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The Book of the Unforgiven: A Review of the Dark Angels Codex by Nathaniel Slivka
My Dark Angels have since grown into my second-largest army at around 5,000 points total, though, and I have gotten enough games in to get a fairly good understanding of the codex, so I do have some ground to stand on when I say that the new book is a vast improvement over the old one and, in fact, a vast improvement in quality of writing over many earlier books. So let's take a look at it.
Beyond that, very little has changed aside from tweaks to balance and options and some expanded equipment; we’ve got new toys, but the overall functions of the codex remain fairly similar to what they were before.
What I Like, and Why
The Special Issue Wargear section is mostly rules for stuff that every Space Marine Chapter gets, but buried in with them are Conversion Fields and Displacer Fields, two things referenced in the fluff and in Inquisitor but never represented in 40k, and the Perfidious Relic, which is a good excuse to get a Watcher model without needing Azrael.
The variety and effects of everything in the Banners section is closer to something you’d see in Warhammer Fantasy; we now have banners to make units faster, banners to make them hold their ground, banners to make them tougher, banners to make them hit harder in close combat, and even a banner to make them fire more shots with boltguns. You’re probably going to want to build a Command Squad’s role around one of these.
Tactical Squads are some of the big winners of the new book; unlike other Chapters’ Tactical Marines, you can get one Special weapon or one Heavy weapon at 5 men, then the other at 10, and the upgrade to Veteran Sergeant is optional. You no longer have to blow 200 points points on redundant bodies if you don’t want to; 5-man heavy weapon squads are back on the field. The new book also gives Dark Angels access to flakk missiles, making Tactical Squads a credible threat to Flyers.
Deathwing Terminators have gotten better at being a jack-of-all-trades Terminator squad; they can go up to ten models and two heavy weapons now without losing the ability to mix heavy and close combat weapons. They get Split Fire to allow their heavy weapons to pick separate targets, a revamped version of Deathwing Assault that allows all your Deathwing Terminators to drop at the same time, and Vengeful Strike to count all their guns as twin-linked on the turn they drop.
The new Deathwing Knights unit may be expensive. They may be armed with strange melee weapons that are only AP4. They’re also awesome models, get Toughness 5 if they’re in close formation, have storm shields, are WS5, can hit at S10/AP2 in close combat once per game (they’ve got S6/AP4 the rest of the game, which still isn’t too shabby), and get Precision Strikes on any roll of 6 "to hit." They’re Assault Terminators to the Deathwing Terminators’ Tactical role, with no shooting weapons, but they do very well in close combat.
The biggest problem with Ravenwing Attack Squadrons in the old Codex was the price; they’ve since dropped by 6 points, added Hit and Run, and kept the two most useful things: the teleport homer and Scouts. They’re a little better than normal Space Marine Bikes on their own since they can get an Attack Bike and a Land Speeder in the same Fast Attack slot with only six Bikes on the field, but they are definitely still best used as beacons for dropping Deathwing.
Land Speeders are almost
identical to their counterparts in the vanilla Space Marines book, but their
Typhoon Launchers and Assault Cannons are cheaper, and the squadron can contain
up to five instead of up to three. Nobody’s likely going to take fifteen Land
Speeders, but it makes a squad of five more competitive alongside Darkshrouds
Speak of the devil: Land Speeder Darkshrouds give everyone within 6" +1 to their Cover saves and get +2 to their own Cover saves, meaning that so long as your Bikes move, they’ve got 4+ Jink saves. Ideal for getting your teleport homers close enough to drop Deathwing where you need them, this also presents the possibility of making an entirely Ravenwing army of Land Speeders and Bikes wrapped around a Darkshroud or two and a banner to present a fast-moving and extremely durable bubble of death.
What I Don't Like, and Why
Few Successor Chapters. The fluff section at the beginning goes out of its way to point out that the High Lords of Terra don’t trust the Dark Angels’ secretive nature, and have a tendency to overlook them when it comes to making more Successor Chapters. This may be a bit nitpicky of me, but it feels like an attempt to discourage players from making up their own Successors, which I’m not very happy with.
Overemphasis on Elites. We get that Games Workshop is in this business to sell more models, but the fluff section is 25 pages of gushing about the Deathwing and the Ravenwing and their thrilling heroics. It’d be nice to see a bit more about the other 80% of the Chapter someday.
Ravenwing Command Squads are fairly cool, but they’re limited to three models and they all have Gets Hot! weapons. It looks to me like they’ll die fairly quickly whenever they appear, even with T5 and an Apothecary.
The Dark Talon is the lamer ground-attack version of the Nephilim, sacrificing the streamlined appearance and effective weaponry for some out-of-place shrines taped to the side and a gimmicky weapon that takes a staggering amount of luck and careful timing to get the most use out of, since you have to get the blast in the right place in the turn that someone’s going to charge the target unit or its primary weapon’s cool special rule is wasted. The new Dark Angels are spoiled for Fast Attack choices, I don’t see this getting much play at all.
Too much emphasis on Special Characters: The rumor mill had it that we’d get to take Deathwing and Ravenwing as Troops with generic characters, but we’re stuck with Belial (who has the ugliest model I’ve seen in a long time) for Deathwing, Sammael (who is $50 for one bike model) for Ravenwing, and Azrael (who’s still metal) for both. My dislike of Special Characters stems from a slightly different source than Kenton’s, but I think we can both be just as annoyed at this development. There’s one slight light at the end of this tunnel: There’s no canon data on what Sableclaw, Sammael’s AV 14/14/10 Land Speeder, looks like, which gives you carte blanche to build whatever strange and wacky-looking Land Speeder you feel like using for your own Master of the Ravenwing.
And lastly we’re still stuck with the Psychic Powers from the core rulebook. I get that there’s probably some overlap in what psykers from different armies can do, but the unique psychic powers for different races were a good way of adding character to the books; we’ve started down a road towards generalized functions for all psykers, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given the differences in the background between the abilities of different psykers.
What I'm "Meh" About
“Yes, we’re Black Knights. No, we’re not going to threaten to bite your legs off. Now stop asking.”
Black Knights are more expensive than regular Ravenwing Bikes, but get hammers, plasma guns on their bikes, and are Veterans. They look to be a slightly better close-combat unit, but there’s the problem of 42 points per model, and +1 Strength, Rending, and Gets Hot! on fairly expensive models, instead of--I don’t know, power lances?--on their close combat weapons. They can do some damage, sure, but I’d honestly rather have a regular Ravenwing squad and/or some Deathwing in most situations.
Deathwing can take Land Raiders as Dedicated Transports now, but the Land Raider has to become a Deathwing Vehicle, which works like being a Venerable Dreadnaught (Venerable Dreadnaughts are Deathwing Vehicles now too) at the cost of +30 points. It’s a really expensive proposition, but you get an extraordinarily tough unit out of the deal; I’m not yet sure if it’s worth the price.
And the last new model, the Land Speeder Vengeance, which has a lot of plasma weaponry. Either three 24" range shots or a 24" range large blast plasma shot, but now that Gets Hot! affects vehicles, there’s not a lot of room for rolling 1's on the giant plasma gun. It’s entertaining, but extremely fragile; use with care and a nearby Darkshroud.
Posted January 2013. All images are copyright 2013 by Games Workshop and used for review purposes.
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