Warhammer 40k: A Primer

In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only war. From outside humanity faces the dangers of extraterrestrials, daemons, and psychic renegades. From within, they are threatened by psychic corruption, physical mutation, and zealotry. Only through the the rigid bureaucracy of the Imperium of Man, and the watchful eye of the Undying Emperor can any find salvation… but while the Emperor is mighty, he is immobile. While the Imperial Guard is numerous, they are but men. To defend against the greatest, darkest, most heinous threats that face humanity, there is a single force that can be called upon. They are the Adeptus Astartes, the Emperor’s Space Marines… and they are his Angels of Death.

Warhammer 40k: Space Marine is set in the far, far future where humanity has expanded beyond the borders of this planet and stretched out amongst the stars. It’s one part of a long line of games, books, and even movies that tell the story of this universe and the darkness that makes it up. In this article, I’m going to offer a bit of insight and history on the world Space Marine drops us all into, shedding light on its intricacies and giving you the sort of information you’ll need to appreciate the universe of Captain Titus and his Ultramarines.

Let’s start with Man. By the 41st millennium, Man’s ambition has brought him to nearly every planet in the Galaxy. Unfortunately, they have also lost most of their knowledge. Technology has passed from science into superstition, with an arcane brotherhood of machine-priests keeping the last few secrets that they have and crafting an entire religion around the manufacture, maintenance, and use of machines. Entire planets have been transformed into great cities that no one remembers the origin of, people are born, live, and die in massive factories that barely work and cannot be repaired. The state of the Imperium is one of quiet desperation and sad resignation. This system, though it seems barbaric and horrible, is necessary. You see, humanity is not alone in the cosmos, and all non-humans have been declared enemies, either through a manifest destiny zealotry on the part of the humans causing wars, or through true alien aggression. Though the enemies of humanity are legion, for our purposes today we will only be discussing two of them, the deadly hordes of the Orks, and the tainted legions of Chaos.

From the depths of space comes the horror known as the Green Tide. The Orks are not a centralized enemy that can be attacked, they are random, marauding raiders rocketing through space in giant, hulking ships that are constantly falling apart (or sometimes, just hollowed out meteors with engines strapped to them). They exist to fight, to burn and destroy. Orks do not create, they simply lash things together and call it finished… and this works. The only explanation that has ever been given for why Ork technology functions is because they believe it will. The most insidious part of the Ork horde is that they are not an animal, they are a fungus, so even if you slaughter every single Ork in a horde, or a Waaagh, as they call them, you will have feral Orks literally rising from the ground and attacking for generations. Orks are less of an enemy and more of a force of nature, but even the raw destructive power of a species born to destroy is nothing before the darkness that is Chaos.

In our world, chaos is an idea, the absence of order. In 40k, Chaos is a force. Ruled by four dark gods of destruction, death, and evil. Chaos is not native to the real, physical world, it springs from a parallel dimension known alternatively as the Empyrean, the Immaterium, or the Warp, and it is a necessary evil of the 41st millennium You see, faster than light travel is literally impossible. Instead, ships pass from the physical realm into the Warp, where distances are shorter, and travel that way. The problem is that the Warp is not uninhabited, and the evil things within took notice of our physical realm and covet it. Over the centuries, Chaos has been humanity’s greatest, most constant enemy, taking entire planets and corrupting them, and even stealing the Imperium’s own champions, the Space Marines, and twisting them into dark reflections of themselves, the Chaos Marines. The Daemons of Chaos have a unique problem in their machinations to claim the physical realm, and that is the fact that they cannot easily manifest or stay manifested here, being immaterial beings. Therefore, Chaos armies usually are not made up of legions of demons, but rather corrupted, mutated, twisted humans who have given in to the whispers of madness and now fight for the daemons. The Imperium calls these legions the Lost and Damned, and their name is most fitting, as nothing waits for them after death but the destruction and consumption of their immortal soul by more powerful daemons. Against threats like these, the humans are horribly outmatched, but there is a secret weapon of sorts in the Imperium’s arsenal, and that is the Space Marines.

Even though they are the defenders of humanity, Space Marines are anything but human… at least, not anymore. Humans are rigorously tested and weeded through until the best of the best are found. They are then ripped open, implanted with new organs, and crafted into elite, genetically modified, superhuman soldiers, held in a regard equivalent to demigods within human society. These Space Marines are then divided into chapters, each with its own unique rules, regulations, and construction. These Space Marines are autonomous armies, not necessarily forced to take orders from the Imperium, but most chapters do not hesitate to spring to the defense of humanity. Each Space Marine is, himself, a warrior with few equals outside of his brothers, well worth his position as a legendary hero, and together with other marines he is a force that cannot be equaled. In situations like an Ork invasion or an incursion by the forces of Chaos, sometimes it is the work of a single Marine that will turn the tide and win the day.

It is into this universe that Captain Titus’s adventures play out. The exploits of a Space Marine are always the stuff of legend, but it remains to be seen if Titus will be remembered as the hero of a masterpiece… or a farce.

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