Saturday, June 4, 2022

REVIEW: The Horus Heresy - Age of Darkness

It's finally here, the new edition of the Horus Heresy and it's first official starter set, Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness! It contains all the glories of the 31st millennium, but this time in plastic. Let's take a look inside the boxset and the rulebook!

First off, thank you to Games Workshop for sending me the Age of Darkness boxset as well as both of the Liber books for review. So, as some of you may have noticed, theres been quite a bit published about this game already from the people who participated in the Heresy Day event. As such, I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time covering things that have already been covered elsewhere. Another disclaimer, I never played the first edition of Horus Heresy, BUT I did play a lot of 3rd - 6th edition, and a tad bit of 7th edition 40k, which is what this ruleset is built off of. So I do have a bit of a frame of reference on it. Instead, I'm going to talk more about my general opinions and impressions of everything, as well as a bit on the lore section of the main rulebook.

I was super excited to see the Horus Heresy finally getting its own starter set. This is a mystery that has perplexed me for quite awhile; why no starter set? Especially when Lord of the Rings and every other specialist game has a starter set. Well, the wait is finally over, and what an amazing starter set. The Heresy is unique when it comes to starter sets since everything included in it can be used all by one army, considering it's a civil war and all. This is true of the Titanicus starter set as well. This is a big plus for me, since I don't know about you, but I rarely split boxed sets with friends. It's always a bit weird too, since they only come with one rulebook, so then who gets the book? No issue here if you want to keep the whole box to yourself, as you can use all of the models in it! In fact, if you plan on keeping all of the models then you have close to a 2,000 point playable army already. This, coupled with the gorgeous rulebook, helps soften the blow on the cost, which is reported to be close to $300. While that is a lot for a starter, you could pretty much one and done this box. If you only bought this and nothing else (besides the appropriate Liber book for your Legion rules) then you could still play full and complete games of Horus Heresy. This is a nice change of pace from where you usually have less then 1,000 points of models, and often not everything you need for your army to be legal in a boxed set.

The box itself is amazing looking. It's truly massive, and is a nice sturdy box that won't quit on you. I've always been a fan of the Heresy's more refined aesthetic, and that's continued here. The cover art with the Sons of Horus and the Spartan looks fantastic. I think it may be a combo of models and traditional artwork merged together? Either way, it really evokes the feeling of the traditional Forge World cinematic photo style. This aesthetic is carried through everything in the box, with the rulebook having the same cover.

Inside you get an absolute mountain of sprues. This includes 40 Tactical Marines, 10 Cataphracti Terminators, a Contemptor Dreadnought, a Land Raider Spartan, and 2 Praetors. All of theses besides the Terminators are brand new sculpts too. The MkVI marines, or beakies, are amazing sculpts. The proportions are way more realistic, and sit around the same height as the new Chaos Marines for 40k. So, they're still smaller than Primaris, but larger than older plastic marines. This is especially apparent if you have any of the current MkIV Maximus marines, which look short next to the beakies. Not only do they look cool, but they're super easy to put together. Each marines is roughly divided into 3 parts for the main body; the back of the torso and most of the legs as one piece, a lower leg, and the front of the torso. These are all grouped together on the sprue too, so it's fairly easy to do without instructions once you've built them once. The arms can fit on any torso, though you need to make sure you're keeping the right pair of arms together. They also have a specific bolter that fits them, since both of the hands are molded onto the bolter now. This allows them to do some much more realistic poses with the left hand cradling the bolter. The weirdest part of them is the studded shoulder pad, which comes in two parts. I assume this was done to make sure the studs were nice and crisp. You'll just want to make sure you get a good fit on the two halves. I overfilled mine with superglue and then scraped it flat to hide the join.

There are only 5 different poses, but by mixing the arms and heads you can get some fairly different looking marines. I'm willing to have fewer pose options as a trade for more natural looking poses, so I'm fine with it. There also then a separate sprue with the sergeant options, banner, vox, pouches, and bayonets. I haven't had an opportunity to put together the Contemptor yet, but it's leaps and bounds better than the last Contemptor. It has way more weapon options, but most importantly, it's completely posable, with tons of joints and even multiple feet options. The Spartan looks like an absolute beast of a model, with a ton of the sprues in the box just for it. Lastly, both of the Praetors are awesome. One definitely has more of a traitor feel and the other loyalist, but nothing so overt that it prevents you from using them in any army. I converted up the "traitor" themed one to look more loyalist myself. I also love how massive their capes are.

Besides the models you also get dice (including a scatter die), templates, cheat sheets, the rulebook, and most importantly, the whippy sticks! Er, I mean, measuring sticks. Scatter die and templates I hear you ask? Yes my friend, since you see, the Horus Heresy is still built on the old framework of 40k, which powered the game from 3rd edition through 7th. I haven't delved too deeply into the rules, but from what I've read and seen in other play throughs and such, it feels very familiar in a good way. It appears like they've taken the basics of the previous edition/7th, and given it a polish, plus some cool new rules in the form of reactions. It honestly feels like a hybrid of old 40k and new 40k/AoS3. The rules are definitely more "crunchy" than either of the modern systems, with charts you have to consult to hit and wound, etc, but very much refined. I'm very excited to play it as I loved the old rules, and it will definitely give me a different play experience compared to AoS. I think the fact that it's mostly Marine vs Marine allows them to balance the game much easier. If you never played older editions of 40k, then this may be a bit harder to pick up compared to newer games, but if you're a veteran like myself, then it should be fairly easy to slip back into the old ways of playing.

The lore section of the rulebook takes up the first 143 pages and delves into everything you would need to know about the Heresy. It starts off by giving an overview of the history of mankind and the Imperium up to that point. If you're a 40k fan a lot of this will be familiar to you, but probably in more detail than normal. This is followed by a look at how the Imperium works and its key players. This covers things like The Imperial Truth, the Astronomican, Navigators, the Warp, the different branches of the Imperial war machine, and of course the Primarchs. There are a lot of key differences here if you're only familiar with the Imperium of the 41st millennium. For instance, the Imperial Truth is the key belief of the Imperium at the time, and is an atheist philosophy that holds rational thought and science above all else and claims all gods and religion are false. A far cry from the superstitious institution it would become in the following millennium. I definitely recommend reading all of this if you're not versed in Heresy lore. Like I said, there are lots of things similar to 40k in general, but at the same time, are entirely different.

We then move onto the Legiones Astartes, otherwise known as the Space Marine Legions. It talks about their origins and how they operated before the reunion with the Primarchs. We then learn about how Space Marines are created and how the legions were organized before moving onto a detailed breakdown of each mark of armor, from MkII to MkVI as well as the common bolters. This includes things like how, when, and why each mark was developed and what advantages they gave the Space Marines. It also briefly mentions which legions favored which marks more, though every legion used every mark ultimately. It's important to remember how truly vast the legions were at their height, with around 100,000 Space Marines each all divided up across the galaxy. This means it's entirely possible to have an entire army of Iron Warriors equipped with MkVI even though it says they didn't favor it. Maybe this group were split off and could only resupply with what was available, or maybe their commander just wasn't as picky as others.

Each legion then gets four pages each, with a brief overview of their history and culture, as well as their Primarch. There's also some awesome art and armor examples for each legion. Since the game is primarily Marine vs Marine, it's worthwhile reading through this section to decide which one speaks to you the most. After the legions we get overview of the other major players (and playable armies in the game) in the form of the Mechanicum and Solar Auxilia.

Lastly in the lore section we get eight pages going over the general events of the Heresy and where it stands (this book kind of implies we're right at the start of the Siege of Terra). This is a very condensed version of the novel series and Forge World black books. Of course, as mentioned just there, if you really want to delve into the meat of what's going on, the novel series has got you covered. There's also a timeline that spans another eight pages. This is super vital, even for people who have read the novels like myself. It covers more military engagements then what's covered in the novels, since not all of them are central to the story. This helps give the Heresy a wider feel to it. That there are tons of battles going on constantly during this period beyond what's immediately familiar to most. It also helps give you an idea of the length of the war. The Heresy itself only lasted 7 years, but a lot happened during that time. The timeline also starts before the actual outbreak of the war, describing major events that led up to it. The Burning of Prospero and the battle at Signus Prime technically took place before Horus rebelled, and the battle at Calth took place well after. This gives you an idea of how delayed communications can be in a galaxy spanning empire, as well as the lengths Horus went to to successfully isolate his various brothers who he didn't think would join him.

Even as someone who considers themselves pretty well versed in the Heresy, I found a lot of this lore section to be fascinating and informative. I've read the majority of the novels, and have a few of the black books, but not all of them, so there was still new stuff in there for me. 

The artwork throughout this book is fantastic. It's mostly repurposed art from the novel covers and the various black books, but it's all so cool looking. I really love Forge World's style of using the minis to create believable looking cinematic shots. There are a few new pieces in here, as well as some new photos in the rules section more akin to what GW typically has in their rulebooks.

After the rules section we get the Gaming in the Age of Darkness section, which contains a few different things. It starts off with seven example armies from various people's personal collections. This is about all of the hobby section you get here, but they're all lovely. It's so cool seeing people's personal collections as it feels a bit more "real" than studio ones. This is followed by the three ways to play everyone should be familiar with from other GW games, Matched, Open, and Narrative Play and then how you need to organize your army for the actual game.

The detachment system is much more like the one from old 40k, with the minimum required units being 2 troops and an HQ. It's slightly tweaked, with more room for HQ, Elites, and Heavy, and also the option for a smaller secondary detachment for allies. This includes an ally chart for the various armies, with some being more friendly with each other than others. You also have to choose whether you're a loyalist or traitor force, with every legion having the option of either. Even though Sons of Horus were mostly traitor and Imperial Fists were mostly loyal, it's a big galaxy with lots of splinter armies out there choosing their own paths. This affects some of your allies, like Custodes, since they would never fight alongside a traitor force.

There are then four beautiful battlefield examples, followed by the rules for the actual missions. It states that the missions are designed for games of 1,750 to 3,000 points, and also that a 6' x 4' table is that standard size. I found this to be a bit surprising since everything else has moved to the smaller size in 40k and AoS, including what GW sells. It doesn't restrict you from using a different size, and I won't be surprised if most people use the newer smaller size from 40k, but I'll be interested to see what events do. There are six missions with six different deployment maps. The deployment maps aren't tied to a specific mission, you roll for them instead. Meaning each mission can be played with any of the six deployments. Lastly, at the end, we have the different psychic disciplines (don't know why these are all the way at the end), some reference pages, and then the index.

All in all, its 334 pages of Horus Heresy goodness in a beautiful hardcover book, with a black ribbon to mark your page. I was originally going to talk about the Liber Astartes and Liber Hereticus as well, but this review has already gone longer than I expected, so I will split those off into a separate review later this week. As far as starter sets go, this one is great! I love the presentation of the box, all of the new models are amazing, and the rulebook is fantastic. As I said earlier too, it's pretty much an entire army in a box, so I think it justifies its price tag. If you're ready to go all in on the Heresy then I definitely recommend this box. If you're not as sure then I can understand the price can be a bit of a barrier. I would just stick with getting the rulebook on its own once they release that and just picking up a kit or two. Also, if you don't want to use the new MkVI beaky marines as the mainstay of your army, there's probably not as much value here for you. I wasn't originally planning on collecting and playing Horus Heresy, but after putting together some of these models and seeing how the game plays, I'm all in. It's got so much nostalgia for me from older editions of 40k, but better, so it's a win win. I've already started painting up an Ultramarine army for it and am working towards 1,000 points first, but once you start adding some of the bigger things, those points get eaten up quickly. All the Primarchs are around the 450 to 500 point mark for example.

I have to end this review with the coolest every release trailer for a game ever made. So, which side are you going to take. For the Emperor, or let the galaxy burn?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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