So we’ve finally gotten some concrete information from Games Workshop on the new Space Marine kit, the so-called “Primaris Marines”. And unlike anything else recently, where my reaction has been primarily “Lets see where this goes…” I confess that I’m deeply skeptical of the Primaris Marines as a concept.
Note I did say concept. We haven’t really seen their rules, so it’s possible they’ll be anything from Vespid-grade fail all the way up to “Why isn’t your entire army Primaris Marines?” So I’m not really going to talk about the rules.
What’s sitting wrong with me is the fluff. Who these marines are, who made them, and what they’re supposed to accomplish.
A Project Long in the Making: The new information on them makes this a 10,000 year old project – apparently Roboute Guilliman (and I will be the first to say that I did not see his canonical pronunciation being “Row-booty” coming) commissioned these right before he got his throat slit, and Cawl has managed to keep this project hidden on Mars for 10,000 years. The logistics of funding something like that, especially with Roboute being effectively dead the whole time aside, there’s some issues I have with this:
- This was apparently done in secret. There were other Primarchs alive after the Heresy. Dorn, Russ, Corax and Jaghhatai Khan were all around, and it’s possible Vulkan was as well. Did he consult with none of them? Did Corax not go “Hey, this is a horrible idea…”
- Immediately after the Horus Heresy the Primarch obsessed with the optics around power grabs decides what he needs to do is embark on a project to build newer, better, faster producing Marines?
- Roboute was supposedly planning, based on the quote, for “Humanity’s Darkest Hour”, having just gotten out of the Horus Heresy. The post-Heresy period is relatively peaceful, all things considered, and well, given Terra was under attack, there were Daemon armies hammering at the back door, and then the Emperor was killed it seems like humanity’s darkest hour already happened.
It just seems odd that the guy who breaks up the legions and pens the Codex is also the person who commissioned a vast and secret project to upend the entire idea of what a Space Marine is.
There’s No Downside: Right now, as we currently understand it, there’s no downside to a Primaris Marine. They bake faster, they’re better, and they’ve got awesome gear. This too I have issues with:
- Very little in Warhammer 40K should have “no downside”. Especially when there are counter-examples of exactly this kind of project going horribly wrong, even with the Emperor’s assistance (hi Raven Guard…). The Thunder Warriors were unstable. The Custodes are superb single-combat warriors, but fall short of being a true “army”.
- It’s not narratively interesting. Just like Tzeentch’s “Just as Planned” plans actually going off without a hitch in GS:III was fairly boring, so too is this. They’re just…better. Yawn.
- Similarly, they get new armor and new boltguns, which are…also better. That’s really contrary to some of the themes of 40K. And again, it’s rife with counter-examples. The last time the Imperium was up to its neck in traitors? We got Mark V “Heresy” pattern armor, which fluff wise is…a bit shit.
The Other Chapters Are Getting It: Games Workshop has assured us that, unlike Centurions (which are really just a suit of armor), which didn’t get shared because of reasons that these new genetically engineered Super Marines will be fieldable in other armies: “Any of the galaxy’s many hundreds of Codex Chapters can use Primaris Space Marines, along with many of the less Codex-compliant ones like Dark Angels, Blood Angels and Space Wolves.”
There are really three options to explain this:
- These ex-Legions agreed to this plan. And I really can’t see the ultra-secretive Dark Angels, or the Blood Angels/Space Wolves being okay with a suspicious, post-Heresy Guilleman rooting around in their geneseed for obvious reasons.
- Cawl somehow got his…hands?…on some samples another way. Generally, this results in orbital bombardment, not “Oh, sweet, thanks for the new dudes.” To address a frequent comment, yes the Geneseed Tithe is a thing. But that’s used for very restricted purposes – checking for corruption and founding new Chapters. Not in that list is “Vat-growing Entirely New Types of Space Marines”. Keeping in mind that the last time Mars messed with the geneseed it led to very bad places, I cannot see Chapters being A-OK with geneseed being secretly diverted for this purpose.
- These marines are all built off a generic geneseed – which means effectively you can breed out the flaws in the various Chapters, but at the expense of what makes them unique.
The last explanation I can see that being tempting for some chapters, but also contrary to The Emperor’s Plan ™. This may be the one genuinely interesting narrative space for them. What does it mean to be a “Space Wolf” if you don’t have the Canis Helix and were vat-grown on Mars?
Occupying the Marine’s Narrative Home: The Space Marines have a somewhat unique narrative space in the 40K setting. Genetically engineered, purpose built super-soldiers, they’re the inheritors of the legacy of the Great Crusade, but they’re also not quite enough. To quote Bilbo Baggins, like butter spread over too much bread. They’ve held the line, often sacrificed to the man to do so. They are humanity’s finest, and they are not enough.
Now…they’re genetically engineered, purpose built super-soldiers, but not as good as the other super-duper soldiers. They’ve been moved to the same narrative frame as the Militarum Tempestus – “Good, but not the Best”. That’s not a particularly compelling place to be slotted into, especially with you were the Space Marines.
There is an upside to all this: The models themselves are beautiful. Seriously, they look amazing.
But on the whole? Right now, the narrative area the Primaris Marines seem to occupy is, at best, nonsensical and at worst simply dull. I’ll admit part of me is biased in this regard – I also found the narrative in GS: III particularly lacking, and this is a pretty clear extension of it. It’s possible whenever the new fiction comes out fully that Games Workshop will surprise me, but at the moment, I’m not holding my breath.
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