Bringing a boltgun to a masked-ball — a closer look at Death Masque
Hey everyone, it has been quite some time since the last review here on the blog, because for what is probably the first time in my hobby life, I am productive enough to keep showing you finished models instead of talking about releases. Go me! 😉
At the same time, however, the backlog of released stuff I want to talk about keeps building up, so the recent release of Death Masque seemed like a good excuse to dip my toes into this particular pool again (I also want to discuss Silver Tower in more detail one of these days, probably as the last hobbyist in the world, but that will have to wait until I finally get my act together and write the rather comprehensive post I know the game deserves).
Anyway, here we are with a new boxed game, and it’s centered around the Deathwatch once more. Which is pretty cool, because the Deathwatch has always been a bit of a red-haired stepchild, at least when it comes to the Inquisitorial Ordos’ Chambers Militant: The Ordo Malleus’ Grey Knights have now enjoyed full faction status for years, and the Sisters of Battle, allied by ancient decree to the Ordo Hereticus…well, let’s not get into the whole drama and tragic release history surrounding them right now — suffice to say that they at least did form a complete army at one point.
The Deathwatch, on the other hand, was always restricted to a couple of conversion bitz, so if you wanted to run a Deathwatch killteam or, god forbid, an entire army, some OOP metal conversion bitz and a couple of plastic shoulder pads were all the material at your disposal.
All of this has changed with Deathwatch:Overkill, which provided us with some pretty excellent characters that already defined a general outline of what the modern Deathwatch could look like. And now we get another boxed game — this time chock-full of actual multi part kits and delicious conversion fodder! We also get a Deathwatch Codex to boot, but as my perspective is chiefly that of a converter, let’s focus on the models and discuss their strenghts and flaws as well as possible conversion ideas:
The Xenos are definitely getting the short end of the stick in this box — at least in terms of new sculpts: All of the models (except one, but we’ll be getting to that in a minute) are the plastic Harlequin kits that were released a while back. They are still pretty cool, of course, but there’s really no need to talk about those models again — all my thoughts on the plastic Harlequin models can be found here, in case you’re interested.
But like I said, there’s one notable exception. This guy:
Eldrad Ulthran, Farseer of Ulthwé
Well, quite a surprise, this one! I don’t think many people were expecting a plastic version of this classic 2nd edition character, seeing how Eldrad seemed to have died a typical Disney villain death at the tail end of the Eye of Terror campaign all those years ago, but mostly because the original Jes Goodwin sculpt is certainly one of the most iconic 40k models:
Confession time: I consider this one of the best 40k models ever, period. Easily one of my top five if one considers the whole 40k catalogue, and certainly one of the models you should show somebody if you were trying to explain to them what 40k is. Sure, the model is slightly two-dimensional, being very much a product of its time, but the amount of detailing, strong triangular composition and perfect pose make this model one for the ages, in my opinion. And now they have chosen to update this piece. Ho hum…
GW’s respect for the original Eldrad model shows in that they basically chose to keep almost every part of the original model: The staff and sword are virtually identical, as are most of the clothes and various doodads dangling from Eldrad’s belt and arms. The helm is also really similar, although I really hate the fact that Eldrad now sports one of those silly “pharao beards” that have been the bane of every Farseer design for quite a while now.
The pose is also very similar to the original, but while adding a bit of depth to the original sculpt, it also ends up looking ever so slightly less iconic. Now maybe this is just nostalgia getting the better of me, but for some reason the new Eldrad, for all his excellent detail, doesn’t seem to be quite as tightly composed as the original piece:
While some will certainly welcome the slightly airier pose and sense of depth and motion to the model, but I just cannot get over how brilliant the original is. Nothing is better proof of this than the fact that the new Eldrad instantly becomes far inferior if you drop the sword arm and use the alternate, “casting” hand for him:
Of course it’s a huge boon that the new model is plastic, so it lends itself to converting much better than the old metal model, allowing for using it as the base as a customised Farseer conversion (or for smaller tweaks like, for instance, getting rid of that beard…):
When all is said and done, it’s a very nice and fitting model when taken on its own merits. When compared to its legendary predecessor, however, I have to admit that it doesn’t quite hold up: If I were to build the new plastic Eldrad, I would do my darnedest to make him look as much as the original metal model as possible by tweaking the pose (and by GETTING RID OF THAT BEARD!), and I think that says al lot about which version is the superior one…
I wonder what this means for the (rumoured) plastic update of Khârn the Betrayer…?
It takes no rocket scientist to figure out that the Deathwatch are the more appealing faction in this particular set, mostly because there’s more original content for them. But even so, the Deathwatch side of things also makes heavy use of pre-existing kits: It looks like you basically get one Vanguard and Venerable Dreadnought kit and then the new Deathwatch Veteran sprue to build five Veterans and use the remaining bitz to spice up the other models to your heart’s content. Regarding the base kits, all of them are excellent kits, whether you’re starting a new Astartes force or adding to an existing one. Some detailed thoughts of on the Vanguard kit can be found here.
But yeah, beyond those kits, there’s the new Deathwatch Veteran sprue — and quite a sprue it is:
Looks like we are getting lots of weapons and decoration, but also a dedicated set of bodies and legs, which is very nice! And here’s what the bitz from the sprue will look like when used to create a squad of Deathwatch Veterans:
The inclusion of already establised visual elements, such as the Inquisition symbols, shoulder pads covered in scripture and special bolters, was a given, of course. What I really like, however, is how the main point of this new sprue seems to be to give the Deathwatch its own visual identity: Deathwatch Marines basically used to be standard Marines with a special bolter and one slightly more interesting shoulder pad. The new parts, however, really create a new look for them:
Their armour has a more streamlined and modern look to it (is that an Mk8 breastplate, I wonder?), which befits an Inquisitorial special force. If anything they have a sleek “Spec Ops” looks that is rendered even stronger by their armour being black.
It’s very interesting to see how they differ from their obvious counterparts, the Grey Knights: The Grey Knights look like, well, Knights: very ornamental and medieval. The Deathwatch, on the other hand, look like a particularly bad-ass black ops team from your favourite 90s military shooter, thrown into a blender and turned up to eleven — which also happens to make them look far more believably like an Inquisitorial sub-organisation now!
In addition to the sleek new armour designs, the sprue also seems to be featuring some of the Ordo Xenos’ more…esoteric gear, such as the sword on the squad leader:
Seems like we’ve been stealing some tech from the Necrons, eh? 😉 Now while this particular weapon seems a bit hit or miss to me, I still think it’s neat that some of the equipment seems to be both more esoteric and seemingly inspired by Xenos tech.
For those of you who want boisterous and ostentatious instead of sneaky and subdued, however, the good news is that the new Deathwatch bitz seem to allow for that option as well:
But whatever happened to the handle on this poor fellow’s hammer…?
There’s also a collection of shoulder pads bearing quite a plethora of different chapter symbols on the sprue, which should really help to make any given Deathwatch force look like it has actually been assembled from Astartes hailing from many different chapters. And the fact that we don’t just get yet more heraldic elements of the “big” chapters like the Ultramarines, Dark Angels or Blood Angels, but rather a collection of more obscure iconography, is both a great shout out to the wider 40k lore and a great modeling opportunity!
And finally, the bitz on the sprue can also be used to convert Dreadnoughts into a Deathwatch variant:
All in all, the new sprue seems like a deliciously versatile new toy, and I can see it becoming really popular, both with 40k players and the INQ28 crowd alike! For instance, Commissar Molotov, being both the Godfather of INQ28 and quite the Deathwatch fiend, will probably find much to like about the new sprue 😉
Well, this was another really excellent surprise: Whom do we get as the Deathwatch commander but a veteran of 54mm Inquisitor? For those of you who haven’t been into this hobby for years and years, Artemis will merely seem like a cool enough Deathwatch model. But if you remember the old 54mm Inquisitor line of models, you will also remember Artemis, arguably one of the most spectacular models at the bigger scale. And just check out this comparison to see how closely the new model matches the earlier incarnation:
It’s really crazy how GW’s sculptors have managed to incorporate almost all of the visual elements from the 54mm Artemis! Especially if you consider that one of the huge draws of the original Inquisitor models was how 28mm plastic couldn’t hope to capture the same amount of detail — I think it’s a testament to the quality of GW’s modern plastics that almost all of the detail has been retained at about half the size!
There are some smaller differences: Artemis seems to have done rather well for himself since we last saw him , earning the right to wear a snazzy cape. His Deathwatch boltgun has also been exchanged with an actual combi-weapon, and both his sword and his backpack have received some additional bling. I kinda miss the Crux Terminatus necklace, though, as it provided a nice extra bit of dynamism to the model. And I think I’d add a purity seal to the front of his left shoulder pad, just for old times’ sake 😉
The main difference is in the face, if you ask me: Where 54mm Artemis’ face is classically handsome (in the way many retro Space Marines used to be), the 28mm models have noticeably broader features — whether this is merely due to technical factors or an actual attempt at giving him the broader, heavier features that seem to be a trademark of Space Marines in some of the literature, I cannot say. Personally, I prefer the 54mm face, not because of the additional detail, but because the callback to the older, more handsome Marines appeals to me in an entirely nostalgic way. Curiously enough, the bare head that came with the old Dark Angels veteran sprue really resembles 54mm Artemis, though, so if you want to change that part, that’s the face I’d recommend — in fact, there’s a fantastic older 28mm Artemis conversion by Siamtiger that happens to be using the head in question.
It goes without saying that I won’t be discussing the general conversion options for the older kits contained in the boxed kit, for obvious reasons, although my thoughts on possible conversions may be found in the aforementioned reviews of the respective kits linked above.
So this leaves us with the two special characters and the new Deathwatch sprue to discuss:
Eldrad could obviously become a building template for your own custom Farseer with just a few cuts and a bit of kitbashing. The prospect isn’t hugely exciting, certainly, mostly because we already have a generic clamshell Farseer who can fill that role, although it’s nice to have the option. Seeing how his breastplate (with most of the Eldaresque decoration) seems to be a separate piece, it should be possible to use the model as the base for a non-Eldar robed character, such as an Inquisitor, Imperial Psyker, Chaos demagogue or what have you. And of course it goes without saying that his sword and staff would also be cool conversion bitz for any Eldar players.
But really, when all is said and done, there’s no doubt that this model should probably be used to build Eldrad, above all else. So the most appealing conversion options here would be to make minor tweaks to make him resemble his classic incarnation even more closely (rotating the head counter-clockwise by a few degrees, and OFF WITH THAT BEARD!).
Artemis should be easy enough to tweak as well with some careful cutting — but once again, I find myself strangely reluctant to even think about using the model for a conversion. It’s such a cool shout out to the 54mm model, and using it for anything else would just lose that — and there’s really no shortage of Space Marine bitz to use, so we might as well leave this guy in one piece, eh? Just this once 😉
Come to think of it, the one tweak I think would improve the model would be to slightly rotate its head so as to mirror the 54mm version’s pose even more closely.
So with the two special characters best left untouched, for the most part, the Deathwatch sprue is obviously the true star of the show here, and rumours have it that GW really intends to package it with a huge number of Space Marine kits to give the Deathwatch a real push. And why shouldn’t they? The designers have been building up the compatibility of the various Space Marine kits literally for decades now, and towards this end, releasing a sprue that will allow you to turn virtually every Space Marine kit into a Deathwatch kit is a pretty shrewd move!
There’s also the fact that the sprue seems far more comprehensive than the Dark Angels and Black Templars sprues that were its distant predecessors (and those weren’t half bad either): If you carefully divide the contents of the sprue between your squads, you’ll get quite a bit of mileage out of those bitz!
Possibly the best part of the sprue, however, is that it really plays to the appeal of the Deathwatch: The great thing about them is that they allow you to build a Killteam or force that is very much centered around the individual models, as they all hail from different chapters. So if you want to test some ideas for a DIY chapter or build a model belonging to one of the more obscure chapters, building a model for your Deathwatch project will allow you to do just that without having to commit to an entire squad or army.
And we finally get a distinctive look for the Deathwatch — one that goes beyond the concept of standard tac Marines with black armour and a silver left arm. True enough, these are still Space Marines, but even if they lack the plethora of kits the Grey Knights have nowadays, at least they now have their own visual identity!
The flexibility of the sprue means that it should also become quite popular with converters: Whether you are looking to add a killteam (or a single Deathwatch veteran) to your army or want some suitably original and esoteric equipment for your chapter masters or Inquisitors, there should be something for you on this sprue. Even if you are going for true scale Deathwatch (because true INQ28 aficionados will only ever settle for true scale Astartes), you’ll be thankful for the Terminator-sized Deathwatch shoulder pads.
All in all, Death Masque seems like a cool boxed set that basically combines several of GW’s most successful recent ideas: If you look at the kits in the box, that’s some pretty major bang for the buck. The game functions as a standalone entity, drawing in new people and working as yet another gateway drug, so to speak. The redesigned Deathwatch will pluck at the heartstrings of veteran players and hobbyists. And the special characters provide that extra bit of sugar sprinkled on top — well played, GW!
So what’s your take on the new models and conversion bitz? I would love to hear your opinion, so feel free to drop me a comment! And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!