In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Awesome, awesome war. By the 41st millennium mankind has already achieved the pinnacles of glorious technology and then forgotten every single bit which didn’t explode and kill people. It’s a universe which replaces the laws of physics with metal album covers and then rocks even harder.
The golden age of humanity comes when Earth finally unites under a wise and benevolent leader to exterminate every other species in the galaxy. And we still screw it up. We lose our leader, piss off every other living and unloving thing in existence, and then start killing each other like we’re trying to finish the job before the aliens can start slaughtering us. It’s a race we don’t win, and that was ten thousand years ago, and it’s been getting worse every single day ever since. In this universe the second law of thermodynamics is entirely enforced by hitting things, and we built our own Satan to kill the good guys.
The only reasons humanity still exists is that our enemies are often too busy killing each other and themselves. Humanity tears itself apart as the Imperium crushes rebels, both are consumed by demons, all three are attacked by mech-suited space-communists, all four are assaulted by rampaging Orcs, all five are culled by hyperevloved star-elves, who join us in being tortured past death by hyperevolved evil star-elves, everyone is being eaten by space locusts from beyond the galaxy, and even they’re only alive until the immortal regenerating star-killing robot armies buried in half the planets in the galaxy finish rebooting.
The result is a crucible of war where badassery beats tactics, and humanity has some of the coolest combat equipment in existence.
The power fist was invented when someone realized that people can’t punch tanks, and decided “screw that on a molecular level.”
The fist’s disruptive energy field can tear through anything, and in 40k “anything” always has at least one gun and is trying to kill you. There are also power swords, axes, claws, and hammers, but there isn’t anything cooler than high-fiving enemy armor to death. If only because they haven’t invented Power Dentures yet. (And when they do, the Space Wolves will be first in line.)
In Warhammer 40k it is never not punching-time. Especially not when you’re already driving a hundred meters of giant battle robot carrying enough firepower to level the entire culture your attackers came from.
In Warhammer, any reason for not attacking something with your bare hands is interpreted as an excuse and you’re executed for cowardice. This is badassery above and beyond the call of duty, tactics, or the basic laws of physics. Which is why they gave the Titan robot a fist, then they give that fist a mini-chainsaw, then gave that mini-chainsaw an energy field. They probably gave the energy field an electric guitar just to perfect the incarnation of badassery, but nothing has ever survived proximity with one long enough to find out.
Note that in Warhammer chainfists aren’t fists holding the chainsaw. That would just be chain-holding, which is only half as badass. The blade is welded to the back of the hand, leaving it free for the most apocalyptic of handshakes and proof that even forty thousand years in the future people will be making Wolverine look stupid.
Every 40k warship goes straight to hell, and that is entirely literal. In this universe faster-than-light travel is enabled by “The Warp,” an infinity of psychic horror-demons feeding upon the souls of the living. Everyone knows this, and everyone uses it anyway, because the only alternative would be staying at home and not engaging in endless bloody war against everything.
The least ship malfunction in the Warp can dump the crew in endless psychic agony, or allow pure murderbeasts to escape into our reality. Understand: this is a universe of people so tough that their first starship was the Event Horizon, and they said “That works. Make more.” Because everywhere was already so terrible that commuting through Dante’s Inferno seemed normal.
Drop pods are bombs full of badasses. Imperial starships have access to tectonic missiles, nuclear warheads, genocidal virus bombs, and cyclonic torpedoes which can destroy entire worlds, but they still know that Space Marines are still the deadliest thing you can fire at anyone. Because “Space Marine” is the same kind of kickass as the first ape picking up a rock: it seems so obvious, but forever changed the face of killing things.
There is no circumstance where dropping a fusion device instead of a drop pod wouldn’t solve the problem. But if you want simple, sensible solutions which don’t involve a hundred centuries of hacking things apart with chainswords you’re really in the wrong fiction.
Plasma weaponry fires chunks of superheated matter which can melt through anything. The result is a pistol which can punch through a tank, cannons which can cut through starships, and gunners with a life expectancy measured in seconds due to a trivial 1-in-6 chance of exploding and killing the user. It’s a star-firing revolver which can kill anything but you’ll never live long enough to reload. In Warhammer 40,000 that’s not a cursed legend, that’s standard equipment. Like a suicidal species of Eskimo, Imperial gothic has forty different words for “attrition,” and the main ones are “tactics,” “inevitability,” and “orders.”
The Warhammer armies are so kickass, when their tech-adepts told them “we have a gun which can kill anything but we can’t stop it from exploding,” the soldiers heard that as a double-bonus.
In the endless battle of the future, mortal injuries are excuses and will not be tolerated. Critically wounded Space Marines are installed into Dreadnoughts, armored sacrocophagi covered in guns and rocket launchers, armor-plated embodiments of the idea that dying is no excuse. There’s basically life support systems with binary boundaries: life-support the person inside, death-crush-murderkill everything that exists outside. Any resemblance to ED-209 is probably not coincidental.
Being completely cut off from their bodies and all sensation drives some Dreadnoughts insane. Which only makes them better at their jobs.
We focused on Imperial tech in this update, but the alien hordes have to come next. They always do. Do you have a favorite bit of kit? Jetbike fan? DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA? Let us know in the comments to see it in the next article!
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him onTumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
Luke visited Warhammer before (and survived!) in The 5 Most Awesome Giant Robots Not In Pacific Rim.