Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Angels Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

Welcome to part two, if you're after the book's lore, you can find the analysis here.

Of all the things to say about Codex: Dark Angels' rules, sadly the most apt description is that of a pale shadow. It's based upon a good concept, has certain solid ideas backing it up, and most of the units are highly effective. By all rights its a decent book, and we've certainly seen far, far worse than this in recent years, yet for all the positives there's one big glaring flaw which hangs over that. As such, we're going to be doing things a little differently this time, primarily looking into its biggest flaw before moving on to focus far more upon its much better attributes.

Back in the review of Codex: Space Marines, one of the big points in its favour was the book's use of its formations. All too often past releases had used formations as a tacked-on idea, something where the entire army list was written for the players and they were effectively being rewarded for putting no effort into their lists. Combined with unbound armies, it seemed that it was actively killing off full originality when it came to army creation or even basic balance. However, Codex: Space Marines showed a way in which Formations could be used for good, and remained thematically loyal to the lore. Rather than being one whole army, each was to serve as a building block to a bigger force.

In the same way Codex adherent chapters had task forces and companies assembled from elements across the chapter, the core of any list was part of a Battle Company with elements of Reserves, Scout and First companies joining them. In its own right it was a simple but very elegant idea, and one which allowed for a good deal of creativity in many respects. You didn't have to completely stick to it of course, and could build formations and ideas beyond them, and it was still flexible enough to largely represent most chapters to one degree or another. Better yet, it was the starting point for something more expansive. This was a general example of how most Codex focused chapters (albeit some falsely labelled as such, like the White Scars and Iron Hands). As such, the more diverse and unusual chapters could have the same done to them, better representing their styles, unique formations, ways of war and even the tactics of aliens. The problem is then that, for the most part, the formations focusing upon the Dark Angels are largely copied from the prior codex. This would be bad enough, but the vast majority of them are either not done nearly as well, or are just weaker shades of what we had before.

Take their famous formation focusing upon their elite Fallen hunters, the Deathwing Redemption Force. Even above all other chapters, the Dark Angels are well renowned for retaining a heavily armoured and very powerful number of warriors to bring down upon any who might be harboring the Fallen. Even back in the Third Edition, this was well recognised, and more than a few readers seemed understandably irritated that Codex: Space Marines' own Terminator clad formation was effectively taking their own special formation for itself. Well, to add salt to that particular wound, the special rules for this force are actually far worse by comparison. They have Preferred Enemy thankfully, but only against Chaos Space Marines. Along with this, they gain no bonuses during their initial strike, re-rolls or multiple attacks. Instead the players choose exactly when they get to Deep Strike in and the ability to run then shoot, shoot then run and even fire upon arriving. Now, these are all useful and pretty good, and i'd even argue better balanced, but it lacks that bonus firepower that the Deathwing rightfully deserve. It's daft really, the one time Games Workshop show's restraint in its rules, and i'm the one arguing they didn't go far enough in powering them up!

Problems only grow once you see how the book retains more than a few typos and obvious editing oversights. While not nearly as bad as forcing the Farsight Enclaves to take loyalist Tau Empire characters, more than a few seem to have been written with the inability to keep track of their special rules and details. This is especially evident in the Ravenwing sections, which seem to forget that only one of their characters has the ability to make them viable for their formations. This sadly leaves a few good ideas fundamentally broken at their core.

Others such as their version of the Battle Demi-Company also show an unfortunate mix of good and bad points. The unit lists are the same, the overall structure is the same but a few of the special rules have changed. One focuses upon the Dark Angels' traditionally greater proficiency at ranged combat, by making them BS 3 in Overwatch rather than 2. Okay, that's fair and hardly breaks the game. The other one is quite problematic though, as it allows units to automatically count as successfully holding Objective Markers even when the enemy is contesting them. Given that this is a formation which extends to Dreadnoughts and Assault Marines, that's going a bit too far.

Overall you get the impression with the formations that they were really rushed out the door to try and capitalise upon the hype surrounding Codex: Space Marines. With more time, more originality and better planning they could have produced something great, but sadly we instead end up with something flawed and sadly squandering a lot of great potential.

So, with that out of the way, the rest of the book is actually pretty solid on the whole. Much like the codex we keep referring back to in this review, not too much has changed in terms of unit rules, listings and stats. At least with the basic units anyway. Others meanwhile get some much bigger buffs thanks to their overarching rules, and there's been a bigger focus upon improving the army's notable weak points.

While their lore might have been great, the Dark Talon and Nephilim always seemed to be trailing behind their competitors in a lot of regards even as glass cannons. They didn't hit quite hard enough and died too easily to be truly beneficial in a lot of situations, so while they had their moments they were understandably seen as a liability in some circles. This is thankfully drastically corrected here, with both receiving some much deserved buffs. 
The Nephilim in particular gained Strafing Run, a sizable drop in points, and carries Strength 7 AP 3 missiles. Not too shabby at all, and atop of this the Unrelenting Hunter means players can opt to pass up destroying a vehicle's weapons for immobilising it. Basically the damn thing's a mini-Fire Raptor gunship at this point.
Then we have the Dark Talon. The thing might be fragile and very likely to die after its opening volley, but the developers seem to have redesigned it with that point in mind. As such you now have a fast moving attack platform with a Vortex (read: Destroyer) strength weapon and two hurricane bolters. Oh, and it can also now use its stasis bombs to potentially remove models from play as much as severely debuff them. Yeah, it's a little broken, but seeing this thing in action is quite frankly too damn funny to remain mad at it.

Anyway, positive buffs here as well can be found in the form of the Grim Resolve special rule. This is something which is distributed throughout most of the chapter and allows units to overwatch at BS 2, allowing for a lot of powerful firepower to be poured into anything they're fighting. Well, a bit more bolter round as they enter combat and the like, but you get the point. Atop of this, the focus upon using Codex: Space Marines as a baseline added a few improvements, chief among these being the points costs. While the Dark Angels have a few edges over normal squads and units, they are still reasonably priced and well balanced in terms of army lists.

Fast Attack choices and various swift moving units have seen a notable number of positive improvements. A few here and a few there, these have ranged from relatively small things such as Ravenwing units now re-rolling Cover Saves when jinking, to the Darkshroud's new abilities. Along with conveying Fear onto enemy units, any squad charging out from its protective bubble of Stealth are immune to Overwatch attacks, which makes this exceptional at breaking gunlines or causing problems for Imperial Guard and Tau Empire.

The sad losses which offset these are definitely notable, but don't hit anywhere near as hard as you might think. For starters, Objective Secured is gone meaning Bikes and Terminator Squads can't hold positions, but at the same time basic Demi-Company units can pull this off. The Deathwing can no longer take vehicles truly dedicated to them save for Venerable Dreadnoughts, at least with the expected effects, and the buffing banners improving certain combat capabilities are completely gone. As such, a lot of the chapter's initial flexibility has been lost here and there, but at the same time much of it has either been rolled into the formations system or implemented elsewhere. While the new system might be definitely flawed and problematic, it's more than the ideas have been reshuffled rather than truly removed.

So, with all that done we have the book's relics, and big name items. These vary quite a bit in terms of balance and effectiveness, pretty much across the entire quality spectrum. 
To start with, Shroud of Heroes costs only 10 points but it allows units Shrouded when on their own and (is there anything which doesn't offer this these days?) Feel No Pain. This actually makes it extraordinary useful for a lot of Librarians and giving them some serious durability when it comes to close range psychic powers. 
The Foe-smiter is one which might as well be a hand-held Assault Cannon. Hitting at Assault 4 and with Shred, it hits hard but has a price tag attached to match that damage potential. Of course, it's overshadowed a bit by the Lion's Roar, which is effectively a bolter with an under-slung single-shot plasma cannon.
The Eye of the Unseen is certainly inoffensive enough, granting Preferred Enemy and Fear, but certainly lacks originality and some impact. Atop of all of this, it's also a little overpriced despite this detail and seems to really be something which is rendered pointless by certain formation rules.
Another of these, labelled the Perfidious Relic of the Unforgiven, is something which is far more of a general use weapon, and it's hard to tell just how broken it is or not. Its effects? Fear and Adamantium Will, the latter causing nightmares for psyker focused armies. With the game as psychic heavy as it is, the fact you can have this given to just about all Deathwing units can break entire armies quite easily.
Oh, and finally the Monster Slayer of Caliban is a piece of complete crap. Over-engineered and gimmicky beyond belief, it switches stats and effects once per turn, most of which don't make it much more effective than the average power weapon or Thunder Hammer.

Overall, this is a mixed bag to be sure. It's certainly not nearly as damnable as some people have claimed, but this is really one which needed a bit more time and attention. Is it terrible? Definitely not, and I can easily see how players can have some fun with this one thanks to its improvements. Well, that and sticking to most of what worked last time save for the formations. If you're sticking with Dark Angels, you'll want to stick with your chapter in the coming edition, but don't expect another complete revamp completely changing the entire metagame.

Overall, a solid but definitely flawed release.


  1. That Games Workshop has apparently been unable to press F7 to spell check any of their codices for the last few editions is astounding and probably the thing that frustrates me the most. It would be so easy to spend just a little bit of time in editing to make a far more professional product. That's on top of the sloppy rules writing, recycled artwork and the $90 price tag (Australia).
    What a let down.

  2. The biggest loss in the Codex was first turn deep strike for the Deathwing. With most other units, things improved. The demi-battle company is less flexible for Dark Angels than for Space Marines, but I think the synergies and flexibility between the formations is better in Dark Angels than Space Marines. People seem to keep forgetting that with both books the traditional Combined Arms Detachment can still be thrown into the mix of list building, allowing you to fill in gaps pretty easily. You can always say something could have been better. Compared to the last codex, it's a big improvement.