Sunday, 28 June 2015
Dark Angels Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)
Of all the revamps and resigns of the past two editions, the Dark Angels are probably the chapter who have benefited the most from updates. Whereas the Ultramarines, Grey Knights, Iron Hands, Blood Angels, Space Wolves and Imperial Fists have had reactions range from embarrassed chuckles to unstoppable rage, the Dark Angels have remained exceedingly strong. This tends to stem from the fact that, while large chunks of their lore and ideas were altered and expanded upon, they kept to the spirit of the thing. Better yet, rather than being boiled down to one or two defining traits (something which hit the Blood Angels especially hard) while they are insanely focused upon one goal above all else, they never feel one note. This thankfully remains strong here.
For those not in the know, the Dark Angels are one of the First Founding chapters of the Imperium. Serving as a vanguard force, they fight the Emperor's foes on every front, secretive and grim in their perpetual crusades. However, they harbour a dark secret. In the final days of the Horus Heresy, a sizable number of their brothers joined Horus in his rebellion, firing upon primarch Lion El'Jonson's fleet as he returned to their home of Caliban. The war which followed destroyed Caliban almost entirely save for its massive fortress and left El'Jonson in a coma he has yet to awaken from. With the traitors dragged to safety thanks to the machinations of the Chaos Gods, many escaped justice. To keep their shame secret, and to ensure their honour is restored, the chapter hunts for their Fallen kind. Many even go so far as to turn their guns upon the Imperium's defenders to achieve their final victory in this old war...
Much of the lore is, as you'd expect it sadly, largely unchanged from the past book. There's not too much in the way of major expansions here or even minor additions to past ideas which really capitalize upon past tales. Due to the book's current structure and massive emphasis upon artwork, there just isn't the space. This said, unlike Codex: Imperial Knights, the book doesn't loose too much by comparison thanks to this. There's less of a massive sense of wasted potential or expansive lore cut down until it's a mere stub of a work, and there's still a few poignant bits. Nothing too impressive like vast stories of battles or even detailed descriptions of ongoing campaigns, but just enough to help the chapter feel a little more fleshed out.
Perhaps best of all is that the minor moments which are added are in the right place. These are very short paragraphs we have mentioned before, often accompanying units and specific ranks like Chaplains, Techmarines or Land Raiders. In the past these have often been many brief stories or tales, or given some idea about some unique rank within one warband or other force, such as with the Daemonkin. Here though, what we find consists of more of character building ideas to help give a much more open and deeper idea of how the chapter works.
Many sections are more those which are about the individuals who drive the vehicles or the sorts of personal impact the chapter's drive has had on them. For example, Interrogator Chaplains feature mention of the black pearls, rewards to signify their victories in breaking a member of the fallen and forcing him to confess. This is a more obvious one, but then you have the really interesting ones. Take the Dark Angels version of the Master of the Forge. Due to their ties to the Adeptus Mechanicus rather than solely to the chapter, they are the one part of their topmost command structure not inducted into the Inner Circle. However, they still maintain a very key role within the Dark Angels: maintaining and piloting The Rock itself. Each is cybernetically bound to the gigantic Fortress Monestary as a Princeps is to a Titan, They are responsible for its every act for war and keeping track of the vast repositories of relics locked within its half-forgotten labyrinthine maze. When they die, their body is left in place until it rots away, leaving rows of skeletons at the fortress' cogitators.
Each section is just enough to give you an idea of how things work and of the chapter's traditions, but still has plenty of moments to leave you wanting to know more. It's really the best kind of lore, with detail here and there but also enough to build upon ideas and invest upon them. Well, that and stories. No, seriously, read this and just tell me with a straight face you don't want to see this turned into a part of a novel: "Brother Azaziel, who single-handedly defended the skies above Neuvenport in his Nephilim Jetfighter for six hours against successive waves of Necron Doom Scythes."
Many of the pages are devoted to units, which are once again repeated later on. However, while some do only offer the repetition of the same sorts of information you would expect, others help back this up with some ideas which really give a sense of weight to their reputation. Not to mention the impact the chapter's dark secret has upon their kind. This is best seen with the chapter's Venerable Dreadnoughts and members of the Deathwing.
You are given an impression of just how monumentally strenuous the process of selecting each marine is, as much for their loyalty as their skill, and it's driven with far more impact than many books manage to convey. Many authors seem to keep forgetting that the astartes are an army whose neophytes would be on par with Conan the Barbarian. In this case however it's really hit home just how driven they have to be in order to ascend to any rank, emphasising just how truly elite the group is over all else.
With the Dreadnoughts it's pointed out just how valuable such ancient knowledge is to a chapter hunting for the Fallen, knowing their tactics, methods and telltale signs of their involvement. More than just this however, the article on them also cites the point that not all of those interred in Dreadnoughts might know of the chapter's true mission. Some only learn it following being entombed, resulting in a level of rage and betrayal which drives them far further than many others of their kind. Atop of all of this, there are a unique few among them who guard the innermost core of The Rock. These are known as the Wardens in White, the two eldest Venerable Dreadnoughts of the Deathwing and gatekeepers who serve as the Dark Angels' final line of defence. Rarely do they leave from this post, and even when they do one always remains to hold their station.
The sad thing is that while such bits do help to give the codex far more substance than many other books, it's a bitter realisation. What we get is still extremely limited and it shows just what the codex could have been if words, descriptions and events had been valued over artwork and vast amounts of padding. This is evident from the very start, when the entire history of the chapter is cut down to about half a page's worth of content, skipping anything and everything involving the Horus Heresy. The codex gives an exceedingly brief, if well written, outline of Luther's betrayal before it moves on.
The timeline is just as bad when it comes to offering little to nothing. For the four pages it stretches across, over three pages focus upon M41. The rest, covering the other nine thousand years, is barely enough to make up a single paragraph. The sheer brief nature of so many of these points reaches utterly ludicrous levels, where one supposedly major encounter is covered only by the following:
Several squads of Deathwing board the space hulk Wyrmwood. None are ever seen again, and records of the action are erased."
Even prior points such as the infamous disappearance of a Black Templars strike cruiser are watered down, limited to the point of just mentioning the fact they came to blows. It's reading these parts which really makes you realise just how much these books are lacking anything of truly massive substance, or to actually offer the same kinds of stories which kept these armies going. For better or worse, for generating actual discussion within fandoms and long term attention, those lengthier stories were critical for establishing continued interest from fans. Without that, all people are left with is mechanics, and that simply isn't enough to maintain the interest of fans.
The final point to really remark upon is the artwork, which is the usual mix of things. There's a vast amount of recycled artwork, taken from prior books, sources and releases. Many have been coloured in, an addition which does little to improve their quality sadly. Others however, are truly spectacular additions, especially those focusing upon vehicles and the mailed fist of the Deathwing. It's definitely a mixed bag, and the sheer volume of recycled artwork is eyerolling, but it's certainly not without a few solid bits of high quality work.
Overall, Codex: Dark Angels is one of those books which is definitely one of the better releases of late. It's very much akin to Codex: Khorne Daemonkin, a worthy release with some great elements and ideas to it. There's certainly more than enough there to keep the attention of certain people, but its lore is more a nice bonus than a key reason to buy it sadly, as there's just not enough truly new material to keep it going on this strength alone. Certainly don't write it off, but don't go out and buy it purely for love of the setting.
So, next time we finally finish Codex: Space Marines, the world's single most dense armybook, and move onto Codex: Dark Angels' rules. Expect formations. Formations, formations and a lot more formations in the analysis here.