In the early hours of this morning (UK time), when sensible folk were still abed, Games Workshop rolled out another of their big previews. I didn’t set an alarm for it but I did enjoy taking a look at it over a cup of coffee and needless to say, now I’ve given it all some headspace, I have thoughts ready to inflict on you, my gentle and long-suffering readers. We saw quite a mix of stuff too, from World Eaters (which I may – or may not – talk about in a future blog once I’ve got my ideas in order) and some walkers for House Cawdor which seem to be a real “marmite” release which some people (like me) love and others hate. However today I’m going to talk about the green lads and their good boys; the new Goblin Wolf Riders for the Gloomspite Gits.
Well would you look at that! Somebody stop the presses and hang out the bunting – Games Workshop have managed to sculpt some decent wolves at last! Well done guys, pity it’s taken you 40-odd years but persistence beats resistance and these shaggy beasts were worth the wait! (Pedants will currently be desperate to remind me of the existence of Rippa’s Snarlfangs and the Soulblight Dire Wolves – both of which are ok – and the two wolves which hang out with Belladamma Volga which are actually really nice, but still, GW does have a reputation for missing the mark with their wolves on a regular basis so it’s still novel enough to be a relief when they get it right).
These weren’t the only new Goblins to put in an appearance either. We also saw the previewing of Grinkrak’s Looncourt who for some reason have the exact same back story as the Flesh-eater Courts – that being that they believe, against the evidence, that they are in fact chivalrous knights. I know it can sometimes be tricky to think up new lore but this is a direct copy and paste, and much like with the ghouls it’s not really reflected in the models. I guess “identifying” as a noble knight is the new in thing in the Mortal Realms and we should go along with it rather than risk causing offense – what harm could a goblin or a ghoul do to a damsel in distress after all? Not naming the warband “the Green Knights” is a missed opportunity too – and if there’s one faction in the setting that can run with the puns it’s the Gits. At least the models are cracking.
More and more lately however I’m wondering if the Old World ever really went away. Were the last eight years all some kind of bizarre dream in which my fevered imagination conjured up magical realms and Stormcast Eternals whilst the Warhammer that was has rumbled on much as it ever did? Looking at GW’s release schedule you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The new Wolf Riders are a classic example of this – they’re awesome but conceptually they’re lifted straight out of the old Orcs and Goblins range without the slightest tweak to bring them into the Age of Sigmar. Now I don’t mind this – I liked old Warhammer – but wasn’t the point of Age of Sigmar to create a new world in which new ideas could be brought forth and explored? Sure, in the early days we didn’t have a whole lot to work with, it takes time to produce a whole new range of miniatures so models from WHFB were reused to flesh out the setting, but come on – it’s been eight years guys! In that time GW has churned out a lot of kits, many of them fantastic, and of those very few would look out of place in the “World That Was”.
By the time 8th Edition came around Warhammer had a lot of problems. The size of armies had grown so vast that new players could easily find themselves looking to paint hundreds of miniatures before their collection was ready for battle. To survive it needed to become more flexible, and desperately required a skirmish spin-off to serve as a stepping stone. Meanwhile the lore was a strange mix of cliches and ideas which were uniquely Warhammer, which the writers had to wrestle into shape whilst desperately seeking to ensure they had their own voice and weren’t trading solely on nostalgia. The range of models had grown large, and needed plenty of resculpts to keep it fresh, and the constraints of making models that rank up on square bases was clashing with the posing potential of the plastic models and new sculpting techniques. By the time the End Times rolled around Warhammer was desperately in need of some kind of soft-reboot. However absolutely nobody was saying “I really love this setting, but wouldn’t it be better if it was set on floating magical space bubbles. Oh and the Lizardmen need a silly name. Other than that it’s perfect”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who’s still sore about the destruction of the Old World, it’s just that the more time passes the more I wonder what the hell the point was. Much of what we’ve seen since 2015 would have fitted into the previous setting. Old Warhammer was an odd mix of the very generic and the uniquely creative – Age of Sigmar was an opportunity to break away and do something really creative but they seem to have lost their nerve. Now with The Old World project coming it’s harder than ever to differentiate AoS from WHFB. If, for example, I wanted to start an Orcs and Goblins army for WHFB I could find pretty much everything I might want amongst the ranks of the current Orruks and Gits. Wacky spelling does not new models make! Things like the Stormcast Eternals, Idoneth Deepkin and Kharadron Overlords serve to demonstrate what they can do if they want to but in the main they seem to be afraid of pushing the envelope.
This isn’t just an issue with the goblins either. Today also saw the previewing of a new Beastlord for the Beasts of Chaos. Again, he’s a really nice model – although the beasts need a hell of a lot more attention than just one new hero – but he’s no different to the kind of beastmen we saw in pre-End Times Warhammer.
Likewise the new Slaves to Darkness are just a revamped kit for Warriors of Chaos – they look cool but there’s nothing different here.
Some people might be saying “So what?”. The Warriors of Chaos and Beastmen were cool before and they’re cool now. Why reinvent a perfectly serviceable wheel? If it ain’t broke and all that. Now that’s fair enough but the thing is, they did – dramatically and unashamedly – blow their old setting to bits, burn their bridges and declare that this was a whole new era in which everything you had known before had been devoured by daemons. This wasn’t gentle – this was as subtle as Angron. Soft reboots, GW clearly thought, are for wimps! Yet here we are, almost a decade later in the real world and tens of thousands of years in the timeline of the game, and half the old characters are still around and everyone still dresses the same.
Lately Games Workshop has been previewing concepts from the forthcoming Cities of Sigmar revamp. Except is it a revamp? Everything we’ve seen so far, and I’ll admit it isn’t much, is very similar to what we used to know in the Empire.
Now I’ve got nothing against nostalgia (although I’m pretty sure it used to be better) but if I’d slipped into a coma in 2014 and woke up now would I see any difference between the Warhammer of now and the one I used to know? Of course given the state of the world otherwise this might be comfort, at least some things don’t change for the worse, but if you told me it was a whole new setting I’m not sure I’d believe you.
When the End Times was in progress I suggested that what we’d probably see was a partial apocalypse, shaking things up ahead of a new and refreshed setting. Chaos would come close to destroying the world but, at the last moment, the Gods would withdraw, laughing, to their own realm, leaving the survivors to fight it out amid the ruins. GW would have the chance to change anything they wanted, old characters with old models could be killed off, new characters and factions could arise, new rules – even a whole new game system – introduced. It would give the End Times some kind of significance, without needing to wipe the slate clean. The bathwater could be poured away without needing to send the baby with it. Afterwards I was (mostly) willing to give Games Workshop credit and let them do their thing, hopeful that the passage of years would create a setting that I could believe in and which would make the whole exercise worthwhile. I’m still waiting. Of the 24 factions currently present in Age of Sigmar all but 8 of them are essentially unchanged since before the axe fell on WHFB. Sure, some things have changed – breaking up the Orcs and Goblins into two separate factions, and dividing out the Warriors of Chaos into five new armies (one for each god) has given them room to grow and the results have been well worth it. However that, and the new rules for that matter, could easily have been achieved without the wholescale destruction of the world.
Let’s take a quick look at the eight new factions. Could any of them have existed in the World That Was? I would argue that all of them could. The Stormcast Eternals are perhaps the most iconic AoS army – and the one which, I suspect, precipitated GW’s decision to go through with the whole exercise. Space Marines sell – so why not have Space Marines in fantasy too? Double your money! It’s an understandable decision for a business to make but I reckon it could have been done just as well in a post-End Times Old World with nothing more than a few tweaks to the backstory. The Bretonians were in dire need of a range refresh and with Game of Thrones dominating screens around the world people were excited about knights. Most of the Stormcast concepts are not a million miles from a re-envisioned Grail Knights, granted superhuman power by the Lady to restore the realm.
The Kharadron Overlords and Fyreslayers could easily have been part of a re-envisioned Dwarf range, especially if some of the concepts were dialled back a little. Dwarves in Warhammer were traditionalist to a fault and extremely resistant to change but with their holds smashed and ransacked by daemonic hordes and many of the old guard killed and strung up by their beards a few young upstarts might be able to promote new ideas (ready to be patented by GW of course) onto a suddenly less recalcitrant population.
Fishmen were rumoured for years – apparently springing from a design studio in-joke that spread to tinfoil-hat-wearers and online theorists and never really went away. They too could have come to the surface in the form of a slightly tweaked Idoneth Deepkin. The Kruelboys could well have been lurking in the swamps and caves of the Old World, the Lumineth Realmlords tweaked into something closer to the High Elves and the Nighthaunt added to the undead ranks commanded by the Vampire Counts. Aesthetically speaking the Ossiasrch Bonereapers are the faction most unique to AoS – although ever here there are similarities to the Tomb Kings of old. Are they enough to justify the risky, and still controversial, decision to destroy a well-loved setting and start over from scratch? Those aside absolutely everything else from the mightiest Son of Behemat to the smallest gobbo could have been released in the old setting without stretching the lore one inch.
Ultimately I’ve got nothing against Age of Sigmar, it was a bold move and an opportunity for great creative strides, but since then their courage seems to have deserted them and as a result the whole thing starts to seem unnecessary. The wolf riders are amazing models but when it comes to their fantasy settings Games Workshop are living in the past.