Lost in the woods – a look at the new Wood Elves

I realise that the next release is already rolling – or rather stomping, as it were – around, but let’s still take a moment for a look back at a release that has been sligthly overshadowed by the advent of the 7th edition: Today I would like to talk about the new Wood Elves.

Almost exactly one year after a sizeable High Elves release and about eight months after a rather spectacular relaunch/redesign of the Dark Elves, the Wood Elves are the final elven faction in WFB to receive an update. And after many fears that the army might be going the way of the dodo (or, indeed, the Squats), I guess seeing an update must have been a pretty huge relief for Wood Elf players! But what about the models themselves? Are they any good? Will they be able to keep up with the revamped Dark Elves? And what about the conversion potential?

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A newcomer to the world of Warhammer might question the need for three distinct elven factions, but in all honesty, I’ve always felt that GW has done a pretty good job of visually distinguishing these armies from one another so far: The High Elves are an orderly, clean and highly stylised army with lots of bright colours and elegant lines. The Dark Elves are no less elegant, but they function as a dark mirror of their High Elf brethren, spiky and sinister, yet with a depraved sense of beauty. So what about the Wood Elves?

As all Warhammer Elves, they do certainly have a healthy dose of Tolkien in them, and at their worst, they are very reminiscent of the archetypal image you’d have of the Elves of Lothlórien — all the more so after seeing the Lord of the Rings films. But there’s also something wild and untamed about them, and that’s where it gets interesting: Their symbiotic relationship with the forest of Athel Loren goes beyond the usual tree-hugging tropes, recalling instead the capricious and often dangerous nature of faeries and spirits in folk tales, with myths like the Wild Hunt thrown in for good measure. In fact, when at their best, GW’s Wood Elves remind me of what might be one of my favourite illustrated books ever, the 1970s classic Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee (on a related note, hobby prodigy Jeff Vader’s beautifully illustrated book Nordiska Väsen seems very reminiscent of the Brian Froud’s work at times — I’ll definitely have to pick up a copy at some point!).

Anyway, while I am not the owner of a Wood Elf army, I was nevertheless happy to see that wild, ultimately slightly alien, element brought to the fore with models like the plastic Dryads and the strange faeries crawling over various Wood Elf models, adorning their bases etc, because this influence from classic mythology is what ultimately transforms the Wood Elves into something more interesting than just “pointy eared guys wearing green”.

So, in order to find out whether the new release actually manages to embrace those rather interesting elements, let’s take a look at the actual models, shall we?

 

Araloth

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What would a new GW release be without at least one new clamshell plastic character? For the Wood Elves, Araloth fulfils this role, and he is another beautiful miniature. What really gets me every time with these mono-pose plastic models is the amount of depth and three-dimensionality GW manages to get out of them (albeit at the cost of customisability).

Araloth is a great example of this, and he also hits all the right cues for a Wood Elf character: Flowing clothes, check. Antlered helmet giving him a slightly mystical appearance, check. He even has a bird. God, how I love birds on Wood Elf models 😉

At the same time, a look at the sprue reveals that Araloth is indeed quite a bit more modular than one would have expected, so a couple of conversions with this model as a base would definitely be an option — but more on that later.

Wood_Elves_release (3)All in all, a competent Wood Elf character with some very nice visual touches. Nothing more, but also nothing less.

 

Eternal Guard/Wildwood Rangers

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The first combi-kit to come out of this release gives us two types of elite infantry.

First up, the Eternal Guard: These look more ostentatious and formal than the Glade Guard, which only seems appropriate. At the same time, they share clear similarities, both with their less armoured and regimented Wood Elf kin as well as with other elven infantry: A couple of visual elements like the basic helmet and shield shapes still hint at a common cultural heritage with the High Elves and Dark Elves.

All in all, these are well made models, similar enough to other elven infantry to read as the same species, but still with enough clearly Wood-Elven flourishes to make them visually distinct. Good job!

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The kit can alternatly be assembled to make a unit of Wildwood Rangers, leading to a slightly different outcome:

Wood_Elves_release (6)While using the same base models, the Wildwood Rangers are distinguished by their cowled heads and their two-handed glaives. The hoods once again recall some of the heads in the Glade Guard kit, which strengthens the visual consistency across the army, while the glaives are a really nice touch. As an aside, while it seems that these are used pretty much exactly like the Dark Eldar Incubi’s Klaives, the Rangers’ weapons somehow seem a tad more plausible to me…

All in all, the cowls and equipment lead to a somewhat more shadowy, mystical look, which I guess was the whole point. If I have one gripe, it’s the fact that the unit champion looks somewhat less impressive than I would have liked:

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All in all, this looks like a pretty versatile kit for two types of elite infantry. Both options seem equally interesting from a visual standpoint, and the kit should provide some rather interesting conversion bitz — but we’ll be getting to that…

 

Wild Riders/Sisters of the Thorn

Wood_Elves_release (8)Another combi-kit, this cavalry clearly embraces the mystical, faerie-like aspect of the Wood Elves. This is evident in the magical deer serving as their mounts (it seems that these can become Steeds of Kurnous or Steeds of Isha, simply by virtue of a different paintjob) as well as in the riders, whose design makes it delightfully ambiguous whether they are/were regular Wood Elves or are rather something more ethereal, like spirits of the forest.

The male Wild Riders carry forward a kind of beautiful, yet subtly sinister helmet design seen before on a certain Glade Lord model, and indeed their helmets might be one of my favourite things about the models. I also really like their capes, covered in ivy and briars, and the deer make for some rather dyamic posing, with the champion’s pose possibly my favourite:

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All in all, these models embody rather nicely what is interesting and original about the Wood Elves — with the Wild Hunt connotations obviously turned up to eleven on these guys.

The bad news is that, precisely as has been the case with the last elven male/female combi-kit, the girls definitely get the short end of the stick once more. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at the Sisters of the Thorn first:

Wood_Elves_release (10)The magical deer stay the same, so no objections there. However, I think that from a design standpoint, these models are really far inferior to their male counterparts — which is just a shame! Maybe it’s just me, but the models have that “She-Ra, Princess of Power” look that makes it really hard to take them seriously. And, once again, the faces (the part that will make or break a female model for me) just seem like something from really bad 80s’ fantasy art.

Then there are those spears on the models’ backs: Maybe they were supposed to recall butterfly wings, underlining the faerie motif, and maybe they weren’t –whatever they were supposed to do, it  just doesn’t work, if you ask me.

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You’d think that, after the female portion of the last “equal opportunities” combi-kit turned out pretty lacklustre, GW would have learned their lesson and make it work this time around. But once again, the female models just look slightly goofy. A crying shame and definitely the weakest part of the release for me! Come on, GW! Give us some well-made female faces already. I know your designers are up to it!

 

Treeman / Treeman Ancient / Durthu

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Can I just say, right off the bat, that I really dislike the older Treeman models: The old, early 90s metal models may have a corny charm today, but they were pretty terrible. And the slightly updated Treeman released along the last batch of Wood Elves was just neither here nor there: He didn’t have the goofiness of the older “Look, I am a walking tree” models, but ended up looking like a strange cross between a tree and an alien-dinosaur…thing in return. So a new Treeman kit was overdue, and it makes a lot of sense that GW chose this particular unit type as their “huge” kit for this release.

The kit gives us three alternate builds, which is pretty cool. All three Treeman variants look a lot like bigger Dryads, as can be seen in this comparison:

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Now I really think the Dryads are a brilliant (and hugely underappreciated) plastic kit, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I am a fan of the overall new Treeman design: I think even the (comparatively) lowly standard Treeman looks like a awe-inspiring mythical creature, with its wooden, masklike face a great chance for painters to bring out the eerie quality of the sculpt. I am not perfectly sold on that slightly strange vine whip, to be honest, because it almost looks like something you’d see on a Tyranid model, but at the very least, it’s an interesting idea.

The Treeman Ancient uses the same kit and base model to give us a pretty different looking character:

Wood_Elves_release (16)What I really like about this guy is that he does indeed look like a more senior Treeman and also like an object of worship, with a carefully braided beard and loincloth, huge “antlers” growing from the branches on his head, and a rather different, more proactive pose.

And finally, there’s also the Treeman named character, Durthu:

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This guy’s background is that he has been terribly damaged and deeply scarred, both in body and soul, and has become a pretty angry guy as a consequence. And it definitely shows, from the damaged and partly caved-in face to the lots and lots of skulls woven into the ivy hanging from Durthu’s limbs and into his branches. The branches on the model’s head also nicely add to its dynamism, and there’s also the huge (yet elegant) sword, of course.

All in all, I think the Treeman kit is a rather great success: It will produce a standout piece, no matter which configuration you choose. But the truly stunning fact is the amount of customisability evident in the kit, with the finished models sharing a clear common heritage but still looking fairly distinct. Take a look:

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Seeing these guys in a row like that, it also seems to me like Treemen get progressively more pissed off the more ancient they get — which actually makes a lot of sense, considering they get to see more and more damage done to their forest over the course of their long lives! However, this also makes for a pretty neat bit of visual storytelling over the different configurations of the kit!

An honourable mention must also go to the myriad of forest spirits you get as conversion bitz in the Treeman kit. The three-eyed owl, partcularly, continues the wonderful tradition of awesome birds hidden away in Wood Elf kits:

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If there is one negative aspect about these new Treemen, it’s that, well, to be honest, they don’t look all that much like actual trees. But one need look no further than the old metal Treemen to see that GW made a good call here: I’d rather have a stunning model than a biologically accurate one. And these are not Tolkien’s Ents, but rather more visceral, for lack of a better word, Treemen that seem perfectly at home in the dark world of Warhammer. In any case, the Treeman kit is certainly one of the high points of the release for me!

 

Conversion options

Figuring out a way of using new bits and kits in various conversion and kitbashing projects  is obviously always my favourite part of any new release, so let’s look at the possible conversion options this time around:

First of all, it shouldn’t surprise you that players of elven or Eldar armies should get the most out of this release when it comes to useful bitz. Let me share just a couple of quick ideas with you:

To begin with, a fairly straightforward observation: I suppose the Eternal Guard could be transformed into pretty good High Elf spearmen with a bit of work and a change of shields — Lord knows the High Elves need some better spearmen…

Then there’s the Wildwood Rangers, with their shadowy, cowled look. I think their design would make them perfect as base models for kitbashed plastic Dark Elf Assassins, in case you don’t want to use Shadowblade multiple times. Come to think of it, the same qualities also make sure they are really promising conversion fodder for INQ28 Death Cultists, assassins or the like.

Aralor, as all clamshell plastic characters, will doubtlessly be at the centre of many, many conversions. While I have not yet figured out a cool way of making him into an INQ28 character, I am fairly confident one of my fellow hobbyists will blow me away with their imagination — Jeff Vader, Spiky Rats, PDH, anyone? He could of course be used as a base model for a rather interesting Farseer conversion, that much is certain…

In fact, this leads me to the two most promising conversion projects I can think of regarding this release:

The first one probably isn’t all that original to begin with: If someone were to build a characterful Eldar Exodite army, I believe some of the new models would be perfect conversion fodder for that: Just take some of the new infantry kits, some Eldar Guardians and happily kitbash away! For the more adventurous spirits, wouldn’t Durthu make a promising start for a truly stunning Exodite Avatar? Just sayin’…

The other option is to use parts from this release in a Dark Eldar army project: I can really see the stylised plant motif work enormously well with a Dark Eldar Kabal. Just keep in mind that the Dark Eldar have a depraved kind of elegance that should work exceptionally well with floral motifs 😉 And there’s also the fact that poisons feature prominently in Dark Eldar culture, so a bit of poison ivy here and there would look doubly at home.

 

All in all, this feels like a relatively small, but rather focused release to me. More models would have been nice, but the stuff we get is very well done, both in concept and execution. The only true disappointment is the lack of quality in the Sisters of the Thorn (well, and maybe a lack of plastic Wardancers), but this still seems like a rather strong release to me! It’s just a shame that it seems to have been rather overshadowed by all of the 7th edition shenanigans…

Another thing I realised: One of my main criticisms regarding the new Dwarf models was that, while pretty cool, the new models looked so different from some of the older kits in the catalogue that using armies composed of older and newer models might create a bit of a jarring contrast. No such contrast is evident in the Wood Elf kits — quite the opposite, actually: Not only will Wood Elf players be able to use older and newer models together without creating any visual “continuity errors”, but the new models also seem to have been created with the old models very much in mind, continuing much of the earlier design paradigms or even further developing them. Thumbs up for that!

One final question: Where does that leave this release in comparion with the High Elves and Dark Elves? If cou ask me, smack dab in the middle: The new Wood Elves obviously cannot compare with the Dark Elves release, because for the latter almost the entire line of models was spectacularly redesigned from scratch. However, both the Wood Elves release as well as their overall catalogue of models seem slightly more interesting to me than the High Elf offerings. Sure, there are standout kits in the High Elf catalogue that are some of the best models available for WFB, but their release not only contained some slightly wonky models, but also failed to address the parts that actually needed addressing (the hopelessly overaged core troops, for one). Plus the overall level of quality seems more even for the Wood Elf line of models, whereas the High Elves are held back by some pretty old (and rather clunky) kits.

So yeah, if you ask me, Dark Elves come in first, with Wood Elves on a safe second and High Elves bringing up the rear.

 

So, what do you think of the new models? Were you as pleasantly surprised as me, or are you rather disappointed? Have any cool ideas for possible conversions or kitbashes? Want to vent your anger? I’d love to hear any feedback you might have in the comments section!

As always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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4 Responses to “Lost in the woods – a look at the new Wood Elves”

  1. xanderbennett Says:

    Great review! Now I’m wondering how easy it would be to convert up some dark elf Shades using the Wildwood Rangers and some leftover hand crossbows from a Corsair kit. The cowled heads look great, but the poses don’t seem very “shady”.

    • Cheers, mate! That sounds like a pretty feasible idea — and maybe you could get them to look more shady with a few jagged daggers and knives held in reverse grip? I think that might work rather well with their rather static poses, as it were.

  2. I’m not feeling the plastic character. Its better than the High Elf one though….aghh! its a squid, get it off me! Thinking about it the squid would have looked more at home on the Dark Elf sea captain model but thank god they didn’t.

    The hooded rangers are good.

    I like the wild riders but the problem with kit is the stags horns. They look very tacked on/after thought from the side view.

    I agree the female elves fall very far from the mark, awful faces. I assume these kits were made at the same time as the high elves. I think we got lucky with the witch elves…figuratively rather than literally 😉

    I’m also mourning a distinct lack of plastic wardancers. Though with the female elf faces of this release maybe thats a blessing.

    Peter

    • Haha, definitely better than the squid man, yes — that one was awful. However, I recently discovered a relatively simple but amazing conversion making the Loremaster much better:

      Loremaster of Hoeth

      As for the awful faces on the Sisters of the Thorn: Maybe it’s the fact that this is a male/female combo-kit? That doesn’t seem to go over all that well (see the High-Elves for reference). On a more positive note, kits where the resulting unit is actually made up of male AND female models seem to work reasonably well (Dark Eldar Wyches, anyone), so all hope is not lost regarding possible plastic Wardancers. 😉

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