Thursday, May 8, 2014

House Shyeel's Used Car Lot

This blog will probably read like a layer cake of trains of thought. You can tell whatever I've been thinking about for the past week/month based on the stream of posts I've kicked out.

"Two Retribution based posts in a row? Whatever is he thinking about?"

The answer shouldn't surprise anyone: my homebrew rules that answer the question of how would Harkevich run if he could use Retribution warjacks.

Seems okay, but does it come in red with crappier RAT?
I kid, I kid. Legit Retribution talk after the break.

I have been thinking more about Retribution warjacks (I know they're technically myrmidons, but "warjack" is so much easier to type) lately, especially since I'm trying to figure out where to go next with my purchases and painting.

Right now I've got a fair starting stable: a Griffon, a Manticore, a Chimera, and a Banshee. The Griffon and Manticore aren't warjacks that I particularly love, but they're solid and I'm sure I can find places for them in lists (especially if I proceed onto Vyros2, where that Griffon will get many buddies.) 

The Chimera is a piece I've been really impressed with - it may be because of low expectations, but it's always done a good job as an arc node that transitions into a harassment role. Two handed throws can cause a lot of trouble (even if you can't throw Large bases,) and it's Combo Strike is actually quite respectable in terms of damage. Combine that with Apparition, and I think it's a pretty good Arc Node light. It runs into some issues (the Phoenix is a fantastic Arc Node heavy, it's defensive ability is garbage,) but I can see taking it in some lists.

The Banshee is fantastic, and that's news to precisely no one. It's relatively expensive for a non-character heavy, but you get a great set of abilities and output from that investment, which makes it a fantastic choice if you're looking for a combat heavy. The Banshee also represents the rift between the two types of Retribution warjacks, and its one of the more interesting things to come to grips with as someone coming from another faction.

There is a fundamental difference in design quality between the Shyeel warjacks (i.e. the initial batch released in the "Forces of..." book,) and the Vyre warjacks (i.e. the second batch released in Warmachine: Wrath). You can feel it when you look at the two sets of warjacks - the Vyre warjacks feel very complete (give or take a Daemon) while most of the Shyeel warjacks feel like they're missing something.

Based on the rumor mill, that feeling might be based on more than just first impressions.

In my reading of various forum posts, I came across an interesting anecdote that explains a lot about the Shyeel warjacks: supposedly the Shyeel warjacks were playtested for a decent number of iterations with the ability to boost their ARM using unspent Focus on them (in the same way that a warcaster does.) This rule was cut out towards the end of playtesting (I don't think it was a "last minute call," but the impression I got was that it was a late cycle decision,) and as a result some of the Shyeel warjacks came out a

It's worth stating the obvious: this is an anecdote from an unverified source, read on the Internet, so there is every chance that this is bogus. However, it is an interesting explanation as to why some of the Shyeel warjacks are so wonky, and it does make some sense.

Two examples come to mind:

 - The Chimera's Phantasmal Field ability is, with it's current rules, an awful ability. + DEF against shooting and magic is nice, but it in no way is worth dumping any Focus on the Chimera just for that ability. However, if you consider that Focus would also add to it's ARM, it suddenly becomes a much better ability. A DEF 15, ARM 16 model isn't really worth the 3 Focus outlay; a DEF 15, ARM 19 model just might be if you want to protect it against guns.

 - The combination of the Hydra's Kinetic Capacitor and Focus Battery abilities. As is, Focus Battery is nice and Kinetic Capacitor is cute but not likely to matter a lot. However, if the Hydra can be buffed up to ARM 21 (and stay there, thanks to Focus Battery,) your opponent suddenly has a problem: as they try to whittle it down, they're also powering it up and making it harder to kill. Once it gets enough Focus on it, the Hydra can either kick out a mega-blast from it's gun, or kick out enough P+S 16 attacks to get the job done against another heavy (you'd need a pile of Focus, but you're much more likely to get it in this scenario.)

It's also pretty easy to see why the devs (I feel rightly) nixed the "warjacks can boost ARM" idea, as it feels like it'd be a nightmare to balance. It's a cool ability on something like the Chimera, but it'd be a big pain in the ass to deal with on something like a Phoenix (which is already a very solid warjack.)

Do you then knock every Retribution warjack down an ARM or two to compensate? At that point, they're too squishy without a full load of Focus on them, which skews how everyone plays them (or doesn't play them, if it's too clunky of a mechanic.) Is it okay to put ARM buffs in the faction when you already have 3 point ARM swings (that can't be ignored or removed by most conventional means)? What do you do when it comes time to design Hyperion? Imperatus?

So it's understandable why this rule ended up being dropped (if it ever existed at all.) Its a very cool, interesting idea that would have really set Retribution heavies aside (in a way similar to how Induction nodes characterize Convergence warjacks,) but it probably would have opened up a Pandora's box of problems.

The downside to that change (again, assuming that's what happened) is that some warjacks made the transition to "normal" warjack rules more easily than others. The Manticore and Phoenix are solid warjacks at base, so they're still pretty good after the change. The Chimera, Hyrdra, and Gorgon are much worse off, and it's possible to trace back how they relied on that "ARM overboost" mechanic to make their kits work. Taking away that rule left them with rules that are functional but varying degrees of "not great". The Chimera ends up feeling like an overcosted Arc Node with a dead ability, the Hydra ends up being a one trick, pillow-fisted pony, and the Gorgon ends up just flat out bad (at least at ARM 19 it'd be an okay jam model with it's other abilities.)

The Vyre warjacks (and the Aspis, which was a Shyeel-style warjack introduced in Wrath) benefited tremendously from a) not having that kind of change mid-development, and b) being developed after Retribution had some time in the wild, so the warjacks are developed with a greater focus on utility and with greater success (since there was a lot more game data to reference.) That experience and focus (har har) resulted in a much better, more useful, more fun bunch of warjacks.

With one exception, the Daemon. I feel the same way about the Daemon like I do about a number of warjacks: I will never understand why PP feels it's okay to give a heavy warjack a weapon (let alone a "main" weapon) with a P+S lower than 16. I know Retribution has a little bit of the "Choir curse" since they can boost the melee damage of any of their warjacks by +2, but that doesn't make a P+S 15 main weapon on a 9 point heavy okay. It's a damn shame because I absolutely love the Daemon's gun, and I think it looks cool, but the thought of a P+S 17 heavy (Blessed or not) in the current meta makes me weep.

The other warjacks though? Fantastic. The Banshee is a non-character character warjack, and the Sphinx is a great melee heavy for it's price; it's essentially a scaled back Banshee that has comparable damage output for a decent discount. Even the Daemon, for all of it's clunky P+S values, has a really cool gun and Blessed fists, so at least it's interesting. And the Aspis is in the running for best Shield Guard warjack in the game, with it's low cost and surprising durability. 

None of this is news to anyone remotely familiar with the state of the game, and it isn't a revelation to me either. It is interesting experiencing it first hand though, and I'm experiencing it in a way that is different from a chunk of Retribution players. I'm coming into the faction post-Vyre warjacks, so I have access to all the cool stuff right out of the gate. Compare that to players that slogged through only having Shyeel warjacks, and I definitely feel lucky to be getting into Retribution at this point (and never mind all the other good stuff they got recently!)

Looking at the Shyeel warjacks, they almost all ended up coming out of their (reportedly rocky) development with some layer of jank to them. In a faction that tends to operate based on self-sufficiency, that's a big problem. The no-nonsense approach of the Vyre warjacks gave Retribution some very crucial tools when building a battlegroup, and in a way I think it makes the Shyeel warjacks a little more palatable; you can afford to mess around with them a bit more when you have solid backbone models like the Vyre heavies.

My next big issue with Retribution warjacks is that I'm drawn most to two of the worst - Hydra and Daemon - but I'm ultimately not too concerned about that. So long as I can find a decent list or two to plug them into, that's good enough for me, and I know they're never going to be especially great.

I suppose that's the other benefit to coming to Retribution from Khador: even their worst warjacks feel like a step up from what I'm used to. </snark>


  1. The ARM overboost ability did actually exist - but only in the MKI version published in a NQ.

  2. Ah, I damn near forgot about the Mk. 1 rules! We didn't pay that much attention to them, due to all the Mk. 2 buzz at the time.

    Thanks for pointing that out.