It’s finally here: The Age of Darkness Launch Box for the new edition of Warhammer The Horus Heresy can be pre-ordered today. In this extra detailed review we look at each kit in detail, compare scales and assembly options, flick through the new rulebook and share our impressions of the feel of the game.

The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness Review
This item was kindly provided by Games Workshop. Thoughts and opinions are our own.

The Warhammer: The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness launch box is a massive, heavy box, bulging with models and the new hardcover Age of Darkness rulebook. Included are 40 new MkVI Space Marine Legionaries, 2 Praetors, 1 new Contemptor Dreadnought, 1 new Spartan Assault Tank, and 10 of the existing Cataphractii Terminators. In addition, there is the book, a reference sheet, a transfer sheet for Sons of Horus and Imperial Fists, dice (including a scatter die), templates, and the good old red whipping erm… measurement sticks.

The RRP will be £180 / 225 € / $299, though you might find the box at a discount at our partners Wayland Games, Element Games, and Taschengelddieb. Preorders start today on 4th June 2022, the release follows two weeks later on 18 June. Word is that, unlike Indomitus and Dominion, the Age of Darkness launch box is not a limited release item and will be restocked as necessary. Down the road I expect three tiers of starter sets (like with the current editions of Warhammer 40.000 and Age of Sigmar) to potentially replace this box.

Horus Heresy Age of Darkness box contents
Image © Games Workshop Ltd. – used without permission

Age of Darkness: The models

The Praetors

The Praetors come on a small sprue each and are generic models with no Sons of Horus or Imperial Fists iconography. Their bulky artificer MkVI armour suits are full of details like little embellishments and trinkets and feature imposing cloaks and back banners. One comes with a power sword and volkite charger, the other with a large double-handed axe that could represent a Paragon blade, and a holstered volkite serpenta. The models are monopose and quite complex builds with over 20 parts each, with the only assembly option being a choice of a bare head or helmet each.

Horus Heresy Age of Darkness Praetors Sprues

As you can see, I assembled the Praetor with axe, which is my favourite model from the set. With 27 parts, the assembly was quite complex and there were a few quite prominent gaps on the cape to fill. As you can see, I replaced the back banner with an icon from the Chaos Space Marines set. As I want to paint the model as a Son of Horus, I felt the need to remove the aquila insignia.

Horus Heresy Praetor with double-handed axe

MkVI Tactical Squad

The new MkVI Tactical Squad has been fully redesigned over previous MkVI models, with longer legs and updated proportions that are close to true scale, as my scale comparison shows (scroll below). The kit is also structured differently from the MkIII and MkIV kits. For each 10 models you get two identical sprues that build 5 Marines with bolters and chain-bayonets each, plus a small accessories sprue.

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Warhammer: The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness MkVI Tactical Squad Sprues

For the included 40 Marines that means 8 copies of the large and 4 copies of the small sprue. The small sprue has a power sword and fist for the Sergeant, a plasma pistol arm (but no bolt pistol), a nuncio-vox and vexilla, 10 regular bayonets, 10 holstered boltpistols, a single melta bomb, plus a few other cosmetic choices like additional heads, pouches, and grenades. Special or heavy weapon options like in the MkIII and MkIV kits are missing.

Horus Heresy MkVI Space Marines Scale Comparison

Even though I think that these models are probably the best Firstborn sculpts Games Workshop has ever done, in a few regards, the kit also feels like a step back from the previous MkIII and MkIV kits. Lower and upper bodies are connected, which makes for more realistic poses, but also means you only get five basic poses that are repeated over and over. The studded shoulder parts are split in the middle so that the studs could be fully realised in plastic without undercuts, but also require additional modelling work to hide the seams. The most baffling choice however is that the left hands are modelled onto the bolters, unlike the older kits, where the hand was modelled onto the left arm. This means that swapping weapons between kits requires conversion work, and also that the new upgrade kits are not directly compatible with the old models, which really feels like a missed opportunity.

I’ll post a review of the weapon upgrade kits tomorrow where I’ll try to make the new weapon fit on older MkIV models, so stay tuned to see how that goes.

Contemptor Dreadnought

The Contemptor Dreadnought is a faithful translation of the resin kit that comes on two medium-sized sprues. Unlike the Venerable Contemptor Dreadnought from Betrayal at Calth, the model is fully posable with ball joints for the arms, hips, and legs, as well as movable elbow and knee joints, and two differently posed feet pieces for each leg.

Plastic Contemptor Dreadnought Sprues

Included weapon options are a gravis bolt cannon, a gravis autocannon, a gravis melta cannon, and gravis lascannon. The power fist can be equipped with a built-in combi-bolter, heavy flamer, plasma blaster, meltagun, and graviton gun, and there is also a carapace-mounted havoc launcher. It’s possible to equip both arms with heavy weapons, as well as putting the power fist on the right arm. You only get two connector pieces for the weapons though, which also makes magnetizing rather tricky. At least resin weapon arms are also compatible with this model and vice versa.

I noticed that the box has a paper inlay that shows a Contemptor Dreadnought that is different to this model, with an ornate head and chest armour, as well as a Kheres Assault Cannon, so it seems we might see an upgrade sprue or variant kit later on.

Spartan Assault Tank

The Spartan is a massive chunk of plastic and comes on a whopping six sprues. One of the sprues is a generic tank accessory sprue with various equipment like a dozer blade, searchlight, smoke launcher, and a hunter-killer missile, as well as hatches, pintle-mounted weapons and a gunner. This sprue is also included in other Heresy vehicle kits like the new Deimos Rhino and Kratos. The gunner can also be assembled as a Commander, with a choice of two devices or binoculars in his hand, and he seems to be clad in redesigned MkII armour, so I guess there must be a plastic MkII set at some point in the future.

The Spartan Assault Tank has quad-lascannons for the side sponsons, and a choice of hull-mounted lascannons, heavy bolters, or heavy flamers. The hull-mounted weapons plug into sockets and are easy to magnetize, but unfortunately, the plugs are not long enough to support the weapons’ weight without glue. The pintle-mounted weapon choices include a havoc launcher, multi-melta, heavy bolter, and heavy flamer. The Spartan sprues also have three optional aquila and Eye of Horus decorations each.

Cataphractii Terminators

Last but not least, we have ten of the plastic Cataphractii Terminators introduced in Betrayal at Calth. You can assemble the models with Lightning claws, or combi-bolters and power fists/chain fists, and there is also a heavy flamer, and a power sword and grenade harness for the Sergeant. Legs and torso are separate for more posing options.

Plastic Cataphractii Terminator Sprues

And here is another scale comparison of how various Terminator-clad models rank up with the new MkVI Legionaries. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Tartaros Terminator, but I’ve seen these in person and know that these are a mm or two smaller than Cataphractii.

Horus Heresy MkVI Cataphractii Scale Comparison

Other components

Apart from the models, we’ll have plenty of bases, the aforementioned measure sticks, dice, two reference sheets, a transfer sheet featuring Sons of Horus and Imperial Fists iconography, and a B/W assembly guide that also has the army list entries for the models included in this set. Without any upgrades, the models add up to about 1700 to 1750 points, though you can easily spend an additional 100 to 300 points on weapons and equipment.

Age of Darkness Rulebook

The Age of Darkness rulebook is a mighty hardcover tome with 340 full-colour pages. The presentation of the book is top-notch, with a lot of artwork, illustrations and little vignettes, though much of the artwork is familiar from the Forge World black & red books and the Black Library novel covers.

The background section covers about 140 pages and features an introduction to the Imperium of Mankind, the creation and organisation of the Legiones Astartes, with four pages dedicated to each of the 18 legions. The Talons of the Emperor, Solar Auxilia, and Mechanicum also get a few pages each. Last but not least, we also have an 8 pages timeline and a galactic map.

The core rules section is about 100 pages and is still based very much on the 7th Edition of Warhammer 40.000. There is the old AP value system, vehicles with armour values, primary and defensive weapons, firing arcs, and damage tables, a long list of universal special rules, and army list entries instead of datasheets.

Everything has been tidied up a little bit, but at its core, the new edition of The Horus Heresy still feels very much like the old edition. Apart from a few minor changes, like Dreadnoughts getting T and W characteristics instead of armour values, there is one major innovation: Similar to the current 3rd edition of Age of Sigmar, each unit may perform a reaction once during the opponent’s turn. There are two universal possible reactions for each game phase, whereby certain units and Legion army lists can also enable additional “advanced” reactions.

Finally, we have a gaming section with about 80 pages, that introduces modes of play, force organizations, missions, and more. It also has a beautiful showcase section of various Horus Heresy armies, as well as a few battlefields. One thing I noticed is that table sizes stayed the same at 6′ x 4′, and aren’t tied to the sizes of the cardboard gaming boards like the current editions of Warhammer 40.000 and Age of Sigmar. There are also no rules for Combat Patrol (500 points) or Incursion size (1000 points) games, the recommended gaming size starts at 2000 points.

What’s not included are army lists. For these, you need to purchase the Liber Astartes or Hereticus books, which contain all army lists for the Loyalist and Traitor Legions respectively. To get you going, the assembly guide booklet does have rules for the models in the box though.

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Gameplay

If you know the old edition or the 7th edition of Warhammer 40,000, you know what to expect. Those coming from the current edition of 40k will have to relearn a few things and have to be prepared for a significantly longer rules set. A noticeable difference is that special rules and equipment are not specified in army list entries (“datasheets”) as in 40k, but need to be looked up in a long list in the basic rulebook.

Another clear difference is the AP system. This is not based on modifiers as in the current edition of 40k, but the AP value of a weapon must be equal to or lower than the armour save to penetrate the armour, otherwise, the model receives the unmodified armour save roll. This means that models with power armour are significantly more resistant to small arms fire than in 40k. Vehicles are also much harder to take out completely, as rolls on the damage table often leave a vehicle merely stunned or shaken. Morale, on the other hand, plays a bigger role, because as in the old editions, units have to take leadership tests if more than 25% of their models are killed in a single phase, or lose melee. If the test is not successful, a fallback Move must be made.

Horus Heresy test game
Me and Martin Waller commanding the Imperial Fists in our demo game against Angel Giraldez’ and Ninjon’s Sons of Horus

I could list many more such differences, but how does the game feel? Definitely much crunchier. A lot of gameplay is more complex, but also more layered. The new reaction mechanic is a welcome addition, adding a modern spin and reducing downtime for the other player, but it can also lengthen the game time as even more decisions need to be made and anticipated. In a nutshell, the game feels less streamlined than 40k or newer Games Workshop games like Warcry or Kill Team. Somewhat old school, but in a familiar, nostalgic way.

The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness value

£180 / 225 € / $299 is a lot of money, I’m not gonna lie. But the box is filled to the top with plastic, plus a thick hardcover rulebook and templates. Let’s break down the components: MkIII and MkIV Marines will be reboxed in boxes of 20 models at £45 / 62.50 € / $80, so we can estimate £90 / 125 € / $160 for the Marines. Cataphractii Terminators will also get reboxed in boxes of 10 models at £50 / 67.50 € / $90. The recently released plastic Fafnir Rann character model was £19 / 24 € / $33.50, and we get two plastic character models in this set, so a value of £38 / 48 € / $67. The Spartan Assault tank is about the same size as the new Kratos tank, which will be £75 / 100 € / $125, so we can estimate the same price. We also have a Contemptor Dreadnought. A Venerable Dreadnought is £36 / 47.50 € / $60, while a Redemptor Dreadnought is £42.50 / 55 € / $70, so I guess the Contemptor will be somewhere in that range. Last but not least we have the rulebook, which is not available separately yet, but judging from the Liber Astartes and Hereticus, it will be £45 / 55 € / $70.

If you add it all up, you get an approximate value of £334 to £340.50 / 443 € to 450,50 € / $642, and that doesn’t even include templates and dice. With a saving of about 50% (depending on region), this makes this box one of the best deals Games Workshop has ever released.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy Age of Darkness Unboxing - featured

Yes, it’s still expensive, but at least this box will be available at independent retailers, including our partners Wayland Games, Element Games, and Taschengelddieb, who are all offering another decent discount of up to 20% off the RRP. Check here to see if the box is still available:

If you use our links, you’ll be supporting our work at no extra cost to you, a thousand thanks for that!

More Horus Heresy content is on its way – check back tomorrow when I take a look at the new plastic special and heavy weapon upgrade sets, and the following week there will be more reviews, and tutorials for Imperial Fists and Sons of Horus, which you can see above.

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9.5
Score

Pros

  • New models all look great
  • Over 1700 points in a box
  • Gorgeous hardcover rulebook (unabridged)
  • One of the biggest savings over purchasing individually in GW's history

Cons

  • MkVI Marines have limited posing and weapon options
  • Still an expensive box
  • Contains old Terminator models

Final Verdict

The Age of Darkness box marks the rise of The Horus Heresy from a specialist system to a core game. Games Workshop has done its part and packed a thick box with almost exclusively new models, and with an insanely good saving too. The box is still expensive, of course, but contains (almost) a complete 2000-point army. A must-have if you want to start with The Horus Heresy.