The Other Gods: The Rise of the Four Armed Emperor

By the time I got into 40k proper a lot had changed from its early days. I was aware of it before, even as a child I had a basic idea of it all, but it wasn’t until much later that I really started to properly dig into the world of the 41st Millennium. By that time the Genestealer cults had faded into the background almost to the point of disappearing. Of course, I quickly found I wanted more than the codices alone were offering me and I started to dig deeper, pouring over Codex Imperialis, Slaves to Darkness, Waargh the Orks and other seminal tomes. I still never really spared much thought for the Genestealer cults though. To me the Tyranids were always a ravenous horde pouring in from the galactic fringe, or at least stealthy alpha predators who lurked in crumbling space hulks. I loved the Alien films (the old ones – it all went downhill a little as the franchise progressed) and my vision of the Tyranids was very much in keeping with this. Either they were lone genestealers picking off Space Marines ala Alien or they were hordes of Guants swarming embattled Imperial Guard regiments ala Aliens. At no point did anyone feel the need to travel around in a limo.

Thus if you want to know the story of the rise and fall (and rise!) of the Genestealer cults I’m not the best person to ask. However I highly recommend you head over to Heresy and Heroes for a far more erudite and comprehensive version of the story than I could ever hope to give. Because, after a long, long time in the shadows the Genestealers are back and ready to stir things up all over again.


Suffer Not The Alien To Live
Before we get too overexcited about the Genestealers however its worth giving a quick mention to the other faction represented in the new Deathwatch: Overkill boxset – the Deathwatch themselves. Whilst the Genestealers dwindled into the background of 40k their adversaries the Space Marines have gone from strength to strength. Today the Emperor’s Finest boast a muscular slew of models, an impressive series of codices, star in more books than a sane man could count and generally dominate the grim darkness of the far future in a way no other race can come close to. They even have a whole period of the game’s history (and a very financially successful one for Games Workshop at that) dedicated to them; the Horus Heresy when the Space Marines took a tip from the Orks and got so good at fighting that they had to fight each other.

However, because never a day goes by without Games Workshop dreaming up more ways to sell Space Marines, and because it really wouldn’t be the Genestealer Cults without them, here they are again.

If you collect any of the chapters represented then you’re undoubtedly already thinking about trawling ebay to pick up a stylish new captain (or better yet making use of the rules Games Workshop has provided to allow you to take your new models straight into 40k). Here we have representatives of the nine legions which remained loyal in the Horus Heresy (minus the Alpha Legion of course!) Some of these will be very familiar to everyone (the Wolves and both types of Angel have their own codexs and everyone knows an Ultramarine). The others, however, have been less well represented, especially outside of Forgeworld. Given that these are Games Workshop’s power armoured posterboys – and the First Founding at that – it’s startling to realise how little there’s been lately in terms of models for the White Scars, Iron Hands, Imperial Fists etc.
The presence of a Blood Raven also came as a little bit of a surprise to me, since the Dawn of War days they seem to have slipped into the background somewhat. In fact, had you asked beforehand I would have guessed that the tenth marine would have been a Black Templar.

In spite of the prevalence of the Space Marines though it’s hard to be churlish about them when most off the models look so damn good. Perhaps because of their novelty it’s the less well represented chapters that are the stars here – at least on the Marines side of the box. My particular favourites are the Iron Hand, the Imperial Fist and of course the Salamander (although I still hate sculpted fire!)
The Dark Angel is a mere couple of snips away from becoming a nifty looking plastic Cypher (cut off the sword, find him a suitable gun and hey presto).

However the Space Marines are a sideline here. They are needed – heroic and xenophobic in equal measure – to offset the horror of the enemy, but that is all. The return of the Cults, missing for such a long time, is what matters here.

Hive Fleet

I Like Big Bugs And I Cannot Lie

As an adversary the Tyranids are in a league of their own. Never mind how they perform on the tabletop (rules change after all and today’s deathstar is tomorrow’s disappointment). It’s their role in the background that concerns me here. In spite of the strength of the Imperium (which remains, let’s remember, an empire of more than a million worlds with the power to scour whole planets of life at the touch of a button) the Tyranids remain a very real threat. Neither the Eldar nor the Tau have the strength to take on the realm of men and make any kind of impression at all. The Orks certainly do but they remain too disorganised to present a credible threat. Even with ideas like the Great Waaargh!! and the rise of Ghazghkull have begun to paint the Orks as – at least potentially – a more single-minded adversary, their tendency towards infighting and the comedic elements remains too much part of their nature to really fear them.

That leaves three factions with the muscle to take down the Imperium; Chaos, the Necrons and the Tyranids. Chaos wears a human face. It’s what makes it so frightening and compelling, the way good men who attempt to stand against the fascism and cruelty of the Imperium are lured, almost inevitably, into the clutches of Daemons. Even the Daemons themselves, which should be the most alien creatures of all, are all too human. Dark reflections of our souls, our baser natures given form, they are built from the good intentions which pave the road to hell and this is what makes the faction so compelling. You can accept the cold brutality of the Emperor’s regime or you can struggle against it, but in seeking an element of personal freedom you all too often set yourself on a path which ends with you raving on some mutant hell-world whilst a tentacle grows out of your ear. All of which feeds back on itself with wonderfully bleak irony – because against such an enemy what choice does the Inquisition have but to become crueller, more distrustful, more oppressive?

The Necrons used to be more of a faceless, shadowy force but that’s changed now. Regardless of whether you love or loath the Newcrons they are no longer mindless robots but creatures with characters and personalities that are easy to understand and relate to.

Tyranids vs Tau

The Tyranids however remain truly alien. They have no interest in empire building, in carving out territories or trading for goods. They do not do the will of the gods. They have no concept of honour or destiny. They are purely an animalistic, elemental force, as impossible to reason with or battle against as a storm or a volcano.

Individual acts of heroism count for nothing here. No amount of firepower is sufficient to stem their limitless numbers. No trickery can turn aside the tide. There is nowhere to run to.

Perhaps the Necrons will rise and unite against the Tyranids as has been suggested, and mankind will cower, the hubris of humanity laid bare as we cringe on bastion worlds whilst mightier forces do battle for the galaxy. Beyond that there is no hope. The best humanity can wish for is to live like rodents beneath the feet of our new robotic overlords. I for one welcome them.

60010699004_deathwatchoverkilleng05

The Cult Is Alive

When reading the background of 40k the Tyranids are the only faction to truly frighten me. Yet in spite of this I’ve never felt much compulsion to collect the models or paint an army. There’s no hook there to draw me in, no human – or humanesque – face to relate to. I enjoy stories, and for me to really get engaged those stories need compelling characters. The Tyranids are the antithesis of this. They have no generals or heroes, just the gestalt consciousness of the Hive Mind driving them on. The whole idea is that they are without number, that for every one that is killed there are a billion more pouring in from the darkness of intergalactic space. In fact I actually really dislike the attempts that have been made to introduce characters to the Tyranids – Old One Eye, the Doom of Malan’tai and so on. They seemed insignificant in comparison to the greater horde – and by drawing attention to them they reduced the impact of the horde over all.

Doom of Malan'tai

The Doom of Malan’tai – a short-lived horror from the last codex which, despite never having a model of its own, was the subject of furious debate and much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So where does this leave me? I want characters to become invested in the Tyranids as anything more than an adversary – yet I dislike the idea of the bugs themselves as characters. The answer is the genestealer cults themselves.
The Tyranids are a limitless, animal swarm – like violent, predatory locusts their only instinct is to feed until the entire galaxy is stripped bare. So vast and overwhelming is the threat that one can quite imagine how small and insignificant a human would feel when faced with such a threat. Rendered so utterly irrelevant by the scale of the approaching menace one can quite understand a planetary governor or Imperial Guard officer turning to worship, deifying the monsters descending upon him and throwing himself upon the mercy of a Genestealer Patriarch and his hybrid brood in the hope that his end will be mercifully quick. In this way the Tyranids move away from being the Alien and become more like H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods – terrifyingly other, monumentally powerful, utterly insane by human standards, yet rendered less hyperbolic through the lens of their cultists. Those humans which catch a glimpse of the horrors and are driven insane by them provide the window through which the monster can be seen without ever being fully revealed. It remains a shadow, lurking just off stage, its arrival always pending, the doom it brings always inevitable.
Like the Wulfen before them the return of the Genestealer cults has made 40k a richer place (and unlike the Wulfen the models are magnificent straight out of the box). They also serve to make it darker, making the Tyranids more nuanced – and simultaneously more terrifying – in much the same way as the followers of Chaos define the innumerable choirs of daemons. In the end then, the fate of humanity is determined not by Admirals of the Imperial Navy, not by the High Lords of Terra or the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition, and most certainly not by Space Marines. It will be determined by thousands of tiny actions, by Chaos cultists battling against Genestealer cultists in the shadows of crumbling hives, to determine whether the light of Terra will be snuffed out by thirsting gods or the fangs of a billion, billion hungry mouths.

All images copyright Games Workshop and used without permission.

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18 responses to “The Other Gods: The Rise of the Four Armed Emperor

  • bigbossredskullz

    Great write-up and I can hardly restrain myself from pre-ordering it tbh 🙂

    • Wudugast

      Cheers – me too (although I’m restraining myself at least until I a)stop spending so much on moving house and b)see what the genestealer half of the box is going for on ebay. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it if you do succumb to temptation 🙂

  • Iron Commander

    A fantastic read as always, man. Like yourself, I’ve had a keen interest in the Tyranids but have never felt the urge to actually build an army of them; at the same time I’m a huge Alien fan also so that’s maybe where the interest comes from!

    Really like the look of the new Space Marines too- can’t say the Iron Hand hasn’t sparked my interest!

    • Wudugast

      I did wonder if you’d be after that Ironhand. One to paint as is and one to chop up and distribute as required through the bitz-box? Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

      • Iron Commander

        Absolutely, I like the bug-like eyes on the bionic side and the metal foot too. That Blood Angels Librarian is superb though; might have to buy on and scrape off the blood iconography.

        Indeed, loved the article. Like I said, always had a bit of an interest in the Tyranids, they seem mysterious and downright monstrous, but these new figures are making me want to start an army now!

      • Wudugast

        Yeah, that Librarian is an interesting one isn’t he? The fiction has him as a Blood Raven, and that’s the icon on his shoulder, but that icon on his shin is definitely Blood Angels. Wonder if there was a late-stage change of plan (surely not) or if they’re trying to quash all those rumours regarding the Blood Ravens being descended from the Thousand Sons (in which case why?) Let the wild speculation and crazy conspiracy theories begin! Nice model either way though and definitely has potential to be turned into an Iron Hand. Likewise the Imperial Fist.

        Also have to confess I’ve been nosing round the Tyranids section of the GW website this morning. Just looking you understand, just looking…

      • Iron Commander

        Indeed, get rid of the shin design and Deathwatch shoulder pad, maybe lose the left arm up to the elbow and replace it with a Forgeworld bionic… A very aggressive pose for a Librarian too, not as reserved as the others. Ahh right, I see, the Blood Ravens, my mistake. Maybe just trying to add some extra intrigue in there with BR involvement. That said, another great miniature and this boxset seems more interesting by the minute. You’re right to be looking around, no harm came from looking 😉

      • Wudugast

        Ah – just spotted that you said Blood Angels in the last post, I missed that (wasn’t trying to sound like I was passive aggressively correcting you. The joys of online communication eh!)

        As for no harm coming from looking if I can keep it to just looking that’s fine. Otherwise my bank-manager and groaning painting desk might beg to differ! 😉

      • Iron Commander

        Haha no don’t worry, didn’t think that at all! Yeah the bank and work desk are always the first to complain. Then the rest of the models in your collection probably groan when they see another bunch of new guys coming in. I like to think mine do anyway haha!

  • Alex

    Great write-up mate, and a welcome return for the cultists of the four armed Emperor! Stonking minis too… Totally agree about them putting some character into the otherwise bland ‘nids (imho)… Don’t think I’ll be shelling out on the game, but will certainly look forward to them coming out as a formation at some point!

    • Wudugast

      I’m not running out to get the game either but I’ll be interested to see what the genestealers sell for 2nd hand. Will be interesting to see if they ever get a full release, otherwise I might be tempted to pick up one or two Tyranids to go with them (it’s a slippery slope and all that…) I liked the idea (suggested over on Heresy and Heroes) that they might be tied in to a relaunch of Necromunda as well – could be a golden opportunity if GW have thought in the same direction.

  • ejhenries

    Shit hot article bud, at work right now so can’t go in to length but really enjoyed the read.

  • Toni

    Great read. I also find this boardgame trend to be a really good entry point to different factions. Somehow tapping into the storyline of discovering a threat to humanity, I also discovered tyranids in a totally new light.

    • Wudugast

      Cheers! Yeah, much as I love the visual spectacle of a world being devoured by the Tyranids – and hats off to anyone who’s painted hundreds of guants and so on – the thought of the painting process itself is pretty off putting to me. I like each model to be unique, and to discover different things by working on it. I also like there to be a story of some kind and once that kind of apocalypse style of force has shown up there not a lot of subtly – just a lot of fairly desperate shooting and running away!
      The board-games suggest to me that they recognise there’s more to 40k than mega-battles –the most compelling characters are sneaking around behind the scenes!

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