Codex Dark Angels – A Review

warhammer 40000 logoA long time I ago, in the latter years of the 20th Century I saw a picture of Space Marines painted dark green. They had red shoulder trims, red boltguns and looked awesome. A real contrast to the bright red and bright blue Space Marines that I was used to seeing. So I bought a book called Codex Angels of Death because within its pages was the history and army list of these dark green heroes of the Imperium. And they were called the Dark Angels.

It was at that moment that I started wargaming properly. I read the book cover to cover. Then I read the Dark Angels section over and over and over again. I was intrigued by their relentless pursuit of justice. Their dogged devotion to duty. And character models back in 1996 looked the tits.

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Although I’ve collected many armies and played many games since then I have always had a soft spot for the scions of Caliban. Aside from the looking cool, they had the Deathwing, the Ravenwing and the grittiest background. More than any other loyalist Space Marine force. The previous Codex was an opportunity for the Games Workshop to rekindle the fire that was largely snuffed out by the Codex Pamphlet era supplement that offered sod all background and sod all excitement. It never really delivered. It was badly written, confusing and offered nothing new. And the new models gave us nothing more than a Deathwing box with a sergeant head with a hair helmet.

So when the rumour mill started to grind away about the Dark Angels being the first marine codex for 6th edition I was cautiously optimistic. I saw 6th edition Codex Dark Angels as the wargaming equivalent of the upcoming Man of Steel following 5th editions piss poor Superman Returns.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. The book is full of typos and mistakes. It’s pretty inexcusable for a company as big as Games Workshop, with the resources of Games Workshop to release a book that clearly wasn’t proof read and charge £30 for it. It’ll inevitably be corrected with the second print – or at least I hope so – but anyone buying it now should be aware of it. It’s not going to ruin your life or anything but you should be aware. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Games Workshop releases an Errata that includes amended entries you can cut out and stick into the book.

That aside, the book is beautiful. The artwork from the borders to the illustrations are stunning. They’ve also learned their lesson with the back page fold out, making the page of slightly thicker stock so it’ll take the punishment of being constantly opened and closed. I also thought it was marginally undersized so it won’t get crease to buggery like the Codex Chaos Space Marine one did but it was actually folded at such a woefully wonky angle that I can only conclude that it was done by a child. And as with Codex Chaos Space Marines, the lining paper at the front of the book is only single skin so it sinks where the embossing is.

The book also follows the same layout as C:CSM: history, units, pretty pictures (of which there are many), army lists. Which also means it still has that irritation of not including all the special rules in the book so you’ll spend your games jumping between the Codex and the rule book just to find out what all the cool stuff is for your units. For the sake of half a page it would have been worth it.

But what of the content? Well, the background isn’t that much different from the previous iteration other than it being far tidier, coherent and with far greater emphasis on the deep dark secrets that the Chapter is known for. Actually, I’m under selling it. The background is great. It cleverly highlights the colossal levels of deviousness displayed by the chapter on a local and galactic scale. The close ties that they share with the other Unforgiven Chapters is described as ‘legion building’. Very strong words within the canon and has significant implications considering the inevitable second Heresy that the fluff is strongly hinting at.

They also go to lengths to fully explain how the Dark Angels chapter functions and how, in fact, everything is lies with in lies within half truths within rituals. The Dark Angels do everything they can to monitor, and hoodwink one another until enough trust has been garnered to take your next step up the ladder. And then you get a dose of truth that blows your mindhole. It kinda reminds of the Cardassians from Star Trek Deep Space Nine – not to be confused with the Kardashians who, as far as I can tell, make money by pimping themselves out.

Now I can’t quite remember if the previous codices ever spelt out what the biggest secret of all – that no one knew – was. But they do in this one. Which kind of tickles me because there are loads of passages that start with or include the words ‘shrouded in mystery’ and the biggest mystery of the lot they just lay on the table. Ho-hum, at least it’ll kill off a few pointless debates on hobby forums.

Army list wise a few things are apparent: 1. Dark Angels have plasma weapons up the arse. 2. Those plasma weapons still get hot. 3. Lots of your Space Marines are going to die from self inflicted plasma wounds. But more than this, the Deathwing and Ravenwing are getting more attention (and more of the good shit) than ever before. And rightly so as it is these two secretive companies that give the Dark Angels their unique selling point both in game and fluff terms.

The interesting twist from the fluff point of view is the introduction of Knights in both the 1st & 2nd companies. I’ll get on to what that means in game terms in a moment but these new additions brings them far more in line with the Dark Angels we’ve seen in the Horus Heresy series. Those books weren’t for everyone but it threw up some very interesting ideas about the Dark Angels and their internal politics and moved them away from the warrior monk role and firmly into a pseudo-religious brotherhood of crusading knights. They are superstitious and paranoid and ritual is very important. It ties them in with the murky past of Caliban and it certainly explains and justifies all the trinkets and baubles hanging off their armour far more than before. And knowing that now, I like the models a heck of a lot more than I did.

Interestingly it makes them the opposite side of the same coin to Space Wolves more than ever before. Whereas the Space Wolves totems etc are barbaric and rooted in paganism, the Dark Angels icons are far more in line with the Imperial Creed. Where the Space Wolves are hot headed and seemingly unruly the Dark Angels are taciturn and disciplined in the extreme. For the Dark Angels the line between Space Marines worshipping the Emperor as a God instead of just an immortal being of extraordinary power has been blurred more than ever.

But what of the new units themselves?

The obvious candidates are the Deathwing Knights, the Ravenwing Knights and the two new flyers. It’s safe to say that we can expect a new/mental (delete as appropriate) unit for each new army as they come out. The interesting one will be the Space Wolves seeing as they hate to fly. But again this is a nice contrast with the Dark Angels who seem to bloody love it.

The Deathwing generally are pretty nails. The Deathwing assault rule means you can just heap misery on your opponent in the form of deep striking Terminators that you don’t have to role reserves for. Co-ordinate that with homing beacons and there’s going to be a world of hurt. Especially when you throw in Vengeful Strike which makes all ranged weapons twin-linked for that round of shooting. As if assault cannons weren’t nasty enough. Command Squads get the added bonus of split fire. Which has the potential for utter face-kickery.

The Deathwing Knights are at first glance horrid. They get to run about the place with weapon skill 5 and providing they’re base to base with two or more models they get +1 Toughness as well. Before they get into combat this’ll be invaluable, dramatically reducing the effectiveness of assault cannons, plasma guns etc. At 235 points for 5, it’s worth the fussy positioning. They also get precision strike in combat as if weapon skill 5, and fist fulls of dice weren’t enough. Weapon wise, the majority of the unit are armed with Maces of Absolution which are +2 strength AP4 power mauls which although you’ll be wounding they won’t be spanking units of Chaos Space Terminators around the board, even with Bane of the Traitor. Which is kind of what they’re there for. They can, however, once per game, amp up the power to +6 strength and AP2. So Knights will be able to spank something big without breaking a sweat. But only once. My concern about fielding Knights against a Chaos army is that units of Chaos Terminators, Possessed or Chosen could run rings around them in a fight for the simple fact that the Dark Angel player will be forced to either use their Smite Mode for a swift and decisive kill or risk holding it back against the next threat. The Flail of the Unforgiven with +2 strength and AP3 is slightly better but you can only give it to the Knight Master (with his 3 basic attacks) and will just about mang anything.

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The Ravenwing also get some love with the new and utterly awful looking Land Speeder Vengeance which basically gives you a rapid firing plasma cannon that you can overcharge. On a really flimsy skimmer. Or you can take the Dark Shroud which can…er…shroud your Dark Angels. If I’m honest, aside from the nonsensical design it feels like over egging the pudding as the Dark Angels list has an abundance of unique rules and units like the completely awesome looking Nephilim and slightly silly looking Dark Talon which adds all the heavy fire that the Ravenwing could need. Not that they really needed any. And not that the Vengeance offered any because it’s just an expensive Land Speeder with a plasma weapon. That Dark Angels seem to have a fetish for.

The flyers themselves are armed to the teeth and for the first time since all the flyers came out I can see a genuine tactical use for them. Especially the Nephilim. And for all the hype around the mysterious Rift Cannon it’s fairly uninteresting. Beyond blinding your opponent, it’s a strength 5 AP zero frag missile. I’d rather take the Avenger Mega Bolter. Which is mega. And a bolter. And is strength 6. And fires 5 shots. A turn. Am I over selling it?

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The Ravenwing Black Knights are much like the Deathwing Knights. Lots of attacks, lots of rules to make them utterly heinous and come with Plasma talons – short ranged plasma guns – and Corvus Hammers which render. So they’re horrid. Easily on par with Terminators albeit in a slightly modified role. But they are best used in concert which exactly reflects the background.

I suppose the thing that excites me about the Dark Angels (please hold the Lionel Johnson jokes) is that the army list intensely reflects the background. The look of the models, the obvious tactics as well as some of the more eccentric wargear all embodies the most secretive, mysterious and grim Space Marine chapter in the Imperium.

Codex Dark Angels is available from Firestorm Games priced £27.00

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8 responses to “Codex Dark Angels – A Review

  1. Good article, thanks for writing. However, I disagree with your analysis regarding Deathwing Knights and Chaos Space Marines. In regular mode of attack they’ll be wounding on 2+ against the foes you mentioned (Terminators, Possessed and Chosen) and in the latter two cases will be removing their armour save altogether. Entering Smite mode will swat aside Chaos Terminators in a heartbeat. Bear in mind the Knights, as members of the Inner Circle, have Preferred Enemy Chaos Space Marines. Lastly, weapons able to harm them in return will mostly strike at Initiative 1 meaning the Knights can get the hit in first, the Storm Shields insulating them from the worst of what does get through.

    • I didn’t say the Chosen or Possessed would beat the Knights – although the Daemonic Save for the Possessed would help keep them alive for longer – but be used to waste the Smite mode as a large unit of hard hitting troops can bog small elite units down. Players would either have to attempt to wipe the unit out with the standard mode or go for the sure kill by smiting them. Anything they didn’t kill would have power axes and power fists with at least 3 attacks back and against a unit of 5 models each loss is felt acutely. And if they do get bogged down they’re open to further attacks from units like Chaos Terminators. I just think that a one use bonus like that can be exploited to either be used early or, equally never used by dangling enough juicy targets in front of the Knights but always keeping them just out of reach.

      • But they wouldn’t need to use Smite. Bane of the Traitor would make their attacks Strength 6 AP 3, so with WS 5 and Preferred Enemy they’d have no trouble with Possessed or Chosen. Sure Smite can only be used the one time, but there are no models with a save greater than 3+ besides Terminators, and I’ve not seen many armies with more than one unit of them. I think your analysis holds more water with non-Chaos MEQ armies, given Bane of the Traitor.

      • Obliterators and Mutilators also have 2+ save but whatever. And don’t write off Possessed so quickly, they too get a 5+ invulnerable. The hypothetical I’m talking about is against larger units that could pin the Knights in place for a couple of turns to attempt to provoke an opponent into using the Smite mode allowing Chaos Terminators to move in for the kill. It is a reasonable theoretical. But we’re all entitled to our opinions.

  2. No large unit would require the use of Smite, and would be an inefficient use of points to deal solely with the Knights. You have a point about the use of Smite, I just don’t think Chaos Space Marines are a good recourse to demonstrate it.

  3. While I think the new DA are very good and extremely characterful, they are a little on the ornate side for my tastes. It will be interesting to see how they develop the Black Templar imagery to keep it distinct yet equally knightly.

    I find the ‘Legion building’ idea mentioned above interesting though, and I wonder if the idea that the Unforgiven are tired together much more closely and are more culturally and doctrinally homogeneous helped them justify such characterful models as they don’t have to worry so much about diversity among successors the way you would when (for example) using BA kits to make Lamenters or another successor.

    Have you seen this blog post from Gav Thorpe: http://mechanicalhamster.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/dark-angle-on-the-dark-angels/

  4. Pingback: Dark Angels Deathwing – A Review | The Shell Case

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