The End is Nigh – a look at the Undead release

Right, I do of course realise that I am a bit behind on my stuff — even as I write this, we are already seeing the next release rolling around. But man, this breakneck pace is just too fast for me to keep up 😉 Seriously, though: The latest release for what is referred to as “The End Times” in WFB surely warrants a closer look, even if I have taken my own sweet time to finally get around to it…

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By the look of it, The End Times will be receiving a chain of books that are less centered around single armies and more around greater factions and the accompanying campaign — not unlike the various Forgeworld publications, come to think of it… It’s also very interesting to see that GW seems to be using the End Times scenario as an opportunity to introduce several things into the WFB world that a number of very vocal 40k fans have been clamoring for for years, such as…

  • significantly advancing the timeline and general background of WFB…
  • …while introducing a big narrative event that seems like it will shape the future of the setting
  • murdering quite a few darlings along the way

Whether GW are using WFB as a testbed for these changes due to its lower popularity compared to 40k or even because, as some suspect, the setting is in a terminal state anyway, seems hard to ascertain at this point. I am reasonably sure that WFB isn’treally going anywhere, even if it sells less stuff than 40k, but given GW’s track record and reluctance to advance their settings’ narrative beyond a certain point, this new development does seem pretty astonishing. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, what the WFB setting will look like afterwards, and what implications these new developments will have for 40k…

For now, let’s focus on the first slew of modeld accompanying the release, because these are quite something. And what better way to start than with the return of one of GW’s most notorious characters…

 

Nagash, Supreme Lord of the Undead

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Boy, did this model come out of the left field when it was released! Plus I can’t help feeling the release of a new Nagash model (and a gigantic one, at that) as a bit of an “Up yours” towards all of the endless bickering about the old Nagash:

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Alright, confession time: I know that the old Nagash is a staple of countless “most horrible models ever released” lists on the Internet, but here’s the thing: Once upon the time, I really loved this guy to bits! He was actually one of the first (non-HeroQuest) GW models I owned, and the very first big model I ever tried my hand at! Unfortunately, the model was taken apart (and partially stripped) a long time ago, or this would have been the perfect time to show him to you. A shame, really 😉

In any case, the vintage Nagash may not seem like much if judged by the standards of 2014 (or 2000, for that matter), but I think it’s important to remember that this used to be the basic design approach for many of GW’s bigger models at that time, and there was a time when this model seemed like such a cool thing — at least to me.

Anyway, GW chose the model that probably gets ridiculed the most in online discussions and re-imagined it as this:

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It’s such an enormous piece that I’m really not sure where to start. Maybe with Nagash’s size, because this guy is huge — as evidenced by the diminutive skeleton warrior in the lower left corner… I understand Nagash gets prime billing as the Warhammer world’s biggest villain in the new book, and the model’s size and stature definitely match that importance.

What I like most about the model, after giving it a bit of thought, is how it basically keeps all the different elements of the classic miniature: The hat, sword, staff and various details from the old model are still there:

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All of these have been thorougly redesigned, but they still hark back to their earlier incarnations, which I like very much! Instead of pretending the earlier Nagash model simply didn’t happen, GW’s designers have re-imagined it in a stunning way while remaining true to the original source, and I love that approach! The other great thing about the model – and an element that carries over to most of the models in this release – is how Nagash is hovering in mid-air, borne aloft by a host of tortured spirits:

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There are things about the model I am not entirely sold on, however:

The first of those is the strange collection if twisted spines emerging from Nagash’s back: I see what they were trying to do here, adding the spines in order to give him a more imposing silhouette, presumably. Still, that element just seems slightly iffy to me — maybe some skeletal wings would have been a better idea?

The second thing that seems a bit much for me is the enormous hat:

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Seriously, this guy looks like Movie Skeletor on speed! In conjunction with the rest of the armour, the hat just seems a bit too video gamey for my taste (I’ll be coming back to this concern later).

As a matter of fact, make no mistake: While the new Nagash has been heavily redesigned and modernised, his look remains fairly eclectic. I am happy enough with it, but the question remains whether future generations will look upon him as kindly — just remember what happened to the model’s earlier incarnation…

That said, this is a stunning model and a fitting centrepiece, both for any undead army and for this release. Nagash really looks like the immense villain the background paints him as, and the model itself is certainly at the cutting edge of plastic miniature design. Will everybody like his look? No, probably not. But personal preferences notwithstanding, the model itself stands as an achievement (and I applaud GW for engineering a comeback like this for one of their most-maligned models!).

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Mortarchs of Death

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If the enormous model for Nagash wasn’t an indication that GW meant business, this combi-kit at least will clue you in to the situation: The Mortarch kit gives you the opportunity to build one of Nagash’s closest lieutenants, each of them based on established characters from the Undead background (in fact, one of my favourite parts of this release is how GW brought back these classic characters, turning them into a Quirky Miniboss Squad for Nagash).
And while their mount will always use the same base components, the kit offers a whopping three completely different riders, along with some serious customisation options for the mount itself. Wow! Let’s take a closer look:

Mannfred von Carstein, Mortarch of Night

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This is probably my favourite of the bunch for a couple of reasons: First of all, I have always loved the last incarnation of Mannfred, and this new version is closely based upon that appearance, spiky armour, batlike visage and all:

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Mannfred’s weapons are also pretty awesome, even if wielding a scythe and longsword at the same time seems to be a bit much. But the design of the weapons is very cool, giving them an ethereal, very sinister aspect (and making them into very interesting conversion bitz…):

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Mannfred’s mount, the dread abyssal Ashigaroth, is an enormous beast with a batlike countenance that seems like an escalated version of it’s master’s face. Strangely enough, it also reminds me a lot of the last couple of incarnations of Final Fantasy’s poster dragon god, Bahamuth. Anyway, the beast looks great (as an aside, I also really like the combination of blackened bones and red hot skulls used for the paintjob!).

Oh, and extra kudos to Mannfred for being pretty much the only guy in Nagash’s inner circle without one of those enormous hats 😉


Arkhan the Black, Mortarch of Sacrament

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Aw, man, this guy adds quite a bit of nostalgia to the whole release: Arkhan already had a – somewhat clunky but still pretty awesome – model in the olden days, complete with ostentatious chariot and all. This new incarnation turns the bling up to eleven, though. And seeing a classic character brought back and upgraded like that does bring a tear of nostalgia to my eye!

The model itself is also really nice: Arkhan looks like the quintessential undead sorcerer lord, and the Khemri style even makes him look like a slightly smaller (somewhat less improbable) version of Nagash himself:

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His hat, while still pretty big, seems to be somewhat more realistically scaled than that of his boss. I also really like the ostentatious (and very clearly Khemrian) armour that is also repeated on his mount! The one thing that I don’t like about Arkhan is his tattered cloak, precisely because it seems so tattered that it’s utterly improbable. I mean, it seems as if the designer really, really, wanted to make this cape as tattered as it could be, and he ended up overdoing it a little.

Undead End Times Release (15)Arkhan’s dread abyssal, Azarak, has a slightly more skeletal, less batlike head than Mannfred’s Ashigaroth. The Bahamut look is still there to an extent, but I think this would also make a fantastic head for a Greater Daemon, Daemon Prince, Heldrake,…erm, sorry, moving on!

Neferata, Mortarch of Blood

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Being  the equal-opportunities employer he is, Nagash brings back another classic character: Neferata the Vampire Queen. Those of you who still remember the old model might agree with me that it was terrible: Neferata looked like she had slinked away from a the set of a 50s Hollywood movie about with lots of mummies in ancient Egypt. But what about the new incarnation?

Well, there’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff: On the positive side, I love how Neferata is riding side saddle: Such a wonderfully elegant little touch! Just because you’re riding a hulking undead monstrosity doesn’t mean you get to imperil your modesty, right?

I also love how that sense of elegance seems to pervade the entire model, also covering the armour design and the abyssal’s bearding. Good job, GW!

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I have two main problems with the model, though: The smaller of the two is the look of Neferata’s weapon: It seems like it cannot quite decide whether it wants to be a staff or a glaive of some sort, settling into a strange limbo between the two that ultimately makes it look somewhat goofy and ineffectual (although, in all fairness, it would probably easy enough to remedy this by swapping in a new blade).

My main gripe with the model is the head, or rather, the hat: Out of all the models (and out of all the really impressive hats) in this release, Neferata’s headwear somehow seems the most ridiculous to me, may due to the slightly awkward looking, dangling spines, maybe because it actually draws away attention from her face:

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As a matter of fact, designing her head like that almost seems like a bit of a cop out on GW’s part: I, for one, would much have preferred a beautiful female face with flowing hair, something closer to the vampires from the Coven Throne. That said, maybe a different paintjob would go a long way here? Anyway, the head seems like a bit of a missed chance, if you ask me.

Neferata’s mount, the dread abyssal Nagadron, again picks up some of the visual cues of its rider. It also gets yet another unique head, this time with an armour plate covering its eyes — a very nice and sinister touch, if you ask me.

Speaking of which, let’s take a closer look at the abyssal and its various variants:

Generally speaking, I really like how the abyssal seems like a suitably apocalyptic mount for an important and utterly evil character! Being a devout follower of Khorne, I also buy into the idea of having a beast whose skeletal form is filled to the brim with skulls — I mean, come on, this is Warhammer, after all 😉

I love all three heads that come with the kit and think that they are doing a great job of tying together the abyssals and respective Mortarchs:

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And finally, I like the rather elegant way the abyssal is attached to its base via a combination of its tail and the ubiquitous skeletal spirits — that is really clever design right there!

A small gripe is the abyssal’s slightly awkward leg pose — although it seems like that is to be expected with a four-legged, wingless (!) creature designed to be floating in mid-air. But maybe it’s precisely the lack of wings that proves to be a bit of a visual deficiency here, making it hard to imagine how this beast would actually look in motion.

But by and large, the Mortarch kit is very impressive indeed — maybe even more impressive than Nagash, as a matter of fact! While the latter has the shock and awe tactics on his side, the Mortarch kit seems like a brilliant and expansive toolbox, both for creating an imposing centrepiece for an undead army and as a great source of conversion fodder — maybe my favourite part of this release!

 

Morghast Archai/ Morghast Harbingers

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These guys definitely add something new to the undead armies: A daemonic, skeletal footsoldier for the Nagash’s armies. Both variants of the kit are reasonably similar, and both share many design elements with the abyssals, like the skeletal body structure and the heaps of skulls inside the skeletal bodies.

So let’s take a closer look at the kit’s two variants:

Morghast Archai

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The Morghast Archai are Nagash’s elite guard, and – fittingly enough – their helmeted heads and glaive weapons give them a somewhat more official, regimented look

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One of the best parts of the models are their two-handed glaives…

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These are just wonderfully creepy and threatening, with their look halfway between ethereal and organic.

My gut feeling is that their armour and helmets somehow give these a slightly egyptian/Khemrian look: They would look right at home in a Tomb Kings army (and are a slightly more awkward fit for the Vampire Counts).

Morghast Harbingers

Undead End Times Release (28)I actually like these better than the Archai, because it somehow feels like the lack of ornamental helmets makes them look less like some kind of temple guard, and more like actual individuals — does that make any sense? I also like the sense of dynamism created by the twin swords setup:

Undead End Times Release (30)There’s also something wonderfully creepy and evil about the rather unnatural looking heads.

And again, I expect the weapons to become really popular with converters, because they would just make for very nice Daemon weapons. We’ll see…

The tattered wings are a bit of an acquired taste…once again, the objective seems to have been to make them as tattered as humanly possible. And while  I do like the way the Morghast are attached to their bases by way of ghostly apparitions…

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…the leg poses of the models just seem a bit awkward to me. This is less of a problem for the Harbingers, in my opinion, since their slightly more dynamic poses make the legs seem more believable, but the Archai just seem ever so slightly awkward, hovering in mid-air like that…

Such minor gripes notwithstanding, I can see this kit become rather popular, simply by the amount of conversion fodder it offers for various armies — but we’ll be getting to that in a minute!

 

Spirit Host

Undead End Times Release (33)Now these guys may be the least obviously spectacular part of the release, but they are certainly no slouch! The Spirit Host is cleverly engineered to seem ethereal, but also give the model’s a fair bit of presence. And similar spirits do appear in everykit of this release, making for a nice bit of visual consistency.
Actually, you’ve got to wonder whether, having used these ghosts in pretty much all of the other kits, GW designers finally decided that it was only fair to give these guys their own little spot in the limelight…

Anyway, these make for very effective and evil looking ghosts! And my absolute favourite part has to be how the ghosts of the spirit host emerge from tortured skeletons:

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That’s just an excellent little touch right there!

Conversion options:

So, time to deal with my favourite subject: How useful will these new kits be for converters and kitbashers? Allow me to share some early ideas with you:

Interestingly enough, my conversion ideas mostly deal with Nagash’s followers and not so much with the big man…skeleton…thing. Maybe the model is still too huge and intimidating in my mind for it to actually register as conversion fodder? The two spontaneous ideas I came up with were to either use Nagash as the base for a conversion of Mortarion, Primarch of the Death Guard, in his ascended form. Or he could be turned into a new and terrible C’Tan by a crafty Necron player? In any case, seeing what converters come up with for this model will surely be interesting!

Anyway, looking at the entire release, the big winner when it comes to conversion options seems to be …40k chaos, surprisingly enough. Now maybe I am not exactly neutral in this regard, seeing how chaos armies seem to be one of my main areas of interest, but the options just seem too good to ignore. Let me just list a few off the top of my head:

The Mortarch kit seems to be a treasure chest of conversion bitz: the abyssal could be converted into a Greater Daemon, a Maulerfiend or even into a mount for a chaos lord, a Heldrake — you name it! Likewise, part of it could be mixed with existing daemon engine and/or daemon kits in order to create new and terrible monstrosities. Even the leftover heads from the Mortarch kit alone would be great little bitz to play around with…

Oh, and wouldn’t you agree that Mannfred’s head would look great on a Chaos Lord — especially on a Night Lord?

The Morghast seem to provide an almost ridiculously versatile resource for chaos armies, the possible uses of the kit including but not limited to…

  • Daemon Princes: Even on their own, the Morghast could make for fairly convincing Daemon Princes: the slightly Khemrian/Egyptian look of the Archai would make them ideal for Tzeentchian Daemon Princes, while the amount of skulls stored in their bodies would also make them a nice fit for Khorne. They could even conceivably be used to represent Nurglite daemons, if one were to focus less on a visceral, slimy and mouldering approach and more on a skeletal, reaper-like aspect. Only Slaanesh seems to be left out in the cold a bit (don’t fret, though: The new Dark Eldar release will provide you with all the toys you need).
  • Obliterators/Mutilators: For those (like me) who don’t like the stock Obliterator/Mutilator models one bit, the Morghast might be a very interesting alternative: Just check out VonKessler’s gorgeous Thousand Sons Oblitz, based on Morghast models: I think those are really just the tip of the iceberg!
  • Parts of the Morghast models should also be supremely useful for chaos players: I expect to see those evil looking swords and glaives all over chaos armies before long, and both the skeletal body pieces as well as the mounds of skulls forming the Morghast’s inner workings should become really popular with chaos players!

This may be a somewhat far fetched idea, but what about using the Spirit Host as chaos spawn in a Thousand Sons army? Just imagine the swirling souls of destroyed Rubric Marines (or, alternately, their victims) filling the same role as the usual, boring mutated creepy crawlys. Or maybe those spirits are the Thousand Sons’ familiars? Anyway, it would be a nice change to see these new models used instead of the same old spawn models…
Another faction that I can see profiting from the new kits are the Necrons: The Khemrian look of many of the new models might make it possible to use their wargear and decoration on Necron models (who are, after all, often referred to as “Tomb Kings IN SPACE!”)  to great effect. Arkhan might make a stunning Phaeron with a bit of work (and an influx of mechanical skeleton bitz. And, like I said, Nagash could be an interesting base model for a new and terrible C’Tan…

And finally, there’s the wonderful world of INQ28, of course: It shouldn’t surprise you that I think some parts of the release would be really useful for INQ28 as well, both because of my love of the setting as well as the wide scope of the game:

  • again, the Morghast variants would make for interesting daemons or daemon princes — even moreso in the INQ28 setting, where undivided daemons are still an actual thing…
  • the Spirit Host could be used as unbound daemonhosts, or they could be turned into familiars for chaos magi — the possibilities are probably endless.
  • I think Neferata might make a cool Matriarch for a Death Cult, enormous hat and all.
  • And maybe, just maybe, Mannfred could be turned into a (ultra-)radical Inquisitor with a bit of work?

 

All in all, this release was certainly designed to blow WFB players away, and it seems like it mostly suceeded. One thing I think we can all agree upon is that the sheer size and complexity of GW’s recent plastic kits gets ever more baffling.

What I love about all of the new models is how certain elements are used to tie the various kits together from a visual standpoint: The ghostly apparitions resembling the models from the Spirit Host appear on all of the models in some shape or form. The armour based on fused bone. The skulls making up the interior of many of the undead creatures. And yes, even the huge hats 😉 Additionally, it’s fascinating how GW’s designers have managed to make these new undead models fit both the Vampire Counts’ and Tomb Kings’ look and feel, while also imbuing them with an identity of their own. These factors are quite impressive and a big design achievement, in my opinion.

However, at the same time, I do have one overarching gripe with the new models, and that is what I would like to call their “WOW-ness” . What I mean by that is that parts of the new models seem so over the top that they wouldn’t look out of place in a PC game such as World of Warcraft or Diablo — and seeing how Blizzard’s own Warcraft universe owes GW more than a bit of inspiration, it seems pretty ironic that GW’s designers would now, in turn, produce something that seems at least partially inspired by designs from World of Warcraft

Nevertheless, it still seems like a rather strong release, both for the actual kits and for the new conversion options they bring to the table. It just seems like a hearty portion of videogame design sensibilities have been added to the WFB universe — at least to the undead factions.

I hope the next books/releases for the End Times will keep up the effort to revitalise existing armies while adding something new and special to them. For instance, there are rumours floating around about a coming End Times book focusing on chaos and giving various classic characters – Archaon, Arbaal, Valnir,… the Mortarch treatment — and even though I don’t play WFB anymore, the sheer prospect at seeing some of the iconic chaos characters revisited that way has me very excited indeed!

 

So, what do you think about this release? Did you love it or hate it? Did you feel a resemblance to WoW designs as well, and were you happy with that? And would you like to share your own conversion ideas for the new kits? I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments section!

And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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16 Responses to “The End is Nigh – a look at the Undead release”

  1. A very well written, informative, fair, detailed and inspirational review. Well done!

    I agree that the WOW-ness makes those releases not my cup of tea, but I appreciate the workmanship put into them. Impressive design and execution.

    I womder how well these models hold up to normal gaming use? Will they snap easily at the super thin etheral joins? They almost look like they are only meant for display, not for gaming. I guess that is fair enough, as the price suggest a boutique display model to paint well and display in a case.

    • Thing is, the price on these isn’t that bad, nagash is cheaper than a wraith knight, the spirit hosts are reasonable, you get 2 Morghast for the price of a trygon. Only the Mortarchs feel a little pricy and that probably because of the comparison to nagash in size and scale.

      Yes the hobby will always be expensive but I was genuinely surprised at the price of the kits as past price shocks had me expecting so much more (£90+ for nagash ect)

      Is it perfect? probably not but definitely a step in the right direction.

      • Cheers, guys!

        @ daggerandbrush: I cannot speak for the latest models, but in my experience, GW are pretty good at engineering models that look very fragile while actually being relatively sturdy. So will those guys survive a fall from the table? Nah, probably not. But they may be more robust than they look.

        @ Dan: An excellent point, Dan: While I’ve pretty much given up mouthing off about prices, the relatively moderate price tags on these new kits really were a bit of a pleasant surprise: Both the Mortarch and Morghast kit look like they will give you a very big box of conversion fodder for the asking price!

  2. Great article and overview kraut! This release has actually made me finally want to do a new warhammer army again. Mine will feature the old Nagash though 😉

  3. As usual great post, I’m realy looking at all those spirits and thinking Crimson Slaughter.

    • Hmm, good point: The Spirit Host could be a great representation for the spirits hounting those renegades: Just imagine a squad of Possessed which each of the models converted to look like they have totally lost it, while ghosts from the Spirit Host are swirling around them, tearing up their already fragile sanity…

  4. I actualy use Morghast as Demon prince of khorne, I just added Khorne icon from forsaken kit on chest, and horns from Beastmen to the heads. Easy!

  5. Funnily enough Neferata’s hat is the only one I really like (although I agree that to support it she must have neck muscles like a bull). Nagash I’m struggling to like (glad to hear I’m not completely alone in having a bit of a soft-spot for the old model though!). The new one is wonderfully over the top but possibly just a little bit much for my taste, and slightly out-shone by the sheer quality of his inner circle (not including their headgear). As you suggest the Dread Abyssal itself would work well converted into some kind of mount/maulerfiend – it already has a slightly mechanical look to it that could easily be accentuated. At the moment though I’m mostly trying to work out how to turn Neferata into some kind of radical (perhaps even chaos-worshipping) inquisitor or canoness.
    Anyway, great review, lots of fuel for inspiration. Cheers!

    • Yeah, that abyssal is really tempting, isn’t it? I, for one, certainly have to resist buying one right away in order to turn it into some kind of daemon engine…

      I suppose Neferate would look reasonably well as a radical Inquisitrix: Find a suitable lower body (the female Finecast Vampire? Or a pair of acothyst legs from the new Wracks?!), shorten the hat to something more believable (come to think of it, the headdress already has a certain canoness-look to it, doesn’t it), and you’re golden.

  6. Thanks for presenting a different view on the releases. I wasn’t sold on any of them before, but you have given me some hope. 🙂 Recently Iv’e felt that all of their releases have a far to cartoony cheesy videogame feeling. It’s as though the designers have forgotten the best thing about Warhammer. In my opinion, it’s the organic, rotting textures and trinkets, especially with the vampire counts. It’s having armour strapped together with chains and strings and old half dead warriors, dusty and rusted.
    It’s shambling zombies with nails stuck in their heads and wooden planks holding their limbs together. These new releases seem to totally forget that, and lack any gothic horror, as everything seems to lack life. They lack life and the Blanchian spark. But looking through your post does remind me not to be to judgmental, as they do have some good points. Cheers.

    • Hmm, you raise a good point: The latest round of releases have indeed abandoned the grittiness and general feeling of decay and gothicness in favour of a more OTT approach — I suppose calling it “videogame-y” is an apt description, because it really seems to share that medium’s occasional predilection for overwhelming visuals. That said, I think the big kits for the End Time release were really designed with a visual “shock and awe” approach firmly in mind, so it makes sense they should look like that. Looking at the new Dark Eldar, it seems that a more restrained approach still exists. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see where we’re going from here, as far as GW’s overall design approach is concerned. If all else fails, we have to keep the gritty, grimdark look alive ourselves: If nothing else, the plethora of plastic kits offers us all the building material we need…

  7. I always love your analyses of new releases and I hope you will do more in future. I also completely agree with your assessment of the ‘OTT’ or ‘videogame-y’ aesthetic. The apocalyptic and grand nature of ‘The End Times’ is exciting and gives me hope that something similar will one day happen for the 40k range, although retaining a grimmer and darker feeling. On this note, I think it is interesting that for me, out of the releases you discussed the Spirit Hosts is probably the kit that most appeals to me and I think just about anyone would agree it is also the least grand of the releases.

    • Cheers, mate!

      Hmm, maybe the Spirit Host, in spite of lacking the flashiness of the other kits, will end up being the most useful of the lot? I can certainly see quite a bit of uses for it!

      One thing that should serve as a bit of a defense against a too OTT aesthetic in 40k is the fact that a pretty big part of the designs is set in stone, for lack of a better word: There’s only so many ways you can redesign a suit of power armour or Eldar armour until it no longer looks right. That said, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of ramifications the whole “End Times” project will have for 40k…

  8. […] Nagash, obviously, for not only kicking off the slew of awesome kits, but for also thoroughly revitalising one of the most evil characters in the entire WFB lore with a spectacular new model that still calls back to its earlier incarnation in many ways! Read my original thoughts here. […]

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