Tuesday, 18 February 2014
5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Necrons Needs
Well, we all knew this was coming. Out of all the armies which have seen changes in recent years, the necrons are easily the ones who have suffered from the most drastic alterations. With effectively everything they were beyond robots with some relation to the C'tan abandoned, the slate was wiped clean and started again. Instead of necrons, we now had SPESS TOMB KINGZ!!! with more Egyptian iconography and raw broken power than the average Stargate villain.
Now let this be made clear: the Third Edition Codex: Necrons definitely needed changes.
The book had plenty of good ideas, but not all of them were implemented well and quite often what made them so effective was built upon later. The use of the C'tan in particular and emphasis upon their servants' unknowable nature harmed the force as much as helped it. Some of these issues were answered when Mat Ward's Tome of Toasters rewrote everything, but nearly all the new ideas were either mishandled or created new five problems for every one they solved. Not to mention the gaping plot holes the new lore was plagued with. Change is needed once again, hopefully to finally bring out this army's full potential.
With that in mind, here's the top five improvements the next Codex: Necrons needs.
5 - Time Changes All Things
If there is ever a problem which Warhammer 40,000 has suffered from, it would be dealing with the passage of time. All too often elements feel as if they could have been squashed down into a few hundred years rather than the ten thousand which have taken place since the Imperium's birth. Few major breakthroughs seem to be recorded, major cultural shifts or displays of how much knowledge has been lost. The same goes for many factions, with a few like the Tau Empire only just about escaping this curse. The necrons though? They take it to the next level.
Not only did the Necron Empire apparently endure for several times the Imperium's existence, but they have been in stasis for sixty million years. However, despite both having a reign which puts every empire in human history to shame and a slumber just shy between now and when the dinos died out, not nearly enough is done to reflect this. You occasionally have moments where a character thinks back to a long extinct enemy they once fought or the degeneration of their Tomb World, but there is not much beyond that.
These are a species who have seen the galaxy in a different age. A younger age in which gods strode the galaxy, the Eye of Terror had not formed and even the Emperor himself had yet to be born. The only beings they truly know are the eldar, an old foe back from when they held dominance over the galaxy, and little beyond that. They have emerged to find hordes of utterly alien foes, wielding crude technology and worshiping idols of deities dominating the galaxy. Countless planets are broken, burned to husks by war and their old places of power shaken by raging wars which erupted in their times of sleep. Chaos is strong in this time, the orks have countless empires, the utterly unknown tyranids have arrived to consume all. Yet for all this potential in their thoughts, we get nothing.
Almost every time a book covers the thoughts of a Necron Lord, we get little beyond sneering contempt at the barbarians. Some thoughts on their inferiority, the lack of technology in comparison to themselves but that's about it. Just as one of many such examples of how this can create a compelling character, take a look at Mass Effect 3's Javik. He is similarly condescending, but even with a race against time he displays far more depth than just that.
The next writer who handles the necrons needs to understand just how much they would be affected by their slumber on a personal and cultural level. Not just having them shrug it off and realise some of their technology is failing.
4 - Less Ham, More Personality
Of all the problems found in Mat Ward's Codex: Necrons, this is one of the biggest sticking points. It's by no means the worst offense, but because it's so often brought up as some major success. The idea that new characters had been introduced to serve as a face for the necrons and actually retained true personalities was something hailed as a major improvement. It made them stand out from the emotionless legion of C'tan servants they were before and placed more focus on the robots. This is not entirely true. Campaigns and Black Library books gave us Necron Lords who were clearly self aware, and those characters were far more alien in nature. These ones? Those which are not cartoonishly bad are dull beyond belief.
Take a look at these for example, quotes from the codex:
“It is a source of constant consternation that my opponents cannot correlate their innate inferiority with their inevitable defeat. It would seem that stupidity is as eternal as war.”
“You have ruled this galaxy for ten thousand years, yet have little of account to show for your efforts. Such failure must be as depressing to bear as it is pathetic to behold.”
"I am not capricious, nor am I given to cruel acts for their own sakes. It is simply a fact that you and your kind have trespassed, and thus invited extermination. Curse you for putting me to this inconvenience."
Unless you were told otherwise, you would never guess these were from three separate characters with supposedly varying personalities. Almost every single character reads like a dishwasher, low grade Ming the Merciless. While many characters in each faction may sound similar, they are least have distinctions to separate them out the display their varying backgrounds. Here? Nothing. It's bad villain dialogue, delivered with no conviction and played completely straight faced.
Of course, there is one exception to this: Trazyn. This however, isn't due to good writing but because the character seemed to have been written with some awareness of the bad movie villain style the army had been written in. Instead of sounding dull, his sections embrace the madness with hamminess worthy of the second edition turning him into the resident necron troll. Now, this would be fine if he were to serve as the humourous character in an otherwise well handled and distinctive army, but instead he's the only one which stands out.
This problem isn't simply exclusive to the codex either. Any time a necron has spoken in any recent Black Library novel featuring them has utterly deflated any sense of menace or threat. Nick Kyme and James Swallow's works are proof enough of that, as the necrons there were only threatening when we saw nothing of their leaders.
Much more needs to be done with any leadership to give them people who are not either boring or so over the top they can't be taken as a serious threat. They need to have elements which make them truly stand out. Nearly all of the necron race are either brain-dead or slowly losing their wits. Why not have a character built upon the tragedy of that aspect, following on from all they have accomplished? How about a sect which still worship the C'tan, making use of those which supposedly escaped death, and are attempting to engineer their return. Better yet, why not have a C'tan who actually did something during the 60,000,000 years the necrons were snoring in their tombs.
There needs to be more when it comes to the figureheads of the necrons. They need to be written to be more than poorly handled concepts with personalities consisting of nothing but contempt.
3 - Unit Balance and Variety
This is something of an obvious one. As with everything, while Codex: Necrons improved upon certain aspects, it failed in many others. In fairness, the Codex lacked any dead weight units which failed to have any use. On the other hand, far too much of the book relied purely upon raw power to win battles over tactics.
While they're certainly better than the Grey Knights and Blood Angels, you can see this in many lists. The infamous Cron Air army list showed just how thoroughly broken the codex was in terms of its design. All too often you're capable of winning battles by simply walking forwards and shooting at the enemy until they fall, rather than truly considering when to deploy units, how to implement them effectively or even what equipment to give them. Almost every aspect of the army was buffed to the Nth degree, leaving few to no actual weaknesses which could be truly exploited. Close combat, a previous weakness, is only viable in certain situations and even having forces coming back from the dead went from per turn to per phase.
This isn't to say that the army is completely bereft of tactics. There are some combinations which can be put together which do require thinking or actually challenging lists, but more often than not you can just sit back and watch an enemy crumble thanks to superior firepower. This is at least in part thanks to an FAQ which was less about balance and more about making the army even stronger. A frequent trend with FAQs to Mat Ward's poor excuses for armybooks.
It's saying something when the necrons many to even be considered gamebreaking in Apocalypse of all things. Their formations have become infamously overpowered, with the Monolith Phalanx being derided even in a variant of 40K which encourages turning up with half a dozen Shadowswords.
Quite frankly this section needs an entire list to itself to truly single out all the major failings in terms of balance and capability. To put it simply however: Someone needs to scrap the codex and start again from scratch, with less of an inclination of giving players a big red "I WIN!" button and more about tactical thought. However, if there is one major change which needs to be singled out it is troop variety.
In traditional Ward thinking, the codex is far more about the sheer number of shiny things which make up the other slots, especially HQ choices. Troops were left to rot and looking at the list they seem less like an area thought about and more one left as they were. The closest thing it really got to attention was being used as a dumping ground for Immortals. However, that was apparently only because there was no more room in the Elites slots. They failed to either bring any significant variety to the unit choices or make Troops slots anything more than a basic requirement.
2 - Culture and Identity
No, this isn't referring to individual figures again. This is referring to the army as a whole. The problem is that the necrons have never had a truly distinctive personality trait which could be used for armies. While the original force did have a distinctive style for it, it definitely suffered from a lack of distinctive characters beyond the C'tan and relied heavily upon Black Library novels to flesh out their forces. While this did benefit them over time, building up their mystery and giving the faction much more of an identity, the new necrons are a big step down from even what we had before.
To put this bluntly: The new necrons don't have any distinctive traits so much as a multitude of ideas pillaged from other factions and already covered by other races. Let's ignore all the faux Egyptian influences, Spess Tomb Kingz!!! jokes and efforts and the loss of their previous role as servants of star gods just for the sake of argument. Let's just look at exactly what they are now:
This is a race of fractured race of dying aliens. Ones who have lost the vast majority of their old technology, old superweapons, and regard the younger races like humanity with little but contempt. They will occasionally negotiate and ally with them when their goals align, but follow their own codes of honour and morality. They operate out of a handful of scattered strongholds, seeking to conserve their power while taking back planets they see as rightfully belonging to them. In times of desperation and war they will release the shattered remnants of their old gods upon the battlefield before returning them to their place of power.
This sounds oddly familiar doesn't it. Yes, this is the sodding eldar just with a new look and a fraction of their depth. Intentionally or not, Ward seemed to have ripped the entire basic premise for one faction and slapped it onto another with a visual theme of a Fantasy army.
The only difference is that rather than having one race in decline, a well rounded culture, interesting ideas and fascinating ideas, the necrons lack all of this. Instead they just have sheer power, which is apparently supposed to make up for their sheer lack of depth. It's honestly galling to see just how these necrons have been blatantly copied and pasted from such as well established race. When you look carefully they even have identical events at times, with the game now suffering from having two entirely separate "War in Heaven" events thanks to the new book.
This sheer laziness on the part of the ideas department is not only detrimental to the eldar, it's horrifically detrimental to the necrons themselves. They no longer have a true identity, a singular aspect they can latch onto or a new idea to help make them stand out, just stuff borrowed from other factions. The few attempts to try and better characterise them ultimately come down to giving them more and more power, but that doesn't begin to cover it. Simply taking another army, giving them a new paint job and giving them a bauble which can wipe out every sun in the galaxy doesn't make them interesting.
The necrons need some new angle, an aspect to truly exploit which isn't fully covered by another faction. Some element to make them stand out which isn't a blatant copy of the goals and ideas of another race. The answer to this is obvious and serves as the subject of the number one change the next codex needed to initiate.
1 - Lovecraftian Terror
Not to beat about the bush, this is covering perhaps the greatest mistake of the last codex: The treatment of the C'tan. In an effort to make the necrons stand out, make them more than servants to powerful entities, the author took the worst kind of kneejerk reaction. He proceeded to turn to the opposite extreme, turning the C'tan into little more than Pokemon and minimalising their presence by effectively killing them all. This was detrimental to the necrons as much as the C'tan themselves as. Along with turning their history into an eyebrow raising farce which only works if you accept every omnipotent star vampire was an utter moron, the efforts to turn the necrons into their own race fell flat. We've already covered just what problems the replacement lore had, but there's one other thing which the book completely ignored: The impact of the C'tan on the necrotyr race.
If Chaos is a dark fantasy concept brought into a dystopian future, the C'tan and necrons are a Lovecraftian threat emerging on a galactic scale. You can certainly see traces of that mythos ideas here, the slumbering gods, electrical forces and horrors which are total anathema to all other beings. The necrons themselves have witnessed things which would drive unprepared minds to madness, their very bodies are made of advanced creations which dwarf all other sciences in their dark nature. They are a race, an entire race, which has been forged into an instrument of annihilation by Cthulhu. Whether you want the C'tan to be leading them or not, this should have some massive impact upon both their psychology and how people view them. Even other monsters as the Word Bearers and Ciaphas Cain series showed, and despite the changes at least some of that should have been retained.
The necrons were built for war by alien godlike entities, ones less concerned about their stability and more about inflicting terror as they harvested life for their masters. Just think for a moment what that might do to a being's mind, about how they could be modified. A the very least they would suffer from a kind of ingrained loyalty, perhaps even worship for the C'tan or their senses adapted to accept dimensions and visual aspects which would drive mortal races insane, even finding it aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps they could be found performing rituals and offerings which served the C'tan thanks to ingrained sense of worship for the gods even following murdering them. Or their perceptions altered to the point where they would follow their decrees and instructions no matter the strength of the individual's mind.
Imagine what their forms could have been like. The original necrons were made because their design was specifically intended to inspire fear. They were uniformly one design to emulate the fear of death imprinted by the Nightbringer on mortal races. Whether the necron race freed itself or not, they should have been monstrous in their look.
Rather than a bunch of prancing spess pharaohs suffering from generic dialogue and memory loss, imagine if their specialist troops were even more monstrous than what we had seen in the previous release. Not the bejeweled figures with overt Egyptian iconography but vast creatures of ever shifting living metal, their bodies emitting maddening colours the human eye could not perceive or signals which drove them slowly insane as they were in contact. This could even extend to basic vocal commands, with their communications emitting in ways which were hostile, even lethal, to any other race which heard them.
If everything else failed, this at least would have allowed them to remain somewhat alien. It would have left some discernible impact from the C'tan on the race, and they would have been more than merely a group of overly humanized cyber toffs. It would have retained a sense of mystery to the race, a sense of the unknown, a sense that they were something more than just what we got. If anything it would have enhanced the sense of tragedy Ward was trying to force upon the race. The honourable, heroic and benevolent Lords (ARGH!) could have behaved in a kind manner, but their actions could have been perceived as being threatening or despotic thanks to how they had been made. It would certainly make better use of the ideas, and it would be far more in line with the grim tone of the setting.
More importantly, making use of their influence would have left the door open to old players. Many were irate at how their army's entire history and lore had been swept away, completely destroyed in favour of Ward's entirely new incarnation of them. Having visible C'tan influence remaining in the army would have left the door open for those players. The programming and alterations could have left the idea that the necrons were being fooled. That their victory was a false memory implanted within their kind and that perhaps the shards they kept under such careful watch were not a prison, but a cocoon. One in which the C'tan were hibernating, waiting until it was time to emerge and continue with their harvest once more. It would have been a better use of them than as substitute Avatars.
Their was truly a wealth of ideas to be found and utilised here, and the next codex needs to truly realise just how much can be done with the original concept. It needs to keep the best elements of both, not simply wipe away one for the other.
So those are the top five changes the next Codex: Necrons needs. Perhaps not everything the book requires to truly improve it, but ultimately the biggest changes to help make it something worthy of the setting.
Many of you likely have your own thoughts and opinions on this subject. Perhaps your own preferred changes to the lore or even just a stance against the army in general. As ever, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be interested in hear them.