Is Games Workshop trying to tell a grand tale with 40K?
Warhammer 40,000 is a vast and rich setting. Across a thousand thousand worlds stories and conflicts both grand and banal play out. These stories, and many more just hinted at, have inflamed the imagination of millions over the past few decades. However, though there are many stories in Warhammer, it’s not clear that Warhammer has as a whole ever been trying to tell a story. Until now.
Almost all wargames have a setting. These can best vast and rich, or simple and bare bones. Sometimes they are invented for the game, and others are set within a real life historical setting. Even if a wargame is meant to be generic and doesn’t have a fixed setting, the players will almost always make up an individual setting for each game or battle. However not all Wargames are trying to tell a story. Some of course are. Events will move forward with each edition, supplement, or campaign. Characters will die and new ones will appear. Over years a grand narrative plays out in the game.
For most of its time 40K has been a setting. It has been a vast open sandbox that you can play in, but there has been very little attempt to tell an overall advancing story withinin it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of stories in 40K. The fluff is full of a million stories. Events like 3rd War For Armageddon and the 13th Black Crusade have told specific stories through events. In general though these stories have not really advanced anything, nor effected the whole galaxy.
Compare this to 30K. 30K is a great example of a telling a story. The Horus Heresy is a grand overall story that is being told through a series of books. Each supplement enlarges on and advances the story, and it is a story that will eventually reach its conclusion.
Between Gathering Storm and 8th editon 40K did something it has not done in a long time, meaningfully advanced the story. The timeline moved forward almost 200 years and we got one of the first major emerging narratives to affect just about all of the 40K setting. 40K finally seems to be moving, from the assault of Chaos, the opening of the rift, the return of Primarchs , and the rise of Ynnari we are getting a real narrative, and one that is moving forward. The overall themes of 40K are becoming something grand, on the scale of the Horus Heresy, with the rise of Chaos and the Imperium’s Response. There is at last a story.
The real question is if GW intends to keep moving the story forward. Right now the they’ve lain the ground work to tell a huge galaxy spanning story. However if they don’t keep advancing the time line and moving the story forward it will stagnate. It is possible that the story they seem to be telling will turn into just another setting. They’ve got the ground work for a grand story, and they need to keep moving it forward. The Ynnari need to keep growing, or be turned on by the the Eldar, the Choas powers need to keep pressing the attack and Guilliman needs to do something other than just run place to place fighting fires.
Right now the overall story is pretty clearly an Imperium vs Chaos story. Now of course that is a story that makes sense, 40K at heart has always been about the conflict between Chaos and the Imperium of Man. Those are the two largest and most popular factions and were always going to be the core of any story. The Eldar in addition also have a pretty clear role in the new story, between helping bring back Guilliman, and the rise of Ynnari (which could possible lead to the defeat of Slannesh) they have a role to play and story to advance. However many of the other Xenos races don’t really have a real place right now. GW really needs to find a way to work them into the overall story if they want things to keep moving forwards. Now Necrons have an easy in, they can do something with the pylons to try and fix the great rift. However Orks, T’au and Nids don’t really have a place in the bigger story, and they should have one.
40K finally seems like its trying to tell an overarching story. Whether it will continue to tell this story or give up on advancing the plot remains to be seen. Not all players want them to keep advancing the plot. However if they do, they need to find a way to engage all players and factions in the plot.
In any case one thing is clear – whatever tale they spin – it needs to be a good one.
So, what do you think, should the story keep moving forward, or should 40K stay a setting a not try to tell a big story, let us know, down in the comments!
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