This has been a somewhat belated article, as GW is writing faster than I am, and serious reviews are now…pretty behind schedule. The current plan is to approach the “State of Chaos” after Wrath of Magnus and the Legions books come out to provide a more holistic view of the spikey version of Paul Murphy’s “Imperial Soup”.
This is not that review. This is instead a quick pass over Traitor’s Hate and Angel’s Blade.
First, I’m going to get something out of the way. The Eldar and Space Marine codexes have been out a long time, and we’ve seen nothing return to that power level. There have been strong builds, new and interesting builds, but nothing that has reached that same indisputable level of…point-and-click power. If the question is “Is this Scatterbike Spam or Hundreds of Points in Free Razorbacks?” the answer is “No”. But there’s a lot of enjoyable, competitive, and fun gaming to be had in that space. So I’m going to evaluate Traitor’s Hate and Angel’s Blade on their own merits, not simply in the context of whether or not it’ll sweep the top tables.
The Fluff (or: With Friends Like These…)
As always with the fluff section reviews…spoilers follow.
Like most Chaos campaigns and stories, Traitor’s Hate begins with Chaos descending down on some hapless Imperial system, in this case, the Diamor System. More specifically, it focuses on a Black Legion-led attack on the the sparsely inhabited system of Amethal masterminded by the Sorcerer Lord Xorphas. But you know something’s up because the Mechanicum is there, and the Mechanicum digging around some mysteriously unpopulated world is always a recipe for fun.
Most of the first section focuses on Kranon the Relentless and the Crimson Slaughter, who launch pretty much the least subtle frontal assault in the history of everything on the Mechanicum defenses. They’re saved by the planet turning up their inner demons to 11 and basically turning them into supercharged killing machines. There’s a great section written from the perspective of a Skitarii Alpha as things go pear shaped.
But mostly, this section is just a bloodbath, and a wasteful one at that…
…or is it?
In traditional Black Legion style, even when they’re losing it’s all (at least allegedly) part of a greater plan. In this case, some warp-trickery that sends almost an entire Blood Angels company down the path of the Black Rage, plus the ensuing near-massacre of their Crimson Slaughter allies is a pretty meaty sacrifice to Khorne.
Kharn shows up at the head of a massive fleet of Khorne-aligned ships, and immediately makes planetfall, swiftly snatching the title of least subtle frontal assault from Kranon before he even gets a chance to put it on his mantle. This section, again, has some excellent fluff – Kharn gives zero fucks about his followers, he’s there for blood. And they, in turn, would happily stab him (or each other) in the back. It’s a really characterful look at how not on the same side the various Chaos Marine factions are. Death Company vs. Berserker hijinks ensue, Kharn hacks up at least one Imperial Knight, and eventually something of a stalemate is reached when Titans show up to push the Khornate wave back – though they lose some Titans to madmen with chain-axes hanging onto the hull.
We finally enter the last stage of the Chaos campaign, where Lord Xorphas, who has been cackling madly and lighting candles this whole time, finally makes planetfall, fighting a holding action in order to set up something called the Banshee Stone, which is intended to doom Amethal, presumably breaking apart the planet, which we learn is a giant container of daemons. With that, the Black Legion makes its escape, leaving their erstwhile allies to fend for themselves, except for Kharn, who they teleport off the planet while there’s still fighting to be done.
Two guesses as to how well this goes for the folks manning the teleportarium.
Overall, the fluff section is pretty good. It’s the classic “The Imperium holds, but at an unsustainably dire cost” trope, which as an Imperial player does wear a little thin at times, but is a good way of supporting the recasting of the twelve previously failed Black Crusades not as failures, but as missions with specific objectives. That the Blood Angels end up holding Amethal is immaterial – the Black Legion did what it intended. And it is, as mentioned previously, really good at showing that the various Chaos Marine factions are. not. friends.
The one complaint is that the fluff follows a typically first-person narrative section alternating with a more detached, strategic-level description of the same events which, while nice for making it clear what’s happening, also ends up being a little repetitive.
Angel’s Blade is…the exact same story, with the exact same problems, told from the other side’s perspective. The same, somewhat dragging Narrative-Strategic perspective. You do get slightly more information about what’s so important about this world (it’s a demon cage), and a couple excellent passages, including a Blood Angels strike on a nearby planet that’s been given over to making Daemon Engines where The Sanguinor is cooler than he has ever been on the tabletop, and a genuinely awesome passage from the perspective of a Death Company marine who sees themselves as being at the Siege of Terra.
But at the core, it’s the same story – if you’re buying one of them for the fluff, pick the faction you most prefer and just buy that one.
I’m glad to see the weird, cell-shady style from the Mont’ka, Kauyon and Fenris largely absent from these books, or at least reduced enough that I didn’t notice. Generally speaking the art is pretty good, if repetitive (Marines in Black vs. Chaos Marines in Red). There’s a good mix of new and classic art along with staged miniatures pictures, and the color plates that are used don’t get overly repetitive. So all is well…once you accept the subject matter. There’s just no way not to make Khorn Berserkers look absurd. The hats are ridiculous. They just are. This is empirical fact.
I confess I’m also not a fan of Chaplain Daenor’s armor, but this is more that the Blood Angels aesthetic doesn’t resonate particularly with me, rather than it being particularly flawed artwork.
Let’s get down to the brass tacks about what most people really care about: new mechanics. We’ll go through them one at a time, with the accompanying commentary and analysis. But first, lets talk about this whole “Expansion without a Codex” thing. It’s pretty clear that’s where we are in the game – new factions are getting codexes, but its been a long while since an existing faction got a proper Codex re-write. This has both good aspects and bad.
The Good: The formations in this book are pretty much drop-in, which means they may last beyond a codex update. Long-lasting, flavorful formations are potentially a great addition to the game.
The Bad: They’re not a reworked Codex. That limits the fixes that GW can implement in formation special rules. Which means some nagging things won’t get reworked. For the Tau, it was the manifestly inferior performance of railgun-armed Broadsides. For the Space Wolves, it was the opportunity to boost Blood Claws to the WS/BS 4 level of other Scout-like units. For Chaos, it’s reworking some units, like Mutilators, that underperform. Sometimes, things just need new reworked rules. Already, I’ve heard something to the effect of “And when the Chaos codex gets redone, this will be extra great…” on multiple podcasts. Seriously, the ink isn’t even dry on this book and we’re already talking about redoing the Chaos codex again.
Now, with that out of the way…what do these two books give us?
Forsworn Knight Detachment: Official rules for fielding renegade Knights, it’s a detachment of 1 to 3 Renegade Knights, who get Preferred Enemy (Imperial Knights) – and grant Preferred Enemy (Fallen Household) to enemy knights. They use the same allies matrix position as Chaos Space Marines – including being Battle Brothers with CSM. The Renegade Knight rules are pretty well distributed at this point, the major feature being that they can take redundant shooting weapons, including dual Avenger gatling cannons. In case you really, really want to smoke some loyalist trash.
There’s no analog for the more detailed Knight houses as found on the Imperial side, but another printing of these rules can’t hurt.
Updates to Existing Models: These are modest, and as I mentioned above, far below what can really be considered a full codex rewrite. But Vindicators and Predators both get the much-needed update to let them take up to three in a unit, and a special rule for taking all three, and the Blood Angels get a similar treatment for Whirlwinds and Baal Predators.
Decurion-like Detachments: The Black Crusade Detachment and the Angel’s Blade Strike Force respectively. Of the two, I think the Black Crusade Detachment is probably the better one of the two. Requiring 0-5 Command Choices, 1+ Core Choices, and 1+ Auxiliary Choices. It comes with Lord of Chaos, the expected Warlord Trait re-roll, Death to the False Emperor, granting Hatred (Armies of the Imperium) and allowing units that can take Veterans of the Long War for free. Which is less of a thing as you already have Hatred, but +1 Ld for free is nice given the lack of And They Shall Know No Fear. Finally, you get Path to Glory, which you choose a model with Champion of Chaos and roll on the Chaos Boon table. Potentially handy, but very random.
Importantly, the taxes on the choices are very light compared to something like a Space Wolf Legendary Greatpack. You can run a pretty lean Chaos Warband to unlock some tasty auxiliary formations, and there are both ObSec CMS and Cultist Spam (now with cultists coming back from the dead!) Core options, along with a Berserker themed one that’s quite fluffy, but probably not good enough to get Berserkers off the shelf.
The Blood Angel’s equivalent keeps more toward the Gladius-and-similar formations from the Space Marine Codex and Angels of Death. Most irritating is that one of the larger formation special rules, Red Thirst which gives +1I on the charge, is both duplicative between the larger formation and one of the core formations, and gets negated by several of the cooler auxiliary formations.
There’s also a Lost Brotherhood Strike Force, which is essentially a mini-Decurion for a very Death Company heavy army. They get, among other things, a free post-deployment 6″ move, which is pretty fun. For more casual games with die-hard Blood Angels players, I could see this one being a lot of fun.
“Take A Bunch of These and They Get Better” Formations: The standard formation at this point – take a bunch of some kind of unit, get a bonus. I find most of these are nice, and can add some tactical twists, but mostly are a “Sweet, I was taking two of those anyway, might as well take a third…” kind of thing. Some of these make a nice unit a little bit better – for example, giving Heldrakes some Ld shenanigans, and making them stronger against Pinned, Falling Back, or Gone to Ground units.
Charge From Reserve Formations: These have, of course, existed previously. There’s the Warhammer World exclusive Khorne formation, IIRC. There’s the Skyhammer Annihilation Force, which is definitely something that changed the meta. But these two books have vastly increased the ubiquity of these formations, allowing a number of disordered charges from Deep Strike. Chaos gets on in the form of the Raptor Talon, which is 1 Chaos Lord and 3-5 units of Raptors or Warp Talons. The Blood Angels get two, The Golden Host with Dante/The Sanguinor and 2-5 units of Sanguinary Guard, and the Archangels Orbital Intervention Force with 3 Terminator Assault Squads. Those are all pretty formidable units to have only, at best, a round of Overwatch to deal with. They are supreme mobility denying units. Time will tell if they’re powerful enough to shift the meta, but there are a number of strong armies that rely on being able to dance away from close combat.
The presence of these units also makes how your tournament has ruled the Corsair rules to work potentially hugely important. “I can run away after Overwatch” has gone from being a nice ability to potentially game-altering. I expect this might result in somewhat more conservative play for some armies, keeping enough units in supporting positions to try to help contain these threats when they come down. I’ll tell you, as a Space Wolves player, I’m jealous. I would kill for a charge from Deepstrike Wolfguard Terminator formation.
The Raptor Talon should be noted, however, has no reserve hijinks, and the Orbital Intervention Force only has “they all come in together”. Both formations are a substantial amount of hitting power to be kept in reserve – if your opponent can manage to foil a few reserve rolls, that could represent a serious problem. Again, this makes whether or not you are using the air superiority rules from Death from the Skies super-important, as you’ll likely also need to bring some flyers along to keep the reserve rolls decently reliable.
I think these books added some much needed modernization to two codexes, moving them squarely into the “Decurion-era”. They both suffer from not being full codexes, because they can’t fix units that are just flat out in need of re-writing (Mutilators…) and there are only so many special rules from formations one can tack on. I suspect it’ll take Games Workshop a few iterations to figure out how to do assault-heavy armies, but they seem to be on the right track, with a high-risk, high-reward paradigm for dedicated assault formations.
If you’re a fan of either army, they’re worth picking up. Otherwise? For the fluff alone, or general purpose rules, they’re of middling-value at best.