Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - Age of Darkness Boxed Set (plus Liber Astartes & Liber Hereticus Army Books)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Release Date: June 3, 2022
MSRP: $299.99 (Boxed Set); $70.00ea. (Army Books)
Number of Players: 2 or more
Playing Time: N/A
Product #: 60013099001
Age Rating: 12+
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

In a way, there have been two Warhammer 40,000s for a long time:  the more familiar one that often sits at the peak of tabletop miniatures games, and a more shadowy prequel version, sometimes known as Warhammer 30,000, but more formally known as Warhammer: The Horus Heresy, which explores the galaxy-spanning civil war that marked the birth of the Imperium of Man.  Now this era steps into the light with its own massive starter set:  Age of Darkness.  But should it have stayed in the shadows?

Summary:  Age of Darkness includes everything a new player needs to leap head-first into The Horus Heresy.  In addition to an enormous 336-page tome detailing the setting and game rules, the box contains 54 models—40 space marine troopers in "MkVI Power Armor" (affectionately known as "beakies"), 10 "Cataphractii" Terminator marines, 2 Legion Praetors, a Land Raider tank, and a Dreadnaught walker—21 dice, 2 measuring sticks, 3 blast templates, 2 rules reference cards, and a sheet of transfer decals.

Available separately, there are currently two Army Books, the Liber Astartes and Liber Hereticus.  Each weighs in at 344 pages, and includes all of the game stats and weapon rules for one of the two main factions in Horus Heresy:  the loyalist space marines, and the followers of the traitor Warmaster Horus.

Originality:  The fundamentals of Age of Darkness are little different from "classic" Warhammer 40,000.  It is an "I go, you go" system with moving, shooting, and close combat phases each turn.  The same fighting stats are used: Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength, Toughness, and so on.  Most of what is here will be familiar to fans of the genre already.  It does offer a fairly extensive system of "reactions" that give players a limited ability to interrupt their opponent’s turn, be it to open fire on approaching troops or scuttle out of the way of incoming fire.  But the big difference is the setting.  Horus Heresy is all about the humans, and the two main factions are nearly identical.  So, there is variability than you might find on a "normal" 40,000 battlefield.  This shifts the focus of gameplay more onto outwitting your opponent in the field and away from outwitting them in army building.  There is still a lot of customization possible, as each of the 18 different Space Marine Legions has unique units and characters, as well as special rules and exclusive reaction options.

Presentation:  These days, it wouldn’t be a Games Workshop product if it was not, at some level, a work of art.  The box sports dark but evocative artwork, and has a lot of "heft" when you pick it up.  The models are highly detailed affairs that will look stunning if painted well, and GW thoughtfully protects the gorgeous rulebook with a poster-sized cardboard sheet showing studio-painted samples.  To my surprise, the books have less artwork than I expected.  They are text-heavy, and the ratio of rules to "fluff" is generous.  The measuring sticks, however, are a bit disappointing, and the dice are pretty standard.

Quality:  Age of Darkness should not be mistaken for an "introductory set."  The models are not "push-fit” or “easy-to-assemble."  They are the same caliber as standard Citadel/Forge World miniatures line, and some of them may be a challenge for a novice modeler.  But I don’t consider that to be a drawback, as long as your expectations are realistic.  The books themselves are excellent, with the same quality of materials and workmanship that one would expect from most "coffee table" style books.  The writing is very good, and I found only a couple minor errors reading through them, which is remarkable for a work of this length.  The photographs of models and the artwork are very clear and excellent quality, and not excessive in number, leaving plenty of pages for the game’s very, very meaty ruleset.  And I found those rules to be the most clearly explained and comprehensible set of Warhammer rules to date.  Though, like all Warhammer games, the devil is in the details, and there are hundreds of special rules that apply to only certain models or situations, so it will take me some time to fully digest them all.

Marketability:  The real value of this boxed set is, in a word, its value.  For a new player looking to get into Horus Heresy, it can provide a solid foundation for an army collection, whether loyalist or traitor, and at a price that seems hefty but is in truth quite generous.  Comparable Citadel models would tally up to well over $400, and that’s before taking the rulebook and accessories into consideration.  The Army Books, also, are worthy of their price tag, considering both their length and the fact that each book is almost entirely useable rules, with options for no less than nine legions each.

Overall:  My first exposure to the world of Warhammer 40,000 was a game set in the Horus Heresy era:  the original Adeptus Titanicus and its companion game Space Marine, so I will always have a fondness for that version of the setting.  But some may find the marine-on-marine focus to be limiting.  Fortunately, GW has already promised new Army Books with other factions, from the "Mechanicum" to the Emperor’s own bodyguards.  Could "Xenos" sets be in store for the future as well?  Much of the lore of the game describes the “Great Crusade” against a multitude of alien empires.  I for one would be delighted to explore those potentials…

But for now, it’s just Space Marines, and that’s alright, too.  For those looking to enjoy a more focused game but who like the Warhammer 40,000 lore, Age of Darkness is a great starting place.  Or, if you just want a large collection of beakies and other old-school marines, it’s still pretty hard to beat this deal.  And that’s why I’m giving this game 4 out of 5.

Click on Gallery below for full-size images.

- William Niebling