Tag: Space Marines

There Is Only War

Courtesy Relic Entertainment

For all of its great design work, innovative storytelling through games, flat corporate structure, and altogether positive image, Steam can be downright insidious at times. This past weekend, for example, they held a sale on everything related to Warhammer 40,000 and its games. I got Dawn of War II as a Christmas present, including the Chaos Rising expansion, and had only played the demo of the over-the-shoulder shooter Space Marine. So how do the games hold up, and how do they do representing the universe from which they come?

Dawn of War II & Chaos Rising

I’d played the previous Dawn of War game and its expansions, so I knew the sequel would likely continue being a different experience from other RTS titles. Not only does Dawn of War II provide that gameplay, it surprisingly also showcases a coherent narrative with interesting characters. Rather than split its single-player campaign between the different races available, it keeps its focus on the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines, and the tale of a young and untested Force Commander (that’s you) dealing with the invasion of the chapter’s recruitment worlds.

Space Marines can come across as taciturn, even sullen warrior-priests in the lore, which as I understand it is a departure from their first appearance in 40k back in its first edition. The characters in Dawn of War II that make up your closest allies and battle brothers, by contrast, show a diversity of personality and motivation that works very well. Minor characters, such as the governor’s adjutant on Meridian and the Eldar farseer, also offer glimpses of depth and complexity you might not expect from this setting. All of the characters are voice acted well, which I’m sure is a relief to anybody who is at all familiar with the last original Dawn of War expansion, Soulstorm.

The gameplay is focused more on squad-based tactics than it is building a huge army and tossing it at whatever looks at you funny. Especially on Primarch difficulty, things like using cover and timing attacks properly is essential. The rewards for doing well are improved gear for you and your sergeants, as well as experience you can use to enhance abilities. It gives the game an RPG feel while holding onto its RTS roots. I didn’t really touch multiplayer in Dawn of War II, given the way the single player draws you in, and I do plan on running through and finishing the campaign again on that highest difficulty. It challenges my brain.

Dawn of War II: Retribution

The second expansion to Dawn of War II sees it returning to some older RTS & Dawn of War staples. There are now multiple single-player campaigns, which I suspect all play out along very similar lines. However, voice acting and characterization remain top-notch. I am, in particular, fond of the Imperial Guard’s Lord General, a man whose stiff upper lip can be difficult to see under his mighty mustache, moonlighting as a big game hunter when he isn’t sending waves of impressionable young men into the fray armed with glorified flashlights. I believe some of the characters from the base game and Chaos Rising return for the Space Marine campaign, so I may need to play through that one, as well.

Unfortunately, the tight focus on squad tactics has been lost, in favor of more traditional RTS structures and strategies. Building up sufficient forces to deal with incoming threats feels a lot easier than manipulating the limited resources of the previous campaigns. It’s still fun, but to me it just isn’t quite as challenging. It was Retribution, though, that introduced me to the multiplayer mode known as The Last Stand.

Being interested in MOBA-style cooperative strategy, The Last Stand is right up my alley. Three players, each commanding a single ‘hero’ unit, must hold off wave after wave of incoming enemy units from the various races available in Dawn of War. Each hero has unique abilities, equipment, and strengths. The speed at which you dispatch your foes, the number of rounds you survive without a player becoming incapacitated, and the strategic points you hold all factor into your score. Between games you level up your heroes and assign them equipment and abilities. As quick little bite-sized morsels of RTS & MOBA-flavored fun, it works quite well.

Space Marine

My first impressions of this shooter/spectacle fighter were good enough that I picked up the full game while it was on sale. The action maintains its weight and ferocity, and the story seems coherent enough so far. I can’t say the Ultramarines are showing quite the diversity of the Blood Ravens from Dawn of War II, but the voice acting is still good and the characterization thus far is coherent and consistent with the flavor and atmosphere of the source material.

With the full version I’ve also been able to try my hand at the multiplayer, which is a decent experience. Joining a small squad of Space Marines, be they loyal or Chaos, to control points, annihilate the enemy, or seize control of an ancient weapon has appeal in and of itself, but some of the nuances of the gameplay make it feel just different enough to be worth a look. At the start of the mission or when you respawn, you can pick from several different kits you’ve unlocked through gameplay: standard Tactical, a Devastator/Havoc heavy weapons loadout, and the high-flying Assault/Raptor kit. The biggest attention-grabber, for me at least, is that when you get killed, you can copy the loadout of the player that killed you. Even if they’re twenty levels above you with access to equipment and perks it will take you hours to acquire, you can load yourself up to mirror them and engage in a little payback.

It does have some issues, such as mics always being hot and the peer-to-peer lobby based system that indicates the console port nature of the game. Unlocks happen at a snail’s pace and there are a few weapon balance problems. I’m going to try the Horde mode and see what else I can unlock through some casual dabbling, but I don’t see it replacing TF2 or Tribes: Ascend any time soon.

For Holy Terra: The Tenebrous Wraiths

If you’re into Warhammer 40,000 I heartily recommend the blog For Holy Terra. They recently had a cool little “Reverse Painting Contest,” and I thought I’d share my entry with you, since this week has been extremely busy and I have nothing else prepared.

++++++++++ CLASSIFIED INFORMATION FOLLOWS – EYES ONLY – PUNISHABLE BY DEATH ++++++++++

Tenebrous Wraiths

We were unprepared for the sheer amount of civilians turned by this cult. You have to understand, most of the men under General Corvinus’ command were career Guardsmen who’d chosen to settle on Serevar, raising families and establishing homes. To see those homes burned and familes and friends turned to mindless, screaming followers of some blaspehmous god was too much for some to bear.

Even the sight of the Chaos forces arriving through tears in the Warp didn’t shake some of them from their catatonic states. The laspistols of the Commissars were working overtime. I was worried that so many summary executions would leave us without adequate forces to defend ourselves. The cultists had taken out our orbital links. Help would not arrive in time. It looked more and more like my Kasrkin and myself would be the last line of defense between those stalwart enough to hold to their faith and the seething, stripping, screaming tide of human flesh craving their blood.

We’d taken our positions. Thoroughfare barriers made for poor fortifications against the traitors and their archaic plasma weapons and artillery, but it was all we had. We told people to stay in their homes. We checked and re-checked our hellguns. We listened as the command post was overrun, General Corvinus falling back to behind our line. And I lead my men in prayer.

When I heard the bike engines, I feared the worst.

I couldn’t see them, at first, but I could hear them. When I did catch a glimpse, it took precious seconds to register what I’d seen. It wasn’t the garish colors and deadly spikes of the enemy armor. It was gray, like slate or cold steel, blending into the ferracrete of the buildings. Other figures took positions on top of the buildings behind us. I heard the phut-phut-phut of sniper rifle fire, and former friends and family began dropping, perfect holes in their faces, trampled underfoot by the meaty shields pushed by the traitorous warriors.

The sight gave my men hope. We opened fire with our hellguns. We burned body after body as they hurtled towards us. I couldn’t count on our weapons being as effective on the ancient but powerful armor once worn by the Emperor’s finest warriors, but what choice did we have? Kasrkin don’t back down. Even when the traitors broke rank and charged us, raising vicious chainswords and opening fire with their bolters, we stood fast. We began to fall but we returned fire. I prayed I would live long enough to take at least a few of the blasphemous monsters with me.

And then the drop pods began to fall.

The one that landed directly behind us shook the ground, forcing us to our knees. By the time we recovered, between each one of us left standing was a Space Marine with a heavy weapon. In the field, the pods split open and gleaming warriors in the same grey armor I’d seen poured into the fray. One was sheathed in blue, the mark of the psykers they call Librarians. Was he the reason they’d arrived when they did? Had the path of the Chaos forces through the Warp gained their attention? Whatever the cause, the Space Marines destroyed the traitors and their heretic followers in short order.

General Corvinus came out to greet his saviors. I was too tired to protest. The Librarian met him, then stepped aside for an even taller warrior. He carried his helmet under one arm, his right hand resting on the bolt pistol holstered at his side. I heard Corvinus greet him as “High Commander”. They traded a few words before the High Commander drew his sidearm and shot General Corvinus in the head. The Space Marine then turned his attention to me.

“You will lead these men.”

With that, he and his battle-brothers left the field. My promotion was waiting for me when we returned to the garrison. We later learned Corvinus was engaged in heresey and Chaos worship himself, at least according to Inquisitorial sources. The agents who informed me of this also disclosed the Inquisitor who employs them is upset that the Space Marines arrived here before they could. That is, however, their opinion even if it is only one I share.

Repairs on the planet’s surface continue and members of the Ecclesiarchy minister to the survivors. All is well, for now.

 

General Abram Kadeen
Interim Commander, Callimar 41st, Callimar Proxima
Report Filed [date redacted]

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Educate men without faith and you but make them clever devils. ++++

History:

Tenebrous WraithsThe Imperial Wraiths were mustered out of the Imperial Fists during the Second Founding. The goal was for the Force Commander at the time, Titus Obscurus, to take initiates showing promise in infiltration and develop those skills along with standard combat training to carry out covert operations against the enemies of the Imperium. The Imperial Wraiths were ceded the second moon of Xellious VII in the Hawking Sector, with other planets in the sector serving as recruitment worlds.

However, not long after the chapter was established, tragedy struck. An excavation on Xellious IV unveiled an ancient artefact of unspeakable power. Before the Inquisition could intercede, the artefact was activated and Chaos energies swept over the planet. Aspects of every unclean god overthrew the minds and bodies of the population, and traitorous legions spewed forth from the Warp. Within a fortnight, the entire sector was in turmoil and the fortress-monestary on the second moon of the seventh planet was scoured by the fires of Tzeench.

After pitched combat with these forces, the Imperium managed to reclaim the sector. It seemed, however, that the Imperial Wraiths had been lost. Decades passed before evidence to the contrary emerged. On the other side of the Imperium, before any other Space Marines could respond to a planetary distress call, a massive cathedral-dreadnought dating back to the Horus Heresy emerged from the Warp. Drop pods in shades of grey rained from the sky, producing Space Marines with grim determination and heavy weaponry. They bore iconography that was a pale reflection of their previous symbols and called themselves the Tenebrous Wraiths.

Rumors are that it was one of the Wraith’s own Librarians who oversaw the excavation of the artefact that nearly destroyed the chapter and they have chosen to remain apart from their battle brothers out of shame. An even more insidious contention is that they are in the throes of a Chaos god, a tool of deception to lull mankind into a false sense of security. While no injunction has been issued forbidding them from approaching Holy Terra as yet, the Dies Irae Veniendum Est invokes as much dread as it does relief when it appears in orbit around a world. Their unpredictable movements, taciturn behavior and nihilistic prayers make others uneasy, but in combat they are every bit as implacable and righteous as their more boisterous battle brothers.

Organization:

In an attempt to allay some fears amongst the Inquisition, High Commander Brutus Obscurus submitted a general report on chapter strength to the Ordo Hereticus. His first contention was that at no time has the chapter deviated from the Codex Astartes, despite tumultuous periods in which the chapter astropaths struggled to navigate their massive home successfully through the Warp. He claimed the cathedral-dreadnought is home to four battle companies, each consisting of three tactical squads, three devastator squads and two assault squads, as well as a dedicated recruit company and a command company of five librarians, six chaplains, four squads of veteran space marines. The report contains a total mustered strength of just under four hundred battle brothers.

The only individuals permitted to ascend to the Dies Irae Veniendum Est are recruits. Dignitaries, regional commanders and other Space Marines are always met elsewhere. This makes it difficult to gauge the exact nature and capabilities of this vessel, which is slightly larger than a battle barge but appears to carry fewer weapons. The Chapter does not maintain any other battle barges, only a handful of strike cruisers to escort their final bastion. Manufactorium parts and raw materials are either acquired in the field of battle or ‘requisitioned’ from planetary governments. Still, the Techmarines of the Tenebrous Wraiths appear to be up to date on current pattens of Imperial wargear, and no Space Marine of the chapter bears any appearance of Chaos influence.

Recently the Tenebrous Wraiths acquired the means to produce Terminator armour from the forges aboard the cathedral-dreadnought, but the Techpriests of Mars insist that such manufacture is time-consuming and costly in raw materials. Nevertheless, the chapter’s armored strength remains diminished, with only six Land Raider variants, eight Predators and two Vindicators. They have no Whirlwinds or Land Speeders to speak of. They do, however, have a great number of Rhinos, Razorbacks and bikes, and it appears that the Dies Irae Veniendum Est was retrofitted in such a way that most of its planetary bombardment capabilities have been replaced with increased Drop Pod capacity.

Heraldry:

The cloaked spectre of the Imperial Wraiths is gone, replaced with the stark skull-and-scythe iconongraphy the chapter now bears.

Previously, the colors of the chapter were white with yellow trim, in honor of Dorn’s Imperial Fists. After their disgrace and absence, they opted for a gray pallate with brass trim that harkens back to the glory days before the Horus Heresey. The left pauldron always bears the icon of the chapter, while the right is colored to match one’s squad: white for scout, green for tactical, orange for devastator, red for assault and silver for veterans.

Tactics:

The Wraiths often dispatch a Thunderhawk with scouts on bikes before making their main assault. These scouts report on enemy positions and strength. Once the field is mapped, drop pods rain from the sky. Against entrenched enemies, armored units may be dispatched, but in those cases the task of the armor is to breach the enemy defenses to allow rapid transports to surge into the enemy and dispense death by bolter and chainsword.

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: It is better to die for the Emperor than to live for yourself. ++++

“Let it be known we choose to stand in shadow.
We who have seen Man’s heroes become villains.
We who remember the best of us falling to the worst.
We who seek to cleanse our Galaxy of our weaknesses.
Let it be known we protect the light of the Empire,
and in its shadow we stand eternal and vengeful.
We are the Wraiths. We shall not forget.
From the Shadows! To OBLIVION!” – Pre-battle benediction of the Tenebrous Wraiths

First Impressions: Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine

Courtesy Relic Entertainment

The miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000 and I have something of a history. There have been periods in my life where I’ve had enough disposable income and free time to seriously consider the hobby. While the atmosphere and lore of the universe created by Games Workshop still holds appeal, more often than not I’ve found myself needing to feed myself and invest in other pursuits rather than properly outfit and paint an army of Eldar, Dark Angels or Black Templars. The Dawn of War RTS games circumvented the need to buy units by allowing gamers like myself to create armies within the context of those games, but the distant viewpoint necessary to corral several units of elite troops meant that things might feel less than authentic. You haven’t been able to properly experience first-hand the awesome size of a superhuman Space Marine, the visceral nature of close combat or the grim darkness of the far future… until now.

Courtesy Relic Entertainment
“Thank you, Captain Titus! But your Inquisitor is in another manifactorum!”

Space Marine puts you in the power armour of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. Since this is only a demo we don’t get too much in the way of story, but it’s enough to whet the appetite. Savage orks have overrun a forge world, where the weaponry and machinery of the Imperium is created, and they are threatening to seize some sort of powerful device. With the Imperial Guard’s backs against the wall and Inquisitor Drogan missing, it’s up to Titus and his compatriots to fight their way through the tide of greenskins. Unlike some other games set in the 40k universe, the voice acting is relatively subdued when it comes to the humans and appropriately boisterous for the orks. But enough talk of story, we’re here to get our bolter & chainsword on.

Courtesy Relic Entertainment
Just another day at the office.

The very first thing I noticed, which has been said elsewhere, is that the characters and objects in this game feel like they have weight. Space Marines are massive, and not the kind to go bounding from cover to cover like they’re floating an inch above the ground. In fact, the Imperial Guard has a tendency to use the Space Marines as cover when the shooting starts. The ponderous pace of Titus as he tromps towards his foes, the barking sound of the bolter or bolt pistol and the way the rounds from each explode inside their targets leaves the game feeling authentic, as true to the mood and descriptions in the massive 40k tomes as possible.

Outside of the exciting prospect for fanboys of a ‘proper’ 40k game, there’s other aspects this shooter/spectacle fighter has going for it. You can carry more than a few weapons on your person, and there’s a good deal of variety. The Stalker-pattern bolter allows you to do a little sniping, and the Vengeance launcher provides the means for tactical set-up of a coming battle. And don’t think you can just duck out of the way and your health will magically come back to you. The force field that protects your armour will regenerate but your health does not. To get that back, you must channel the fury of the Emperor (which you can only do occasionally) or execute a foe. And these executions are brutal. Being reduced to a mere sliver of health only to manhandle an ork and pull off a wince-inducing kill in order to keep fighting is deeply satisfying in a way I should probably discuss with a professional.

Courtesy Relic Entertainment
So, sometime in the next dozen millenia we’re going to get our damn jet packs.

The demo provides two relatively short missions, one to give you the feel for a scenario start-to-finish and one to tease you with some jump pack action. Assault marines are some of the fastest and nastiest units in 40k and strapping a jump pack on has the same authenticity of the other aspects of the game. Hopping into the sky only to slam down onto an enemy placement intent on sniping your buddies with rockets (sorry, in ork speak that’s ‘rokkitz’) is just as satisfying as hefting one into the air, body-slamming it and stomping on its face. It’s very difficult not to enjoy the experience.

On the PC, the controls are smooth and fully customizable. The game has a great look and feel to it, with excellent sound design and a full orchestral score. While this title will mostly appeal to fans of the universe and spectacle fighter veterans of God of War and Bayonetta, from what I’ve seen Relic is doing just enough differently from both it’s own previous titles and current industry standards in both shooting games and action games to make Space Marine memorable and worth the time to play. The full game will be released in September.

The Emperor Protects.

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