Thursday, October 22, 2020

REVIEW: Codex Necrons

While I regularly review AoS Battletomes on here, it's been quite awhile since I've reviewed a Codex for 40k. The new Necrons are just too tempting to resist though, so I'll be staying on brand for this site by reviewing the Death-esque faction of the dark millennium.

This review will be a little different than my typical Battletome ones. For one thing, I don't have a super firm grasp of the 40k rules. This means, while I'll have a general idea if something seems good or not, I won't be able to talk about it in the same way as AoS rules. I played 40k pretty regularly from 3rd edition through 5th, moderately in 6th, not at all in 7th, and have played literally one game of 8th. What I'll be looking at instead is the lore, the layout of the book, and the general feel of the rules. I'll also be looking at this through the prism of AoS. As someone who has primarily been playing within the Mortal Realms for the last half a decade and has read every single Battletome published since it was created I have a pretty good feel for it. This way I can look at how it differs (beyond the obvious setting differences) for anyone else who plays AoS and is either looking at jumping into 40k for the first time, or jumping back in after a long hiatus, like myself.

As with all of my reviews, let's start with the cover. I really, really like the new design aesthetic that GW is going with for 9th edition 40k. It's very clean and modern, without being overly so like how 7th edition stuff felt to me. We've moved away from the highly rendered, single figures of most of the 6th - 8th edition Codexes, and have plunged back into the hectic battle scenes of yore. I really like the battle scene look over the single figure personally. They still have a central figure, or figures, to anchor the composition, but it's more visually interesting to me and also reinforces the gothic feel of 40k. A hallmark of classic 40k images is the gothic vibe, which the larger battle scenes more accurately depict. It feels more like a painting of antiquity; besides, it also echoes the 40k ethos of more is more. The style does feel a little looser to me. Not sketchier exactly, but definitely more fluid. You can feel the hand of the artist more. I like it. I liked the more highly rendered style of past covers too, but this one hits all the right buttons as well. I'm already a fan of the new 40k logo. I know some aren't, but I definitely am. I also really dig the minimalist approach to the title. A detail that's missed in a lot of the promo photos is that above the box that contains the word "Codex" is a little Inquisitorial reference number. It's a cool little bit of in-universe lore that plays upon the way the rest of the Codex is presented as well.

The general layout of the Codex follows what we're familiar with from GW books. It starts out with the lore, which begins with the broadest strokes, and becomes more detailed and specific as it goes on. This is followed by a gallery section of painted models, and lastly the rules. I'm going to talk about the way the lore is presented and laid out before going into the specifics of it. GW has really upped their game on the layout and design of their books. This feels very fresh and modern. There are several pieces of art that either take up a whole page, or splash out over two pages. About half of these have text laid overtop of them. This might seem like a small detail, but it's something I'm a fan of. I like when the images and the text get to commingle and live together, instead of always being separated by pages or boxes. 

A new addition for this edition is the inclusion of war zones. These are a two page spread that has either a picture of the planet or a map of the system or war zone, as well as a brief overview of what's going on there. The Necron codex has one of these, but the Marine codex, which I'm currently reading through, has several. I love the zoomed in view this gives you. It adds some more flavor to the army and also gives you something current and ongoing. These forces are currently fighting this battle and here's how it's going.

All of the lore here is written from an Imperial perspective. This is clearly meant to be what the Imperium knows about the Necrons. This makes complete sense since the Imperium is our window into the universe of 40k. They're our human level perspective. It's not necessarily written as if it's an in-universe document, like pages lifted from an Imperial report or something. This allows them to stray a little bit into describing and explaining stuff that the Imperium might not know, but is still relevant to someone wanting to collect Necrons. There are even little notes in the margins of some of the pages written by an archivist of inquisitorial agent. This calls back to the Inquisitorial reference number on the front of the book. Again, a really clever and nice addition.

Now for the lore itself. The last Necron Codex I owned was their first entry from 3rd edition. Since then, the lore has changed dramatically. They basically got a total revamp with their 5th edition book. I knew the broad strokes of this but haven't really read any of the new lore. After I started painting my Indomitus models I purposefully avoided reading any lore online as well because I wanted to experience it as presented in their new Codex first. We start off with a brief overview of their history and the War in Heaven. This was major event in the history of 40k where the Necrons and the C'tan fought the Old Ones and their various vassal races, such as the Eldar. The Necrons were't always the Necrons though. They were once the Necrontyr, an organic race cursed with short lifespans and cancerous maladies due to their dying star. They were a fairly dominant race, and had a galaxy spanning empire. Often at odds with themselves, they became united when the Silent King decided to start a war with the Old Ones. Losing the war, they aligned themselves with the C'tan, a race of star gods. They were then tricked into biotransference, which immolated their bodies and transferred their minds into the mechanical bodies we now know as the Necrons. At the end of the war, in which the Old Ones were defeated, the Necrons turned upon the C'tan and shattered them into shards which they then imprisoned as vengeance for the cursed immortality they now had. 

Most of the rest of the lore focuses on their current status within the 41st millennium instead of dwelling on the past. This is something I remember reading in an interview with one of the 40k writers as a focus for 9th edition. Instead of detailing the past and histories of the races, it would be more focused on the here and now, which I think is fine. I really like the current timeline of 40k, so that works for me. After the defeat of the C'tan the Necrons went into stasis and slept for 60 million years until they started waking across the galaxy in the current time. Some tomb worlds have been awake since the Heresy, but the majority did not start awakening until the 41st millennium. Some really cool bits that stood out to me is when it talked about how not all of the tomb worlds made it through the 60 million years, with some being destroyed by nebula or other phenomena. Some even just drifted millions of light years away, finding that they were no longer even near their old empires. 

It talks about the various aspects of the Necron race, but there is no dedicated unit lore section that goes over each unit one at a time, like how we have in AoS Battletomes or the 8th edition Codexes. Most of the information is there, but it's scattered throughout the different sections. In the past I liked being able to go to a spot in the book and just read the section on Immortals or something if I wanted. It flows a bit better in the new format, and most of the information is there, like I said, but still struck me as a bit odd. Some units were hard to find much info on, such as Deathmarks. There was mention about how they're considered dishonorable by the nobles, but nothing on why they're utilized in Necron armies then. Once you get to the unit datasheets in the rules section there is a little mini paragraph for each unit that covers some of this. Again, not bad, but odd and not how I'm used to the books being laid out. There's quite a bit of information on how the Necrons are organized though, along with their empires and tomb worlds. This makes sense since the nobles leading the race are the important part anyway. They're the personality of the army, while the warriors have less individual thoughts and traits the lower down you go.

The map of their various empires is pretty cool. It's interesting how the Szarekhan dynasty is broken up with bits of it all over the galaxy. There's also a good overview of how the legions are organized. This section also touches on some of the units and the roles they fulfill, such as the Canoptek units.

This is all followed by a breakdown over each of the major dynasties. The Szarekhan and Sautekh dynasties get a page each, being the two largest ones. Each of the remaining four get a half a page each. All of this was new information for me since the dynasties didn't exist in 3rd edition. I really like how much personality the Necrons have now. We then get two pages talking about various smaller dynasties as well as outliers to the dynasties such as piratical Necrons.

While the units don't get individual attention, each of the special characters does, kicking off with the Silent King himself. His entry also contains a lot of the lore pertaining to the Necrons' current plans, since he's the main driving force behind them. We also get a bit more on the ending of the War in Heaven, since again, he was the main driving force behind it. His story is somewhat tragic and also makes me excited for what will happen with the Necrons moving forward with stuff like the Pariah Nexus. Imotekh and Trazyn are the next most interesting to me. The rivalry being set up between Imotekh and the Silent King is very promising. I'm hoping we get some payoff to that in a future campaign book, and maybe a new Imotekh model to go along with it.

The gallery section has a bunch of shots of the 'Eavy Metal models as well as some gorgeous scenic photos. Unlike the AoS Battletomes though, there is no hobby section with painting guides.

Now we're onto the rules. Like I said, I won't be able to talk much about how good they are, because I just don't have the frame of reference for that. What I can comment on though is how well they're laid out. There are a lot of rules in 40k. A lot more than I am used to with AoS. With all of the stratagems and such, there's a lot to keep track of. Well, here they've organized them into several sections; Battle-Forged Armies, Army Rules, Matched Play Rules, Crusade Rules, Datasheets, Wargear, Points, and Rules Reference. When you flip through the sections, the title of each will be on the side of the page in a color coded box, so it's super easy to navigate and know exactly where to look.

In the Battle-Forged Armies section we get the rules for Dynasties. There are a set of rules for each of the major ones, each with an additional extra rule unique to them. What excites me most though are the rules to make your own Dynasty. There are 12 Dynastic Traditions to pick from and 7 Circumstances of Awakening. You need to pick one of each for your Dynasty, unless you pick Vassal Kingdom, in which case you just use the rules from one of the major Dynasties. There are some picks in here that seem really good, but also some really fun and thematic ones, as well as ones that sit in both of those camps. I was excited to see Severed as a Dynastic Tradition after having read the Severed novella. Necrons who are severed have no free will of their own, including the nobles, and are instead slaved to the AI that runs the Tomb World. This is usually due to some glitch or disaster. It's super thematic, and not half bad as a rule either.

There are 40 Stratagems overall, which seems like a lot. Especially for someone like me who doesn't have a firm grasp on how they're used. Once I started reading through them though it's not as intimidating as I first thought. Some of them are only used by certain Dynasties and some only apply to certain units. So, if you're not running that Dynasty or not taking those units in your army then you don't even need to worry about them in your games. I bought the card pack for the Necrons to help keep track of all of this, which I think will be very helpful. Also, there is a really cool piece of art on the page opposite of these. The last section in Battle-Forged are the Cryptek Arcana, which are upgrades you can give to your Crypteks. Each of these cost points to apply, as well as power level. So if you take Quantum Orb for instance it's an additional 20 points or 1 power level. It's nice to see upgrades like this costing power level now since that's such a major aspect of how Crusade is played and it will help keep it balanced.

The Army Rules section has all of the Warlord Traits, Relics, and Powers of the C'tan in it. This is followed by one page of additional Matched Play Rules giving you four new Secondary Objectives to pick from for your games that are unique to the Necrons. I love anything that adds more flavor to an army so this seems like an awesome addition.

The Crusade Rules section follows this up with additional Agendas, Requisitions, Battle Traits, Weapon Enhancements, Battle Scars, and Crusade Relics to pick from for your Crusade forces. The best part of this, and maybe the best part of the entire rules section, is the Dynastic Epithets. Each time you win a Crusade game you get to generate a new Epithet for your warlord using a double D66 table. You can pick which ones you want if you don't want to roll. This is very in character for the Necrons. It's just perfect. Your Overlord can become the Ruler of a Thousand Moons, Slayer of the Cosmic Spyder, Bane of the Vyggh, etc, etc, etc. I would definitely proclaim all of my warlord's epithets during each of my games. This has an in game bonus as well. For every three epithets you earn you get to pick from one of eight additional rules for your warlord, such as Martial Perfectionist which lets you use a Battle Tactics Stratagem for 0 command points once per battle. The Crusade section is finished off with a beautifully painted example army and then we're on to the Datasheets.

This section starts off with the Command Protocols rules. Basically you get to "program" your army before the game starts. There are six command protocols which grant various bonuses. You have to assign one of these protocols to each of the first 5 turns in any order you wish. They then each have two directives, so when it comes to that turn you have to pick which directive you want to use. It reminds me of the special rules that the Fyreslayers have with their Runes. When it comes to the actual datasheets there are 51 unique units for the Necrons. That's a lot of units to pick from. Everything here seems pretty similar to how they were laid out in 8th edition. I can't really compare them to how the previous Codex worked since I'm not familiar with them. This is followed by the Wargear section, which has one of the coolest pieces of art hidden away in it, and then the Points section. I will say, the points are laid out in a much better fashion, with the potential upgrades for each unit right beneath it. That was one part of 8th edition I really didn't like and partially why I gravitated towards power level so much. Maybe I'll give points another try now. Lastly, there are some quick reference rules with a brief description and the page number that the full rule can be found on.

I'm really pumped about my Necrons and excited to get some games of 9th in at some point, Covid permitting. While I miss the individual unit entries in the lore section, I really like the new layout and design of the book overall. Everything is organized in such a clean and easy to read way, and I think the graphic design and artwork is some of the best yet. The new artwork and scenic photos are great as well. That shot of the Monoliths lined up is so cool. If you're coming over from AoS like myself there will be a bit of a learning curve, but it's all laid out so well when it comes to rules that I think it won't be super hard to adapt. Overall, I really liked the new Necron codex! The lore is great and I have so many ideas on how to fit my own dynasty into it. Now, I just need to start earning those epithets for my phaeron...

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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