So, that's the lore done and now onto the rules. People knew quite early on what we were going to get with this one, a few Knights with some slightly shiner helmets and bigger guns, and a giant power fist. While sadly not accompanied by, say, militia from a Knight world or something to help better flesh this out into an army. On the one hand, sure this is understandable. It's the whole point of their lore and they're supposed to serve as a supporting force. On the other though it's a little hard not to look at a book consisting of nothing but super heavy vehicles and not raise an eyebrow at just how hard Games Workshop seems to be pushing the Apocalypse angle of bigger guns into standard Warhammer 40,000. Honestly, the only thing which really saved it was thanks to the older book retaining a few obvious weaknesses to exploit, requiring backup from more traditional units and some of the best lore written in years.
If there is one thing to say about this new codex, it does improve upon the old one when it comes to rules. Not an admittedly hard effort given there was barely enough content in the prior edition to fill a White Dwarf article, but they didn't entirely skimp on things here either. The biggest difference right from the get-go is the equipment each Knight can be outfitted with. Notable among the new options are the addition of carapace mounted weapons. These add, atop the main arms and stubbers, the option for each Knight to carry a Reaver Titan style backup weapon to augment its firepower. The two missile pods (Ironstorm and Stormspear) are what you'd expect, with one being a Strength 5 Large Blast weapon, and the other firing off trios of krak missiles each turn. The real fun comes in the form of the Icarus Autocannon, a twin-linked weapon which offers Skyfire and Interceptor among its effects. Yeah, the Knights are no longer reliant upon Heavy Stubbers to shoot down aircraft. It's nothing which is going to ever overshadow dedicated weapons, but it's helpful in offering the Knights a little more suitability given their points costs.
In terms of main arm weapons we now have the Avenger Gatling Cannon (Stolen from the Strike Fighter of the same name and given an upgrade to make it Heavy 12 and Rending!) and the Thunderstrike Gauntlet. The Avenger is definitely the cheesiest among the new cannons, and it's not hard to see why. On the Strike Fighter it was already lovingly known as the "Fuck Space Marines" gun, and now with a greater output it can punch holes in just about any infantry in moments. It's thankfully limited to only a couple of variants, but i'd really like to know who the hell thought giving an already infamously powerful "rip and tear" gun an upgrade was a good idea. It's not especially fun so much as just watching the army quickly die.
By comparison the Thunderstrike Gauntlet holds up far better as a dumb if incredibly fun weapon. At Strength D - because by this point there seems to be some mandatory decree that there be at least one per codex - it's hitting as hard as you'd expect as a glorified power fist, but then you have the rules. Taking one of the Giant options from Fantasy, the Knight can now pick up and throw things at people. Yep, the rules for this are as follows -
"If an Imperial Knight fighting with a Thunderstrike Gauntlet destroy an enemy Monstrous Creature or vehicle in the Fight sub-phase, it can choose to hurl it (Gargantuan Creatures, Super-heavy vehicles and buildings cannot be hurles). If a vehicle was destroyed as a result of suffering an Explodes! result on the Vehicle Damage table, resolve any damage before hurling it. Any passengers must make an emergency disembarkation before their transport vehicle is hurled. To hurl an enemy model, immediately resolved a shooting attack against an enemy unit within 12" that is not locked in combat using the profile below. A hurled model is removed from the battlefield after the attack has been resolved."
While sadly not as fun as "Pick up and..." from the other armybooks, you can at least now imagine a Knight scooping up a Land Raider and crushing Dante beneath its burning wreck. To make matters even more hilarious, The strength of this attack is always equal to the Toughness or front Armour Value of the hurled object. It's dumb to be sure, but it's one of these ones which is frankly too hilariously dumb to be mad about. If anything it's just a shame they didn't take things a step further via Pacific Rim rocket punches.
Atop of the basic guns we also have a few unique items of note in here, which does help with the knightly theme. Let's face it, most legends revolving around crusades, chivalry and knights involve a few legendary weapons, from Excalibur to Joan of Arc's famous blade. In this case it's less weapons and more general items though.
Listed as the "Heirlooms of the Knightly Houses" we have pretty much what you'd expect sadly. The Banner of Macharius Triumphant allows units within "12 to re-roll failed morale, pinning and fear tests. The Helm of the Nameless Warrior? Just grants Rampage, while the Mark of the Omnissiah offers It Will Not Die. Then we have the expected two killy weapons, known as The Paragon Gauntlet and the Ravager, the former being just a master crafted Thunderstrike Pimp Hand and the latter re-rolling rolls of 1 to hit. Oh, and of course we have one last one which offers a 6+ Inv save against anything not covered by its ion shield, but can't be used in close combat.
The sad truth is that while some of them have some surprisingly good lore for what little they get, these are just the same cookie cutter weapons we've seen time and time before. These are just the same motifs we've seen over the years, and while well priced and hardly game-breaking, there's nothing really interesting about them. It's honestly a shame as they seem to just be added as part of a checklist now rather than a fully outlined and described work.
Still, while the equipment is a mixed bunch there have been some improvements with the basic units. Rather than two, we now have five standard Knight variants to try and cover a wider variety of roles. Errant and Paladin both make a return appearance, but now we also have Warden, Gallant, and Crusader. Going from first to last, Warden is the one to show off all the new toys at once, Gallant the one who excels at combat, and Crusader feature more dakka. Their overall stats remain the same, meaning it's largely their weapons which define them. This said, they're genuinely not bad options as a whole.
Each of the Knights does seem to fill a good niche without going utterly nuts in terms of their gimmicks. For the most part each unit does seem to fit its role relatively well and offers a few good ideas, and the Warden in particular stands out exceptionally well in this regard. It's described effectively as a glorified siege weapon in the lore, yet it serves as a solid all-rounder. You have a Reaper chainsword with a under-slung Heavy Flamer, access to all carapace weapons and an Avengers Gatling Cannon to help thin out large roadblock units which might bog them down. Add to this a fairly cheap option to take up a Thunderstrike Gauntlet and the option to switch out a Stubber for a Meltagun, and at 375 points standard, it's not too shabby at all.
By comparison the Gallant is the one outfitted purely for close combat; offering only the peashooters of Heavy Stubbers as a basic gun, going all in with a Thunderstrike Smash-Fist and Reaper. The Gallant really is going to be the bullet magnet as it needs to get up close and personal, but it's also got another use in the codex. As the cheapest option on this list at 325 points (sigh) it helps to free up a little space on certain army lists for options. If you need an additional hundred points here or there, this is the Knight to take, good in a fight but with enough flexibility to fit in a few general upgrades. You can probably guess which items of wargear this particular one would be best suited to given its choppy nature.
The one which is really going to take the spotlight here is the Crusader as it, well, to be blunt it's going to be the powergaming monster here. It's already outfitted with the Avenger to muller more or less all infantry, but atop that you then have the Thermal Cannon as well. As standard. So combined with the Heavy Flamer you have a walking long range death machine capable of easily crippling anything it looks in the vague direction of. Even atop of that you then have the options to take up a Meltagun, add any carapace weapon you desire, and take up a Battlecannon for free. Along with being able to target each of these guns at an individual unit, you then have the bonus of it's still striking in close combat at Strength 10 AP2. Hell, even toning things down to take the Battlecannon and a Stormspear Rocket Pod still means it can probably rip through anything you point it at. The only downside is a cost of 425 points, but that's barely a step up from the more even handed Warden and small compared to the obscenely large armies seen today. It's honestly just raw power incarnate and little else, no tactics needed beyond not letting it get in over its head.
Both the Paladin and Errant also make a return, but with no real changes. The Paladin is still the all-rounder at a cheaper cost than the Warden, armed with a Battlecannon and Reaper, and capable of taking on most things in single battle. So long as you're not facing down a few Strength D weapons or a few Lascannons with a range advantage, it's one with some decent suitability and can take on most units. the Errant meanwhile is the cheaper "hammer" options here when you can't get the Crusader on your list. The Thermal Cannon's short ranged nature means it's one you're more likely to be using for flanking attacks to cripple enemy heavy tanks, transports and bigger machines. Now further augmented by the ability to take a Thunderstrike Rocket Fist means it's well suited to quickly crippling the big centerpiece units, from Land Raiders to bigger super heavies.
The other big change atop this is more bloody Formations. By now you'll probably know my opinion on these things, as in my view they rob the game of some creativity and reward players for using pre-made lists done by others. Sure, some people have done that on forums, but you can argue that's a community aspect and that doesn't offer bonuses for doing so. They also tend to be a bit more creative, as the ones here often just come down to taking Knights of any kind. Okay, the list only has five units but that still seems a little limited to say the least.
With five of these in total, there's a very odd mixture. First up is the Exalted Court, which has the player take five knights of any variant and little else. The reward for this? The Special Rules known as the Council of Lords and Knight Commander. The first basically gives the Knights steroids. One (dubbed the High King or Princeps) gains an additional 2 WS and BS, with an additional +1 to their invulnerable save. Atop of creating a WS6 BS6 monster Knight, all others then gain an additional 1 point to their own WS and BS. So for no extra points you now have ultra accurate and high powered Imperial Knights. Oh, and all of them can take any of the Heirlooms wargear as well. The second is much more tame by comparison, offering only Warlord traits re-rolls if this is your main detachment.
The Baronial Court is the Exalted's more flexible cousin, at three to five Knights at a time. You have Knight Commander again, Lord Baron offers one unit an additional 1 WS and BS, and access to the Heirlooms. The more notable and impressively useful ones are Knightly Vassals and Ionic Shieldwall. The first gives these damn things Counter-attack and Overwatch when in close proximity to their Baron (yeah, imagine five Gallants with Overwatch) and +1 invulnerable saves when a Knight is on close formation to another. This is the very nasty one of the list, and it's one which will easily rip through anything in sight, and so long as they're in close formation they're almost unstoppable.
In contrast to the two examples above we then have far more specific examples, the first up being the Tripartite Lance. As an aside, you've got to almost admire the gall in calling this thing a "lance" given these things were retired for so long thanks to so closely resembling Battletech lore. This one is what you'd expect from the name as well, three Knights, each of them the new shiny ones introduced in this edition. This is one of the only two with any kind of restriction, as the Knights here have to move as a single unit rather than going about individually. The buffs though, well, read for yourself:
"Knight Warden - Withering Fire: enemy units count their cover saves as being one point lower than normal against attacks from models from this Formation.
Knight Gallant - Wrathful Onslaught: All models in this formation inflict D3 Hammer of Wrath hits instead of 1.
Knight Crusader - Precision Bombardment: Blast weapons fired by models in this Formation gain Twin-linked special rule."
Yeah. You'd be forgiven for thinking the Gallant was going to be a third wheel until seeing the fact they work for all units. So even if you just outfit the close combat machine with a Stormspear Missile Pod, that thing is both twin-linked and nerfs cover saves from the enemy. To be frank, this thing is just the Knights' strengths taken to the Nth degree, and short of buffing their Invulnerable saves, this will just cause them to wipe out most things in their path. It's certainly going to help in ripping through any light armour, infantry or the like, and a twin-linked Thermal Cannon or those D3 attacks in combat will quickly end just about anything heavily armoured. This is the problem with Formations like these, it's no effort, no intelligence or skill, it's just three things mashed together and a bunch of bonus stats tacked on.
The last two are more general ones which really just reward taking lots of the same elements. The Gallant Lance (three guesses as to what variant they focus upon) just consists of three Knights, and immediately gives them Crusader, Rage and the ability to re-roll charge distances. Skyreaper Lance meanwhile just requires you to have three Knights of any kind, and to have Icarus Autocannons on each one. The bonus to this? Re-rolls to failed glancing or penetrating hits, and re-rolls to wound Flying Monstrous Creatures. Yep. Not much else to say beyond that, though there's a certain very limited degree of creativity in each. Especially with a single Formation designed to purely combat their previously single biggest weakness.
The last group to list off are the Warlord traits which beyond one or two points aren't very fun. To list them off in short:
Landstrider: Friendly Knights can add one inch to moving and charging when within 12" of the warlord.
Favoured of the Omnissiah: One standard weapon on the Warlord can be Master-Crafted with no cost.
Exemplar of the Joust: The Warlord gains the ability to re-roll hits upon charging.
Cunning Commander: D3 Knights gain Outflank in addition your Warlord.
Ion Bulwark: The Warlord re-rolls 1's on their Invulnerable saves.
Knight Seneschal: +1 attack.
Yeah, these are not too great on the whole. The most interesting ones are Ion Bulwark given how it can be combined with certain bonuses via Formations, Exalted to be specific, and Cunning Commander's bonuses. Beyond that though, there's nothing truly interesting here and too many once again focus too much upon an individual over the army as a whole.
In many respects the rules here are very much like the lore. They're not inherently bad, more bland and underdeveloped with one or two good points or ideas here and there. It's a step above last time on this front at least, but that's really thanks to how little was on offer there, and there's never a proper balance of power here. It's either wallpaper paste dull or giving the player so much power they can just walk through the enemy, with not nearly enough middle ground. It might be good enough to excuse fielding the new Knight variants, but in all honesty it's not worth the steep price of purchasing. Of course, a metric ton of people are sure to buy this in order to keep their very expensive Imperial Knights relevant to the game. Some days, you really do wish there were more choices in this hobby.