Sunday, 18 June 2017

Warhammer 40,000 Core Rulebook - Lore (8th Edition Review)

Yes, it's a bit of an odd title for this one, but at least it gets the point across.

With Guilliman alive again, Cadia annihilated and Chaos having openly fractured the galaxy, the grim darkness of the far future is in a state of change. The storyline is now rolling forwards and with the old fading away to make way for the new, and with major threats arising, this rulebook was a chance for people to see what might come in the months to follow. This is one reason we are judging the lore, but the other is simple - This is often a first look into the setting for new members. 

This book needs to fully explain what the situation is, who the factions are and fully outline the basic status quo for an ongoing universe. If anyone is going to stay with this game, their impression of the setting on the whole will be a major factor in that, and this really needs to grip them from the start. With the changing story factoring into this as well now, more than a few people have questioned how well the writing team could balance a sense of history and aged conflict with rapid new developments. So, for those wondering, yes, that's why we're bothering with the lore on this one. It might not be as detailed as a codex, but it's still something exceptionally important to Warhammer 40,000 overall.

So, with that done, let's get on with the show.

The Good

For the most part, the latest rulebook is style over substance. You know the sort of thing that entails, the kind of situation we have seen in codexes a few dozen times over now. The sort which leads to mass splash pages and less text. However, with that being said, the rulebook seems to be one of the few to follow this approach and truly get it right.

The opening several pages consist of multiple gigantic splash pages, filled with gorgeous high quality artwork depicting the current state of the galaxy. The first is a burning city overrun with daemons, and forces barely holding the line against them. Another is a duel between a Black Templars champion and a daemon of Khorne, while another shows a close range engagement between traitor and loyalist forces. It's a big bold approach, filled with colour and action, linked together with the best kind of purple prose following directly on from the usual "eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods" lines. It's not taking anything away from the book or robbing the lore of a very limited page count, and for any new members it immediately establishes the sheer grandeur and level of obscene action in the game. Many claim that a picture is worth a thousand words and - while it is a point I will argue vehemently against until my dying days - this strikes a memorable and very definitive impression of the game in their mind.

This use of splash images is present throughout the book, and arises on multiple occasions when it comes to major locations or certain big armies. a chunk of it will be taken up by some exceptional artwork. A personal favourite is the image of Mars, ringed by vast orbital factories and space elevators while the the surface is littered with ancient machinery. To anyone new to the game, this is the sort of thing which will constantly remain in their mind and, if they love the setting, will hunger to know more. Combined with a few paragraphs which often outline the basics, it's enough to push them into researching this. Now, in most books this would be a point worth damning the rulebook over, but here I think there's an odd kind of genius to it. Given the nature of the internet - and the sheer number of codices present in the game - anything present here will often be eclipsed by more easily accessible information. So, this could be seen as the starting point to get someone to Google the army, find more information and start wiki surfing. While this isn't the sort of thing I would normally let slide it is something which has worked with other franchises, and the times when this book balances the right amount of general information with a larger image, I personally think it works. 

The rulebook also tries to balance out the sense of what came before with a few key elements and ideas to establish the fact we will see more updates, progression and major conflicts. This could have easily seemed forced or even something akin to the whole setting pulling a full 180, but there's a better take on this than what you might expect. The book instead tries to focus more upon the fact that the Imperium often gained as much as it lost, rather than simply crumbling away into nothingness. In the same way technologically it forgot how to build new robots but recovered the construction template to the Storm Eagle, we get statements like this -

"Yet despite constant calamities, the Imperium did not just endure, it grew. Each year, hundreds of new planets were added to the fold, even while others were lost. Unstoppable in its momentum, the Imperium churned on. Explorator fleets were launched like clockwork from every forge world. Relentlessly, they sought former colonies or new planetary systems to exploit. The end result was a strange paradox. Even while crumbling at the edges, losing planetary systems by the score to sedition, xenos invasion, or galactic phenomena, the Imperium continued. Colonies lost since the dawn of space travel were still being discovered each year."

On the whole it's nice for the major canon to actually reflect and remember this sort of thing, and hopefully means we'll see the more insanely archaic elements of the Imperium dialed back to more understandable levels. The sort where it's understandably flawed and insane, but not completely and utterly stupid. A nice change from Codex: Cult Mechanicus, and this could even be a slight indication that the new lore will be heavily referring back to older events, or even exploring past conflicts. Yes, that one is a forlorn hope but it has happened a few times in the past.

This balance between the timeline of new and old ideas. It would have been a very easy thing to completely overlook the older setting as a whole, or the broader details of the Heresy and the timeline, while focusing purely upon the new elements. Yet, despite this, much of the initial lore focuses heavily upon informing the reader of the general basics. What took place with the Horus Heresy, the various ages of the Imperium, a few key conflicts and the general major conflicts throughout the setting are presented one after another. It takes some time for it to actually reach the new developments and, while points are peppered in towards the start with the galaxy split by chaos or the Primaris Founding, most of the lore is reserved for the latter half of the book.

The new events and changes are explained to a satisfactory degree, getting the point across and explaining where and what has changed about the universe. It details how the fall of Cadia has severely broken the ability for certain worlds to rapidly communicate with others, how many are no longer accessible and the constant war zones arising across major worlds. A few even point towards impending battles, such as how Armageddon itself will be overrun by Khorne and Tzeentch's forces, wiping out many involved in the original conflict or how the galaxy has become the Ruinous Powers' playground. It's enough to make sure you know that everything will not be forgotten overnight when it comes to older lore, and that many new events will either be tying up danging threads or working from existing elements.

Finally, the rulebook also reserves a few extended segments on everything from Warp travel to abhuman species in the Appendix, detailing a few of the finer points completely overlooked and ignored by the rest of the tome. As much, it's enough to help people understand that there's a bit more depth to certain ideas, and many secondary elements which are often out of the spotlight. This ties into the elements mentioned before about encouraging lore focused fans to look up more info, and even a few oddly amusing moments to reflect upon the setting's humour.

Unfortunately, while there is good here, there are more than a few key problems with the book overall.

The Bad

the bad points here stem more from a few unfortunate modern trends over anything else. The big and very obvious one stems from how the book seems extremely resistant to offering any finer details on subjects. The more detailed looks into the lore, structured nature of explanations when it comes to sub-factions and even just offering a bit more insight into the universe as a whole. For starters, the rulebook's streamlined and image heavy nature means the trend of limiting the timeline has been taken several steps further. While it does explain each era in brief, there are no secondary events or even major ones listed. The Tyrannic Wars are simply listed as a tyranid invasion, bereft of the key conflicts surrounding it. The Scouring details nothing of the Iron Cage incident or the Codex crisis, and nothing at all is listed of the various conflicts with the Tau Empire in the later ages or the Armageddon wars.

Skipping the fine details on such things would be fine for the most part, and there are large sections where this does work for the reasons outlined above. However, it does also introduce a few major failings as a result. The really big one is obviously the fact that it makes understanding the sheer scale and level of detail throughout the game's history harder to comprehend. The other, is that it makes certain later bits confusing as they refer back to such battles, but never fully set up the context to what these conflicts are or why they matter so much. Yes, having people get interested enough to look up more info works well, but there needs to be a bit more here to still allow the reader to know just enough and allow it to largely stand up on its own two feet. More importantly though, it robs the setting of any sense of serious age at times or an idea of how long things truly take. Because they are judged age by age and lack any actual listed years within their millennia, it makes events like the Primaris founding come out of nowhere. It quite literally jumps from Guilliman arriving at Terra to creating these marines, meaning it looks like he could have done it over a weekend. 

The Imperium takes up much of the page count once again, but it is struck by and odd lack of substance. Each minor faction within the Imperium itself is grated only a very minor paragraph to outline just who and what they are, but it never bothers to do anything more. It's enough to let you know the likes of the Arbites are law enforcers, but it never gets into anything more, from their power to the nature of their authority. The book seems to actively avoid any part which might tie it down or add to a larger page count, as bits like the High Lords of Terra, the power structure of Imperial offices or even Administratum control are all but completely missing from the book. When it does stop to focus upon things like Navigators or the finer points of how the world interacts with the Warp, the actual article is brief to the point of telling you only the most basic details. With the xenos races it's even worse, to the point where many get only a single page or two to outline their presence in the setting, and little else. Hell, each of the Chaos gods are given only a few words in their descriptions to cover their characteristics, which are as basic as "Khorne - Hates Magic Loves Skulls". Again, it's just not enough.

There also seems to be a few odd editorial choices here, at least in regards to what information is revealed. For example, little to nothing is done to reconcile the old headache which is the Wulfen, to the point where two paragraphs directly conflict with one another. One briefly states that the Wulfen are a curse, only for the very next one below it to announce that they are a recent arrival and were all present in the 13th Company. I'm honestly not sure if someone is actively trolling us, or if a writer is ignoring this mess and just hoping we will ignore it from here on. This is as equally problematic with the war zones as it doesn't know when to stop. Each of these is intended to lead into a bigger event, to help emphasize the sheer scale of the new conflicts and even lead into the new era overall. They're set up, detailed enough to make it look as if they will lead into another book or even a supplement, only for them to abruptly spoil the ending as well. This is like a film trailer showing off the villain being killed or the entire event being resolved, before you've even started to properly hear about it.

Some of these problems could have been dealt with by more easily building an atmosphere of grim darkness or something equally distinct, but the book doesn't quite achieve this goal. Oh there are plenty of quotes from characters, plenty of battle cries and brief bits which help to give an impression of the general factions, but there are few to no short stories. The book needed bits like the rather gruesome one where an eldar Ranger is ambushed by a kroot, or in-universe documents to truly help give a sense of worth to some points.

However, perhaps the most glaring issue is how the book fails to really both broaden its scope and flesh out a few new factors. Much like Age of Sigmar, the setting sadly looks as if it is set to veer into the "Everyone vs. Chaos" conflict, but almost everything presents this as space marines against Chaos. Not the Imperial Guard, not the Imperium as a whole, not the Inquisition or even just a combined force, but simply the space marines over all others, both in the artwork and the lore. Yes, the astartes do tend to dominate the game and hog the spotlight, but this is to the point where you might as well not know any other army in the Imperium exists at points, and any advance or spearhead stems only from them and no one else. Yet, for all this, there's not enough there to properly help flesh out the armies on either side or give full context to the new developments. For all the images of Primaris marines which show up here, and the times they are hyped, the book itself tells you next to nothing about them.

All in all, the more negative qualities portray this as a book which is being cautious to the point of being unwilling to take advantage of some of its best qualities. Trying to edge forwards and experiment with a format which will work for an ongoing and progressing narrative, but still reflecting upon some of its history.

The Artwork

The artwork here is stunning. For all the problems and failings here, there's an excellent mixture of new and old elements here, with the new being pushed front and center. It is present in the opening few pages and it's the first thing you see after the opening text, but many of the major blown up images are also brand new. When an image is re-used, it's often at least worked into the book in an interesting way, such as worked into a bigger collage or combined together as an opening segment to a new section of the lore. It's definitely one of the best takes on it of the past few years, and it seems as if someone had paused to really look over how best to use what they have on hand.

The Verdict

In terms of lore, the book is middling really. As an experiment, I gave this to a friend unfamiliar with the setting to look over and see what he thought of the setting as a whole. It did get him interested and it did provoke him into wanting to know more, so on that front it was a definite success, but he was still left confused as to what many key details meant or some of the finer points on essential parts of the setting. As such, it does work on a few fronts, but there needed to be much more work in many other areas. If you're after lore on the new events and units, i'm afraid you will need to wait a while until something more comes along.

So, that's the lore done for this part. Join us in a few days when we start to look into the gameplay mechanics.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to carefully go through this. How GW handled the new direction of the 40K lore is one of the things that I was the most apprehensive about. Glad to see that they did not completely blunder with it. Though, since they left most things vague, I guess there is still the chance that they will do a poor job in the future.

  2. I feel like the lore writers fell into a trap before that I've mentioned in writing. Basically you are so into your own story, that you forget to add certain details because you're so familiar with them that you don't consider them necessary.

    At this point the game itself is very old, so it's far easier for writers to forget which details would be necessary for newer viewers, and sometimes when I'm writing out a story I also fall into this trap. I'll forget to describe certain things or explain something in a certain way that makes sense to me, but only because I know where I'm trying to go with the story. In the end it can work out quite a bit differently when you take a step back and try to look at the work with new eyes, because then you'll notice how much you've forgotten.

    Then again I don't think I can really blame the writers that much for this with the new book. It's hard finding a balance between art, rules and story and I've no doubt that the editors could easily fall into the same trap that is open to writers, where they remove something that could be considered 'non-essential' when in reality it would help newcomers understand the universe better.

    1. I would be tempted to agree - and that is certainly a factor in regards to certain tales - but it still seems odd on the whole. The last two rulebooks included a lot of basic introductory elements which did help people - even if their content was crap at times or they misrepresented certain armies. Plus, while the game itself is old and there are very well established ideas, it seems to be bizarrely focused upon a few key areas, such as just the space marines. For example, we get nothing about the Tau Empire's Greater Good, the Ork WAAAGH! or the Craftworld Eldar's Aspect Warrior paths, but there is an entire page devoted to explaining what gene-seed is. It really could be a case of them forgetting things or simply experimenting, but it really does seem that they're trying to avoid certain things at the moment, or even freeing up space for themselves with less to write about.

  3. Well i think they are moving away from lore being in the Codex's but there will always be a bit.Well that was my take on it could be wrong.

    I did like the Dark Imperium novel it was a better start than the gathering storm crap (fall of Cadia was not that bad just missed handled) the other books where not that good.

    1. I have yet to start on that novel myself, but plan upon doing so the moment I have some free time. It will be interesting to see how they tackle it from here on, at any rate though.