So now that we’ve covered most of the real content of the Gathering Storm, let’s talk about one of the key motivations behind it: The release of the Newtm Primaristm space marinestm.
Primaris space marines aren’t the first time that Games Workshop has tried to get people to buy new models by selling them on space marines that are more space marine-y. The centurion is a space marine Xzibit joke (making it a precursor to Rise of the Primarch for “things that would have sounded like a joke from /tg/ if you told someone about them before they were actually released”), and primaris marines are a relatively tame “space marine but more” by that hilariously stupid standard.
The idea has been floated that the motivation behind primarines is the move to true scale. Primarines have better proportions and look more realistic and less cartoonish compared to regular space marines. The problem is, if Games Workshop just updated space marines to true scale, they would look clearly different from old school marines. Mixed forces would look bizarre with some marines noticeably shorter than others, so to get a good looking, lore-consistent army, marine players would have to replace their entire army all at once. Players might feel like GW was trying to force them to buy an entirely new army just to keep playing as the army they already owned (and this is partly GW’s fault for making so many blatant cash grabs in the past). By introducing truescale marines as a different type of marine, players can update their armies one squad at a time without feeling like they have a mismatched force.
Likewise, primarines represent a chance to move space marines towards a statline that’s more in keeping with the fluff. Now, the problem here is that 40k has stats that go from 1-10 but their RNG goes from 1-6, which means the upper few points of their statline simply cannot be used by regular line infantry. You cannot have a force that is totally impervious to any amount of lasfire and expect it to be balanced with Imperial Guard no matter what your point values are. There is some room to make space marines stronger without going completely crazy, though, which would help bring them in line with the fluff, and with correspondingly increased point values this also means that someone buying space marines can get into the hobby for less total money. Making space marines more elite and fewer in number is definitely good both for fluff and for business. The problem is, the current space marine statline is a sacred cow and grognards would not appreciate seeing it slain. Primarines help ease them into it.
If the primary motivation behind primarines is to gradually transition space marines to the new look and stats, then we’re going to see old style space marines rapidly become less common and space marine characters will quickly get upgraded to the new style. There will not be any major chapters who hold out against the upgrade, nor will there be any major chapters or characters who are unable to update themselves to the new statline and new look.
If this is actually what Games Workshop is up to, then I’m actually pretty okay with it. GW’s golden age was defined by blatantly ripping off popular media and shoving it into their setting. The 40k galaxy is really big and really dense with content, each new sector (and there are an arbitrarily large number of those to go around) brings with it new opportunities for new threats and new allies. One of the best things about the FFG RPGs was how they explored this, especially in Rogue Trader, and I’d be cautiously optimistic if GW started doing this again. I am concerned that they might fuck up the execution (like they do) but the general concept is a welcome breath of fresh air after three and a half editions of reprinting old armies without a single significant new addition to the fluff.
Some of the people who dislike the new marines are just grognards who hate all change, and some of them are just latching onto primarines as being part of the growing terribleness of the Gathering Storm because they got released right as our worst fears started to be confirmed. A lot of people who hate primarines may have liked them just fine if they had been released alongside a plot that filled us with enthusiasm instead of dread.
There is a valid complaint to be had about them, though. 40k cut its teeth on ripping off stuff that was popular in the late 80s and 90s. The Alien and Terminator movies, Judge Dredd comics, Dune was having a comeback as the Star Wars fandom got nerdier the more it became reliant on books and video games for new content as opposed to movies (fun fact, the Yuuzhan Vong and the original Tyranids have a lot in common with each other, straight up to causing a Shadow in the
Warp Force), the rising anime fad led to the Tau, and so on. For some people, the foundation of 40k as a setting is cannibalizing all other media with a remotely appropriate tone to expand itself. If it’s cool, it gets thrown in. For others, the foundation of 40k is that it cannibalized stuff from the late 80s and 90s and cannibalizing stuff from later on will only dilute that. Thus, whether primarines represent 40k potentially returning to its roots or further betraying its original tone is largely a matter of opinion (whereas I am unironically willing to defend the idea that the Gathering Storm is objectively a betrayal of the tone of 40k over the past few decades even if it’s still subjective whether or not that’s a bad thing).