Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Do We Really Need A Codex: Deathwatch?

Last week brought with it rumours of another Codex: Space Marines related book.  With Faeit 212 and many forums abuzz with alledged info leaks, it looks as if fans will finally be getting the Codex: Alienhunters veterans have always wanted. After all, even in the days of the Third Edition, many wondered just why the Ordo Xenos had been so criminally overlooked, and how there was an obvious gap in what should have been a trio of Inquisitorial codices. However, that was a long time ago, and given all that has passed, do we really need a Codex: Deathwatch?

The name itself is one thing which is already off-putting in many regards, yet again putting the astartes first and anything else second. These guys already steal so much of the spotlight it is becoming frustrating to all but the most ardent supporters, and adding one more army is hardly going to help matters. As mentioned in the past article, together these guys make up just over a third of the armies on offer for players, with everyone else on the other side. Even with a good deal of variety on offer between each chapter, the game is already dominated by loyalist marines fighting marines. Adding one more is hardly going to help matters, especially when the title itself suggests that it's going to be culled of anything bereft of a gene-seed.

While books of the Third Edition made it clear that the militant arm of each Ordos was only a part of a bigger organisation - with the Inquisitors themselves calling the shots - that seems to have been forgotten. With the Grey Knights all but muscling their old masters out of their own book and into a minor - often forgotten - online work, and the Sisters of Battle having been robbed of any Inquisitorial connections, each was left to stand on the strength of its own units. What's the problem here? Well, the Grey Knights themselves only survived through this massive change thanks to an insane power boost, massive restructuring and no end of new units. The Sororitas were not given that benefit and seem to have been left to quietly die in a corner as a result. Lacking variety, lacking much needed anti-armour capabilities and requiring allies to cover some much needed blind spots in their forces, they don't stand up on their own. Unfortunately, the Deathwatch would likely go the same way.

Much like the pre-Ward Grey Knights, the Deathwatch are a flexable force of innumerable marines who are deployed in small strike detachments. Rather than fielding whole companies at a time or arriving with half a chapter at their back, they are effectively the black ops arm of the Ordo Xenos. Each and every depiction up to this point has presented them as fielding only kill-teams, each of which is deployed on their lonesome and expected to carry out their goal with little to no support. The few which do have backing often find it in the form of either allied chapters or Imperial Guard troops, and save for extraordinarily rare exceptions they never arrive en mass. In effect, despite a vast armory and access to Dreadnoughts this isn't an army, it's a squad. A very limited one at that which was never intended to fulfill this particular role and without Inquisitorial units to bulk out its list, you're left with about three or four units overall. Perhaps a few more if Games Workshop opt to add some new money makers into the mix, but it's still a very limited range. 

At best, what you have here is a force which is just about lengthy enough to cover a codex supplement or perhaps an e-book, but little else. While some have been successful in the past, fan responses to them have often been mixed to say the least. Codex: Harlequins was more tolerated than wholly embraced thanks to its few units, and Codex: Legion of the Damned was slaughtered despite its awesome lore. If they were to stay true to established depictions, what we'd end up with is something very similar to this. Okay, you might be able to work with the multiple chapter angle or the variety of ammo they're outfitted with, but even that seems like something of a stretch. You might have enough there for a couple of squad variants or perhaps a variety of individual marines to mix and match, but not much else. 

Really, the main options left would be one of three things: Plenty of heroes to bulk out the book, pages upon pages of lore about the Deathwatch, or completely remaking the entire army from scratch. None of these are especially good options. 

The first choice would likely just involve incorporating the multitude of heroes from the Deathwatch: Overkill board game with a few bonuses. This would be seen as recycling a lot of elements from past works, and would contribute to the game's other problem of relying far too heavily upon named characters. 

The second runs into two problems - The first is that the last time they tried this, people complained despite the high quality of the lore. The second is that this is an organisation which has already been heavily fleshed out by Fantasy Flight Games. There's honestly quite little which could be done to massively expand upon what we already know or give it more life, and those fans who do care about lore would likely have already read those books. Plus, massive deviations from established lore would just create bad blood between the companies and fans themselves, especially as it's one of the big Warhammer sellers for Fantasy Flight.

As for the third and final option, this is probably the worst of the bunch by far. Reworking an entire faction is difficult at the best of times, and more often than not it'll fail. Unless the army itself is extremely unpopular or only on the fringe of public consciousness, it will be derided by existing fans and have trouble picking up new ones thanks to that animosity. It's an uphill battle Age of Sigmar has long faced, the aforementioned Grey Knights speak for themselves, and examples in other media rarely end well (Star Wars: Galaxies being the penultimate example of this going horribly wrong). In this particular case, reworking the Deathwatch to be a standing army would destroy half the mythos or fun behind them. They stood out as they operated in a manner unlike almost any other chapter, and approached war in a different way to anything seen. Even a simple adaptation could easily cripple the book, as it would do away with the vast multitude of ranks, roles and ceremonies currently upheld by the chapter.

This could all be wrong of course. At the end of the day, Codex: Deathwatch could deliver exactly what fans want when they want them; but there's no denying the developers have chosen an exceptionally difficult one to faithfully translate to a big scale army game. Even if it does translate extremely well, with no failings, issues or problems at all, there's still a multitude of factors which just hold it back from standing out. Whatever it seems to offer in its current form have either been adequately fulfilled by another army entirely, or surpassed entirely. So, what we're left with is an army which will likely have limited appeal on the tabletop, and whose lore has already been fully explored many times over.

Overall, many factors which made people so excited when it came to an Alienhunters army so many years ago have either been fulfilled by another company or rendered almost impossible. Given all that's left, true success will ultimately depend upon just how well Games Workshop is when it comes to both thinking outside the box and paying homage to its past. While not an impossible goal, it's certainly a difficult one to be sure. As always though, we will have to watch and wait to see how this plays out.


  1. I think giving the Deathwatch at least a supplement could be a really good idea, however I really don't think there's enough to make a full Codex out of it. Maybe they'll prove me wrong on something that I don't think will work, as Forgeworld did when I heard that they were giving the Knights-Errant rules, since Book 5 of their HH series sucked, but then Book 6 (the ones with the knights) turned out to be surprisingly good.

    What I think they'd be best off with is a group that's really customizable, and I mean each model can be customized from each other, not just "All models may take one of X" or "One in five models may take X".

    For me the best way you could do this is bring back the Inquisition in full force, give us Inquisitorial Stormtroopers, have the Deathwatch themselves be the elite of that group, and there we go. Make it "Codex: Alienhunters/Xenohunters" rather than "Codex: Deathwatch" because Xenohunters would at least let us fill the book with so much more than just Space Marines, not to mention the opportunities you could get if you also decided to include rules for radical Inquisitors.

    I've also been busy for a while and now I get to catch up, so you'll see my comments appearing on some older articles.

  2. You would know better than I on that front unfortunately, as outside of certain tidbits of lore and general legion backgrounds, i've not had a chance to look into any of those books. There is definitely always a chance this can work for sure, and we have had greater surprises in the past, it's just that a lot of things present here point to a very difficult task ahead of them. There's just a great deal here which could either upset the detailed and well established Fantasy Flight lore, or even the very identity of the army itself. Plus, even if it did remain loyal and found its strength via heavy customisation, there are two other problems it might run into. 1. To make up for the limited numbers, GW might decide to seriously buff their power, and we end up with borderline movie marines. Again. 2. It becomes a force better suited to a much smaller scale game like Kill-Team.

    And please, it's quite alright. Happy as I always am to see your comments on here, each of us has our own lives to deal with outside of writing opinion pieces.

    1. Honestly so far the books have been pretty well balanced all things considered, there are plenty of combos that look overpowered but it takes actual synergy between all of your forces to get them, and they can always be countered by a different combo. I can't say anyone is really overpowered, and the weakest Legion by a huge margin is the Sons of Horus.

      unfortunately it seems that the Legions were just balanced against each other and the Mechanicus was balanced against other Mechanicus, as they're currently the most powerful faction on the tabletop and just disgustingly powerful if you're fighting anyone except other Mechanicus. Thankfully though the Solar Auxilia and the Cults were at least balanced against the Legions from the looks of things.

      All in all I enjoy those games more than regular 40k games because it seems as if the designers put a lot more thought and effort into how the rules should work, and most of your units in a Legion actually do have to work together to make their points back. A lot of the current books I think that I'd be having more fun if I took those Codices and used pre-6th edition rules for them, but for 30k games I can't do that since a lot of effort has been put around using nearly every single rule and new idea 6th had (the amount of power weapon options alone is staggering at 11 across the Legions and that's not including the various non-powered blades and chainblades that have different Strength and AP bonuses).

      As for the Deathwatch losing their current identity, that'll be par for the course at this point. They've already changed almost every faction to a ridiculous degree, including the Orks thanks to The Beast Arises, so why not change the Deathwatch?

      About that though, apparently Orks now have reasonable diplomats and can be pleasantly talked to, these diplomats are also civilized and open to the enemy surrendering, because why would the Orks want something silly like a big fight?
      Perhaps the most ironic thing is that this means the Orks are more welcoming and reasonable than the current Tau.