.

Given how much the Black Library sees the Space Marines as the most integral part of the Warhammer 40k universe, a new guy is going to have to get initiated with the Astartes sometime. Graham McNeill is probably the best author on the subject. Hence The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the best choices for bringing new fans on board.

SPESS MEHREN!

So let’s talk about what’s cool. Specifically, let’s talk about Space Marine. Or better yet, let’s watch the bloody, bloody trailer…

With the exception of Soulstorm and Fire Warrior, THQ has done a fine job of translating the table top game into the PC world. Soulstorm came at the butt end of a growing list of Dawn of War expansions shortly before Dawn of War 2, and seemed to lack the innovation and quality they put into the other expansions. Meanwhile, Fire Warrior felt like it just rehashed the Red Faction game engine without tweaking or improving it.

Yes, it’s true that both these games got solid reviews, but I’m also used to other 40k fan boys pumping up the ratings far more than they deserve. You can see it on Amazon when you look up the reviews of new Black Library books. And while most of the novels the Black Library publishes are good quality, some have fallen short of my expectations.

But I’ve seen little about Space Marine thus far that is cause for alarm. The graphics look tight, they’ve invested some effort in developing at least a decent story from the cut scenes. The varieties of weapons to use and enemies to kill are solid.

I get a touch confused because the game seems more focused on melee over ranged combat, but the list of available ranged weapons seems larger than the close combat choices. What’s worse is that I’m actually not sure what weapons will be available and what won’t be. For example, the online site gives us this small list of weapons. But one trailer gave us a brief glimpse of the autocannon, while another shows a laser cannon, a heavy bolter and a power axe. I have not seen a flamer, power fist nor a missile launcher. At least not yet.

I suspect that the developers are probably having a long, last minute debate over what will be put in the game and what will be held back to either purchase later or thrown into expansions. From the start, earlier trailers seemed to have a different vision for the game involving a team of mixed combat styles. Something obviously changed between now and then.

One cause of concern for me is going to be game play variety. So far, about 95% of what I’ve seen consisted of hacking, slashing and shooting through huge mobs of Orks or mowing down Chaos Marines. The other 5% consisted of some sort of vehicular mid air shoot out.

The environment looks spectacular.

The environment is so spectacular, even Captain Titus has to pause in awe of it.

Combat is wonderful, but most gamers these days need more. A tight combat system makes the game a lot of fun, as it did for God of War. But Kratos’ tale was also mixed with puzzle solving on the side to work the mind and not just the fingers. I’m not exactly sure that puzzles would really fit into a game like this.  However, I also fear that the game will suffer from this pattern:

  1. Notice large mob of bad guys coming over to kindly make your acquaintance. And then kill you.
  2. Engage said group of green gentlemen, smashing buttons to find some combination of moves that relieves them of their lives.
  3. Proceed to next area before the stench of the fresh cadavers’ relaxed bowels becomes overpowering.

Maybe there is some variety mixed in there. Perhaps driving vehicles. Or skulking about as a scout, planting bombs, sniping, knifing and keeping out of sight. Still, a lot of details have been held back. So it’s really wait and see at this point.

But I find myself really looking forward to the multiplayer. THQ decided to give us the option of being either Space Marines or Chaos Marines, and unbelievable customization options to boot. Here’s a parting video for you to see:

Sadly, I suspect there will be no sandvich.