So here we are, a year on from the Betrayal at Calth and the landscapes of both 40k and the Horus Heresy are both constantly evolving and ever more entwined. Following the discovery of Daemonic Primarch Magnus the Red hiding in the recycling bins at GW HQ it’s time to return to the civil war that started it all. Even before Horus played his hand at Isstvan he was sowing discord and through his machinations, the hot-headedness of his brothers and what could easily be regarded as wilful idiocy on the part of the Emperor, it all came down to blood in the cities of Prospero. Without the traitors even needing to deploy two loyal Legions would come close to mutual destruction.
Given the huge success of the Horus Heresy in general, and Betrayal at Calth in particular, there can’t be many who’re surprised to see GW returning to the cash cow for another bucket of milk. What’s striking however is that this time round they’re being a lot more adventurous – in keeping with the surge of creative energy we’ve been seeing over recent months. Alongside the space marines and terminators that GW packs into every boxset they release we have, for the first time ever, the Emperor’s loyal bodyguards – the Custodes – and the bane of witches everywhere, those psychic nulls the Sisters of Silence.
With Calth they played it safe as befits its status as the gateway drug to the setting. Cataphractii terminators and Contemptor dreadnaughts were already popular thanks to Forge World, there were two characters which could easily fit into any Legion or Chapter from either 40k or the Heresy, and a whole bunch of that ever popular money-spinning workhorse, the space marines. It would have been easy for them to repeat the trick with Prospero but instead they’ve opted for bigger risks – with arguably more to play for. This time the characters are far more Legion specific, and whilst we were encouraged to paint the Calth characters to fit our Legion of choice it would take more than a coat of paint to make Geigor Fell-Handed into an Ultramarine or Ahriman into an Iron Warrior. Likewise those who’ve thrown in their lot with Horus won’t find much use in the Custodes or the Sisters of Silence, representing as they do perhaps the only two facets of Imperial society that wasn’t split in two by the Heresy.
Before we dig into the models themselves allow me – in my notorious hubris – to quote my comments from this time last year when Betrayal at Calth was freshly released:
“…for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.”
Well I wasn’t entirely right, we’re still waiting for Forge World to tackle Prospero and when I imagined unique miniatures I was picturing something more akin to Ahriman and Geigor than the Custodes. Still, there’s no denying Prospero makes a natural choice for the follow up to Calth. Its early in the Heresy (in fact it’s arguable that this is where the first shots were fired) so there’s no danger of getting ahead of the popular Black Library series. Only two legions were present (unlike the zoo at Istvaan where pretty much everybody turned up) and it was an infantry fight (as opposed to the tank battle at Talarn or the space battle at Phall). Mind you – not that I’m attempting to repeat my Nostradamus-like prediction trick – the boarding action on Perturabo’s flagship the Iron Blood by the Imperial Fists at Phall could make for an interesting game in this vein, somewhat akin to a Heresy-era Space Hulk. Or maybe they’ll decide to do something completely out of the blue and base the next boxset around the Fall of Mars with loyalist Mechanicum guerrillas battling their scrapcode warped brethren for control of the red planet. We shall see…
The Space Marines
Calth gave us space marines in Mk IV power armour, providing fans with a lot of extra variety when it comes to building their own Legion or Chapter. Now it’s the turn of the Mk III, also known as Iron Armour, to get in on the action. Now some people might be throwing up their hands and saying “Not another kit for making tactical marines?!” and fair enough there isn’t exactly a shortage of them. I can argue until I’m blue in the face about the qualities of Iron Armour, the joy of extra variety, the enriched background and appearance of GW’s posterboys, but frankly if you don’t love Space Marines with an unhealthy passion it may be hard to regard this as filling a gap in the market. Of course the standard issue Space Marine flaws are still in evidence – the weird, splay-legged half-squatting stance remains and they haven’t decided to true-scale them overnight either. Still if you love Iron Armour, and I do, then this is one to get excited about.
I’ll admit I’m not quite at the stage of being an expert on Space Marine armour marks but there’s no denying the Mk III has a brutal, slab-faced and slightly archaic appeal that’ll work nicely for anyone wanting to model their marines ready for a Zone Mortalis or kitbash their own breachers. By my count this gives the discerning space marine general go-to boxsets for Mk III, MkIV, Mk VI (debatably the tactical marines kit) and MkVII and Mk VIII (if you count the Death Watch kit). With this in mind I’m going to take a wild stab and suggest that this time next year we might well be looking at a box full of Mk V, the wonderfully studded and weird-looking Heresy armour. Mind you I wouldn’t be averse to seeing a Unification Wars game with Mk I clad Thunder Warriors slugging it out against tech-barbarian tribesmen.
Although not as immediately iconic as last year’s Cataphractii the Tartaros are still great looking models. As models they’re visually distinct from both the Cataphractii and the standard terminators in 40k and thus, if nothing else, they provide a little additional diversity to the terminator options available. After all, with Space Marines remaining the most popular army ever, a little more visual variety has merit of its own. By sharing design cues with both the Contemptor and the MkIV tactical marines the addition of the Tartaros also allows players to create an army with a strong visual theme running through it – perfect if you want your marines to stand out from the crowd.
In comparison to the Cataphractii which were armed almost exclusively for ranged combat the kit contains enough close combat weapons – in the form of lightning claws – to kit out the whole squad, perfect if your legion of choice is one of those like the Space Wolves or World Eaters who enjoys getting up close and personal with the enemy.
Sisters of Silence
Now this is where things get really interesting. For most of us a new armour mark for the space marines is only so exciting, but the appearance – for the first time ever – of models for the Sisters of Silence (and the Custodes for that matter) is big news in anyone’s book. Although the models themselves have come in for a degree of – perhaps justified – criticism (why oh why inflict models with armour which could so easily prove fatal to the wearer?) after consideration I’m coming down on the side of those who love them. After all so much in 40k is impractical and as dangerous to the user as it is to their enemies that it hardly seems fair to make a fuss about this. I’m also inclined to put the blame on the studio paint scheme. Had the armour been painted as leather the question would probably never have arisen. Leather armour would also make more sense given how close to the skin its being worn – and whilst I’m sticking my neck out and criticising the ‘eavy metal painters her outstretched hand is clearly bare and not made of a solid lump of gold like some futuristic female version of Jamie Lanister.
Leather would also suit a light, fast-moving warrior like the Sisters. Leave the bulky metal and ceramite to the Custodes and Astartes – these girls want to be quick and lithe and, as shown in this painting by David Hudnut, leather and cloth is the answer to that. Strange, ornate and archaic these are everything the elite troops of the Imperium should be, and the release of these models represents another voice tempting me away from Chaos and into the arms of the Imperium. Of course, if I did decide to tackle such an army the Sisters wouldn’t be the only models from this set to have a place in the ranks.
Step aside Grey Knights, here we have the real Imperial elite. When Abaddon’s Khorne worshipping frontrunners come bursting through the final gate and onto the steps of the Golden Throne to claim the Emperor’s skull these are the men who’ll be waiting for them.
Of all the models in the Burning of Prospero box these are the ones I’ve stared at longest since GW started releasing their pictures. For a while I doubted them but time has soften me. There are flaws of course, the huge shoulder pads mean that from some angles they look a little squat, and the swords in particular are a little too big (although what kind of filthy heretic arms Custodes with swords when there are Guardian Spears to go around?). The way the shoulder pad of this model sits proud of the body also concerns me…
… but on the other hand take a look at this shield!
… or how about the way the powerpack is incorporated into the back of the model.
Overall then it’s fair to say that these models have grown on me to become my favourite thing in the box – a tough choice given that I’m a huge fan of Iron Armour and Sisters of Silence alike.
GW have also released rules to allow players to field Custodes and Sisters of Silence in 40k, an interesting development as neither is an active military force in the modern Imperium. In a statement on their facebook page GW took note of this but stressed that both factions still exist, adding “… who knows, we might just see more of them in future”. Whether this is a cheeky nod to planned developments or simply an attempt to keep their options open only time will tell but with Daemonic Primarchs entering the fray the time may be approaching for the Imperium to call all of its agents to arms. Who knows, perhaps someday we may even see Sagittarus Custodian Dreadnaughts such as the one shown in this picture by Adrian Smith. Edit: And indeed Forge World have been fast off the mark – already revealing this Custodes transport.
On a final note it’s interesting that, although he’s not a character in the game, the shield-captain of the Custodes squad bears a striking resemblance to Constantin Valdor, the Captain General of the Custodes who took personal command of those amongst his troops who were sent to Prospero (painting by Adrian Smith again – please excuse the tiny picture of the model, I’ll replace it as soon as GW releases something better).
Calth was both criticised and praised for its generic characters and, perhaps as a result, GW have taken the opposite approach here. Azhek Ahriman is one of the most important characters in the Heresy and continues to plague the Imperium ten thousand years later. Forge World have already produced models for a number of the Heresy’s most influential figures but Ahriman has the distinction of being the first to appear in plastic and what a model he is.
For the designers the challenge must have been significant. Not only is this character well known and loved, but also one who’s appearance must reflect clearly the fact that he is a loyalist – whilst remaining clearly the same character as his 40k incarnation.
At first one might question if they’ve even succeeded – after all would someone unfamiliar with the background know that this was the same man who stood on the surface of Prospero all those centuries ago? Still the clues are there, albeit subtle, in the two strips of cloth hanging over his chest, the gently curving horns behind his head and, most of all, the third-eye in the middle of his forehead.
Of all the models here this is the one I’m mostly likely to buy in the near future. I’ve already got my eye on using him to create a custom sorcerer lord for my Chaos collection and of course plenty of people will be converting him into a 40k version of himself (the current Ahriman model being both iconic and rather old and clunky). The adventurous might even make a Librarian out of him (as if the Space Marines don’t have enough of those) something I’m sure Magnus the Red will find quietly amusing as he waits in the Warp for his moment to return.
If anyone was feeling the lack of another wolf lord for their space wolves then here we have the man for you. With his ornate power-armour, trophies and fetishes he’s a striking figure – enough to have any fan of the Rout excited. Indeed, in my opinion he’s up there with Krom Dragongaze as among the very best of the recent Space Wolves models. With a model just restrained enough to avoid looking silly (and no more) he’s ironically wolfy and will no doubt find a home in collections of Fenrisian warriors from both 40k and the Heresy. As mentioned above however he won’t be an easy one to convert so if you don’t want a Space Wolf in your collection you’d better find someone who does to flog him off to. Even if you do want a force of Wolves to take the fight to the Thousand Sons there’s nothing distinctly Wolf-like about the rest of this boxset so he’ll always look a bit out of place unless you dig out a few spare trophies, wolf-skulls and totems from the bits box to decorate his followers.
In comparison to Ahriman Geigor is something of an every-wolf, with so little in the way of preceding background that many people assume his chances of surviving Prospero in any accompanying fiction are slightly lower than those of a red-shirted man living through a mission in Star Trek. A popular rumour doing the rounds online is that this was originally intended to be Bjorn (later to be the Fell Handed) who’s better known to 40k fans as the oldest Dreadnaught of them all. Of course this would be a wonderful piece of storytelling, revealing this iconic character prior to his incarceration in an ambulatory metal box. The only downside is that, at the time of the battle of Prospero, Bjorn was the Quite-Normal-Handed, a rank-and-file space marine with very little to mark him out as the hero he would become. Supposition has it that the developers realised this rather late in the game, hence the last minute renaming of the character as Geigor Fell-Handed instead. As yet this remains purely a hypothesis but one has to wonder in either case, why name him Fell-Handed at all? After all it’s a title so closely associated with such a famous character in the story of both 40k and the Heresy – a character who was even present for the battle featured – that reusing it was bound to cause confusion. Perhaps there’s a clever explanation waiting to be revealed but for now, his name at least remains something of an enigma.
Honourable mention with this release goes to Russ himself, the Lord of Winter and War, unleashed alongside the Burning of Prospero in a clever bit of cross department co-ordination between GW and Forgeworld. With Black Library getting in on the act with The Great Wolf this is a great weekend to be a Space Wolves fan. To me however Russ leaves something to be desired. His lunging pose is slightly awkward, as though he’s about to fall forward, the back leg kicking up too high in a way that’s reminiscent of the running Khorne Berserkers (a kit that should have been replaced long ago, not replicated). Compare him to the other running Primarch – Angron – and you’ll see the benefit to being slightly more restrained with the placing of the legs. Likewise his sword – admittedly an iconic design – is a little too over-the-top, early 90’s for my taste. What’s the use in all those spikes and blades apart from to snag on everything he hits? Thus in contrast to the Primarchs already released which, with the exception of Corax, have been universally outstanding, Russ is a bit of a miss for me. Hopefully others disagree however as the Wolf King has been one of the most anticipated models in the Horus Heresy series and it would be a shame if fans of the Rout are as disappointed in him as I am.
Magnus the Red
Now if we’re going to talk about Russ then what better time to mention his rival Magnus? Recent revelations emerging from the recycling bins at Games Workshop HQ (alongside the good news that they’re so environmentally conscious) reveals that the Primarch of the Thousand Sons is soon to be released – not for the Horus Heresy when he walked the galaxy as a man of flesh and blood, but for his return in daemonic form in the twilight days of the Imperium.
Magnus the Red by John Blanche (of course)
It’s certainly a dramatic development and many are insisting that this means the return of many other primarchs is now imminent. Certainly the background has it that the daemonic Primarchs have been preparing for a return to the mortal universe for some time, and some – such as Angron and Magnus – having involved themselves violently in mortal affairs since the Heresy. For me the thought of being able to include them in my armies as we surge out of the Great Eye at last and bring ruin to the Corpse-God’s Imperium is hugely exciting. However, perhaps hypocritically, I’m not all that keen on seeing the loyalist Primarchs appearing in 40k. Of course it’s exciting to imagine that they might be out there somewhere but, much like bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, that doesn’t mean I actually want them in my house. The loyalist Primarchs represent hope. Perhaps the day may come when the Lion awakes or Guilliman heals and, in the Imperium’s darkest hour, they ride out in Arthurian fashion. Until then men must suffice.
Perhaps this represents the views of a luddite clinging to the past, refusing to allow the setting to evolve beyond the moment in which I discovered it, forcing it – with unintentional irony – to stagnate into a worship of its past self. Perhaps it is simply that I am being left behind by the evolution GW envisions for its most popular creation. After all Warhammer has already made the transition from a world in which the aesthetic of the pathetic ruled, where a man with no shoes and fewer teeth took up a rusty sword to battle daemon princes and orc hordes, into a glittering universe of superhuman heroics, where gods do battle and the great unwashed are strangely absent.
The return of the loyalist Primarchs would send 40k in the same direction. The fate of the Imperium would hang less on the actions of a band of guardsmen defending a trench against the horrors of a hostile galaxy and more about two demi-gods duelling over their father’s throne. Abaddon has launched thirteen crusades to wrest the galaxy from gene-gods and back into the hands of men and I’ve been with him every step of the way. Leave the Primarchs where they belong; in a lost mythic age. Let the Lion keep napping, leave Guilliman in state like a power-armoured Lenin – the only loyal Primarch that belongs in the modern 40k universe is Sanguinius’s golden-armoured ghost.
So what do you think? Is this a worthy successor to Calth or will you be making your own Custodes out of Stormcasts instead? Do you think the model of Leman Russ is magnificent or are you too excited to concentrate by the thought of seeing Guilliman in 40k? As usual the comments box is open for your thoughts so have at it.
Edit: If you just can’t get enough of reading about this new boxset I highly recommend KrautScientist’s in-depth look at the models (and of course their conversion potential).