Sunday, 18 December 2016
Imperial Agents Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review, 7th Edition)
I'm beginning to see what people mean when they say we have too many codices.
Rest assured, the others will be finished, this is just being started as we have yet another rulebook which has hit the shelves. It's also not going to be a fun one. While we might have been playing good cop when it came to Codex: Traitor Legions, this is going to be negative to the Nth degree, and with good reason. The idea of a compilation codex? That is a good one. Sure, it might be recycling and reworking existing material, but it can be done well, and there is a good reason for it. After all, with so many Apocalypse War Zone books or campaign supplements retaining unique formations, army rules and stats updates, some fans need a simple version. However, there are limitations to this. Such compilations should always focus upon the hard to get, the expensive or even secondary themes which serve to augment a single army. We don't have this here at all.
Here's a full list of the various factions which this codex covers:
- The Adeptus Mechanicus
- The Sisters of Battle and assorted Priests
- The Astra Telepathica
- The Aeronautica Imperialis
- The Deathwatch
- The Grey Knights
- The Inquisition
- The Legion of the Damned
- The Imperial Assassins
It's an odd bunch to be sure, especially for this series. For one thing, you might note that quite a few of these folks not only have their own full books, but their own full armies. This isn't so much augmenting a force or presenting an alternative version of certain ones, as throwing a bunch together as the pick 'n mix of Warhammer. Suffice to say, without revealing too much here and now, it doesn't go very well. At all.
Still, this section is for the lore. So, let's look into what little the book offered.
Now, much of this book matches the same format as Codex: Traitor Legions and its ilk. You have a single page (sometimes two) for each faction here, describing and outlining their role and capabilities among the Imperium's forces. This is backed by an introductory two page spread to establish the themes of the book and the forces as a whole, and in general it's not too bad. Were someone to shove a gun to my head, I would agree that the pages themselves are well structured. They manage, as before, to establish everything you need to know about the army in terms of its basics and what makes it unique, with a few distinct points.
One, very welcome, addition it threw in was with the Sisters of Battle, where the codex outlined the following: "The Imperium is crisscrossed by a complex network of pilgrimage routes, and the Sisters are responsible for maintaining the safety of those that travel upon them. The timely intervention of the Adepta Sororiatus has saved many a helpless traveler, set upon by raiders or outlaws whilst traversing the void or some isolated wilderness, from a life of slavery."
Yes, it's a minor thing, and something almost expected of the army, but it adds a bit of variety to their depiction. They're often limited to the "See: Heretics, Action: BURN!" depiction in most stories, and this version has spread to the fandom. Having them do more to actively hold the Imperium together and have a more versatile role beyond mass burning is appreciated, however small it might be.
The codex also tries to stress just how truly massive the Imperium actually is. Each army, no matter how important or how dedicated, is merely a single cog within a much bigger machine. When given the opportunity, each background segment does try to give an impression of how they work about the Imperium, from how they defend their worlds to the manner in which they coincide with other armies. For example, the Aeronautica Imperialis' unity with the Imperial Guard is referenced quite heavily in their segment, and the role of the Grey Knights is made extremely clear. Yes, that last one might sound obvious, but given how often seemingly everyone fights daemons without any issue, it's nice to see their specialist role highlighted.
A few major no-nos have also been reversed somewhat, especially when it comes to the aforementioned Grey Knights. It might have taken over half of a decade, but we do at long last have a few points which cite the fact they are only truly beholden to the Ordo Malleus rather than the entire Inquisition. As such, a few of the older characters introduced in Codex: Witchhunters are more closely associated with the Sisters of Battle, both in terms of rules and the lore itself. They're certainly not a Chamber Militant, but their close relationship is made clear.
The biggest problem above all else is how unnecessary this book is, and how the lore only seems to reflect that. Say what you will about the other rulebooks, but they had the benefit of being supported by larger material. In the case of the astartes codex supplements, they directly linked into a larger book about the same subjects. While Codex: Traitor Legions might have limited themselves to a single page, they had Codex: Chaos Space Marines to help fill the blanks, further its points or even cover the basics. This permitted it to delve into a few areas rarely seen as it presented a generalized view, and gave it more life than you would usually expect as a result. Sadly, there is no such supporting material here. This does not link into any single work, and seems to have been intended to - somewhat - stand upon its own. It needs to compress down a vast amount of information into a scant few pages, and in this regard it falls short of the mark.
Many here simply do not have the space or the direction to cover many of the far more interesting points about the factions, while also detailing their basics. There are a few exceptions of course, but only a few. Unlike those from the Traitor Legions book, there are exceptionally few unique or original details to be found here which makes it stand out. Well, at least nothing which the original books didn't do equally as well or far better. For example, the Legion of the Damned segment tries to emphasise their otherworldly nature and horrifying appearances, as well as how they are shrouded by some seemingly unstoppable power. Okay, that's good and all, but most of what it tries to do beyond this is largely just rehashing secondary elements from the codex, but cramming them into a couple of sentences. This makes it seem far less like a general look into the army, and more of an abridged version of the codex's best bits.
Even the limited view might have been fine, were it not for how many certain ones seem to be oddly indecisive in how they want to depict a force. Rather than being wholly positive or pushing to be truly engaging, presenting the army in the best light possible to keep people engaged, it keeps going back and forth. A section will start out trying to cover the best and generally strongest points for the army, but will oddly deviate at bits. There will be sudden moments where the book suddenly seems to loop back to cite some massive failing or innate hypocrisy of the army in question, before carrying onward. This is especially evident with the Mechanicum, as the text seems to praise the faction's "empire within an empire" approach to dealing with their own affairs, but damns it for ignoring the Imperium's greater needs. This is further reinforced when it comes to the subject of how they understand machinery (or, not at all if this book is anything to go by) and their spirituality. The Grey Knights are the same, which abruptly ends on an odd note citing how they over-zealously cull everything in sight.
The main reason for this approach was likely to try and avoid past criticisms, where some factions lacked depth. The Super Saiyan Grey Knights still haunt the nightmares of many hobbyists, after all, and the monotone nature of certain codices were a big problem for a while. However, the difference in that case and this one was that the factions there had so much room to work with, but nevertheless went with an incredibly shallow and singular depiction. Here, trying to balance out the two aspects within a single page makes it seem indecisive, and the tone of the work is discordant as a result. Rather than getting someone invested and hooked with a faction, it makes any compliment or note seem backhanded, and presents them as overly flawed. The effort is certainly appreciated to be sure, but this sadly wasn't the time for it.
Another definite issue is how certain works or points seem to have this habit of oddly omitting certain information. This is mostly to ignore ideas or points which don't emerge within the codex, but it nevertheless it makes the lore surprisingly limited. For example, the Aeronautica Imperialis part of the book largely notes down their use of Valkyries and Vendettas, but nothing else. There's a vague allusion to their use of Marauders or the bigger, badder fighters like Thunderbolts, but it's nothing but a brief hint. Because the section focuses so heavily upon the Valkyries and their use as transportation for the Guard though, it makes them look like a glorified Uber service. Even the Inquisition lacks some of their greater scope, and is presented here more as a group of heretic hunters than a wide variety of different roles within a vast organisation.
However, the ones who are easily hurt the most here are the Sisters of Battle. While the complaint could be made with the others that they need to fit in a codex's worth of lore into a single page, you at least have other books to look into. In their case though, you have a single page's worth of lore, which is supposed to count as all their lore for their edition. Really, almost all the Sororitas' units have been crammed into this book, until it's almost entirely dominated by their units. By rights, this is a Sisters of Battle codex, but they're shunted off into a corner and given no more prominence or focus than anyone else here. Combined with the fact that the lore itself is forced to skip vast chunks of their history or vital details, it becomes a massive disappointment in an already struggling book.
It's all rehashed. Yes, this keeps being written on here, but it's true. Everything here has been used in previous books in one way or another, but more than a few choices are very odd indeed. For example, the Mechanicus' artwork features several units the book does not feature, up to a Warhound Titan. Even without this, the artwork the book focuses upon is the best known and most recognized pieces. Rather than just using the lesser known pieces or even secondary works largely limited to the online Dataslates, every single one here is something you'll instantly recognise. The only time they attempt to do something different is when they add the work as an overlay on a starfield to try and create a divide between sections. Mostly to pad it out admittedly, but also that. However, its execution is just surprisingly lazy, to the point where a bloke with Photoshop could accomplish the same thing with a spare afternoon.
There's very little of it, but what little of it we're given falls short of the mark. This sort of book can be done well, and there are plenty of ways to add twists or ideas to help refresh what is on offer here. Yet, the execution is so limited and so insanely flawed that what little it does right is vastly overshadowed by its mistakes. It's far from the worst thing we have ever seen on here, and it's more inoffensively middling than outright bad, but the simple truth is that the lore here is handled far better in other books.
So, join us here as we get onto the rules, to see if there's anything worthwhile to be found in the crunch.