This is a review from the perspective of a casual player, primarily looking to build armies for fun games with an understanding of how they might work in the narrative.
After a first impression, I will look at the lore, and do a quick perspective on the rules.
It’s a beautiful looking book with great front cover art. Nagash looms, menacing, at the centre of a host of ethereal spirits. Always exciting to crack open the shrink wrap. Inside, a flick through reveals wonderfully sharp images, and great overall art style. Scenes of miniatures are well chosen, with a focus on the newer ranges of Deathlords and monsters leading largely skeletal forces. Overall, a really high quality first look.
Battletomes are key to understanding some of the rules of a lived world and history of an alliance, faction or army. They are important for giving us various hooks around which to theme our own narratives and armies. So my review will be from this kind of angle – what potential and ideas does it offer to the thematically interested gamer?
The book starts with Nagash’s aims, followed by a brief history of his rise to power (thanks in part to Sigmar) after the loss of the Old World. We soon learn of his temporary destruction at the hands of Archaon, and his patient plans for revenge. Nagash, now returned to power at Nagashizzar – damning the Chaos Lords guarding it to eternal torment – is biding his time and gathering his forces as he looks to take on Sigmar, Malerion, Tyrion, Slaanesh and another mysterious foe. His major concern is, of course, that all these beings have stolen souls from his domain.
Around and beyond this, interesting questions and nice snippets of lore appear in terms of Nagash’s own coming to power as a God and around how the Realm of Death (Shyish) functions.
In his own realm we understand, Nagash – restored to his dark majesty – has the capacity to totally dominate any undead being. This includes the greatest Mortachs, such as Mannfred who is depicted as less happy about this situation than the ever-loyal Arkhan. While pockets of Chaos linger and taint his lands, he is characterised as extraordinarily powerful.
Some of the most interesting lore continues in the book’s brief discussion of Shyish, its features and inhabitants. While we know that Nagash hunted down and destroyed other possible Gods of Death after his awakening by Sigmar, we get some fascinating facts about the preserve of death, afterlives and Shyish’s connection to all of the realms.
As, according to the book, there are
‘…underworlds beyond counting, each summoned into being by the collective belief of mortal-kind, and formed from purest death magic.’
Emerging, and ending, these underworlds have a form based upon the belief of various civilisations during different eras. They exist in Shyish alongside actual civilisations, cities of undead and mortal, in various states of co-existence (many not so happy for mortal lives) – although the greatest of the mortal civilisations were apparently purged by Chaos. One example of such an underworld, Hallost, Land of Dead Heroes, is a place of perpetual battle where warriors are reborn to fight each day. Presumably these underworlds, like Stygxx to which Nagash’s remains were carried following his defeat by Archaon, require death magic and other secret knowledges to access.
There are some interesting questions for me here around how Nagash facilitates, allows, or otherwise interacts with these possible underworlds which are drawn and gathered from all the other realms and civilisations. To what extent does Nagash assist in bringing these into being and how does it suit his purpose to do so? What power does he have in relation to the beliefs of particular groups of people? How exactly does he then use these souls? What is an end? What kind of impact does this all have on necromancy or summoning?
In addition to more information about the realm, we get lots of ideas about how Nagash’s current forces are arrayed, the kinds of missions they are being sent on (such as into the Realm of Shadow looking for Slaanesh), where loyalties and conflicts lie, and gestures toward numerous and widespread intrigues. In this regard, the book succeeds in providing some key guiding markers for narrative forces which also support and work with the rules.
Some of the information we get later on covering each of the warscrolls is a bit less interesting, as its purpose is just to set out in broader strokes some of the typical behaviours, characteristics and abilities of all the units like Skeleton Warriors, Fell Bats, Hexwraiths, and Zombies. Although, there is good stuff sprinkled throughout like information on Prince Vhordrai of the Crimson Keep, or about Vargheists and the Avengorii Soulblight.
Still, maybe some space could have been saved for more of the gritty, detailed, specific lore – as the book is packed with warscrolls – if some of those could have been condensed or made to feel less a touch less generic.
I realise I am being picky here, as it is a fantastic book in my opinion and certainly does plenty to give you a great sense of what Death is about in Age of Sigmar. Of course, other current literature is required to add depth to some of the points of interest (and I’m very much still learning about these), while other elements are left for us to imagine and explore.
I’m excited about what the rules open up for possible play and theme. They allow you to choose from a diverse range of death miniatures and articulate them in terms of a specific Mortach’s style or directly under the banner of Nagash. You could build your forces with these greater leaders in mind, or create alternatives with their own intrigues, schemes, conflicts and relations to the core characters.
Because each of the new allegiances – The Grand Host of Nagash, Legion of Blood, Legion of Sacrament, and Legion of Night – doesn’t restrict your selection of models much (only in terms of Nagash or Mortachs respectively) a lot of choice is available. Battleline will still largely be filled with Skeleton Warriors, Zombies or Dire Wolves, although the Grand Host of Nagash can use Grave Guard or Morghasts as Battleline in the right circumstances.
I’d quite like to get some Dire Wolves now, alongside a Corpse Cart (please repackage them with round bases!), Mortis Engine, and Necromancers as part of the Legion of Sacrament. It’d also be fun to do something more focused around the vampires of Neferata’s court with Vargheists and the new (warscroll at least) Bloodseeker Palanquin.
There’s lots of further flavour added to each allegiance, with their own command traits and artefacts plus the new Lores of Deathmages and Vampires. While each of the allegiances share common abilities like Deathless Minions and The Unquiet Dead, they also are granted unique thematic bonuses.
I won’t go into the rules too deeply beyond this because I feel like they’ve already been previewed heaps on Warhammer Community, plus there’s a significant thread over on The Grand Alliance which is going through the content in detail now – Let’s Chat: Legions of Nagash.
See also AoS Shorts Review for more rules focus.
But what I will say is that I think Games Workshop have done a nice job of building a rule set for death that fits its narrative potential.
It’s a great resource and I’m very excited about playing more games and coming up with ideas for my forces based on this book. Definitely worth it.