BoK Reviews: Shield of Baal – Exterminatus
It has been eight months since Games Workshop unleashed the second in a series of narrative campaigns for Warhammer 40k 7th edition. Building on the success of the Sanctus Reach the Shield of Baal campaign took it to another level. The 3rd release in the Shield of Baal campaign titled: Exterminatus gives a slight hint of things to come. So you may be wondering where is the 2nd release review is? Well, Deathstorm was more a box set to sell miniatures, telling a very, very small part of the Shield of Baal story. Exterminatus like Leviathan is divided into two books, one for the story and the other for rules. This review will go over both components.
Games Workshop overarching goal with these books is forming a Narrative campaign where players reenact battles from the story, writing their own history. Does it succeed in this endeavor? You will just have to read the review to find out!
Book One: Campaign
The Rising Leviathan: Exterminatus begins with a quick synopsis of the story up to this point. The gist is a Tyranid Leviathan splinter fleet has invaded the Cryptus system; in the matter of two days the Tyranids destroyed almost all Imperial resistance. The story quickly moves to the main character in this story, the legendary Chapter Master Dante of the Blood Angels. This is where the story does amazing job, we didn’t get strong feelings for the Imperial characters in Leviathan, now with Dante on the scene and host of other important characters Exterminatus has real gravitas.
Since Leviathan gave us the setting, we quickly get to the action. Dante foreshadowed such a confrontation with the Tyranids, so he amasses not only the entire Blood Angel chapter, but gets the Flesh Tearers to join the fight. Like I mentioned we get characters galore; Mephiston, Corbulo, Gabriel Seth all play critical roles to the overall story. The characters are also beautifully illustrated, by various artists. Dante’s plan is either defeat the Tyranids in Cryptus or weaken them enough, so their next target Baal will stand a chance at survival.
Just like the previous campaign books, Exterminatus does a great job revealing the peril and dread it is to fight the Tyranids. Hidden also, is another motive, the Blood Angels believe a cure for the Red Thirst is possible, and the Cryptus system holds the key; Corbulo leads a force on a special to the gas giant Aeros to find rare medical samples for study. The Flesh Tearers are sent to the water world of Lysios to evacuate any survivors. It is then up to Dante and the main Blood Angel force who head to Asphodex, seat of Imperial power and devise some sort of plan to weaken or destroy the Tyranids.
Below is the theater of war map with the particular locations and targets of the Blood Angels.
The Story Unfolds:
As with Levithan, we get an intersplicing of direct narrative and 1st person battle reports. The difference with Exterminatus is we start with three separate narratives, then a fourth connecting them all to the climax. The three main stories follow a similar pattern; Blood Angels show up, kick ass, find a few plucky survivors, then realize they can only win battles, but not the war against the vast Tyranid menace. Now, while this is typical narrative war porn, is it still good war porn.
Each story thread focuses on the unique Blood Angel characters and rightly so, and their portrayal is amazing. GW does double down on annoying repetitive information diarrhea. This is presented as character drawings, army shots accompanied by short descriptions. You see what GW is trying to do; tie the toys to the story being told. The problem is while I might care about Gabriel Seth, there’s little chance I am going to care about a freakin Rhino backgound. Especially, when their is no special rules to accompany them. Unlike Leviathan, Exterminatus uses little rehashed art, most of the art is new and brilliant! The graphic battle shots really place you in the story and GW doesn’t hesitate to mix up different artists with their own unique styles. Then we get many large model battle shots showcasing GW new and improved photography and effects.
We could get into the weeds of each storyline, but the big twist and one everyone knew was coming is the introduction of the Necrons to the campaign. The second anyone saw a Death World on a map, you always wonder when the Necrons will show up. The Necrons bring the the fourth and final storyline, piecing everything together. Unlike the half ass way the Grey Knights were added the Santus Reach campaign, the Necrons are central and well thought out.
As Dante is about to make the dire choice to abandon the Cryptus; evacuating the Blood Angels and any survivors, Anrakyr the Traveler Necron Overlord shows up to save the day. The background though is more complicated, a powerful Necron Dynasty (Mephrit) is waking up and Anrakyr seeing the threat the Tyranids pose (all Necrons) allies himself with Mephrit Dynasty on the planet Perdita. Then seeing an opportunity Anrakyr convinces Dante to combine forces in a particularly wild gambit. The plan is using an ancient Necron device called the Starflame to explode the gas giant Aeros. Of course for this plan to work everyone has their own special mission, with the final piece being directing the Starflame on completely overrun planet of Tartoros.
This is pure Sci-fi trope, but set in the 40k universe is kinda neat, and it doesn’t hurt hearing the cries of fluff Nazis as Matt Ward’s dream of Necron & Blood Angel love lives on. The ending is particularly great except for one little detail. It is up to the Death Company, Cryptek, and Transcendent C’Tan to power the Starflame and obliterate Aeros. As the art below shows, this part of the story is beautifully told and captures the desperation of the Blood Angels as they race against time. The C’tan is amazingly realized as it battles a Hierodule and many large monstrous creatures. So, what could possibly make this story lame? Well it comes down to one thing, everyone is saved not by the heroics of the Necron Angel alliance, but the sudden appearance of the Sanguinor. That is right the Sanguinor shows up at the last minute to kill a Carnifex and start the Starflame. This miraculous intervention really blunts the rest of the story and was totally unnecessary.
In the end, the Exterminatus story is still a step above anything outside Black Library, showcasing what I hope is the future of GW campaign series. It also ties together so many threads and adds to the lore of the Blood Angels, and expands the Necrons as well. If you want great art, great story, and great models the campaign book is worth it, but does the second book complete package?
What does GW have to say?
Released Dec. 18th 2014
A two-book soft cover set containing:
The 152-page campaign book includes:
– The story of the final acts of war in the Cryptus System featuring the combined forces of the Blood Angels, Adepta Sororitas, Astra Militarum, and the Flesh Tearers versus the Tyranids of Hive Fleet Leviathan
– An explanation of how the Necrons of Cryptus awoke to lend their aid to the beleaguered world along with the fleet of Anrakyr the Traveller
– Example armies that took part in the climax of the campaign
– Background of the heroes and famous regiments of the campaign
– Stunning new artwork that brings the background to life and illustrates the regions of space around Cryptus
The 64-page rulebook includes:
– 8 new missions based on the events of the narrative book.
– 8 new datasheets for the Blood Angels 1st and 2nd Companies, Flesh Tearers, and the Necrons of the Mephrit Dynasty. That’s the equivalent of four Codex Supplements in one book!
– New warlord traits, relics and force organization charts for all four armies
Book Two: The Rules
The Rules are divided into two parts and the review will cover them as presented.
Part 1: Missions
These missions are design to recreate the major theaters of war represented in book one. One side is the Tyranids against some combination of Dark Angels, Imperial Guard, Sisters of Battle, or Necrons.
Mission One: The Avenging Host Descends (Blood Angels vs. Tyranids)
This missions recreates the arrival of Dante and his Blood Angels and defense of the last space port on Asphodex. If played to the letter this mission is only realistic for 2,000+ games. This missions is interesting because the Tyranids can set up on anywhere as they wait for the Blood Angels to arrive from reserve. Make sure you set up limits to the Tyranid set-up–not to fill the entire board with models. The only drawback with this mission is the model requirements for the Blood Angels, so if you have to, make modifications where necessary.
Mission Two: Against the Hive Mind (Blood Angels vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates the epic psychic battle between Mephiston and a Tyranid Neural Node. This is a modified Kill Point mission, where Psychic units give out extra points. You just have to make sure the Blood Angel players has more psykers than just Mephiston when creating a list, otherwise things can get lopsided easily.
Mission Three: Breaching the Living Wall (Blood Angels/Adepta Sororitas vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates the breakneck pace of the Flesh Tearers staying ahead of the Tyranids. This mission isn’t really that balanced giving the Imperial Side more opportunities to get VPs. It also gives the Imperial Side more to do leaving the Tyranid player to just kill things.
Mission Four: Cathedral of Blood (Blood Angels/Astra Militarum vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates Brother Corbulo mission to get the last stockpile of satryx elixir. Like Mission Three the Blood Angel player will have a great time as he has to defend a small piece of the board against the Tyranids, leaving the Tyranids to do, you guessed it, just kill. The mission also requires certain models, so make sure you have them otherwise modifications will be necessary.
Mission Five: Divine Intervention (Blood Angels/Necrons vs. Tyranids)
This is the first mission to feature the Necrons fighting with the Blood Angels. This objective mission is damn fun. You get things for each side to do, plus free units. They even have a modify C’tan to fit the mission story, this is a nicely crafted mission, but one which seems best kept unmodified.
Mission Six: A Battle Against Time (Blood Angels/Adepta Sororitas vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates the final defense of the water planet Lyrios. It requires the Blood Angel side to use the Defenders of the Cathedrum Formation. This mission would be fun if not for the Tyranid victory condition of tabling the other side. The bonuses for the Tyranid side are not enough to keep even a decent player Blood Angel from winning. A slight modification in points in favor of the Tyranid side should do the trick to make things fair.
Mission Seven: Of Monsters and Machines (Necrons vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates Zarathusa the Ineffable attempt to power up the Magnovitrium beam. This is great mission because it requires proper timing, the Necron player must survive being in the deployment area of the Tyranid player at the end of the game to score VPs. It is important both sides take enough flyers because it is becomes extremely easy for the side with more flyers to win.
Mission Seven: Forlorn Hope (Blood Angels vs. Tyranids)
This mission recreates the final battle in the Shield of Baal saga, where it is up to a group of Death Company to position the Magnovitrium destorying the gas giant Aeros. This mission requires the Blood Angel player to use the Strike Force Mortalis Formation. The Tyranid player just has to keep any Blood Angel model 3″ away from the single objective. Be careful when playing this mission, it won’t be fun for the Blood Angel player if Tyranid player takes a horde list, best keep it to campaign story taking big monsters.
Part 2: The Cryptian Alliance
This section of the Rule book details Formations and Special Rules for running Blood Angels and Necrons.
This last section of Exterminatus unlike Leviathan provides unique rules for playing Blood Angels and Necrons. You get relics, warlord traits, formations, and detachments! The relics and formations fit the fluff the campaign lays out, and for the most part are not very power gamey. They also require a ton of models from many different box sets. It is clear GW wants you to amass a huge Blood Angel force if you are going to recreate the campaign. Sadly it means you won’t be seeing many of the things found in this book on the battlefield, except for now infamous Flesh Tearers Strike Force Detachment.
As for the Necron section it is overshadowed by the main Necron codex and the formations inside there. Since we we the power of hindsight you can see just how self contained the rules are within the Shield of Baal campaign. It is really too bad for the Blood Angels, as they were the last of the old format codexes making them seem out of place when compared to say the new Space Marine codex. Still, if you want units that represents a cross section of an army the Detachments and Formations in Exterminatus are spot on.
Shield of Baal: Exterminatus builds on Leviathan and delivers where the first did not. The narrative is sharper and the characters involved are worthwhile. The artwork is amazing. There is still the random filler we could do without, but the model shots to go along with it are good enough. The story ending has a little bit to be desired, but the build up is amazing. The Rule Book is laser focused on what players actually want these days: different ways to army build and new items. We are still missing formations for the Imperial Guard and Sisters of Battle, but at least the main “good guys” got something. If you are a Blood Angel player this product is worth the $66 sticker price, if you like any narrative games it is also worth it. If you don’t play any of the factions and/or a competitive player you better off passing. Taken together we should be happy GW produced a campaign like this, they really add a lot to the game and provide new ways to play with our fantastic toys.
Shield of Baal: Exterminatus fixes most of the problems with the previous campaign books, bringing ending an exciting story involving some of the most iconic characters in 40k. Exterminatus only flaws is the “miracle” ending and less than stellar Missions.
- Forging the Narrative 80%
- Use of the Word Blood 40%
- Super Charged C’tan 95%