Monday, October 17, 2011

Warmachine: First Impressions (2)

The Universe:
I am hopelessly ambivalent here.
The Warmachine world is interesting, but I must confess that I am using that word in the same way that I sometimes use it to describe a meal when I am being polite. I like what they have done, but there are a few aspects of the fluff haven’t quite congealed for me and, thus far, the specific beauty of the models (which I will discuss next post) has superseded any interest in the world they are meant to inhabit. It's a strange sensation, to be more attracted to the models than to what they are designed to represent, but one that hasn't really been an obstacle as yet -which is a testament to the simple strength of the models themselves. 
I should mention that I stumbled a bit on that word …“world” above. Instinctively, I have bristled that the Warma-universe resides upon a single planet; to be fair, I feel the same level of room-temperature affection for the Warhammer Fantasy world, which is perhaps a suitably accurate or legitimate comparison. I would suggest that, with the notable exception of the “Storm of Chaos Campaign,” I have felt for some time the same way about WFB as I do about Warma …that is, I enjoy the game most when working through rather than directly in the fluff (see: unconventional painting choices). The borders are just a little too solid and clear for my taste. I have been concerned that this was somehow too stringent an imaginative space; however, this concern has dissipated considerably as I have warmed to Warmachine. Instead, I have tried to let the skirmish-level nature of the game offer ample room in which to explore the surface of the world in very small, digestible chunks.
Now. I feel that certain archetypes have become almost compulsory in any contemporary fantasy/sci-fi creation (not just the one in question here): for example, lofty chivalrous ambition and radical religious zealotry, to name the obvious two. I recently heard Cygnar described (astutely, I think) as post WWII US apple-pie-do-gooders-in-the-sky. That seems a fairly solid source. Without doubt then, soviet Khador makes the most compelling counterpoint to the above. Throw in the aforementioned zealotry (Menoth), perhaps some undead (Cryx) and/or elves (don’t love them), and behold the fundamental form of the Warmaverse. This is not necessarily a criticism (let’s not forget that 40K began with the simple premise of fantasy knights in space), but rather a comment on inspiration.
And herein lies the point that I have only come to circuitously. Warmachine feels (and is, to be sure) younger than 40K. The world has some lovely bits of inspiration and a tremendous foundation, but the doesn’t all hang together in my opinion. Not yet, at least.
In sum, I enjoy the inspiration (even though it seems a bit rote at times), and admire the components that they are trying to hang together; however, I’m not yet convinced that it all does so seamlessly. Instead, quite a lot feels whimsical and indulgent (the cold war and pirates, for example), both great fun and solid ideas, but not entirely cohesive when sitting across the table from one another.
Please understand that the above commentary is merely designed to describe the difference between “like” and “love,” rather than act as a specific detraction.
My taste is my taste.
…which leads me to a point of praise. I really, genuinely enjoy that the grand narrative is ongoing –that the characters develop and continue in the fluff and in the game. Besides creating an elegant way to resolve problems within the game mechanism itself, this creates the sense that the players actually participate in a story that is mobile. It is a really refreshing way to break open new chapters, to move the game into a new dimension (quite literally).
And now for another dose of that ambivalence: Unfortunately, I am not sure that this dimension has been treated in a manner worth the opportunity.
I suppose that one of my largest concerns when entering into the Warmachine game has been my reflexive dissatisfaction with proscription. As I have stated previously, Kreoss will always be Kreoss, even when he is eKreoss (I remain undecided on the matter, but might argue that the entire “e” phenomenon is a symptom of the world’s restrictive nature rather than the game’s ability to imagine new frontiers). I still find this fact rather stunting, but also feel just as strongly that the game adequately rewards attention in its other fundamental attributes as a means of compensation.
Perhaps this will undermine all that I have said above, but in a game that requires so much imagination already, it is an easy task to circumvent the above with just a little bit more of the same. 

See you next time for the final thoughts on this topic.


Gotthammer said...

You summed up my feelings on the 'Iron Kingdoms' perfectly there, Brian.
I love a great deal of the models, but there's nothing really there to grab me with an exploratory hook to make me want to go deeper.

It is just there, says 'this is our world', and that's that. In the comparison to 40k, when it started due to its sandbox nature and many, many mysteries, there was more room to get involved. I've never been one for just taking what's given - I much prefer to explore and discover the world, or think up new things.
There's just not the room for that in WarmaHordes (yet).

Still, a great many lovely miniatures - but for now I'll be repurposing them or painting them as I see fit, rather than to any pre-ordained scheme.

The Inner Geek said...

After the Galaxy spanning Imperium of Man, the Warma world does feel a bit cramped. I'd like to make an observation though. When Warmachine first came out I bought the rule book, and I bought the RPG book. The rule book seemed a good way to learn the rules and be introduced to a world it didn't do anything to make me care about. The Iron Kingdoms RPG book made me a little more excited about the world, particularly the people in it. Of course, it could have just been a matter of scale. In an RPG, you are a character interacting with the world a bit more intimately.

Von said...

I think 'whimsical and indulgent' are exactly the words I'd use for the Iron Kingdoms as a world. It's quite hard to reconcile 'liking quality worldbuilding' with 'playing Cryx', and it's quite disappointing to look at the setup from the original Prime (the black and white one) and compare it to where the setting's ended up, which is somewhere quite gaudy. So I understand your reluctance, Mr. Brian sir, absolutely.

grumhelden said...

really well written, i may not agree( I found the IK was richer than Rogue Trader was), but you say it very well and every point is valid. good show sir.

Brian said...

@ Gotthammer. Indeed. They are some beautiful sculpts, and deserve to be on the tabletop somehow -even if not as directed.

@ The Inner Geek. Interesting idea. I haven't experienced the RPG, but could see how the scale would help breath life into the a skirmish-level game. this might be a more viable avenue into the fluff.

@ Von. I need to have a look at that original Prime. My reluctance to the fluff is not to be confused with the game on a whole, which I have still been enjoying tremendously. Funny how that happens.

@ Grumhelden. Thank you, sir.

James S said...

Brian I'm really enjoying these posts. I've skimmed the Warmahordes books and painted a couple of models, and I've tried to get in the mood, but it just never really grabbed me.

It's good to read such articulate first impressions. By the way, what's an eKreoss? Is that like in DC comics where they have alternate universe versions of the heroes? Do they have iSorscha?