Tuesday, June 4, 2013
GDS: Eldar Review
This is part of the Game Design Series.
Overall Design: 3.5/5
As much as I like Phil Kelly, I think the Eldar codex took a bit of a hit in terms of overall design. There are some blatant fluff to gameplay mistakes that I didn't think should of happened. From a purely design perspective, I can't for the life of me understand why the most superior aces in the galaxy go to battle without at least Holofields on their aircraft. In fact, there's no option for them at all! The Hemlock suffers a bit more when you look its weapon profile and question why D-Scythes have template weapons but not the Heavy D-Scythe. You would think that the giant Pulsar-sized Heavy Wraithcannons on the Wraithknight did a little more than offer +24" onto a standard Wraithcannon. I see missed opportunities, raised eyebrows and sighs of why? everywhere. That's always a concern.
Despite these things, Kelly was still able to capture much of the Eldar fluff on the table-top. Everyone is now BS4 for the most part and Battle Focus brings back the old Move-Shoot-Move playstyle that many veterans will remember. Monofilament and Shuriken weaponry has changed to match the fluff and I think the rules are pretty well done considering what they can do. However, the changes to Eldar psykers leave much to be desired. Consistency was something that Eldar was sure of in terms of the psychic field. Unfortunately, random spell generation, Ld.8 Warlocks and a severely nerfed Runes of witnessing/Warding leaves me questioning if Eldar psykers even match the fluff.
What really hurts the overall design is the fact that Eldar, like High Elves, are an specialized army. Specialization dictates that the points invested in whatever unit needs to do what you need it to do. Dire Avengers should be good vs. Infantry, Banshees should rule assault, Fire Dragons should annihilate vehicles. This is very different than an all-purpose unit like most MEQ units where you can spread the love in all categories and balance it out with the correct offensive and defensive stats. If you're spending points into a unit that's not able to execute on its sole purpose in the game, then that's a much serious design issue compared to a general-purpose unit decent at everything. This right here is the difficulty when designing Eldar; especially when you have keep T3 and points cost in mind at all times. Overall, I think Kelly did an alright job with this.
Internal Balance: 3.5/5
There are some questionable decisions here as well. Maybe it's 6th Ed. in general where assault is not as glorious, but Banshees took a shovel to the face. There were so many ways to address the assault void with Eldar and after so many years, one would think this will be addressed. Then again, the Wave Serpent still don't have assault ramps so I guess it doesn't matter at this point. Sadly, Banshees don't have even grenades, have a severely weakened mask and are still paper thin. Where the design for Banshees have been embarrassing, other units fared a little better.
Kelly buffed a lot of other units that were sitting on the shelf before. Striking Scorpions and Swooping Hawks have been re-designed slightly and buffed significantly. Warp Spiders are now rock solid but Dire Avengers took a bit of a hit. Were they really that good before with Bladestorm? Not really but I think they added something unique in gameplay. Now because their weapons have a chance to virtual-rend, Avengers have been brought down a bit in terms of points cost and having a useless Exarch. I'm a little sad about this because I think the conscience decision to unload everything and reload next round is brilliant design. In fact, anything that actively promotes player options is favorable army design.
Some units actually saw some minor redesign which is a nice surprise. Aside from Guardians receiving BS4 along with many other units, the War Walker gained Fleet, Battle Focus and a 5+ invulnerable as stock. Their price went up for sure, but if I'm looking at artillery support choices as a viable option in Heavy this is only a good sign. I just wish the Falcon was made as dedicated transport and the Vaul's Support Batteries were molded into the Guardian squads. Price-wise, we see some increases in units across the board; but with this comes reduced heavy weapon choices and effective special rules. Another example is the Fire Prism, which no longer relies on another Prism nearby to utilize its weapon options. Instead, it comes built with 3 different firing types! Options man, options.
In terms of unique special abilities, they still sing with old Eldar flavor. The Serpent Shield on the Wave Serpent, for example, can be used as a defensive option that reduces penetrating hits down to a glance on 2+, or it can be used to shoot out S7 hits that ignore cover. However, in order to use this nice shooting attack, the player loses the defensive bonuses from the shield itself next round. This is basically the design philosophy behind the old Dire Avenger Bladestorm, which is fine by me. Sadly, this needed to happen more across the codex as I think it adds something fiercely unique to the Eldar playstyle. No matter though, Wraith armies look to be pretty fluffy and solid, and from what I read about the Iyanden supplement they're going to get extra rules as well. These supplements is definitely a step in the right direction.
External Design: 3/5
Although the codex has solid internal design, there are some things that just will not work. Despite how good Striking Scorpions look on paper, I don't think they're going to be good simply because they'll got shot to death. Harlequins now need to test for Veil of Tears, Banshees are a joke, and I'm pretty sure Eldar is going to erase CC completely from their builds. In fact, the only competitive option I see are the bigger fatty units like the Wraithlords and Wraithknight. Huh? They have the stats worthy of a solid CC unit, come with high T, good armor and a good amount of wounds, but the fact that Eldar will be designated to a primarily shooting army is a bit of a let down. I really hope next edition fixes this.
So where does this leave us really? We have questionably better psykers than Space Marines, zero CC options outside of the Wraithknight, questionable viability in the form of fliers and AA options, and only a couple of troop choices that look competitive. It always comes down to the competitive choices when we evaluate external balance. I mean after all, you're comparing your bells and whistles to what the next guy has in his army. Stacking Conceal on your bikes with your Ld.8 Warlocks is great and taking a bunch of scoring Wraiths is great, but what happens when your opponent is Tau and he rips your cover while dropping S8 AP2 templates on your Wraithguard?
To accurately judge a book's ability to impact the metagame, you have to look at what you have available. I'm sorry to say, my competitive unit bucket doesn't look all that great compared to some of the other armies I've seen out there. Eldar is one of those armies that is not auto-pilot and by nature is more difficult to play successfully. All those specialized units must be utilized correctly or you lose a piece to an otherwise complete puzzle. It's this reason that makes Eldar one of the tougher armies to design. Their units are expensive to keep the army count elite, but how do you justify their effectiveness? In this way, they share a commonality with High Elves. Shocker.