Games Workshop has always been the king of huge boxed sets. Back in the day—I’m talking about a time when I could buy a plastic G.I. Joe at the toy store without getting side-eye from the cashier—this Nottingham giant was regularly cranking out wonder hits like Necromunda, Space Hulk, and Warhammer Quest. Compare the gorgeous embossed tiles and ridiculous miniatures in Space Hulk 4th edition with that in 1st and you’ll recognize we’ve come a long way. The fact that Dark Imperium is the single best package they’ve released speaks volumes at a decibel level only Nigel Tufnel could appreciate.
An enormous slipcover box with a grimdark Primaris Space Marine staring deep into your bloodshot eyes awaits below the wrapper. It sets the tone as you dive in and eat up the ‘luxe packaging housing top-notch components. Sprues are specially packaged within an inner box and showcased immediately upon entry. When you carefully remove that container like Indiana lifting the Ark of the Covenant from the earth, you’re greeted with that massive hardback book sitting there as if it’s the heart of the package.
The whole product is put together with such precision and care that it immediately conjures thoughts of the wonderful unboxing experience of Kingdom Death: Monster. Everything here is aimed at setting a tone and playing your emotions like a well-oiled violin. Before you’ve even started into the game proper your imagination is starting to brown at the edges like cookies in a brick oven. There’s a reason our heart races when we open a Magic booster or tear off that wrapping paper on Christmas; we crave surprise and discovery. In this regard, Dark Imperium nails it.
Let’s get back to that hardcover tome. This has to be one of the single best-published volumes detailing the Warhammer 40k universe. There’s an overwhelming amount of illustrations and full-page dioramas. They aim to overwhelm you with visuals and pepper in the flavor text. You get a very solid 160 pages of background information on the setting as each major faction is touched on in adequate detail. You have plotted maps of star systems, descriptions of Space Marine chapters, and call outs to Xenos hive structure. It’s fascinating but you can’t really afford to dive into too quickly or you’ll never get the game to the table.
The rules are wedged in a small section in the back and consist of fewer than 20 pages. They’re streamlined and it’s easy to see the Age of Sigmar DNA slowly seeping into the game, but this still manages to retain the 40k feel everyone has come to love. The core rules are additionally detailed in a foldout sheath making for easy reference. Additional advanced options such as playing in one of the three fantastic new game modes or utilizing structured force lists appear near the end of the scripture.
The final two printed pieces on offer are the Indexes for the Death Guard and shiny new Primaris Marines. These function as very concise softcover rule booklets with data sheets containing all of the necessary stats and loadouts for the units included in the set. Oh, I almost forgot about the miniatures.
Dark Imperium includes 53 miniatures of varying sizes and shapes. Every single sculpt is new and they’re slick as can be. The Primaris Marines tower over their foes and generate actual presence on the battlefield. If you place one next to an old gen beaky fella it looks like Rey Mysterio Jr. standing up to The Giant. Yeah, WCW 4-life.
You’ll also quickly notice they’re not armed with your mother’s boltgun. Instead, they have these stellar new bolt-rifles that have expanded range to go along with solid stopping power. The plasma incinerators are long barreled plasma guns capable of burning a heretic down and leaving nothing behind.
The Death Guard are no slouches either. The Lord of Contagion is an axe-wielding narcissist who realizes he’s one of the best miniatures Games Workshop has ever produced. The large hovering Bloat Drone isn’t far behind sporting an oblong body and dual firing weapons that are just nasty. Marines and zombie-cultist Poxwalkers round out the faction. I’ve never been a huge fan of Nurgle in 40k but this new line had me aching to field them on the battlefield.
Those unfamiliar with the quality of a Warhammer miniature will be surprised at just how easy assembly is. The set includes a helpful instructional guide and the precision manufacturing results in relatively little pain. Gaps are minimal and connection points obscured to provide a uniform visual quality across the entire line. You’re also given a few options on armaments and head positioning to add character to your squads.
Obviously all of this would be moot without the huge developments of 8th edition as a system. The new 40k is all about flow and velocity as blows are exchanged and bodies collect. It plays with renewed speed and feels fresh and delightful amid a sea of competition. Fun is of primary importance and fun it is.
While everything here is absolutely spectacular, it’s significant to recognize the message being sent. Yes, they needed to make a big mark with the landing of a massive new edition of 40k, but what they delivered knocked the damn cover off the ball and sent it flying out of the park. You see this thing in person and you know Games Workshop is serious. They’ve made great strides in taking feedback from the community and developing a game that is progressive and relevant. As Bob Dylan said, “the time’s are a-changin’” and where there was once resistance, there is now an impetus to move forward and seize the momentum.
Have you check out Dark Imperium yet? Let us know in the comments!
Cover Image Credit: Games Workshop/The Warhammer Community
Image Credits: Games Workshop, Charlie Theel