Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The End Times: Archaon - Review

So the end has finally come. This is it, the final swan song of Warhammer as we know it. I realise it has taken me a long time to review this book since its release, this is partially due to exams and other commitments I have had, but it is also due to a profound sense of detachment. The world has ended, that is how this book ends and that is a very jarring phenomena for someone who has invested a lot in this setting. This book has not been an easy read.


If you haven't read my other End Times reviews yet you can read them here:
The fifth End Times volume, as ever quality and presentation remain high. The first book is 264 pages and the second is  79 pages.

I will write this review much like the other four, discussing the background then the rules before moving onto whatever random musings and comments I can think of. 

Book 1: Fluff

We begin in Archaon's throne room in Middenheim where he sacrifices Fateweaver to summon Ka'Bandha and begin the final phase of his plan. We soon move to the siege of Averheim where Karl Franz fights with the last knights of Brettonia and the last group of dwarves led by Duke Jerrod and Ungrim Ironfist respectively. They manage to lift the siege of Averheim from Villitch the Curseling who suffers a suitably karmic fate. The Emperor then seeks aid from Nagash, knowing there is no one else to turn to. The Great Necromancer is not willing to move yet but Vlad and Balthasar Gelt decide to aid Averheim as Archaon's army arrive to finish what Villitch started. 

Archaon's khornate horde lay waste to the city, destroying the last bastion of the Empire totally. In the carnage Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Valkia the Bloody slay one another and the Emperor faces the Everchosen in single combat. Gelt arrives in time to save the Emperor from being killed by Archaon and uses his newfound power as Incarnate of Metal to teleport much of the beleaguered defenders away whilst Ungrim Ironfist and his slayers remain behind to kill as many as they can before dying. Vlad arrives too late and witnesses Ungrim's death before returning to Sylvania. 

Chapter 2 sees Sylvania attacked by a daemonic host sent by Nurgle who had taken great offence at the undead and was not content with having an entire book to himself earlier on in the series. Leading this host is Isabella von Carstain resurrected and possessed by a Great Unclean One and The Nameless, who has betrayed Nagash and possessed Luthor Huss. Nagash is busy absorbing the power of Death in his Black Pyramid but the onslaught of daemons forces him to battle before the process is complete; Vlad, Manfredd and Luthor Harkon having failed to hold back the demons at the edge of Sylvania (though Vlad was able to release Luthor Huss from the Nameless). This gives Ikit Claw an opportunity to destroy the Black Pyramid and prevent Nagash from attaining power to rival the chaos gods. With his plans thus unmade Nagash finally decides to ally with the other Incarnates gathering in Athel Loren. 

The Emperor meanwhile has reached Athel Loren which is itself under constant daemonic assault led secretly by Be'lakor. The Emperor and his allies are followed into the woods by Skarr Bloodwrath's Khornate host; the Host of Metal under Balthasar Gelt and the Host of Fire under the new incarnate Caradryan do battle with them and the chaos horde perishes to flame. Elsewhere Be'lakor gathers a host of Slaaneshi daemons, Hellbron's blood cult and Drycha's mad forest spirits to attack the Oak of Ages where they are met by Malekith and Alerielle. The traitors and the damned are defeated, Malekith slaying both Shadowblade and Drycha. Be'lakor is prevented from undoing the Weave by a newly resurrected Tyrion as Incarnate of Light; both he and Hellbron escaping as their cause is lost. 

Teclis then shows up to explain the plot as the Emperor, Gelt and the refugees from Averheim turn up. Nagash then arrives and joins with the incarnates; offering Manfredd, as architect of the Everchild's death, as a token of good will. While the incarnates argue over a course of action Be'lakor frees Manfredd who reveals Lileath's true nature to Duke Jerrod. The Duke confronts the goddess who reveals her plans to abandon this world to chaos in order to protect the Haven she has created. Be'lakor hears this before attacking to take her soul as his prize, he is stopped by Malekith and Tyrion and is brought before the Council of Incarnates. He willingly tells them Archaon's plan, hating the Everchosen, revealing that Archaon has uncovered a device of the Old Ones beneath Middenheim and plans to detonate it; opening a new rift into the realm of chaos and tearing the world asunder. Be'lakor was imprisoned in a perfect ruby and Lileath, no longer able to sense her Haven, decides to use the last of her power to transport the Incarnates and their armies to Middenheim to try and stop Archaon. 

Whilst preparing for this epic battle, Ka'Bandha reaches Athel Loren with the Blood Hunt and does battle with the Incarnates. Many awesome moments were had but the battle turns against the Incarnates and Teclis is forced to sacrifice Lileath and use her dying essence to transport them to Middenheim. Teclis is captured as he unfortunately teleports directly into Archaon's throne room, the other incarnates and their armies are scattered across the city and begin to fight their way towards the Everchosen. 

Grimgor finally shows up with his horde as Incarnate of Beasts, having been transported by Teclis' spell. The eight incarnates have a series of awesome scenes fighting the forces of chaos and many grudges are settled as tonnes of deaths occur. The incarnates finally face Archaon as he actives his doomsday device, the Emperor reveals himself as Sigmar reborn and fights the Everchosen. Caradryan and Grimgor are slain as is Ka'Bandha. Whilst Sigmar and Archaon wrestle one another at the edge of the chasm and fall off the edge as the remaining incarnates attempt to contain the power of the orb. Teclis is barely managing to hold onto the spell when Manfedd appears, conflicted over his loyalties and deciding 'if I can't have it nobody can', he kills Balthasar Gelt. With the loss of another incarnate Teclis is no longer able to contain the spell and is incinerated. Tyrion avenges his brother but it is too late. The energies of the orb open another chaos rift and the world is destroyed. In the final moments of the world Malekith saves the Everqueen from being crushed by fallen masonry and has his legs trapped, he shares a moment with her and Tyrion where they muse over their lives whilst Nagash crumbles to dust in the background. They are then overtaken by the darkness of the rift as all is consumed.

However a spark remains in the void: a symbol of hope and new beginnings...

Book 2: Rules

Firstly we see a total abandonment of any kind of force organisation, something that was probably inevitable given how chaotic 40k army building has become. This is also followed up later on in the book with more Battlescrolls which are essentially fantasy versions of detachments/formations. Originally formally introduced in Thanquol, Archaon has quite a few of these battle scrolls which are themed around the Incarnates and other notable armies from the story. We also get some specific campaign special rules that are designed to be compatible with the campaign system in Thanquol.

The Grand Legion of the Everchosen is a new army list, essentially just all the Chaos and Skaven units available from all the eighth edition rulebooks and End Times books together. Alongside this army list are the rules for the new Khorne stuff released alongside Archaon as well as rules for Isabella the Accursed, the last few Incarnates and a beefed-up version of Archaon himself that can go toe-to-toe with the insanely powerful Incarnates. Everything is suitably powerful for the apocalyptic games they will be used in as with most other rules from the previous books.

I would also like to quickly point out that the three Bloodthirster variants have also had 40k versions of their rules published in Khorne Daemonkin so they can be used in 40k as well. Hopefully this will set a standard for the other three Gods and I look forward to seeing more greater daemons in both fantasy and 40k.

Misc. opinions and closing thoughts

As good a book as it is there are quite a few loose ends that aren't tied up here but are instead added in the accompanying black library novel. I haven't read the novel but I have managed to piece together from friends and the internet a few things:

- Settra (who even got the last page of the Nagash book) turns up in the novel resurrected by the Chaos gods to kill Nagash. Settra says he was offered immortality and conquest without end but instead of killing Nagash loudly proclaims that SETTRA SERVES NO ONE! and proceeds to save Nagash from some daemons before wading into battle against Kholek Suneater. Settra was offered all he ever wanted and all that ever was yet is the first person in Warhammer history to turn down the Chaos gods because of his own monstrous ego. This is why I play Tomb Kings and I really hope he survived the End Time somehow to bring the fight to the gods who would dare command him.

- The Eastern portion of the Warhammer world was attacked by the various forces of Chaos including the Chaos Dwarves before it was all overrun by Grimgor's massive WAAAAGGGHH! which incorporated the Ogres as well after he killed Gresus Goldtooth.

- Bretonnia quietly crumbled away with Gilles le Breton and the vampire Abhorash fighting defiantly to the end. Why Nagash didn't just point Abhorash in the direction of Archaon at the first opportunity, thus solving everyone's problems we will never know.

I would like to take the time to say that Vlad von Carstein stole the show in this book as he has done in the others he appeared in. He has consistently been the best written character with interesting motivations and a satisfying story arc. I still find it weird that they chose to resurrect him but I suppose there were no other undead characters who could fulfill his role in the narrative. Perhaps Neferata could have but I think it would have undermined her character.

Also regarding the undead that thing where the Everchild marked Arkhan the Black before he sacrificed her, threatening her father's retribution. Nothing ever came of it. A few other plot threads seemed to die off quietly or came to very little but I suppose with something this large it is easy to forget where you were going with some things.

Briefly on the models accompanying this release. Bloodthirster, seriously cool, very expensive. Looking forward to seeing other greater daemons getting this treatment. I feel somewhat conflicted over the Wrathmongers and Skullreapers. Not so fond of the former but the latter are marginally better. I can't quite put my finger on it but something about them seems a bit off, quite unlike the Nugle Blightkings which were beautifully repulsive. I would also like to take the chance to voice my total bemusement at Skarr Bloodwrath. How would you even use those weapons? I mean, really?

Little wonder Khorne has to keep resurrecting him,
he looks more likely to hurt himself than the enemy.

8/10 - Solid ending to the End Times but I would have liked a few more plot threads addressed and not left hanging. 

Overall I think I would have done this End Times thing a bit slower; left a couple of months between each release, done a few more models for it (for example Malekith) and allowed people to adjust more steadily to the changes. We shall have to see what the next edition brings but I for one would have liked a steadier pace for such a monumental series.

However I wish they would hurry up and throw us a bone regarding the future. Rumours have run wild and rampant and in these past two months since the release of Archaon I have heard nought but doom, gloom and trepidation from my fellow hobbyists. However, it seems that soon be entering the Age of Sigmar and I look forward to seeing what exactly that will entail.

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