The Future of the Tau - Our Battlesuits
Currently, with Tau Empire Battlesuits, we have a smorgasbord of choices for equipment. While several common variations of Battlesuits routinely show up in armies, all these choices have created numerous Battlesuits for unique and specific roles. However, I fear that these days of freedom of choice are numbered. Based on how Games Workshop has handled customization in some of the most recent codex releases, Battlesuit customization will either become significantly reduced or become really messy.
Trends with Other Codexes
My “other” army is the Tyranids. I say “other” in quotes because I only ever play them in demo games against new players. Back in January 2010, the Tyranid codex got refreshed for 5th edition 40K. In the previous codex, the Tyranids had a weapon customization system similar to what the Tau have now. Players could take a Tyranid warrior and then could add any two weapons to it. In addition, a number of biomorphs could then be added to improve or change the performance of the warrior. Each of the weapons and biomorphs would cost a set amount of points. Once a Tyranid warrior was finished, one would have to add about five different numbers to get the final point total of the model.
Under the new 5th edition codex, Tyranid Warrior customization is handled significantly different. Players start with one of two versions: A standard warrior or a shrike. The difference being a shrike has wings and the standard one does not. (As a side note, in the previous codex, wings was one of biomorphs that a player could choose). Each version also has a stock set of weapons such as scything talons and a devourer. Customization rules would then say, “replace the devourer for another pair scything talons for X points”, or “replace one set of scything talons for a pair of spine fists for Y points”. While it is a little more clunky to customize the warrior in this fashion then with the previous set of rules, most of the weapon combinations which existed in the previous codex can be duplicated in the 5th. Where the customization rules were really scaled back was in the field of biomorphs. Previously, biomorphs could alter any of the warrior stats for a small amount of points. With the 5th edition codex, most of the biomorphs have been removed.
The Future of Crisis Suit Customization
How do these changes affect the Tau Empire? In the next codex we will probably see a stock Crisis Battlesuit equipped with a Burst Cannon and Missile Pod. From there, customization rules would probably say “replace the Burst Cannon with a Plasma Rifle or Fusion Blaster for X points”. In the end however, most non-twin linked weapon combinations will still be accessible. I'm not sure what to expect for the twin link weapon combinations. Hopefully, Games Workshop does not get rid of them because I routinely use twin linked weapons on my Crisis Suits.
Where we can expect to see some serious reduction in choices will be in our selection of battlesuit support systems. Currently, Battlesuit systems can improve some of the stats of the Crisis Suits as well as give Crisis Suits access to a number of different Universal Special rules. What I think is likely to happen is that common Battlesuit systems will be merged into the base cost of the Crisis Suit. Some of the weaponized ones, like the Shield Generator, will be moved to the weapon category. Finally, only a handful of the universal special rule granting pieces will be kept and these will only be available to Battlesuit Commanders and Special characters. So what battlesuit systems will get integrated? The Targeting Array, Black-Sun Filter, Multi-Tracker, and Drone Controller are all likely candidates. It is also possible that the Target Lock will become standard on Broadside Battlesuits.
The Tau Empire will change with the release of their next codex. If Battlesuit customization changes as I am theorizing here, then the role of our Crisis Suits will definitely change. Since Crisis suits are the specialized pieces in our armies, any change to these pieces will change how the Tau Empire fights for the Greater Good.