The Siege of Castellax

The Siege of Castellax by CL Werner.

Earlier this year, I had said that I wouldn’t do anymore book reviews. At the very last sentence of it I had mention that, at the very least, I wouldn’t do anymore in a negative tone. 

Until today, I had kept my word on that. Today I finished reading The Siege of Castellax by CL Werner. So, in an exception I hope not to make so often, I am giving it a review. Call me a liar if you must.

For fans of Warhammer 40k, many of the Space Marine Battle Novels have  not always to their tastes. The SMBs, by their nature, have tended towards straight forward stories of two sides fighting, and some feel they lack story and character growth. 

But this book is a game changer. It is the first full SMB novel revolving around a Chaos Marine Legion instead of loyalists (Architect of Fate was a series of novellas). And above all, it has a story that delivers as sharply as any other 40k novel, or rather moreso.

Castellax is a factory world ruled by the Iron Warriors, under the command of Warsmith Andraaz. Life on Castellax somehow manages to be even more heinous than that of the Imperium. Human slaves, referred to by a resource term of ‘Flesh’, grind themselves into nothing serving the needs of the Iron Warriors, all to keep up shipments to Medrengard.

But everything goes to hell when a billion Orks attack the planet. Immediately, the Iron Warrior’s navy is smashed. Andraaz finds himself relying on his captains: Vallax and Rhodaan (pictured above) who lead the Raptors. Algol, a madman who enkoys taking the skins of interesting slaves. Gamgin, who leads the Iron Warrior’s human auxilia, Morax, who is in charge of the air forces. And Oriax, the enigmatic Fabricator and Techmarine.

Every major Iron Warrior character has their own fetish or intrigue. While the Orks tend to be more of a plot driving element than a character driven force, the story is told in the form of endless scheming and conniving amongst the Iron Warrior ranks. Grand plans to usurp positions of leadership, attempts at rebellion and revenge abound everywhere, as the psychotic antics of the legion repeatedly undermine their efforts to stop the greenskins. These characters create several of their own plot lines, that tie together and could never end happily.

A rare spectacle of the book can be explained in one word: Obliterator.

Indeed. Chances to read about an Obliterator in action, or even converse with them, don’t come often from the works of the Black Library. But Werner has given us the rare chance to witness the horror these eclectic behemoths inflict upon both enemies and allies. The scarcity of these monsters alone makes the book worth reading for anyone who has pondered these walking arsenals.

CL Werner crafts rare stages for combat, unusual circumstances that you wish would you could not just read or see on the screen, but play in a video game. Trains that dump cars and sacrifice their desperate allies to pick up speed. Raptors diving down massive cannon barrels to destroy them from within. Having to subdue a rampaging Obliterator. Perhaps the guys who are tinkering at the next Warhammer 40k game will pick Werner’s brain for ideas.

The Siege of Castellax satisfies and more. It hits every note that Black Library readers want: tight battle scenes, detailed settings that strongly interact with the story. Gripping, intriguing characters who spin and drive their own plots. Rhodaan will be a character who inspires modelist for months, if not years, to come. Chaos and its themes rule the day. 

It’s everything you want a Space Marine Battle novel to be. It’s a great book, and hopefully the start of even more amazing things to come from the SMB series. Be sure to grab a copy for the holidays.

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Imperial History X

The superiority of the hu-man over the greenskin is supreme like the pizza I got from Papa John's last night!

The superiority of the hu-man over the greenskin is supreme! Supreme like the pizza I got from Papa John's last night!

PRE'PAR TA BE KURB STOMP'D!

They come on our land! They take our guns, our children and our sweet, sweet rides! All in the name of being "green"!

KURB STOMP!

KURB STOMP!

Please direct all complaints to realheavyrep@yahoo.com so I can ignore them. Thanks.

DITNA

So yesterday, the Orks learned that we were not at war but a fashion show. Simply put, dead is the new alive. (Clap clap) MUSIC!

So I actually beat Exterminatus yesterday. 20 rounds of Orks squashed. I was quite surprised we beat the 19th round as easily as we did. The secret was that four of us grabbed point A as soon as possible, then we split up to grab points B and C with two men on each point. It worked well. Our set up was two Devastators and two Assault Marines. I went with the Ammunition Stores and Heavy Bolter Coolant perks, with frag grenades.

Of course, we were in for another surprise just as the final nob went down. A bonus round. Against Chaos.

Purple warp storms shocked the arena as Bloodletters poured into the arena. They weren’t terribly difficult, but they had a tendency to phase shift away just as you were starting to get some good hits on them. There were also a lot of them. About a fifth into it, Chaos Marines showed up. These guys were game changers, with very, very powerful armor. They weren’t terribly skilled: average shots, willing to go melee and would dodge and retreat once their armor was broken. They took a lot of pepper to take down however. The same was true of the Havocs who started to appear.

But the worst was about 2/3s through the round when the champions started to appear. Wielding daemon mauls and sporting so much health, I expended perhaps 150 to 200 rounds just to take one out. And there were several who gave chase. It came down to constant hit and run tactics. Run, turn, fire, run-turn-fire again and again.

The good news was that these kills added a lot to the new live counter, so that although we died often this round, we made back just enough to see us through to victory. Go us.

P.S. I purchase three songs by Emilie Autumn on Amazon yesterday and played them on repeat throughout the game. Loved it. Swallow is one of my favorites, so check it out and buy some of her stuff if you enjoy it as well.

Exterminatus Review

Trained in battle, but also a master of dance fighting. With an axe.

Also a master of dance fighting. With an axe.

Exterminatus. Mmmm good.

Among the earliest complaints I agreed with on Space Marine was the lack of content. THQ however, worked quickly to fix this, coming out with a new coop mode only a couple of months after the release. When it came out, I was frustrated because a bug wouldn’t let me play, but THQ worked fast to fix that. Now I enjoy Exterminatus whenever I need something new.

But depending on who you ask, their timing was anywhere from good to poor.

You see, in Exterminatus you can only earn experience. You cannot earn perks or armor. So for those players who already earned level 41, their incentive to play Exterminatus is effectively nil. But for those who have not yet earned the highest tier, it’s a fun change of pace.

Hopefully, since THQ is coming out with another version of Exterminatus called “Chaos Unleashed” for the Chaos faction, they’ll add some new armor or perks to earn. In CU, Chaos Marine teams will fight not only Orks but Imperial Guard too, with new boss and units like the Sanctioned Psyker. The DLC comes with new maps and a new game mode. Check it out here.

One of the things that shakes up coop against competitive is the fact that in competitive, the best perks tend to focus more on anything that boosts offense and defense enough in the face of short, brutally intense fights against other players. So perks like Serrated Combat Blade, or Iron Halo tend to be really useful.

But in the coop, the fight is long, ongoing and full of attrition. The Orks are weak, but keep coming after you with their hordes. They grind you down, wear you out and eventually overwhelm you. So perks that focus more on recovering and sustainability tend to be more useful. Final Vengeance for example is a wasted perk, since your team only gets a very finite number of lives and you do more damage staying alive than blowing up on the Orks. In competitive play, I wouldn’t have bothered with Ammunition Stores because I can recover ammo by killing or respawning. I just never really ran out. But in coop, Tactical and other Devastators need ammo too, so we tend to compete for the ammo drops the Orks rarely leave behind.

So here’s a short list of perks I believe are more useful for Exterminatus:

Tactical:
Typically, you want to avoid any perk that is more about respawning. Rapid Deployment and Teleport Homer aren’t terribly useful because you and your allies should work very hard to avoid death. You maybe tempted towards Master-Crafted Wargear and Favor of the Armory because grenades do well with managing Ork groups, but the occasional difficulty in replenishing grenades will quickly take away from the benefits of these perks.

  • Larraman’s Blessing – You will sometimes have to run away from the hordes to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. But this perks lets you recover more rapidly and get back into the fight.
  • Weapon Versatility – The beauty of this perk is that you take two guns and not just one with you. By doing so, you also increase the amount of ammunition you take with you as well as the amount of ammo you recover when you get an ammo drop. You can also better react to the kinds of Orks you’ll be facing.
  • Additional Melta Fuel – This perk as well as any that let you take additional ammo is recommended. Given the slow recharge time of a Melta however, you may also consider the Improved Melta Charge perk with this.

Devastator:
The Devastator’s defensive perks work well in Exterminatus. So it really boils down to the weapon choices. As such, I cannot recommend the Lascannon because of the sheer number of targets and their preference towards close combat. The Plasma Cannon is decent, but one must be mindful of the fact that the Orks are desperately trying to get close, making it personally dangerous. This means that the Heavy Bolter is probably the most reliable choice for Exterminatus. Surprisingly, while Heavy Bolter Expertise is a make-or-break perk in competitive, it’s not that big a deal in coop.

  • Heavy Bolter Coolant – Given the sheer number of Orks, overheating is a huge problem for the Heavy Bolter. This perk goes far to counter it, letting you keep up the barrage of firepower to take them down.
  • Ammunition Stores – When you have one other Devastator or Tactical Marine on the team, getting ammo usually isn’t too bad. But if you have three or more, it becomes very difficult. But Ammunition Stores lets you keep going where as others are down to pistols.
  • Artificer Armor – In truth, almost any of the defensive perks are great for survivability. Artificer Armor however lets you recover from battle damage much more quickly. Just disengage and run until it replenishes your armor.

Assault Marine:
Assault Marines don’t suffer from the necessity of ammunition quite like the other two classes. This is not to say that the pistols aren’t useful, but they should be at the front fighting the hordes face to face. They also have the joy of health replenishing perks, which let them continue to fight where as others have to back off in order to survive.  The one change up is that Assault Marines should not be afraid to leap away if they’re getting overwhelmed. Orks prefer numbers and melee combat and sometimes, and that’s too much for a lone Assault Marine to deal with. The jump pack should be used defensively as well as offensively. Perhaps the worst thing about Assault Marines is when they have to take a control point, as they cannot use their best features as offensively as they are intended too.

  • Swordsman’s Zeal – This perk lets you keep going even when your armor is gone. It’s easy to have too much faith in this perk, however, and believe you can stand up to a horde. Fight as hard as you can, then jump away and kill a lone Ork to replenish your life rapidly. Then rejoin the fray. The same applies to the Axeman’s Zeal.
  • Air-Cooled Thrusters – Leaping away from a horde can sometimes spell the difference between life and death. The jump pack stores up to two jumps, so exhausting your supply when you land is risky business. Blast Off and Death From Above pair well with this, so long as you jump as often as you can.
  • True Grit – I’ve seen Assault Marines use this in Exterminatus and it is surprisingly effective. It gives them a very valid ranged option when the Assault Marine must pull away from a horde (the pistol isn’t bad, but a bolter is still better). When the Assault Marine has to take a control point, it also gives him a better weapon for fending off Shoota Nobz and Rokkit Boyz. The only downside is that it makes the Assault Marine more ammo dependent, to the detriment of any Devastators or Tactical Marines.

Tranzfurm ‘n Rollz Out, Ya Gitz!

It transforms. It has Orks. What more do you want?

It transforms. It has Orks. What more do you want?

Head on over to Da Waaagh forums to see the pictures of this fully transforming masterpiece. Talk about awesome.

Interestingly enough, I found out about this model through the saved searches on Google+. After Facebook’s modified user interface today, I found myself going back to G+ to see what I’ve been missing. It’s growing on me.

So today is off to a rough start. My LG Ally phone’s keyboard has decided to stop working. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’ve checked some forums but no one has the answer, so I’m taking it into the shop after my reports are finished for work.

Today I’m making an effort to get started on writing some stories for other publishing companies besides the Black Library. For a couple of years, the Black Library competitions are the only thing I’ve honestly tried professionally, being far too content to write strictly for fun. And Lord Lucan’s success has galvanized me to try.

Today I’m going to throw more effort into it. Reports are almost done. I’ve 10 more pieces of music for writing to post a little later today. Later folks.

Imperial Guard Omnibus: Volume 1

Expect to see the Catachan Jungle Fighters in top form in this one.

Expect to see the Catachan Jungle Fighters in top form in this one.

Okay, so here’s a tough question. How do you fairly review three different books by three different authors in the same collection? I guess we’ll find out in today’s review of the Imperial Guard Omnibus: Volume 1.

Contained within are the novels Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon, Death World written by Steve Lyon, and Rebel Winter authored by Steve Parker. At the time I read it, it was my first introduction to all three authors so I had no expectations. You may also notice that I now link the authors to their bios on the Black Library’s site if you want to take a look at the lives of these upstanding gentlemen.

My reason for picking up the omnibus is a little more complex than I first let on. My dad, who had passed away more than a year ago at the time, had served in Vietnam as an MP Captain. So I took to learning about the struggle on foreign soil to understand a bit more about what he went through. I also turned to fictional stuff about jungles or Vietnam as well.

I started watching the Rambo series, and reading the amazing Punisher Max comic series (which will get a blog post later as it is an amazing graphic novel series). What I learned inspired me enough to effect my fictional writing, hence my interest in Catachan. I picked up the omnibus just for Death World. I just got more with it.

I’m going to start with a quick summary of each of the three books.

The first book of the trio was Fifteen Hours. The book covers the tithing of a seemingly calm world, scuttling a fresh faced kid (the main character) into the Imperial Guard. A clerical error within the Administratum sends his unit to world different from the one he was intended. Upon arriving, the recruit’s entire squad is lost and he is snowballed into a completely different regiment to survive the Ork onslaught. The namesake of the book comes from a statistic; new recruits who survive for greater than fifteen hours show a better chance of survival long term.

The second book was Death World, and the real reason I picked up the omnibus. A short story takes place before the book begins about protagonist Lorenzo’s trial to join the Catachan Devils. In the book, Lorenzo is shipped to a battlefront which Imperial command believes is a ‘death world.’ The jungle planet is overrun with Orks, and Lorenzo’s squad is sent on a special assignment alongside an obnoxious Commissar. Meanwhile, supporting the squad from a distance is the elusive and unbelievably lethal Sly Marbo (an anagram for Rambo).

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

The final book, Rebel Winter, was an unexpected but delightful surprise. A rebellion against the Imperium on a cold planet. In response, the Imperium does what it does best and sends an army of Vostroyans to deal with the uprising. But like the other two novels, Orks pop up. The book focuses primarily on a commander who was born in the lower classes, but against the odds is promoted to an officer despite such positions usually being reserved for nobility. Even from a distance, Parker develops Vostroya with the back stories of his characters.

To my surprise, the three books were actually in the order of how I preferred them, although part of me had to detract a point because all three novels involved fighting the Orks. Greenskins get monotonous after a while. Scanlon’s characters are catchy, especially the three stooges trio that the main character gets set up with. But the setting and story over all just don’t impress me. Lyons was more enjoyable, the explorer’s story meshing well with the combat and plot. I love the way Lyon wrote Marbo, less as a character and more as an elemental force.

But Steve Parker crafted the best tale of the three. No, I’m not saying that just to avoid getting beaten up. Parker’s characters were memorable because of their back stories, which not only crafted their personality but managed to effectively explain the traditions and world of Vostroya. His plot sufficiently mixed things up with a combination of rebel forces, Orks, a few internal political enemies and even the Inquisition. The book was satisfying and hinted of a sequel I wouldn’t be against.

Ultimately, two out of three good books makes a worthy buy. I got my finger’s crossed that Rebel Winter gets a sequel.

Space Marine

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

For some time now, THQ has been teasing and teasing Warhammer fans with the chance to step into the shoes of a Space Marine. We’ve seen all manner of trailers, talk and ideas spun about what we’re going to get. But this month, Games Workshop fans finally got a reward for their faith.

The game is good. Not perfect, but damn good.

Let’s start with what we see. The game is a marvel, the characters detailed and amazing to behold. There are these tiny details, ranging from the streaming purity seals to the variety of armor components. The scars across their faces and especially Captain Titus, whose hair is parted by a nice scalp wound. Part of me wants to point out that there seem to be a general lack of facial expressions before I remind myself that Space Marines, being the perfect soldiers, are effectively psychopaths. Why they would need to smile is not even worth asking.

The levels are huge, but are completely dominated with Imperial iconography. THQ has gone above and beyond to truly and fully bring the intellectual property of Games Workshop to the home screen. They’ve done this very well before in the Dawn of War series and even when viewing the world from the eyes of a single Astartes, they do not stop.

Speaking of levels, I noticed two flaws. The first is technical and the problem is probably unique only to my situation. My experience with the game comes from Windows XP SP3 on a solid machine. Compared to the other platform options, which include XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows 7 PCs, this is well on the lower end. Every time the screen shakes considerably, a black skeleton of the architecture can be seen. I doubt others will experience this.

The second problem is the lack of choices. I am a PC gamer, my time on the console is behind me. Many of the games I play, like Fallout, tend to spoil me with the options and choices of destinations being at my discretion. To its credit, Space Marine does a bang up job of guiding the player to the next objective by pointing them out. You do not spend an hour looking for some switch to activate a bridge, like you did in the second stage of the original Halo. Yes, I still remember that. But it doesn’t give you any paths to choose from. I’m sure fans will rise to Space Marine‘s defense regarding this, but I think even they will agree they would like to see such choices in future installments.

"Come, join us. We have tacos." ... My, only weakness...

"Come, join Chaos. We have tacos."

The game play is solid, successfully combining hack and slash melee action with cool and composed gun battles. Many a times I’ve charged into the fray, before pulling back to pop the heads of a few Ork Shoota Boyz with my Stalker pattern Bolter. I was very worried about the game folding into a pattern of wash, rinse and repeat, but the weapon and enemy varieties have avoided that boring problem. Though I was glad to finally see Chaos when they popped up.

Speaking of Chaos, I have to apologize to my readers. My earlier insinuation of Chaos being the Iron Warriors was wrong. I was misled by the color scheme and emblem designs, but the Chaos Space Marines belong to some unusual chapter called the Chosen of Nemeroth. It was my fault for spreading misinformation.

Anyway, besides fighting the other object is simply staying alive. The first survival metric is against your armor’s power rating, and the second is your health. Armor recovers on its own if you stay out of combat. Health doesn’t in single player. Captain Titus recovers health by either unleashing fury or delivering executions. Executions are amazing to watch, but you’re very vulnerable while performing them. In multiplayer, players recover their health as they do their shields, but it takes a little longer.

The single player game has enough content to merit at least a replay. Beside the list of achievements and challenges to attempt, there are also servo-skulls scattered through the stages to find and collect. The medium difficult has thus far proven challenging enough, but I will want to try my hand at the hard setting.

But the multiplayer is where it’s at. THQ knew exactly how to rope players in with an addictive, reward based leveling system. There are 41 levels to earn, and perks and equipment are unlocked as you do so. These perks can start to give significant benefits to players. For new guys, this can be discouraging, but THQ thought ahead. When you die, you can “copy the loadout” of the guy who killed you for a single life when you respawn. This lets you fight on equal terms for much of the game if you desire.

Overall, Space Marine is a great game for the casual player or violent action junkie, but more importantly is what the fans have been waiting for. It may seem greedy to ask for more but if I didn’t, THQ could very well rest their laurels. Still, the game is an evolutionary step of what I’ve been wanting to see for a very, very long time…