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The Book of the Unforgiven:  A Review of the Dark Angels Codex  by Nathaniel Slivka
I’m a relative newcomer to the hobby; I know that the last version of Codex: Dark Angels was released in Spring of 2007 and was generally regarded as a stripped-down book with insufficient options or flexibility.  I didn’t actually start my Dark Angels army properly until the early days of Fifht Edition when I noticed I could swap the Black Reach Orks for more Space Marines and have almost 1500points lying around.

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.

 
What's Changed

We’ve got some obvious changes to line up with other Space Marine codicies: points-cost tweaks, stats changed up or done a point, but most of the changes come in the specialized sections. The biggest and most prominent changes are the expansions to the Deathwing and the Ravenwing; they’ve gone from “Fearless Terminators/Bikes with an HQ that makes them Troops” to their own niches within the game. Deathwing Terminators have become shooty/ambush Terminators, and Ravenwing Bikes have become shooting/assault harassment units, neither of which any other Space Marine codex can really simulate.

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 Background section in general is far, far more readable than most things Games Workshop releases; most of their fluff tends to be afflicted with something referred to in certain circles as “Special Snowflake Syndrome” and in others as the “Mary Sue Phenomenon”, wherein they decide they’re going to write about someone who’s perfect and whom everyone loves, then elaborate on their perfection to the sound of retching audiences. The Dark Angels, contrary to this pattern, are not perfect. They’re working to atone for an ancient sin, but they’re just as human as the rest of us in some ways: they screw up, make mistakes, misjudge enemies. They don’t always win, not everyone loves them, the Fallen sometimes escape retribution. The whole thing is plausible, readable, and relatable in a way that most fluff written about the Space Marines isn’t.

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.


“If we get Feel No Pain off the banner, does that apply to Gets Hot rolls?...More plasma cannons!”


The Chapter Relics section contains a pair of ranged weapons, a pair of melee weapons, and a durability upgrade. It’s a fair selection of toys, some more useful than others; my favorite is the combi-plasma cannon, though.  Interrogator-Chaplains and Chaplains have always been a big part of the Dark Angels, and the new incarnation is very helpful; unlike normal Space Marine Chaplains, Dark Angels Chaplains have Zealot, and you can get Interrogator-Chaplains with 3 Wounds and 3 Attacks.  Librarians are significantly cheaper than any other Chapter’s psykers at 65 points, they can get powers from the core rulebook and can be upgraded to Mastery 2. 

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 and Nephilim.

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.


“Come on. Shoot me. I dare you.”


The Nephilim is an interceptor, a Flyer heavily optimized for killing other Flyers. It gets a lot of S6 shots, and it can swap Weapon Destroyed for Immobilized, meaning that any damage result likely spells doom for any Flyer it has a mind to shoot at. Plus it’s a fairly cool model, barring any resemblance to a fish.


Maverick only wishes he had a plane this cool


Devastators
and Long Fangs in other Space Marine books tend to pay more for heavy weapons for some reason; Dark Angels Devastators don’t. They get the usual supply of heavy weapons at market price instead of what Codex: Space Marines gives them, and they have access to flakk missiles, which get coupled with a signum for a lot of dead Flyers.

What I Don't Like, and Why
Price
. Kenton already covered this one in the review of the new Chaos Space Marines book, but I think I’ll rehash the point. $50 for the codex means that at absolute minimum, a new player needs to dump $125 into the hobby before even purchasing any miniatures; the barriers to entry are starting to get silly. There are people like me who have been playing for a while and are likely to keep it up, but we’re a captive audience: they know they’ve got us. It makes more sense to raise prices on fancy elite things and expansions than make people pay more to get started.

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.

 
Belial: really, dude? Really?

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
It’d probably be a little too much like having my cake and eating it too to hope for something more like Sternguard Veterans or Vanguard Veterans in this book, but I haven’t yet found anything that Company Veterans can do better than Deathwing, Ravenwing, or Tactical Squads. The only use I’ve thought up for them so far is to put them in Drop Pods and bring down the wrath of suicide-melta units on the enemy, but that strategy’s rapidly going the way of horse-drawn artillery, so I’ll have to keep looking.



“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.

In Conclusion
We have expanded Deathwing, expanded Ravenwing, new toys for everyone, altered points costs and balance across the board, more aggressive strategies, more defensive strategies, more maneuver strategies, synergy between units, tricks, and options galore. I’ve had the chance to play a couple of games with the new book and to build some of the new models, and I’m going to give this Codex an unambiguously positive rating in how well-put-together the rules, background, and the book itself are.


Posted January 2013. All images are copyright 2013 by Games Workshop and used for review purposes. 

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Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle