Games Workshop has announced a new edition of its flagship tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000—the 10th in its 36 year history. A lush CG trailer sets the tone, depicting Space Marines at war with the voracious Tyranids.
Taking the role of poster boys for this edition are Terminators—Space Marines in hulking exoskeleton armour. It's a surprise to see—recent releases for the game have focused on a new breed of Primaris marines intended to replace the old Firstborns with new designs and concepts. These new Terminators, hewing close to the classic look for maximum nostalgia, suggest Games Workshop may be stepping back a little from that controversial push.
But even more surprising is the trailer's voiceover. Spoken by the Imperium's de-facto leader Roboute Gulliman, it's a hopeless commentary on the hollowness of the Imperium's victories against their enemies, and the deception it uses to keep its own people in line. It's a far cry from the usual straightforward battle rhetoric that accompanies Games Workshop's marketing—perhaps indicating a changing approach to the setting in light of the pretty persistent problem of the game attracting fascists who idolise its grimdark heroes without irony.
Though Games Workshop has made its opinion of such people and its stance that "there are no goodies" in the setting clear in recent years, it hasn't done a particularly good job of reflecting that in its stories and marketing materials. Increasingly the game has drifted from its satirical roots, and frequently landed at the awkward stance that while the Imperium's fascism is bad, it's a necessary and even noble cost for ensuring humanity's survival. Sort of the 'at least under Mussolini the trains ran on time' of dystopian sci-fi writing, and exactly the kind of fallacy that real Nazis flock to.
In the trailer, Gulliman is stating quite the opposite—that the lies the Imperium tells its people are in pursuit of meaningless victories that prop up rotten institutions. It makes perfect sense for the character—Roboute was alive back when the Emperor was still around and striving for a totally different kind of society, and awakened into this twisted future with some pretty big concerns about how it's all been going since then—but it's still striking to hear front and centre in the reveal marketing for a new edition of the game. Personally I hope it's a sign of a new era for the setting.
The rules of the game are receiving a complete overhaul, largely aimed at streamlining what has become an intimidatingly complicated game. With changes to unit stats that echo its sibling Warhammer Age of Sigmar, a stripping back of the messy stratagems system, and a promise to cut down the number of books that need to be referenced in play, it sounds like it should be a much easier ramp into the game for beginners.
That's helped by a new mode, called Combat Patrol, which will allow new players to buy one discounted box of models (the existing Combat Patrols, aptly) and get playing with it as an army right away. The game is also lifting most restrictions on army building—meaning you can field almost any combination of units, without being constrained by a force organisation chart.
With the launch of the new edition, Games Workshop will be releasing free rules for every army to get everyone up to speed—though from there they will eventually be releasing a new Codex for each army as normal, so don't put your wallets away just yet.
During 8th and 9th edition, Warhammer 40,000 saw some of its greatest ever success, but also some of its biggest controversies. This 10th edition could well represent a fresh start for the game—and perhaps for its bleak setting, too.