Category Archives: Reviews

Various News and Reviews – Refer to other categories for more specific classification.

Review: Rogue Trader

RT_CoverRogue Trader, is the second core rule book in the Warhammer 40K Roleplay series. While it’s predecessor, the extremely successful Dark Heresy, followed the adventures of a group of Inquisitorial Acolytes, Rogue Trader returns to the roots of Warhammer 40K by putting you in the shows of a Rogue Trader and his crew as they ply the stars seeking fame and fortune.

It should be made clear that Rogue Trader is in no way a second edition of Dark Heresy. While there are a few mechanical changes, both games use the same system and characters from either game can be used in the other. Likewise, the fluff books (of which there are quite a lot now) are 100% compatible with both books, although I’m expecting Fantasy Flight Games to announce some books which are more focused on Rogue Trader in the near future.

Anyway, without further ado, we shall proceed to the review:

Art & Design

Fantasy Flight Games is well known for it’s award winning art-work. Dark Heresy and several of the expansion books have won well-deserved awards for it and it looks like Rogue Trader will be winning a few more pieces of silverware.

The overall design is identical to that of Dark Heresy, with the red and yellow colour scheme replaced with a blue, silver and metallic scheme instead. This gives a rather near feeling of continuity. The illustrations in a variety of styles and all fit the subject matter excellently, adding much needed pictures of Xenos and ships to already staggering visual palette of Dark Heresy. If you want an idea of how good the art is, then click on the image above to see a much larger version of it which was released as a wallpaper by FFG.

I was initially worried that there would be a degree of recycling in Rogue Trader, potentially with chunks of previous books being recycled. Thankfully, this is not the case, with the only non-original illustrations being wire-frame drawings of the weapons and a take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

As for the book it’s self, it’s roughly 400 pages long (the same as Dark Heresy) and hardback. Paperback copies of Dark Heresy were previously available but disappeared after FFG took over the licence, so it’s unlikely that a paperback version will be making an appearance. Print and binding quality are good, but unfortunately my book arrived with a slightly damaged spine (although the packaging was undamaged).

Mechanics

The mechanics of the game are pretty much unchanged from Dark Heresy. It’s still a d100 based system, you still have all the same stats, insanity, wounds and so on. All that can really be said about it is that it’s inspired by Call of Cthulhu and works very well.

The main changes come when you look at the skills. Dark Heresy had a lot of skills, in particular weapons skills. They took a ridiculous amount of time to get and you got quite large negative modifiers if you weren’t skilled with a weapon. Thankfully, there are now four universal weapons skills (Pistol, Basic, Heavy and Melee) and most of the classes start off with at least one of these.

The advancement tables have also been changed. While Dark Heresy presented you with several very similar and slightly pointless sets of skill and talent options when you got higher up the XP ladder, Rogue Trader doesn’t. Instead there are quite simple tables for each class which allow some customisation. There is also an emphasis on “Elite Advances”, which are skills which aren’t on your classes table but can be awards by the GM on conditions of his choosing, allowing massive customisation.

There are also two new sets of mechanics. Spaceship use and the Navigator powers. I have to admit, I don’t fully understand the way that Navigator powers work, although they are much more controlled then the Psyker/Astropath powers, which are notorious for their high chance of unleashing demons and so on when a party is mid-combat. They also have some nifty tricks, like being able to shift dimensions momentarily, kill people by opening their third eye and predict the future. The downside is that they also have to roll to navigate the ships successfully through the Warp.

On the subject of Ships, ship combat is a cross between character combat and Battlefleet Gothic, but it remains quite straight forward. Ships have their own ‘character sheet’ and a selection of traits to give it personality. They are also highly customisable, with a lot of different modules available for kitting out the ship.

Unfortunately there are only a few ship hull initially. It would seem likely that there will be a ship expansion release at some point. With any luck, this will include more and bigger ships.

Characters & Gear

The character classes in Rogue Trader are all new, but are also all similar to older classes. Most of them are much more refined and all the classes have a much clearer purpose and more combat utility. It’s suggested that at least one member of the party should take the role of the Rogue Trader, the captain of your ship. The other classes are Astropath (Psychic Communications Specialist), Arch-Militant (Ballastics Expert), Explorator (Engineer, Archaeologist and Explorer roled into one), Missionary (Flame-thrower wielding cleric), Navigator (Psychic Pilot), Seneschal (Indiana Jones style brains and brawn) and the Void-Master (A Merc by any other name).

All of these classes look interesting to play, and few fit traditional character tropes. The Missionary does have a Medical skill, but so do several other classes and there is a good deal of skill overlap, allowing player more freedom to do what they want. For further customisation, there is a large choice of background options, all of which add skills or stats without tying a character down. This origin path system is a bit limited if you follow it to the letter, but as the book says, it’s a case of guidelines rather then rules.

The gear is much improved on that in Dark Heresy. Stats have been buffed and most of the weapons have had their armour penetration increased. There are also a nice list of Xeno and other rare weapons – these were originally printed in some of the expansions, but they’ve also been buffed to do much more damage. Starting characters also get some very nice gear.

Fluff

Like most 40K spin-off material, Rogue Trader’s setting is some distance away from areas used by Games Workshop in their core material. Instead, it takes place in the Kronus Expanse, a poorly explored area adjacent to the sector which provided Dark Heresy with it’s setting. This area plays home to Orks, Eldar, various groups of Pirates, Kroot and all manner of heretical beings (stats are also provided for most of these). It is a gigantic area of space, with uncounted worlds and perils waiting for an adventurous Rogue Trader.

There are three chapters dedicated to providing material on the Imperium and the Expanse. It’s more then enough to help someone who has never played a Warhammer game to get started. There is also a sample adventure called “Into The Maw” and another two sample adventures, “Forsaken Bounty” and “Dark Frontier” available from FFG’s website.

Faults

So far, I’ve been nearly 100% positive about Rogue Trader. I’ll admit, I’m biased by the fact that I am in love with the system and the setting. There are a few faults with the game.

The first, and least critical is actually to do with the advertising. FFG proudly declared that the game would go on sale during Gencon. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually become available until mid-October and for a while FFG were rather cagey about when it would arrive. Thankfully, it got here eventually and was worth the wait.

There are a lot of small spelling errors in Rogue Trader. There are also a number of tables which have been incorrectly numbered and reference. This is particularly noticeable in Chapter 9, where there are nearly 40 tables, and the references are extremely inaccurate by the end of the chapter.

There are still a few too many similarities between classes. This was Dark Heresy’s main flaw, and while it has been drastically reduced, I can’t help feeling that there is at least one extraneous class in the form of the Void-Master.

Finally, while there are a selection of enemies ready for use, they’re are very few of them. My particular bugbear is that there are only one example each of Ork, Eldar and Kroot characters. No doubt there is an entire book of Xenos in the works, but it would have been nice to have been provided with some more examples.

Conclusion

Rogue Trader is almost certainly my best big name buy this year. It’s a stunning book that refines an already good system and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the market for a straight-forward, pitch black space romp.

Review: Fallout 3: The Pitt

Bethesda Softworks have been responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed RPG videogames of all time. Both Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion rank amongst my favourite games, and have taken up more of my time then I care to admit.

Unfortunately, Bethesda have been known to drop the ball from time to time. Such as when they produced and published the abysmal Star Trek strategy game Legacy. Or when they rushed Fallout 3: The Pitt to release.

The Pitt 1The Pitt

The Pitt is the second downloadable content for Fallout 3. It allows your character to travel to the ruins of ¬†Pittsberg, which in post-apocalypse has a booming steel industry manned by slave labour. Like Operation Anchorage, you loose most of your equipment. Who’d have thought that slavers don’t like heavily armed killing machines walking around in their settlement? Fortunately you are quickly launched into the plot and rearmed, with the rather cool auto-axe (think a cross between a chainsaw and an axe).

From here, you are once again on a rather linear quest chain. It’s not as bad as Operation Anchorage, with various different activities popping up, including an all too brief trip to an Oblivion-style arena. The plot is thankfully more involving then Operation Anchorage, with nice twists and some interesting moral choices, but again, I found myself wishing it was longer. The newly added weapons aren’t quite as good as those on Anchorage, but they focus more on melee and defence.

The Pitt 3What lets The Pitt down is the fact that it was rushed to release. Bethesda had already delayed it by a month to ensure completion, but this clearly wasn’t enough time. On the day of release, the add-on was causing major problems for users who bought it. Despite a quick fix and re-release by Bethesda, many bugs remained. During my playtime, The Pitt caused my Xbox to crash four times and corrupted my save file. Not the most positive of gameplay experiences.

My only other quibble with the add-on is the map design. Both The Pitt and Operation Anchorage have had quite small maps. Bethesda have got round this in two different ways Рin Anchorage, it was to use few texture variations and lots of cliffs to block long views. In The Pitt, the map cointains a great number of levels, with endless stairs, ramps and gangways connecting them. It is far too easy to get lost in this network of rooms.

The Pitt 2Despite the addition of an Ammo Press which converts any ammo into any other ammo, I can’t see myself revisiting The Pitt any time soon. The add-on is certainly not worth the money as long as there are still some nasty bugs showing up, and is disappointingly short.

Fallout 3’s third downloadable addon, Broken Steel, which sees the player resolve the conflict between the Brotherhood of Steel and the Outcast Brotherhood, is due out on the 5th of May, again retailing for 800 MS points.

Review: Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage

One of the advantages of living in the future is that video games can be updated quickly and easily with new content over an internet connection. For PC gamers, this is nothing new – PC games traditionally attract big modding and homebrew communities. Paying for that extra content, on the other hand, was lambasted at first. This was not helped by Bethesda Softworks, developer of the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3, who charged for a near-useless content such as the now infamous horse armour.

Over time, complaints over paid downloadable content have died down and we now pay for much more. Operation Anchorage and The Pitt are two examples of this. They are currently exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PC, costing around about $10 each.

Operation Anchorage 2Operation Anchorage

Operation Anchorage takes your character back in time to the early days of the American-Chinese War which resulted in global nuclear annihilation. The lead in to this quest arc manages to retain the in-world immersion – shortly after you start playing with the addon downloaded, your receive a radio transmission from the Brotherhood Outcasts seeking help. After fighting off some Supermutants and being shanghaied by the Outcasts, the real game begins when you step into a holographic training unit. This handily strips you of your guns, armour and items.

From then on in, you are effectively a commando behind enemy lines. The first part of the quest is great fun – sniping, sneaking, scouting out terrain and finally making some big explosions. My one problem with it is that like the main quest, Operation Anchorage is a very linear experience. Take away VATS and much of the initial quest could be lifted from Call of Duty.

Operation Anchorage 1The second half improves on this slightly by giving you some choices. You get issued with fixed packets of weapons to replace the pistol and sniper rifle from the first quest, you get to choose some squad members to come with you and you get to choose which order to complete the objectives in. Thankfully, these do have a pretty big effect – I choose well for the first objective and dispatched it in a timely manner, but on the second quest I picked the wrong set of weapons and the wrong squad members and it was far more difficult. It’s nice to see effects like this – I played through the main game on Hard and found that by the time I was level 11 or so, it was an absolute cake walk. More situations requiring tactical thinking please developers!

The final part of the quest before you come out of the machine is a rather good boss fight. This was a great addition – in the main game, even central characters go down with a couple of shots and some key fights are disappointingly quick. Instead, this one last several minutes, while power-armoured US troops fight around you. Very immersive.

Operation Anchorage 3And that’s it…it’s all over rather quickly. It took me about two and a half hours to complete, maybe a bit less. Which disappointed me because I was expecting something with similar scope to Oblivion’s Knights of the Nine addon quest, which added ten hours or more of gameplay.

Would I recommend Operation Anchorage? Yes, largely because it fills you in on the background to the Fallout universe and provides a few nice rewards which are useful in the main game. Would I say you are missing out on something Earth shattering if you don’t buy it? No.

Coming soon…review of Fallout 3’s second addon “The Pitt”

Edit: Thanks to Bob from The Dice Bag for pointing out that Fallout 3 DLC is avaliabe for both PC and the Xbox 360, not just the 360 as I originally stated.