Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Codex Inqusition: Digital Edition Review

“You accuse me of being a madman. What right have you to judge what is sane and what is not?

I have fought with the shadows on the edge of your vision. I have seen the faces that laugh at you in your nightmares.

I have smelt the foetid breath that issues from the mouth of hell itself. I have heard the silent voices that make your spine tingle with dread.

I have entered the realms between worlds where there is no time or place. I have clashed with creatures the sight of which would sear your soul to the core.

I have bested horrors that chill with a gaze and tempt unreasoning terror. I have faced death eye to eye and blade to blade.

I have stared into the eyes of insanity and met their all-consuming stare. I have done all this for you; for your protection and the guarantee of a future for Mankind.

And yet you accuse me of being a madman, you who have never had your sanity tested so sorely. What right have you to call me heretic and blasphemer, who have not heard the whisper of dark gods in your ear?

You are weak. Vulnerable. Human in your frailty. I am strong, and yet still you judge me. And yet you still judge me for my sins, you who art most sinful to the heart?

Only the insane have strength enough to prosper; only those that prosper truly judge what is sane.”

The Codex: Inquisition starts with this fantastic piece written by Gav Thorpe for GW’s 54mm scale game Inquisitor.  It expertly captures the gravity of an Inquisitor’s mission without actually explicitly revealing what that is (very much in character!); it reveals a very personal war that is being waged by individuals (one at odds with the massive armies of the standard Warhammer 40,000), and in doing so you are drawn into their personal struggles and turmoil.  It is in passages like the one above, and those presented in the Inquisitor rulebook that we see a human element in 40k that is so often absent. Somehow in all the grim and dark, it seems almost relatable, even when it is dealing with the most unrelatable circumstances.

It is this mystery and nuance that makes the Warhammer 40,000 universe so compelling, and if the rest of the new Codex: Inquisition followed this, it would have been spectacular indeed.  Unfortunately, the codex falls quite short of this, but it is far from a complete loss.  The digital codex is quite an odd product, doing a few things very well, while coming up short in many others. It clearly accomplishes its goal by allowing people use inquisitors in their armies, but it only really does the bare minimum, copying the Inquisitor entry from the Grey Knight Codex and pasting it into the new book.  It is unmistakably lazy, but even this has huge implications on the game as a whole and is very likely to completely shift the current competitive meta (here is looking at you White Scars!).  The background material follows this trend too, feeling rushed and at times oddly pedestrian.  Fortunately, it does reprint a selection of great material from previous publications (notably from Inquisitor).  It is fantastic that some of this material is easily available to newer audiences, but even it is truncated and incomplete compared to previous publications.

I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Digital Codex cover art.
The book begins with a wide assortment of background material that does an adequate job of acquainting the reader with the basics of what an inquisitor is, with a short section on each of the notable Ordos.  While everything is well written and interesting, each section is woefully short, revealing only the most basic information, hardly scratching the surface of each.  They do have some information on a few of the other smaller Ordos, which was a pleasant surprise, like the enigmatic Ordo Chronos who research the time altering effects of the Warp.  But, like everything else in the book, it does not take the concept any further then Andy Hoare did when he first wrote about it for the Dark Heresy expansion Ascension.

Far and above the most interesting element of the book is the section on the Philosophies of the Inquisition.  It offers a lot more insight into what motivates and drives each of these enigmatic individuals.  Refreshingly, it is substantially more interesting than the standard portrayal of: KILL ALL DAEMONS, HERETICS, and ALIENS!  The Thorians for example think that the Emperor still walks among his people, instilling power into those chosen.  Ultimately, they seek to find a host that can permanently contain the Emperor’s spirit, so that he can again lead the Imperium at the fore, rather than from a rotting husk trapped in a Golden Throne.  The Xanthites realize that Chaos cannot be defeated because it is simply a reflection of humanity and instead seek to bend it to their will, using Chaos to fight Chaos.  A few take this belief to the extreme, branding themselves as Horusians.  They see wasted potential in the Primarch Horus, and feel that if a new Horus could be created, one that harnesses the immense powers of the Warp without being enslaved to Chaos, they could lead the Imperium into a new golden age.  These are just a few of the exciting ideas presented in this section, ones that make the 40k universe seem much less stale and boring.  Unfortunately, even these sections are only reprints of material Gav wrote for Inquisitor, and they are not even transcribed in their entirety.  In all honesty, if you are interested in this sort of thing, I would encourage you to just read the background material in Inquisitor and the Thorian Sourcebook, which you can find on GW’s site of all places.
A depressing image of a man too long cut off from normal human affairs, haunted yet still filled with a determination that moves worlds.
There is also a short section of the codex that contains information about a variety of renown Inquisitors.  This is a welcome touch, but most have little more than a few paragraphs explaining them, which really does not allow them to do any of the characters justice.  While I was initially excited to hear that both Gregor Eisenhorn and Gideon Ravenor were going to be included in the book (two of my favorite characters in all of 40k, due to Dan Abnett’s fantastic series of novels featuring them), I was really disappointed to see that each only received one brief paragraph that conveyed almost none of their complexity or even their legacy (no rules for them either…).  A few fare a little better, getting over a page of material, but these are only for the three Inquisitor special characters included in the Grey Knight codex (Torquemada Coteaz, Fyodor Karamazov, and Helynna Valeria).  And these are undoubtedly the least interesting of all of the inquisitors described, each being at the very extreme of their respective Ordos, seeing everything as black and white with no subtlety.  They feel somewhat like cookie-cutter inquisitors, designed to be included in the next throw-away video game blockbuster.  Also, where is Inquisitor Bronislaw Czevak?  You would think having been a part of the game since 2nd edition and being the only human to have ever visited the Black Library, he would have been a certain inclusion (they even have a picture of him in the book from the novel Atlas Infernal...).
The Inquisitor rulebook was filled with spectacular images like this one, so infused with creativity and passion that it is hard not to be inspired...
Very little artwork is interspersed throughout the book and of the little that is, most of it recycled from various Fantasy Flight Dark Heresy books, and consequently, it is far below the normal GW standard.  And when compared to the collection of iconic pieces from the Gav’s Inquisitor, it is almost laughable.  While the former inks from greats like Alex Boyd, Paul Dainton, and Karl Kopinski abound with dark energy and mystery that draw out the very essence of the secret wars these individuals wage, the illustrations from Fantasy Flight are mute caricatures in comparison, channeling none of the same inspiration.  The only new piece of artwork is the cover, which is actually really nice.  Raymond Swanland (I believe he is responsible, but nowhere is he or anyone credited in the book) was actually able to make that old metal inquisitor from 3rd edition look imposing.
The new Inquisitor Codex is filled (actually there are very few images) with images like this one, so insipid you are enticed to page past it without more than a glance. 
The rules element of the codex is very brief, but is likely to have a major impact on the competitive 40k landscape.  Although you can create an army using the Inquisitor list as your primary detachment, using a special force organization chart containing a required HQ and 3 optional elite choices and 1 optional HQ, the real draw of the book is by adding them to a list as a special type of allied detachment.  This Inquisitorial detachment does not take up the traditional ally slot, however, allowing you to add an Inquisitor to a list that already contains an allied detachment.  This is a welcome addition, allowing a huge degree of flexibility to list building (only Chaos Marines, Daemons, Orks, Necrons, and Tyranids cannot take them as allies, and most that can take them count them as being Battle Brothers).  Before, if you wanted to include an Inquisitor in a force, your only option was to take Grey Knights as your allied detachment, but they are not Battle Brothers with any other army, dramatically limiting their usefulness.

While on the subject of the Grey Knights codex, it needs to be stated that the Inquisitor and henchmen entries in the new codex are virtually identical to those in the Grey Knights book.  They have all the statlines and wargear options.  The Inquisitors are still broken into the 3 major Ordos, differing only in the unique wargear items they can take.  While this is not the end of the world and still offers a wide variety of interesting characters, it would have been neat if their was only one entry, allowing full access to the entire wargear list rather than the seemingly random distribution that it is currently.  They did add 3 new Inquisitorial relics, each a mighty tome of knowledge that confers different special rules to the bearer.  Although small, they add some additional character to an otherwise familiar unit.  Notably, the dedicated transport options for Inquisitors expanded with the book, including both Land Raiders and Valkyries.  It is hard to scoff at a new use for the reliable Valkyrie!

I can only hope my future games of Warhammer 40,000 will be this awesome!
The last element about the codex worth mentioning is how it is likely to affect how people play the game.  By including a flexible system which allows you to take just a single model from this book (an Inquisitor), without restricting your choice of other allies, it just increases your ability to craft diverse and specialized lists.  More than anything else, however, it gives many armies easy access to the varied wargear section of the Grey Knight codex, and provides armies a cheap way to include a Stubborn psyker with the highly sought after Divination psychic discipline.  Although needle pistols and daemonblades are cool, the single most significant wargear option available to the Inquisitor is the humble servo skull.  For only a few points, these little hovering craniums reduce the number of scatter dice by 1 for any blast template or unit Deep Striking within 12”.  I would be lying if I said I was not excited to try these to help my Deathwing army Deep Strike more consistently where I need them.  Furthermore, they also prevent enemy infiltrators from setting up within 12” of the skull and prevent enemy scouts from approaching within 12” of them using their pre-game move.  And with fast scoring armies like White Scar bikers becoming more and more common, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.  For all of you more competitive 40k players out there,  I would suggest you read Matt-Shadowlord’s post about the impact of the Codex over at the excellent 3++ is the new black.

When all is said and done, I am excited about the Codex: Inquisition.  I can finally easily include colorful and enigmatic Inquisitors in many of my 40k armies (legally) without making major changes to lists I already run.  It provides an excellent opportunity to add more narrative elements to my games. I am already pondering all manner of conversions to do.  What’s more, they are actually good, and are certain to transform the current competitive meta.  Having said all of this, virtually every element of the book could have been done much better, and it is clear that the codex was rushed and underdeveloped.  If it had gotten full codex treatment, with new models, background material, and wargear, it could have easily been the most exciting release in the 40k universe in recent years (at least in my opinion).  But as it is, it is superficial and incomplete, adding nothing to their rich history.  In the end, it only really works because Inquisitors are so awesome in their own right (and can take servo skulls!), making it hard for GW to completely screw it up.

-Godwyn Fischig


  1. Thanks for the review, it was nice to get a complete view of the Codex, not just one of the rules and their affect on the competitive side of the game.

    And I do find it a real damned shame that this Codex was rushed. It could have been so much more and yet it fell short by a good mile or two. Combine this with the recent and quite severe alteration of the Iron Hands' fluff in their supplement makes me loose hope that these Digital Edition Codices aren't going to be as good as I hoped they might be. Sure, adding some changes into how armies are played and allowing players to keep powerful armies in check is definitely a good thing, but it is also just a fraction of what the Codex should have brought to people, both in the game and in the fluff-verse.

    Anyway, enough rambling/ranting from me. Thanks again for the review and apologies for the somewhat pessimistic view.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed reading the review! While I think the idea of having digital products is good, primarily so they can easily be updated, I do not like how it seems that GW is just using to to spit out under-developed products. Despite this, I feel there is still a huge amount of potential in them.

      The fact that a lot of the books are supplements that deal mostly with background material is nice because it is focusing more on that aspect of the hobby (which I am a big fan of). But with news like the new Iron Hands supplement rewriting some of the long standing material on the Chapter, it makes even this not necessarily a good thing.

      People seem to have strong opinions on the matter though, and are being vocal about it. With a little luck GW will take notice and handle such releases in the future with more care.

    2. Completely agree with you on the easily-updatable digital editions. That's what got me interested in the first place actually, despite the fact that I don't have a tablet yet to make my use of the digital rules easier (though at this rate, I don't think I'll be spending my money on either of those things).

      I have seen the release announcements for the fluff-related supplements, but have never actually read one. Are they any good or are they just a copy/paste out of other books all collected into one?

      And aye, the Iron Hands supplement, from what I've read from the previews, is terrible from the fluff point of view; gone are the independant and mini-Chapter-like Clan Companies, gone are the Iron Fathers, etc. A real, real shame.

      Yeah, hopefully GW will actually take notice of the discontent. Quite a few people (myself included) posted on the Digital Editions Facebook page. Most comments got deleted, but at least that means that someone reads them, which gives me/us hope that perhaps things can and will change. Only time will tell, I suppose.