Khorne Berzerkers are, at last, what they are always supposed to have been- murderous killing machines capable of chewing through insane numbers of enemies in a short time. And I think this is something we can all be glad for, because the Berzerker is one of the most iconic units of 40K, and certainly of Chaos Marines– even many of those who don’t play the game recognize their chant of “MAIM, BURN, KILL!”
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Khorne Berzerkers are the basic melee combat troop in a Chaos Space Marine army. (I say, “troop,” but really they are an Elite unit for any legion other than the World Eaters. Still, often enough it will be true.) Designed to mash and smash in close combat, they come with an excellent array of melee weapons and other gear that makes them excellent specialists for eliminating enemy infantry in short order.
With a fairly standard Marine statline, Berzerkers only deviate form the norm for their codex in a couple places; they come out with an extra Attack over a normal Chaos Marine, which is to be expected, but also have an extra pip in Strength- a much more important improvement that has them wounding most enemies on 3s and even the toughest of targets on no worse than 5s. At 16pts a pop, they are slightly on the expensive side for T4/3+ models, but not exceptionally so, even when fully-kitted. Squads can be anywhere from five to twenty models strong, and a free Champion upgrade (+1A, +1Ld) is included in every unit.
Wargear, Options, and Abilities
Each model in the unit comes with Frag and Krak Grenades as well as a Bolt Pistol and Chainsword (which grants a bonus attack, for a total of three swings.) Either of the basic weapons can be swapped out for a Chainaxe (+1Str, -1AP); I don’t think there’s much argument for anything other than taking the Chainaxe in place of the Bolt Pistol, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment. Two members of the squad can take Plasma Pistols in place of Bolt Pistols, which isn’t a terrible option but as I never really take Bolt Pistols I don’t feel it’s a strong choice. The Champion can, as usual, take anything off their dedicated list- which, it should be noted, includes Combi-Weapons if you feel like you want to go down that route. Finally, one member of the squad can take an Icon of Wrath, which allows them to reroll charges- highly recommended in most cases.
Apart from Death to the False Emperor (which is common to all CSM units), Berzerkers have only one ability… but it’s a doozy. Blood for the Blood God allows a unit of Berzerkers to be chosen to fight twice during each turn, rather than only once- that’s six attacks per model, and four of them at -1AP. Anything short of T7/3+, Berzerkers will generally chew to pieces in a single turn.
Well, I mean, it’s obvious, right? You assault things with them.
Seriously, though, Berzerkers now set the bar for what a melee unit should be able to do nowadays; they are one of the premiere “blender” units for tearing apart infantry of all sorts, though they will struggle a little bit with Terminators or other models with 2+ saves. Against light infantry such as Conscripts, however, they will absolutely destroy them and even tougher units like enemy Marines are in serious trouble. Chainaxes bring the unit up to even destroying lighter vehicles and monsters pretty easily, as the S6 attacks from the Chainaxes will do some serious work on them.
Of course, the traditional issue with Berzerkers has been one of delivery, but thankfully that problem isn’t so crippling anymore. Alpha Legion and Renegades can both field Berzerkers and have good ways of getting them closer to the enemy more quickly; Rhinos are much more viable as a way of transporting assault troops and are tough enough that they won’t simply crumble the instant the enemy looks at them anymore. Even running units on foot isn’t completely nonviable anymore, though in competitive play it probably is a bit of a non-starter as an overall plan.
Despite their rather simple functionality, Berzerkers can serve a number of roles in an army. As part of a melee-heavy force, they can serve as a strong primary thrust- with their massive close combat abilities and potential to cover a shocking amount of ground on the charge (theoretically as much as 24″ from assaulting alone!), the enemy cannot afford to ignore them for long and yet they are cheap enough to field in significant numbers. They can also serve as a lone infiltration element used to delay and distract the enemy when taken in an Alpha Legion detachment- sneaking in 1-3 units of Berzerkers is a nasty surprise for any opponent, since they can quickly become a problem entirely out of proportion with their cost. Finally, they can be an excellent countercharge unit in a shooting army, giving you a last-ditch tool to eliminate anything that gets too close to your lines- even just five Berzerkers is often enough to finish off the remnants of something that is weakened by the rest of your army, all the more so in concert with a multicharge from an HQ or some other nearby forces.
Although Berzerkers certainly benefit from many of the buff auras available to Chaos Marines (such as the Chaos Lord, Dark Apostle, or Exalted Champion), they aren’t reliant on them to be functional and are quite capable of doing most jobs on their own. As such, I usually find it best to let them roam free on the battlefield rather than trying to leash them to a character- in a one-on-one battle with most enemies, the Berzerkers are usually going to come out on top, even if they take some attrition in the process.
One important thing to remember with Berzerkers is that not only will they get to make both sets of their swings before the enemy on the turn they charge, they also get to make their Pile In and Consolidate movements even if they aren’t within 1″ of any enemies on the turn they launch an assault. It is virtually impossible to space out units sufficiently to avoid becoming engaged by Berzerkers if they wipe something out with their initial set of swings, so small chaff units simply won’t slow them down at all. Of course, you are still limited to only being able to make attacks on units that you declared a charge on that turn, so it often benefits you to launch a multiassault anyways, but against some armies just locking up a bunch of their units in combat is perfectly fine if it will stop them from shooting next turn.
Of course, Berzerkers aren’t without their weaknesses. They’re pretty helpless anytime they aren’t locked in combat, and the existence of overwatch means that you are likely to suffer a fair few casualties even under ideal circumstances, unless you can consistently charge from out of line of sight (which is a bit optimistic.) They also rely heavily on getting two sets of swings in to do their full damage, which means that against another competent melee unit being interrupted (by the Counter-Attack stratagem or an ability that gives “always strikes first”) can put a significant damper of their fun. Abilities that give improved overwatch (Tau Supporting Fire, Mordian regiment trait, etc) can also slow them down a lot. And, of course, defensively they are just regular Marines, so it’s not that hard to just vaporize them with normal guns- and in fact, easier now, since they no longer are particularly resistant to morale.
Khorne Berzerkers are a strong unit these days, since they are excellent for clearing out the massed infantry formations that are pretty common. Though you can’t expect them to do everything for you, Chaos-aligned armies can benefit a lot from bringing a contingent of them, whether large or small. Though they are at their best in an Alpha Legion or World Eaters army, almost any of the Legions- or even a generic Chaos army- can make excellent use of their abilities to maim, burn, and even kill.
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