Monday, 11 May 2015

Imperial Knights Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

If you ever wanted to pin down exactly what's wrong with Games Workshop's approach to lore this edition, look no further. Oh, it's that the lore itself is bad, but when you actually stop to compare this with the prior codex, you'll quickly pick out where things have gone off of the rails.

This is how the old codex looked for the first twelve pages or so as it fleshed out their history, traditions and nature.

How does the new and supposedly improved Codex: Imperial Knights look by comparison? 

This is padding at its finest. They didn't even bother to just copy and paste old information.  What we're left with is Codex: Imperial Knights concentrate as a result, with all the prior information condensed down into a third of the overall word count. As such, while it conveys the general basic information, no time is spent on the more minor aspects of the technology, development of those worlds or even how the individual Houses behave. This could perhaps be understood if the codex had a substantially shorter page count, but it's actually the complete opposite.

The old codex: 64 pages in length.

The new codex: 120 pages in length.

The writers here had twice the space to work with here, and almost all of it is wasted rapidly padding out the book and shoving massive bits of (recycled or otherwise) artwork next to them. As such, what you're buying offers only a fraction of the background information this should ultimately be showing people. At its best it's offering somewhat shorter versions of old lore, and at worst its lacking so much of the depth the prior book contained.

There are also entire sections of once prominent information or useful passages which are now completely missing from this codex. The Ritual of Becoming and nature of each Throne Mechanicum is missing almost entirely from the beginning, and only is offered a handful of mentions here and there. The large viewpoint short tales showing a noble linking into his war machine, fighting against impossible odds or even some of the basic intricacies which seemed so fitting of the setting. Hell, they even removed the bit which explained how each noble entered their mech of choice Thunderbirds style.

Even the very timeline itself is a mere shadow of its previous volume, with information and meaning behind so much of what was once interesting ditched entirely. You're lucky to get a sentence at all to help properly define or even explain certain historical events, and these fail to have the same world-building impact of past works. Compare the following for example:

The old codex lists the following for one event:
"112.M41 First Contact
The Imperium makes first contact with the Knight world of Kragh after a localised warp storm, which has been raging for over twenty millennia, finally abates. Though much of the planet's surviving technology is revealed to be incredibly archaic, the Knight suits remain in remarkable condition thanks to a long-lost piece of STC technology. Initial attempts to integrate Kragh into the Imperial fold are met with open hostility as the planet's two knightly houses react to the perceived threat with deadly force. Peace is finally brokered by Baron Jakobus, a venerable Knight Seneschal greatly respected by both houses - but the fragile ceasefire is jeopardized almost immediately as a trio of Tech Adepts attempt to recover the priceless STC archeotech and return it to Mars."

Now, compare this with what's listed in the new book on this timeline:

"11.M41 New Contact
The Imperium makes first contact with the Knight world of Kragh after a localised Warp storm finally abates. It had raged for over twenty millennia without pause."

Yeah. Anyone else get the feeling the writers were skipping over a few things here? The sad thing is that this is the case for just about every single last event in the timeline, with only one or two getting even half the detailed length of the prior codex's events; and one of those is explaining what the Age of bloody Technology was! 

Do you want to know why this was done as well? Not because they had fewer pages to work with (the timeline in both editions takes up four pages) but because someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to have stonking great images of Knights taking up almost half of each page. Yeah, above all else in this codex, the background hasn't been sidelined and stripped down to make room for more rules, it's to make way for more images. Even as padding this makes no sense, as this is requiring far more effort than even just copying, pasting and slightly editing material from the past codex. In a few ways, i'm personally not sure if this was a better move or not.

Despite these criticisms, it would be wrong to say that there wasn't some push to try and have new information to support this. There are actually some interesting angles which were pursued to try and flesh out the universe and this setting. The problem here truly stems from the focus and way they went about this, and sadly actually diminishes the universe as a result. This is best seen in the hierarchy listed for each House, divided between those who are Imperial allied and Mechanicus allied. Now, on the one hand this is a very good thing as it does help to offer further insight into how certain Houses operate and how they differ from one another.

At the Mechanicus end, we have a series of ranks such as "Forge Master" "Master of Lore" and others all led by a Princeps. The layout is more expected of such a highly organised force, and the lore here specifies that they are less individual powers and more cogs in a greater machine. As such, they are more frequently used to augment Titan Legions, accompany Explorator fleets and the fact they share a rank with a Titan commander actually makes a degree of sense. While there is a notable problem in certain ranks (notably "Master of Vox" being seemingly irrelevant and useless given their structure), and it does fail to truly remain in-keeping with any feudal elements, those after a Mechanicus style army of mecha now have this option to work with. This isn't the problem here, the problem comes from when you move over to the Imperial one.

By comparison, the Imperial House is noted to be far more feudal, emulating certain chivalry elements far more and there is more of a focus upon ruling individual lands. Most of the Knights themselves are listed to be scattered across a world, securing certain holdings and governed by a single High King. It's structured and regimented, with Barons ruling in his stead and helping rule the world province by province. Now, this sounds good initially, until you realise this is exactly the same structure as the Mechanicus allied Houses, just with a few names changed. To make matters worse, this isn't just making it the same as that book, it's Codex smegging Astartes syndrome all over again. 
You've probably seen this for yourself in a few books, where all of a sudden an army's structure is rearranged until it's suspiciously like the tried and tested format used for genetic space marine chapters. Each House now consists of several detachments, each leader being a specialist elite led in some field and their leader elevated from their ranks to lead them all. This might sound generic, but when you really stop and compare the two, you could easily switch this into a Space Marine chapter's organisation and not even need to change ranks.

A bigger problem on this front stems from the fact that, on the whole, the structure listed in this book is supposed to be the definitive way all Houses work now. This isn't with some degree of variation, some smaller allowances for deviation or even entirely new forms, instead these two examples are supposed to cover every single Knight World in the entire Imperium. This removes a lot of opportunities for player creativity, but more importantly it makes the setting itself feel far smaller as a result, with so little diversity on offer by comparison. Oh, and atop that there's also the problem of treating the Imperial Knights as a standing army. While they might be a military force, what's in here should be more akin to Bretonnia or with only one or small groups of knights serving as watchmen for a province. What we have here instead suggests that the Knights effectively act in company formations, as the astartes so often do. Of course, once you actually skim through the bits on each House in turn, it seems that someone had the exact opposite idea, and took it to its ultimate extreme.

In a move which makes Codex: Tempestus Militarum's own bloated repetitive padding look conservative, we have countless pages about individual Knights. No, really, its the same few variants of the same image, with a few heads, weapons and colours changed, and two paragraphs added per one. This is done for each and every notable mech of House Terryn and House Raven, focusing less upon the Houses themselves than who is leading them at this time. Thirty-four pages in total cover this, along with the secondary Houses, and just as soon as you think it's over the book start's on the Freeblades. Over a quarter of the damn book is just devoted to page after page of the same thing, with incredibly little lore, when all of this could have easily been narrowed down to perhaps twelve in total. Hell, you could have ripped most of these out of the book and no one would have batted an eye.

The only good news here is that, again, there were some efforts to push for something better here. One of the big problems in the setting has always been how static things are, so with here several houses have been noted to change their heraldry over time. Several images depict each stage of this evolution, with small notes depicting what each addition connoted to the House. The problem is all of this stops as soon as they join the Imperium. What's listed here is just from M24-31, meaning that everything stops as soon as they rejoin the Imperium itself. Good idea, poor execution. The individual Knights depicted and their histories are also a decidedly mixed bunch. Some work well, others feel like pointless additions while others seem oddly off-kilter. Notably one Terryn Knight by the name of Alarbus contains the following passage, which is little more than shallow explosive bolter porn than anything with actual substance behind it:

"In his Knight Gallant, Honoured Vigilance, Sir Alarbus has already begun to forge a name for himself amongst his house's many heroes and veterans. To earn the blue and red stripes that honour House Terryn and the Imperium, a Knight must single-handedly slay a Titan-class foe. Although still reckoned young, the Noble Alarbus has already done so twice, earning stripes for both his reaper chainsword and thunderstrike gauntlet. He earned the first by felling a mountainous Gargant when his lance were sent to halt the rampages of Waaagh! Grazguts. Hard pressed by the Gargant's guns, the intrepid Knight hacked through the Ork machine's protective plates, before hoisting himself into the beast's iron belly, carving his way through and out the other side of the behemoth just before the Gargant's damage engines exploded catastrophically."

Anyone else thinking this guy's second name is Draigo at this point? It's admittedly one of the more extreme examples, but it shows just how badly some are put together. They do little to really examine the history behind the machine, use the pilot as a possible example to represent an aspect of his House, and it's the same old exaggerated bolter porn we've seen a thousand times over. There's no energy to it, nothing fun or suggesting the writer was really invested in this story, it's some stupidly exaggerated tale but without the fun of being stupidly exaggerated or nuts, and written in an insanely by the numbers style. By comparison a number of others, especially the Freeblades, stand out well as they add to the scale of the setting and truly seem to fit in well with the more fantastical or archaic styles of the setting. Geranitus and The Living Litany are two such examples of near legendary questing Knights done well. Others such as The White Warden (linked to the Red Waaagh! Games Workshop keeps pushing) are driven into taking up the Freeblade life thanks to political scapegoating on his world and internal disputes.

Now, if there is one problem above all others which needs to be highlighted and brought to the fore, it's how the codex treats Knight technology. As in, it treats it as if no one ever understood or remembered how to ever make Knights or any of the systems relating to them. Yeah, at every point the book goes the extra mile to slam home how making the Knights, the Throne Mechanicum or even the teachings given to the Sacristans are all somehow lost to time. Sure, it's a common thing in the Imperium, but the problem is that Codex: Imperial Knights was built itself upon establishing how the mechs were an exception to this rule. One of the main reasons, after all, that they hold such close ties to the Mechanicus was thanks to the Tech-Priests building, restoring and teaching them how to use their machines following Old Night. The new codex seems to forget this little detail, repeatedly bashing the reader with sections like this:

"Long ago it was realised that it mattered little if Knights marches out to protect their world only to return to find their strongholds in ruin. Without the irreparable equipment and mechanisms of the Chamber of Echoes and the Sanctuary, no new Rituals of becoming could take place, nor could Knights be repaired."

Overall, while you can appreciate the writers attempting to expand upon what was established, Codex: Imperial Knights is a definite misfire in terms of lore. Getting so many details of past books wrong, wasting pages on pointless padding, lacking the detail found in the past codex and really limiting the army's potential, it's a definite failure on almost every level. Certainly not a bad one, and not offensive enough to be remembered as a monumental slump in writing, but a sign that the perpetual wave of releases is harming the creativity of these codices. If you're buying these for the background or love of the universe, in all honesty you're better off with last edition's codex. Definitely save your money for something better than this rushed joke of a book.

Still, that's only one half of this. Now, onto the rules.


  1. It really is rather sad to see that GW has doubled the number of pages in the book, yet they still end up with less lore than before. Maybe they just hate writing?

    You know, I'd really like to see you compare GW's lore to that of another game, maybe point out things that GW does well in comparison and things it could learn. Give us a slight reprieve from what feels like one misstep upon another whenever GW's lore is brought up these days.

    1. Pretty much. They've had codex after codex come out non-stop recently, and that seems to seriously be hurting the quality of storytelling in their books. Some can be given a pass for just not completely botching the ideas at first or actually having some positive elements, but both this and Eldar Craftworlds were hit hard it seems. It doesn't seem to be done out of malice - we've seen that enough times in past books - so much as just being extremely rushed.

      Well, the one I keep being very tempted to do this with is Firestorm Armada. That game offers a lot of what 40K has lost over the years, and while minimal the lore there still retains many positive qualities, like some true shades of grey to every side and the set-up for an ongoing conflict. Not, as we've seen all too often recently, claiming Armageddon is coming and giving every retconning faction to have some nebulous "I win!" button like the Grey Knights and Eldar of late.

    2. Actually, on that subject; how does Firestorm Armada stack up against Battlefleet Gothic? I never ahd the chance to compare the two.

    3. They're very different beasts but you can see where the two cross over. There's less of a general emphasis upon formations and no torpedo tokens in Armada, but at the same time there's still damage effects, full speed ahead and others. I will say that they have quite given both sides a great deal of depth with some very minimal writing, provided an idea that no one is a good guy and they've got a very interesting business plan. There are several major factions for both sides, but minor supporting factions they're slowly growing out and developing into full armies as they go along, ironing out the kinks on each one. To be honest, for the most part they're far better balanced than either Warhammer game at the moment.