Overall, this is an extremely well presented book, well bound and full colour throughout. It is well illustrated, though some of the artwork taken from the original 1990’s incarnation of Warzone has now seems almost excruciatingly dated in contrast to the new artwork. On the other hand, there were virtually no pictures of actual miniatures which is something of a let down. I appreciate that most of the models were funded through the recent Kickstarter and so were still being designed at the time the book was being written but it does feel like a really big thing to be missing.
The fluff is well written and reading through I got a very clear impression of the setting of a war-torn solar system fought over by competing mega-corporations, and menaced by the eldritch abominations of the Dark Legion, which is opposed by the religious warriors of the Brotherhood. Each of the mega-corporations described (Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima & Cybertronic) has a distinct identity, though some do feel a little mired in cliché [A little?! – Ed.]. Mishima especially seems entirely rooted in Japanese stereotypes, in contrast both Bauhuas and Capitol seem to be a much more nuanced representations of German and American themes. Likewise, the portrayal Brotherhood seems a little limited in imagination, tending to cling to the same ‘Catholic Space Nazi’ themes seen in other sci-fi wargames. Their units seem a little samey too, being a number of fairly similarly described varieties of righteous warriors.
There are some other disappointing omissions from the fluff given in the book. Very little information is given about either the Imperial mega-corporation, or the Cartel with their elite Doomtroopers. I would also have like some expansion on the numerous references to Freelancers scattered throughout the text. Again, I realise that only so many factions were funded by the Kickstarter, but the fact that key players in this universe are only referred to but not explored at all is annoying, especially as the limited references in the main text do raise questions one would want answered. I also have to ask how Prodos plan on introducing these factions as the game develops, whether there will be a large expansion or some sort of faction books.
I think my biggest criticism of the fluff in this book is that there seem to be two stories here which don’t quite gel. On the one hand you have the struggle for resources and dominance of the Solar System between the various mega-corporations; and on the other you have the battle between good an evil represented by the Dark Legion and the Brotherhood. To me, these two conflicts don’t quite work together as part of a setting. Partly this is because of the huge thematic differences, partly it’s because it feels like the fight with the Dark Legion should ultimately trump the various corporate rivalries and agendas. I appreciate that part of the Dark Legion’s MO is to encourage conflict in order to divide and conquer, but given that the other factions know this it still feels like we are in idiot ball territory. It also rather means that there is a subtle implication that battles fought between the mega-corps are not the important ones, which does not exactly help when trying to forge the narrative. It’s also difficult trying to imagine many scenarios where the Brotherhood would fight the mega-corps, simply because they should have more important things to do. With so many other games out there who manage to justify an all-against-all setting, this is something of a weakness in contrast.
It doesn’t help that the Brotherhood and the Dark Legion are, to me at least, the least interesting of the factions. The Brotherhood feels like any other church-militant faction in any other setting and the fluff is surprisingly vague about what the actual beliefs of this church actually are beyond standing against the darkness. The Dark Legion lack the wow factor of either Chaos in 40k or Cryx/Everblight in Warmahordes. Chaos is entirely fundamental to both Games Workshop’s settings with every other faction influenced, even shaped, by it. The Dark Legion feel tacked on in contrast and attempts to make the Dark Soul/Dark Symmetry feel like an equally ancient evil feel perfunctory and shallow. The dragon-blight factions of the Iron Kingdoms genuinely feel like all but unbeatable nightmares. In-universe, the Dark Legion have already been defeated once in the past. While limiting the setting to a handful of terraformed planets in a single solar system helps in some respects, making it a believable theatre for the corporate wars, and making it easier, at least in principle, to believe the existence of humanity is genuinely at risk, it lacks gravitas when dealing with depictions of the legions of ultimate evil. Of course the Dark Symmetry is also the sole justification of the technologically-regressed diesel-punk aesthetic for the game.
Personally, I find the normal mega-corp factions much more interesting. Mishima might owe a little too much to samurai clichés but they are still vividly described and you at least get a snapshot of there being a whole society functioning there. I quite like Capitol, though I would like to see a little more thematic consistency in their special units. They do have the coolest tank though and I really like their Heavy Infantry (which are totally not a rip off of terminator suits from 40k). Bauhaus benefit from a very coherent and consistent look and feel and some cool walkers. One of the biggest surprises in the fluff is that they make the Cybertronic corporation rather more than the sterotypical ruthless evil cyborgs that you might assume them to be at first glance. As with a lot of wargames, there is a definite feel of everyone being a bit of a bunch of bastards (although with ruthless mega-corporations, what else would you expect?) and it’s left to the player to select the bastards whose particularly brand and style of bastardry most suits them.
There are a few thematic similarities to 40k, especially in terms of the technological regression (although in this case, the knowledge is not lost, merely embargoed) and the idea of humanity being menaced by an unspeakable evil that bring corruption and horror in its wake. But the execution and detail is quite different. in contrast to Warhammer, 40K, Warmachine, Hordes and several other games, Warzone tends to play things relatively ‘straight’ and makes much less attempt to take things up to eleven and invoke the Rule of Cool.
So a mixed bag, four quite strong and interesting factions, and two less so, not to mention a couple of gaps where other factions will hopefully be slotted in, in due course. I honestly feel that I would find this all much more interesting without the Brotherhood and Dark Legion. Maybe if those factions had been a bit better implemented I might feel differently. But they both embody ideas which have been done better elsewhere and still feel like awkward additions to the universe, and which undermine a lot of the rest of the fluff. I would be interested to see how Prodos develop the fluff to insert the remaining factions and develop the existing ones. Obviously, for the launch of the core book the writers were having to focus on recreating the original fluff from the 1990’s, which was obviously written with 90’s tastes in mind. Likewise the fluff has not had the decade or so of development and refinement that several other games have had so we have to be slightly generous in judging this book if it feels a bit underdeveloped and doesn’t quite fit in with our current Zeitgeist. This fluff is certainly better than what I’ve seen in some core rulebooks (Spartan Games and Hawk Wargames, I am looking at you) so I’m not saying it’s bad. I can certainly see people getting into this fluff and definitely think that there are lots to appeal to different people.
Overall, I would give this book a solid 7 for fluff. There is a lot of good stuff in here but there is still work to be done before we can stand alongside the real leaders in the field.