- Sep 23, 2009
So we've now seen the full Soulblight Gravelords release wave. It includes:
New Special Characters:
Belladamma Volga, founder and Leader of the new Vyrkos dynasty, with its kislevy, russiany feel and wolf/werewolf theme, toeing the line of beasthood. I like her, but she and the other Vyrkos heroes feel somewhat separated from the bulk of the SG range, particularly from oldhammer holdovers. Still, I like that we're seeing new bloodlines for AoS, and I like the strong and distinct feel they've given the Vyrkos through her and Radukar.
Radukar the Beast, surviving his ouster from the Cursed City but reduced/elevated to a more primal, beastial form in the process. I absolutely adore the model, but again I'm not sure how well it fits with the bulk of the SG range.
Kritza. Another Vyrkos character, but feels more courtly and less 'feral woodlands' than Radukar or Volga. I think it's likely this is a refugee from the now defunct Cursed City game, and I don't expect his rules to be particularly good or well fleshed out, similar to how underworlds or war cry warbands that get added to battletomes are usually afterthoughts that don't amount to much. I'm just not sure what his place is thematically, or mechanically. Especially since the Cursed City rat swarms are apparently not included in the SG battletome at all.
Annika. Another of the Cursed City brood, which should technically make her part of the Vyrkos dynasty, but like Kritza she doesn't match the tone of the Vyrkos outside of Ulfenkarn at all. As such, I think she's another Cursed City refugee and I expect her rules to be an afterthought.
Honestly, the release wave is more coherent and probably just stronger overall if you pretend that Kritza and Annika aren't even there. Particularly since too many of the very few new units are already special characters.
Lauka Vai, the Mother of Nightmare and the current ruler of the Avengorii dynasty - which seems to be this book's equivalent of Blood Dragons, given that they share the desire to feed only on the strongest possible prey and that Vai herself at least tries to maintain some twisted vestige of martial honour. Again, I like that we're getting new bloodlines for the new setting, but I would have thought Prince Vhordrai would have been the more natural choice for the leader of the blood dragon equivalents, with this model representing more of a monstrous abomination bloodline with fell bats and vargheists and terrorgheists and such. But that's just me.
Anyway, personally I love the model, but it's a total marmite situation with strongly split opinions on it. Thankfully the VLoZD is sticking around for those who prefer a more traditional mounted monster centerpiece. IMO that model still holds up, but those who feel otherwise should have some nice options for sprucing it up out of the new blood knight box.
New non-named units/heroes
Just one, the Vengorian Lord. Again, I love it, albeit slightly less than the special character version, but it is still admittedly a marmite model, which is unfortunate given that it's the only new unit out of the entire release wave that isn't a named character. I'll definitely be getting one of this kit. Whether I assemble it as the named or generic version will depend on the rules and lore of the available subfactions
New model kits for existing units/heroes - this is where this release wave really shines, imo,
A new vampire lord was needed in order to ditch the old resin models, and I do quite like this model as an update, though I can understand those who think the hair is a bit much. Maybe there'll be an alternate head option? even if not, head swaps are the easiest conversions to do. Still, much as I like this model, we did just effectively get four fantastic new plastic vampire lord on foot models out of the Crimson Court underworlds box, so if they only had room for one new Vampire Lord for AoS, I wish they would have gone with one mounted on a steed instead. With the resin models gone, there now isn't a model for that. Are we going to lose the option to mount our vampire lords on an undead horse just as we're finally getting a unit of plastic blood knights for them to lead? I hope not.
Anyway, I really like this model, but I have a dozen nice vampire models, including the new crimson court, so I'm not exactly in a rush to grab this one.
Holy cow, this new mounted wight king is amazing. Still just jaw dropping, the sort of lovingly referent update - carefully blending aspects of the old model, the newer models that it would go with, and classic warhammer artwork - that is normally reserved for faction defining special characters like Sigvald the Magnificent or Abaddon the Despoiler. This is quite possibly the best warhammer undead model ever. What else can I say about it? A must have model, imo.
Finally, the long awaited plastic Blood Knights! Personally I really like these. I've heard from some folks who would have preferred beefier, chunkier knights with thicker armor and heavy fur cloaks, and that would have been cool too, but I think the more svelte look works fine for them. They definitely feel closer to blood knights converted from elf models than blood knights converted from chaos models.
New skeleton warriors, now renamed 'deathrattle skeletons'. Same general design as the Cursed City skeletons. They look good, they're a nice upgrade to the existing kit in proportions and especially pose. They seem like they'll look good in both traditional vamp county looking SG armies and in russian wilderness themed Vyrkos builds. My only slight criticism is that the more armored look and more upright posing makes the current grave guard models look kind of weak and small next to them, which is unfortunate since it seems grave guard are not getting a new kit right now. Seems like with some head, weapon, and shield swaps this could have been a dual kit that covered grave guard as well, but whatever.
Personally, I'll probably stick to my existing skeletons for now. They still look fine, and in particular fit better with my grave guard.
New deadwalker zombies. The old kit was ancient and needed to be replaced. The new kit looks much nicer. Includes a couple of the weird cursed city style zombies with gravestones/fences/what-have-you stuck to their back, but they don't look as weird when it's just a couple in a unit of otherwise more normal zombies. They do all have a gimmick of roots growing out of them, just to have some sort of recognizeable gw twist, but I think it works.
I will be replacing my zombies, the new ones are just that much better, but not right away, and not all at once.
New Dire Wolves. I would have preferred a return to the 5th/6th ed style 'vampire wolves' concept rather than the 7th/8th edition style 'zombie wolves' version, but at least they're much better versions of the zombie wolves concept than the previous models. I'll absolutely be replacing my dire wolves with the new ones at the first opportunity.
New Fell Bats. I'm not sure Fell Bats need to be a unit. From rumor and information, the new book actually drops bat swarms entirely. If I was going to choose between the two, I would have kept the swarms. Still, if fell bats are to remain a unit then they /absolutely/ needed new models, probably more than anything else in the faction, and these are pretty great, imo. I'll get some eventually, but probably not right away.
All in all, this is a monstrously huge release, one that refreshes a huge part of the existing LoN range. 7 updated kits for existing units, including all three battle line units! That's nearly unprecedented!
But it's also the source of some mixed reactions the release has been getting. A lot of people with existing LoN armies, or old Vampire Count armies, were hoping for more new units to add to their existing collections, particularly after Cursed City released, which seemed to promise big new things for the gravelords. Vampire Infantry! Zombie Ogres! New undead swarms! a new 'vargskyr' monster similar in look and theme to what the varghulf used to be! An extremely cool looking zombie support hero! Yet exactly none of those things got independent unit releases or even separate unit rules in the battletome. Instead the entire villain side of the cursed city box, minus the swarms, can be purchased as a single awkward blob with slap dash rules, and otherwise can't be taken at all. More recently the white dwarf preview of anvil of blood, with two different soulblight builds - one for a fighty lord and one for a wizard lord - implied to some that we could be getting a generic magic-specialist vampire build, something to carry forward the legacy of the old Necrarchs or the more recently lost Legion of Sacrament. But that didn't happen, either.
If you discard the cursed city stuff, including Kritza and Annika, who, I am convinced, were originally intended to be cursed city expansion characters and will probably have rules as lackluster as those of the cursed city box stuff, then the bulk of this release is new models for existing units, which is cool for new players. Or at least it will be cool for new players as the skeletons and zombies are priced like the cheap hordes they are. If GW tries to charge us$4+ per model for our horde infantry then new players might as well look somewhere else as this army will be basically unobtainable. Either way though, new models for existing units are distinctly less exciting for existing players, even those who do plan to replace some of their models with the updated versions.
Most of the actual new stuff is special characters, leaning towards the vyrkos even if you ignore cursed city stuff, and the vyrkos are certainly interesting, but they don't look or feel like they really fit in with most of the rest of the faction.
The only remaining bit, Lauka-Vai / Vengorian Lord, does mostly fit with the rest of the faction, but is still such a marmite model that many will just bounce off of it, and that's understandably disappointing for many as the Vengorian is, again, the only new unit that isn't a named character, and thus might be the only truly new element for existing players to add to their armies. Maybe the only new model too, if they're happy with their existing models and conversions for blood knights, zombies, fell bats, and the like.
With all the shared Nighthaunt units supposedly being removed from the list, including traditional VC units like wraiths, banshees, spirit hosts, hex wraiths, and the black coach, it is entirely possible that many long time vampire count players are losing more units than they gain in this book, and that can't feel good.
I say all this negative stuff up front partially to get it out of the way, but mostly to remind those like myself who are absolutely thrilled by this release wave, who couldn't be more hype about it, to show some patience to those who might be venting their unhappiness & frustrations online right now. Yeah, it can feel like they're raining on our parade, but there are definitely fair grounds for some complaints here, so those who feel a need to complain should be allowed to do so in peace.
All that said, rain or no, I'm absolutely throwing a parade here, because I think this release wave is just phenomenal. Plastic Blood Knights! Nice new models for units that absolutely needed them, like zombies & fell bats! An absolutely stunning new mounted wight king! Again, maybe my favorite warhammer undead model ever. The treatment of the Cursed City crew may be a bit unfortunate, but the Vyrkos duo of Volga and Radukar the Beast are neat and new and fresh. Lauka/Vengabus is just a weird concept, but it absolutely fits my Nagasii/Undead Horror sensibilities, an unliving embodiment of the dark truth vampires cannot admit to themselves - that the soulblight curse is an abomination not a gift, that vampires exist to hunt mortals to extinction and then starve to death, not to rule over eternal kingdoms of the night. It's weird and wild and over the top in a very high fantasy, very Age-of-Sigmary sort of way, while still fitting more or less with the rest of the SG line, particularly the new blood knights. It isn't something anyone asked for, but it's exactly the sort of unexpected, off the wall new idea that I love to see in this game.
Additionally, such a dramatic and extensive range re-vamp, if you'll pardon the pun, is a physical sign that GW cares about this faction and means to support it in AoS long term. We're not just an oldhammer holdover anymore, we don't merely persist through inertia alone. That's really exciting. As is the lore possibilities of entirely new bloodlines, with new Soulblight civilizations within the setting and ongoing narrative of Age of Sigmar. This is exciting stuff!
Especially since that implicit promise of ongoing support means we may yet get some of the things we didn't get here. As excited as I am for this release wave, I've definitely got a long wish list of stuff I hope to see in the future, including:
- All the new units implied by cursed city - vampire infantry, ogre zombies, vargskyr, gravekeeper hero, swarms of undead bats and rats
- new plastic vampire lord on steed to go with the blood knights
- new grave guard to look as impressive and elite next to the new skeletons as the current grave guard did next to the old skeletons
- bespoke model for Vhordrai
- more weird or distinctive new units and characters to further characterize the new bloodlines/dynasties
- faction terrain and endless spells!
The latter is the only thing where the absence feels distinctly weird, though I'm not sure what I would trade out of the current pile to make room for them. Apart from the skeletons, which maybe didn't need to be updated until they were ready to update the grave guard as well.