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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dark Eldar Codex Review: Part 1: Introduction & Overview

The long awaited Dark Eldar review! AbusePuppy, GWvsJohn and myself have been ‘working’ on this over the past couple months and the HQ and Troops are basically done so I’m going to start posting. Whilst some aspects of the review are more heavily influenced by one or another of the authors, I’ll be posting them all but consider each part of the review a collaboration from all of us. Hopefully we’ll get the other stuff done shortly. Rather than running a unit by unit analysis we’re going to split the review into little sections which are primarily built around the FoC much like AbusePuppy’s Tyranid Review. This should generate about 6-10 articles depending how long the articles end up becoming and where we split them. The articles will not only look at how the units operate on the table and in relation to each other but examine their upgrades, unit setup, etc. This post will largely be an introduction into Dark Eldar in general and examine some of the core army concepts relating to their rules. This will be pretty brief as a more in-depth analysis looking at these concepts was covered through the Armies in 5th articles relating to Dark Eldar and summarised in the summary post.

Whho are the Dark Eldar:

So, Dark Eldar are a Xenos force with a general statline based around T3/5+ but with high stats in WS/BS/I/Ld; really they are a cross between Guardsmen in terms of survivability and Space Marines in terms of offensive output and for their statlines and basic equipment, are quite cheap. Their transports however, are nothing like you’ll see in an Imperial Army. They are fast, capable of firing on the move and paper thin. Whilst this allows Dark Eldar to control the board and get models into assault quickly, they are very fragile and due to their poor defensive stats, dislike their transports blowing up around them. The advantages mobility provides are significant however once you learn to deal with their fragility.
Army options:

Dark Eldar are very capable of running diverse builds in terms of pure mech, hybrid and foot whilst also running assault and shooting based lists. This is great for any potential player as it’s not hard to find a good build you can enjoy and often with a few tweaks, you’ll find yourself with multiple builds at your disposal whilst not sinking a fortune into the army. Dark Eldar have a couple of unique builds/options in being able to run a full reserve list with vehicles that can deep-strike (we <3 you Duke) and being able to run a reserve army which comes in from midfield through a webway portal. Both of these styles relate to minimising damage through whilst maximising firepower in a certain locale on the battlefield. This is a great advantage of multiple WWP and deep-striking as you have varying points from which you can come in from. In all slots there is a good combination of shooty and melee choices and two HQs unlock different Troops which opens more army options across different army styles. Basically the combination of all of these factors (and the ability to get FNP, FC, Fearless on all infantry units) makes for a very diverse codex with lots of army options among them.

How they operate:

As an army, Dark Eldar excel at dismantling MSU armies as they can focus fire anti-infantry and generate large amounts of wounds. Dark Eldar gain significant benefits from killing squads (and in MSU armies there are more squads to be killed and are easy to kill) including FNP, Furious Charge and Fearless. Add these USRs to their basic cost and they can become crazy price efficient. However, they are also vulnerable to MSU due to their paper-thin armor and having multiple targets spreading fire across your army (i.e. fire potential) isn’t always fun. Due to this, Dark Eldar are a very aggressive army in nature and whilst certain combinations can lead them to be more defensive, the majority of Dark Eldar armies will find themselves reaping rewards from aggressive play. This stems from both their fragile nature and power from pain rule which puts extra emphasis on wiping units out. Your resilience is based on wiping out enemy units- this means that if you aren't on the attack, you're losing. (This isn't the same as having to go first, although they obviously benefit from that a lot. Keep in mind, however, that many armies can play the reserve game if you do this.) It also makes it important to manage who wipes out a unit, altering target priority chains.

A further universal Dark Eldar rule is Night Vision. This means Dark Eldar are particularly adept at Dawn of War missions where they can actually cause damage on T1 whilst often suffering none to little in return. This is particularly important due to their paper-thin armor and glass cannon nature as they are not forced into reserve against shooting armies in DoW and essentially get an extra turn of damage against them. This leads into deploying via reserve which is very important for Dark Eldar as it reduces the damage your army is going to take. Whilst your offensive output is also reduced and you come in piece-meal, Dark Eldar are offensive minded enough to be able to withstand this and mobile enough to isolate parts of the opposing army and further reduce incoming damage. As a Dark Eldar general, reducing damage is a very important concept and skill to understand.

As discussed before, Dark Eldar are quite mobile. Even the slow units often have fleet and if not, access to an open-topped transport or are capable of coming through a Webway Portal. This combines with PfP to again create an aggressive list which is in your face early and effectively. However, a key component of Dark Eldar mobility is firing on the move and with fast skimmers + some special rules, this gives Dark Eldar firepower unrivaled access to side armor and attempting to deny cover which forces your opponent to play more defensively if they do not wish to take risks. Mech-training against Dark Eldar is a lot tougher than one would think.


This brings us to the final point I will discuss in this introduction. Anti-tank. Anti-infantry/MC is generally built into the Dark Eldar list with a lot of poisoned attacks. This relates to a Dark Eldar’s ability to torrent units down (particularly MSU units) simply through weight of wounds. Whilst some thought has to go into this to ensure there is enough poison to go around, it’s not something that often takes deep thought (Razorwings and liquefier guns are easy ways to ensure you have enough anti-infantry). Dark Eldar are also excellent at torrenting in CC and due to their excellent CC stats (high WS and I), are quite capable and happy for their anti-infantry to often be combat based. However, anti-tank is a bigger issue. Although you can still put out 30+ dark light shots, most of these are much short ranged than before (i.e. 18” blaster) and still aren’t too hot at dropping tanks. Whilst 30 shots should reliably drop 3+ tanks depending upon AV, that’s without cover and a lot of shots which means your army might be weak in other areas (i.e. combat). It’s possible (such as Venom spam) but not feasible in every list. Even 20 darklight shots is good but quite often it might not be enough unless you’re looking at only opening transports and suppressing other things. Remember again due to Dark Eldar’s fragile nature, opposing suppression fire is often fairly good anti-tank against DE even with flickerfields and nightshields.

Luckily enough, the new DE codex brings with it melta weapons and whilst they aren’t as prolific as in Imperial armies, Dark Eldar Fast Attack brings much more capable anti-tank on excellent platforms and for lists generally low on darklight weapons, these squads and weapons should be given serious consideration to shore up the ‘weakness’ of only have S8 AP2 anti-tank guns.


And there we have it kids. The beginning of something dark and pointy. Although Dark Eldar are quite fragile and their infantry units often need at least one pain token to not disappear in a flash of blood, their mobility, close combat proficiency and offensive output across the board more than makes up for it. The combination of rules make Dark Eldar play significantly differently from the more common 'Imperial archtype' which I'm quite thankful for in spicing up the game and providing some more cognitive challenges ahead. Not playing the army right can lead to your fragile transports and infantry being blown all to hell and leave you wondering if your army plain sucks. It doesn't but is very far removed from the false premise of good 40k lists in being 'point and click.'

I feel Dark Eldar are one of the best books put out by Games Workshop to date. There are only a couple of units which I don’t think will see too much light of day but there are still uses for them and only some of the special characters are terribad. There really are options and army builds for everyone in this book if you are comfortable with their overall stats and perverse background. Combined with the speed of the model release and the relative cheapness you can get the army for and the codex is a clear winner in my eyes.

Next up: transports.

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