Well, I haven’t reviewed every single Deathwatch book yet, so I suppose I’d better get a move on (wouldn’t want FFG to officially announce the second edition before I get through the first edition, eh?). The Outer Reach bills itself as “A Guide to the Darkness Beyond the Crusade,” and thematically the book centers around The Dark Pattern (which you’ll find a lot of references to in other Deathwatch books). The Outer Reach delivers on the three things it promises on the back of the book – information on the Dead Cabal (members of the Deathwatch who study the Dark Pattern), the Outer Reach (whence one finds many of the worlds comprising the Dark Pattern), and the Necrons (what with the Dark Pattern being about them and all – or does that count as a spoiler? Probably not if it’s mentioned on the back on the book … and there’s a Necron on the cover). And did I mention that there’s a lot about Necrons?
Graphic design and editing maintain their usual standards for Deathwatch. The art is OK, I guess, although I got a bit bored with greyscale pictures of techno-skeletons by the time I was done.
If you haven’t been checking up on your Deathwatch maps recently, the Outer Reach is the part of the Jericho Reach that is beyond even the most tenuous grasp of the Achilus Crusade). If you’re looking at the map, the Outer Reach basically starts with the rightmost planets that are labeled.
The Dead Cabal (~40 pages) – This chapter presents background on how the Dark Pattern came to be known to the Imperium, and on the eponymous subgroup within the Deathwatch that is dedicated to deciphering the Pattern. With Dead Vigil watch stations (several of which are detailed) scattered throughout the Outer Reach, the Dead Cabal monitors a variety of (mostly) dead worlds for whatever ephemera may be there to be detected. Also included are detailed write-ups of the higher-ups currently running the Dead Cabal, a Dead Stations Vigilant advanced speciality, Dead Stations Vigil solo and squad modes, several Oaths, and handful of relics. A GM will further find several adventure hooks for use as Dead Cabal missions.
Lost Worlds of the Jericho Reach (~50 pages) – A gazetteer of worlds that are not quite as dead as they seem – ten worlds, with 3-4 pages per world. And half of them don’t even have Necron crawling around! None of these worlds has any sort of human/Imperial habitation, so there are lots of xenos to exterminate and mysteries to unravel. We’ve got chaos civil wars over here, Tyranids battling Eldar on the maiden world over there, and we’ve got Necrons reactivating on the hive world-turned-toxic-disaster-area on the third planet. The chapter also has limited information on the Black Reef (there’s more info on it in The Achilus Assault) and less limited information on the Slinnar Drift. There are also about 10 pages on the Conclave of Tears, a disparate (but very small) group of Eldar who are seeking to manipulate events in the Jericho Reach, but for unclear purposes.
A Dynasty Returned (~40 pages) – This is Necron central, with a history of the Necron generally and some specific emphasis on the ancient Necron Phaeron (super high-level lord type) who is currently busy being insane after waking up on the wrong side of the crypt. He is the subject of the prophecy of the Dark Pattern, and something has gone very, very wrong. This chapter delivers write-ups of six high-level Necrons in the Jericho Reach (including the Phaeron), and a lot of information on ‘normal’ Necron adversaries (even standard Necron reassemble themselves and carry pretty nasty firearms). Enemies include Overlords, Lords, Crypteks (scientist/vizier types with a lot of customizability), C’Tan shards (trapped bits of the former gods that the Necrons killed), Necron warriors (line troops), Necron immortals (better than warriors), Deathmarks (phasing snipers), Lychguards (elite bodyguards for the lords and overlords), Canoptek Spyders and Wraiths and Scarabs (tomb guardians), destroyers and destroyer lords (Necrons who have gone insane with blood lust), Flayed Ones (Necrons who have gone insane with blood lust, but in a different way), Annihilation Barges (super-heavy weapons platforms), command barges, Doomsday Arks (different super-heavy weapons platform), and Ghost Arks (troop transport that provides extra regeneration).
So, I was not too hot on The Emperor’s Chosen, and a big part of that was that all of the fluff was about a bunch of random stuff that had no direct connection to the “metaplot” and current events in the Jericho Reach. The Outer Reach is the opposite – it’s all about this one big metaplot element. Yes, the Dark Pattern and the Outer Reach are somewhat detached from the central Achilus Crusade, but we already got that book, and the Dark Pattern definitely comes up repeatedly in other Deathwatch supplements.
Since it turns out that the Dark Pattern is all about the Necrons returning, it’s certainly possible that your opinions about the Necrons could affect your opinions about this book. But I must conclude form my own experience that this effect might not be all that great. I played quite a bit of the 40K miniatures game at one point in my life (probably still would, if the models came pre-painted and were just a smidge less expensive, but what’s a boy to do?). But that time was entirely pre-Necron, so I really knew nothing about them except that, from seeing boxes of their models in game shops, they seemed to be Space Undead (much in the same way that Eldar are Space Elves, Squats are Space Dwarfs, Orks are Space Orcs, and so forth). So reading The Outer Reach was my first real introduction to the Necron. Now, this is not really the place to go into the details, but suffice it to say that I found the Necron origin story to be all sorts of hilari-bad (has any science fiction origin story that involved killing the gods ever gone well?). And the built-in over-the-top-ness of the Necrons even infects the Deathwatch-specific story they have here, where there’s this messy back and forth going on where you’ve got the should-be-invincible army waking up (and apparently it’s going to blow up hundreds of planets as a distraction), but then of course there has to be some sort of crazy glitch with the super-powered bad guys (or else how could the good guys possibly stand a chance), and I’m pretty sure that if it was a movie I’d be yelling and throwing popcorn* at the screen by the end.
(* This is a joke, of course. I would never yell and throw popcorn at a movie screen. Although mostly because I don’t eat popcorn.)
But the funny thing is that The Outer Reach still managed to not put me off and, indeed, kept me interested and entertained, despite all that. I couldn’t recommend actually playing a game based on the Dark Pattern as ultimately revealed or the Necrons, but the book is at least a good read (and, as always, I will note that most of us will read and own many more RPG books than we could ever possibly make real use of, so the value of an RPG text as reading material is not trivial). And, hey, maybe stopping million-year-old, regenerating, hyper-powered Egyptian techno-skeletons sounds fun to you! If you don’t, many of the lost worlds and Dead Cabal adventure hooks could make good inspiration for missions for any Deathwatch campaign (even if there is some Necron presence, it is usually way behind the scenes, and could just be dropped out).