Sunday, 3 October 2010

Back from the brink: the new Dark Eldar

The new Dark Eldar are all over the 'net and have successfully proved that GW can indeed black-box a product if they try. I want to talk a little about the design of the new range after reading the Bell of Lost Souls post on the subject.

The Dark Eldar were the first "new" race that GW had introduced for a long time when they emerged as the baddies in the starter boxed set for the 3rd edition of 40K in 1998. They proved to be a challenge for GW because, by this point, all their established races had been developed a great deal and had profuse arrays of models and options. GW quickly found that players expected an equal amount of variety from this new army, and one gets the impression that churning out the minis for the range proved onerous. The response to the Dark Eldar models was luke warm. Their core troops were unattractive, their vehicles clunky and they were always eclipsed by the extremely beautiful design of their Eldar cousins. The race was seldom updated and it can be argued that the 2010 overhaul was long overdue.

I was fortunate to see them in development twice when I visited the Studio. Jes (the range's lead sculptor) very kindly talked to me about them and showed me the sculpts and concept art. He and his colleagues had reimagined the race from the ground up. They were influenced by traditional Japanese clothing designs and naval shapes. I recall him explaining their methodology thus: the Raider vehicle is obviously related to the dune skiff in Return of the Jedi, but it's no good just re-imagining that thing. You have to look at what inspired those designers (in particular the sail shapes of dhow ships) and then work from those base principles.

The results, as everyone agrees, are astounding. They represent, in terms of wargames miniatures, the biggest come-back since Lazarus rose from the dead. In his post for BoLS Goatboy astutely points out the use of negative space in the sculpts. What he does not mention is the rather more fundamental achievement of the models' relation to their established Eldar cousins. The Dark Eldar are now based on the same aesthetic principles as the Eldar - their general silhouette is the same, their helmets are now a closer in design and their weapons have the identical egg-and-tapered-tube geometrics. These fundamentals have now been twisted to give an evil look, while retaining their racial heritage. The clumsy array of blades which used to typify the range has given way to more subtle serrations which do not clutter the outlines of the troops. The Raider has retained its basic shape, but now harks back to its inspirational origins of Eastern sailing vessels with harpooning/fishing/ramming themes being articulated with the weaponry.

In short, GW has once again proved its mastery of design and injection moulding to successfully bring the range back from the brink. The feedback from the net so far confirms they have tuned one of the least-loved races into this year's most-wanted. They won't outsell Marines, but they'll give them a good run for their money on their jet bikes.

All images are copyright GW 2010
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