The mobile game Freeblade that I had talked about earlier on this blog really got me thinking about Games Workshop and all the fantastic systems they've released through the years. I decided I should make my next blog series about those games and how they were translated to PC, console or mobile games or deserve to be translated. I also wanted to talk a little bit about the ups and downs of Games Workshop, how they have evolved or haven't and why the hobby community is still a strong draw. Before we get into all of that we need to explore the world of Warhammer 40,000 (40K for short). This was the universe featured in Freeblade. Many of my readers might already be familiar with that universe and others may not. So I'm going to point out some things that I really enjoy in the sic-fi epic. The thing that many people recognize about 40K are the Space Marines. In the far future these are genetically enhanced super soldiers that are one of the defenders of humanity. These soldiers have gone through mental and physical changes are are far more than average people when they undergo their transformation. Most Space Marines are over seven feet tall and have denser bones, organ implants and musculature that is superhuman. Part of the Space Marine ritual and by extension the entire 40K universe is how much spirituality and science fiction are mixed into canon. The Space Marines were created by the Emperor of Terra (Earth) around the year 30,000. He created many chapters but half turned to evil, seduced by the forces of Chaos and the rest remained loyal and defended Terra during the Horus Heresy.
Now fast forward 10,000 years and humanity is still scraping out an existence throughout the cosmos thanks to the protection of the Space Marines. Yet the entire process of creating a Space Marine, as well as the weapons and munitions they use are considered sacred. In some cases the bravest and longest-serving leaders may actually get to use ancient weapons in battle, these relics are as potent now as they were 10,000 years prior. In many instances good and evil are constantly scouring the universe for lost technology and other relics that they can use to change the tide of battle. Even the armor that a Space Marine uses can be passed down through the generations. The types of armor that they wear actually depends on their rank, position and battle. The traditional Space Marine that most people imagine, with large shoulder pads and a jet pack, is called "Power Armor." There are many other types of armor in the universe. The First Company, made up of the most experienced Space Marines from a chapter get to wear Terminator Armor, this is reserved for the most dangerous assignment or inhospitable planets or while boarding alien vessels. There are Chaplains, who keep the faith in the Emperor of Terra burning bright in the Companies, as well as Librarians who are the psychic members of the Space Marine forces. There are also heroes and Captains, each with their own armor and weapons.
There are countless Space Marine chapters in the Imperium. One of the greatest things that Games Workshop did was create rules and encourage players of the 40K system to create their own chapters. These can be related to existing chapters and may identify with their own goals and methods. Prior to the Horus Heresy there were almost two dozen founding chapters. After the heresy they were broken up because the chapters were so powerful that any one could be considered a serious threat to humanity, especially if the leaders became seduced by Chaos. By breaking apart the chapters and forcing them to create sub-chapters it created a sort of checks and balances for all of the units. Some of the most famous founding chapters remained post-heresy and Games Workshop does create special models and rules for these groups. The Ultramarines, which are featured in the great console game Space Marine by Relic Entertainment, are very popular and reminiscent of ancient Roman legions. The Black Templars were stubborn and refused to "downsize" when the Imperial Fists were disbanded and the second founding was created. So that they would not break the treaties of the other Space Marines they decided to launch a crusade against all the threats of the Imperium and take the battle to the stars. In this way they could remain united, hold a higher concentration of actual members in one place and at one time and answer little to administrations.
The Grey Knights are made up of powerful psychics or "psykers" and are the military wing of the Inquisition. They are the elite squadron when it comes to fighting demons and the forces of Chaos. In the 10,000 years since they were founded they have never lost a member through corruption. They have access to some ancient weaponry that would be the envy of other chapters. Their weapons however are designed to take out demons rather than aliens. The Dark Angels by comparison were the first chapter created by the Emperor and have been fighting for redemption ever since the heresy. Some of their own became traitors during the war and caused the entire chapter to become suspect. Because of this they have spent the past 10,000 years hunting down the traitor chapters and atoning for their sins.
Something that makes the universe of 40K so unique is how each chapter guards its secrets and how little they may know about each other. Few people in the Imperium even know about the Grey Knights for example, they are a secret army in the fight against demonic possession. They are spoken of in legend but never seen, even by other Space Marine chapters. Some chapters look down on mutants, psykers or abhumans and would never associate with them or fill their ranks with them. While in other cases a chapter may be tolerant of mutants because they remain loyal warriors. And in very rare cases some chapters have fought alongside aliens against mutual enemies, usually the forces of Chaos. When playing the game it really helps to understand the psychology of each chapter and find out what makes them tick. Of course the other great thing is getting into the science fiction part of the hobby and building an army of unique-looking warriors.
Every army in the Imperium has its own collection of weapons and war gear. Some are even exclusive to a certain chapter. The scale and aesthetics of each race, whether human or alien, is unique in their own ways. This is something that the sculptors working at Games Workshop know very well. They are able to sculpt weapons and war gear for different sizes of humanoid and alien races while making everything look plausible. For example in 40K the Imperial Guard are the human-sized soldiers. They have access to the greatest artillery in the future. Enormous tanks, high speed fighters and fortifications that could withstand thousands of years worth of conflict. While they are not as big and powerful as the more popular Space Marines, they do have their own strengths with regards to the weapons they yield and the vehicles they can take into battle. You don't really realize how much larger the Space Marines are until you put them next to an Imperial Guard soldier. Even outside of the Power Armor the Space Marine stands much larger than an average person. But even a Space Marine is not the biggest humanoid in the universe. In 40K there are space ogres, known as Ogryn. These men are considered "abhumans." Most mutants or abhumans exist on the outskirts of society. Those that don't kill themselves, or are turned into slaves end up in prison or work as beasts of burden. Ogryn are the exception. They are big, strong and tough and love to fight. They are very dumb however and require a strong leader. In battle they are extremely resilient to the elements and weapons. They can easily shrug off attacks that would kill a normal human and seriously wound even a Space Marine. This makes them dangerous warriors and perfect human shields for the Imperial Guard.
The weapons and technology, the alien races and backstory behind Warhammer 40K are unique among every other science fiction game out there. It actually holds up very well against the biggest movies and television shows over the past half century as well. Of course for those that want some amazing weapons they probably won't find anything better than those featured in 40K. From the small but powerful las-pistol of an Imperial Guard infantryman to the transmission-sized Ripper Gun of the Ogryn, the hand-held weapons of the future are awe-inspiring. But these things are nothing compared to the weapons of war that all of the races bring into battle. When you add giant robots into the mix things get much more interesting. The next entry will look at the robots that serve the Imperium and those of the enemy.