The Realmgate Wars continue to rage across the realms and recently we were brought the latest installment in the saga, Balance of Power. This hefty campaign book continues on the story that we last saw in Quest for Ghal Maraz and brings about a few cliffhanger moments. So how does it fare?
The first thing that stands out about Balance of Power when compared to the last two books is that no special edition of it was released. This was also true with the Fyreslayers Battletome, with the last book getting one being the Everchosen book. This is likely due to low sales since they still have a few special editions for sale of older AoS books. While understandable, it's sad since I really liked the look and presentation of the Quest for Ghal Maraz book. This would be even worse for people who picked up the special edition version of the first two books and are now left with an incomplete collection. Honestly, they probably should have done a special edition version of the Age of Sigmar big book and left it at that until they had a chance to reexamine sales numbers. Even though AoS is continuing on from Warhammer, it's essentially a new game and it needed time to grow a bit before people would be willing to invest the big bucks into a special edition. That being said, the regular version we got is just what you would expect from GW. The cover art follows the same style as past releases and the hardback book itself is a great quality.
We are given a brief recap of events so far at the very start of the book. This is good for people who decided to jump right in starting with Balance of Power, and is also a nice refresher for everyone who read the last books back when they came out in July. One interesting tidbit of information a few people have picked up on from this section is that it mentions for the first time that Sigmar saved men AND women from the Mortal Realms to create his Stormcast Eternals. Whether this means some of the Stormcast we have already seen are women or that it's a hint at future releases yet to come, I for one think this is a welcome change. GW seems to be trying harder to be more diverse and inclusive with their games and AoS is a perfect clean slate to do that with. They have already started painting their models in more diverse skin tones, and the inclusion of women within their model lines, and their prominent AoS model line at that, is a great idea. I hope we get to see a particularly tough as nails Lord-Celestant who is a woman.
Once we move past the recap the story picks back up again in Ghyran where we last left the Hallowed Knights. Gardus is dead, returned to Azyr, and now it's up to their Lord-Castellant, Grymm, to lead them. So far Ghyran has seemed like the most interesting realm with the most variance in locale. Here we get to see the Stormcast and Sylvaneth alliance fleeing the destruction of the Athelwyrd and the Nurgle war host. I don't want to give away to much of the story, but there is some crazy magic used and we also get to see what I think is one of the coolest bits of flavor in the realms so far, the jotunberg. It's a giant walking mountain that heralds the coming of winter. They are extremely rare and this one is slowly dying from Nurgle's rot as well. Alarielle calls upon the jotunberg and uses it's icy touch to freeze over a sea so that the forces of order can continue to flee. I really like the wintery imagery used in these parts. In fact, the whole confrontation over the frozen sea is fantastic.
On the Nurgle side of it we are left with only Torglug as the main villain. He is a fairly interesting character, so it's not really an issue, but it does make me wonder what happened to the Glottkin and Gutrot Spume. Knowing how the story plays out I suppose their inclusion wouldn't have really worked or added anything. It does seem strange though since they are presumably higher in Nurgle's favor then Torglug considering that he has kept them alive for millennia now. We also get to see the inclusion of a new Stormhost as well as the Celestant-Prime himself. The ending to this story arc is pretty important and game changing and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. If anyone had read the Battletomes that came out before this you would have seen that something like this happening had been hinted at before, and it made me take notice when I read the hint about it back then too.
Besides Ghyran we also get two smaller story arcs centered around the Realm of Death and the Fyreslayers respectively. Both of these include new armies of Stormcast, one a whole new Stormhost and the other a new Warrior Chamber within the Hammers of Sigmar. The Death story certainly caught my attention since it was one of our first looks into that new realm. The conflict centers around a host of Slaanesh attacking the city of Nulahmia which is ruled over by Neferata. It's rather short but it was nice to get this little glimpse and the ending certainly sets us up for something potentially big in the next book. The other story has the Stormcast hiring a clan of Fyreslayers to help lead them to and then attack a supposedly impenetrable Bloodbound fortress. It's an okay story, and the Fyreslayers are presented in memorable fashion, with some of their personalities and such getting fleshed out more from their own Battletome. Along the way to the fortress they are assailed by both Skaven and Bloodbound which provide for some fun battle scenes. The fortress they are assailing also happens to be the prison of Skarbrand, but don't worry, he's not there for the moment, which brings us to the most out of place story arc for me.
Khorne, jealous of Nurgle's success in Ghyran, sends Skarbrand there to do what he does best, carve a path of destruction though everything in his way. Luckily for the forces of order the Slann and their Seraphon armies decide to intervene. The Seraphon and forces of Khorne essentially destroy each other, leaving only the Slann and Skarbrand on the field of battle. Knowing he can't defeat the greater deamon, the Slann simply opens up a portal beneath him sending him back to...
...the fortress that the Stormcast and Fyreslayers are assailing! See, kind of a weird and pointless story. I almost feel like they couldn't figure out a way to include the Seraphon so they just threw that one in there. Suffice to say, the forces of order were no match for Skarbrand and are forced to retreat, but not before accidentally triggering something that will have potentially disastrous implications in the next and final story arc.
The whole book ends at Mt. Kronos in Chamon, the Realm of Metal, where the greater demon of Tzeentch who once fought Sigmar has appearently been imprisoned. The area they are fighting in is so confusing and messed up that I really have no clue how it works. I understand that the Mortal Realms are all about pushing the crazy and fantastical, but this one went a step to far for me. The main concept of it is that time flows differently there, some pockets going faster, some going slower. This is a really cool concept, and I like it, but the whole thing is on a flat, circular piece of land, contained within some sort of orb within a membrane of something or another, all floating in the void. No clue honestly, and it took me out of the story for a bit as they tried to explain it. Ghyran makes sense to me. It's fantastical, but it's still all one realm with seas and mountains and forests. Chamon seems to be made up of weird pocket dimensions of floating islands supported by dragons and strange time anomaly orbs. I guess I just don't understand if Chamon has a "main" land mass, or if it's just a bunch of smaller, self contained areas like this. From what we have seen of Ghyran, Aqshy, and Shyish, they all seem to have the feeling of a planet, more or less, even if Shyish also has an underworld.
Once we move past establishing the setting though the battle itself is pretty interesting, with warriors getting caught in time bubbles, or speeding through in a blur. The whole thing ends with the confrontation that everyone has been waiting for, Vandus Hammerhand versus Archaon. It's a great fight and the ending of it really has me interested in what's coming next. I think we may see part of Vandus' continuing storyline in the new Stormcast Etremis Battletome coming out soon.
The artwork continues to impress throughout the book, as you can tell by the numerous pieces scattered throughout this review. There are of course a few that I felt fell a little flat, but for the most part they are all pretty good. GW has greatly expanded the number of artists they use, which is reflected in the many different artistic styles. At first I was a little hesitant about this change, but I have come to appreciate it since it allows me to experience the warhammer world from some new perspectives.
The battleplans scattered throughout the story continue to impress. Some are better then others of course, but GW really seems to be pushing what they can do with these scenarios. There were two battleplans in there that didn't even use a 6' x 4' table and instead had more unique set ups. There is one where Archaon is chasing a Gaunt Summoner who has betrayed him as he tries to flee to a realmgate. The table is divided into three 2' x 4' sections laid out in a kind of stair/snake pattern, effectively making the chase longer and more of a corridor. I'm really interested to see what they come up with next. These new battleplans are definitely making me happy that I chose to build my gaming table in 2' x 2' squares even though it's not a Realm of Battle table.
There are also several Times of War rules throughout the book to help you better represent the areas they are fighting over. The ones that come to mind for me are rules for fighting around the jotunberg and around Mt. Kronos. We also get several painting guides just like in the previous campaign books including one for Skaven and Neferata's skeletal legions. These add a nice little extra content and sometimes can turn out to be generally helpful. They aren't as long or detailed as the ones in White Dwarf, and a few steps and colors are definitely skipped over, but overall they do a good job.
This is the first campaign book released after Battletomes, which presents us with an interesting situation. The first two campaign books were effectively introducing us to new Warscrolls since there were no Battletomes yet. In Balance of Power though, all of the Warscrolls have previously been released somewhere else. We get a smattering of Stormcast ones, a couple Death ones (I guess these were "new"), almost all of the Fyreslayer ones bar a few characters, and almost all of the Slave to Darkness ones. Basically the ones they thought were most vital to playing out the storyline from the campaign.
What's really interesting though are the battalion formations. We get a Nurgle one where you take three units of Blight Kings and a Nurgle Lord, and the Lord gets extra abilities to have him represent being Torglug. They do the same thing with the Sylvaneth to represent the Lady of the Vines. The possibilities this opens up are pretty exciting, as we may get to see rules for characters from the story that aren't important enough to get their own model, but are unique nonetheless. Korghos Khul and Vandus come to mind. There are also some battalions to represent Neferata's personal guard, the Slaaneshi Lord who was attacking her realm, and several others. The whole thing ends with the four pages of core rules yet again, a welcome addition to all of the books.
Having read through several of these books now, I do kind of wish they had stuck with the "old" two book format from the End Times. One book with all of the story, and the other with all of the battleplans, times of war, warscrolls, and battalions. It would just make it a lot easier to game with if I only had to carry around a smaller book. I do understand though that the battleplans are a little more involved in the story then what we were used to seeing in the past and it might be hard to separate them out from it without ruining it in some way.
Overall this was another great addition to the Realmgate Wars series. The story had a few moments that felt extraneous, mostly Skarbrand and the Seraphon, but the rest of it was good. I particularly like the Ghyran story and Vandus and Archaon's showdown. It definitely felt like the middle book in a series. A lot of plot lines were set up to be resolved later, the most obvious of which being the Death story, but all of the others had those elements as well. You need to think of this as being part two in a trilogy. I think the next book in the series will either justify a lot of these choices, or not. I would be kind of disapointed if the next one just keeps leaving stuff on cliff hangers. While I understand you need to do that to an extant with an ongoing series, I do hope we get to see a few of these storylines wrapped up, mostly the Hallowed Knights and Alarielle. Their story has been ongoing now for three books.
I definitely recommend picking this up if you like the AoS lore. It's a solid addition and also covers all the basics from many of the Battletomes that came out before it. If you passed on those Battletomes you can catch up a bit on what's happening in this campaign book. I would recommend reading the past two campaign books, or at the very least, the novels that tie into them before starting into this one. While there is that recap at the start of it, you lose a bit of the impact of certain scenes by not knowing what came before.
Final Score - 4/5
Until next time,