Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dark Angels Codex Review

Asomodai  is back!  But not like this :(
The Dark Angels have had many codex books over the years, each with its own unique strengths.  The excellent Angels of Death Codex (2nd edition), a double codex featuring both the Dark Angels and the Blood Angels, laid out most of the first Legion’s grim history and its quest for redemption.  All of the characters we know and love (and a few that are no longer around anymore. Here’s looking at you Brother Bethor, the bearer of the Sacred Standards...) were first introduced here.  The 3rd edition codex was just a small supplement to the Space Marine book, but had arguably the best cover of all the books (an awesome piece by David Gallagher originally seen in the Storm of Vengeance campaign for re-enacting the Ork invasion of Piscina IV), and included rules for the deceased Scout Sergeant Naaman (sadly, he has not made an appearance in any of the books since).  The 4th edition codex was the first time the Dark Angels got a book to themselves, and while the rules were a bit of a letdown due to their simplicity, the artwork within was some of the best to ever grace a Games Workshop book (aside from the lackluster cover, again by Gallagher, seemingly re-envisioning the previous cover).  This brings me to the primary purpose of this post, to talk about my thoughts of the new (6th edition) Dark Angels codex.  While I will say a few things pertaining to the rules, that will not be my focus, as you can find such thoughts all over the web. Rather, I will give my impressions of the thematic elements of the book.

From 2nd Edition up to 4th, the Dark Angel's codex books over the years.
The first thing I want to touch on is the art throughout the book; the element I look forward to the most in any of GW’s books, as it is the imagery that defines the Universe and makes it such an intriguing game.  As I touched on earlier, the 4th edition DA codex was filled with excellent art (there were certainly exceptions, Ezekiel and Belial come to mind...), culminating in a host of stunning images by Karl Kopinski (some by Paul Dainton too).  In particular, there is a full-page image of the Supreme Grand Master Azrael and a smaller one of a group of Ravenwing bikers which are particularly striking.  Luckily, many of these pieces were maintained and used again in the new book (normally I would have loved to see new versions, but these are second to none and there was little chance of getting more stunning characterful images).  This brings up a sore point, however.  Due to the book being in full color, they artificially coloured these old illustrations.  And while I am not wholly opposed to this, it seems unnecessary and somewhat damages the integrity of the artists’ original work.  What I find more egregious, however, is that GW actually modified a few of the images (perhaps with photoshop).  The first I noticed was image of the Ravenwing in the unit description.  At first glance it looked like the one from the previous edition, a biker setting a raven into flight, but I noticed that his bike was fitted with plasma guns.  I had a strong mental image of the piece, and was certain they had been bolters.  Besides, it seemed very unlikely that they would have had the foresight to include the wargear of the newly introduced Ravenwing Knights all those years ago.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed there were some bikers in the background that were holding corvus hammers, another new addition for the 6th edition.  Pulling out the old book for comparison, it is clearly changed.  New riders were added, in one case one replaced a landspeeder.  Overall, it looks as though the entire image had a filter applied to it to make it gloomier, losing all the crisp definition the previous image had.  Do not get me wrong, it is still an awesome image, although it seems a completely unnecessary move to highlight one of the codex’s new units, one that depreciates the artist’s original vision.  Sammal, Master of the Ravenwing, received similar treatment with his entire torso being redone.  These discoveries made me look at the title page to see who was credited for the internal artwork.  I was dismayed to find that they did not credit any, save the cover artist.  Instead they simply credit the design staff for the art and “reprography.”  Reprography explains it all I suppose.

An excellent illustration changed and not really for the better.

Putting these issues aside, it is a beautiful looking book.  It is hard-backed like the Warhammer books, with nice solid binding.  Unfortunately, the cover and pages start to curl unless kept under pressure.  Despite this, the pages are made from a nice thick paper, all with impressive looking boarders and little angelic reapers and swords adorning everything. It is all very fitting.  The cover is a nice change from the battle scenes that normally occupy the covers of codexes.  Raymond Swanland has a different style from most of GW’s artists, but his works have a lot of life.  I am glad that they seem to be maintaining the same artist (from the Chaos codex).  Both focus on individual characters, which is great because it emphasizes individual soldiers, rather than huge armies.  Images of armies composed of distinct soldiers, each a character in their own right  drew me into this game, not huge monsters and warmachines (which seems to be Warhammer Fantasy’s focus now. :(  But that is a different story, for another time).

Overall, everything throughout seems well written.  At times it seems a little trite, but the origins of Space Marines has been written about so much it is to be expected.  I really enjoyed the History of the Dark Angels section, which talked about notable events in DA history in the form of a timeline, stretching from directly after the Horus Heresy to the 41st millennium.  It is nice because it gives perspective of how much time has passed since the Heresy and the DA taken up the title the Unforgiven.  

It was good to see Interrogator-Chaplain Asomodai back as a special character (with the Blades of Reason!); he seemed a curious omission from the last book. His background material was modified a little, making him more fanatical in his quest to find the Fallen.  While this sounds fine, it is accomplished in somewhat ridiculous ways, making his character seem rather myopic and stupid.  He placed a Penance of Silence on all of the 7th company because they were laughing?  I was pleased to see they included a short story about Asomodai interrogating a Fallen that originally appeared in the Angels of Death codex, however.  Overall, I feel he was a missed opportunity to be something great.  This is compounded by the awful new model for him (there simply was no reason to replace Jes Goodwyn’s classic rendition; every aspect of the new one falls below the old).  Although understandable, it is a shame they did not include any other more unusual DA special characters.  It would have been neat to see Brother Bethor (bearer of the Sacred Standards) or Veteran sergeant Naaman (Scout sergeant who died during the events of Piscina IV).

One has to ask, why a new model?

Lastly, I would like to mention of few rule-related inclusions in the book that I think were particularly neat.  I was impressed how they incorporated Fearless into the book.  Before it was simply given to all models that were members of the Deathwing.  The new book keeps this tradition alive by creating a new DA specific rule called Inner Circle.  This rule gives the owner Fearless in addition to giving them Preferred Enemy (Chaos Space Marines)!  I think this was a clever and thematic way of representing the DA’s endless quest for redemption, and their singular drive to hunt down the traitor marines.  It was also nice to see that the Deathwing got a few special rules (splitfire and vengeful strike which makes all shooting attacks twin-linked the turn they deepstrike) to make them better at shooting.  I say this because in the later part of 5th edition, there was almost no reason not to simply give everyone thunder hammers and storm shields with one shouldering a cyclone missile launcher.  And this is a far cry from what I think of when I consider Deathwing terminators; they need storm bolters and assault cannons and heavy flamers (what better to kill genestealers?).  There are also a host of interesting wargear item, which is an exciting change from the previous incarnation.  I do not think anything in the book made me smile as broadly as when I saw that they included, for the first time since 2nd edition, conversion and displacer fields!  And while they might not get played with that often, I will certainly use them now and again just for old times’ sake.

I realize this post is getting rather long, so I think I will cut it off here.  In the future, I might talk a bit about the rules, particularly after playing a few games.  To sum everything up, I think it is a good codex, with high production values in most areas (aside from some questionable tampering with the art and it receiving an errata within days of its release).  It adds a lot in terms of variety when compared to their last codex, which opens up many options in list building as well as modeling.  

As they say: Never forget. Never forgive!

- Godwyn Fischig

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