The 2015 Eternal Hunt Awards, pt. 1: The Industry
And here we are after all, with 2015’s Eternal Hunt Awards. Kept you waiting, huh? 😉
It has been …quite a year for hobbyists, no question about that. For today’s first parts of my annual recap, let’s take a look at GW’s releases this last year, as they have been even more crazy than the 2014 lineup. To wit: 2015, the year when we finally got AdMech as a playable army. When GW blew up Warhammer Fantasy Battles and reshaped its broken bones into a new setting. When the first plastic Horus Heresy models were released. When the return of the Specialist Games was announced.
Quite a year, indeed. But what were the great and not so great releases of 2015? Step this way to hear my opinion of the matter:
I. Best releases of 2015:
Surprisingly enough, GW has not merely kept up the relentless barrage of releases we saw 2014, but has even managed to up the ante when it comes to some rather huge releases, with some of them really rather surprising. So what are my favourite releases of 2015? It’s a tough call to make, but in the end, here’s my selection:
The Adeptus Mechanicus release(s)
The importance of finally delivering the Adeptus Mechanicus as a playable 40k faction – and all on glorious plastic, no less – simply cannot be overstated. The Adeptus Mechanicus has always been one of the most quintessential and original parts of the whole 40k background. So hobbyists have wanted more AdMech for years — and now we finally get our wish, and it’s glorious!
It helps that the models are utterly stunning, though, turning the two AdMech factions into one of the most visually arresting armies in GW’s catalogue right now. They probably knew they had to pull this off in style, and they did, a few very minor hiccups notwithstanding. From the lithe creepiness of the Sicarian Ruststalkers to the excellent versatility of the Skitarii Rangers/Vanguard, it’s really hard to choose favourites. Some kits that formed a part of the release, however, deserve special mention:
The Sydonian Dragoon for arguably being the most ouright-Blanchian and quintessentially 40k model released for the mainline game so far:
The Tech-Priest-Dominus for its brilliant creepiness, flawless design and disturbing inhumanity:
Seriously, speculating what the guy may actually look like beneath his robes provides endless fun as well as goosebumps…
There also the fact that the Datasmith accompanying the Kastelan robots seems like an 28mm version of the original artwork for Magos Delphan Gruss from the Inquisitor rulebook — that’s the kind of meta continuity porn that just gets me every time 😉
And the list really goes on and on: We got actual models based on the electro priest background that hadn’t been seen since the 2nd edition Codex Imperialis. And some robots whose retro-futuristic design à la Fallout is something really new for 40k (which is why they weren’t universally liked, I imagine). And the kits I have worked with so far are beautifully engineered and look stunning when painted up, regardless of whether or not you are an ‘Eavy Metal painter!
The result is a brilliant collection of models that is, arguably, even better than Forgeworld’s Mechanicus models: In short, when it comes to both fanservice and visual design, there is nothing that can quite compare to the Adeptus Mechanicus models. Sure, splitting the release into two sub-factions seems like a slightly dubious move in hindsight, but I’ll let it slide. A triumph, all in all!
Betrayal at Calth
Oh boy, where to start. Giving us plastic AdMech was already a pretty big act of fanservice, but finally releasing plastic Horus Heresy models? Who would have expected something like that only twelve months ago?
I suppose it only made sense, though: The Horus Heresy has become a rather massive commercial juggernaut for GW, it seems, so it was only a question of time before some “gateway drug” for people interested in getting started with gaming in the Heresy era became inevitable. But what a gateway drug it is: With three complete and newly designed MK IV tactical squads, a squad of multipart Cataphractii, a freaking plastic Contemptor and two special characters, the box delivers a lot of bang for the buck — and it even includes an actual game to be played with the models, let’s not forget that!
It’s also pretty brilliant how the models included in the box will flawlessly work for both 30k and 40k: Whether you want to dip your feet into the Horus Heresy or are merely looking to spice up your 40k Space Marine army, you’ll walk away happy.
Are the models a little too generic, maybe? Does the Contemptor suffer from a rather pidgeon-toed pose? The answer is yes on both counts. And yet, Betrayal at Calth remains a fantastic package — fantastic enough to even get me to paint some Heresy era models, and in white to boot.
Beyond the quality of the actual box contents, it’ll also interesting to see how this all plays out: Will there me more Horus Heresy stuff in plastic? Will the setting thus become more approachable for people like me who are not that fond of resin as a material (or have no more kidneys left to sell in order to pay for their Forgeworld spending). Whatever happens, this was one heck of a surprise!
Take a look at my original review for the Betrayal at Calth models here.
The Age of Sigmar starter box
If you can say one thing about GW, is that they really know how to put together rather fantastic starter boxes. Which is why the Age of Sigmar boxed set has made it onto this list alongside Betrayal of Calth. In fact, the AoS starter almost seems like the ying to BoC’s yang: While the latter seems to have been engineered for maximum versatility, allowing you to customise the models any way you see fit, the Age of Sigmar boxed set gives you two small armies composed of highly individual mono-pose snapfit models that should make for fairly spectacular forces on the tabletop And GW really seems to excel at either way of putting together a starter box, which is certainly no mean feat.
The first faction included in the box, the Stormcast Eternals, provided us with a first glimpse of Age of Sigmar’s new posterboy faction, and if nothing else, the models make for a pretty stunning showcase:
Granted, the models may be more videogamey and World of Warcraft-like than many diehard WFB fans may be comfortable with, but you cannot fault the quality of the sculpts or the visual presence of the models. What’s more, the humble snapfit Liberators in the box turn out to be surprisingly versatile, with a bit of experimentation…
The other faction included in the box is a far more traditional WFB army, nevertheless giving us some of the best Khornate models available so far:
Again, there’s slightly zany stuff like the too-large standard on the Bloodsecrator or the crazily mutated Khorgorath, but the models are still excellent. In fact, the small army almost seems like a medieval version of Dark Vengeance’s (equally great) Chaos force.
While hobbyists in general still seem divided over the overall merits of Age of Sigmar versus the dearly departed WFB, there’s no question as to the quality of the starter box: The models are fantastic and make a compelling case for the game. I was quick to pick up the box, and I am not even really planning to play Age of Sigmar. Another fantastic starter box, even if the models are not as versatile as the ones included with Betrayal of Calth. To see two boxes of this caliber released in one year is really rather stunning!
Read my original thoughts on the box here.
Third time’s the charm: The new Tau Mechs
The Tau have been one of 40k’s more interesting faction for quite a while now, precisely because they seem so different from the setting’s usual, grimdark stylings and so freely borrow inspiration from Japanese Animé and giant Mecha. And yet, the one thing the faction should have gotten right from the get go – the actual giant Mecha – has always seemed a bit lacklustre. Sure, the battlesuits were a fun idea, but they never looked quite as cool as they could have. Should have. Last year’s Tau release started to rectify that with the Riptide, among other things, but it’s this year’s update that provides some additional huge battlesuit models — arguably some of the best models of the catalogue:
One of the most interesting parts about Mech design is when it breaks up the vaguely humanoid shape of the machine in interesting ways, and the Stormsurge manages just that, replacing regular arms with massive rocket launchers, adding support struts to the legs and incorporating a massive railgun that every Metal Gear Solid veteran will fall in love with. The resulting model instantly reads as the massive heavy fire support unit it is supposed to be in-game.
Possibly my favourite part of the model is the open cockpit, though: Cockpit design is so very important when designing cool Mecha, and after dropping the ball on the – otherwise fantastic – Imperial Knight kit, it’s great to see GW make the most of this particular element this time around.
The other massive model to come out of this release is possibly even cooler, though: If you ask me, the Ghostkeel may just be the definitive Tau Mecha-suit right now: The model incorporates many, many established Tau design elementes, while combining them into a model that seems massive as well as elegant and flexible. It also has a rather interesting head, for once, something that most of the Tau robotic suits so far have sadly lacked.
Even better is the fact that it features what might be my favourite cockpit right now, giving you a closer look at the way the pilot is positioned inside the machine. Much was made of the female Tau head provided for the pilot, and it’s certainly a nice additional bit, but the real star of the show here is the clever engineering that has gone into the entire chest/cockpit area:
After fumbling the challenge a bit for so long, it seems like the new Tau battlesuits now finally channel everything that’s great about Animé Mecha design, resulting in two models that actually make it hard to resist starting a Tau army — easily some of the best models of 2015, if you ask me!
The new Bloodthirster
The old metal Bloodthirster is one of the outstanding models of my youth: I remember marveling at the model in my very first copy of WD. But in all honesty, the model really hasn’t aged all that gracefully, and a replacement was long overdue. The new Bloodthirster solves this task wonderfully, and I really hadn’t expected that: After waiting so long for new Greater Daemon models, I was convinced any new version of the classic daempns could only end up as a bit of a disappointment — especially given the competition in the form of models like Creature Caster’s spectacular Warrior Demon, for instance.
In spite of it all, however, the new Bloodthirster really makes for a stunning reinterpretation of the classic concept, even resembling one of the coolest pieces of Mark Gibbons artwork from the yesteryear, while also featuring the dynamism and level of detail we have come to expect from modern plastic kits. Some fairly awkward parts remain – especially the meteor hammer weapons option and the flaming pillar designed to optionally boost the model’s height – but the bog standard whip and axe Bloodthirster pictured above is brilliant enough to make me overlook those smaller slipups. Just look at that cute little face:
Awww! Brilliant stuff! In fact, I already have one of these guys completely built and will hopefully paint the model sooner rather than later.
II. Worst release/biggest disappointment
Once again, it’s a pleasant surprise to see that none of 2015’s releases were actually really bad or downright horrible. However, some models were less cool than they should have been, while other releases seemed slightly underwhelming. So let’s take a look at the stuff that didn’t blow me away and also at some general tendencies and occurences I found disappointing:
The Deluge of Golden Dudes AKA the Stormcast Eternals release
Wait, didn’t I just choose the Age of Sigmar starter box as one of my favourite releases of 2015? And now this? What gives?
I stand by my earlier assessment that the Stormcast Eternal models from the starter box are very cool and make for a pretty good showcase for the faction. At the same time, I would have expected something a bit more interesting from the subsequent full release of the faction. It’s very obvious that the Stormcast Eternals are an attempt at creating an iconic army on par with the Space Marines of 40k, as there are just so many parallels between the two factions. Incidentally, the Stormcast Eternals are actually very close in size to the “true-scale” Marines so many hobbyists have been clamouring for. So what’s the problem?
Maybe it’s the fact that the new models lack the Space Marines 30 years’ worth of background: We are told they are amazing warriors capable of unbelievable feats, but we haven’t really seen all that much of them yet, and the AoS lore so far doesn’t really get the job done. In a way, the Stormcast Eternals make me understand for the first time what a Space Marine release must look like for someone not actually interested in Space Marines: Just the same bunch of dudes in heavy armour. Over and over and over.
At the same time, while the models are meticulously designed and crafted, the army does seem a bit samey. Maybe a more human element would have provided a bit of contrast? Or maybe the Stormcast Eternals will finally grow into their own, once the game and its world get developed a bit more? Maybe I’m just disgruntled because there are no more quasi-renaissance soldiers wearing floppy hats and pantaloons?
For now, I’ll say this much: The Stormcast Eternals from the starter box seemed like an interesting first taste. The rest of the release so far has not yet managed to live up to the hype generated by GW’s marketing for these guys. We will see what the future holds. Until then, I have to say that I found the Stormcast Eternals release slightly underwhelming, especially for something that is supposed to be the iconic new fantasy army.
Also pretty disappointing: The 2015 Space Marines release
While we are on the subject of big armoured dudes, the 2015 Space Marines release didn’t exactly blow me away either — not a bad release per se, certainly, but still a bit lacklustre, wouldn’t you agree? Giving their posterboys an update has always been a rather big occasion for GW, yet almost every part of the release had already been done better by another, earlier kit: The Vanguard kit lets you create more interesting assault Marines than the actual new assault Marine kit, the BA Terminator Chaplain is quite a bit cooler than the awkward looking vanilla one, and the updated Devastators, while definitely a highly useful kit, nevertheless suffer from a couple of strange design decisions (those really awkward helmets, for instance, and the ugly grav weaponry). Of course we didn’t know back then that the “real” 2015 Space Marine release would arrive later in the year — in the form of Betrayal at Calth 😉 So maybe that explains why these guys ended up less than spectacular…?
Those axe-flail-things on Skarr Bloodwrath
Look, I am seriously willing to excuse a lot of crap and suspend my disbelief as far as it will possibly stretch, but who in the seven hells thought this was a good idea? Did someone actually imagine how this guy’s fighting style would look in motion? I’m just glad those chains are easy enough to snip off…
The “Denglish” is getting unbearable
I already described this very problem last year, so let me just quote myself here for a bit:
As of the spring of 2014, all of GW’s publications use the English names – and only the English names – for any given unit type or character in all of their game systems. (…) Unfortunately, this creates Codices and publications with lots and lots of gibberish, where plain text is suddenly and rather violently broken apart by seemingly wanton insertion of English terms, even when a perfectly serviceable and well established translation for these terms exists in-universe.
Suffice to say that this already deplorable condition has really been turned up to eleven this last year, which makes the German translations of GW publications almost unbearable to read at this point. The fact that so many of the Age of Sigmar names are pretty overwrought doesn’t help, but it also extends to stuff that has been well established before (and appeared in BL novels, for crying out loud), with words suddenly getting English plurals in the German text. Once again, I realise that it probably all makes sense from a business perspective, but the effect is so jarring and ruins the quality of the writing so thoroughly that it’s almost offensive, especially when GW’s German translations used to make for pretty decent reading.
Plastic Sisters of Battle…pretty please?!
For the fourth year in a row, I’ve been pining for some redesigned plastic Sisters of Battle. Sure, one learns to make do, but it’s not the same as finally having access to some sweet new kits. Still, there may be hope: I mean, if we can finally get plastic AdMech with its slender, delicate and highly detailed Skitarii models, certainly new plastic Sisters must now be feasible, right? RIGHT???
One last thing…
The new plastic Blood Angels Chaplain with jump pack seems like such an amazing piece, right? I was seriously excited about the model when I saw the first fuzzy pictures. And then the hires photos appeared, and while I still think the model makes for a rather striking figure…
…just take a moment to take a closer look at that face:
Does that…does that skull mask have a little mustache? Awww…
Seriously, it’s just one of those things you can never unsee…
III. Still on the fence about…
- Age of Sigmar lore and world building: If you blow up a franchise with about three decades of world building behind it, you better make sure you have a terrific plan B in place beforehand, right? However, not unlike the Stormcast Eternals, the Age of Sigmar background has failed to live up to the promise of a compelling new world so far. This certainly has something to do with the lack of hard information: The well-established places of the “world that was”, like the Empire or Naggaroth, have been replaced with rather vague and generic-sounding realms, and those realms have so far been painted in rather broad strokes only. Meanwhile, armies assembled from the same WFB units and characters we’ve been using so far (or the aforemtioned Golden Dudes) are duking it out over a world that feels pretty hard to care about at this point — but then, we hardly know the new world. This seems like a clear case where “show, don’t tell” would be the right approach: Give us more of the new factions, show us more of this new world, so we can grow attached to it! So far, it all seems a bit arbitrary and generic. And the silly names certainly aren’t helping. But maybe it’s all a question of time? We’ll be talking about this same time next year, scout’s honour 😉
IV. Also pretty cool
- Plastic Horus Heresy: It remains to be seen how much of an impact the release of Betrayal at Calth will ultimately have, but even if nothing new ever comes of it, we now have access to two multipart plastic Heresy kits that were only available in resin up until now. That is pretty amazing, and everything from here on out is just bonus, really 😉
- Specialist Games making a return! I mean, seriously, what’s not to love. Bring. It. On.
- the GW painting videos on YouTube: GW’s traditional painting articles never did all that much for me, because they always seemed strangely vague or even arguably dishonest when it counted: Up to step number three, everything was peaches and cream, but step number four would invariably feature pictures of a model almost at full ‘Eavy Metal standard while the accompanying text would always assure us that only something very minor had been done between steps three and four. Well, no more, because GW now has a pretty excellent series of YouTube videos to help painters get started on particular models and effects, and while I was initially skeptical, the videos are really great! It helps of course that Duncan Rhodes just seems like the nicest guy in the world, which makes it a joy to follow his tutorials, but seriously: This is quality content, and it comes for free, and especially since GW so often gets portrayed as this ultra-evil and greedy company, they do deserve to be commended for providing a very nice bit of service like that!
Another very exciting year for hobbyists, and a relentless barrage of – mostly very good – releases from GW. Once again, it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, although two things have become clear in 2015: GW is willing to both make a bold move (like the destruction of the Old World and the introduction of Age of Sigmar) and give hobbyists stuff they’ve been wanting for a long time (AdMech and plastic Horus Heresy) — and if nothing else, that certainly seems like a promising starting point for 2016, right?
So much for the industry, but what about the hobbyists? Join me next time for the second part of the 2015 Eternal Hunt Awards and a closer look at my favourite blogs, conversions and hobbyists of the year.
Until then, I would love to hear your feedback: Any thoughts about my favourite releases that you would like to share? Any observations of your own? I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments section! And, of course, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!