Shadowspear – Stoking the Good & Bad Fires of 40K

We find ourselves on the precipice once again of another new box for Warhammer 40,000 in the form of Shadowspear. We have been waging battles across war-torn planets and further unfolding events within the Warhammer 40,000 universe for nearly two years now. With Shadowspear we see the narrative of 40K press forward alongside new models and rules. Although, I find myself wondering if it reaches the full potential to keep the grimdark far future exciting and enthralling.

In case you somehow missed it, Shadowspear is the latest battle box coming out for Warhammer 40,000. It brings with it entirely new sculpts for Daemonkin Chaos Space Marines. Never to be outdone, the Vanguard Primaris Marines also appear with brand new models to push back the daemonic interlopers. The box pushes forward the narrative taking place in the Vigilus system where Abaddon has recently made his reappearance. Shadowspear covers the events and efforts of these two armies against each other over a horrifying Daemon Forge.

I’ve found the progression of the narrative is a good if brief read. It does still manage to give a good sense of purpose and grounding to both armies. The conclusion may not be as straight-forward as some would predict, despite the ending falling a little flat. In terms of the impact it has on the over-arching battle for Vigilus, there is very little. The long-standing effects will likely be revealed in the upcoming second Vigilus book. Should you be fully invested in the war for Vigilus above all else, this box is nice to have but isn’t essential.

Fresh Faces of War

Certainly one of the most appealing parts of the new Shadowspear box is the inclusion of entirely new models. Each army consists of never-before seen models. Some units come with entirely new data sheets such as the Primaris Eliminator Squad. Whereas some are updates of older models, such as the Chaos Obliterators.

Each sculpt has your typical Games Workshop pillars. The models are all in plastic and feature superb levels of detail. They are also monopose, as seems to have been the case over the last handful of battle boxes. I’m sure that the lack of out-the-box customisation will certainly deter some. Admittedly, for myself, it’s hard to be turned-off when the models look as good as they do. Grav-chute-riding, autocannon-wielding Primaris Marines look a little far-fetched, but are still appealing. The new Greater Possessed look absolutely stellar and make the current Possessed models look cartoony and a little daft.

Waging War in Shadowspear

Chaos sees new models bestowed with equally new rules along with updated rules for some existing units. For instance, Obliterators see a point-rise whilst their toughness, wounds and number of Fleshmetal Guns attacks go up. The new Venomcrawler daemon engine reads to be a little underwhelming, rules-wise. However, I’m hopeful that with the right combination and aura abilities nearby it could turn into quite the monster. I’m sure that competitive players far more savvy than myself will find a way to make this work.

The Primaris Marines come with what feels to be an entirely new roster of units. These stealth-specialists bring some sniper-heavy roles and tactics to the tabletop alongside swift support from the Suppressor units. With a diverse roster of battlefield roles at hand, this feels like a good, broad bunch of fighters to start an army with. Surely, this is designed for new players as much as it is for existing fans looking to expand their forces.

Many Pages of Battle

An unfortunate note of worth is that with these new points costs and model rules, comes yet another booklet you’ll need for your games. Games Workshop’s relentless releases and updates may well please painters, collectors and gamers generally. Despite that, as a player myself, I’m starting to truly tire of having to carry a handful of books. In a world where Battlescribe exists and where Age of Sigmar has its own mobile app, it leaves me curious. Do Games Workshop just want us to buy more books to keep up to date? Or perhaps they’re working on something we just don’t know about yet? I’m hoping for the latter. The time is certainly right in this age of technology.

The missions included in the box are quite possibly my favourite element of the whole package. You can play the missions included using the armies provided or a mix/match of them and different armies. They are all relatively thematic to the box with missions revolving around either stealthy subterfuge or daemonic rituals/incursions. I was surprised to find one of the missions is provided with rules to be played by a solo player. This particularly stuck with me and is something I’m hopeful Games Workshop delves into more in the future.

Trite Fight

Unfortunately, in what otherwise to this point is a very high-quality box, I find I am repeating myself from previous Warhammer 40,000 releases. Looking at the fantastical universe of Age of Sigmar, we see their boxes with sporadic factions and races. Khorne versus Slaanesh in Wrath & Rapture as well as Skaven versus Flesh Eater Courts in Carrion Empire. Varied boxes with plenty of visual distinction and stand-out models. If we include the release of Dark Imperium there have been five of these army versus army boxes released for 40K. Shadowspear is the latest and, with this in mind, four of these five have featured Primaris.

I fully accept that the Primaris Marines are the poster-children of Warhammer 40,000 and the Imperium as a whole. However, this “excuse” is starting to wear very, very thin with myself. The expanse of factions available in this universe is diverse and contrasting. Yet we see this fixation on Primaris Marines. Let’s see a Drukhari versus Ork box or Tyranids versus Astra Militarum. I am fully aware that Primaris are likely a high-selling range. That being said, it feels like the spotlight should be taken from them even if briefly.

I’ve said previously that this is the time for Games Workshop to take some risks and this could well be one of them. There’s every possibility we’ll see the upcoming Sisters of Battle released in a box alongside an opposing army. However, there’s only so many times I can open one of these boxes without sarcastically thinking “Oh, Space Marines. Again. Great…”.

Defy and Imperil

Shadowspear feels like another reasonable move forward from Games Workshop with Warhammer 40,000. Yet, I fear it comes as a step forward when a potential leap could have been made. The unit and army rules within the box do not set the galaxy ablaze but are not likely to outright offend. The new models included are the stars of the show alongside some new missions that would truly be enjoyable and accessible for players of any experience. It moves the major story forward, although not with as much gravity or closure as some may have hoped.

Aside from this, the staling flavour of Space Marines lingers heavily in this box. Personally, I long to find another army to fight against within these big set releases. Shadowspear is further blemished by the need to haul an additional book for my Chaos Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000. Despite my grievances, Shadowspear remains a solid product. For new players it’s utterly ideal and likely one of the best ways to introduce the game to fresh wargamers. Chaos Space Marine fans can also rejoice as Shadowspear is clearly the herald of a more new models arriving imminently.

I still find myself a little disappointed, despite the wonderful new Chaos models and fun mission rules included. I’m sad to see that Games Workshop are still being wary, not daring to be more experimental. I certainly hope that at least try something new soon, lest the sterility becomes too apparent to overlook.

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