The universe of the 41st Millennium has been rocked today but not just one new Codex, but two – the Chaos Space Marines and their long-running foes, the Grey Knights.
In this little review, I am going to be concentrating more on the forces themselves as they pertain to the setting, rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of the rules and stats themselves – leaks have already been flooding out for these two books, and the debates over rules and points values will be raging in just a few days, so you can get all of that elsewhere. Think of this as being from the narrative point of view, rather than a consideration of the points efficiency of taking three Grand Masters in Nemesis Dreadknights (seriously, does no one see an issue with taking three Grand Masters?).
Just flicking through these two books will give the same impression – there is some new (and very nice) artwork lying around, but also an awful lot of reused art, and nowhere is this more apparent then on the front covers. Overall, especially when matched against the massive tomes packed full of gorgeous art that followed the launch of Age of Sigmar, it does give the impression of the books being a little… rushed.
Now, I do not think that is actually the case. I think the actual content of the books stands on its own, and that art was reused on this scale simply to speed production – after all, GW has said that ten new Codex books are coming out from the launch of the new edition to Christmas, which is a lot. Alternatively, maybe we will find out that art resources were diverted to a massive project we have yet to hear about (the 40k equivalent to the Realmgate Wars?).
However, someone who really cares for the art in these books may come away thinking things look a little… cheap.
I have far fewer issues with the background material. The initial sections talk about the nature of Chaos, what it is to be a Chaos Renegade, four pages are given over to the Horus Heresy, and then there is a look at the larger legions. Each gets four pages, starting with the Black Legion.
There is some nice imagination shown here, as Plague Marines, Rubrics, and Noise Marines are all featured in Black Legion colours – I mean, we always knew they existed, but I don’t think we have ever really seen the cult Marines as a specific part of the Black Legion, they always seemed kinda tacked on. It is a nice touch.
Many people seem to like the Alpha Legion, but though they have popped up in a couple of 40k novels I have read recently, they still have not quite grabbed me. Added to that, the twin-lightning claw chap on the bottom left is listed as being skilled in infil-traitor tactics. Yeah, they went there.
There is only so much you can fit into four pages, but it does seem that there is enough to get your teeth into if you are looking to start a new legion. You can read about their origins, their tactics, and what they are likely up to in the 41st Millennium, as well ‘famous battles’ and some example warbands.
As well as those shown here, you can also read about the Night Lords, World Eaters, Emperor’s Children, along with 16 once loyal chapters that have since turned to Chaos.
Some, like the Crimson Slaughter and Red Corsairs we have seen before, but I don’t think the Flawless Host has been a feature yet (interesting point, the Flawless Host truly believe they are the embodiment of justice and purity…).
All the various units are covered, from the highest Daemon Prince to the lowest Cultist. One thing that rapidly becomes apparent here – no new units. Of course, we were not really expecting any, but don’t expect to find even a little tweak in their roles.
This does bring me to another observation that had not really occurred until I started thinking about these books in terms of the new edition and, importantly, the newest models…
The Chaos Space Marine range really does look tired. True, if you are a Craftworld player, you might be wondering why anyone would complain if they have plastic models for the bulk of their armies, but I am beginning to get where many Chaos players are coming from. It comes to something when Cultists look better than elite Terminators…
They do look better when mobbed together but, on their own, even the likes of the Berserkers look… a bit gangly, a little forlorn. Fortunately, those of us wise enough to worship at the altar of Nurgle look to be well-served in the next month or two…
So, no new units. Is this Codex going to give anything to the Chaos Space Marines?
Well, yes, actually.
For a start, the old legions are no longer all mashed together under the heading of ‘Chaos Space Marines’. Each is instead treated in the same way as the differing chapters of the Loyalists so your Night Lords army is no longer Night Lords simply because you painted them blue – they are Night Lords because they scare the bejeezus out of any enemies who get close to you. The World Eaters get extra attacks on the charge, the Word Bearers rarely run, and so on.
Layered on top of this are the Stratagems which are divided between ‘general’ Chaos Marine (gaining a boon of Chaos mid-battle, loading up a gun with daemonic shells, and so forth) and those tied to specific legions. So, any Chaos Space Marine force can be imbued with the Fury of Khorne if it has the right units (getting them to fight again during the fight phase), but true World Eaters might shrug off psychic powers aimed at them (before burying a chainaxe in the psyker’s face, no doubt).
Speaking of which, the Dark Hereticus psychic discipline has been expanded and, usefully, there is one power from each of the Chaos gods (excepting Khorne, of course) that can be substituted instead – this is one thing that bothered me about Index: Chaos, whereby a Death Guard force might take a Chaos Sorcerer, but it would feel distinctly un-Nurgle despite its Keywords. This way you get the full range of Chaos powers, but can still give your Sorcerers a feel of their legion.
The legion-specific theme continues through Artefacts of Chaos and Warlord Traits – so, you can tool up your World Eaters Lord with a Brass Collar (really screws up psykers) while making him Slaughterborn (+1 Attacks and Strength every time he kills something really nasty – could add up to some interesting numbers!).
With this book, Chaos Space Marine players have received a lot of the toys they have been asking for, to the extent that the only thing that really lets down a Chaos Space Marines force now are the models. The Thousand Sons have already seen some love, and it looks like Nurgle’s boys are next, so we might have some faith in Khorne and Slaanesh getting their turn.
For my part, I have been giving some serious thought for a while to doing Kharn’s warband – nothing too grand, just a little detachment to add to other armies, featuring a bunch of Berserkers, Kharn himself, and the odd daemon engine or three…
That is the Chaos book done – now we turn to the Grey Knights.
Though priced at the same point as the Chaos Space Marines book, this Codex is noticeably thinner. However, given what it adds to the army, I don’t think Grey Knights players are going to be complaining all that much.
It follows the same format as the Chaos Space Marines book (and Space Marines, for that matter), and I think we can probably expect that to remain for the first ten Codex releases at least – Age of Sigmar Battletomes have changed, but did so over a fair period of time. I have a feeling the first ten 40k books are ‘locked’.
Also like the Chaos Space Marines, there is a distinct feeling that this Codex was released to get the army properly supported under the new edition as quickly as possible (no one wants to be relegated to a pure Index force for long). So, re-used artwork, and no new models upon release.
But then we spy…
As it turns out, the Grey Knights do get some new toys, albeit ones that have been available to lesser Marines for years. Not that I think Grey Knights players are going to be turning their backs on them.
Grey Knights Chaplains are now a thing (useful, considering the powerful close combat weapons the Grey Knights use), as well as Stormtalons and Stormhawks, a nice addition alongside the ever-present Stormraven.
While no conversion guides are present, examples of converted models are pushed to the fore, and I think we are by now all aware of the Dreadknight Grand Master in White Dwarf – who now has his own Datasheet in the Codex, so go ahead and convert one (but only one… come on, can we not all agree that you should only have one?).
The Chaplain and Gunships are not massive additions by any stretch, but they do serve to round out the Grey Knights nicely, into a more capable force.
Absent new models (as, I am guessing, maybe half of the first wave of Codex releases will be), I think the core of the books will not be the army lists themselves, as we have already seen the Datasheets in the Index books (and changes are likely to be minor, if they are made at all), but the Stratagems/Warlord Traits/Relics/Psychic Discipline – which is quite odd when you think about it, as it means the books are revolving around perhaps just half a dozen pages.
However, those pages have a great effect – after all, they are what makes the Ultramarines different from the White Scars and, here too, they are used to hammer in what makes the Grey Knights what they should be on the table. Expect Psybolt Ammunition (boosts AP and S), Orbital Bombardments (oh, yes), and Teleportation Boosts (bounce your Interceptors again) when facing the Grey Knights – it is a fairly subtle layer to add to an army, but those Stratagems really do have an effect on the battlefield and make you feel you are playing a very different force to your opponent, beyond the actual models and their stats.
At the end of the day, there are no great revelations in either of these books, and certainly nothing in the way of Codex: Space Marines (Inceptors with plasma!). But they are solid in their approach and, more importantly, will elevate an army beyond its bare bones Datasheets in the Index books.
That, I think, is their central point. The Index books get you playing the new edition with your full, existing force, but the Codex for your army will make it shine.
We all want new toys for our armies but, given the proposed hectic release schedule, I think this is an acceptable compromise to get all the armies up to spec without having people wait for years until their turn comes along. At this pace, everyone will have their Codex in fairly short order (be a little patient, at least!), and I am sure we will be getting new toys along the way.
Overall… solid, if not spectacular, unless you already have a Chaos or Grey Knights force, in which case your army is going to feel a lot more flavourful on the table.