Oh boy, where to start…?
I am not the first blogger faced with the task of writing something about the Age of Sigmar release — people who are far smarter than me have already talked about the subject, and yet the challenge remains a rather massive one.
If nothing else, this release seems like a rather gutsy move, doesn’t it? Age of Sigmar has a very real chance of alienating an enormous part of the traditional WFB user base. Then again, it seems like the dwindling sales are what led us to this point in the first place, so maybe GW is even prepared to lose a hefty chunk of that very user base, trying instead to get some new people interested in the game’s latest incarnation?
In any case, it’s safe to say that the discussion about Age of Sigmar is raging like a wildfire on the various blogs and forums, and it’s easy to get burned.
Tell you what, I’ll try to make my life easier by focusing on the models and staying clear of the whole rules brouhaha. Although I have to say I am rather flabbergasted by the viciousness of the debate, especially when it comes to the utterly new and shocking concepts of having to agree with your opponent about the kind of game you want to play and not being a dick when it comes to army composition — in a way, the rules do seem like a return to more innocent RoC and Rogue Trader times, don’t they? And there’s certainly a lot to like about that!
But like I said, let’s take a look at the models: We’ll be doing this in the usual, tried and true fashion — and it goes without saying that we will also be looking at the conversion options (oh my, the conversion options!). So fasten your seatbelt, and we’re off!
The starter box comes with a whopping 47 models, giving us two core armies for the Stormcast Eternals and the Goretide of Khorne. So let’s take a closer look at the two factions in turn, starting with the completely new army: Sigmar’s Stormcast Eternals, obviously the poster boys of the new Warhammer:
These guys are possibly the big surprise in this release, mostly because they initially seem like such a radical departure from the old WFB style: At first glance, the army seems to mostly do away with the zaniness and steampunk/medieval mashup of armies like the Empire and Bretonnia, introducing a more heroic and somewhat videogame-y look and feel in its place: Instead of roughly armed peasants, steam-powered contraptions and medieval knights on speed, we now get hulking, heavily armoured warriors that seem to be taking design cues from several factions at once (at least it feels like there’s a subtle but palpable High Elf influence there, as well as more than a passing resemblance to 40k’s Space Marines). At the same time, I cannot help feeling reminded of designs from video games (like World of Warcraft or Diablo) — which is interesting when you consider how Warhammer obviously inspired the Warcraft universe to begin with, but yeah…
Anyway, let’s take a closer look:
Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand
The Stormcast Eternals’ army commander seems like GW’s attempt to win us over with shock and awe tactics: What a beast of a miniature! If nothing else, there can be no doubt that this guy is commanding the army, right?
I had several inital reactions when first seeing the model. The first was: “Oh look, it’s GW’s version of He-Man on Battlecat!” Then I thought: “It’s GW’s version of a high level Alliance character from World of Warcraft!“ And I think you’ll agree that both are pretty obvious associations. I mean, when all is said and done, what we have here is a massive guy in ornate golden armour riding a dragon…cat…thing while wielding an enormous…Warhammer (I see what you did there, GW 😉 ).
What’s really interesting, though, I how the model clearly recalls the sources mentioned above, yet also reads more and more clearly as a GW (and Warhammer) piece the longer you look at it: There are several elements recalling the style of the Empire, for instance, hinting at a common cultural heritage: the Dracoth’s armour looks similar to that of the Demigryphs, Vandus’ helmet being cast in the shape of a snarling lion or panther recalls a similar helmet from the Empire General kit. And the overall composition and detail are very Warhammer-esque in a way that seems rather complicated to explain, yet easy enough to see — in the end, it’s probably the designers’ talent that did the trick 😉
Maybe it’s a very eclectic piece, maybe it’s all a bit much. But it’s a bold statement in that it tries to nail down the entire new Sigmarite look in one model. A model that still looks like it was made by GW, in spite of the new direction — and I think that is no mean feat.
I do have some minor quibbles, though: The Dracoth’s right foreleg does seem a little precariously balanced atop that piece of ruin, while the left foreleg hanging in the air like that comes across as a bit half-baked. The tip of the Dracoth’s tail may also be a tad too toylike for my taste — like the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a way.
But when all is said and done, I cannot help liking this guy. He’s massive and ostentatious and over the top and everything a the champion of a god serving as the army general should be.
Lord-Relictor Ionus Cryptborn
The case seems slightly less clear-cut with the Lord-Relictor, as the WoW influence seems to have been dialed up to eleven with this model: the spiky halo and pauldron decoration seems very videogame-y to me, as does the parchment running down the model’s back. What’s more, the design of the model’s head makes it slightly difficult to decide whether it’s a stylised death’s head or the character’s actual, desiccated face. While it does seem to be some kind of facemask upon closer examination, it remains slightly ambiguous, and it’s not an abiguity that works in the character’s favour for once — maybe it’s simply the fact GW has managed to come up with better skull faces on other models?
The scrolls forming the model’s cape also show another visual change that seems to affect the entire range: Where the Empire models were covered in faux-German or Latin scripture, we’ve now moved to mysterious, meaningless squiggles that don’t look like any particular language — or like anthing much really, beyond a clearly discernible “Sigmar” here and there. I actually liked the older approach better — not neccesarily because I am a huge fan of faux-German lettering, but rather because this new design doesn’t really read as scripture quite as easily — it could also just be some kind of squiggly design.
What actually brings this guy back into Warhammer territory for me is that enormous standard: It’s totally over the top — and totally awesome because of it! I like the reliquary look with the candles (although I am pretty sure we’ve already seen that little bag dangling from the standard on the Skaven Stormvermin standard 😉 ). All in all, I like the model slightly less than the Lord-Celestant, not because it’s badly designed, but rather because it looks less like an actual Warhammer model, lacking some of the trademark visual cues to bring it more firmly into the setting.
These guys look like a more ornate version of the Liberators, and they are really rather lovely for it: I guess I am not the only one who instantly felt reminded of the Legio Custodes when looking at the models 😉
It seems like different helmet designs are used to denote different unit types for the Stormcast Eternals, and I think it works to great effect here: The stylised thunderbolts combined with the horsehair crests work really well! I also like the flow of the armour, especially when it comes to the enlarged left pauldron — there’s just something instantly likeable about these guys 😉
One particularly nice detail I would like to point out to you is the cloth draped around the haft of the hammer wielded by the guy in the middle in the above picture: such a small detail, but beautifully executed!
The models strike a better balance between the WoW influence and the Warhammer look than the Lord-Relictor, mostly because the more outlandish elements of their armour seem to have been applied slightly more thoughtfully. At the same time, these almost seem to be the most Space Marine-y Stormcast Eternals, probably due to their silhouette and the strong Custodes vibe — it’s easy to imagine these guys being used in 30k and 40k.
All in all, these might just be my favourite iteration of the new armour design, mostly because the balance seems to be pretty much perfect here: The amount of detail and ostentatiousness is just right and, combined with fairly static but very strong poses and some flowing cloth to break up the static silhouettes, makes for a visual strongpoint in the army — very nice!
Where the Retributors are closer to the “classic” GW look, these guys come down more on the side of the World of Warcraft (and general videogame) influence — with a vengeance! The wings are something GW certainly hasn’t tried before, yet they also seem instantly familar to someone who regularly plays videogames. At the same time, it’s also nice to see how the designers have managed to work Sigmar’s iconic comet in there 😉
When it comes to the rest of the models, the armour seems similar to that of the other Stormcast Eternals, with yet another helmet design to point out the models’ different role. The idea of having the models kept aloft (in real life, not in-universe) via the flowing pieces of parchment is a very cool idea and adds to the distinct silhouette. However, it does seem ever so slightly strange to see these rather massive guys floating through the air like that — maybe they just seem a bit too beefy for that kind of motion, maybe it’s the pose of the legs. It just feels like the illusion doesn’t quite work. I also think they would have profited from a different kind of weapon — a lance or spear, rather than the omnipresent hammers. I get that hammers are Sigmars shtick and everything, but the blunt shape of the weapons doesn’t work all that well with the elegance and finesse of these models.
come with their own champion, Anactos Skyhelm who, in all fairness, doesn’t seem all that different save for his extended wingspan:
All in all, these feel a little more adventurous than the Retributors, yet also somewhat less balanced. They should make for a rather stunning presence on the table, certainly, but I cannot help feeling that some minor tweaks would have gone a pretty long way here.
These are possibly the new bread-and-butter infantry for the Sigmarite faction or, as some have called them, the new Sigmarite Space Marines or “Sigmarines”. And indeed, there are quite a few parallels between these models and the warrior monks of the 41st millennium: the stature, for once. Or the massive pauldrons. In fact, fellow hobbyist weirdingway had this pretty interesting idea about the new models:
I’m tempted to read the Sigmarites as a version of how GW wishes they could reboot the space marine model line if they weren’t (rightly perhaps) afraid of invalidating such a huge line of kits and alienating so many fans. In the 40k background and artwork marines have slowly transformed from the hunched, human-sized ex-convicts and psychos of Rogue Trader to the giant avenging noble knights of today, but because space marine model releases have been sequential updates they’ve only been ale to increase the scale by such tiny increments, leaving a big disparity between the models and the background. Exacerbated by how much baseline human models have grown over the years. Maybe if the Eternals are a huge success GW will be emboldened to redo the whole marine line in similar proportions and size? Probably not, but fun to speculate about.
Whether or not there is any truth to this, the similarities are too obvious to ignore — maybe these guys are GW’s attempt at replicating the Space Marines’ success in their fantasy setting?
What strikes me about the Liberators is how similar they are in layout to the Putrid Blightkings and Skullreapers/Wrathmongers. Sure, the final look of the models is pretty different, but both the size and stature are very similar — maybe models of this particular size and layout are WFB’s new mainline standard for footsloggers?
One problem I have with these is that while they are looking pretty cool on their own, they do end up seeming a bit samey as a unit. Maybe it has something to do with these models being starter minis, but it feels like the army could do with something to break up the ranks of huge guys in mostly identical golden armour — or maybe that was the whole point…? In a way, they share this flaw with the Space Marines — but make no mistake, the models are still pretty cool! They are just less interesting than the flashier parts of the army.
The unit champions are doing a good job of providing some extra bling, though:
All in all, these guys make for rather impressive soldiers, yet they are also a massive departure from most of the human factions in the “old” WFB — although their armour (and by extension, the entire faction) seems to take some visual cues from the fully armoured version of Valten. While the Stormcast Eternals move far beyond that particular model, it’s still nice to see a bit of visual consistency like that in a faction that seems entirely new at first glance!
One last thing to point out about these models are their masks: Many people have likened these to the deathmasks of the Sanguinary Guard, and there are some clear parallels, of course. However, I actually think the Liberator masks are more versatile and interesting because the heads are more delicate and less clunky — which makes them far more interesting for all kinds of conversion projects, seeing how you won’t need to shave them down as much as the Sanguinary Guard heads, if you want to use them on human-sized modeld.
Anyway, as far as starter box models go, these are certainly impressive. It’ll be interesting to see whether an army completely composed from huge golden dudes ends up looking interesting enough, though.
The Goretide of Khorne
There I was, trying to sit this release out, and then they went and included an entire freaking Khornate army in the starter set — yeah, thank you very much, GW! 😉
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I am pretty much in love with this part of the boxed set, yet I hope I’ll still be able to remain fairly unbiased when looking at the models. One thing I am definitely aware of is that many people seem to be pretty tired with Khorne as GW’s default chaos faction — and I can definitely see where these people are coming from: Tzeentch and Slaanesh have yet to receive their own dedicated WFB models, and here we are, getting even more followers of Khorne once again. But you’ll have to forgive me, I can never get tired of Khorne, and I love these guys! Ahem, sorry, moving on 😉
What’s interesting about the chaos models is that they almost seem like the WFB version of Dark Vengeance’s chaos models. Just do the math: A Chaos Lord, check. Second champion, check (if we consider the re-released Dark Vengeance with the additional champ, that is). Helbrute-sized abomination, check. Five Chosen, check. Twenty cultists, check. It’s really rather uncanny!
The other thing that occured to me is that these models seem like the “safer” design when compared with the Sigmarites: While the latter can be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, the Khornate models basically follow the look that has been established for followers of the blood god ages ago. I’ve seen some people state that they find this look too ostentatious, but I’ve really wanted Khornate warriors of chaos to look precisely like this ever since I laid eyes upon this Adrian Smith illustration from the 6th edition BRB (this particular look was also heavily featured throughout the entire army book from the same edition, by the way):
So if you’re a chaos player, you won’t have to get used to a totally new design paradigm — as it happens, this seems to extend to the entire faction, seeing how Daemons and Beastmen seem to have been folded back into one army with chaos warriors (as per the older editions), and Skaven were added on top (as per Realms of Chaos, I suppose…?).
Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the models, shall we?
Khorgos Khul, Mighty Lord of Khorne
I’ll be perfectly honest with you: In many ways, this basically seems like the perfect, quintessential Khorne lord to me: The pose and armour are excellent, and I really love the flesh hound, especially since I’ve wanted some new plastic flesh hounds that are less clunky than the Finecast version for quite while now, and this beast gives rise to the hope that there may be more plastic hounds where this one came from. The inclusion of a hunting hound in this way also makes me stupidly happy because it’s so close to the image I have of Khorne’s followers as relentless hunters. The two also make for a smashing ensemble, don’t they?
Khorgos’ axe seems slightly reminiscent of Skarr Bloodwrath’s weapons — fortunately, the stupid flails have been ommitted this time around! And the rather subtle mutations have also been implemented rather well: Both the chitinous looking claw and the disturbing, fleshy stomach are not immediately noticeable, yet only make the model even more sinister once you notice them.
There are merely two very minor points of contention I have about the model: One, I am not 100% sold on the helmet yet, although that may just be the angle of the photo. Using a skull-like facemask like that seems like a cool enough idea — I’ll just have to see whether the actual head really works for me. It’s a bit hard to make out in the pictures. The other thing that does get some getting used to is the icon of Khorne on the model’s back — it’s pretty cool, but seems ever so slightly too big to me. I may get used to it, though 😉
So what can I say: Khorgos Khul is an excellent Khornate Chaos Lord and makes for an exciting centrepiece in every chaos army. He’s certainly on par with Kranon the Relentless, which is no mean feat. Excellent job!
Bloodsecrator Threx Skullbrand:
The Goretide’s “Bloodsecrator” (I swear to God I am not making these names up!) seems to be a mix between an army standard bearer and shaman. Threx goes for a more gladiatorial look, with a mostly unarmoured upper body showing off his impressive physique. While the overall model is pretty cool, he is somewhat less well designed than Khorgos Khul, though:
First, the good stuff: I love the collar around the model’s neck and the collection of skulls hanging from it. The leg armour is also very nice. And I love the weapon, which seems to be a 50:50 mix between an axe and a mace. The spine forming some kind of braid seems a bit much, though — it’s simply one of those things that seem slightly too juvenile to me.
The biggest problem is the icon, though — in a very literal sense. While it’s beautifully designed (and actually perfectly mirrors the design of the smaller icon Khorgos Khul is wearing — a nice bit of visual consistency there), it’s simply too big for the model: While it would probably look excellent on a 40k Chaos vehicle or walker, it does seem too massive and cumbersome on an infantry model, even on a beefcake like Threx here.
The good news is that all of these problems should be easy enough to solve with a bit of converting, so the model is still a very good base for a suitably impressive champion or standard bearer. It just takes some minor adjustments to make him even cooler, if you ask me.
Oh my, this big guy certainly was a surprise, wasn’t he? The Khorgorath basically seems to be a massive, chaos spawn-like beast composed of mutated flesh, bone and, well, lots of skulls, basically. The first thing that struck me is how similar the model’s pose seems to the Helbrute included with the Dark Vengeance boxed set — seriously, that cannot have been a coincidence! The second thing I noticed: Whatever is the deal with that head…?
Let’s see if we can make some sense of it:
Okay, it seems like the lower jaw is actually an original part of…whatever the creature was before it became a Korgorath. Then we have a crossbar decorated with icons of Khorne, and atop that a blackened skull that may or may not be the creature’s original skull — or maybe this skull is some kind of chaotic artifact that has been placed there to work as the creature’s head…? And on top of that, a strange, warped bone crown that looks like Khorne’s rune while also looking like a secondary face…? I give up! 😉
The head is certainly a case of “love it or hate it”. Some will love it, precisely because it’s so strange — it recalls some of the utterly inscrutable mutations from the Realms of Chaos books. Personally, I think it’s a little too abstract for my taste, but I will reserve final judgement until I’ve seen it firsthand. In any case, replacing it with something a little less out there would probably be easy enough.
The rest of the model seems like a massive, heavily-muscled and gruesomely mutated chaotic monstrosity — which, I guess, was the entire point of the exercise. While I am not a huge fan of rampant mutations, I think it really works here, because it provides a nice contrast with the more restrained infantry models in the army. Even if I am not 100% sold on the model yet, I think it will at least make for perfect and very promising conversion fodder!
Bloodstoker Vekh the Flayer:
It’s great how the Khorgorath comes with its own minder, and Vekh the Flayer really looks the part. Rather atypically for a servant of Khorne, this guy seems to be rather corpulent. But the look works very well for a beast herder like this. Plus there are still enough clues as to this guy’s allegiance — like the trident shaped like a Khornate rune that has been brutally rammed into Vekh’s right arm or the multiple runes adorning his armour. The model’s increased bulk makes it seem almost Ogre-sized, which I think adds some nice variation in height and build to the Goretide.
The one thing I don’t particularly care for is the exposed lower part of the face — I think the model would be more menacing with a completely covered, utterly expressionless face. In fact, I think there’s quite a resemblance with God of War’s version of Hades, and like that character, the head would work so much better if it were completely closed, obscuring any facial features and making the model look even more inhuman and implacable.
Once again, though, this should be easy enough to remedy. What we have here is a pretty interesting addition to the core army, when it comes to the visuals. And he looks great together with the Khorgorath. Very cool!
Well, we can keep this short: These guys are basically the stars of the show for me, period. But then I already told you that I simply love this particular kind of Khornate warrior: It’s the look I have always wanted for champions of the Blood God, and it seems just about perfectly realised on these models. Some people may think they are too ornate, but I would argue that they are dialed back when compared with the totally OTT weapons from the Skullreaper kit — in fact, these guys seem far more believable and less creepy-crawly, which I love! Each armour is a work of art, while also looking functional enough for a follower of Khorne: Each decoration also works as a blade (or, at the very least, a hideous spiky surface). And while GW seems to have been trying new iterations of this particular helmet design for quite a while now, the heads on these guys are pretty much perfect: Even the visible mouths perfectly complement the helmet design. Sure, the bearded guy may be a bit of an acquired taste, but all in all, the heads are fantastic!
There is also something wonderfully disturbing about the gaping maw the unit champ has been gifted with: Ewww!
These are possibly the models from the starter box I am looking forward to most — it’ll be great to finally get my hands on them (and to promptly turn them into members of Khorne’s Eternal Hunt, in all likelihood).
These are very interesting in that they seem like mix between the older Chaos Marauders and the chaos cultists from Dark Vengeance — seriously, I don’t think these guys would look out of place next to the cultist models.
And right enough, the design seems to be going for a look between Chaos Marauder and cultists, which works well enough. But while the models sport many cool Khornate touches, some of them do look a bit rough around the edges: The naked torsos seem a little dubious from an anatomical perspective, and some of the poses could have used some fine tuning.
On the other hand, I really love some of the helmets, and having the added benefit of a standard bearer and musician is also a nice touch. When all is said and done, I suppose these could become just as versatile and prolific for conversions as the Dark Vengeance cultists — at least when it comes to converting all kinds of Khornate madmen. They would also make for teriffic chaos cultists in 40k with some added autopistols — but we’ll be getting to that in a minute.
All in all, these are pretty cool. They have a bit of a hard time against spectacular models like Khorgos Khul or the Blood Warriors, though. Even so, pretty good.
As has been pointed out by many people before me, the Stormcast Eternals should lend themselves especially well to any number of true scalish conversion projects: Custodes are the very obvious (and very awesome) idea here, seeing how the models seem to be halfway there anyway: Just add some White Lion helmets and Nemesis Psi-Halberds, and you have yourself some pretty convincing (and rather correctly scaled) Custodes — there’s even the new golden spraypaint to make painting even easier for you.
An equally interesting idea would be to use the models as base models for Thunder Warriors: Their less tech-y and more medieval armour and size make them ideal for the Emperor’s Proto-Astartes, and I am looking forward to seeing Mikko Luoma’s Thunder Warrior project take shape — the Stormcast Eternals seem like a brilliant resource for such an endeavour! And as Eric Wier has pointed out very recently: Don’t those Retributors slightly remind you of one of the vintage Mk 1 Terminators? Maybe that could be a very cool conversion project as well!
And while we are on the matter of power armoured characters, I am pretty sure the models could be used to kitbash a Space Marine hero or two wearing Artificer armour — although the differences between the Stormcast Eternals and Astartes are certainly big enough to make such a conversion challenging.
Speaking of Space Marines, wouldn’t you agree that the Dracoth might make a pretty cool mount for a Salamanders Captain — and speaking of Salamanders, all those massive hammers would be a perfect fit for the army. Just sayin’…
And finally, a slightly more out-there idea: What about using some of the Stormcast Eternals for a Mechanicus-related project: Wouldn’t it be cool to use some techy bitz and turn the towering Stormcast Eternals into massive clockword automata? They are looking like tin men anyway, and I could really imagine some of them as the personal bodyguard of a particularly powerful and eccentric Archmagos.
Oh, and let’s not forget Inquisitors of course, because who else would wear ostentatious armour like that. As it happens, I have already started messing around with the freebie Liberator that came with White Dwarf, starting to build an Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus or Hereticus (or maybe even an Inquisitor Lord?). Here’s a very early WIP:
In fact, the very straightforward way the Liberator models are designed makes them very easy to use for simple conversions like head and weapon swaps, so I think we can look forward to all kinds of crazy projects involving these models. And regarding head swaps, I believe those Liberator masks would work like a charm for sun cultists, death cult assassins, Navigators who have to hide their deformities and similar denizens of the wonderful world of INQ28…
Goretide of Khorne:
For those of you who are playing a World Eaters or Khorne:Daemonkin army: Good news, everyone! We now have our very own starter box army: Just add some backpacks and bolt pistols — BAM! Instant Khornate CSM army 😉
Seriously, though: These should mix wonderfully with the CSM catalogue. I already pointed out the structural similarities with the chaos side of Dark Vengeance, and I think both core armies could be combined perfectly into a Khornate army: The Chosen and the Blood Warriors seem like they would be really easy to mix and match, and with some CSM weapons, backpacks and (for the more adventurous) lower legs) spliced in, the Blood Warriors would make for excellent World Eaters Chosen and/or champions.
The same goes for the Blood Reavers, as they are looking like the chaos cultists’ Khornate cousins. Combining both kinds of models multiplies the variations we can get out of our cultists, and I imagine the Bloodreavers would also work really well for INQ28 conversion projects, such as chaos cults (DUH!) or something a little more original — like Necromunda-styled Pitslaves, for instance!
Khorgos Khul seems pretty much perfect the way he is — just slap on a pistol holster, and he’d make for a wonderful World Eaters lord.
The Bloodstoker seems almost Ogryn-sized — which would make him an interesting option for a traitor Ogryn (or even a – slightly smaller – plastic version of this Forgeworld model).
The Khorgorath could work as a pretty convincing Helbrute stand-in, a huge arena beast for a World Eaters army, bigger chaos spawn or even as a base model for a Daemon Prince conversion. One thing I will have to figure out is how to make sense of that head — or else, I guess I’ll have to replace it with something a little less abstract.
The “Bloodsecrator” (I still cannot get used to actually typing that out) would make for a fantastic World Eaters arena champion in 40k, while his standard would be great for accessorising a Khornate Landraider or Knight Titan — or any other kind of chaotic vehicle or walker, really.
Whatever happens, I think we can really look forward to seeing an amazing plethora of conversions involving these kits sooner rather than later — I, for one, can hardly wait!
So, what to make of it all? The starter box is pretty spectacular and certainly a highlight after last month’s rather lacklustre Space Marine release. The models are excellent and provide lots of value for the money. GW’s designers often seem to be at their best when designing starter boxes, and Age of Sigmar is no exception to this rule!
But while the set is chock full of amazing models, I cannot help coming back to the question as to how this will change the landscape for Warhammer. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the new direction constitutes a pretty big shift in many ways. Jeff Vader’s own, very succinct piece on the matter here perfectly echoes some of my own thoughts, although I would like to expand on one particular point. Jeff writes:
The average thirteen year old given the choice between an army of bad ass armoured Space warriors and an army of toothless men with pantaloons and floppy hats is most likely going to leave the store with a box of space marines. I may think the Empire and Bretonnia has their merits now that I’m older, but I remember how godawfully boring I found them as a kid… (I played nightgoblins).
And I think this changing of the watch, if you will, between the heroic and the pathecic really sits smack-dab in the middle of a rather massive paradigm shift — and by “pathetic” I mean a certain kind of style that has always been a cornerstone of GW’s particular treatment of low fantasy: There were always mighty heroes, true enough, but many of the models ended up looking like frightened everymen utterly ill-suited to face the murderous challenges of an entirely hostile world. Just look at the Empire State Troops (as outlined in the citation above), the Bretonnian Men-at-arms or some of the older, more humorous greenskin models. This aesthetic of the pathetic has been written about a lot, especially in Oldhammer circles, and while it has been slowly dialed back over the last few years, I think we can safely say that it’s probably gone for good now. And in a way, and in spite of everything that may be awesome about these new models, it’s sad to see Warhammer getting rid of one of the things that made it so great. Because, at the end of the day, the old toothless men were very much at the heart of what made the setting unique.
In an interesting twist, the Old World and Warhammer basically started as a mashup of every fantasy race ever in one game, continuously waging war in a battle royale event. But over the years, the setting became less generic and established itself as its own thing: The low fantasy undercurrent really transformed it into something interesting. Granted, not all of it may have been equally fascinating, but there was a lot of narrative potential in places like the Empire (I still think Jack Yeovil’s classic Warhammer novel “Beasts in Velvet” serves as perfect proof of this).
The new narrative doesnt seem quite as compelling – yet – but seemingly goes back towards a more generic approach: Sigmar meeting and befriending a huge dragon? Sigmar raising up the mortal tribes over millennia? So far, it all seems like a severe case of “tell, don’t show” — we have very little attachment to this new setting, mostly because we haven’t seen all that much of it. The different realms sound like a concept that could be interesting, but with so little backstory in place, it all seems more like all the colourful backgrounds from a 90s 16bit fighting game of the Streetfighter II variety: In that game, we also get to visit all those countries, but they never provide more than a highly stylised background to the fight — the analogy seems rather apt, I think.
The treatment of WFB’s established armies is another interesting point: There are rumours about one reason for this rather radical revamp being that concepts like “Lizardmen” or “High Elves” are simply impossible to trademark — often because they weren’t even GW’s idea in the first place. I don’t know whether that really was an important part of this redesign, I don’t know much about copyright law, but Warhammer as an IP must have been a nightmare to protect sometimes. So now we get the “Aelf” instead of the Elves and the “Orruks” instead of the Orcs, and the new Lizardmen are called Seraphon,…and while it may make the IP more solid (in legal terms) and while it’s a nice service for WFB players to be able to hang on to their armies in AoS, it also seems a little hokey right now, at least until we know what the long term plan is — will there be more support for those races, or is their inclusion maybe a way for GW to cut its losses (revamping that entire Dark Elf catalogue, for instance, cannot have been cheap)? We don’t know yet.
Which, I guess, leads us to my main criticism: One thing I would really have loved to see accompanying this release is some proactive communication on GW’s part: There are probably many reasons for them having taken this route, and it should be no dark and dirty secret that some of those reasons are probably business-related. By the same token, it’s easy now to see a lot of what they did during the End Times releases as preparation for this: The End Times got players used to combining different armies into bigger alliances, something that is now turned up to eleven with AoS. The WoW aesthetic is also something that has grown more and more noticeable during the End Times. And finally, looking at the size and basic design of the Stormcast Eternals and Khornate warriors in the AoS starter set, it almost seems like the Putrid Blightkings and Skullreapers/Wrathmongers were basically a test run for this new kind of infantry — or, at the very least, designed with AoS firmly in mind. In hindsight, things fall into place rather beautifully.
But I think this would have been an excellent time for a bit of a “fireside chat” with the customer. So instead of glossing this all over as the next great thing and an option for having even more amazing battles, they should have been a bit more open about it: “Look, guys, we all love WFB to bits, but it just didn’t work any more. It didn’t sell well enough. The rules became more and more cumbersome. We felt like there was nowhere else to go. Which is why we decided to try something new. You might initially dislike our approach, but please give the game a go before you ragequit!” I think some of the hatred and frustration we are seeing from WFB players right now stems from the feeling of being ignored and/or not really addressed at this time.
The models are certainly looking fantastic, though, which is why I am at least willing to hear them out on this. The Khornate part of the deal is basically a compulsory purchase for me, and chaos seems to be closer to its prior incarnation, if a bit more ostentatious. In fact, I have preordered the box merely on the merits of the models, without even knowing whether I’ll ever play the actual game. In that way, I am probably GW’s ideal customer, because the one thing that will always win me over are cool models. And a game that allows enforces army selection based on the models I like is certainly more interesting to me than one where I have to field lots of stuff I find dull.
But it’ll be interesting to see whether this move wins GW more patrons than it alienates. Some of the visual influences make it obvious that Age of Sigmar may have been designed to appeal to additional demographics — videogamers, for instance. I think people who grew up with tabletop based roleplaying and wargaming naturally fell in love with MMORPGs and console RPGs because, well, these were their fantasy world come to life. The same may not be true in the opposite direction: Why would a WoW player go through the drag of having to build up an army. And time will tell whether or not the market can sustain another faction of massive, heavily armoured dudebros, however cool the models may be.
When all is said and done, I can watch all of this unfold from a fairly comfortable position: It’s been years since I last played WFB, so my attachment to the section is mainly nostalgic. I don’t have 15,000 points of models that have been invalidated by a change in rules. And if nothing else, the new release will provide me with lots of lovely conversion material. I do realise of course that other people stand to lose more from this than me. So for those you who are veteran WFB players and who are – maybe rightly – furious that GW killed of “their” game, let me tell you this – and I am utterly, deadly serious here, this is no attempt at being snarky or condescending:
This may feel awful now, but it could be a blessing in disguise. GW has killed off systems before (older editions of WFB and 40k as well as the specialist games like Necromunda, Gorkamorka and Inquisitor). Yet those systems now enjoy a second lease of life because they have been given over to the fans, to do with as they will. And it works! One need look no further than the brilliantly creative and highly prolific INQ28 scene as proof. Granted, games that have been officially cut loose will probably never be a mainline game again, but there is something very reassuring in the knowledge that the game is “finished” in a way. It belongs to you. Take a look at the Oldhammer community and rejoice: You can pick any version of Warhammer you like and play it. Will it be less comfortable than before? Peobably. But it’s possible. And nobody can ever take that away from you, whatever happens next. And who knows, maybe Age of Sigmar turns out to be a fun game after all? Then you will have even more options at your fingertips. Keep calm and carry on, as they say 😉
So yeah, this is all my terribly wordy and rather roundabout way of saying that I think it’s a brilliant starter box, once again, and certainly some excellent value for the money (as long as you buy into the thought that little plastic men can be excellent value for the money, that is). But it might take more than a sweet starter box this time around, and as for Age of Sigmar’s future I think the jury is still out on this one…
That new logo is pretty awful, though…And to the person responsible for all of those names: Please just stop! Please…! 😉
So, what is your take on this release? Are you happy with the new direction? Are you frothing at the mouth with rage at the new game and the new designs? Do you love or hate the models? Or do you want to share some additional conversion ideas? As always, I would love to hear from you in the comments section!
As always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!