Remembering Shadow of the Horned Rat

I’ve always been a PC gamer and from an early age, I was also hooked on Warhammer.  So when Shadow of the Horned Rat (SOTHR) came out in late 1995, I was one of the first to own a copy.

Overview

SOTHR is a real-time strategy game where the vast majority of the time, you control a number of units in set-piece battles.  There is also an element of resource management between battles as you decide what you spend your hard-earned gold on.

The Story

In SOTHR you take on the role of Morgan Bernhardt, a mercenary captain that is now trying his luck in the Border Princes, a kind-of lawless area just beyond civilization. You start off taking jobs purely for gold but you quickly get drawn in a surprisingly gripping story that ultimately means saving the world. For fans of the Warhammer world, perhaps most importantly, you get to fight or fight alongside, all the major races, including Orcs, Skaven, Dwarfs and Elves.

For the most part the game is linear but sometimes you do have to make choices, such as whether to take certain missions or what direction to go in.  Some of these are unfortunately dead ends but others give you access to new units or make life significantly easier for you in the long run.

I’m a sucker for a good map but one of my favourite elements of the game is the old world map that is constantly in the background and tracking where you are.  Added to a bestiary that gets added to as you go along, this adds a lot of warhammer immersion to the game.

sotr-bestiary

Management

One of the most (and frustrating) elements of the game is the careful management of your resources.  You only start off with two units, cavalry and infantry, and you add to this very slowly across the game. In addition to this, if a unit is wiped out in battle then it isn’t coming back! This again means you have to be really careful throughout the game in looking after your units – this places in to tactics within a battle that I’ll come too later.

warhammer-shadow-of-the-horned-rat-ss4

The main currency you deal in is gold and this is used to buy new units and to top up your units after casualties. Both of the above will not necessarily be available in every location, meaning you have to be very careful when managing your troops.

Battles

The real meat of the game is the battles. These come in a variety of styles and against a variety of enemies, meaning every battle is a little bit different.  I almost more enjoyed the battles at the beginning of the game where you only have a few units, but the big set-piece battles are very good in their own way as well.

The enemy you face will make a huge difference to your tactics; fighting against orcs and skaven are two very different propositions. I personally found the shear toughness of the orcs the most challenging with the skaven much easier to break, though if your units break against skaven their speed will likely run you down and wipe you out.

sotr-battle

As mentioned above, if you lose a unit in battle it is lost forever; in addition replacements for casualties can be hard to come by. This means you have to be really careful during battles and make sure you don’t throw units away. Sometimes this might seem impossible with the odds stacked against you, but through liberal use of save game, you will get there in the end!

The Bad Bits

As you may have gathered from some of the previous comments, the game is unforgiving and quite hard! Your hand isn’t held at any point which can be very frustrating. On the other side of the coin, when you do get through a super-hard battle it is very satisfying.

The battle interface is quite clunky, likewise the battle camera. This can be frustrating when in the middle of a battle you can’t quite get your unit to do what you want it to and before you know it, you’ve lost all of your cavalry and you are never getting them back!

Conclusion

SOTHR is a difficult and flawed game, but for fans of warhammer and those who like a proper challenge, I heartily recommend SOTHR.

Where to Buy

Good Old Games (currently £4.69)

Bear in mind that you may need to download some extra files to get it to work with Windows 10.

Horus Heresy #4-6

After the opening barrage of the trilogy that make up the first three books, the series takes the first steps on branching out to huge tangents.  Books 4 and 5 do at least take up from where the first three left and tell the descent in to heresy and more on the Istvaan campaigns from different perspectives.  After that, book 6 goes completely different with the beginning of the Dark Angels story.

I can’t help but feel that after the first 3-5 books, that there wasn’t necessarily a coherent plan as to how the series would pan out.  This begins to show itself here but even more so when we get to books 7-10.  Don’t get me wrong though, there are some brilliant pieces of work and very interesting stories but I wish that there was a bit more method to madness that is the Horus Heresy Series!

 

4. The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

This is one of my favourite books in the series and off the back of this, I’ve read a lot more of James Swallow’s work.  Garro is one of the best characters in the series and the way he is portrayed by the author is very different to any other space marine we have ever come across.  Garro seems human and full of doubt, making it much easier to relate to him throughout this book and subsequent audio dramas.

It was particularly interesting to understand more about the Death Guard and their previous incarnation as the Dusk Raiders.  Also of interest was the conflict within the legion between those born on Terra and the newer legionaries from Barbarus. From this, particularly with the personalities of Grulgor and Typhon, it is almost easy to see their descent in to heresy and to join with Horus.

All in all I highly recommend reading this and delving in to the subsequent audio dramas and stories involving Garro.

  • Best character – An obvious choice of Garro
  • Best battle sequence – Death Guard vs Jorgall
  • Best non-battle part – The interactions between Garro and Keeler
  • Primarch Count – 3 – Mortarion, Horus and Rogal Dorn

 

5. Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

Fulgrim tells the full story of the fall of Fulgrim and the Emperor’s children.  At just over 500 pages, it is definitely a full and comprehensive story.  It is mainly told through the eyes of Captain Solomon Demeter who is a similar character to Saul Tarvitz, if a bit more charismatic and reckless.

There are a number of particular highlights, such as Fulgrim’s relationship with Ferrus Manus and the heartbreaking way that ends, as well as Fulgrim’s and Horus and the almost big brother, little brother way their relationship is.  Finally there is the first actual description of Istvaan V and how that battle plays out.

Although Demeter and some of the rememberencers provide a point for sympathy and humanity, the book is almost entirely unrelenting in its misery.  From Fulgrim’s doubts and petulance, to the horror and madness of the legion’s fall to Slaanesh, it can be quite a hard-going book. To get the full picture of the heresy and see it from the Emperor’s Children’s point of view though, it is an essential read.

  • Best character – Another obvious choice with Solomon Demeter
  • Best battle sequence – Fulgrim vs and Eldar Avatar
  • Best non-battle part – Fulgrim being chastised by Horus
  • Primarch Count – 7 (!) – Fulgrim, Ferrus Manus, Horus, Angron, Vulkan, Corax  and Mortarion

 

6. Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon

Descent of Angels begins the story of the Dark Angels and the mysteries that surround them.  It is mainly told through the eyes of Zahariel, who rises from inductee to the order to a fully-fledged Astartes and Librarian. Zahariel is a very interesting character and his path gives an interesting perspective.

The story begins before the Emperor’s coming, with the Lion begin to unite Caliban under his/the Order’s rule. This section of the book is actually a signficant portion of it and it almost runs out of kilter with the series so far.  It is like reading an interesting quasi-medieval story that bears no relation to the previous books.  The author has taken a lot of flack for this but as an isolated book it is an interesting read. It also feeds in to the subsequent novels about the Dark Angels, though when I first read this in 2007, these were a long way off.

My main problems with it (beyond those already mentioned) is that we don’t really get to understand the Lion or Luther properly.  I think the main character should have been a lot closer to these two to understand the dynamic of their relationship properly; if we are being honest, this is what most Dark Angels fans want to know about.

  • Best character – Luther
  • Best battle sequence – Zahariel vs a great beast
  • Best non-battle part – Zahariel’s induction to the order
  • Primarch Count – 1 – Just the Lion

Thoughts on Deathwatch by Ian St Martin

I’ve stuck to pretty much only reading three series by the Black Libary over the last few years: the Horus Heresy, Space Marines Battles and (this year at least) the Beast Arises.  Last week though, I thought I’d give a one-off novel a go, and with the recent Deathwatch releases I thought Deathwatch by Ian St Martin was the way to go.

In summary, I thought the book was a really good and engaging read.  I didn’t quite know what to expect from one of the Black Library’s newest authors but I am pleasantly surprised with how good the style of writing was.  The book didn’t just descent in to endless fight scenes but instead nicely focussed on the kill-team dynamics and the wider situation.

The context the novel was set in was very interesting, it being in the most present and up-to-date history of the 40k universe, with Hive Fleet Leviathan going toe-to-toe with the Ork Empire of Octarius due to the machinations of Inquisitor Kryptman.  The question of how to deal with the mess this created is the main driving force for the story.

The characters are very well written and fleshed out, particularly Watch-Captain Artemis.  Off the back of this I think Ian St Martin should look at doing a novel about the Mortifactors Chapter that Artemis is part of. Also of interest were Rogerio the Crimson Fist and Hyphantes the Scythe of the Emperor; the recent tragedies of their chapters and the references to those made them all the more interesting.

Although limited the human element added to the story.  The tremendous loss that the humans are faced with vs their duty was very poignant; a particular highlight of the novel was the confrontation between Artemis and Admiral Nearchus that focused on this conflict.

As for the xenos, Ian St Martin conveys a feeling that they are entirely unstoppable and that the Imperium will be in huge trouble should their eyes turn upon it.  The descriptions of the space battles between the orks and tryanids are awesome and a nice change to see xenos vs xenos battles.

All in all, I highly recommend this book as a one-off and I will be seeking out future works by Ian St Martin.

Best battle/fight – the final confrontation with the Overfiend

Best non-battle/fight part – the aforementioned confrontation between Artemis and Admiral Nearchus

Where to buy – the Black Library website – here

Further reading

By Ian St Martin:

Further Deathwatch Reading:

Horus Heresy #1-3

With the Horus Heresy approaching book 40 int the series, I thought it was time to take a look back at the series from the start.  The opening trilogy of books is very impressive and a set that I keep coming back to read, even though I know exactly what is going to happen.

I bought the first novel, Horus Rising, pretty much as soon as it was released all the way back in 2006 and I’ve kept reasonably good pace with it ever since.  I’m currently reading through them all again and will be purchasing those I don’t already have once I get to them.  I’m only at the First Heretic (book 14) so there is still quite a way to go yet.

 

Book 1 – Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

Book 1 has one of the best opening lines ever – ‘I was there…the day Horus slew the Emperor’.  The first time I read that, I did wonder if I had picked up the wrong book!  The conceit of that line was a great way for the series to start and introduced us to a world that isn’t quite as black and white as the 41st Millennium.  This is a galaxy where mankind are still exploring the stars and trying to reclaim what was previously lost.  Many of the enemies are humans that simply don’t believe in what the Emperor is, or at least they don’t want to believe.  This brings a nice change from the usual battles against aliens that 40k fans will be used to.  It is also a galaxy that doesn’t have endless battles against chaos…or at least not in the forms that we are used to.

The novel also introduces some of the most important characters in the 40k universe, a task incredibly difficult and full of fan expectation, but one that Abnett pulls off superbly.  Not only is Horus introduced but also Sanguinius, Rogal Dorn, Abaddon and Sigismund.  Beyond this there are some of the most important characters that will reoccur throughout the HH series, such as Erebus, Maloghurst and Eidolan.  It can be quite bewildering with the huge cast of characters but beyond figuring out which Luna Wolves captain was which sometimes, the skill of the writing has left me not often confused.

The book shows a very human and sometimes niave side to the space marines and primarchs; understandable given that galaxy-defining events are yet occur.  It is captivating though reading Horus’ struggling with doubt as to his position and how this eventually leads him down such a disastrous path.  Adding to the humanity of the piece are the ‘normal’ humans in the form of rememberancers.  They give us a relatively relatable point of view that is crucial narrative, as well as avoiding the book simply becoming all about battles.

The star of the show (and the trilogy) is undoubtedly Garviel Loken; a down-to-earth captain in the Luna Wolves.  It is mainly through his eyes that we see how the events unfold and this works really well as a way to hold the story together.  You find yourself rooting for Loken throughout and gives the book a hero; important when everything is about to go horribly wrong!

  • Best character – Loken
  • Best battle sequence – The opening sequence with the ‘Emperor’
  • Best non-battle part – Loken’s induction to the Mournival
  • Primarch Count – 3 – Horus, Sanguinius and Dorn

 

Book 2 – False Gods by Graham McNeill

If Book 1 showed Horus the chasm to fall down, Book 2 marks the actual descent.  This is the book where it all goes horribly wrong and sets the stage for civil war.  It isn’t as enjoyable a read as book 1 but the story is still captivating and fascinating.

The novel mainly centres on the world of Davin, a planet that had been subdued previously during the crusade but is now in rebellion.  This eventually leads to Horus being wounded with the only way to ‘save’ him being to shut him in a temple to old gods – no prizes awarded to those who figured out who those old gods were.

Again the situation is mainly shown through Loken’s eyes and his increasing estrangement from his brothers that blindly follow Horus over the Emperor.  It is borderline heartbreaking as it goes on and agian you can’t help but root for Loken.

The book also sees the beginning of the rise of the cult of the Lectitio Divinitatus and the ‘Saint’.  These elements again give a good human to perspective to the unfolding events.

  • Best character – Still Loken (with an honorable mention to Erebus)
  • Best battle sequence – the assault on Davin’s moon
  • Best non-battle part – Horus in the spirit world
  • Primarch Count – 4 – Horus, Fulgrim, Angorn and Magnus

 

Book 3 – Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter

This is where it all kicks off and space marines start going at it toe-to-toe.  We aren’t quite at Istvaan V yet but Istvaan III is a pretty epic battle in itself.  I really enjoyed Galaxy in Flames and I thought it was shame then Ben Counter only got to do one more HH novel (for whatever reason).

This book is entirely focussed on the Istvaan III campaign and all that it entails – from fighting the initial rebellion, to virus bombing and then a full brother-vs-brother fight in the ruins. There are some fantastic moments of battle in it but that is pretty much all it is – there isn’t much nuance involved.  That being said, as mentioned previously, I really enjoyed it and thought the battle sequences were really well done.

The moment the betrayal is realised by the loyalists already fighting on Istvaan III is one of my highlights of the entire series.  The sorrow is not lessened by the fact that neither us as the readers know its coming or that Loken isn’t that surprised.  Loken and Torgaddon’s fight vs Little Horus and Abaddon is also a highlight and shows just how deep the divisions have become since the happy days of the Mournival.

As an end to the opening trilogy it really works and I applaud the decision for Istvaan III to be the closing part and not jumping straight to Istvaan V.  Burying the loyalists puts a finality to this part…even if not all of them are entirely finished off.

  • Best character – Iacton Qruze
  • Best battle sequence – Istvaan III – brother vs brother
  • Best non-battle part – technically a fight but Iacton rescuing the rememberancers
  • Primarch Count – 4 – Horus, Fulgrim, Angorn and Mortarian