Today we examine the KV128 Stormsurge and the shifting meta of Warhammer 40,000 with ever more Gargantuan Creatures and Superheavy Vehicles.
By Samuel Nolton
Welcome to my weekly article, Level(ed) Playing Field, where I examine the shifting meta of Warhammer 40,000 and the growing presence of Gargantuan Creatures and Superheavy Vehicles on your local tabletop battlefield. You may be familiar with my previous pseudo-rant article, “You Don’t Know Better.” If so, this is very much in the same vein, so be warned.
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: love it or hate it, super heavies are part of the main game now. You may have your old school “things were better in 3rd edition” mentality. You may think the GW design team has lost its collective mind. You may ban superheavy vehicles and gargantuan creatures at your local store. But they are not going away any time soon. They’re part of the game, not just an optional Escalation supplement anymore and no longer reserved only for Apocalypse, so get used to it. I will be using this article to examine superheavy units individually, and dissecting their presence in normal games of 7th edition Warhammer 40,000 as well as Apocalypse.
The KV128 Stormsurge Ballistic Suit
The Tau Empire just got a big boost in the form of the KV128 Stormsurge- the first “ballistic suit,” a walking tank equipped with enough firepower to level a small city! Since this is the newest superheavy (in fact, a Gargantuan Creature) to grace the tabletop, it will be the focus for this week.
As a gargantuan creature, the Stormsurge has all the basic rules- Fear, Hammer of Wrath, Unstoppable, Move Through Cover, Relentless, Smash, and Strikedown. All of these are explained in the basic rulebook, but we’ll explain a the most important ones which matter for the Stormsurge itself below:
Fear: Anything short of Space Marines or Daemons will have a tough time assaulting a Stormsurge, they’ll have to test every turn they’re in combat with it, and god-emperor help them if they fail! Being reduced to WS1 against Tau is pretty pathetic.
Move Through Cover: With 12” movement already due to being a GC, the KV128 is an extremely mobile machine. Add Move Through Cover to that and this beast is able to traverse nearly anywhere on the battlefield, even though it’s lacking the classic Tau jetpack.
Relentless: Simply put, the Stormsurge can fire any and all of its weaponry even if its moved, with no penalties.
Strikedown: RAW this means that EVERYTHING the Stormsurge fires- if it wounds (even if that wound is saved) an enemy unit, that unit is slowed to a crawl, moving as if through difficult terrain until the end of next turn. Add that in to the fact that a GC can target each of its guns at a different enemy, and you can potentially slow your opponents’ advance to a crawl (and if you’re firing twice with stabilizing anchors…you could potentially stop the entire enemy army in its tracks).
Unstoppable: Replete with armor and defensive systems, the Stormsurge is far less vulnerable than its battlesuit brethren. With snipers and poisoned weapons only wounding on a 6 and instant death or removal weaponry and psychic powers only removing D3 wounds instead of killing it outright, the Stormsurge has phenomenal staying power, even with a relatively low T6 and a 3+ armor save. Its pool of 8 wounds ensures that it can potentially survive multiple D weapon hits.
Additionally, we have all seen the Stabilizing Anchors rule, allowing the KV128 to deploy anchors in the shooting phase, forcing it to remain stationary and allowing it to fire twice in the next shooting phase. I think this rule is overlooked, as while yes, it does make the suit a veritable heavy weapons platform, it delays that ability for a turn while rendering it immobile for two consecutive turns. It can remove the anchors and move normally in any following movement phase, but since shooting occurs after movement, you will effectively lose two turns of potential objective grabbing or maneuvers while waiting for your alpha-strike capability to kick in- plenty of time for a canny opponent to maneuver his own forces into firing positions or cover.
Of course, no unit is truly without weakness, and the KV128 has several. Namely, it is a massive target! Standing as tall as an Imperial Knight when built in GW’s standard “crouched” position, the Stormsurge gets even taller when built standing upright or striding forwards. It will be difficult to get the unit into cover, and nearly every enemy unit should be able to draw Line of Sight to it.
This Lord of War may be taken in squads, yes, and that has many people frightened, but it is also only BS3 and costs 360 points base. This means if you’re running a squad of them (bare minimum 1,080 points), you’ve got 3 massive points sinks that will be missing their shots half the time, be useless in close combat if caught by any halfway decent enemy, and still fall to massed Heavy Bolter or Autocannon fire. Are they powerful? Yes. Are they broken? No.
Markerlights may be the Tau player solution to everything- and they are highly advantageous, yes, but for every Markerlight token you expend to get more mileage out of your KV128, other units in your army will go without. It’s a tactical decision and a huge tradeoff- sheer firepower at the cost of immobility with stabilizing anchors deployed, more accuracy at the expense of using Markerlights that might benefit other units in your army, etc.
The KV128 Stormsurge is a heavy gun platform alright, capable of laying waste to an unprepared opponent, but it is far from invulnerable. Every army in the game has access to S7 or better weapons, and these will put wounds on a Stormsurge with ease. Once you reach S8 or better, AP3, AP2, or AP1 become increasingly common, forcing the KV128 to make a 4++ with shield generators equipped or else take a wound. This means even with an invulnerable save, your big guns have a 50/50 chance of dealing wounds to the Stormsurge.
Protecting your units is paramount when fighting a Tau army with one or more of these Lord of War units. Cover-camping will protect your vital assets at long range against the Stormsurge’s cluster missiles and pulse driver/pulse blast cannon. However, close-in the ballistic suit’s smart missile system and airbursting fragmentation projector will tear apart lightly-armored squads. If cover is your only reliable way to keep troops alive, you’ll have to find that sweet spot outside of 30” (the smart missiles’ max range). Other survivability-increasing buffs include Kustom Force Fields for Orks, the benefits of which should be obvious, or Feel No Pain. While obviously FNP has drawbacks (usually 5+ for many armies, can be voided by Instant Death), it can save certain units.
“Suicide” units or tarpits might be the easiest way to tie the Stormsurge up. If properly timed, a Stormsurge with the stabilizing anchors deployed (making it unable to make Stomp attacks) makes a prime target to be assaulted by a huge unit of Grots, Conscripts, Plague Zombies, or any other unit of 20+ soldiers. While they may not be able to hurt the KV128, they CAN tie it up for a few rounds while your more valuable squads clear other enemies off the board, take objectives, or maneuver for a better shot once the Stormsurge is clear. If unable to stomp, the Stormsurge has a paltry number of attacks at WS2 and S6, so it’s unlikely to be hitting half of the time, and will struggle to put a dent in a big squad. Even making Stomp attacks, it will still struggle if multiple large squads (like Termagants or Hormagaunts) are engaged at once.
For more specific counter-tactics, let’s focus on some big guns of 40k that, without even needing to be Lords of War, can combat the KV128 Stormsurge:
Flyers: Without its own dedicated anti-air weaponry, the Stormsurge will struggle against flying units. None of its weapons are AA-focused (time will tell if it can take the Early Warning Override or Velocity Tracker), though you could get lucky with the Cluster Missiles’ 4D6 shots (but at only S5). Some of the beefier fliers have weaponry that can tackle a Gargantuan Creature like the Stormsurge, and especially strong ones such as Vendettas or HelDrakes will make mincemeat of this expensive Lord of War.
Can Openers: Big, mean, 2+/5++ or better melee death stars are the bane of even Gargantuan Creatures. Space Marine Terminators with Chainfists, Ork Meganobz with Killsaws, Grey Knight Paladins with Force Halberds, etc. Though they may run the risk of being Stomped on, they usually strike before or at the same time as a Stormsurge, and can easily shred through its 3+ armor and take huge chunks of wounds off in a single attack. With these units also having plentiful access to invulnerable saves, they can bear the brunt of any counterattack and survive to fight on.
Psykers: Tau have pretty much zero presence in the psychic phase. BRB powers such as Iron Arm, Enfeeble, Hemorrhage, Misfortune, Molten Beam, Psychic Maelstrom, etc. are all extremely effective not just because they’re difficult for Tau to deny, but also because they are supremely damaging. Further Uber-powers like Eldritch Storm or Killbolt can and will ruin even Gargantuan Creatures like the Stormsurge.
All things told, the KV128 Stormsurge is a powerful addition to the Tau armory. And while a Gargantuan Creature with some truly powerful weapons, it is not without vulnerability, nor is it a cheap investment for Tau commanders to field. A lot of points for a large target, use it wisely, or your whole army will suffer against a prepared opponent.
~What is your take on superheavies in the game?