Welcome all to my in-depth Dark Eldar codex review. Some of you may have seen my previous synergy reviews of the old codex - this multi-part review will incorporate synergistic elements but I hope will give you a bit more insight into the build of the units and how they work best within the army as a whole.
As always, this is my opinion, and it's influenced by my own experience collecting, painting and gaming over the last 20 or so years.
Part 1 – HQ
There are three generic choices in this section, and three special characters. The first thing that immediately hits the eye is that there are special character versions of the Succubus and Haemonculus, but the third special character is not a specialisation of the Archon, he’s the Incubi special character.
Let’s have a look at the three generics first then, starting with the Archon.
For an HQ unit of this nature, the first thing you notice is he’s cheap. Not far off half the cost of the basic space marine captain, in fact. For that, you get a min-maxed statline. A ballistic skill high enough to give him re-rolls when he misses and a weapon skill to match, making even a space marine chapter master blush. His Initiative is high enough to see him strike first against the majority of characters in the game, and his attacks and wounds are everything you would expect from a character at this level. Leadership is perfect, in fact, the only area that lets the Archon down is the characteristic strength and toughness of the Eldar.
Unusually for ‘main’ HQ units of my experience (Tau excepted!) the Archon actually has a viable option for ranged offence. He comes stock with a pistol and close combat weapon that can be switched out for the husk blade, which is basically a power sword with the instant death rule. He can also however take a blaster, meaning that he can actually make use of that high ballistic skill. He also has a pistol option, and can take a host of various wargear and items that have the potential to make him very expensive indeed.
Let’s look at a few of those options then, specifically those that are unique to the Archon or key reasons why you’d use one.
The classic accompaniment to the husk blade is the soul trap – the current incarnation is far more useful than before, and lets you boost the strength of the Archon based on the number of wounds caused in challenges – it’s certainly useful if you’re kitting out your Archon for combat but I don’t consider the Archon to be that kind of character anyway. Added to that, its usefulness is limited to killing things in a challenge and a canny opponent would simply refuse to give you the opportunity to use it (unless they play Chaos of course).
The Webway portal, previously almost exclusively the preserve of the cheap haemonculus due to the semi-suicidal tactics required to place it in a useful position. I personally think that in this codex, the webway portal is key to one of the methods of using the Dark Eldar to their potential. It allows the Archon to fix the exact position of his unit when it deep strikes, and any transport that unit may be embarked upon.
Finally I’m going to mention the Shadowfield. It’s a 2+ invulnerable save, perhaps making the Archon one of the most survivable units in the game without being buffed from outside, though it does have a major downside, in that if you fail a save, it shorts out and can’t be used again. Given its cost, it can either prove to be the biggest bargain in the game, or the most expensive waste of wargear out there. Interestingly, once the Dark Eldar start getting Feel no Pain, the way the rules are worded if you fail your shadowfield save but pass the Feel no Pain roll, the shadowfield doesn’t short out.
The Archon also has one final trick up his sleeve that’s not usually available to HQ units of this type – he can take his very own dedicated transport, meaning if you want that this unit can really kick out some firepower (see the venom review in a later part of the review)
The Archon isn’t intended to be a dedicated combat character – he doesn’t have access to combat AP2, though he can take one of two options that give him this at range. Consequently, if you’re going to take an Archon in your force, I’d say you need to do so for one of the following reasons:
1. An extra blaster shot for anti-tank options.
2. A webway portal
3. Access to the Court of the Archon
4. Access to an extra venom
Next up is the Succubus, the leader of the Wych Cults.
More expensive than the Archon, the Succubus makes even that highly skilled fighter look slow and talentless. Her ballistic skill is lower than the archon, but you still get a re-roll if she misses, and her WS and I values are incredible. You can pretty much guarantee that if this girl breaks a units she’s in combat with, they’re going to be caught. As with all wych type models, she comes stock with an invulnerable save against close combat attacks, making her considerably safer in combat than she is out of it. Combat drugs are also a standard item, meaning one of those high stats is going to be even higher, though it’s a random one each game.
Her basic wargear is nothing to shout about, and although she can take wych weapons, those aren’t going to cut it against the best combat characters in the game. She can however take a glaive weapon, which can be wielded in one of two ways, giving her either the option of an extra attack or higher strength and lower AP. Depending on the timing of any charge therefore, and the combat drugs rolled, she’s capable of hitting at S6, or mustering a mighty 8 attacks. The only thing that lets the Succubus down from being a real combat specialist is her toughness, because her invulnerable save isn’t good enough to tank too many wounds on her behalf.
Looking at a few of her options we’ve not already seen (she can also take the webway portal), the djinn blade increases her attacks at the cost of a potential wound, and it doesn’t come with AP2, but against everything else she becomes a whirlwind, charging with 10 attacks on turns 6 & 7.
Alternatively, you can give her the armour of misery, which is armour proof against bolters with an inbuilt invulnerable save that also gives her the Fear rule and reduces the leadership of nearby enemy units.
Finally, the parasite’s kiss is an interesting, cheap, poison pistol option that has the potential to boost her wounds back up for each kill it achieves.
The Succubus is the combat HQ option from the codex, no doubt about that, and paired with the right unit, they’d be capable of bringing a truly terrifying number of attacks to bear. I do feel that she’s ultimately too fragile to be your sole HQ choice though, particularly given her lack of a decent saving throw outside of combat, but if you’re playing games at a points level sufficient to take an extra model, she’ll do you proud.
As for use, again the fragility inherent in the army would suggest I’d avoid exposing her to the enemy too early. Keep her either off the table or on a transport out of sight until at least turn three though and with furious charge, and the benefit of feel no pain, then combined with her invulnerable save and her extremely high weapon skill, she actually becomes pretty survivable to anything less than Strength 6. She’s one of the units where you wouldn’t be unhappy to see her gain the +WS options from either combat drugs or warlord traits, since that takes her weapon skill above the crucial number so marines etc are only hitting her on 5’s.
Ironically, I actually think the Succubus works best leading a unit of Grotesques into combat. Her high leadership mitigates their low value whilst their high number of high strength attacks really backs up her combat punch, which is lacking from wyches and bloodbrides.
Finally then for this post (I’ll deal with Special Characters later) we look at the Haemonculus.
This guy is the ‘buffer’ of the HQ section. Slightly cheaper than the Succubus but more than the archon he can also take the webway portal (see what I mean about it being key to the army?) He has a negligible save to begin with, but starts with Feel no Pain. You might think therefore that this invalidates the power from pain rule for the first three turns, but he also comes with a nice little rules addition, which is that he and his unit add +1 to the turn number for the purposes of determining the power from pain benefits. And just to make things really interesting, this stacks with the two other sources in the book that have the same effect, so potentially the Haemonculus and any unit accompanying him could start with feel no pain and furious charge, gaining Fearless on turn 2.
His stats are nothing to write home about, he won’t get a re-roll on his shooting, and his weapons skill is only one point above elite infantry models. He is however the only model that can take the crucible of malediction, which is stage 1 of the Dark Eldar’s psychic defence. It basically causes a nasty strength hit on any psykers or units with psykers in them within a random range roll. The downside is that the way the rule is drafted, if a psyker has joined a unit, the hit doesn’t necessarily hit the psyker. Hopefully this will be changed with an FAQ as at the moment it’s fairly useless for its intended purpose.
In terms of wargear, he starts with two combat weapons and a pistol, and has a plentiful selection of upgrades. There are a variety of combat weapons and upgrade guns (which I’ll speak about in the Elites analysis). He can also take any of the artefacts available, some of which I’ve touched upon earlier. I’ll deal with the remainder here.
First up is the Animus Vitae. It’s basically a one use only grenade. If it goes off, you’re laughing, because this is one of the other sources of boosting power from pain I mentioned earlier, and it boosts every unit in the army with the power from pain rule. However, against a typical marine equivalent, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of it causing the wound it needs to (not counting cover saves – don’t throw it at a unit in cover!) and it doesn’t have a blast template, it’s a one shot, one hit kinda deal.
Second we have the Archangel of Pain. Again it’s a one use only item, only this time it forces all units within a set distance to take a leadership test with a negative modifier, causing wounds that ignore armour and cover for each point the test is failed by. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t work against fearless units or those with ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’. It’s worth noting here that the zealot rule no longer confers fearless, it just states that certain types of leadership tests are automatically passed.
Finally, the helm of spite. This is possibly my favourite of the anti-psyker tricks available to the Dark Eldar (not counting any future FAQ to the crucible of malediction). It grants adamantium will to all units within a set distance (honestly for a race who’s fluff sets out that they’re psychically gifted but deny that ability through the power of their minds, I’m surprised they didn’t all have adamantium will from the start) Massively important though is that within that set distance, enemy psykers suffer a perils attack on any double.
The Haemonculus is a bit tougher than most Dark Eldar, but he’s certainly not the kind of warlord who leads from the front (I imagine him more leading from behind a big pack of grotesques). What he will do however is make things just that bit easier for everyone around him. He’s not a slouch in combat, and some of the weapons he can take for those occasions are brilliant (he’s now one of the few models that can take the previously common venom blade) but don’t expect him to do anything there other than bully non-combat characters and units.
The haemonculus basically has two purposes:
1. Boost the power from pain for at least one unit
2. Make things difficult for enemy psykers.
I can see this guy being taken as dedicated anti-psyker with the crucible of malediction (if they fix the rules) and the helm of spite really messing things up in psyker heavy lists (will you really want to throw anything upwards of 4 dice if you suffer perils on any double?)
Similarly to the Succubus, I think that actually he’s better off accompanying non-coven units in the game, because the benefit he gives to those units from the power from pain table is nullified by them since all the coven units bar scourges start with Feel no Pain on turn 1.
So there you have it, part 1 of my in-depth codex review. Next up I’ll look at the troops section with their dedicated transports. As always, feel free to post comments at the bottom of the page, I’m always interested to see other people’s take on things, and learn about things I may not have spotted.