The Age of Sigmar has begun. These words are pivotal to the Gates of Azyr novella and the start of the Realmgate Wars series. However, in terms of laying out the Age of Sigmar setting, they don’t do an awful lot. As a standalone story, Gates of Azyr is a blood fueled story of the Stormcast Eternals bashing Chaos skulls, while at the same time trying to remind you that humanity has survived the long enough to be saved. And as that story, it is perfectly fine. Not fantastic, but certainly not terrible. The issues start to crop up when you consider this part of a wider story and even more so when it’s thought of as the start of a setting. I think Gates of Azyr is indicative of my main issue with Age of Sigma, and it’s that the world-building needs more context.
As a brief overview of the plot of Gates of Azyr (minus any significant spoilers, but honestly it’s a pretty basic story so there aren’t many), is that the Mortal Realms have fallen to Chaos. Our story is set in the Realm of Aqshy and sees human survivors being hunted by the followers of Khorne. Enter the Stormcast Eternals and their golden fury. The two factions then have some battles, the Stormcasts prove tougher than the Khorne worshipers expected and this leads into the wider Realmgate Wars series and the start of the Age of Sigmar. And while I hope that future instalments in this series do a better job of characterising the Stormcast and their allies, I will admit that Gates of Azyr has some engaging and intense actions scenes.
While I understand that this is a novella and as such doesn’t have the luxury of a full blow novel in terms of page count, Gates of Azyr almost goes out of its way to barely explain anything. The Stormcast are meant to by mysterious avenging heroes and that’s fine. The Khornate warriors are simply bloodthirsty madmen who live for battle, which is also fine. But realms, the actual Gates of Azyr, humanity living and surviving on a fiery world after X amount of time constantly being hunted and spending their lives on the run and numerous other unexplained elements meant that rather than a story, this feels like a recreation of an Age of Sigmar tabletop game with a bit of flavour text.
On the surface that might not sound like a problem. After all, these stories are designed to bring life to the tabletop, so surely one should inspire the other. The problem is that I never, even in the books and stories I disliked, felt like while reading anything from Warhammer 40,000. And when you move from one to the other, it becomes easily apparent that Age of Sigmar is a poorly defined setting. And while I’m not saying that everything needs to be fully explained and explored, I can only suspend my disbelief for so long. However, Warhammer 40,000 has been going for years and benefits from a wealth of lore backing it up. So perhaps this is just a teething issue as Age of Sigmar finds its place.
There’s a lot of potential here, back up by some fantastic Age of Sigmar models. Unfortunately, Gates of Azyr didn’t get my excited to find out what happens in the rest of the Realmgate Wars series (although I will cover them because I now own most of it). Instead, we have a predictable conclusion to this first story that only manages to set up a string of battles rather than a wider narrative. We do spend a little bit of time with the leaders on both sides but Vandus Hammerhand is essentially a gruff man who was once whisked away by Sigmar and is now back new and improved. And Korghos Khul is your usual Chaos Lord madman. Neither are characters I am in any rush to explore further.
Gates of Azyr forgets that the best Warhammer books are those with interesting characters. You can have huge battles and lots of blood, but if you don’t have something to invest in on at least one side of the conflict, then you are merely watching two faceless armies hit each other before one is declared the victor. But, heck, if you love action and only action in your books, then Gates of Azyr delivers exactly what you need. However, for something that’s meant to introduce us a series and the Age of Sigmar setting, it only serves as a battle report and little else.
Thanks for reading. If you want to read an Age of Sigmar story that I do recommend, check out Soul Wars. Alternatively, you can keep up with our Horus Heresy coverage with Fallen Angels. And if the Old World is more your think, then head over and read about Total War: Warhammer.