Reviewing Warzone Fenris: Curse of the Wulfen (Fluff and Aesthetics)

Warzone Fenris.

Just think about that for a moment. Not Damocles, Sanctus Reach, Damnos or Valdor.

Fenris.

That’s the home system of one of the Legions. Center of one of the most formidable fighting forces in the Imperium. Games Workshop showed that they were willing to play for keeps, at least as far as the fluff was concerned, with Kauyon and Mont’ka. Now that same enthusiasm for making their mark on the setting is targeted front and center on my beloved Space Wolves.

Curse of the Wulfen was a book I cracked open with high hopes.

It’s difficult to talk about a book like this without going into spoilers, so I’m just going to embrace them — enough time has passed that if you were really worried about spoilers, you likely own the book. If not, it’s time to close this window.

th

Right, onto the book. Warzone Fenris: Curse of the Wulfen, which I’m going to just call Curse for the moment to save everyone’s sanity, opens up to an Imperium beset by a growing number of small, localized warp storms. Harald Deathwolf’s Great Company, helpful souls that they are, intervene to help with one of these incursions and discover something unexpected – feral, savage beasts with all the familiar earmarks of a Space Marine, and a certain affinity for the sons of Russ.

The Wulfen are back!

This is not the first time we’ve seen the Wulfen. Thanks in large part to GW’s treatment of the timeline being roughly their description of how time passes in the warp (unpredictable, vague and mutable), this is the 2nd time we’ve had “It’s 999.M41, and shit just got real…” in the form of Chaos invasions and the Wulfen coming back to lend a hand. The last time was back in 3rd Edition, with the Eye of Terror campaign, the results of which GW has utterly scoured from the fluff.

Space_Wolf_Wulfen_Pack
Last time, they looked like this.

The basic elements are the same. Feral mirrors of the Space Wolves, decked out in piecemeal and decrepit gear, here to lend a hand and kill some fools in close combat.

What differs though is, unlike the EoT, which was very much a multi-purpose campaign supplement and just tossed the Wulfen in for flavor, Curse goes into their emergence and recovery in considerable more detail. Most of the book is concerned with short vigettes about a Great Company dispatched to recover some of the Wulfen, giving a nice flavor for the different Great Companies and their fighting styles, as well as their different reactions to the return of the 13th Company. Bran Redmaw (from Doom of Mymeara) is a little offended that everyone is so worried about the feral murder-machines, presumably worried about guilt by association. Harald Deathwolf is skeptical and concerned. Ulrik the Slayer is super-excited about their return. And the most reasonable voice in the room, Erik Morkai, is pretty sure none of this matters, and what we should worry about is the Inquisition getting ahold of a hulked-out super-mutant in Space Wolves livery.

We also get some feeling for the relationship between the 13th Company and the rest of the Space Wolves. They’re supposed to be here. There are weapons in the Fang sized for them. Their particular curse resonates with their brethren. Murderfacefang in particular seems to consider them the chocolate to his murder-peanut butter, and turns out to be useful in tracking them down for rescue and extraction.

In the process of doing this, they run across task forces from both the Dark Angels and the Grey Knights, the latter proving to be rather more even-handed than I was expecting from them. Skeptical, to be sure, what with the mutants and all, but only skeptical. The Dark Angels…we’ll get to them in a moment.

So the Wulfen are by and large recovered, but the search for them, and the mopping of of the Daemon incursions, is cut short by word that the Fenris system is under attack, and at the moment guarded only by a single Great Company. You’d think the Wolves would stop doing that, but what’s life without living a little dangerously? So rush back to Fenris they do, only to find it under massive Daemonic invasion – Fenris itself is untouched, but the rest of the Fenris system is about to be overrun. Midgardia has demons everywhere. The major system defense systems have fallen to Alpha Legion types (the Thousand Sons are nowhere to be found in this book…), and generally, things are pretty bad. I’ll be honest by this point I started getting a little fatigued with Space Wolves combat fiction. Space Wolves advance. Suddenly, demons! Some Space Wolves die. Some demons die. A Wolf Lord grimly sets his jaw, swings an axe, and a bigger demon dies. The day is won. Repeat x 10.

There are a few highlights in this section – we find out what Bjorn the Fell-handed is doing while he naps – basically, he’s standing guard over the psychic footprint of Fenris, keeping demons and whatnot at bay. That’s much, much cooler than just “Slipping slowly into a coma.” There’s also a raid by some Wolf Scouts that demonstrates why you might value veteran scouts, and it’s excellent.

Just as things seem to be getting under control, a massive Imperial fleet appears. Knightly houses, several groups of Space Marines, Imperial Guard…and The Rock. The actual, factual Dark Angels fleet-homeworld. And in what is probably one of the worst cases of friendly fire in Imperial history, Azrael gestures vaguely toward Fenris and mutters “Fire for effect.”

To say the book ends on a cliffhanger would be selling it short.

And this is where we get to my two real issues with the book:

The Wulfen Have No Character: A few names are dropped here and there, but there’s very little behind the Wulfen. These are ancient marines, who may very well remember Bjorn before he was the Fel-handed. The inheritors of Leman Russ’s legacy. Men who should remember the Imperium as it once was. That would be a very interesting story – the conflict between someone from the golden age of reason and a time when the Emperor walked the stars and that same someone’s bestial nature after 10,000 years of war.

Instead, we get point-and-click Werewolves, who need only be shown the direction of the nearest thing that needs killing.

The Dark Angels Are Carrying the Idiot Ball: This was my main issue with Kauyon as well – active stupidity on the side of the Imperium, in that particular case the Raven Guard and White Scars being weirdly counter-productive to the Imperial war effort until the war was already lost. Though I understood it for that book. The way the Imperium is written in the fluff, the Tau actively need it to be inattentive and faintly confused in order to make progress before the Imperial Navy shuts things down. But it’s not really necessary here – the Traitor Legions and demons are clever enough on their own without needing contrived help. And yes, you can blame some of this on the Changeling, but the Dark Angels approach this with weapons-grade stupid. Consider that the Dark Angels first encounter the Wulfen while trying to spirit away tainted blades from their former Legion-mates from where they hid them. Then immediately they start throwing around the idea that they’re going to hand the Wulfen over to the Inquisition – always a way to get a Space Marine chapter in a cooperative mood. Ironically, the actual Inquisition approaches this more reasonably. The other weight of their evidence – that the Space Wolves are being secretive, that they showed up, did something, and then abandoned an Imperial world to its fate when something more interesting happened, is essentially the Dark Angels modus operandi. Basically, the Dark Angels see treason for acting exactly like Dark Angels.

And then, while swimming in ambiguity, and at the head of a large fleet, they don’t secure the Fenris sector to make sure this is sorted out properly. Oh no, they head straight to firing on what might, or might now, be a loyalist chapter. As a long-time fan of the Dark Angels (they were actually my first army), Curse was a really frustrating book to read. “The Changeling Made Me Do It” isn’t even compelling, because while the demon certainly doesn’t help things, the Dark Angels do well enough on their own.

All in all? The story is adequate. Like Kauyon, I found it dragging, and the bits where one side or the other is just being willfully stupid so the plot can advance is frustrating.

How about the aesthetics? Curse is indisputably a well-made book, with the same heavy, matte-and-gloss covers of the main rulebook and Kauyon/Montka. They’re also decently solid books, having survived a number of trips in my bag while I read these over a terribly busy month. The artwork…is all over the place. There’s some classic images, some great set pieces like the Wolf Lords arguing over their path:

Space_Wolves_Wolf_Lords

Those are excellent, though my favorite is the Rock coming out of the Warp. It’s got a grand, terrible feeling to it that I think gives exactly the feel 40K artwork should. At the same time, there’s a plethora of somewhat unnecessary color plates of Space Wolf upon Space Wolf, and a fair number of the somewhat brighter, more…cartoonish images that first showed up in Kauyon. There’s nothing technically wrong with this art, but for some reason it just breaks my suspension of disbelief. This is especially a problem with Space Wolves art, because the line “Badass Awesome Space Vikings” and “You’ve got to be kidding me…” is a fine one. The Wulfen especially seem to suffer from this.

Overall? The book is fine. It lacks the depth of character I’d like from a Space Wolves book, the blending of nobility and a caring for the ordinary citizens of the Imperium with unrepentant savagery. There are some very cool scenes and short stories, wedded to an overarching plot that gets carried along with the literary equivalent of “Because we need this to happen to get to the end…”

As a campaign book, it’s fine. But if it’s the campaign book that sets up the destruction of Fenris? I would have liked a little more from it. Overall, I’d give it an 7/10. Passing, but only just.

The meat of the book is clearly in the rules that accompany Curse, which we will be examining in the second part of this review.

3 Comments


  1. Uhm… By accident or on purpose that you skipped the Shield of Baal-Campaign in your opening list? 😉

    Reply

    1. On purpose, though the Shield of Baal campaign still wasn’t quite as “danger close” to a Chapter homeworld.

      Reply

  2. Oh god, the part
    “The other weight of their evidence – that the Space Wolves are being secretive, that they showed up, did something, and then abandoned an Imperial world to its fate when something more interesting happened, is essentially the Dark Angels modus operandi. Basically, the Dark Angels see treason for acting exactly like Dark Angels.”
    made me laugh so much.

    Good review, though as a long time Space Wolf fan and player, I’m…. pretty disappointed in the fluff, and even if I don’t really like the Dark Angels, I respect them, and they deserved better than to cling to the Idiot Ball like it had a clue to the Fallen, if only they can hold it for long enough.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *