I Am Deeply Skeptical of the Primaris Marines

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 original Primaris Marine.

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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24 Comments


  1. Nice read sir, I concur mostly, especially making *THE Space Marines* 2nd fiddle somewhat to the new kids…doesn’t jive with me either.

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  2. Well said. Not a Marine player and with releases like this I can still do without them.

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  3. I agree overall, but I can see alternatives to those 3 cases to answer the chapters question.
    The fourth​ option I’d consider is that this is something like a process change more than a materials change. Namely, a new way to produce better marines from existing gene-seed. That’s how I read it anyways.

    Overall I’m neither uproariously upset nor enamored of the way this is being done- I think the new edition would have been a perfect time to dial up marines and give them optional new scaled-up models without this fluff change being needed.

    From a crunch perspective, we’ll have to see points costs yet before a final judgement can be rendered, but I don’t see them seeing the world on fire. They’re marines with 2 W and A and 6″ extra range and -1 AP with no options to take special or heavy weapons in the standard squads. This at the same time that new rules just came out that made mixing heavy and special weapons into normal squads better than ever. I see less of a problem of “why aren’t you using primaris marines?” and more of a general muddle of people using the new rules vs. people just using them for truescale marines but counts-as regular tacticals. Common consensus so far seems to be “great models, why did you do this awful fluff?”

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    1. I’m with the consensus. Like if they had just been “We’re making true scale Marines now, because these models are awesome and Space Marines should be baller” I would probably have gone “Fair point, I’ll take four boxes.”

      I think my issue with the “better way to make Marines” is it robs…some of the soul from the process. I *like* that my Space Wolves all used to be vikings. It gives them a sense of history, of a lost humanity, etc.

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  4. Aren’t all Chapters required to send geneseed tithes for testing?

    Those tithes could have been used to make Primaris Marines from various Primarch lineages.

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    1. I think my issue is there’s a big, big gulf between “send a tithe for testing” and “We’re going to make a whole new, unauthorized type of Space Marine on the say-so of another Primarch.”

      Basically, even if Cawl can physically *access* the geneseed, I can’t see a number of chapters responding with “Oh, no worries, do what you like…”

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      1. mars gets 5% of a chapters gene seed, that over 10,000 years is a pretty decent supply tbh that they have used to found chapters in the past

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    2. Exactly this. The gene seed tithe has been in the background since at least the 3rd edition Space Marine codex. There is no reason to believe that, least since the Primaris Marine project’s inception, all or part of these tithes have been used in making the Primaris Marines.

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      1. There is a vast difference though, between the Geneseed Tithe and “We’re going to reinvent the whole process of making marines”.

        Consider the last time Mars tried something like this, it lead to the Cursed Founding.

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  5. If desperate, leaves the door open for a fun Alpharious plot play. I’m not fully caught up on all the books, but didn’t he taint Fabius’s gene-seed experiments and the Raven Guard’s?

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    1. Yep! And both of those were just trying to make regular Space Marines.

      Mostly…part of me just wants awesome, new updated True Scale Space Marine sculpts. I loved it when they came out with proper sized Terminators, even if it meant replacing some stuff. I’d gladly work on these as the basis of a new army.

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    2. And who doesn’t like a good Alpha Legion cameo?

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  6. I think a vast majority of all the Primaris’ fluff has yet to be revealed, and many in the community are struggling to reconcile this new idea (bigger, badder, marines) with their current understanding of the 40k universe. Clearly, GW is shaking things up. So, with extraordinary revelations you will have extraordinary circumstances.

    -A Primarch is back. Probably the first of a few loyalist Primarchs.

    -The Eldar Gods are up.

    -Chaos basically “won”.

    -Abbaddon finally whupped some ass on a galactic scale.

    -And the Imperium is going to make a new bio-engineered marine class.

    To me, when you put it up there with all the other things going on, super marines dont seem all that far off the charts. I believe a lot of the confusion people are having with these new marines results from only having a page or two of information, their bare bones rules, and a loose framework of 8ths new core ruleset. (Let alone how the new Chapter Tactics and Space Marines *in general* are going to work).

    Now, of course there are Longbeards out there who have loved Space Marines since Rogue Trader (I joined right at the start of 4th), and I understand the knee-jerk reaction in some to this heretical idea of “better” marines. We know very little about them right now, and I think a lot of their coolness is going to be derived what everyone is freaking out about: how are they going to accepted by, and relate to, the Imperial way? They *are* weird marines, and Im positive conflicts will come of it (Inquisition is going to be piiiiiissseeeddd), and thats where it gets interesting. How is all this going to be explained? How was this kept secret? What’s the response going to be when Guilliman reveals this ace-in-the-hole? I welcome the interesting changes. Big changes.

    How many times have you heard the joke about 40k’s story; hilariously perched on the brink, cramming fluff into the very last few seconds of year 40,999.99? Years were spent filling out the universe, which *is* awesome. I love that shit as much as anyone else. GW went on the record at one point years ago saying they sure as hell weren’t going forward with the story (there’s been quite a few staff changes and new directions taken since those years. Hot damn, they listen to us now?!). But I know several in my circles who have said something along the lines of “Man, when are they going to move the story forward? I wanna see what happens when the Machine God wakes up! / The primarchs come back! / Cadia falls and chaos wins! / All the myriad plot hooks, prophecies, and mysteries come to fruition! / Fucking soooommmeeethiing.”

    I’m loving the ride, so far.

    And I cannot WAIT to make a True Scale Chaplain T.

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    1. I’m happy with most of the major changes, because most of the major changes have advanced existing plot threads. Cadia has been under siege for a long time. The Eldar have been headed toward bringing their god of the dead back. RG has been wounded but in stasis.

      This though, this comes out of left field, and is a truly oddball “Hey, what if Space Marines are now the B-Team?” addition that has really zero grounding existing stuff.

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    2. I’d also point out, for the OP questioning what makes a Space Wolf a Space Wolf, what with not being vat grown on Mars…..this has happened before. At the start of the Great Crusade. Before the Emperor found Leman Russ again, all the Space Wolves the Emperor has with him were Terran born. Space Wolves didn’t start coming from Fenris until after the reunion and Russ took over. This is true for every Legion. How did the Terran Marines feel about being displaced by native people? Primaris Marines are no different.

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  7. Great article! I totally agree. I fear these new Marines and Guilliman resurrected himself represent a way of brightening the grimdark that I do not like. The “nice guys” are back and they are gonna win, easily, because they are perfect.
    That is as boring as watching superman (sorry for the fans) who is for me quite dull because he is too strong and perfect.

    Thanks for this article and keep up the good work!

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    1. I agree, both with your point and the original post. It just goes against the feel of the franchise. 40K is supposed to be about decline, backwards religious thought denying progress, about embittered embattled humanity just about managing to survive. Its not about hope, progress, optimism, these things go totally against the feel of the thing.

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  8. Very good read with some nice points. The fluff around the primaris marines didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t imagine the chapters being ok with this. I think it would immediately get flagged as heresy and virus bombs would soon follow.

    All that aside, I think GW needed to fix the scale of the marine models. Those hero scaled 28mm marines just looked goofy compared to the newer and more anatomically correct figs in other armies.

    They just had to find a way to shoehorn these new models into the fluff so they could eventually phase out the entire marine mini line without the entire marine player base revolting.

    “Don’t worry, they’re not replacing your army. They’re an exciting addition to it!” Haha, sure GW. I’m not falling for your tricks, leprechaun.

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    1. Exactly, maybe chapters like the imperial fists and the ultra smurfs would be okay with this but the space wolves, Templars, dark angels and a score of successor chapters would not only resent and reject these, it would be grounds for civil war.

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  9. Well said. I assume they will have some sort of flaw that will be introduced into the fluff. I’m hoping it’s not that they are easily corruptable; rather I would prefer they have low stamina, or can’t improvise, or something else. Perhaps they only live for two years or something. I’ve having a hard time coming up with something tbh.

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  10. Having been around the style of 40k and seen its 80s video game, and awesome 90s action (shoot-em up) movie phases, as well as detailed story writing like the Horus heresy series, it is easy to say that WH40k competes for best stylized sci-fi universe dating back to before star wars even…

    Why would you build up times most epic supersoldier (since the 80s!), the Iconic Space Marine (fcking poster child of 40k), rest your entire company for years (and most releases) on his shoulders and then when the time comes to either honor him (or at least just give the space marines a damn rest!! Release sisters of battle vs Plague marines??), they one up him, “he’s not good enough, his deeds don’t matter, the last 10,000years and 25years on the tabletop don’t either.” A company whose entire sales is based off of a sci-fi universe that they created should know better than to totally undermine the single most powerful concept within that universe. Just when true-scale seems so attractive they reinvent the space marine, only this time they tampered with the canon and fired anyone who would warn them- “uh no, lets just refresh the image of our best concept, and the scale. If we compromise our universe’s integrity, our company’s future health might be at risk.” – “No, think we’ll just replace his image, erase his memory, bury his lore, SELLOUT with patchwork storywriting/backwriting and a new shiny, boring hero to appeal to a younger generation who might loose interest in a month anyway. And by the way you’re fired.”

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    1. Well said. Why are you undermining the most iconic part of the franchise. And why are you doing it poorly?

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    2. Yet, they are selling like hot cakes.

      Instagram, Reddit, Twitter and Facebook are awash with newly bought and newly painted Primaris Marines.

      So while your writing is logical and in some eyes true – it must be wrong in one way because the new models are doing well? And GW profits are up, GW’s shares are up, they continue to be praised for their new social stance.

      So why are they a success, despite your logical thoughts about the poster boy being dropped on the floor and stamped on?

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      1. Two thoughts:

        1. Commercial sales does not necessarily equate to “Variance Hammer likes this idea”. The two are, I’d argue, uncorrelated.

        2. Because the new models are *cool*. They look good. Warhammer is a visually-driven hobby, otherwise we’d all be playing (arguably better) hex-and-counter games. And I’ve never asserted that the Primaris marines don’t look amazing. It’s their fluff that I hate – and for most people (though not myself) fluff probably doesn’t drive sales.

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