GnM is an online blog that chronicles my experiences through whatever it is that is catching my attention at the moment. Expect shifts between PC gaming news and commentary, to absolute nerding out about the new MG Exia Gundam kit. My brain is full of random esoteric crap, and I'll be spewing it out here. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review: Dark Storm Gathering.

This is my first book review here at GnM, and as such, you may expect spoilers in the review. I may mention plot points, and I will also be comparing the book to its predecessor, Empire in Chaos. Consider this your only spoiler warning. 

Still with me? Good. The second novel based on Warhammer Online, Dark Storm Gathering (DSG) manages to surpass its predecessor, Empire in Chaos (EIC), in certain areas, while still falling short in others. DSG is written by Chris Wraight, who also penned Masters of Magic and the upcoming Iron Company for the Black Library. 

I’m not familiar with Mr. Wraight’s writing, being more of a fan of Dan Abnett, or William King. His writing style is quite verbose, and he likes to use adjectives a lot. I counted no less than five of them in one sentence. He has a solid grasp of characterization however, and he has definite potential. To me, he comes off as trying for a pulpy, Hammer-horror movie type of feel, but he’s not as good at this as C.L. Werner. 

However, he’s a relatively new author, so this is something that will improve with time. As I said earlier, he does a good job of characterizing the heroes and villains of the piece. Bright Wizards, Witch Hunters, Chaos Chosen, Dark Elf Sorcerers and Disciples of Khaine are all present, along with a White Lion, Archmage, and Knight of the Blazing Sun. 

However, such a large cast means that some characters are better fleshed out than others, simply because the book is only so long. Also, like the novel Empire in Chaos before it, the character careers in DSG do not fit the game versions perfectly. Indeed, some characters are so far off from the in-game version of the class, that it seems that the author decided to hew closer to the official lore, than the game background. Ordinarily, this is not a problem, except that if you played the game before reading the book, you will wonder why certain careers are so different. It seems the author decided to try and mix content from both the original lore and the game, and I’m not sure I like the result.

The biggest example of this is the Archmage, Artheris. In the game, Archmages, or AM’s, are considered pure healers that utilize a hybrid mechanic for damage and healing. They are excellent healers with adequate, if a bit underwhelming offensive abilities. In the book, Artheris is portrayed as a powerful mage, skilled in diplomacy and battle magic. No where does it mention her healing skills, if any. Elves in the Warhammer IP are usually very powerful, but the character of Artheris is exceedingly potent. At the book’s climax, she is shown fighting, and ultimately defeating a Lord of Change. By herself. In sharp contrast, the AM ingame is nowhere near capable of “soloing” what is equivalent to a Lord-level spawn of Tzeentch. It’s a bit jarring, especially if you have no prior experience with the Warhammer IP and are coming straight from Warhammer Online. 

Other characters fare a bit better, Annika the witch hunter uses an ornate pistol, as well as a short sword and dagger. It should have been a rapier, but I’ll chalk it up to creative license. It’s more accurate than Udo the witch hunter, from Empire in Chaos. Udo uses a mace and crossbow, in addition to his pistols. The Knight of the Blazing Sun in both books is described fairly accurately, with Karl from EIC being a more fleshed-out character. The Bright Wizard, Alexander, has powers that are very close to both game and original lore, and fits the role of the reluctant protagonist very well. In an interesting twist, the White Lion, Morgil, loses his war lion near the beginning of the action, and in his vengeful fury to track down the killer, he is equivalent to a White Lion character that uses the “Loner” tactic.

Loner increases the damage done by a White Lion that does not have his lion with him. This may or may not be intentional on the authors’ part, but it’s a cool little detail that WL players may appreciate. 
On the side of Destruction, the biggest inconsistency is Kalia, the Disciple of Khaine. DoK’s are melee healers ingame, they do consistent heals and have a pretty decent offense. However, Kalia is not shown to use any healing abilities, save for a potion that she uses to speed her healing after a battle. Also, she uses neither swords nor chalices. Instead she uses daggers, so it’s like some weird combination of a DoK and Witch Elf. The Sorcerer, Malek, is spot-on and accurate. Now the Chosen, Jhar’zadris, is described as being immortal. Which, lore-wise makes sense. The main gripe I have is that he uses a warhammer, instead of a sword or axe. 

As far as the plot goes, it occurs a short time after the events of EIC, but before the Elves and Dwarfs have fully committed their forces. The witch hunter Annika Bohringer, accompanied by Dieter, a Knight of the Blazing Sun, is investigating the lands of Lord Grauenburg in Reikland.  They are following a trail of corruption, and believe a Chaos plot is coming together on Grauenburg soil. Alexander the Bright Wizard is tasked to deliver an important cipher by a Celestial Wizard, who is the last survivor of a Chaos attack. Meanwhile, the Elves are sending the first wave of their forces to Altdorf, led by Archmage Artheris, and her bodyguard Morgil, a White Lion. The Dark Elves are also setting their plans in motion. 

Kalia Uthorin is sent to assassinate Malek, the Arkaneth Sorceror, in order to eliminate Arkaneth influence in Altdorf before the Dark Elf offensive. As all this occurs, Jhar’zadris leads a Chaos vanguard south, to Grauenburg lands as Tzeentchian cultists enact rites there to bring a great daemon into the world. Somewhat predictably, all these characters eventually meet in their disparate quests in time for a desperate last battle against a great evil that has been summoned into the world. Cue the desperate battle at the book’s climax.

Predictable? Yes. It is the same plot sequence that most “epic adventure” movies and books use. It is however, an effective plot, if a bit cliche. My main issue with this book, and the one before it, is that they are not Warhammer Online books. Both novels are based on the game, yet both fail to stick close enough to the game’s source material. Instead, they are mishmashes of ideas from both the original IP and the game. If you are coming from the tabletop game and lore, then the books come off better. 

But if you are a lore novice coming from the game, then certain characters and powers in the novels make no sense. Seeing an Archmage solo a Greater Daemon of Chaos is jarring if you only played the game, where AM’s can be killed by a still breeze if they aren’t careful. The other Empire careers come off much better, but the DoK seems more like a better-armored Witch Elf. As someone who is familiar with both the original IP and the game, I’d much rather the author take some liberties with the content.

If only so that the characters resemble the careers from the game more closely. As it is, it tries to take the middle road and in doing so pleases no one. Well, that’s a bit harsh. I’d say that if you were reading the book from as a fan of Warhammer lore, you would find it to be competent, if a bit predictable. But if you’re a fan of the game, and this novel is your first experience with the original Warhammer IP, you may be disappointed.

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