27 Mar 2015

Dark Eldar Unit Overview - Part I

Greetings everyone and welcome to the first entry in my miniature Dark Eldar review! As a former player of the maligned and twisted brethren of the Eldar, I've ever been a fan of the the unique style of play this army brings and how much it embodies the simplistic mantra of rock-paper-scissors. This is an unforgiving force that punishes mistakes and rewards quick wit, leaving many to call them the 'veterans' army' as they are hugely rewarding to play when used properly and smartly. I hope you enjoy this article!

Army Special Rules

Combat Drugs - This has always been one of the more "fun" aspects of Dark Eldar as the units that benefit from Combat Drugs almost always want one of two or three particular results, the rest being relative throwaway buffs with no real exceptions. While many units with Combat Drugs aren't nearly as worthwhile as they were in 5th Edition, I do like the simpler chart the new codex offers with every benefit being a stat-boost rather than some being admittedly more useful special bonuses. For example, I think most would have preferred gaining a free Power from Pain "token" or modifier to having +1 Leadership, though on the other hand the new +1 Toughness boost is absolutely the result you need on such fragile Dark Eldar units. The gist of the chart is that you want either +1 Strength, +1 Toughness and less often the +1 Attack bonus as the rest of the results often have little real benefit for the already high Initiative Dark Eldar that also possess above-average Weapon Skill and Leadership values. This does give out some potentially awesome additions to a units' stats but is most likely not going to give you the result you want most in a particular game, while the three stronger results are incredibly superior to the others. For sub-par units such as Wyches, the Combat Drugs chart unfortunately doesn't give them the boost they need to become competitive.

Power from Pain - This has been my favourite army special rule for several editions running now and despite some significant changes to how it functions, that preference remains even if it still doesn't quite patch up the codex-wide issue with durability. The new codex reworked Power from Pain to now provide more boosts the longer a game goes on, empowering Dark Eldar units with greater bonuses such as Feel No Pain, Furious Charge, Fearless and finally Rage. The idea behind Power from Pain has always been awesome and I like its current incarnation a bit more than the old one just because the entire force gets the benefits rather than just those that manage to finish enemy units off. However, I definitely don't feel it is in any way "over-powered" or goes too far in fixing the core issue everyone has with Dark Eldar; Feel No Pain won't save Toughness 3 models against massed Strength 6 shooting from the top armies, and it doesn't help that it only applies from the second turn (the 5+ version, anyway) onwards. After all, the paltry armour saves and Toughness values of the force as well as the fact that a lot of their points go into transports that don't get any benefit from the Power from Pain chart keeps the insanely fragile nature of Dark Eldar intact. While it means they can struggle competitively without using some very specific lists, at least one can say the army plays much like it always has and should. If a Dark Eldar army does somehow manage to keep some of its' Troops alive at the end of the game, them having Fearless will allow them to secure objectives and not flee at all even with just one model remaining which is always great.

Warlord Traits 

Ancient Evil - Providing Fear to your Warlord and friendly Dark Eldar units in a decent radius is nice enough for fighting armies that either cause Fear in your force or are susceptible to it, though the latter type are incredibly rare. As with Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Daemons, Fear is just too situational and rarely applicable to a match in any truly significant fashion to ever be worthwhile. If you have a re-roll on the chart, you will usually want to take it and get rid of this as it is going to be useless against over half the armies in the game.

Labyrinthine Cunning - Considering Dark Eldar are an army that benefits immensely from Seizing the Initiative (and is also the absolute worst army for the reverse to happen to) while also having natural synergy with Night Fighting, this Warlord Trait is pretty darned handy. Being able to re-roll the dice to determine if Reserves arrive or not is also pretty handy for forces that feature massed flyers or Deep Striking forces which isn't all that uncommon for Dark Eldar. All in all, a great Warlord Trait for the army.

Soulthirst - Providing Rage to a Dark Eldar Warlord is a nice offensive benefit that helps their already good melee damage capabilities when upgraded, though the reality is that none of the army commanders are true "beatsticks" due to their innate fragility and lack of solid AP2 melee weapons. This is, however, a brutal Warlord Trait to roll up for Drazhar and a decent one for a Succubus with an Archite Glaive.

Hatred Eternal - Similar to the above Warlord Trait, doling out Hatred to a Dark Eldar character isn't nearly as scary as it would be for someone like a Space Marine Chapter Master or even a lesser Ork Warboss. It's still nice if your Warlord is built for close combat but it isn't that far out of field for you to be using a cheaper support character with some ranged presence either.

Blood Dancer - Again, this is a nice little buff for combat characters but the reality is that Dark Eldar combatants aren't at the top of the pile like the Archon and Asdrubael Vect used to be, and heck, of the three combat centric Warlord Traits this is definitely the weakest one. Adding +1 Weapon Skill to an already very skilled combatant is worse than giving them more Attacks or re-rolls to hit in almost every situation.

Towering Arrogance - Though this might seem like the best Dark Eldar Warlord Trait at first, there are some considerations to keep in mind; infantry units from this particular codex outside of transports still die very easily, and all Dark Eldar with the Power from Pain rule gain Fearless from the fifth turn and onwards. Before you say anything, though, I do think it is awesome for an army that often sees its troop units battered simply as a result of their transport exploding and really can't afford to have what few units it is often left with after those punishing salvos run away.

Overall, the Dark Eldar Warlord Traits table is painfully mediocre in comparison to many other codices' who preceded or succeeded it, with only two being very useful in every game. I don't even think some of them really fit the army; I was hoping for one that allowed a re-roll on the Combat Drugs chart for all units in the army, or even a boost to Power from Pain in some way.

Artefacts of Cruelty 

The Animus Vitae - Getting bonuses to the Power from Pain chart is almost always good if only to give your fragile units Feel No Pain (5+) and Fearless earlier than usual, and paying a quarter of a century in points for it in addition to a damage item is very nice indeed. Unfortunately, the Animus Vitae is a pretty darned unreliable weapon even in the hands of a Ballistic Skill 7 or 6 Dark Eldar character because it relies on inflicting an unsaved wound with a single Strength 4 AP2 shot with a paltry 8" range. If this was fired as a small blast or was Strength 6, I would definitely recommend it all the time at its points cost because the buff it provides if you do wound something is incredible. However, the tiny range and low Strength value really put me off recommending this as I feel it is too expensive for something that has a rather significant chance of doing absolutely nothing as well as wasting a valuable "relic" slot. The issue is that if it does actually wound, it gives your army a pretty significant buff and its' not so expensive as to be prohibitive, leaving me rather mixed on its potential purchase. I advise studying your local meta and competitive environment to see just how many armies you face don't feature either And They Shall Know No Fear or Fearless and plan your use of the Animus Vitae accordingly; keep in mind that it has no effect on vehicles and thus can't be seen as a counter to mechanized Eldar regardless of their general lack of Fearless.

The Archangel of Pain - If it weren't for some absolutely mind-numbingly arbitrary restrictions on this relic, I would recommend it instantly to players simply because - much like the old Doom of Malan'tai - it could and should make its' points back easily in every game or get the wearer targeted out because of how potentially frightening it would be. Forcing all enemy units within 9" to take a Leadership test with a -2 penalty, suffering wounds that ignore both armour and cover equal to how much they failed the test by, is as glorious an ability as anyone could want. When the same ability can't cause wounds to models that are Fearless or have And They Shall Know No Fear, however, you will simply shake your head and move on. If you play games where list tailoring either cannot or does not happen - meaning most matches - then this is pretty much a waste as too many different armies will simply be completely immune to its' effects. If your meta features armies that lack either of these rules in abundance such as Orks or Astra Militarum, it can and will do a lot of damage; generally speaking, however, purchasing a "relic" that only works against maybe a third - if that - of the codices in the game isn't very advisable. Of course, against the armies this does work against, combining it with the Armour of Misery and a Webway Portal makes for one heck of a brutal combo.   

The Armour of Misery - This is essentially a suit of Ghostplate Armour for an Archon that would otherwise be strangely unable to take one even though that particular option was available in the previous codex. In any case, this has been priced according to the likelihood that the wielder will probably have either a Clone Field or a Shadow Field as either of those are pretty much mandatory on your Warlord. This is unique in that it gives the wielder the Fear special rule - hooray? - but importantly imposes a -2 Leadership penalty to enemy units within 6", something that will actually have a tangible effect on everything that isn't Fearless. While many will likely see this as a boost for Dark Eldar combat units, one need only remember that breaking your opponent on the turn you charge often leaves the fragile units vulnerable to shooting and, thus, death. The real value of this is in conjunction with friendly psykers or even the Archangel of Pain, though just having a Warlord that can zoom around - preferably in a transport - and dole the penalty out is awesome in conjunction with the devastating shooting phase a Dark Eldar army is capable of. It's by no means a mandatory item and the 6" range is as tiny as it gets, but it is cheap and can really help to break enemies that would otherwise to fully move off of an objective.

The Djin Blade - At first I thought this would serve as the AP2 equivalent of a Huskblade that is now AP3, but a closer look at the rules left me scratching my head in confusion as I could never see myself taking one over its aforementioned competitor. For 5 points more than a Huskblade, you lose out on Instant Death but instead gain a bonus 2 Attacks while also being prone to potential wounds that ignore armour saves. Huh? Sure, the bonus attacks are better for killing units quicker, but having an AP3 weapon that inflicts Instant Death gives Archons' a way to engage much tougher and more expensive characters - including monstrous creatures that somehow survive the Dark Eldar shooting phase - in combat. If your Archon is tooled for combat then he or she likely has a melee-centric bodyguard for clearing out units, invalidating the need for a Djin Blade and rendering it mostly pointless next to a Huskblade. If you happen to be using a Succubus, just take the Archite Glaive instead and be on your way.

The Helm of Spite - As far as anti-psyker tools are concerned, this one is actually pretty decent when you consider that you can always ally Dark Eldar to regular Eldar and get your psychic presence there to really own the Psychic Phase. Providing Adamantium Will in a sizable radius is handy for an army that - allies aside - is entirely lacking standard anti-psyker defences, while imposing Perils on any double enemy psykers in that same area of effect is more of a passive kind of protection that will make opponents second guess trying to exert their psychic dominance over you. It's got a reasonable price tag to boot so I'm fine with players taking it in all-comers lists because unlike, for example, the Archangel of Pain, it will actually be useful in most of your games rather than a few and you will actively get punished if you don't have it against a really strong psychic army.

The Parasite's Kiss - Continuing the trend of ridiculously cheap "relic" pistols that are realistically just too darned good at their points cost for players not to use them, the Parasite's Kiss is Poisoned (2+) with a re-roll to hit due to Master-Crafting and AP5. Each time it causes an unsaved wound, the bearer regains a lost wound; for Toughness 3 characters that are dangerously prone to Instant Death it might seem like a waste, but given how cheap and reliable it is, you really should take it.

Detachments and Formations 

Realspace Raiders Detachment - I really like this detachment because the restrictions are virtually non-existent and the only extra mandatory unit on top of the usual two Troops and one HQ is a single Fast Attack slot which, given how good any number of units in that slot are, really isn't much of a price to pay. Heck, it may as well just be a standard Combined Arms detachment that trades Objective Secured for 5+ cover save bonus applied to all Troops - and thus their Dedicated Transports - and a 6+ cover save for the rest on the first game turn. Of course, the real benefit as many tournament lists have shown is the extra three Fast Attack slots, allowing you to "spam" powerful units such as Venoms and Scourges at will to contribute to a list with a crazy amount of firepower. Whether you want more firepower or the ability to contest objectives with your fragile Troops choices as well as their super-mobile but similarly easily destroyed transports is ultimately not an easy decision as there are merits to both list themes.

Kabalite Raiding Party Formation - Unlike most unique formations in the pre-Necron 7th Edition codices, the Kabalite Raiding Party is somewhat worthwhile simply because it actually presents distinct advantages to distinguish it from the unique detachment. The main benefit here is the Architect of Agony special rule which provides all units in the formation that already have Power from Pain with the next benefit on the chart, meaning they get Feel No Pain (6+) on the first turn and the all important regular Feel No Pain on the second turn. While this is conditional on the mandatory Archon being both the Warlord and alive, it's still a very nice buff for an army that definitely needs all of the defensive buffs it can get so that it doesn't get obliterated the second it gets into a bad position or the controlling player makes a mistake. The other shared special rule gives all of the Troops units a 5+ cover save on the first game turn or in any turn in which Night Fighting rules are present, while all other units receive a 6+ cover save. Though it might seem pointless at first given that each unit must take a Dedicated Transport, the fact that Dedicated Transports are treated as occupying the same slot as their parent unit means that all six of the Raiders or Venoms you need for those Kabalite Warrior squads benefit from a 5+ cover save without being forced to Jink. The re-roll on the Warlord Trait chart from the Dark Eldar codex is par for the course with the unique formations, but the issue with these tends to be poor unit composition or unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions compared to the unique detachment with little pay-off. Thankfully, all of the units presented here are either good or decent and the restriction on being forced to take Dedicated Transports where possible isn't a bad thing given that Dark Eldar absolutely revolve around mobility and firepower anyway. 

Thank you all for reading the first entry in my Dark Eldar miniature review! I've been meaning to get this series' - among others - done for a while now but I've just been stumped for time and the will to write anything at all, really. I'm still at a stage where producing content is difficult and time-consuming so my once-per-week schedule still seems to be a keeper sadly, though you can rest assured I am trying to rectify that as best I can. If you have any queries or feedback, please share them in the comments section and I will do my best to address them. Thank you again and have a nice day!

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