Thursday, March 20, 2014

Space Marine needs a sequel (starring the annoying sidekick) (Spoiler Warning)

I. Loved. Space Marine.

(I'll just assume anyone reading this has played it; but again: spoiler warning)

Now, I'm gonna tread about waist deep into the Lore of the 40k setting, so if you're not interested in a discussion about story and character arcs then this is not the article for you.

Where was I? Oh, right: love.

Now I'm definitely a fan of in-depth game play; I've always loved roleplaying games for their ability to really show your characters growing throughout the course of the game.

I also love games that don't beat around the bush pretending to be something they're not. Space Marine was just such a game. As a friend, and Warhammer 40k aficionado, put it: "You're already a Space Marine; there's not a whole lot of improvement left to do."

But more than just the joy of playing one the Emperor's Invincible Angels, Space Marine drew me in with the sheer detail to aesthetic. From the clunking of Grimskull's gubbins to hypnotic work sirens on repeat, the world of Graia reallly felt like a coherent part of the 40k universe. Even the ending, where in Captain Titus is hauled off by the Inquisition on suspicion of heresy, seems entirely appropriate and well deserved given the many renegade choices he makes with regards to the rules of the setting and the dark and unforgiving tone of the Far Future. Titus answers for his deviations from the Codex Astartes and Leandros reveals himself a traitor to Titus but is given a warning for his complacency.

The perfect story in the 40k universe.

Wait, that's wrong. What I meant was: it's the perfect start to a story in the 40k universe.

One of the things that bugged me time and time again about the game was that Titus was very much an american hero: brave, inspiring, individualistic, speaking truth to power and getting results. That's how we Americans like our heroes: unambiguously in the right. We like our villains to be simple. Nemeroth is a very american villain: an evil, twisted former Space Marine who turned away from the defense of humanity in favor of the power offered by the Chaos Gods. He's here to kill everyone in exchange for immortality. Simple, and clearly bad.

The trouble is that the Warhammer 40k universe isn't simple.

The game ends with Titus, victorious in the clash with the now Daemon Prince Nemeroth, chiding Leandros as a failure of a Marine for his blind devotion to the Codex Astartes (as demonstrated in just about every conversation he's involved with). And despite this slap on the wrist for Titus (with handcuffs... to be interrogated... likely then tortured and executed) the narrative seems constructed to get you to agree with him.

"What are we if we succumb to blind devotion to a dogma and let superstition turn us against our friends and loved ones?" The game seems to ask.

My answer: an interesting frickin' character.

The thing is, Titus really wasn't that interesting of a character. Inspiring and courageous as all hell, but not that complex. A good guy sure, but there was very little of an arch to his story. The game begins with him telling Leandros that sometimes you just have to trust in your own judgement rather than blindly following the rules all the time and literally ends with him saying the same thing. a 9-hour adventure trudging through ork guts and daemon.... whatever they have, and the guy hasn't learned a damn thing.

This is not a character arc. The closest thing to a development is "hmm, I'm a bit odd. Aren't I a bit odd, bad guy? I am a bit odd. I'm sure it'll get figured out... at some point"

Leandros' entire freaking experience is a struggle. He finds himself face to face with real combat and forced to either abandon the code he was raised on, or walk into a situation knowing that compliance will result in failure. He chooses the code everytime and Titus' abandonment of said code gets results. Ya can't pretend that wouldn't wear on a guy who has been taught to be absolutely certain of himself and the infalibity of the Codex in all situations.

What more is that deviating from this code is a big friggin' deal in this setting. The last time a guy played fast and loose with the rules it resulted in a galactic civil war that crippled humanity and left the Emperor, an immortal almighty psychic guide of mankind, comatose on his deathbed with his life force slowly bleeding away over the last ten-thousand years. So imagine seeing a guy do just that, and it works.

This is that first beer you tasted at 16; the one that miraculously didn't turn you into a drunken failure of a human being that DARE would have you expect. What would you have done? Leandros freaked out and clung to the Code, convincing himself more and more that everything before him was all wrong until at last: he broke and called on the Inquisition, convinced that the rules have to be right.

Honestly, I find that pretty damn compelling.

Imagine, if you will, a sequel starring Leandros.

Many years and battles later, Leandros is now a captain, responsible for the lives of those in his squad. He believes very firmly in the Codex Astartes, and much like the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, holds that the Codex must be obeyed without interpretation lest it be perverted by agenda and flawed perspective. Sometimes the Codex brings victory; sometimes the system fails.

And in the deepest parts of his heart, that he has long since buried beneath self-assurance and devotion, Graia still haunts him. When his beloved code failed and he turned on his own Battle Brother out of suspicion and doubt.

'It is how we live with those rules that is the true test of a Space Marine... and you have failed.'

And a new threat emerges from the depth of the Warp: Titus.

A man who's only crime was his determination to protect the people of the Imperium, Titus is disillusioned after his betrayal and falls to Chaos after the awakening of his latent Psyker abilities.

This could be a truly compelling story and would bring a lot of the characters full circle. Now Leandros matures into his own and is forced to understand the same choices Titus made that lead him to fly in the face of the Codex at times. He confronts a true Individual vs Society scenario where his own judgement puts him at odds with the code and he becomes increasingly familiar with it's failings. He would at last confront his betrayal and personal failings in a situation that leaves no room for simple self-absolution. He could find himself at last confronting the all-important "true test of a Space Marine" and understanding his mentor's words.

Titus' story could also be brought full circle. To see Titus fall to Chaos would bring some legitimacy to all of Nemeroth's taunts of kinship, and once again add a layer to the Individual vs Society narrative as we see what happens when we abandon all sense of duty and obligation to these rules. A cautionary tale about relying' on one's own judgement to the point of shutting out all others. Latent Psyker abilities would also explain Titus' resistance to warp energies.

All these plot points brought up and later dropped in the story have the potential for massive amounts of character growth.

Sure, Titus was inspiring and heroic. But ask yourself which is more interesting: a story about a guy who's right all along and doesn't learn anything, or a story about a guy, who's made mistakes, with convictions and beliefs that are challenged in such a way that leads him to a new understanding of the world he lives in and his place in it.

In my amateur opinion, I vote the second one.

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