As both the Blood Angel and Dark Angel codexes were being released within a week of each other, I thought it better to write about my first impressions of both the Codexes together and have a chance to compare them in terms of power level as well as character.
As usual, I will be talking about the stand-out combinations within each codex and what makes them characterful rather than go into each unit/wargear/entry as there are other sites that are already doing a detailed look at the various options. Both of these codexes also share many of the stratagems (and thus, strategies) with your vanilla Space marines like Auspex Scan, Orbital Bombardment, Datalink Telemety, etc. Many of these shared stratagems are situational rather than the focus of an army-building effort. The chapter-specific stratagems however, are the key points to look at when building a list and will ultimately determine the reason to run a Blood Angel or Dark Angel detachment.
The Blood Angels' "chapter" trait The Red Thirst is arguably one of the most powerful faction trait we've seen so far and it allows the sons of Sanguinius to cement their position as the most hard hitting Adeptus Astartes faction. +1 to wound when charging, charged, or performing a heroic intervention, lets a basic Marine wound T3 infantry on 2s, other MEQs (Marine Equivalents) on 3s and even Landraiders and other T8 vehicles on 5s at the worst. To take full advantage of this, I would prefer any Blood Angel force to be an almost all-out assault with even scouts and other Troops like Intercessors to be moving towards the enemy.
With that in mind, what stratagems/relics/psychic powers help them get to grips with their enemy faster (we already know they hit hard)? Forlorn Fury gives a Death Company unit a free move (and advance) before the first turn begins, allowing them to move to within 11" of the opposing deployment zone in most deployment types if they were set up on the deployment line. This gives them a very aggressive start and lets them get a first turn charge in without having to deep strike unless the opponent deploys 9 or more inches from his deployment line, giving you control of the majority of the board.
If deep strike is your thing, Descent of Angels has you covered, allowing a Jump Pack unit that has set up earlier in the same turn, to make a charge roll with 3d6 (adding all 3 dice) instead of 2d6. Prime targets for this are your Death Company, Sanguinary Guard or Vanguard Veterans with jump packs. The average roll of 3d6 is 10.5 and there is a more than 62% chance of rolling 9+ with 3d6 without factoring in the re-roll stratagem or Lemartes' ability to re-roll charge range for Death Company units.
Upon Wings of Fire is a strategically useful tool as it allows a Jump Pack unit to redeploy for a charge or to grab an objective later in the game, and Red Rampage is a characterful Stratagem that takes advantage of the Red Thirst by giving your chosen character another d3 attacks when he charges.
With these options in mind, units with jump packs obviously benefit the most. That means Death Company, Sanguinary Guard, Assault Marines, Vanguard Veterans and Inceptors (the jumpy Primaris with dual mini-heavy bolters). As they have access to the Cluster Mines and Masterful Marksmanship stratagem, Scout Bikers and Sternguard Veterans in a drop pod could also be highly effective as they tend to end up close to the enemy with their short/medium ranged firepower. The psychic powers Quickening and Wings of Sanguinius make their Librarians (the Furioso Librarian and Mephiston in particular) absolute beat-sticks but they do run the risk of their buffing powers getting shut down, leaving them in a bit of a bind.
The Blood Angels have some solid relics, one of which is The Angel's Wing that allows the bearer to re-roll failed charge rolls and prevent Overwatch from the unit he charges. The Standard of Sacrifice held by a nearby Ancient (or Sanguinary Ancient if you are deep striking them) makes the already decently durable Sanguinary Guard (who have 2 wounds and a 2+ armor save) even tougher by giving them a 5+ feel no pain roll.
As with all space marines, Blood Angels have a fragility (ironic, I know) problem which I intend to discuss about in due time. At least they hit hard and as a long time Blood Angel collector (my first army was Blood Angels way back in 3rd edition), I can say that I'm fairly happy with how characterful they turned out while still being decent on the tabletop.
The Dark Angels, characteristically remembered for their Deathwing, Ravenwing, and preference for plasma weaponry, have been given a set of stratagems and psychic powers that emphasise them. Their chapter trait, Grim Resolve (re-roll 1s for shooting if a unit doesn't move in the prior movement phase and never lose more than 1 model from failing Morale tests), opens up some tactical options and lets the player forego a Captain in a back line to focus on either a Deathwing or Ravenwing element.
While not as build-defining as the Blood Angels' trait, a 4+ Jink for all Ravenwing units (presumably to make up for a lack of application of Grim Resolve for fast-moving units) can be handy in gaining some survivability against heavier weapons when going for objectives. Unfortunately, only Ravenwing Black Knights can really take advantage of Jink unless you spend a CP for the Speed of the Raven stratagem as they are the only Ravenwing unit with assault weapons (which allow you to fire them after advancing). The stratagem also gives all Ravenwing units additional reach in tying up enemy units as Bikes advance 6" rather than d6" and Sammael on Corvex moves 14" while advancing 2d6".
The chapter-defining stratagem is probably going to be Weapons From The Dark Age which increase the damage of a unit's plasma weapons by 1 for just 1 CP. Affecting ranged weapons, it will be easier to apply than the Blood Angels' unique stratagems and doubles the damage of the safe plasma firing mode as well as buffs overcharged shots to the 3 damage break point. This single stratagem pushes Hellblasters from being a decent primaris unit to an efficient choice for the Dark Angel player. Slot Azrael into a roving role with them will get you get a dangerous unit that has 2 wounds per model and a 4++ save.
Deathwing Assault allows a unit of Deathwing Terminators to shoot right after they set up and another time in the shooting phase. It is costly though, both in terms of point cost and CP. A unit of 10 Deathwing Terminators will fire 80 stormbolter shots and 8 krak or 8d3 frag missiles but will cost you almost 500 points and 3CP. The one draw of the stratagem is that half of those shots happen right after the unit deep strikes, meaning that you can use those shots to clear a bunch of screening models for your other deep strike models to drop in closer to the enemy. Might have a possible combo with some Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard there but will need to be tested and will definitely be pricey points-wise.
While the majority of the Blood Angels' psychic powers revolve around buffing a friendly unit or the psyker, the Dark Angels' psychic discipline of Interromancy boasts 4 powers that "debuff" enemy units; either reducing their effectiveness or ability to fight in assault. Aversion in conjunction with the -1 to hit from a nearby Darkshroud will make a key unit in the opposing army hit at a -2.
While I am a lot more excited about the Blood Angel Codex than I am about the Dark Angel one, I suspect that the latter has potential for more interesting combinations and game mechanic interactions with other Imperial forces. These subtle combinations and the selective application of debuffs will require some time to emerge and a skilled player to harness.
While neither Codex is lacklustre, Space Marines in general, have a tough time in the competitive scene barring Razorbacks, Stormravens, and the odd Guilliman list. It's been bugging me to no end and I wanted to see if I could get to the crux (terminatus... =P) of the matter. My next article will focus on the deficiencies of power-armoured armies and what needs to be done to increase their viability in competitive scenarios.