Every time I walk into a GW store, I question how this British company is able to graft the Middle Ages into a space setting successfully. I have a Master's in history, so I'm well familiar with the Middle Ages, which lasted from the fall of Rome to the fall of Constantinople, about a 1,000 years. It was a brutish, ugly, period, dominated by a choking theocracy that stifled everything.
Don't get me wrong. on their Warhammer fantasy side, the cue from the Middle Ages is fitting, but for a setting in Space?? I know, it's just a game. However, like a sci-fi movie, I need to be able to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a game setting, but I can't in this case. Apart from my personal dislike of Gothic architecture, there are other considerations.
You would think that a British company adopting the Middle Ages to a space setting would look to England's past, but instead, they adopted stuff from the Continent. Elements of the the High Middle Ages in France and the Holy Roman Empire, with its gothic structures and such figure prominently in 40K. Every building for sale for 40K seems to have stained glass windows. Seriously?
I could go on here..
- They adopted the idea of warrior monks like the Templars into troops for the Empire with some sort of religious component. In case it's not obvious enough, the Space Marines are organized by chapters, just like a church. And just like the Middle Ages, everyone is in bright uniforms with literally flags on their backs. I suppose they are appealing to people who love heraldry and such, and the distinct costume colours of each regiment, but I just find this ridiculous for a space setting. Just like the last 3 Star Wars films, people are lined up in ranks and charging each other like it was Hastings or something.
- I'm not sure, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems each planet has some sort of Feudal loyalty to the Empire.. This idea was cute for Frank Herbert's Dune, but feudalism in space is old hat, even if it looks like the Holy Roman Empire in Space.
- They adopted the Middle Ages's belief in demons and evil in general. Indeed, some of the non-Empire troops look like something out of Dante's Inferno. I'm told also that "demons" possess the Chaos troops as well. Demons from some dimensional hell with horns on their heads? Give. Me. A. Break
- There is a subtle rejection in the belief in progress and scientific enlightenment in 40K, replaced by some sort of almost Catholic-like faith called, in Latin of course, the Adeptus Ministorum. We're told that people in the future "worship" the Emperor for thousands and thousands of years, that constant war is the norm and welcomed, that only the warrior-monks are able to hold civilization together. That people are okay with technological, cultural and political stagnation for thousands and thousands of years. This does not jar with the way Humans and society behaves. Even in the Middle Ages, there was constant change.
By the way, the use of Latin may impress pimply-faced teenage boys with a veneer of respectability, but this old historian just cringes at it's misuse. Abusus non tollit usum.
I look to 40K which took all the ugly elements of the Dark Ages (as the Middle Ages used to be called) and made them even uglier. Do I really want to game in that setting?? It's the Middle Ages minus the lice and squalor, but that's about it. The gaming-future is not what it used to be.