Sunday, 3 May 2015
Eldar Craftworlds Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)
So with the rather flawed and generally lacking lore out of the way, now we can move onto the rules. Let's be blunt with this one from the outset:
Games Workshop has officially shit the bed. Not in quite the way you might expect but it certainly left a stink.
This is not something so instantaneously obvious as Codex: Grey Knights, yet by the time you lay eyes on the Wraithguard you'll be wondering just what the QA testers were smoking that particular day. Perhaps most damning of all, the exact way the game designers went about this completely contradicts the most basic gaming ideology behind the eldar.
Before we really get into the rules, i'd like to really discuss where I personally think this went wrong and how it fell to bits. Most of it can come down to three things: A lack of respect for any veteran gamers of any kind, a value of money over mechanical balance, and Unbound Armies. The last one in particular is likely the biggest point as the other two substantially contributed to its creation, and it's very likely this codex was designed with that system in mind first and foremost, to try and push new units.
Unbound armies, for those who have (understandably) stopped keeping up with new Editions, is a system which dispensed with the old force organisation chart. It effectively boiled down to allowing anyone to take any unit they want and had White Dwarf authors gushing over an all Broadside and all Riptide list for the Tau Empire. With this, tactics truly went down the drain and it has been an addition which has been both heavily derided and directly opposed for crippling the tournament scene and even damaging building the skills of new players.
While the old style of armies can still be taken, in any outright battle or direct fight it's at a substantial disadvantage. Without that chart, there was far less of a structure to forces, far less of a need to balance things out, and less limitations on what could be taken where. It meant min-maxed forces could be taken en mass. This meant that there was going to be less of a need to build certain units which would need to have failings made up for by others. As such the ultra-specialised Aspect Warriors seem to have been written to be far far less the glass cannons of yesteryear. Rather than truly balancing them though, unfortunately it seems they took the Grey Knights route of just removing weaknesses and buffing just about everything possible.
The end result of approaching a problem like by adding effectively giving the army steroids is that it effectively removes any potential shortcomings and need for strategy. As such, even as some players are praising the fact Banshees are viable for the first time in living memory and there are some genuinely good ideas in here, they're missing the fact that this is ultimately turning the army into something which can be used to crush the enemy no matter which way you put it together. Unless you intentionally go in there and screw up the list beyond repair, you're going to have a fighting chance most of the time.
Such a screw up would be bad enough on its own, but the absolute blithering obtuseness on display here is staggering. Why? Well, it's actually focusing upon an army's most criticised points and promptly using them as suggestions for the new one. Think of it for a second, one of the biggest failings of the previous Codex: Eldar was how spammy it could be with Wave Serpents, Wraithknights and even a few other forces. This was already bad, but by making each and every unit here vastly stronger overall, it only opens the floodgates for this to increase tenfold. As a result, while the codex might appear sound on a mechanical level to play-testers, on a tactical and social level it is utterly abhorrent. It's a codex which makes the army strong with little to no thought - and we've seen how well that goes down in previous books, eh Blood Angels players? - and means players can get away with taking the easy option and still win.
Still, the design decisions and overarching problems with the book's structure are only the start of this codex's big failings. Time to get into the real cluster-fuck without end, starting with another staggeringly bad decision: Hand-held Strength D weapons.
What's a Strength D weapon? In short, it's the main gun on this:
Who did they give them to? These guys, among a vast number of others:
No, sadly this isn't a joke. You can now legitimately outfit entire armies with mini-Volcano Cannons and it's perfectly rules legal!
Want to know the dumbest part though? Along with all Wraithcannon variants, apparently all D-cannons also count under this. Yep, the Vaul's Wrath Battery can now have a fifty-five point Titan-killing weapon attached to them via a small weapons platform. The cheap cost-cutting options of this army are now more dangerous and combat effective against expensive troop transports, vehicles and artillery pieces than most elite specialist units in other armies.
Even trying to charge some of these units to take them down in close combat is tantamount to suicide now, thanks to the new D-Scythes which are exactly what you'd think they are. Sure, they top out at Strength 4 when it comes to Instant Death calculations, but that hardly makes these things any less stupidly powerful. You know, the review could just end here as this one part honestly wrecks the entire codex and any semblance of balance, even internally, yet there's still more sins yet to be seen.
Brace yourselves folks, the staggering paint fume huffing stupidity of this creative team is about to strike again!
Foremost among these is the Falcon Grav-Tank, long ignored and overshadowed by its APC cousin, this thing can now effectively pull a Storm Raven. Capable of Deep Striking and not scattering, these can be deployed in trios within four inches of one another. Yeah, on the second turn of both games you can probably expect half the enemy army to suddenly drop behind your lines and kill most of your big bloody units in a single strike, especially those expensive tanks with appetizingly weak rear armour. As if several bleak years of multiple space marine armies doing this exact damn stunt wasn't enough, apparently someone thought it'd be a great idea to bring it back in full force.
A few of the other speedily killy units in the Craftworlds' arsenal has similarly become insanely overblown to the point of being downright broken. The already fairly reputable Swooping Hawks are first on this list, with a staggering power boost which would make the Dark Eldar white with envy. Along with suddenly being able to move at 18" in movement which can lead to them leapfrogging across the table and crashing into enemy units before they have the time to fire back, all of them can now be equipped with Haywire grenades for four points per model. This works on fliers as well when they move over their position, meaning all of a sudden any expensive airborne skimmer is suddenly running the risk of being cut down by flocks of winged grenade lobbing elves. Along with retaining Skyleap, the unit also ignores scattering whilst Deep Striking when they are accompanied by an Exarch.
Striking Scorpions notably suddenly gain the ability to potentially kill Wraithlords on the turn they charge. No, seriously, their chainswords might not be able to hurt them but Mandiblasters now can. Upgraded so that they auto-wound on 4+, so anything over Toughness 3 is suddenly far easier to seriously hurt, meaning there's a chance the unit can run in and kill something they would otherwise be unable to harm at all. Atop of this, there's some surprising bonuses in that they gain Shrouded should they Infiltrate on a board but opt not to shoot at anything. So, all of a sudden they can move in close to an enemy, be extremely resilient to attempts to root them out, and then charge forwards to kill anything which strays too close. This would be akin to turning the usual Kroot Carnivore speed-bump tactic into something truly deadly.
Oh, but we can't just let any unit go without some serious firepower to back it up, so all of a sudden jetbikes can now roll in with enough firepower to make an Obliterator unit blush. This has already been infamous around the interwebz for some time now, and it's as ridiculous as you'd think it is. Windriders as they are now known offer the option to carry as many Scatter Lasers and Shuriken Cannons as the unit has models, with the possibility of even a Warlock accompanying them. So, just to make this crystal clear: You can have up to ten models, all armed with heavy weapons capable of skewering a Leman Russ in a few well placed shots, boosted by eldar psychic abilities, with a 3+ armour save, and moving at a speed which makes footslogging armies look like they're at a standstill.
Nothing else to add here beyond what in the name of Posideon's salty balls were they thinking when they cooked this up!?
And then we get into the really nasty ones here. The staggeringly monstrous big units Games Workshop just loves to sell and needed to ensure people would buy them.
Trailing fire, destruction and triggering tears of joy from power gamers, we have the Avatar of Khaine. One of the less commented upon units in the build-up towards this release, the Avatar itself underwent a substantial power-boost which has made it into something worthy of Dawn of Eldar. While his overall stats have remained the same, both Khaine Awakened and the Wailing Doom have undergone a substantial upgrade. In the case of the former, it now offers Furious Charge and Rage along with making any unit within 12" Fearless, meaning those Strength 3 space elves are suddenly hitting much harder. The Wailing Doom meanwhile, well, It now makes the unit Strength 8 and counts also as a range 12" Melta weapon. Not a bad combination as fragments of dead gods go, but like so much here it's woefully cheap for what it's capable of pulling off; turning a glass cannon army into an unstoppable tide of melee which could shame anything Khorne Daemonkin in terms of sheer carnage.
The only unit in this army to receive any kind of points increase to balance out any boosted attributes was the Wraithknight. Already infamous for its surprisingly cheap value when it came to its capabilities and sheer damage potential, this seemed like a fair move. Unfortunately, someone decided to flip the Godzilla switch on this model. Along with now counting as a Lord of War slot, the howling monster of annihilation also now counts as a Gargantuan Creature with all the benefits that offers. Now augmented with Feel No Pain, immunity to Instant Death and the option to carry Strength D weapons, it can behead Stompas in single turns of combat and move through armies like a whirling reaper of death.
Just to make this clear, the design team opted to actually take the time to listen to fan criticisms and fixed something. They then immediately made the same problem a hundred times worse in the exact same damn book. Either someone got hacked off about one too many Imperial Knight vs Wraithknight arguments on the internet, or the people behind this have developed trolling to an art-form.
Now, despite all of this there are actually a few good shades of ideas found here and there in the book, some fixing prominent issues found in the last codex while others fixed long unpopular units. Well, fixed them without taking things to mind-bogglingly mad power-gaming levels of bullshittery at least.
The Wave Serpents in particular thankfully saw a notable downsizing of their main game breaking attribute, with their shields now being one shot weapons. Rather than the relentless barrages found in the prior edition, what was given here was a 2D6 attack which is more something to be used in desperation or out of necessity than a standard attack vector. This already solves a lot of its problems and the fact it fizzles out of existence following this means there's at least a lot less spamming on this front.
Similarly the Banshees are quite useful now. Gone is the sadly pointless reverse Power Fist effect of their masks, and in its place the unit now causes Fear and blocks Overwatching. Say what you will about that, but this means that there is far more reason to take these over other close combat specialists as seen in the past, and were it not for the balls out sheer power of other elements this would at least offer some variation and options on how to break gunline armies. Sadly, as it is, they may still end up overshadowed despite this upgrade.
Of course, this positivity can't last as next we have the formations, which are sadly as broken as you'd expect. They do not offer bonuses for clever thinking or thematic elements as one might hope so much as sheer power like so many other elements here.
War Host is the big case of this which allows all units to run 6" without any need to roll or risk falling short at all. So yeah, cue eldar acting as if they've just merged with the bloody Speed Force, and Wraithlords breaking the sound barrier with their sheer pace of movement.
Windrider Host meanwhile offers a rule known as the Tempest of Blades, giving any shuriken weapon in the formation the Shred capability. Bare in mind, this could be up to thirty Shuriken Cannons pulling off this stunt.
Aspect Host then offers a basic +1 to BS or WS (player's choice) and the ability to re-roll any tests for failing Pinning, Morale or Fear. Bare in mind, this is for just three units of any Aspect Shrine, so this is obscenely easy to put together and have this sudden bonus.
Dire Avenger Host is more or less exactly the same as the above formation, showing the height of laziness, but with the added rule that all shuriken catapults in the formation are assault 3 for one turn.
Crimson Death, which is just three Crimson hunters, then offers the ability to retain a permanent 4+ cover save, one which can then be re-rolled repeatedly until next turn should any one choose to Jink. Oh and Preferred Enemy Flyers, and Flying Monstrous Creatures just in case you weren't using them to shoot things out of the sky.
By comparison, the remainder of these units aren't that bad in all honesty. Some are actually pretty good if a bit pointless, such as Wraith Host which offers re-rolls to hit enemies if any Wraith units are within 18" of a Spirit Seer. This would be reasonable admittedly, if a little uninventive but then they're given perpetual Battle Focus. Yeah, you can imagine how much damage this is going to do to other armies, especially with their newly tooled up weapons. At the very least it's an answer to some of the more infamously broken formations dominating the game though.
Guardian Stormhost, a mix of Storm Guardians, Vipers and Walkers, really just comes down to avoiding a few points costs, allowing power weapons, flamers and fusion guns to be picked up without further points costs. Well, that and Preferred Enemy is given to the other units shooting at anything 12" from the Guardians themselves.
Guardian Battlehost, as with the Aspect example is more of the same, just with Heavy Weapon Platforms in place of the normal upgrades.
Finally, there's then Seer Council, which is one of the more usefully balanced choices. 3+ will to harness a Warp Charge point and the ability to re-roll Warlord Traits aren't too bad, and it's an easy one to create without limiting at list.
On the one half we have a mostly harmless few elements and ideas for a codex, and on the other it's Plasma Syphon degrees of madness capable of just punching through anything in its way. This codex was just a bad idea, largely unnecessary and better saved until someone had the time to actually plan out how things should have been put together. Following so soon after Codex: Khorne Daemonkin and Codex: Skitarii likely hurt this book badly in terms of rules and lore alike, and it does reek of being rushed out as fast as possible. I'd like to say i'm mad by this point but, in all honesty, this one is something which seems as if it were built on a rushed schedule and forced out the door with a few insane ideas pushed upon them.
We've not seen this level of game-breaking badness for a while, and it really only seems to be arising once every few few codices now. It could be down to a bad author or perhaps even just Games Workshop itself performing acts of executive interference to try and push people to buy more models. That or, given how opposed they often are to the tournament and professional scene, intentionally writing codices to drive away older players they no longer desire as a target audience. So much here seems to have just been lifted or with a skeleton taken from the previous Codex: Eldar and a few modifications made, and few for the better. Well, that and apparently one person on the lore team hated the army while the guy behind the rules loved them to bits.
If you have the option, if you care about the lore and desire a somewhat more balanced set of rules for your army, stick with the past codex. If you can get away with, it's the lesser of two evils here. Flawed as it might be, at least you won't be sacrificing your self respect by carrying about a codex whose idea of tactics comes down to "more" and "bigger" when it comes to stats and guns.