Thursday, 15 December 2016
Traitor Legions Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review, 7th Edition)
The treatment Traitor Legions of late has been odd to say the least. Hardly bad, if anything Chaos has seen some of its best lore in years despite a few poor stories here and there, and the Ruinous Powers have a good standing in the game. No, instead it comes down to how the remnants of the Legions themselves have been treated. While there are many stories following the likes of the Iron Warriors, Emperor's Children and Word Bearers, current lore presents them as increasingly fractured and reduced from their former selves.
This loss and gradual lack of coherency was something always hinted at in the lore of course, but it has since been suggested to be far more widespread than first expected. It seems as if almost every legion was splintered and fractured to the point where they were nothing more than warbands, with few to none following a single leader. Sure, previously there were individual groups which would strike out on their own and follow their own agendas, but if they were all like this, what made the decimation of the World Eaters and Emperor's Children so notable?
A few fans seemed to complain that this was putting too much focus upon general warbands and not enough on the veterans of the long war, so Games Workshop offered up this as an answer. The results are more akin to Codex: Angels of Death than a true individual rulebook. It exists to compile together a multitude of existing rules more than creating an entirely new work, and as such there's not much lore to work with. This section is, in fact, somewhat unnecessary, but there is still lore in here. If someone has taken the time to write it, it deserves to be covered in full.
Despite its limited nature, Codex: Traitor Legions wins several points right from the start thanks to its presentation and focus. While the actual segments delving into the lore behind each legion is brief, it's actually about the legion and not the primarchs. A major mistake many fans make is thinking that talking about the latter immediately covers everything of value about the former, especially when the primarchs in this case are still alive and kicking. However, they're barely mentioned any more than they really need to be here. Instead, when the book does take the time to discuss battles, events or conflicts, it specifically focuses upon the Legions involved rather than who is leading them. While it might sound like a minor thing, it is incredibly refreshing to see, and puts the player in a "your guys" mindset of forging your own sub-set of a bigger military.
Another major point in the codex's favour is how the book takes the time to incorporate some surprisingly obscure bits of lore. Really, there is some quite obscure stuff which tends to be ignored or even completely forgotten by big writers. For example, the Iron Warriors' section highlights the fact that the Iron Cage incident was merely a finale to a much bigger battle. The Imperial Fists originally fought a bloody conflict step-by-step through the small empire the IV had raised up since the start of the Heresy.
The treatment of Chaos here is quite unique in many regards, as it manages to still portray the Legions as villains without demonizing them. It's somewhat akin to the Word Bearers trilogy in that the books do not shy away from the lives taken or the fact they serve dark gods, but still find a means to make you root for them.
For example, after all the recent times we have had Khorne presented as little more than a maniac demanding more skull and more blood, it was quite a surprise to see his more honourable side brought up. In the section examining the World Eaters, the book specifically cited that Angron's "course and martial pride were recognized by Khorne himself." While their text still mentions that they are a force of "frothing madmen" and the lives they take, more time is spent on moments of glory and villainous valour than anything else. We do not see whole sections of the book devoted to how Kharn killed the legion, but instead time is spent citing how they were the last to retreat from Terra, fighting the Imperium every step of the way.
Such details are true of every legion, and even when it needs to push into more outright malevolent territory, it still tries to put something of a unique twist on it. After all, there's no real way to avoid the torture and terror spread by the Night Lords, but at the same time it can cite their sheer horrifying effectiveness in this regard. That and bring up how they are typically opposed to the outright worship of any single god of Chaos. This goes hand in hand with how the lore even tries to avoid some of the extraordinarily well tread territory known to all fans. You know the kind, the sort we see whenever we open up a codex, the sort of bare basics which would be seen by someone flicking through the book this augments.
In the case of the Alpha Legion, less time is spent on their sheer mystery or how they feuded with the Ultramarines. Instead, the book cites their personal joy at being able to prove their capabilities against the loyalists. That and, quite interestingly, how in their former brothers they finally found a foe worthy of their skills. As limited as the lore is, the small space devoted to the various factions finds a way to pepper them with interesting sub-sets of lore. Whether it's the nature of the Word Bearers' leaders or how the Thousand Sons' combat doctrine has remained relatively unchanged even after all they have suffered through, it's enough to give the book some real life. It's even made all the better given these sections manage to find the time to cover the heresy, current eras, and the tactics in only a few paragraphs. All without it ever seeming cramped or rushed.
The only section besides these moments is titled The Long War, and no guesses for what it covers. It's some fairly basic stuff, but once again it manages to be surprisingly original by almost breaking away entirely from the Horus Heresy itself. The closest thing there is to actually covering that event is remarking how the Legions retreated after the Heresy's events, and how that defeat has gnawed away at them. It shows enough of its core impact, but keeps the focus on the here and now, depicting how the forces of Chaos are stuck in a continual war with the Imperium. This is more atmospheric than informative, admittedly, but it served as a far more interesting hook than merely repeating the Horus Heresy itself. Plus it helps that it was well written and contained enough notes on how it has effected the Imperium to give it a sense of galactic scale importance.
In contrast to the good outlined above, there are a multitude of major failings and issues which can be cited in this book. The big one is just how limited the lore actually is. Each Traitor Legion only gets one page (well, two in the case of the Alpha Legion) to fully detail the forces involved, and even the introductory section is only two pages long. It is extremely brief, and while it does contain a few interesting notes on the lore, and even forgotten elements, it is still nevertheless quite limited. Little is done to really push the envelope when it comes to fully detailing the recent conflicts, tactics or even some of the unanswered questions surrounding the Legions. Instead, it's largely just a different flavour of standard introductory pieces.
Oddly enough, while many of the sections in this book do take the time to reintroduce a large number of forgotten ideas, they lose sight of more modern depictions. For example, the Sons of Horus' history sticks almost entirely to the Index Astartes depiction rather than anything seen in Codex: Black Legion, and presents it as evolving into Abaddon's personal vanguard. Little is done to truly remark upon how it was formed from the remnants of a multitude of different legions, and it is considered by many to be a wholly new army forged in the Eye. These sorts of oddities keep cropping up at various points and, while they do push to do a few things differently, they seem to have missed out on some interesting new lore.
Another definite issue with the lore is that is never goes beyond a very broad depiction of the Legions. There's no pause to highlight some sub-factions within the army, nor any moment to cite how certain forces have evolved into Warbands since the Long War began. It's odd to be sure given how many rulebooks often add this sort of thing as padding; usually with a few dozen colour swapped generic images accompanied by a paragraph or two of the force's history. Simply another page listing off the core essentials of a few of these Warbands, or even a few new examples to help inspire players would be very welcome here. If not that then perhaps even a galactic map citing several of the far larger war zones the Legions have been involved in, and their impact on those places.
The same problem can also be found in how the book treats Chaos itself and life in the Eye. On the one hand, the focus is on the astartes themselves rather than their daemonic allies or leaders. On the other though, it's so broadly written that we get very little on the nitty gritty on their corruption. Save for a few like the Word Bearers, little information is offered on how they have adapted for life in the Eye, how they have taken power for themselves or even how their empires have been forged. Even something so simple as how they treat their mutant slaves, or the presence of the not!beastmen among their numbers would be a welcome addition to the lore. Instead, we sadly get nothing. It's frustrating as it wouldn't have taken too many more pages to actually add in all of this and make the world so much bigger as a result. All we would have lost were a few model shots of armies we have seen many, many times over by this point.
There's nothing original here and there's actually very little of it. Blunt as that sounds, it's the honest truth here, as beyond the brilliant cover featuring a warrior of the Scarab Occult, everything consists of art we have seen many times over. Once it gets past the lore, it even stops showing up almost entirely, with images being given over to shots of miniatures instead.
However, with this said, the recycling of art is far from entirely bad this time around. Rather than just going with the same pieces we have seen a few too many times over the past couple of years, Games Workshop pulled out a few older pieces which we have not seen for a good few years now. The cover for Storm of Iron is a big one (and you can see that above) but alongside it you also have full colour images of famed examples of corrupted astartes, and even an unused Night Lords cover. It's sad that this little bit more variety needs to be praised, but in the absence of entirely new artwork, this is the next best option.
Honestly, it's hard not to be somewhat forgiving to this one. Unlike Codex: Angels of Death, where we believed we were getting an entirely new book, the company was up-front about this being a compilation. Perhaps that lowering of expectations is why this review is more praiseworthy rather than ranting, but for what little it offers it's not too bad. Is it something you should buy purely for the lore? Most definitely not, but as something which was intended to be window dressing for a rules-heavy compilation of other works, it's not too bad. Plus it probably helps it has clearly been made to work in combination with another book.
So, that's the lore done, click here to see an examination of the special rules. units and relics.