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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Armies In Focus; 6th Edition: Dark Eldar, Initial Thoughts

Dark Eldar.

Within itself, this Codex is great.  Fantastic internal balance, lots of seemingly solid choices, good spread of special rules without being overly complex or silly.  Reasonable or good statlines for most things.  Only a couple of units that feel over- or under-costed relative to their 'rivals' in the Codex, or to the baseline rules themselves.

The problems for DE start, however, when you begin to compare across Codexes to what other races cost for what THEY can do, especially to your vehicles...but this isn't their only flaw.

Dark Eldar are built on the 'Imperial model' - the way of determining who gets, and how many, for 'special' and 'heavy' weapons in a unit.  By this, I mean that their Troops are restricted to a heavy when taking 10+ models, and units can only typically get one special weapon per squad, or when they hit the minimum limit of 5 models, just as in Imperial forces.

This makes no sense from a fluff perspective, and no fluff justification has ever been given for this.  Instead, it's a perceived balance issue - what you have to understand is that a lot of Space Marine players are the most entitled, spoilt bastards you will ever have the misfortune of meeting.

If a Codex that isn't Marines gets a significant boost, then it needs to be countered by an equal option to Space Marines somewhere, or the amount of whining and bitching that goes on simply isn't normal.  It doesn't matter to these players, if they are even intelligent enough to realise, that Marines always have a natural advantage on a 1-on-1 situation anyway, as they have superior base stats to everything, and that giving them equal firepower options simply makes them better, not levels the playing field.

This article isn't about the flaws in the entire Xenos design philosophy though.  This article is about how 6th edition initially appears to affect Dark Eldar.

Firstly, Night Vision got a massive boost, with the revised Night Fighting rules.  I'd like to be clear here - these new rules are an exciting and positive change - removing an element of randomness that often seemed a little out of place with a FAR better mechanic that allows for greater tactical play, and removes the completely unfun scenario of none of your models being able to see nevermind shoot an approaching assault army, causing you to simply waste a turn or more waiting for the inevitable loss when your army cannot affect  the opponent's unbalanced shitfest that will win through no great strategy of their own, but entirely based on the vagaries of dice.  Losing because a dice is always random isn't automatically bad, it's to be expected.  Losing because the dice are being used to such an extent that decision-making is less important than simply being fortunate, is a bad and inherently unbalanced system.

This is a point I don't feel gets understood very often, and is usually misrepresented by trolling replies.

Let me be as clear as I can: Accepting dice CAN lose you the game is part of using dice.  When dice REGULARLY lose you the game, the problem isn't the dice, or luck - it's the game system having too many key random elements.  Random charges are bad, because no matter how well you set things up, failing to reach will see you overwatched, then counter attacked.  Whiffing all your attacks if you DO reach, however, is part and parcel of rolling dice to determine combat damage.

For all these reasons (and I'll do a post about Night Fighting itself) this new mechanic is better, and the DE ability to overcome it is excellent, a real genuine boost to their ranged capacity, especially anti-tank.

However, I don't think DE really benefit from this ruleset, allowing them to close the gap on Marines.

If we look at their key special rule, Power From Pain, we can see that it's significantly weaker.  This would be fine, but I think it'd be hard to argue that DE don't already pay points for the ability in their base stats... since they weren't thought of as borkenly undercosted, and both FC and FnP took a large nerf, this hardly evens them out as some will claim.

Don't get me wrong - being able to take a FnP save against S6 and S7 weaponry is a definite plus for Dark Eldar.  Well, it would be.  If they could.  Instead, obviously, they are shielded from AP1 and AP2 ranged weaponry, the vast majority of which will...The problem is that it's a very small benefit.  Those weapons (obviously) wound on a 2+ anyway, and typically are multi-shot, meaning they can kill several of your fragile little dudesmen.  They almost always ignore the 5+ save most armoured bondage suits provide, and so you'll be limited to your Cover save (if applicable) and then the 5+ for FnP.  With Cover both being easier to negate, and baselined to a 5+ instead of a 4+, this means that overall survivability of the DE has gone down, especially against lighter weapons, which are what you expect FnP to protect against in the first place - the Bolters and Shootas and whathaveyou of the game.

Furious Charge took a hit too, as now the Initiative boost has been removed.  At first glance, this may not seem hugely crippling to the Dark Eldar, what with them having a greater I value than most things anyway.  This is a misconception.  When DE previously hit an enemy with some sort of I-boost, like a Nemesis Force Halberd, a detriment, such as Whip Coils, or who simply had the same Initiative, such as other Eldar - they had a clear and tangible advantage granted by the Furious Charge.  Going to I6 allows you to charge other Eldar and DE units without fear of mutual annhiliation.  Going to I6 allows you to assualt Halberdiers without wincing as they poke models out before they get to swing, and going to I2 let you go toe-to-toe with Wraiths.  Naturally, other, more assualty armies got nerfed more by this (especially Orks) but that's another topic.  The massive nerfs to assaulting in the first place mean that you're less prone to want to with your fragile little DE anyhow, but the additional loss of the Initiative boost makes getting a second Pain Token little more than a stopgap until you can try to get a third, with Fearless not being as detrimental as before.
That said, regrouping is easier, and DE are a high Leadership army, according to the 'average' being 7 in GW's eyes, so being Fearless is less of a boost than it might appear at times.

Changes to their army-wide rules aren't the only change, of course.

The lack of anti-aircraft from any source but your own fliers and of course allies is far from great, but not crippling either.  Void Lances, it should be said, are actually pretty decent anti-air, in a vacuum.  The platform isn't great, although it is better than in 5th.  Sadly, it's hard to argue with the Ravager, especially with the Jink rule relegating the Flickerfield to the 'seriously, how many vehicle upgrades do you have that you'd almost never take?!' pile.  Haywire weapons got damn tasty, so Scourges get a welcome boost - the issue being that they then, for me, seem to overtake the Reavers for slot priority quite obviously - making something closer to auto-include isn't usually good for a codex's longevity at the competitive level.

It's worth pointing out that, for stopping the enemy tactically, rather than simply destroying things, Haywire is strictly WORSE than in 5th Edition.  That's something that I feel tends to get overlooked with all the 6e fanboiism going on across the web.

Venoms are a bit worse than previously.

As stated, Flickerfields are nerfed by proxy, the Jink rules being just as good most of the time, and free.  The ability to move 12" and fire 2 weapons at BS, and Snap Fire others is irrelevant to a 2-weapon vehicle that had them both as Defensive in 5th anyway.  It can fly farther - and some would say longer - but moving massive distances isn't particularly good when you cannot disembark, will get Wrecked by Immobilised results, and can't Score or Deny while Embarked, or on your own (Venom's) merit.  As for flying longer?  Well, for AP2 weapons, the damage chart is basically as in 5th, for AP1 it's even easier to destroy things - and AV10 isn't hard to penetrate for anything other than S5 or less.  Since even Glances remove HP, it's gone down from a statistically fruitless and desperate endeavour to a worthwhile tactic to spray Bolters at Venoms - 18 Bolter rounds should be enough to destroy one if you somehow don't have a save to contend with, and since the save is less than 50% successful, it may well suffice quite often even through the Flickerfield and Jink.  So...easy to Glance to death, and just as easy, if not easier, to one-shot.  No, Venoms are not improved as one moron on Warseer was claiming in a thread I saw.

Raiders, luckily, have an extra HP, making them 50% more survivable than Venoms.  Only 1 gun, though, means they don't benefit either from the new moving and firing for Fast vehicle rules, so I don't see any genuine plusses beyond Jink - and getting Ignores Cover on shots isn't really hard enough that this is a great boost beyond saving Flickerfield points - possibly for a Night Shield, though pre-measuring makes that dubious at best.

Harlequins got much nastier, although the fact that Incubi bounce off Terminators now, that combat is silly random, and that the good models cost at least 22 points a model - oh, and no Transport option - means that you'll probably not be able to look beyond the Kabalite Trueborn as in 5th.  Worth noting that a couple of Shardcarbine grunts might be a laugh for Overwatching.  Might hit something.

Being unable to charge from Reserve, Infiltrate, or Webway Portals is also a massive hit of the nerfstick to a fragile army that relies on delivering a decisive strike at will.  Mandrakes, a unit almost permanently relegated to the naughty step already, aren't getting a reprieve any time soon, and Beast armies are nerfed along with Taloii since they can't launch into enemies from half-way up the board.

Can't really think of much else to say.  The second FoC at 2k opens up more Scourge slots, and more Ravagers, but that's basically the only tangible advantage - and the Allies are really only a way to get some Craftworld cousins on board - but what helps? Farseers, obviously, provide a neat couple boosts including the best psychic defence (fuck you, Deny the Witch) but cannot use their own support powers on DE models.  Pathfinders provide a solid sniper unit, and a fine place for Haemonculi to hide with Hexrifles, but are expensive.  Wave Serpents are out of place among the skiffs.  Warp Spiders could help somewhat with their S6 weapons, but are expensive, and only 1 unit is meh.  A Fire Prism or Night Spinner provides crowd control - but in an army full of Poison weapons, and anti-personnel out the wazoo.  A Falcon is a nice gunboat and tougher than a Ravager, so a decent addition, especially Guided - just like Fire Dragons.  Problem is, only 1 of these makes them an obvious target.  Upshot is, the Allies rule is needed for DE to make up for mediocre and disappointing Troops in terms of survivability and killiness, and Eldar can't help you with that, not enough, anyway.

Unfortunately, every other alliance option removes the Scoring and Denial characteristics from their's the point?  Sure, some of them can make up for deficiencies in DE units, such as ranged anti-tank, but the added logistical problems for keeping them away form your unit incase your units decide to sit around doing nothing for a turn is too frustrating for words.  Amazing they didn't say you could still Snap Fire, as someone had a read hard-on for that rule at GWHQ when writing this thing.  Ah well.

So, there you have it.  Initial views on Dark Eldar in 6th.

Image belongs to GW.
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