Tag Archives: Stormcast Eternals

Soul Survivors

It’s all kicking off in the Age of Sigmar. A whole new edition has arrived, bringing with it a stack of new models, which I’ll be gushing over shortly (or reviewing them dispassionately like the cold and emotionless agent of the grave I am, depending on your perspective). Once again we’re also seeing the timeline moving forward as Nagash makes his play to replace Chaos as the biggest baddie around. After all he’s been around for millennia and, despite being burdened with a truly terrible hat and getting murdered by the Skaven on a semi-regular basis, he’s risen to attain a well deserved godhood. Until now however he’s been stuck with the same bunch of minions he commanded back in the Old World, minus the Egyptian-looking ones. Of course, never one to back down from a fight or miss out on the merest hint of limelight, Sigmar has sent his Stormcast Eternals to give the agents of his old frenemy a good kicking. Don’t worry, it’s all in fun, none of them can really die.

A new edition means a new boxset and this time we get Soul Wars, the successor to the rather unimaginatively named “Age of Sigmar Starter Set”. Naturally lots of intelligent, literate people who actually have the box in front of them have already shared their opinions about it so you might be forgiven for thinking I wouldn’t bother, but of course you’d be wrong because here I am.

Soul Wars 2

Most excitingly of all I can now look forward to some nutter raving in the comments section about how much he hates AoS and what a truly terrible person I am because I personally murdered Warhammer and ruined everything. If you’re out there mate, the reason I don’t publish your comments is because I genuinely believe you’re unwell and need help and in a rare moment of frankness from me to you I would beg you to consider what this obsessive rage is doing to you and your life. Of course I’ll add that the misplaced bile you pour in my direction also brings a warm glow to my heart and makes me feel that I’ve truly arrived as a reviewer and commenter because I can’t imagine that a busy man like yourself has time to rage at every two bit blog around and you save your burning rage for those platforms where it will garner the most attention. Plus as you are happy to tell me, a stranger, that you hate me, I’m not above mocking you for  a cheap laugh.

So, having agreed that Age of Sigmar is responsible for every unpleasant and terrible thing that has ever happened, from flicking a cigarette butt towards the Hindenburg to producing the music of Shania Twain, let’s acknowledge our shared infamy in still being interested and take a look at the new models.

AoS 2

Faced with a rising tide of ghosts, and discovering that the Scooby-doo gang were unavailable, Sigmar has called in the support of another chamber of Stormcast Eternals; the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chamber. Apparently he heard about the Grey Knights and decided that an army of armoured wizards were just the thing he needed to tackle an incorporeal adversary.

Of course, with tiresome predictability, some sectors of the internet are positively electric with self-satisfied outrage that once again Stormcast Eternals are featured in the boxset. It’s a bit like the people who complain constantly about there being Space Marines in the 40k starter-sets (indeed, it’s probably exactly the same people). Have the courage to admit that you’re just a tedious moaning bore rather than stretching for a silly complaint, especially when that complaint is one that you know will be fulfilled. “I’ll be upset if they put Stormcasts in the starter set” they bleat, smugly knowing that this is as inevitable as if they said “I’ll not buy it if they put the words Games Workshop anywhere on the packaging – after all that’s an anagram of Shag Pokes Worm!” Do you see a giant statue of an Idoneth Deepkin or a Bride of Khaine outside GW HQ in Nottingham? Neither do I – although there’s no denying that the latter would send a powerful message to Games Workshop’s competitors and local burglars alike.

Golden Boy

Still not marrying Khaine

When the first Age of Sigmar starter set was released the Khornate half represented something fairly traditional and familiar. Swap out the round bases for square ones and it would have fitted in nicely as a 9th Edition starter set for Warhammer. Korghos Khul would have made a fine lord of Khorne, the Bloodsecrator a champion with the battle standard, the blood warriors could have been chaos warriors with the mark of Khorne – and likewise the bloodreavers as marauders. Even the Khorgorath could have been a chaos spawn with the mark of Khorne. Alongside this the Stormcasts were the radical choice, making it indisputably clear that here we had something new and different, that the old world was gone and the new was defined by more than round bases and silly names.

This time things are different. This time it is the Stormcasts who are the conservative choice of faction to showcase in the starter set. Like Space Marines for 40k it’s safe to assume that for decades to come each new addition of Age of Sigmar will contain Stormcasts in the boxset.

Secateurs

The core of those Stormcasts are the rather stylish looking Sequitors. I’m not always that keen on Stormcasts, there’s something a little too uniform and faceless about them, but I’ll give the Sequitors two thumbs up. The robes help of course, giving the designers more to play with than plain armour would, but overall these have a lot more individuality and character than previous Stormcasts, whilst still maintaining their cohesiveness. After all, each one is a storied hero – a champion even before Sigmar raised them up – not a clone or another faceless soldier. Early Stormcasts were accused (often rightly) of being a bit repetitive but with these GW have got into their stride. Rather than lacking character each one is a character, and one could imagine oneself ascribing traits to them, identifying them from battle to battle and coming to regard them as individuals in their own right, more like Necromunda gangers than, for example, the twelfth ork in the unit.

Sequitors

I keep telling myself that I don’t need to buy the boxset because I’ll never paint an army of Stormcasts but if I ever do these will form the bulk of it.

Sequitors 1

There’s no denying the visual impact of the Castigators. Stormcasts with grenade launchers? What did the poor followers of Chaos do to deserve this?! As with the Sequitors the robes look great and there’s a real sense of power and weight to the models.

Castigators 2

It’s also good to see more female models as Games Workshop responds slowly to repeated reminders that women have a place in fantasy and science-fiction too (somewhere a fat and unhygienic Star-Wars obsessive is crying into his keyboard at this baldy-stated news but I’ve never sugar-coated anything and I’m not about to let the creepy lard-arse down gently). By subtle narrowing of the masks, waist and legs, and softening of the brow, the designers have rather cleverly managed to incorporate female Stormcasts into the ranks of the Castigators and Sequitors without needing to go down the road of form-fitting armour, boob-armour or even bare heads.

Castigators

I was never the biggest fan of Stormcast based truescale marines, finding that the sleeker armour shapes left them looking more like Stormcasts in space than Space Marines. The arrival of the Primaris marines has generally rendered them a thing of the past, as marines of most chapters can be kitbashed with ease from the Primaris chassis. The exception of course is the Sons of the Lion. Now there are plenty amongst the First Legion who go around dressed in plain power armour, and there’s no reason not to just paint your models green and have done with it. However to really capture the Dark Angels you want long monastic robes and between them the Castigators and Sequitors provide a lot of potential. The hammers, lightning bolts and other Sigmarite flourishes would need trimmed away but a virtue could be made of all the lion iconography.

As I say I’m not that keen on Stormcast based truescale marines, nor do I particularly like the Dark Angels (those filthy traitors!) but I might just pick up a few Sequitors to experiment with.

Evocators

After the excellence of the Castigators and Sequitors the Evocators prove to be a bit of a disappointment. The weird looking armpit robes are a bit too odd for my liking, whilst the tabards starting at the rib-cage makes the torso look very short. The tempest blades meanwhile look rather too long and heavy to be wielded one-handed.

In the early days the Stormcasts were often accused of looking rather blade, a charge which can now be firmly refuted.  The Evocators however seem to be trying too hard to put a flourish on the Stormcast aesthetic and the result is a little half-baked and falls short of the elite warrior-wizards these are intended to be.

Lord-Arcanum

This may sound a little overenthusiastic but I think the Lord-Arcanum is pretty damn magnificent. It showcases the glorious heroism of the Stormcasts and the fantastic richness of the Age of Sigmar in one fell swoop. My love of gritty realism and the “aesthetic of the pathetic” is well known but Age of Sigmar is big, bold and bombastic and this model encapsulates that perfectly. If we’re going to replace the toothless, shoeless Empire soldier as humanity’s defender with an immortal golden giant then let’s do it in style and give that giant a glorious haughty half-horse, half-eagle beast to ride around on. No half-measures here, no implied moral complexity, just over the top heroism through and through. Cut this man and he’ll bleed one-dimensional wholesomeness and moral fibre.

Many people – and I include myself here – took one look at the first Stormcasts and feared that Age of Sigmar would be dumbed down, simplistic and lacking the moral depths of old-Warhammer. Needless to say the likes of the Idoneth Deepkin and Daughters of Khaine have put paid to that, leaving the Stomcasts to encapsulate the goody-two-shoes heroism that they’ve become known for. Given that it’s only right that they be allowed to do it well and to the full extent of the designers’ abilities. Criticising this chap for being a bit OTT and overtly heroic would be like criticising the Idoneth for hanging around with fish.

Being harsh I’ll admit though the model does have a few flaws; the staff is a little top-heavy and cluttered with superfluous detail (just give him a hammer – it wouldn’t make him any less of a wizard) and there’s really no need for every beast in the Stormcast army to have two tails, but these niggles aside he’s still excellent.

Lord-Arcanum 2

Second in command to the Lord-Arcanum is the Knight-Incantor. Even at a glance it’s clear she’s a mage of some kind, the outspread arms, subtly upturned gaze and windblown, billowing robes neatly conveying her connection to the storm. Again her staff is a little top-heavy, as is her crest, and the silly armpit capes continue to look uncomfortable and impractical, but overall she’s a fine model who works in spite of her flaws. The sculpted musculature of the torso is an unusual, but very welcome, choice for a female miniature and would have been far better than the layered tabards of the Evocators. We can expect to see plenty of clever Inquisitrix and Cannoness conversions from this one I suspect. 

Knight-Incantor

The forces of the Stormcasts are diversified further by the arrival of their first artillery piece, the Celestar Ballista. No longer just clones in gold armour the faction has grown, chamber by chamber. Sigmar has unleashed legions of heavy infantry, flying warriors, knights on dragons, even adorable mini-gryphons and, finding his enemies are still going strong, now he’s rolled out the big guns. To my mind this model encapsulates a very Sigmarish, bullish attitude to solving a problem. One can almost hear him saying “Ghosts now you say? Have you tried shooting them?” The Stormcasts must be wishing they’d had access to this back when their enemies were a little more corporeal.

Celestar Ballista

A lot of the elements of the model are a little obvious, indeed this is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Stormcast artillery piece, but as it’s their first that’s no bad thing and very much to be expected. Plus it may well be the case that this is setting the template for further artillery and warmachines to come after.

What is interesting is that here is a glimpse of Stormcasts who’re not straight-forward fighters. Whilst previous Stormcasts have clearly been chosen by Sigmar for their combat prowess or tactical acumen, these follow on from the Lord-Ordinator, bringing more to engineering the future of the Realms than just hitting things with a hammer.

Ordinators

Overall I’d call the Stormcast half of the boxset a success. Games Workshop could have used it as an excuse to just churn out more Stormcasts, just as the 40k starter-sets of yesteryear always contained plenty of tactical marines. Instead they seized the chance to broaden the Stormcast range, bringing in mages and artillery and putting a new spin on an already ubiquitous army.

All the usual Stormcast characteristics are present, with hammers, anvils, masked helms, lion faces and more lightning bolts than a Harry Potter convention. Ultimately if you like the look of the Stormcasts then these will add further variety to your collection. If, on the other hand, you’re not so keen on the slightly different style might just sway you.

AoS 2 Knight of Shrouds

Another common complaint from the first edition of Age of Sigmar centred on the lack of mortal threat to any of the participants. Chaos lords were reborn by the gods, Stormcasts and Seraphon were reforged, even the Sylvaneth got in on the act with their soul-pods. Add in the Idoneth and their soul harvesting and a death god like Nagash starts to get seriously irritated. Indeed the situation has now become so grave (sorry – I couldn’t help myself) that he’s unleashed a whole army of ghosts to make his displeasure felt in no uncertain terms.

A number of vocal scoundrels have been calling for Age of Sigmar to give up the ghost since it was launched and, to my personal excitement, now it has. This is what they were wanting right?

First Knight Of Shrouds

Front and centre of the Nighthaunt half of the boxset is the glorious looking Knight of Shrouds. Earlier in the year Malign Portents brought us our first look at a Knight of Shrouds, a magnificently creepy and well executed model which, it is now apparent, was just the precursor to the deathly horde now descending upon us. So impressive is it that even if I wasn’t already a fan of the Death alliance I would have picked one up just to paint. Unfortunately the model was wildly overpriced for a single miniature, a product of Games Workshop’s location (both geographically and philosophically) in the UK’s deeply skewed economic landscape, so I never stumped up the cash for it. Never mind, a nicer one has come along now, and he’s on a horse.

Knight of Shrouds

Once again I may sound a little effusive in my praise here but the Nighthaunt are generally excellent and none more so than their undead general. For the ghosts the pressure to impress was always high. The Vampire Counts range was a well loved staple of Warhammer and for a while new releases were a regular occurrence, with each one including models even bigger and more impressive than the last. The culmination came at the beginning of the End Times with the arrival of the Mortarchs and Nagash himself – the latter being a model I’m not a big fan of but which is otherwise generally well loved.

After the triumph however came the fall. In the purge of Warhammer factions that followed the End Times the Tomb Kings, the Vampire Counts’ sister race and the other branch of the undead in GW’s stable, were swept roughly into the dustbin of history. There followed three years of near silence. The beginning of 2018 saw the arrival of the Malign Portents, something many of us assumed to be Death’s triumphant return. Of course it turned out we were right, just a little premature. Instead of a new army, the undead got an army book and a single overpriced model – but then so did everyone else. Only after two elven factions had appeared did the dead rise at last.

Thus I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this release desperately hoping it would be good and fearing the outcry that would come if it was anything less than perfect. Luckily when it comes to the risen dead GW are still very much on top of their game. If the Knight of Shrouds is suffering from any kind of performance anxiety he doesn’t show it and as a general he can stand proud alongside vampire lords, ghoul kings and Mortarchs alike. Death is back in style, top marks Games Workshop, I should never have doubted you!

Knight of Shrouds 2

There’s something slightly frail about the Knight of Shrouds, a whipped look in his thin arms and hunched shoulders which only adds to his sense of spiteful danger. Here is a ragged and wiry warrior, a pauper general, the very essence of his steed sloughing away in echo of its long rotted flesh. He’s a long way from the wall of golden musculature sent by Sigmar yet one suspects his sword would cut the deeper for the bitterness behind it.

Lord Executionar 2

Alongside the Knight of Shrouds Soul Wars spoils us with three more Nighthaunt characters. First up we have the Lord Executioner, an overenthusiastic headsman in life now bound to eternally serve Nagash. The elements are relatively simple; an executioner’s hood, a gallows and a great big axe. Nonetheless the model does a lot with these few ingredients and the result is delightfully sinister and imposing. A small group of ghosts swirl around him, framing the model’s face and helping to tie these newer models in to older figures like the spirit hosts and mortarchs.

Gallows Gallery

Back when I reviewed the Lord of Blights from the Nurgle release (in January) I described the gallows worn on his back as “a good idea amateurishly executed”. With the Lord Executioner we get to see it done properly.

Lord Executionar 3

An executioner never has to rush around chasing after victims and thus the model encapsulates a sense of slow-moving power. He calmly stares ahead, picking out his next victim, and the model’s golden angle has him looking directly at the viewer. Meanwhile his greater height above the base implies a potential for downward movement, he’s not racing into the sky but preparing for a powerful decapitating downswing. I’m also no fan of sculpted smoke, fire or magical effects, something you would think would put me off the Nighthaunts in general, but here it’s been done with such aplomb that it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Guardian of Souls

The Guardian of Souls is the first Nighthaunt wizard (you can tell by his staff, pointy hat and beard). Apparently his role involves guiding the spirits of the dead back into the Mortal Realms, a story that is subtly but skilfully told by his pose. His sword is held low – he’s not really a fighter after all – and his lantern is outstretched overhead to guide others, with wisps of ethereal flame coiling back behind him.

Spirit Torment

Whilst the Guardian of Souls and Lord Executioner clearly convey their mortal origins the Spirit Torment looks more like a cross between a deep sea fish and one of the bridges over the Seine that people cover in padlocks. The result is deliciously creepy, the eyeless face and gaping mouth creating a strong impression of something utterly without compassion, driven only by instinctual hunger.

Furthermore whilst most ghosts look soft and ethereal this one looks heavy, it’s pose hunched and bullish, it’s arms pulled low by the weight of the locks it carries, its thin flesh poking from beneath a shell of heavy iron. And whilst the locks are so heavy they almost scrape along the ground the keys float out of reach, hidden from the creature directly behind its sightless head.

Indeed the head itself deserves a special mention, an excellent bit which would prove handy in adding an extra level of creepiness to all kinds of characters, from tech-priests to archons. The only flaw is the padlock earring, a tiny bit silly and a detail too far I feel.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me, quite rightly, by Faust that this is a lock on a collar and not an earring. This is what I get for not double-checking my facts! Indeed on second examination it actually looks quite cool so anyone who was avoiding buying the entire Soul Wars boxset on account of this should now feel free to do so.

Chainrasp 2

The rank and file of the Nighthaunt contingent is made up of the chainrasps, of which we get 20 in the box. These are the middle of the road souls, criminals and bad ‘uns but not evil enough to have sold their souls to Chaos. For those who’ve been crying out to see the normal folk, the great unwashed of the Mortal Realms, this is them – it’s just unfortunate that by the time GW got around to them they were already dead.

Once again the undead maintain the theme of a mighty host of the risen slain at the core of their armies. Now we can choose between skeletons, ghouls, zombies (if you like really ugly models) and now ghosts as well. There’s nothing wildly unusual or creative with these but that’s no bad thing. If you want straight-forward ghosts, or a chassis upon which to build more unusual ghosts, you’ve got it. Whatever the setting, so long as the spectral dead wander around in a sheet moaning, these will have you covered.

Chainrasp 3

It’s safe to say that the Inq28 community will be having a field day with these (not that those geniuses couldn’t make gold out of anything). Expect plenty of little tech-thralls ahead.

Grimghast ReapersIf the Chainrasps are the rank and file of the Nighthaunt then the Grimghast Reapers are the shock troops; blindfolded spectral berserkers  sent to reap a fresh crop of souls for Nagash. Overall these are the closest to the cairn wraith, the spiritual forefather of the Nighthaunt. Indeed anyone still playing Vampire Counts in old-Warhammer would do well to consider these as a great way of making cairn wraith squads, alongside the Myrmourn Banshees as, well, Banshees.

The stereotypical Death archetypes are out in force here, from the tattered black robes to the long scythes. There’s a real sense of speed too, a darting, almost fish-like motion, combined with a sense of savagery in the sweeping blades. The unfortunate exception is the one holding his scythe directly overhead. The sense of motion is still there but the sense of direction isn’t, so whilst the others appear to have just made a killing blow he’s either indulging in some purposeless scythe waving to no real effect or he’s just blindly charging and probably about to suffer a comedic collision with something unyielding.

Charging Ghost

I also wonder if it’s strictly necessary for one of them to be wielding a bell on a stick? In old Warhammer pretty much every squad, regardless of how small, featured an optional command group  comprising a leader or champion, a banner and a musician. This practice has declined in Age of Sigmar and so a musician feels as unnecessary here as a banner would. It’s clear the ghost isn’t using it for its intended purpose, he appears to be smacking someone over the head with it, so why give him a musical instrument at all if he’s just going to break it by using it as a weapon? Plus although bells are closely associated with death in the real world, in the Warhammer universes they’ve become much more closely tied to Nurgle and the Skaven so if GW really wanted an instrument in the squad – presumably to some in-game effect – then why not pick something else? Wind instruments, not usually great for creatures without lungs, could be great here – how about bone pipes sticking out of his back that howl and moan as he flies around with his mouth open, turning the whole model into a giant set of bagpipes?

Bellend

In spite of these minor quibbles there’s a lot to like about the Reapers. They may be the most obvious and least original concepts in the Nighthaunt range but they do it with such style that I’m more than happy to forgive them.

Glaivewraith 2

Creativity and weirdness are becoming the trademarks of Age of Sigmar and although GW have been a little less wild with Soul Wars than they were with, for example, the Idoneth Deepkin or Kharadron Overlords (this is still stormcasts vs ghosts after all) they’ve still managed to sneak in some wonderfully innovative models all the same. Perhaps my personal favourites, and the models that first drew me to the Nighthaunt faction, are the Glaivewraith Stalkers.

Hunters in life the Glaivewraith have been fused in death with their steed creating bizarre hybrids, the hunting beasts of Nagash. I may have poured praise on the Nighthaunt rather exhaustively by this point but here GW have done it again, pulling another star out of the bag.

In theory one presumes a sufficiently powerful necromancer can resurrect almost anything, with the possible exception of a dwarf. In the old Vampire Counts era however the bestial companions of the undead were lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s rather hammy writing, with giant bats and wolves predominating. Sadly the superstition of the dark ages still seems to be associative with these creatures and unnecessary persecution has been heaped on them as a result (and yes, I did have to rescue my neighbour from a bat once whilst she screamed hysterically, and rather imaginatively, that “everyone knows they’re poisonous!” I restrained myself from pointing out that there was only one mad old bat in the room and it wasn’t the unfortunate flying mammal…).

Now I’ll forgive the later edition dire wolves which were suitable terrifying zombies (and even the most gentle of creatures becomes frightening once it’s a zombie as these lovable farm animals painted by Alex of Leadballoony prove). Regardless of how rare or endangered a species becomes I’m all in favour of killing it once its risen as a zombie but until then there’s really no reason for a hobby with its foundations in imagination and creativity to keep repeating the short-sighted ignorance of medieval peasants. Thankfully Nagash, and his mortal servants in Nottingham, have proved themselves capable of shrugging off the hackish prose of old Bram to invent a bestial pack of a rather more creative kind.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (2) - Copy

Wolves – majestic wild animals… until they rise from the grave…

Releases like the Kharadron Overlords and Idoneth Deepkin have really cemented Age of Sigmar as a setting in which Games Workshop can let their creative hair down and indulge their talents. With Soul Wars they’ve naturally been a little more restrained, Stormcasts are Stormcasts after all, but that hasn’t stopped them showing off a little on the ghostly side of the set. The Glaivewraith Stalkers are exactly the sort of thing one imagines skulking in the corner of a Blanche painting, or popping up in the margins of a rulebook.

Glaivewraith

I’m also tempted to a couple of pairs of human legs emerging from beneath one of them to create a macabre carnival beast, pantomime horse or suitably weird steed for an Inq28-style knight.

ETBGlaivewraithStalkers

Unfortunately the Easy To Build Glaivewraith Stalkers released to expand the set in Soul Wars don’t bring much more to the unit than was already present on the models in the core box. They do add a drum of course and a crow with a skull for a head, which is probably the cutest thing GW have ever come up with, but neither, to my eye, merits a whole new kit (and separate purchase) on its own when those two items could have been included in the core box just as easily. That said the Easy to Build sets are so cheap, and the models in them so nice, that it seems churlish to make a fuss about this.

Skull Crow

The drummer is apparently called a Deathbeat Drummer which sounds like something a music journalist would come up with to name a sub-genre of death metal. Really they should have gone the whole hog and called it a Deadbeat Drummer, which is after all what everyone will call it anyway.

Banshee 1

More exciting are the Myrmourn Banshees which are without a doubt one of the best bits in a release already full of wonders. Much has already been said about the clever use of negative space and the way that the greater part of what should be the model’s flesh is either hidden or absent. The torsos are hollow, the mouths screaming gaps which, in the absence of the model’s eyes, draw in the viewer’s gaze, and the models writhe and twist as though boneless, like cloth tugged by a breeze.

Banshee 2

Soul Wars picks it’s themes and sticks to them with an unyielding vigour. If you like heroes in shiny armour or lots and lots of ghosts you will not be disappointed. If, on the other hand, your predilections for the undead are more diverse and you’d like a skeleton or two, perhaps a zombie, or even – heaven forbid – a mummy, then you may find this something of a letdown.

I make no secret of my own bias, I started out as a vampire counts fan several editions of Warhammer ago and I’ve been tempted to join the undead legions of Nagash since Age of Sigmar began. I even painted a vampire count just the other day and, like the Lord of Undead himself, I fondly remember the World-That-Was, I have a healthy distrust of Stormcasts and I look silly in a big hat. I’ve tried to remain neutral in this review but if my praise for the Nighthaunts has been a little more emphatic than for the Stormcasts that may be part of it.

That said I really do feel that the Nighthaunt half of the box outshines the Stormcast half by a sizable margin. It doesn’t help that a Stormcast in a robe is still a Stormcast and so the look of the models was very much constrained by what had gone before, whereas with the Nighthaunt the designers were able to create something a bit stranger, darker and more creative, and thus more to my taste. Furthermore whilst the Stormcast set contains models both good (the Sequitors) and less so (the Evocators) the ghosts are consistently top-notch. Needless to say between this and the models already revealed I’m very much looking forward to the full Nighthaunt army when it arrives.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy Soul Wars, partly because I’m not that excited by Stormcasts (no matter how beautiful the Sequitors are) and partly because GW are bombarding us with other releases more to my taste. I will however be seeking a good bargain on the ghosts, and plotting a spiritual awaking in Shyish. And of course it’s always possible that I’ll change my mind, those Sequitors really are pretty lovely, and I really want to read all about the realms in the new rule book and sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m trying to save my pennies for all the other lovely things Games Workshop have been previewing lately…

Nighthaunt 1

So what about you? Are you already preparing yourself mind, body and soul by wandering the house with a sheet over your head making “woooo” noises, or are you a valiant servant of the God-King ready to take the fight to the dirty deadies? Or perhaps your sympathies lie with the somewhat under-represented forces of Destruction, in which case here’s hoping that with Stormcasts vs Chaos in the  first boxset and Stormcasts vs Death in the second I’ll be reviewing a box of Ogres (and Stormcasts!) in three years or so. You heard it here first folks!

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Rising From The Ruins: The Rebirth of Warhammer

So, almost a year on after Games Workshop spectacularly blew it up the Old World of Warhammer is back. The tabletop version may be officially dead but the world itself has been pulled from the grave by the digital necromancy of the Total War series.empire_vs_chaos_by_janiceduke-da3u5xl

Warhammer: Total War is a game I’ve been excited about for a little over a decade. As a student I was a big fan of the Total War series and recall expounding the idea of a fantasy version based on the Warhammer world to my (undoubtedly disinterested) friends and housemates. A digital format would allow me to indulge in the mass battles and complex campaigns to which I’ve aspired without the abstraction of the to-hit tables and dense rulebooks that come with tabletop games. It allows the introduction of characters like Kholek Suneater, without the need for it to be sculpted from a metric ton of resin. It also frees me from the need to paint hundreds of models, allowing me to focus on the creative conversions and detailed painting that I enjoy most.

Please note that this is not me trying to claim credit for the idea, unless of course you are an employee of Sega and want to send me a big, fat cheque. Furthermore, having played little in the way of computer games in recent years I’m probably not the best person to attempt to review one now, so instead I’ll philosophise in my usual rambling fashion about Warhammer instead.

chaos_lord_on_manticore_by_janiceduke-da3q6c3

As it stands the game includes five races; the Empire, Vampire Counts, Dwarves, Greenskins and Chaos (available as a downloadable add-on), plus a sixth race to be added for free later – probably Bretonia. The developers have also stated that, by the end of the trilogy, the game will feature all the major races. Exactly what this means however remains unclear. Is it safe to assume that if a faction had models in the tabletop game it will feature in the digital incarnation? It seems sensible to conclude that High Elves are a major race and Keislev is not but what about Beastmen, or followers of individual Chaos gods? I’d be being facetious if I suggested that Chaos Dwarves might make it in but whilst the Bretonian line has been cleared from Games Workshop’s stock over in the digital world some pretty broad hints have been dropped that the Knights of the Lady will soon be a playable race. Does that mean we can look forward to Tomb Kings in the future as well?

It’s all very exciting but here’s the interesting thing – Warhammer is dead. The word is repeated everywhere, on every forum online, in every gaming establishment and convention where the dice-loving public gather to bitch and moan. Games Workshop brought us a series of (impressively well produced) books that together make up the End Times, during which they effectively took off and nuked the entire world they’d spent over three decades creating from orbit. Rumour has it that the game wasn’t making any money, that it was creatively dead and that it just didn’t contain enough Space Marines to be viable. In many ways I was part of the problem, always dreaming about starting a Warhammer army yet never really getting round to it – then complaining when they took away something I wasn’t using anyway.

For those of you thinking ‘what about Warhammer Online? Surely we’ve been here before’ let me say three things. Firstly Warhammer Online was an MMO and thus appealed to its players in a very different way to a strategy game like Warhammer: Total War, Warhammer or Age of Sigmar. Secondly, it was released long before the End Times and so its significance as a window on the Old World was considerably less. Thirdly I never played it and don’t want to make too much of a fool of myself making assertions about it that I can’t substantiate.

karl_franz_riding_deathclaw_by_janiceduke-da3u59c

Let me define my position here. I’m generally opposed to tabletop games advancing the storyline. This is a setting in which people can and should create their own stories, not a series of novels or a computer game in which a characters advance along a journey (literal or metaphorical) and the world changes around them. The well-argued and highly recomended piece written at the launch of Age of Sigmar over at Ex Profundis argues that Tolkien would have saved the world, with Sigmar recovering at home surrounded by wellwishers, whilst Moorcock would have blown the whole thing up. I would have told both of them to back the hell off and stick to stories, not settings, where they belong. I love seeing the world change through a series of novels, love reading the history that leads up to the ‘present day’ in a war-gaming setting, but find progression beyond that to be generally a pointless, self-indulgent exercise. Bored of seeing the Emperor sitting on the Golden Throne for the last thirty years? Still waiting for Abaddon to make it out of the Cadian Gate or the Orks to win at Armageddon? Then pick up a book or watch a film. Asking for a setting like the Old World or the Imperium to change radically is like saying ‘The Mona Lisa is alright but I’ve been looking at it for years now and I don’t think it’s changed a bit!’

Having said all that the Old World was nothing like the Mona Lisa, but rather a roughly cut-and-pasted version, the off-cuts of better artists stuck together with poster-paint and PVA. Much of it was lifted directly from real world history with other influences crudely stitched on, from pulp horror Egyptians to knock-off hobbits. Depending on who was writing it at the time it was either gritty and driven by the actions of flawed mortals or mythic and driven by the actions of flawed gods. It was also generally extremely convoluted and relied heavily on every outcome being reached only through a series of highly improbable steps. You can’t blame them for wanting to rebuild with something new rather than just papering over the cracks.  It may have done the business back in the 80’s but it was hardly a world befitting of a company of Games Workshop’s stature. When they put a match to it I wasn’t sorry to see it going. I certainly did not want it to go all ‘there-and-back-again’ with Chaos packed off back to the northern wastes, the status-quo re-established and the peoples of good and order celebrating whilst their destructive neighbours plotted in their dens and swore their revenge.

The End Times were a good thing for Warhammer. It was the pruning it desperately needed, the infusion of new ideas and creativity that encouraged fresh growth coming alongside the forest fire that burned away the old and the stagnant. I enjoyed every moment, right up to the end where it all actually ended.

In Age of Sigmar the cracks are still there and bigger than ever with the tortuous narratives of old replaced by a lot of handwaving. It’s not even the case that everything in these realms is actually that original. Instead of borrowing from the real world it borrows from Warhammer.

Empire Captain 1

In Sigmar’s name!

The article at Ex Profudis asks “What good is an apocalypse without a post- apocalypse? …what is the point of an apocalypse if there is nothing left afterwards? This was the main question I had upon reading about Age of Sigmar. Why destroy everything? Surely there should be something left, a few hundred years in the future – to provide familiar elements and give a sense of narrative continuity: the ruins of Altdorf strangled by poisonous forest; an Elven child’s doll from Ulthuan washing up on daemon-scarred shores”.

During the End Times this was pretty much what I was expecting. The Old World would be changed, not so much that it was rendered unrecognisable, but enough to refresh it. I was fairly certain that the final battle would end in a draw, the portal collapsing in a cataclysmic explosion as the Chaos Gods withdrew in order to continue toying with the world. In the aftermath Chaos warbands would continue to rampage around the countryside, many Empire cities would burn – or turn into something similar to Mordheim, and the Elves would seek to re-establish themselves with many unable to accept their new king. Finecast characters would have gone out in blaze of glory and the ruined Bretonia would be ready for a reboot more complex than just ripping off the conservative romantic clichés of medieval feudalism. The world would be smaller with lots of the previously underdeveloped regions ripe for exploration. The Lizardmen – which people often complained were geographically too remote to make sense as protagonists in the majority of Warhammer battles – could bring their floating pyramids to drift sedately through the sky over the Empire. With Chaos still merrily setting fire to the countryside and much of their previous infrastructure lost, the forces of civilisation would be in need of any help they could get and, with a crack of thunder, Sigmar’s golden supermen could have descended from on-high to provide it.

Alternatively Nagash could have created a vast host of morghasts and used them to push Chaos back through the polar gate, using it to access the realms beyond and continue to expand his empire out into the stars. Then again perhaps that’s just because I think an undead emperor commanding legions of super-warriors to fight the servants of Chaos in space is quite a nifty idea for a setting…

The world would be ripe for new ideas but not so much as to alienate and divide the player base to the extent that the actual release of Age of Sigmar did. A game like AoS could still have been released, with Warhammer lingering in the background to be marketed to veteran players. At the time of the Old World’s destruction – still less than a year ago – the range of games produced by Games Workshop was very much in decline. Only 40k and Warhammer remained, with the Hobbit resting its head uncomfortably on the executioners block (the sort of image that would be produced if George R.R. Martin was allowed to re-write Lord of the Rings). In that culture it seemed unlikely that Warhammer could survive alongside Age of Sigmar. A mere few months later however Specialist Games was relaunched (although the name remains one euphemistic step away from ‘adult entertainment’). By keeping the Warhammer world we could have had our cake and eaten it, with both flavours of wargame existing to compliment each other, and a changed but recognisable world remaining to appeal to old-timers and newcomers drawn in by Warhammer: Total War alike. Plus, regardless of how hard-nosed and businesslike Games Workshop may be, no-one wants to launch their new golden (armoured) boys into the teeth of a hurricane of grousing.

Skaven

I’ve been so excited by all things Warhammer lately I painted my first Skaven in years.

In 40k the End Times have already happened. Of course there remains an abiding sense of impending, galaxy-wide apocalypse which characterises the setting (and plenty of doomsaying that threatens an End Times style destruction ahead) but the really big showdown happened ten millennia ago in the Horus Heresy. That is the point when the Imperium stopped being an expanding nation and turned into a bastion, when mankind stopped being a defining force in the galaxy and entered an age of inevitable decline that has defined it ever since. The Heresy has also spawned a hugely successful spin off game and series of books, which exists in partnership with 40k. I honestly expected something similar would happen with Warhammer, with Age of Sigmar becoming the ‘modern’ version and the Old World the Heresy-era equivalent.

Even after a year the background to Age of Sigmar still seems too strained and too abstract to be compelling, even when it manages to escape the marketing men’s hyperbole. Not that this should suggest that good stories can’t be pulled from the material – Godless by David Guymer is a cheap and highly entertaining way of disproving that – but the realms remain too big, the wars too infinite and everlasting, and the human perspective too distant to conjure the sense of hope that the setting aspires to.

Gav Thorpe (of Black Library fame) recently noted that for a long time “the idea of being able to translate the appeal of Space Marines into the fantasy setting had been something of an ambition, if not a specific objective.” The Warhammer universe was crying out for something to make it unique amongst its Fantasy peers and the introduction of the Stormcasts would have done that in spades –few things being so instantly recognisable as part of the Games Workshop brand as Space Marines. In principle then I have no issue with the Stormcasts, although once again I find the manner in which they were introduced rather contrived, with too much shown openly and too little mystery to fuel the imagination.

Skaven Advance

Gnawing at the roots of the world: my little rat army so far.

So people were upset by the destruction of the Old World. The vehemence of customer dissatisfaction seems to have caught Games Workshop off guard. People were – and still are – angry that the world they had grown to love had been so ruthlessly put to the sword. In some ways it all smacks of unbelievable levels of entitlement. Why should I kick up a fuss about changes being made to the story of a fantasy world when around the world a very real End Times are in progress? When real wars and famines slaughter millions what does the fate of a fictitious elf or two matter? When the jungles of Indonesia burn who cares that the jungles of Lustria do likewise? Surely we would be better served diverting our rage away from Games Workshop and pointing it at the governments and corporations around the globe who continue to put personal profits over the wellbeing of the environment? Or are we so divorced from reality that we would prefer to bury our heads in fantasy lands than face the sea of hungry faces at our doorstep?

Yet that misses the point. In fact it’s as lazy as criticising Tolkien’s writing simply because one is a devout socialist. It buys into a brutal work ethic that assigns value based purely on effort, where achieving a goal is less important than demonstrating that one worked hard to do it. Escapism is demeaned, as if only the lazy do not labour constantly. Let’s put the sackcloth and ashes aside for a moment before we find ourselves accepting the accusation that every fantasy fan is already familiar with – that we should have grown out of it by now. Rest and escapism is not a sin, and real life is hard enough without seeing the world we love blown to smithereens just because the current employees of the company that created it are bored of maintaining it.

It is precisely because the world is so often grim and dark that we need a little light, a little hope. I might prefer a Joe Abercrombie anti-hero struggling in the mud to a jolly rural farmboy who turns out to be a prince (or the son of a Jedi) but I’d be sounding damn stupid if I claimed that Lord of the Rings would have been better if Sauron had triumphed and the book had ended with a orc’s jackboot stamping on a hobbit’s face forever.

Grimgor Ironhide 1

Grimgor Ironhide: Gone from Games Workshop but still stamping ‘umies in Total War

People have been telling each other stories for as long as we’ve existed as a species. Those myths have often become the cornerstone of whole cultures, only to wither or evolve into new forms as those cultures were swept aside by history. The cultures may have vanished overnight but their stories did not. Imagine the horror of a tribal group who were told by their elders “we’ve thought about it and decided that all the gods and ancestors are dead now”. Suddenly those super-fans burning their armies on YouTube don’t seem so crazy after all. Fans of the Horus Heresy will know how Lorgar, the Emperor’s own super-fan, reacted when slighted by the subject of his devotion.

A question I’ve seen posed a lot in the last year is: “Games Workshop killed Warhammer, how can we ever trust them again?” I would ask why we were trusting them in the first place, and why that trust has now been violated. This isn’t about jobs or the environment, not even about overzealous legal teams and sky high prices. This is about the fans outsourcing the source of their enjoyment to another, allowing a commercial entity to take custody of their imaginations and then getting upset when it was demolished in order to balance the books.

The fact is that we humans are social creatures. Our memories and experiences are intrinsically linked to those of the group. I may revel in what I perceive to be my independence but, at an unconscious level, it matters to me that so many of my peers believe the Warhammer world I knew is dead.

And yet, in spite of what I joked in the first blog I wrote about this, Warhammer has never been destroyed, your army books and models have remained safe and sound, the rules and background did not crumble into dust on the 4th of July 2015 and no-one from Games Workshop has forced you at gunpoint to purchase Space Marines. Some might even suggest that, through Warhammer: Total War the Old World is now more real than ever before, although I would argue that something that’s been imagined over years will always be more real to the imaginer than something that’s merely shown. Nonetheless it’s harder to swallow the idea that iconic locations like Hel Fenn and Blackfire Pass have been consumed by a tidal wave of daemons when you can deploy your armies and march around it in a manner far more vivid than anything that was possible before.

Chaos Warrior

Some Warhammer armies are larger than others, as this group shot of my Warriors of Chaos serves to demonstrate…

The question then; does Warhammer: Total War replace Warhammer? And the answer; of course not, how could it? There’s no craftsmanship here that leads to the creation of a collection of models, none of the satisfaction of seeing an army growing through honest effort, none of the relaxation that hours of painting brings. What it does do is remind us that Warhammer is only dead if we want it to be. Just because a company decides to stop producing a range of books and re-labels a few models doesn’t mean you have to stop imagining. It’s not up to the developers at Total War to keep Warhammer alive. It’s up to you.

Artwork by Janice Duke. Click on them (I implore you!) to see the impressive full scale images.

Grimgor Ironhide and the Empire Captain by my mate Sam, check out more of his Warhammer models here.


Life Among The Ruins

Someone go to Holy Terra quick and toll the great Bell of Lost Souls once – Warhammer is dead. A world burns and, regardless of what you may have heard to the contrary, a man from Games Workshop is on his way to your house right now to smash up your models and force you to buy Space Marines.

Before he arrives let me share a few of my own thoughts on the passing of Warhammer. Be warned however, I am a long time 40k collector and painter – and nowadays a player of nothing. If you’ve just rage-quit in disgust rather than face the dawn of the Age of Sigmar then this may not be a good place to be. Spam your hatred of me in the comments box below, if it’s erudite – or even legible – I may just let it stay.

The truth is Warhammer never quite grabbed me in the same way 40k did. The miniatures are pretty nice, and that should be enough in itself, and it looked like it would be fun to actually play – something that never really clicked for me with 40k. I started several Warhammer armies over the years; my Skaven I’ve already shown, my Vampire Counts deserve an outing at some point as well. I’ve often dreamed of an Empire army (lots of black-powder, crazy contraptions and handlebar moustaches) or perhaps Wood Elves (especially post End-Times when I could add in some of the more feral elements from the Dark Elves to create a truly savage Wild Hunt). The only reason I never did much with either Chaos or Orcs was because I was already throwing all my ideas in that department into 40k. I even have a few Bretonian knights kicking around somewhere.

Skaven

My first Skaven – a gift from a friend a long, long time ago…

As it turned out none of these ideas went anywhere. As I have come to discover the hook I need to get me involved in a setting is the background. This is why, sidetracking slightly, I hate the term ‘fluff’. Fluff implies that what we are dealing with is extraneous extra stuff, designed to go around the key elements (the miniatures? the rules?) but hardly vital to them. Which, may I add, rather comes across as one in the eye for the ancient art of storytelling. No-one has ever put down a well-thumbed copy of Lord of the Rings, or sat in a cinema watching the latest Hollywood extravaganza and thought “Well that was some rather good fluff”.

The point I’m attempting to make is that a solid background makes a game. The Emperor has sat decaying upon the Golden Throne of Terra for more than two and a half decades now. What has happened to your miniatures in that time? How about your rules? With each new armybook or codex armies have risen or fallen in the “meta” and units have gone from “deathstars” to disposable and back again. Yet the fluff remains inviolate, the pillar upon which all else is built. And, when all is said and done, the 40k ‘fluff’ continues to excite me in a way that of Warhammer never did.

This isn’t a fantasy vs sci-fi debate, in fact I’d argue that 40k is far more fantasy than sci-fi (yes, it’s set in the future, but it’s also packed to the gunnels with magic, wizards, knights, dragons and elves – and not a single actual scientist in sight).

Not scientists…

The problem with the Warhammer fiction, for me, is that it appeared to be founded on a principle of ‘Never make a single, logic narrative step when twelve highly improbable ones would do’. As a result my credulity was constantly being stretched and I spent more time trying to follow the plot and remember which convoluted steps which led us here.
From what I’ve seen so far this reboot seems to be continuing the trend. If they wanted to move the timeline forward then surely this could have been done without destroying the world they had created in its entirety? Why not stop the End Times at one minute to midnight with the world reeling, every faction battered but Chaos suddenly on the defensive as the Gods withdrew their power from Archaon, preferring to toy with mortal lives for another age than see the world destroyed outright? And before you tell me that’s daft let me remind you, a precedent has already been set by a little known guy named Horus… Of course the world would still be in trouble, its cities in ruins, its armies shattered, its people driven to their knees. Chaos Lords, enraged by the nearness of the victory that had been snatched from them, would still be rampaging around the countryside seeking to make their mark in the power vacuum left by the death of Archaon. Orcs and Skaven fight over the ruins and everyone is out to seize limited resources off everyone else just to survive. Luckily for the forces of Order golden armoured heroes are descending from the heavens! The tide is about to turn!
Perhaps you think my ‘post End Times solution’ is rubbish fan-fiction, in which case fair enough, but surely it seems more believable than all this nonsense about some guy flying through space, hanging onto a speck of reality, then rebuilding some worlds by magic or what-have-you. Also my way would have allowed any characters players wanted to survive into the new era to do so. That elf prince you wrote all that background about? Well in my version he survived the End Times by being terribly heroic (your Skaven hero hid until it was all over). In the official version they both snuffed it and if you want them in the new world some unlikely miracle must have occurred. No, the only way they can exist ‘in game’ (and they do – there are rules for Special Characters in the pdfs on the Games Workshop website) is if one is playing ‘pre End Times’ – in which case why not just leave things at one minute to mid-night and skip out the whole ‘Sigmar flies through space’ thing altogether?

All of which should not give you the impression that I’m anti-Age of Sigmar, I’m actually pretty excited about it. As I’ve often said I don’t really game at all nowadays, but I still maintain an interest in game design and some of the decisions made in the creation of AoS strike me as well worth investigating. It remains pretty doubtful that I’ll play it but I’ll still be reading the rules with interest.

This brings us to another key point – the fact that I can just pick up the rules and read them. I’m not being asked to invest large sums in buying rule books, I can just grab everything I need for free, legitimately and without fear of prosecution. Welcome, Games Workshop, to the world of modern business! It’s a strange and exciting place but I’m sure once you catch your breath you’ll fit right in!

The fact of the matter is, the rules have been available for free for quite some time. Piracy, once the sole domain of dashing looking men with eye-patches and poor dental hygiene, has come ashore and made its way online. If you know where to look – and who doesn’t – then all the rule books you require can be yours for free (albeit not legally). The aim of this piece isn’t to justify piracy, you can make up your own mind about that, but to deny its happening is the height of foolishness, especially for a company in Games Workshop’s position. The solution? Cut the rug from under the pirates’ feet, give the rules away for free and use them to sell a product that people are excited to buy – the miniatures.

As someone who’s main interest in the hobby is painting and converting models this is the real meat of the release for me; the warriors of Khorne doing battle with Sigmar’s holy warriors, the Stormcast Eternals. Obviously as a devoted servant of the dark gods I’m pretty excited about the former as I can already see all sorts of possibilities for adding them to the ranks of my own black crusade. As for the latter they too should translate to the dark future, one way or another.

Before I go on let me stress the point – these models looks pretty amazing as fantasy models, my 40k slant is purely that’s probably where I’ll be using them.

Anyway, as absolutely everyone has been saying, the Stormcast Eternals would look fierce as Custodes. Of course to truly match the Custodes they’d need those tall helms that must make them bump their heads if they ever find themselves fighting indoors. Still, there are plenty of options available to make that possible whilst the death masks of the sigmarites can be recycled onto Blood Angels, psykers, mutants, navigators, mechanicum thralls, Slaaneshi warriors or anyone else you can think of who looks debonair in a mask.

A few bolters, backpacks and chainswords away from being the best Space Marines you’ve ever seen.

Even if you don’t want to turn these guys into Custodes they could still make for some damn fine Space Marines (to be honest I think the popularity of the Custodes idea springs in part from them being painted gold). Indeed if these models are as large as they’re said to be, and as plentiful as starter set models generally become, then we could be looking at a golden opportunity for true-scaling space marines. The Lord-Relictor is a few minor conversions away from being a jaw dropping Chaplain and how about taking the skeleton he’s holding and mounting it on the front of a dreadnaught?

New Chosen of Khorne for my Beasts of Ruin? I rather think so!

Anyway, I’m writing this with hasty over-excitement in a cafe, so before they throw me out I’m going to wrap this up. As usual if you have any thoughts feel free to put them in the box below. Cheers!