Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness Unboxing and Review
I was there, the day Horus slew The Emperor.
It’s been 16 years since those words were uttered, we’ve had three editions of Warhammer 40,000, 60 Black Library novels and an entire game system’s worth of models released. But now, with Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness we finally get the long anticipated 2nd edition of the Horus Heresy game, almost 10 years after Betrayal was published.
Massive thanks to Games Workshop for sending us a copy of The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness for us to review and unbox! We have been very excited about this one and what it means for new players getting to dip their toe into battles in the 31st Millennium.
In this review we will be taking a look at the Age of Darkness box, doing a full unboxing and going through the contents inside and also digging into the full rulebook and seeing what’s new and how the game differs to Warhammer 40,000 along with some hints to what the future holds for the game system.
We also have a full video unboxing and review of the new 2nd Edition Horus Heresy boxed set, so if you would rather watch than read this review you can check it out below or over on YouTube
We also have a whole host of other reviews and unboxing of all the other Horus Heresy goodies up for pre order today – you can find them all below:
Liber Astartes Review
Liber Hereticus Review
Horus Heresy Special and Heavy Weapons Unboxing
Kratos Heavy Assault Tank Unboxing
Deimos Pattern Rhino Unboxing
Still with us? Then grab a fresh brew as we prepare to lift the lid on the Age of Darkness.
Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness Unboxing & Review
First things first let’s hit the big headlines here:
No, this is not a limited time release like Indomitus or Dominion – This is the core Horus Heresy box and you will be able to pick this up from your local store whenever you have the urge to take the plunge into Age of Darkness games, or when you want to start a brand new Legion.
And yes, the rumours are true – this box is £180 (and actually even cheaper from Element Games!). This is massive and a sign that Games Workshop are looking to push this one hard – I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot of new Horus Heresy players in the near future.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what we get in this mighty box!
First up, we have a Plastic Contemptor. Nope, not the monopose one, a brand new multi part Contemptor with a range of weapon options. How, I feel it’s worth pointing out that you don’t actually get all the weapon options in this set, popular picks such as Volkite and Kheres choices are absent and I have a suspicion that an additional frame with the missing options will be packaged alongside these sprues when this kit is available separately in order to maintain sales of the new kit when the frames from this box are inevitably split on ebay. Still, this is a wonderful kit and is just as possible as the resin one and has the advantage that it is in easy to build and convert plastic. Having built quite a few resin ones over the years, it was slightly surreal to be building a plastic kit every bit as good as the old Forge World one, and I reckon armies of Contemptors will be rather popular…
Next up we have the new MK VI marines, affectionately known as Beakies! Based on the very first Space Marine models ever seen in plastic, this kit brings them up to date and actually gives them a slight scale increase over the previous Horus Heresy plastic kits. Included are enough parts to build 40 Marines, which is sure to be the backbone of your Heresy force.
Gone is the modular nature of the MK III and IV kits, but instead we get some fantastically dynamic sculpts that are really quick and easy to build – an all important factor when you will be having quite a lot of these on your tabletop! While these are less customisable from a posing point of view, we actually get a host of options on the frames – a full command sprue is included with pouches, holsters, upgrade parts to represent all the options available in the rules and even bayonets and chain bayonets – and yes, these all have in game benefits! Fancy making your unit of World Eaters strength 5? Then just slap a chain bayonet on the end of your bolter! Not included in the box but available separately are a range of special and heavy weapon upgrade kits that allow you to build these as special or heavy support squads – this is absolutely brilliant so check out our review of these kits for the full details!
While not a new kit, we also get 2 sprues of Cataphracti Terminators building 10 models that could also be painted to represent some of the more specialist Terminator units such as Justicarans for the Sons of Horus
2 brand new jaw dropping Praetors are also included in the box, one with a Power Sword and one with a Power Axe – both of these have multiple head options and like the rest of the box do not have any legion specific markings on them meaning you can use them for whichever legion you choose to collect. These sculpts are very characterful and would be my favourite models in the box if it wasn’t for the other massive thing it contains…
Yes, the Age of Darkness box contains a plastic Land Raider Spartan – Once upon a time a massive chunk of resin from Forge World, now we have one in plastic! This kit is exciting for a couple of reasons – Firstly, for anyone who has built one of the old ones, the fact that we can soon get one in plastic from your local store rather than building a massive chunk of resin will mean that this gorgeous tank is available to a lot more players.
But the second reason why this kit is exciting is the tantalising glimpse at the future the Spartan offers. The kit is actually made up of a number of Land Raider sprues and then a Spartan frame which is used to construct the distinctive shape of the Spartan. With that single sprue swapped out for a different sprue across a number of different kits, Games Workshop can release a plastic version of any tank using the base shape of the Spartan – be that the Typhon or the classic Proteus Land Raider
This foresight into designing the Spartan shows how dedicated GW are to the future of the system, and how they can expand a kit over time by periodically releasing a new kit with a new sprue in order to build a new variant and move another resin kit to plastic.
Both full instuctions and even profiles for all the kits in the box are included, allowing you to learn how to play the game by just using the forces in the set. This is a nice touch that allows newcomers to learn the ropes before committing to pick up the Liber volume for their chosen side. Note while the Contemptor only has the options found in the box, the full rules in the Liber books contain all existing options too
As this is a starter box rather than a “launch box” we also get all the accessories needed to play, this includes a set of standard blast templates (Looking to be cast in the same orange as the Necromunda ones – the big ones needed for some of the more devastating weapons are available to order), a set of dice including a scatter dice, transfers for all the models in the box (For Sons of Horus and Imperial Fists) and a comprehensive reference sheet containing all the things you will often need to look up during a game! Also fans of a certain age will get a twang of nostalgia for the included measuring sticks or “whippy sticks” as we used to call them due to the satisfying whoosh they make through the air!
But there’s one more big thing in the box we need to look at next, The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness Rulebook.
Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness Rulebook Review
The original release of The Horus Heresy was essentially a “plug in” to the 6th/7th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 and during the early years of the game a small library was needed between the core 40k rules and the supplemental “Black Books” that added the Heresy specific rules. When 8th Edition 40k came out (with major mechanical changes that made it no longer compatible with Heresy) a Horus Heresy rulebook was released that acted as a sort of 7.5 edition that tidied up some of the rules quirks that existed and smoothed off some of the edges to make the game suited for Heresy action. But now we finally have a 2nd edition of Horus Heresy and what is very much a refreshed and regenerated game – not an entire system change like 7th to 8th 40k, but more a refinement and tightened system. Yes we get entire new mechanics, and yes some things have even been removed and reworked, but this is very much The Horus Heresy that existing fans will know the core of, and a great game for new players to jump into!
First things first, for all those worried about this book not being able to be currently purchased outside of the Age of Darkness box – the book has a barcode and it’s own product code, so while it may not be available by itself in the initial wave, it is sure to be released separately at some point!
This is a big and gorgeous book, clocking in at 336 pages and full colour with bookmark ribbon and full index means we finally have the big consolidated book we always wanted, filled with both lore and rules!
I think it’s safe to say that lore of the Horus Heresy is the think that made it such the cherished game setting it is. From initial flavour text, the Horus Heresy has evolved through both the Black Library series and the words of Alan Bligh and others in the Horus Heresy Black Books.
The Age of Darkness rulebook manages to take the background and condense it into just over 140 pages of content covering the history all the way from Old Earth through to the Horus Heresy itself. We get a brilliant look into not only the Imperium of Man and the Legiones Astartes, but also some more niche factions such as the Talons of the Emperor, the Solar Auxilia and the Mechanicum, Dark Mechanicum and Daemons of the Ruinstorm!
What’s really nice about this lore section is that we get a good 4 pages dedicated to each of the 18 Legions with beautiful artwork and lore to help you decide which Primarch you want to pledge your service to!
We also get a full run down of the entire Horus Heresy leading up to the moment where the bombardment of Terra started. With the Siege of Terra being such a big moment it’s no surprise that they do not spoil the events in this book, but I do wonder with the timeline ending right as the siege begins that perhaps a Siege of Terra supplement might be something we get somewhere on the horizon.
It’s worth pointing out here that this part of the book is filled with gorgeous artwork capturing most of the iconic and epic pieces that have graced heresy books over the years and it is a real joy to page through this section of the book, with the downside that there’s now a half dozen new Heresy armies I want to start…
So how does the game play? From a core rules point of view a lot of this is very similar to the previous edition however there are some important changes. Stat lines now include a movement characteristic, which is a new addition for Horus Heresy! Previously the movement of a unit was based on it’s type, where now they can add some granularity by having different infantry units move different speeds for example.
Modifiers cannot make rolls automatically succeed or fail, with 1s always failing and 6s always passing (With the exception of things such as close combat where there can be situations when a combatant cannot hit their target if their weapon skill is not high enough)
And speaking of close combat, the to hit chart for melee has changed to make WS a much more important stat, once you are double your targets WS you are hitting on 2s with them hitting on 6s. Again this adds more granularity and makes high WS units very powerful in close combat (as they should be!)
Running is now not a random dice roll but instead an adds your initiative to your movement value, again making this stat more important to represent quicker forces. This also comes into play when trying to cut down fleeing foes in the assault phase too. Charging is revamped a little with a movement modifier based on your movement characteristic – this means that faster units are move likely to make longer charges (Though note there is a maximum charge distance of 12″ stopping you from using this to gain a little extra ground over that)
Something that is stripped entirely is the psychic phase, these have now essentially become “weapons” or abilities that can be triggered in the relevant phase rather than something that is “cast” as with the old edition. Many of these are now abilities that simply work all of the time, with a better effect that can be attempted by channelling the psychic power much like manifesting powers in the previous edition. This is always a gamble as Perils of the Warp is still a thing. This makes Psychic powers much more streamlined but still useful, and I’m sure we will see this expanded further in future supplements (Liber Hereticus for example has a stack of new abilities for Thousand Sons to take advantage of)
There’s lots of little tweaks here and there and a lot of clarify compared to the previous edition, as said earlier in the review existing players will still recognise most things and will feel comfortable learning the new game.
The biggest addition to the new edition however are reactions…
Reactions is Games Workshop’s way of making each phase much more interactive for the non-active player (Or “reactive player” in this new edition by giving them a number of abilities they can trigger during the active player’s turn.
This is a great idea as opens up so many tactical ploys while ensuring the game is tense even during you own turn, as in the back of your mind you know that the reactive player may be waiting to spring a trap against you. This also makes it a difficult choice in which order you activate units, as this will also impact in what reaction(s) your opponent might make against you – and some of them are brutal!
Usually the reactive player is allowed to make a reaction once per phase – however some units or abilities actually allow you to make more, sometimes within a specified phase, or with really powerful abilities increase your base number of reactions allowing you to make multiple reactions in every single phase. There is a cap of 3 reactions a phase though, which I’m sure is there to stop any reaction stacking abilities from getting to silly levels.
In the core rules there are 6 different reactions available, however these will be expanded upon in future supplements and Liber volumes. We get 2 in the movement phase, 2 in the shooting phase and 2 in the assault phase – let’s take a look:
Advance – This is triggered in the movement phase when a unit finishes within 12″ of the reacting unit and allows that unit to move their initiative distance (or 6″ in the case of vehicles) towards the enemy unit – I can see there being the potential for some really clever plays here such as using this to hop a unit onto an objective or even bring weapons into optimal range for a further reaction later in the turn
Withdraw – As above but you move away from the enemy unit, potentially falling back into cover or even out of range of the weapons facing them
Return Fire – Is used in the shooting phase and is very powerful – After a unit is shot at and all hits, wounds and saves are resolved, but before models are removed the entire unit gets to shoot back at base BS! This is massive and is going to make people think twice about trying to take out special and heavy weapon squads, as there is a huge chance that the return fire will wipe the unit that is shooting them. I really like this rule and feel its going to lead to a real game of cat and mouse as players attempt to draw out return fire.
Evade – Is another nice ability that gives the reacting unit a 5+ wound shrug, enabling you to weather even weapons that manage to get through your armour. What’s really nice about both of these abilities is that you dont have to declare you are using them until after you make your saves too – meaning the reaction is not wasted before knowing the results of the incoming fire.
Overwatch – You get to shoot at the charging unit after they make their charge roll but before any models are moved. What’s really cool too is that this happens at base BS, no hitting on 6s here! Again, this makes charging some of those units armed with decent weaponry a threat even in your own turn and makes “Alpha strikes” now have an element of risk as you could quite easily end up getting units killed when attempting to make a charge.
Hold the Line – the final core reaction, makes the unit charging disordered – robbing them of the bonus +1 to attack they would usually get.
Each Legion (And presumably other armies when the books are released) also get their own reaction which leans into the flavour of that force.
I really like the fact that we only get 7 (Inclusive of the Legion Specific one) for your force, it makes them much easier to remember than the likes of stratagems for 40k, which often results in lots of flicking through books or cards trying to find that killer combo that may change the course of battle.
Another new update to the game are Unit Types. While these did exist in the old rules, these have been given a full rework and have had sub-types added to enable units to cover multiple rules packs.
Types available now cover Infantry, Cavalry, Automata, Dreadnought, Daemon and Primarch
Each different type has a suite of rules that apply to them – so for example Dreadnoughts (Who now have toughness and wounds rather than counting as vehicles) are allowed to fire all weapons they are armed with rather than just 1, and count as stationary when moving, and Daemons have strength and toughness that waxes and wanes over the course of the game as their hold in reality starts to fade as the battle goes on. By setting these abilities by unit type they can also create rules that interact with that specific unit type in the same way as keywords in the other core games.
Stacked on top of this are “sub-types”
Line – These units count as both scoring and denial units – this is very important as only line units are able to control objectives, all other units can simply deny meaning that you will want to have a core of your force built around line units. It’s worth noting that some rites of war and legion abilities change which units count as line, but essentially this is your core infantry, making big blocks of marines very important.
Antigrav – Ignore terrain for movement, however can never claim cover saves
Artillery – Cannot run, cannot sweeping advance and can never hold or deny objectives! So you cannot rely on dumping an artillery piece alone on a back objective, they will need some troops to support!
Monstrous – Similar to Dreads can move and shoot with no penalty and fire all weapons they carry
Heavy – Cannot run, but get to reroll saves against templates and blasts
Light – Get a bonus to running and can snap fire after running
Again, the core book suggests that we will see more of these introduced in future supplements.
One of the key things in the previous edition was Universal Special Rules – these are predefined rules in the core book (and supplements) that are then referenced on profiles in order to reduce rules bloat. This has been given a revision in the 2nd edition of Horus Heresy and a lot of things have actually been consolidated into rules that have an (X) value.
So for example Bulky (X) replaces three similar rules in the old edition by simply counting the model as (x) models for rules purposes.
My only real concern here is that the core book has 19 pages of special rules, and more still are added in the two Liber volumes so far – I would love to see a product released that is just a pamphlet containing all these special rules to have handy during a battle without having to flip through books to look these up. Of course with regular play these will become second nature, but I can see this slowing things down a little as players start to learn the game and have to look up something for each unit they have. Personally, I’ll be printing off some cheat sheets with the Special Rules used by my units to make things a little quicker.
That slight grumble aside Universal Special Rules do give the rules writers a large toolbox to give similar units subtly different abilities, which is very important in what is essentially a game built around Space Marines fighting Space Marines, and makes it so that the non-marine armies also get their own unique identity when they are released.
Ways to Play
Like with other recent Games Workshop releases, The Horus Heresy also leans into the “multiple ways to play” mantra – at it’s core The Horus Heresy is not a tournament game. It’s about recreating those epic moments we read about in Black Library books, it’s very much an in-universe historical wargame, and like with historical events things are not always balanced or fair – The books points to there being future supplements that will play through pivotal events in the Horus Heresy saga and allow us to replay then to see if we can change the outcome of history. Perhaps Istvaan goes badly for the Warmaster and he is on the back foot after playing his gambit? Or what if Sanguinius and the Blood Angels fell on Signus? I’m really looking forward to the Horus Heresy campaign series and hope we get these released regularly. Open Play and Matched Play are also referenced, and for Matched Play we have the emphasis put on the event organisers determining if they want any restrictions or customisation for their own event pack. Future supplements are also teased here such as Zone Mortalis and City Fight offering up different ways of using your models and containing rules for different environments your forces may fight in.
If you are coming from Warhammer 40,000 then the way you build your army will be familiar – we get a single Force Organisation Chart that is modified through Rites of War found in the Liber volumes, allowing various units to change what “slot” they go into in order to offer a wide range of different army styles. With the battles being at a more epic scale, the average size of a Heresy game is recommended at 3000 points, however the system does support both smaller and larger – just keep in mind the game is written with 3k forces in mind. What’s great is that the models contained within the box get you a good way towards 2000 points, simply add a Primarch and a Legion specific unit or two or some tanks to your flavour and you will have a 3000 points army ready to go!
The book contains 6 missions designed around standard one off pick up games, but promises future books will contain more missions along with new rules that interact with them in different ways. While future books are going to focus on campaigns and narrative, there’s no reason why players can’t use these 6 missions as a frame work for creating their own campaign until these are available however!
Finally, the book closes with a full reference section detailing Psychic Powers, rules summaries, reference charts and tables along with a full and detailed index which makes looking up those special rules on the fly much easier.
So what do I think of the new 2nd Edition of The Horus Heresy, and this the Age of Darkness box worth it?
I honestly think that Warhammer The Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness is the best value box Games Workshop have ever put out. While easily usable as being something to split between 2 players, the fact that you can take every single model in the box and create an entire army out of them while also getting a full hard back rulebook for £180 is just amazing!
Let’s face it, Horus Heresy was never cheap to get into, but now we have a permanent main range starter set that can be picked up for under £150 from 3rd party sites (Such as Element Games) containing not only a stack of models but the core rules too is such a good move from Games Workshop. Starter boxes often don’t always have “optimal” options due to specific loadouts, however here we have the same full multi part kits that you can pick up separately but bundled together in a great value box.
I really suspect this will herald in a new era for the Horus Heresy and many players who have been tempted in the past but found the barrier for entry too high now have the perfect gateway product into the hobby. And for existing players this is a brilliant way of either expanding an existing force or creating an entirely new army!
Rules wise Games Workshop have not strayed too far from what came before, but what they have added is brilliant, breathing new life into the game and adding exciting interactive elements into every turn. I am very excited to see what the future holds for Warhammer The Horus Heresy.
Warhammer the Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness is up for pre order today and is released on Saturday 18th June
Games Workshop provided Sprues & Brews with a free copy for review purposes.