The year in Warhammer 2023 – Wargamer’s retrospective

A look back at the highs and lows in a year packed with game releases, cracking new Warhammer minis, production delays, and website woes.

Warhammer 2023 retrospective - compound image including screenshot elements from Age of Sigmar Realms of Ruin and Warhammer 40k Boltgun, with overlaid images including Wargamer's own painted Legions Imperialis minis, a Games workshop photo of a painted Aeldari Wraithknight, a sales photo of the new Lion El Jonson model, and the face of Henry Cavill from a Sherlock Holmes movie trailer screenshot.

Holy Terra has nearly completed its circuit of Sol, and it’s a time when right-thinking Imperial citizens prepare for the festival of Sanginualia, Historitors sharpen their quills, and Ecclesiarchal preachers prepare sermons about the labors of a new year. And for the scriveners in the Wargamer scriptorum, it’s time for our year in review – a look back over the state of the hobby in our Warhammer 2023 retrospective.

The year has been dominated by Warhammer 40k, with the Arks of Omen campaign accelerating into the massive release of Warhammer 40k 10th edition on June 24. That launch has been a great success – but it’s not the only tale to be told this year, and not everything is positive.

Here, then, is Wargamer’s Warhammer 2023 retrospective:

Warhammer 2023-retrospective-presales-crash-GW-webstore-tweet

GW’s legacy infrastructure creaks under demand

On January 10, Games Workshop’s half-year report acknowledged that IT systems and infrastructure were “currently holding [the company] back”. At the time the firm was $6 million deep into a delayed redevelopment project for its website, and “the complexity of robustly integrating new technology with legacy Games Workshop systems” was delaying new warehousing projects.

Those issues seemed to bite during the year. Independent retailers complained that highly anticipated releases, such as the brand new Warhammer 40k faction model range for the World Eaters, were not delivered in time for crucial launch weekend sales.

Demand for some products outstripped supply. Crowds always go wild for news on the Warhammer 40k primarchs and, sure enough, the returning Dark Angels Primarch Lion El’Jonson sold through fast enough on the day of pre-order that it crashed the Games Workshop website. Fans were wary of scalpers when news emerged of another, even more massive release in July…

The cosplayer Fightin' Fistin Jonson appears at Warhammer Fest

WarhammerFest 2023 underwhelms

Like many others attending Games Workshop’s flagship event WarhammerFest 2023 in April, Wargamer was dead set on getting a Warhammer 40k 10th edition demo. We were grateful to attend with press badges, as the hundreds-strong queues for demo games lasted for hours on the first day.

Attendees who went to the convention to compete in a tournament had a great time, while press – and those who forked over the eyewatering fee for a Golden Throne ticket – got to enjoy a queue jump into the packed reveal presentations, which included the breath-taking contents of the Leviathan launch box set.

But for general ticket holders, the limited events – including great cosplay, a massive Warhammer Titan battle, demos of Warhammer 40k video games, a scavenger hunt, and a kitbash hobby challenge – barely filled one out of three days. Games Workshop will need to do better next year to meet the demands of a burgeoning fandom.

YouTube Thumbnail

Warhammer 40k 10th edition rules all

Warhammer 40k 10th edition released on July 24 with the jam-packed Leviathan launch box, a total overhaul to the Tyranids range, and massively streamlined rules. It’s been a massive hit, causing a spike in popularity for the game we haven’t seen since the jump from seventh to eighth edition.

The new edition deflated much of the rules bloat that made ninth edition so difficult for new starters and casual gamers, and the free launch-day army lists and surprisingly competent Warhammer 40k app made it an easy sell for gamers.

Warhammer 2023 retrospective - an Aeldari Wraithknight, one of the terrors of early 10th edition Warhammer 40k

Competitive gamers were less enamoured with the new ruleset. Imbalanced point-costs and misconceived weapon abilities made the Aeldari and Genestealer Cults absurdly dominant early in the game’s lifecycle. Some independent tournament organizers decided to rebalance the game themselves.

Games Workshop addressed a great majority of these concerns with a mixture of core rules changes and balance updates in September. While keeping competitive play balanced is a continuous struggle, the rules are close enough that the Warhammer 40k finals at the first ever World Championship of Warhammer initially went to a draw, and had to be refought.

Warhammer 2023 retrospective - screenshot from Warhammer 40k Boltgun, shooting bright blue pixel art Flamers of Tzeentch with a shotgun

A cracking year for licensed Warhammer videogames

Retro-shooter Warhammer 40k: Boltgun arrived like a bolt(shell) from the blue in May, the first of several excellent licensed Warhammer video games. Though the launch version had some problems with difficulty spikes, the gunplay, traversal, and audio-visual design are all superb.

With its commitment to retro aesthetics (powered by thoroughly modern code), Boltgun really feels like a Warhammer 40k game from the 90s that history somehow forgot. See our Boltgun review for deeper thoughts and a lot more praise.

YouTube Thumbnail

Another unexpected surprise was Patch 13 for Warhammer 40k Darktide. The co-op horde shooter comes from the studio behind the excellent Vermintide series, but its launch version was plagued by bugs, simplistic character progression, and no real endgame for high level players.

Patch 13 added an overhauled character levelling system, cross-play with XBox Series S|X, on top of a year of updates – the game is now everything it should have been on launch.

Warhammer 2023 retrospective - screenshot from Realms of Ruin, gold armored Stormcast Eternals rank up to face a colossal, birdlike Lord of Change

Over in Warhammer fantasy games, Realms of Ruin marks the first major attempt to bring Age of Sigmar to a wider gaming audience.

Wargamer is going against the grain by championing it as hard as we have – Realms of Ruin received mainly mediocre reviews and has sold abysmally, with traditional RTS game fans turned off by its simplified combat control style and the lack of base-building.

But we argue in our Realms of Ruin review that designers have successfully put the emphasis of play on the front lines, without the game devolving into a misery of micro-management. It absolutely doesn’t deserve the hate it’s got in the saltier parts of the internet.

Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader launched at the start of December and is, remarkably, the first ever full-fledged CRPG set in the Warhammer 40k universe. As our Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader review in progress explains, it’s got some rough edges, but it’s still a cracking RPG with excellent 40k storytelling, and a remarkable achievement for a smallish dev team.

There was one disappointment on the gaming front: in November, the Space Marine 2 release date was pushed back into the second half of 2024. Having pored over the preview build to start populating our Space Marine 2 walkthrough, we’re very, very sad we don’t get to play more – but we’ll wait if it means the game is better and (we hope) the developers aren’t required to crunch.

Compound image based on a Games Workshop cartoon artwork showing warhammer 40k characters in a cinema, overlaid with the amazon logo and the face of Henry Cavill, from an Enola Holmes 2 movie trailer screenshot

The Amazon Studios Warhammer 40k deal is finally, officially signed

We had to wait through a year rife with uncertainty and doomsaying fan theories claiming it would never happen – but at the eleventh hour (the morning of December 18, to be exact) Games Workshop finally announced it had signed a proper contract giving Amazon Studios the rights to make Warhammer 40k movies and TV series.

When it initially announced an agreement in principle last year, GW said Henry Cavill would star in at least one of the new shows – and it’s now reaffirmed that decision, with the Witcher and Man of Steel actor confirmed as executive producer for the whole new venture. The Henry Cavill Warhammer 40k love affair continues, it seems.

What’s more, GW says work won’t start on any new series or movies until after a 12-month period “to agree creative guidelines” – so we may have a long wait until anything reaches our screens; but, on the bright side, fans can have a bit more confidence that the Amazon productions won’t play fast and loose with our beloved 40k lore and setting.

And the final contract also includes an option for Amazon to expand into TV and Movies in the Warhammer fantasy settings, too – namely Age of Sigmar and Warhammer The Old World. Which reminds us…

Warhammer 2023 retrospective- Bretonnian Lord on Pegasus for Warhammer the Old World

The light at the end of the tunnel for retro Warhammer The Old World fans

It’s perfectly possible that you, dear reader, know the Warhammer: The Old World release date. The author first drafted this article late in November, before he disappeared on a massive vacation for his brother’s wedding, when Games Workshop has only narrowed it down to “early in 2024”.

Which is still great news! Fans of classic Warhammer fantasy have been waiting since 2015 for a successor to the beloved game of square bases, big battles, devastating spells, and horribly misfiring cannons. Games Workshop’s Warhammer: The Old World rules previews reveal the spirit of the game remains the same, but with changes in some very interesting places.

Magic has been simplified in a similar way to Warhammer: the Horus Heresy’s psychic powers, turning spells into abilities resolved in other phases. But the Combat Phase has actually become more complicated. As well as fleeing, beaten units may be forced to give ground or fall back in good order – all-out routs look much less likely than in previous editions.

Warhammer 2023 retrospective - six tiny Legions Imperialis tanks

But one group of retro Warhammer fans has already had their wishes granted. Fans of Epic, the tiny-scale counterpart to Warhammer 40k, haven’t had models or a game in a decade, but Legions Imperialis is a triumphant return to form.

It cribs much of what made the classic game Epic: Space Marine so much fun, but far more refined – and supported by breath-taking new minis. Check out our guide to painting and building Legions Imperialis miniatures if Santa is bringing you some but you’re intimidated by all the tiny parts.

All told, an amazing year, and 2024 promises to be just as breath-taking. As well as The Old World and the delayed Space Marine 2, we’ll bet folding money that a new edition of Warhammer Age of Sigmar will be announced for the Summer.

Finally, I’ll drop the house writing style to talk to you in the first person. 2023 was my first full year as a full-time journalist. It’s been a great pleasure to meet so many people from across the Warhammer hobby and share their stories. Here’s a few of the Warhammer stories that I’m most proud of writing this year:

  • This interview with Oleh Smorchkov, a Ukrainian drone hunter who plays games of Blood Bowl with his evacuated son via video call.
  • This interview with Samuel Badcock, a young man who created a Necron Dynasty with the Games Workshop design team thanks to Make-a-Wish.
  • This feature with advice from gamers with disabilities about how to play in Warhammer 40k tournaments as a wheelchair user.
  • This playtest of the Warhammer 40k RPG Imperium Maledictum, in which Mollie Russell and I utterly derailed the senior producer’s plans, and we spent the whole session auditing spreadsheets.