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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Warhammer 40000 Primaris Space Marines - Editorial

They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give of themselves to me.
Like clay I shall mould them, and in the furnace of war forge them.
They will be of iron will and steely muscle.
In great armour shall I clad them and with the mightiest guns will they be armed.
They will be untouched by plague or disease, no sickness will blight them.
They shall be pure of heart and strong of body, untainted by doubt and unsullied by self-aggrandisement. They will have tactics, strategies and machines so that no foe can best them in battle.
They are my bulwark against the Terror.
They are the Defenders of Humanity.
They will be bright stars on the firmament of battle, Angels of Death whose shining wings bring swift annihilation to the enemies of Man.
So it shall be for a thousand times for a thousand years, unto the very end of eternity and the extinction of mortal flesh.
They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear.
They are the last, best, hope for humanity.
Except, they aren't!?

Yes, you guessed it. It's the most Space-Mariney of Space Marines. The new, shiny, Primaris Space Marines!

Sigmar? Never heard of her!
If you were hiding under a rock yesterday you might have missed the announcement from Games Workshop that they will be releasing the new Primaris Space Marines to coincide with the release of 8th edition. Unlike most of the daily tidbits thrown out by GW in recent weeks this seems to have caused a slightly more negative reaction from the vocal members of our community.

So what do we know so far? From a lore perspective the story is roughly this: Guilliman comes back from the dead and sees that the galaxy is in a sorry state. He realizes he needs some sort of super warriors to swing the tide in humanity's favour and apparently Space Marines just won't cut the mustard. Some shady dealings go on with Belisarius Cawl and the Adeptus Mechanicus and hey presto! Primaris Space Marines!

Ok, so far, so cheesy. But who exactly are these guys? Well, they're a little bigger than regular Space Marines (when did a Space Marine become regular?) If their stat line is anything to go by they're tougher and more aggressive than the usual breed. They have some enhanced equipment in the form of mark X armour and bolt rifles (thanks again Belisarius Cawl).

Now, what I want to discuss here is how the Primaris Marines could fit into the existing 40k lore. How this could be done poorly and how this could be handled brilliantly. The internet is full of people's (perfectly valid) concerns about how these guys will work on the tabletop. Will they invalidate the existing marines through power creep? Are they just a massive sales gimmick? But for me and, dare I say it, many members of the community the thing that keeps us coming back to 40k is the rich and detailed setting. It really is one of the most captivating sci-fi settings around and the iconic Space Marine is the most recognizable cornerstone of that setting.

For me, the Primaris marines represent the biggest change that GW has made so far in their Gathering Storm storyline. More than the destruction of Cadia and the resurrection of a Primarch, the Primaris marines tread on the toes of a huge wealth of existing source material, much of which could be marginalized or invalidated if this change is handled poorly.

So, Space Marines, they're big, tough and functionally immortal. They have eidetic memories and, in combat situations, their brains process far more effectively than a base line human. On the battlefield they are truly superhuman, able to withstand horrific wounds and keep on fighting. Able to shoot with pinpoint accuracy and tear their foes apart in hand to hand combat. Seemingly then, Space Marines are perfect, so much better than us (baseline humans) in every way. How boring!

The truth is that any fictional creature with superhuman characteristics doesn't really become interesting until we examine its flaws. In much of the existing fiction, Space Marines are magnificently flawed. For all their vaunted immortality and strength they pay a steep price indeed. Taken as children and morphed into living weapons their emotions are stunted almost to the point of autism. As such, many of them struggle to emapathise with normal humans and cannot relate to their emotions. Black Templars particularly seem to lack this emotional depth; only able to respond to another's distress with either rage or blank muteness.

In going beyond the abilities of a human being, the Astartes sacrifice a great deal of their emotional range. They are unable to feel fear, sexual desire or romantic love. Yet for all that, they are still able to feel bitterness, jealousy and shame. Would these emotions not come to the fore if a new and improved 'replacement' was created? The answer has to be yes, of course they would. Some marines are bound to feel resentful about the new saviours of humanity. After all, they've been defending the galaxy for 10000 years, who are these new guys to show up and claim they can do a better job?

The Primaris Space marines then must be as flawed as they are powerful. If they are simply invulnerable supermen that outclass the Adeptus Astartes then they will not make for interesting characters. Equally, if the Space Marines simply move over and make room for the new guys without some serious tension then this will not make for a believable fiction.

The replacement of humanity's finest is not unprecedented, the Adeptus Astartes themselves replaced the Emperor's Thunder Warriors at the beginning of the Great Crusade. Not much has been written about how the Thunder Warriors took this development but it seems there were more than a few murmurs of dissent. I would expect to see the same from the Space Marines of the 41st millennium. After all it is hard to believe that the Dark Angels, with all their secrets, would readily accept outsiders into their ranks.

The way I see it, there is an easy fix for a lot of the problems presented by the Primaris Space Marines. Are you ready? Here it comes.

Have some of them fall to Chaos.

It really is that simple. This could solve the issue of tabletop balance and give those whiney Chaos players something to be happy about for a change. Furthermore, it works well within the established canon. A new breed of marines could be susceptible to the touch of the warp in unforeseen ways. Some of them could feel rejected by their 'brother' Astartes and turn from the Imperium unaware of the full horror of Chaos. In playing up the new, young, naive angle the Primaris marines seem all the more believable. After all, they haven't had ten millennia to learn vigilance against the power of Chaos.

Just my thoughts and we'll all see how this develops in the coming months. But one thing's for sure, the Primaris Space Marines will cause a massive upheaval in the hobby landscape. For good or ill, only time will tell.