Sunday, 26 April 2015
Eldar Craftworlds Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)
You really have to wonder what goes through the heads of Games Workshop writers some days. On some occasions they've produced fantastic, outstanding work which shows just why Warhammer 40,000 is the granddaddy of all tabletop wargaming. Then you have monuments, staggering monolithic works raised above all else which all but scream "There was a point, we bloody well missed it!" Guess which one this is.
This codex is not good. Not bad, certainly broken in quite a few ways, but it isn't the Clan Raukaan some people were dreading. That said, it's quite the accomplishment to name your codex after some single part of the universe, promising to focus upon it far more than ever before, even sticking a long underutilized faction on the front, then do bugger all with it. Perhaps the worst crime of all is that the codex is actually a sham, a misnomer, a pointless re-naming to get fan interest when this is little more than the next Codex: Eldar. Honestly, remove the cover and you'd never be able to tell that this was supposedly Eldar: Codex Craftworlds over the common or garden armybook.
Right off of the bat, let's get the first point established shall we? There's no expansions to prior lore. Unlike what people had hoped for, the writers do little to nothing with the craftworlds and we learn no new details about them. Nothing which past books didn't tell, no new revelations about their society or their nature, nor even a little more to the big name ones themselves.
Just about every craftworld here is stuck, yet again, with about two or three paragraphs to flesh them out, just about all of which emphasise upon nothing but the militarized side of things. Beil-Tan is still the Fascist state of the eldar race, Saim-Hann is still woefully underdeveloped, Alaitoc is Ranger Town once more (with a tacked on Necron Dynasty vendetta), nothing of importance happened to Iyanden prior to Kraken apparently, and Ulthwé has little else to it beyond "Chaos is coming, look busy!"
Even the minor craftworlds, those rarely seen, remain woefully underrepresented and lack much to help truly define them. Given even less space than the major craftworlds, each effectively boils down to one or two sections or ideas with little room to develop or help represent their way of life. Of those there, only Lugganath and Mymeara remain relatively well rounded, with the others focusing far too much upon a single recent, defining event or their warhost. Few even bother to go so far as to actually account for any battles, victories or the mass slaughters their kind are so frequently subjugated to thanks to lazy writing, and we're just stuck with the same cookie-cutter descriptions as last time.
The thing which really damns the book as a whole is that, ultimately, so much of this is effectively recycled from the last edition. Little to nothing new is actually added here, and the few parts which aren't borderline copy-paste jobs only exist to announce "yo dawg, these guys are good at what they do!" It follows the same format as Khorne Daemonkin did, yet at the same time the writers there seem to have failed to understand why that worked but it doesn't here. One was a full army and a religious cult, the other is a diverse fragmentary race of beings who are the last of their kind and venerate a lost homeland. You can't tell that by focusing entirely upon the military or just outlining what each unit does. Hell, if anything their new approach has actually made things all the worse in this regard. Khorne Daemonkin focused upon telling tales of massive battles and victories, while here the book instead focuses purely upon fragmentary eye-witness bits of conflicts first and foremost.
So many subtle elements or essential parts of the race's mythos are either overlooked, underutilised or barely commented upon at all. To give one quick example, the Rhana Dandra isn't mentioned at all in the book beyond a brief comparison by Nightspear. Atop of this, so many crucial ideas such as the fact Autarchs and Exarchs are accursed as much as blessed (trapped on their Path and ultimately at a dead end) is completely overlooked, as is any real relationship between the craftworlds and Exodite colonies. The many opportunities to do so are squandered so badly it's astounding to think that Games Workshop thought the book deserved this price tag. The actual lore, on the whole, is so bare bones that were you to remove the obvious padding and relentlessly repeated information, it would barely make up a third of its overall page count - and that's before getting to the actual damn padding!
In the codex's middle, from page fifty-seven to ninety-three, the entire damn armybook suddenly diverges to immediately spam images of model upon model. With pointless close-ups of armies over and over again, some of the worst painted minitures ever to bear the 'Eavy Metal logo (honestly, I know casual painters who could have produced a masterpiece compared to Yriel here) and some quite obvious photoshopped efforts to make certain units look imposing. Oh, but that's only after the book opts to repeat all the details and information about the craftworlds and Aspect Shrines it just showed the reader right before this section. This would be like reading the same chapter twice over in a novel, only for the characters to be wearing hats the second time around. Repeating information to pad out their books has long been a sin Games Workshop has wholeheartedly embraced, but this is just getting ridiculous by this point!
Consider for a moment what, rather than pointless spam, essential parts could have been added which the codex otherwise skipped:
An examination of the psychic power of the eldar.
Descriptions on how the eldar manipulate other races and alter fate to ensure their own survival.
How the craftworlds have drifted apart.
Why the craftworlds have drifted apart and how some distrust others.
Lengthy campaigns and wars against their foes.
The race's role on the galactic stage and how they have participated in major wars.
How Craftworld and Dark Eldar interact with one another.
The various ruins, vaults and seals left by their race all over the galaxy, desperately trying to hold Chaos at bay.
No, sadly that last one is not an exaggeration. Go through this book and you'll find few to no actual wins made by any eldar army. Or any actual damn battles described involving the eldar army. "Show don't tell" is supposed to be one of the basic rules when it comes to showing off anything, from events to character abilities, so how the hell does Games Workshop keep getting this so utterly wrong? It's been bad enough on some previous books where they've gutted any actual stories of battles or campaigns, but now it seems even giving the army a player might be interested in a genuine win is utterly out of the question.
The writers' determination to utterly deny the eldar any kind of victory or glory moment can be best seen in the book's timeline. As if the title "The Doom of the Eldar" wasn't damning enough, what follows is a veritable plague of retreats, draws and losses without end.
The entire opening section completely skips over anything of significant detail surrounding the Empire, and just opts to detail the bare basics of how it fell, then starts skipping forwards a few millennia, coveringly only a few known tibbits from the Horus Heresy. Then the real defeats start.
764.M34 is titled the Shattering of Lugganath, and contains the following:
"The Emperor's Children ravage Craftworld Lugganath in Slannesh's name, killing thousands of Eldar before the are repelled."
514.M38 has this lovely bit to it:
"The Eldar of Ulthwé and the Jade Knife Kabal of Commorragh battle for dominance within the shattered spars of the webway. An uneasy truce is called only when the death toll becomes unbearable."
794.M41 contains Khorne's pets running wild on a craftworld:
"Caelec the Wanderer breaches a sealed runic portal, only to find it leads of Khorne's realm. A warband of hound-headed fiends slays Caelec and follows his scent to Yme-Loc, causing utter carnage before it is finally banished to the ether."
Oh, and we can't go without the Imperium getting involved in 801.M41 with a lovely side dish of character assassination:
"When Craftworld Yme-Loc refuses to yield its secrets to an Adeptus Mechanicus war fleet, battle breaks out within the armouries of Vaul. Millions die before the Tech-Priests seize enough Eldar technology to sate their predatory curiosity."
... You know, you'd be forgiven for thinking someone on the writing team might not be the biggest fan of this army.
The only things the eldar actually get as victories are stuff lifted wholesale from the most recent codices and Valedor, which even then seem to emphasise as much on eldar losses as possible. That and also open up some very big questions such as noting that certain craftworlds (Iyanden going from what the timeline suggests) set up multiple planetary colonies away from their mobile fortress planets. That and the fact said mobile fortress cities of psychic bone and raw firepower can easily be plundered by anyone looking to have a bit of fun at the space elves' expense. That or someone read the praise given to codices willingness to show armies losing once in a while, and used this as an excuse to go curb stomp the eldar into the dirt!
Perhaps the single worst thing though is how the codex utterly abandons any opportunity to detail lengthy conflicts, campaigns or even major battles for a few pages. Every shred of info here is delivered piecemeal and without any degree of lengthy explanation, and for all the conflicts it alludes to we see absolutely none of this. So, as a result even the very angle the book is going for in trying to only focus upon the eldar as an army is still woefully underrepresented and astoundingly shallow when it comes to any depictions of war.
So, is there anything good here? Yes and no. While the writers here might have heavily botched a great deal of lore when it comes to presenting the race, it didn't actually ruin any lore. There's no attempt to bulldoze their way through old ideas or cripple previous concepts, and even Codex: Iyanden itself seems to have been almost entirely ignored. The only actual bit referenced stems from the novel Valedor which, equally, seemed to utterly ignore the very codex it was supposed to promote. Atop of this there are a few minute gems of half good ideas and interesting elements flung about here and there. Some details surrounding the Aspect Shrines do try to present them as individual dojos of a kind, with their own traditions and histories. Each is given a paragraph to better flesh out certain bits of their style or history, and it genuinely does give the impression of a very individualistic army of specialist groups without going nuts. Atop of this the artwork, what little new stuff we get, is actually quite nice.
On the lore front Codex: Eldar Craftworlds is more a massive missed opportunity. It fails to expand upon anything we previously knew, fails to actually give any substantial focus to any of the major craftworlds, fails to account for even a fraction of the army's history or concepts, and fails to expand upon the basic army itself. With Codex: Space Marines showing how a book could be divided up to best represent several sub-factions and Codex: Tau Empire building a real society while still focusing primarily upon its army, there were no excuses here. While it might not be the gibbering realm of madness which was the last Supplement, this was just unimpressive as an effort. Honestly, you'd really do better just to save your money if you're in it for the background history and lore.
Still, that's only half the codex. Next time we delve into the rules. Oh sweet Emperor, the rules.