Ritual of the Damned Review, Part 1: Dark Angels

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Well, it finally happened. After jamming the snooze button three times, Psychic Awakening IV: Ritual of the Damned is here, and one of Warhammer’s oldest and most storied Marine chapters has been blessed with an update to their codex, that should bring them from the bottom tables to something more like competitive.

We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and now it’s here: the Grey Knights are back, baby…

 

Dark Angel Intercessor

Honks Unforgivenly (PC: Coda)

 

… Oh, word, Dark Angels too?

 

Yes, that’s right, the First Legion, the Sons of the Lion, have opened the spooky archeotech vaults beneath the Rock and discovered within them the secrets of how to be almost as good as the rest of the Marine meta was eight months ago. With the addition of Combat Doctrines, Stratagem support, Litanies, and the first Inner Circle Primaris character, are the robe-headed stepchildren of the Imperium finally worth a serious look? Games Workshop have helpfully sent us a copy of the book and having delved deep into its secrets we can bring you our hottest take yet – maybe!

As the less-choppy Marines Chapter, Games Workshop has had problems in the past figuring out the identity of the Dark Angels. If they were supposed to have access to ancient relics, why is the only new wargear option a plasma cannon Terminator? Bike chapter? White Scars exist. Grim Resolve did some work to make them the Shooting Marines, but the restrictions on movement it imposed limited tactical choices, and didn’t work with a few units, such as, I don’t know, the entire Ravenwing.

There were elements that almost Got There, but no synergy between them. We think this update finally gives Dark Angels a niche, which is that of a mobile firebase. It does this largely through playing up the Ravenwing and Deathwing, with lots of the new content gated to those sub-factions, giving them some attention they sorely needed. There seem to have been two goals with this release: to bring the entire codex up to the standards of normal Marines, and to figure out what their entire deal is, creating a de facto Ravenwing/Deathwing supplement. The good news is that Games Workshop appears to have succeeded on both counts.

Special Rules

First off, everyone gets Angels of Death. you’ve seen it before, you know what it does: This bundles up the rules for Bolter Discipline, Shock Assault, and And They Shall Know No Fear rules into one mega-rule, and also unlocks Combat Doctrines, which is probably more responsible than any other single rule for putting at least one Astartes army on 60% of all tournament tables. The Dark Angels’ Chapter Doctrine, surprising most everyone, isn’t actually focused on swords or plasma guns:

Get it

Image credit: Games Workshop

It’s a solid boost, and delightfully unencumbered by the conditional qualifiers that made Grim Resolve only kind of useful. We like this a lot because being in the Devastator doctrine, it’s immediately useful from the start of the game, and it stacks well with Grim Resolve’s bonus to accuracy from not moving. For most infantry with a six inch move, the extra range will replace having to move, which means you get to hang on to your Chapter Tactic giving re-rolls to hit, and for anything Heavy, keep away from the dreaded -1. As we’ll see later, there are some other ways to build on this, to what ends up being a moderately insane degree.

In general, the play with Dark Angels seems to be spending the first 2-3 turns in Devastator, and then when your heavy weapons platforms have been destroyed and all you have left are bolt rifles and deep-striking plasma Inceptors, cycling to Tactical. Assault is probably not going to see a ton of use, outside of stratagems that let you put a single unit into a different doctrine, simply because your assault units either don’t need it, already being at high enough AP to be forcing invulnerable saves, or are so hopeless that an extra point of AP isn’t going to help.

Wings’ Note: I like the Doctrine here a lot, as while it’s not quite got the raw power of something like Iron Hands it’s still helping almost everyone in your army right from the offing. In combination with the Chapter Litany, which we’ll see in a bit, it really does help hit the mobile firebase feel Greg was talking about earlier.

Gunum’s Note: I am ready for something to make us feel unique! Come on downtown lester-brown shooting time! I think when compared against other chapters, this extra trait is about Mid-tier. But what it does do is sets us up for a whole slew of new options and build focus. My HMOs are going to be getting quite a bit spicier.

TheChirurgeon’s Note: It’s worth noting that Grim Resolve now applies to everything in a Dark Angels Detachment, not just Infantry, Bikes, and Dreadnoughts. So get your Repulsor Executioners ready!

Datasheets

A bit of good news/bad news here.

Azrael has not been updated and, spoiler alert: As expected, the Chapter Master stratagem is nowhere to be found, so there’s no way to get the full-re-rolls on hits from an always-on aura. That’s bad.

Gunum’s NoteBig miss here. At the very minimum, they could have given us full re-rolls on him, which is still oddly missing from our book when it’s present everywhere else. 

But this is tempered somewhat by the fact that Chaplains all get Litanies now, so they can chant angrily enough to do the same thing. That’s good.

But Asmodai doesn’t get double-litany powers, or any other upgrades (not that we expected those, as other than Pedro Kantor they don’t generally hand out upgrades to non-Primaris versions of characters), but he can Do Litanies at people once, at least. That’s bad-ish.

Wings’ Note: He does know two litanies, which makes me wonder if an upgrade to chant two might come in a FAQ.

TheChirurgeon’s Note: Probably not, if only because unlike Astorath, Asmodai doesn’t have the MASTER OF SANCTITY keyword.

But Lazarus seems pretty fun. With 5 attacks (6 on the charge) at S6, AP-4, Dd3, he’s instantly the hardest close combat character in the codex, and he has an ability that works out to a free use of Only In Death Does Duty End, which is the kind of petty spiteful shit we love to see. He also gets a 4+ save against Mortal Wounds, and extends a 5+ against the same to all friendly Dark Angels within 6 inches. A couple of notes here: all Mortal Wounds, not just Psychic ones, and all Dark Angels, not just Infantry. That’s good.

Litanies

Dark Angels Chaplains – other than the Dreadnought type, where we hope to soon get a removal of the clause in the FAQ where Forge World explicitly told them to pound sand – can chant their own special verse when rap-battling. Stoic Prosecution is a punishing psychological own that provides an aura where an INFANTRY unit that didn’t advance or fall back can shoot as if it didn’t move. This would be worthwhile on its own merits, for heavy weapons, but the real sauce on it is that “remaining stationary” also turns Grim Resolve back on, so you get the re-rolls of 1 to hit. It’s not as good for plasma weapons as a flat +1, but a) you still have that litany if you want it, and b) it’s not like you weren’t going to overcharge anyway, unless you’re some kind of coward.

Ravenwing Dark Talon

Ravenwing Dark Talon. Credit: Greg Chiasson

Wings Note: So yeah this is potentially low-key one of the most important things here – the Dark Angels chapter Litany is outrageously good, and way more impactful than it might sound on a first reading. In concert with the Chapter Tactic and Doctrine, this lets a jump Chaplain following around a castle creates a setup that does a reasonable impression of Iron Hands, and the extra range the doctrine gives is quite handy in that kind of build. 

Gunum’s Note: Aggressors. That’s all I’ll say. 

Stratagems

As we’ve seen in previous Awakenings Psychic, there’s a full array of new stratagems, 22 in all. A good chunk are reprinted from the 2019 Codex: Space Marines – Boltstorm, Hero of the Chapter, Veteran Intercessors, etc. – and are good to finally have access to. We’ll save the full rundown for our upcoming analysis post, but there’s a few we wanted to call out as being Potentially Spicy:

  • Combined Assault (2CP): When Deep-Striking a Deathwing unit, if they’re within 6″ of a unit of Ravenwing bikes, you can put them 6″ away from enemy units instead of 9″. This is a bit of a return to the old teleport homer shenanigans from 7th, and we’re big fans of it both from the fluff perspective and because it makes getting the charge off substantially more reliable – which makes Deathwing Knights way more of a thing.
  • Targeting Guidance (1CP): At the beginning of your Shooting phase, pick an enemy unit within 12” of, and visible to, a Land Speeder, and re-roll hits for friendly DARK ANGELS units shooting at it for that phase. Another good reason to take Ravenwing units, and a way to prevent self-owning via plasma weapons, both of which are a bit of a trend in this supplement.
  • Stand Firm (1CP): In any phase, give +1T to a unit of DEATHWING TERMINATORS. Pairing this up with Fortress of Shields might actually let your Deathwing Knights survive one turn in combat, maybe.

The surprising thing about the stratagems here is that there’s nothing about plasma weapons. It’s true that Weapons From The Dark Age still exists, but I was half-expecting a stratagem to safely overcharge, full stop. Several ways exist to improve mobility or survivability without compromising firepower, though. There are ways to ignore the movement penalty on to hit rolls, too, as you’ll see in the Warlord traits section in just a second. While “ignoring penalties” might not be the most lurid way to boost an army’s effectiveness, it plays into the characterization of the Dark Angels as relentless, and certainly gets the job done.

Wings Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out what I think is going to be one of the most impactful stratagems here, High Speed Focus. For 1CP, this lets you turn on the Jink ability of a RAVENWING unit even if they didn’t advance last turn (or, more likely, if it’s the first turn and you haven’t got to move yet). Getting to put a 4++ on a key unit turn one is huge, making it much more practical to use big squads of Black Knights or Land Speeders, and helping keep a Darkshroud from instantly melting to a stiff breeze if your opponent shoots it first.

Gunum’s Note: I’ve been having a lot of back and forth on these stratagems right now. I really like Combined Assault but man, they all feel like 3-star stratagems to me. They just, don’t quite get there. If we can pull off a powerful Brigade or something to have the CP to spend on these maybe? I’ll need to get some games in with them to really appreciate what they can do. 

Warlord Traits

The bad news first: Surprising no one, the Vanguard warlord trait Target Priority has been updated to only work on Phobos units, so no more using it on plasma Inceptors, which has at least one of our writers shook. (Chase will get one last ride with the old version at LVO!).

Gunum: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! My technicality!  -Windmill slams Vanguard Codex in Garbage- 

In return for the Phobois’ noble sacrifice, there are 6 new traits, 3 each for Deathwing and Ravenwing warlords. The Ravenwing ones in particular are really, really good.

Take Impeccable Mobility, a 6″ Aura that ignores the penalty for moving and shooting heavy, or advancing and firing assault, weapons. This is S-Tier Gold Ultra Plus, and if you’re running a Talonmaster, is basically an auto-take for him. Preferably surrounded by other Speeders or bikes, and you can stuff a lot of Speeders into a one-foot diameter circle. There’s a relic we’ll mention in a bit that makes this even better, but suffice to say that Chase was extremely correct about his ridiculous Land Speeders HMO list, just a bit ahead of the curve.

Wings Note: Both other traits are good as well, one allowing you to apply a different doctrine for a turn, and one granting a pre-game move to the Warlord and one unit of friends.

Gunum’s Note: This is, without a doubt, the thing I am most looking forward too. Being able to be pseudo-Iron Hands thanks to this trait with the support of our Talonmasters is going to make our green heroes a shooting force to be respected. 

Deathwing warlords don’t quite hit the same tier of power, but do get a hilarious trait that just flat-out denies a psychic power once per game – no rolling, no range, just cancel the power outright.

Relics

You have the usual panoply of special-issue wargear that you’ve come to expect from a Space Marines supplement, which can go on any non-named character, but the bulk of the new relics are locked to either the DEATHWING or RAVENWING keyword, which speaks again to this basically being the 1st/2nd company supplement. Even getting something approximating a sub-faction here, in a codex that’s effectively a sub-faction already, is great, and the fact that a lot of them are worth a look is even better.

For example, the Corvus Oculus is a Ravenwing Talonmaster relic that adds 6 inches to the range of guns, and 1 to the hit rolls. With this and Impeccable Mobility, in the Devastator doctrine a Talonmaster is moving 16″, and then dropping 12 assault cannon shots at 36″, hitting on 2s at S6 (re-rolling 1s to wound) and AP-2, plus the heavy bolters. You love to see it.

Gunums Note: This will be in every Dark Angels list, I’m calling it right now. Even if you don’t have a Talonmaster in your list, I think somewhere on Goonhammer we give you permission to just put this into your list for free when you’re playing Dark Angels. This moves the Talonmaster to S tier for me personally vs the C-tier it used to be.

On the Deathwing side of things, you get the Key of Achraebel, good for +1S and +1A. As this keys off the DEATHWING keyword, it can be used on a few non-Terminator models, including a Master (ie, Captain) or Interrogator Chaplain with a jump pack, and I think you know what that means.

Wings Note: The other relic really worth mentioning that we’ve been kind of losing our minds over is the Reliquary of the Repentant. This gives a RAVENWING BIKER a 3″ aura of -1 to enemy invulnerable saves, and that isn’t keyword locked. This is good for Dark Angels if you’re packing lots of plasma, and almost certainly good in some sort of configuration, especially as Ravenwing also get a White Scars style double-move ability for their bikes.

 

Plasma Inceptors

Ahh crap. Credit: Greg Chiasson (Gunum: All my Inceptors look like this. Broken.)

So Are They Forgiven Now, Or What?

Maybe? Ravenwing got a huge boost, and with stratagems to mitigate the worst qualities of Deathwing, which are, in order, “failing to charge nine inches” and then “being trivially murdered”, a unit of Deathwing Knights might even earn its points back now. It’s probably still too much to expect the specialist ‘wings to do much without regular 3rd-10th company support. If nothing else, you’ll still want the Primaris bodies for holding objectives, spamming bolt rifle shots, and to get the 5CP for a Battalion, but this is the most optimistic I’ve been about the Unforgiven since I started playing them.

The real hero of this book seems to be the Talonmaster – with the warlord trait and relic, an already-good unit suddenly becomes a high-speed wrecking ball. It does seem to have de-emphasized Primaris Marines, which seems weird, but the goal here seems to have been to punch up what makes Dark Angels unique – which is the Ravenwing and Deathwing – and since no Primaris models exist for those parts of the range, it was inevitable that this was going to be the result. Much as we’re happy to see it happen, it sets things up to be even better in the future, when those ‘wings get access to Primaris Inshiftables and Intractors, or whatever the hell they end up calling the Primaris replacements for Terminators and hoverbikes. Overall we’re pleased with the Dark Angels part of this release – it’s a solid update that should help shift them off the bottom tables, and makes them both fun and fluffy to play as well.

Wings Note: There’s a lot to like here, and I think it’s really nice to see the Ravenwing and Deathwing get some love! Both now have some pretty compelling reasons to put them on the table, and the wider army picks up a lot as well. While they don’t quite look to be on Iron Hands level, the Chapter Litany and Doctrine do a huge amount to draw Dark Angels together as a cohesive force with an identify, and they rack up a lot of incremental advantages between all the abilities they now have access to. As a life-long Dark Angels fan I’m thrilled that the all-important sword/wing/robe aesthetic is something I expect to be seeing more on the tournament tables in the months to come.

Gunum’s Note: I’m ready. Are you ready? Are you hype?! LET ME HEAR YOU OUT!!! There are DOZENS of builds we have with this update that I don’t know if even I will be able to cover them all. My Brothers. Let us push into this new era with renewed hope. The downtrodden will rise up and… make… 6″ charges…..
Let’s be honest. It’s not news that I have always said that the worst part of Dark Angels was the Wings. I thought they were all too expensive, with not enough payout. It’s why almost all of my tournament lists included none of them. But man, with these updates I really have a hard time not building lists without some Ravenwing Bikers and Deathwing Knights. I have some real juicy ideas coming up for after LVO and I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with too!
Good Game.

Wrap Up

Our writing team is notoriously Dark Angels heavy, so we’re super excited by this update and can’t wait to get it out on the table. If you have any comments, thoughts, questions or suggestions give us a shout at contact@goonhammer.com, and don’t forget to check out the other parts of our Ritual of the Damned review today!

 

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