Friday, 19 August 2016
Deathwatch Part 4 - Retcons, Reasoning and Missed Opportunities (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)
So, we've now covered the whole book from the lore, to the weapons and units, to the Formations and detailed each in full. Well, as full as can be expected given the bare bones nature of the last one. By the end, it's clear that this is a very problematic book to be sure, and for everything good here there's at least one big mistake. This goes as much for the lore as the rules themselves, many of which lack direction, reasoning or even real imagination.
One point, left by the ever awesome grdaat, noted that this book is a mess, and in all honesty it really is. Many ideas seem to have been thrown together with little to no thought, there is a very problematic lack of awareness on several topics, and if this thing had an editor he needs to seriously up his game. Even ignoring the outside universe and sticking squarely to the book's strengths, pages upon pages kept contradicting one another or seemed to have been written without awareness of the book's other pages. One other comment, made during the second part, pointed out how I should not have bothered to list the Stalker bolter alongside the Banebolts as no HQ choice can equip it. Problem is, the stats for the book itself lists stats for the Stalker firing these exact shots, so it's intentionally stated the weapon should be able to use them. Any five minute check should have been able to pick up this sort of thing yet it didn't, and other issues such as the remarkably fuzzy details surrounding Vanguard Veterans' jump packs only made things much worse.
In all honesty, while there is direction here and the start of a real identity to this army, it almost seems half finished in many areas. The artwork is stunning yet the lore is decidedly mixed. Units like the Veterans are a fantastic option yet others seem barely changed from other astartes codices, and all Formations save one were something which could have easily been written in five minutes. Hell, the vast majority of them were little more than a copy/past job with one another, just with the bits re-arranged; each was a Kill-Team, and each featured the same unit options. The only bit which changed was who the Veterans were were required to team up with, and who they had a bonus to help kill. That sort of repetition surpasses simple padding or experimenting with a single theme, it crosses over into simple sloppiness.
The book itself is rife with underdeveloped ideas, and were it not for the fully published cover and the fact it's on the shelves, this could have been mistaken for a work in progress. Vast chunks of it seem to have barely been developed past the conceptual phase, and speaking personally that seems to be the aspect which hurts this the most. It's not a formulated or finished idea, it's something where the writers have been apparently spit-balling concepts onto a book. Really, think about it for a second. Many core points introduced which break away from the traditional identity of the Deathwatch - or even certain rules - seem to be little more than a stub of an idea. It's as if someone asked "Well, what if this happened?" and promptly added it, but never bothered to follow up on it.
So, the Deathwatch are no longer part of the Inquisiton? Interesting, what can be done with this and how does it affect them? According to this codex, bugger all.
They have Guardian Spears now, why do they have them and what does this mean for their relationship with the fabled Adeptus Custodes? Your guess is as good as mine. At best, here is a vague hint that they were gifted them thanks to serving as the Imperium's guardians, but even that is frustratingly vague and simply says that it's "symbolic of their role as sentinel."
The book retains extremely similar Formations, each built to combat a different threat? Great, how does that work? It just means they all gain re-rolls to wound against certain units.
This sort of problem keeps turning up time and time again, when by rights it honestly did not deserve to. There was so much lore here, so much work laid down for Games Workshop to so easily adapt, so many rules and ideas that they basically had a guide on how to do it laid out before out for them. Okay, there would have been stumbling point still on how to adapt an army of this type, and issues when it came to retaining its own identity, but this was hardly an impossible task by any means. To accomplish this failure would require astounding incompetence, an alarming lack of imagination, continuous outside interference, a rushed deadline, or all of the above. That last one would explain a great deal, especially if there were repeated last second demands made of the creators, given how certain concepts panned out. This isn't, after all, the raging Ward level fuckwittery we have quite come to expect from truly bad writers so much as something directionless, scattershot and bizarrely half-done
Take the infamous removal of any link with the Inquisition, for example. Okay, they need to remove any link to the Inquistion, fine, that's difficult, needlessly problematic and creates a ton of new continuity problems across the franchise, but it can be done. But the results they come up with? Trying to justify the Inquisitorial sigil of their order by claiming "they both defend the Imperium"? Refusing to deal with any of the problems this causes where their authority clashes, the issues in lacking the Inquisition's resources, or even how it's basically thrown into the story via a minor sub-paragraph? That reads less like someone actually planned this out or really wanted it, so much as someone demanded it be thrown in at the last second. Whether this was a writer with seniority or an editor, or a writer suddenly striking out on their own, who can tell, but it certainly isn't well thought out in the slightest.
Also, for those wondering, this doesn't seem like the result of The Beast Arises. True, the new Imperial Fists origin was hinted at in the timeline without any real depth or detail, but if they were at least willing to latch onto that new retcon, you would think they would emphasize some greater connection with certain chapters. That or find something to help replace the void left by the Ordo Xenos being booted out of the army, allowing them to have much more of a backbone or something to help further reinforce their unique nature in the galaxy.
As for why it was removed, well, that's the bigger question. The obvious one which comes to mind before everything else is the tabletop mechanics. With Games Workshop having segmented each army, regulating the Inquisition into some minor online-only codex, it seems as if they wanted them to stay that way. Doing this supposedly helps present the space marines as a power unto themselves, answering to no one and being in charge of their own destinies - The sort of thing which might seem as if it were a good marketing hinge to help build up a fandom, until you think about it for more than five seconds. Yes, I know we're harping on this particular point, but that last bit really does emphasise the problem: No one apparently bothered to think about so much of this book for more than five seconds.
What we ended up with here, for all its promise and some admittedly solid baseline ideas, seems akin to an Early Access codex. It's a half finished product, one which is competent and with certainly quite an interesting work for sure, but desperately needed much more time in development before it saw a release. That and, let's be honest here, a lot more imagination when it came to the rules involved. The Formations were little more than a throwaway section at best, and it really had no right to be that. Even if you accept that this was rushed, so much more could have been done to be more inclusive of the army's themes or even more of its units. Nothing there even tried to use the Land Raiders, Dreadnoughts or even the venerated Rhinos, instead opting for infantry heavy choices; and those we did get were pretty bloody disappointing to say the least.
Look, let's be fair and just accept that they were required to do little more than mash together infantry choices. Let's even be fair and say that they did need to have a multitude of very basic lists, similar to one another and each focusing upon combating a specific foe. Let's even just consider that certain ones did need to combine extremely inopportune choices of units, like putting Terminators and Bikes in the same squad for all the problems it causes. Even if we accept all these limitations, there is still a great deal they could do to help make each one feel distinct and allow them to stand out.
For starters, consider what the Deathwatch really are: A bunch of very individual, very distinct and varied marines bunched together and forced to act as a unit. Few share the same background or culture, and fewer still share the same talents. Their real strength stems from how each one is able to use their natures or specialist aspects to help cover one another and work as an extremely highly effective units. It is, ironically, the same ideology the Craftworld Eldar work on implemented on a squad based scale, so already you have a few ideas which could be worked with.
Let's say, for example, that one Formation required you to pair up a small number of Vanguard Veterans with a much larger number of standard Veterans. The former is intended only for rapid, fast paced assaults while the latter can be combined to work with any number of things despite a focus upon ranged attacks. So, why not have one influence the other, treating them as acting in unison despite their varied nature. As they move forwards, perhaps claim that the influence of the Vanguard Veterans allows them to run further or retain a much longer charge range. As they move in, perhaps they could also briefly break up, with the combat focused Veterans hurling themselves into combat while the guys with the guns stand back and lay down suppression fire. You know, something which could do anything from limiting the effectiveness of Overwatch volleys to effectiveness in melee or even piling into combat
The same goes for stranger ones like mashing together Terminators with Veterans. Perhaps you could alter rules so that the Terminators keep being hit first by certain strikes over the Veterans despite their positions towards enemy fire, or even acting as a living shield-wall. Think of it as a kind of Roman tortoise formation or a flying wedge. One would be forsaking their ability to act in combat in order to help boost their saves in some way, allowing the rest of the squad to fire between them.
Even some of the more bizzare ones could just work a bit by allowing them to act in combination in some way. The bike squadron could gain benefits thanks to better knowing the lay of the land, or breaking off to help run down fleeing enemies Kroot Hounds style. They could even acting as spotters for the rest of the kill team to boost their BS skill. Others could even just help serve in other ways, like focusing upon co-ordination in battle, allowing others to pick up fallen heavy weapons and use them in place of their comrades.
Even if you just wanted to go for the most basic option, they could merely gain a few abilities or bonuses to help take down certain enemies. Rather than unit types, perhaps the kill teams could focus upon certain armies instead, and have some ways to counter them. Against the Orks, this could help in beheading an enemy leader or forcing them to break from combat sooner than expected. Against the Craftworld Eldar, this could be moving in a certain way, allowing their armour to cover certain weak spots shuriken weapons exploit. Well, that or put the fear of She Who Thirsts into them by targeting their spirit stones. Even against the likes of the Traitor Legions, you could have the squad acting intelligently; use certain jibes or tactics to goad enemies towards them, or even baiting them with members from First Founding forces they have score to settle against.
Still, for the sake of being fair, let's say you can't even do all that. Let's say instead that everything you have must instead be focused upon the squad itself over enemy units. Let's say they can't cover the entire squad at a time and instead need to focus exclusively upon those leading it. So, use the varied origins to your advantage. No rule within this codex even seems to acknowledge that the armies stem from a thousand differing forces, from the Space Wolves to the Fire Hawks to the Excoriators; opting instead to treat them all as if they were little more than Codex adherent warriors no different from one another. So, have the sergeant lead them influence them somehow. Put a Dark Angel at their head, and have his mysterious knowledge of certain Chaotic foes or parts of the universe give them an edge in some areas. If a Space Wolf is heading them, have his pack mentality alter how they operate to a degree or let his enhanced senses to pick out enemy infiltrators or traps.
Even if this just comes down to giving a kill team led by an Imperial Fist the Bolter Drill rule, that's still something to work with. It gives more of an impression of a varied and unique force than anything on offer here, and it would be a chance to suggest this is a coalition rather than a bunch of guys all recruited from the same world. It would be a chance to try something just a little different here and there, and add some character to what is sadly a surprisingly soulless army. Again, this isn't hard. Each of the points brought up in the prior paragraphs were stuff I came up with while typing this article. Sure, they need work, but it's better than just putting some variation of "you re-roll to wound your enemy" on every single bloody one.
The community deserves better books than the likes of this. While Codex: Deathwatch certainly does have its merits and stands out with a few strengths, no one in their right mind would deny that this is an extremely flawed release. It required a great deal more work to truly do the army justice, and this honestly seems more akin to a dressed up early draft than a true finished product. Given that we are expected to hand over a solid £30.00 for these books now, even those with countless recycled units in them and half the size of a full army, I think it's only right we get what we pay for.