For the Emperor

'Warhammer 40k's’ space operas are the gold standard of unnecessary lore

Why do I need to watch that 'Halo' series when I have 'Warhammer 40K' CGI shorts?

A long-awaited, new adaptation of decades-spanning, lore-heavy space opera premiered online yesterday to the delight of hardcore fans and newcomers alike. It’s got everything you could possibly want in a moody sci-fi saga: epic battles, convoluted storylines, genetically engineered space marines, big laser weapons that go pew-pew-pew...

What? No, I’m not talking about that ludicrous, hours-long Halo live-action TV series; I’m talking about the latest bite-sized CGI trailer promoting a new Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game.

A primer on Primarchs — “What in God Emperor’s name did I just watch?” you may be asking yourself. Allow me to enlighten you: This is a commercial for Warhammer 40,000, well, more specifically, Warhammer: The Horus Heresy, which is technically more like a Warhammer 30,000 if you want to get into the timeline details.

Which you probably don’t. Okay, look, for the past 35 years there’s been this tabletop sci-fi military game that has since spawned a loyal fanbase, a massive library of standalone novels and lengthy book series, countless video games, memes, and most recently, a number of official animated adaptations. Set in the far future (40,000 years, if you haven’t already guessed), 40K concerns a decrepit, fascistic galactic-spanning Imperium of Man waging a holy war in the name of a half-dead God Emperor against all kinds of alien races and Lovecraftian beings. The Horus Heresy is a subset of lore within this world centered on the Emperor’s favorite son’s Paradise Lost-like fall from grace and subsequent galactic civil war.

It’s all very absurd and overwhelming and genuinely compelling and you’ll love it.

Back to the show — Okay, so about that short, CGI cinematic released yesterday. A proper Warhammer 40K film or TV adaptation would require a budget worthy of its over-the-top source material, something that is sadly unlikely unless Henry Cavill gets his way. Until then, Games Workshop (the company behind 40K) has commissioned a bunch of these quick Warhammer hits in recent years. Here’s another from just a couple weeks ago that’s badass, too.

It’s not even an ad for anything specific! Just some fan content to spark imaginations and get people excited for whatever area of Warhammer 40K fans choose to pursue, be it tabletop games, video games, or books.

No comment — You’ll probably not be surprised in the slightest that the totalitarian world in Warhammer 40K is not without some controversies. The Games Workshop space opera has always and clearly meant to be a parody of blind loyalism and chauvinistic sentiments, particularly in Western history. That said, dumbass fascist sympathizers are dumbass fascist sympathizers, and there is a niche sub-sect of Warhammer fans who aren’t in on the joke. Last year, Games Workshop even went so far as to publish an official statement reminding everyone that the Imperium of Man are Bad Guys after one player showed up to a 40K tabletop tournament sporting Nazi regalia.

Then there’s the gender disparity in its lore. For a very long time, Warhammer 40K has centered near exclusively on very male characters. That trend has started to shift slightly in recent years, but it’s still a very guy-heavy affair. Oh, and Games Workshop has gotten notoriously litigious regarding fan-made content, too. It’s part of the reason the official videos on YouTube have their comments turned off, too, but we’re already pretty far into the weeds as it is.

Anywho. Warhammer 40K lore is very much worth diving into, and these short films are a great introductory into the feel and look of the sci-fi universe. There are a bunch of great YouTube introductions and deeper looks, too, but for now, let us all pause to praise the simple, ridiculous pleasures of these CGI trailers. I’ll take a five-minute video centered on the Mechanicum over an entire season of Halo any day. All praise to the Omnissiah.