–Review and photos by Scott Rubin
Role-playing games are incredible gateways into storytelling, imagination, and fun for millions of people around the world. Of course, cool miniatures only help set the stage, whether it’s awesome heroes standing in for the Player Characters, hulking monsters to populate a dungeon, or scary creatures for your big bads. (You don’t need miniatures, and many people play without them, but I find them incredibly fun.) Going back to the olden days, fantasy minis started as metal models, later seeing releases in resin and plastic. Traditionally they’ve also been released unbuilt and unpainted, giving you a chance to flex your hobby muscles and come up with your own color scheme and details. More recently, companies have offered pre-built, prepainted miniatures that make it super easy to grab and go. WizKids Games, also famous for its HeroClix game, is the undisputed king of prepainted fantasy minis, producing figures and accessories for both Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. It’s that latter game system and world we’ll be visiting today as we take a look at some of the miniatures from the upcoming Pathfinder Battles Darklands Rising expansion set, as well as the incredible Mengkare, Great Wyrm Premium Set!
If you’re somehow not familiar with it, Pathfinder is a highly successful, super popular fantasy role-playing game system created by Paizo Publishing back in 2009. Played around the world, Pathfinder began as a revision to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition and grew to include dozens of supplementary books, card games, fiction, video games, comic books, collectibles, and more. Notably, last year Pathfinder grew even further with the release of its 2nd Edition. In 2011 WizKids began the Pathfinder Battles miniatures line, giving players and collectors awesome little 3D representations of the monsters, heroes, and villains from that fantasy world. The series has included over a dozen major sets with randomized figures in booster boxes, not to mention tons of exclusives, larger figures, starter sets, iconic heroes, and more. The big sets feature 40 or more minis, and Darklands Rising ratchets that up to a massive 50 in the standard set!
What are the Darklands? In the Pathfinder world of Golarion, the Darklands are the worlds that lie beneath your feet. Accessible via caverns and certain pathways, the Darklands encompass multiple realms including Nar-Voth, Sekamina, and Orv, and they’re populated with all manner of monsters, evil humanoids, and esoteric dangers unknown to surface dwellers. Deep gnomes, drow, undead, urdefhan, and worse haunt these dark places, and now with the Darklands Rising set you can unleash them upon players like never before. And of course, with the expert attention to detail in both sculpt and paint application these Pathfinder Battles are great as display pieces and collectibles too!
Left to Right: D’ziriak, Leng Spider and Giant Stag Beetle
Darklands Rising comes in the aforementioned booster boxes, each containing four figures. Each one will have either:
- 2 Medium or Small figures AND 2 Large figures, or
- 3 Medium or Small figures and 1 Huge figure
Add this to the huge range of figures in different rarity levels, and you’ll have quite an adventure opening boosters. For this preview we were sent a specific selection of figures, so I can’t offer a look into booster pulls specifically. Your results will vary, but based on what I’ve seen I’ll saw with confidence that you’re guaranteed to find some cool-looking and useful minis in every box. And it is pretty cool to note that while the majority of the characters and monsters here are fantasy-based or Pathfinder-specific, a couple of the most impressive models, the Leng Spider and Shoggoth, come from one of my favorite fictional themes, cosmic horror!
Arboreal Regent and D’ziriak
Here’s a list of the models you’ll see in this review:
- 2 Deep Gnome Warrior
- 9 Hollowborn Rogue
- 20 Blood Mist
- 21 Drow Priestess
- 28 Wood Giant
- 29 Emperor Cobra
- 30 Giant Stag Beetle
- 32 Leucrotta
- 33 Adamantine Golem
- 34 Arboreal Regent
- 35 Leng Spider
- 36B Mammoth Rider
- 37 Allevrah Azrinae
- 38 Animated Dream
- 39 D’ziriak
- 40 Siora Qinndove, Pathfinder
- 41 Tengu Jinx Eater
- 42 Urdefhan Tormentor
- 43 Witchwyrd
- 44 Zon-Kuthon, Midnight Lord
- 45 Fleshwarp, Irnakurse
- 46 Norn
- 47 Cavern Troll
- 48 Quoppopak
- 49 Jabberwock
- 50 Shoggoth
Again, that’s not the complete set, but a selection of it. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the remaining figures are! So, what have we found here in Darklands Rising? Let’s dive in a little deeper. First off, we’ve got one Small and 11 Medium sized figures. They range from disturbing monsters like the Blood Mist (based on artwork for the Vampiric Mist creature) and Animated Dream to minion types like the D’ziriak, Drow Priestess, and Urdefhan Tormentor, and specific characters that can be used to represent major players in your campaigns like Allevrah Azrinae, Siora Qinndove, Pathfinder, and the god of pain Zon-Kuthon, Midnight Lord. The same goes for the other figures like the Deep Gnome Warrior, Hollowborn Rogue, and Tengu Jinx Eater; these could be stand ins for PCs or creatures encountered on adventures.
Our 7 Large figures leave behind anything resembling a Player Character’s avatar, instead delving further into creatures both natural and beyond. In your Darklands adventures you may come across animals like a Leucrotta, Giant Stag Beetle, Emperor Cobra, or exotic Quoppopak. I’d be more concerned, though, with the cunning and powerful Cavern Troll, Wood Giant, or fey Norn.
Irnakurse and Shoggoth
And then there are the 7 Huge figures! Each one is a masterpiece on its own, and the fact that they’re all part of the same set is very impressive. These range from the not quite as threatening Arboreal Regent and Mammoth Rider to the fearsome Adamantine Golem and Jabberwock, and the frankly terrifying Fleshwarp, Irnakurse, Leng Spider, and Shoggoth!
Overall, I’m really impressed by the sculpts in Darklands Rising. I’ll admit I haven’t been collecting many fantasy miniatures lately, and most of my collection consists of D&D minis that are at least a decade old. Take a look at the comparison photos; in most cases the new WizKids minis shine with respect to crispness of detail and personality. And as a side note, I love the clear bases! Especially when you get these on your cool maps and tiles, you’re going to appreciate that small detail. Anyway, back to the minis. The Darklands Rising models have great sculpts capturing a huge range of body types, armors, textures, and more. Just look at something like the smooth shell of the Giant Stag Beetle in comparison to the super fine scales covering the Emperor Cobra or the great fur on the Mammoth Rider!
The same goes for the smaller figures (it’s not just great detail on the larger ones) with examples like the bubbling froth of the Blood Mist and the Animated Dream’s base contrasting with the spiky metal armor of Allevrah. Poses are really well thought out and reflect the characters or monsters, which you can see examples of in things like the defensive postures of the Deep Gnome Warrior and Hollowborn Rogue, Siora Qinndove’s curiosity, the unbridled aggression of the Urdefhan and Witchwyrd.
Emperor Cobra and Jabberwock
Characters like Allevrah and Zon-Kuthon have even more complicated poses that show off their iconic weapons and equipment, too. Animals get the same treatment with the Emperor Cobra rearing up, the Leucrotta snarling as it’s perched on a rock, the horrific Leng Spider hanging from a strand in a web cocoon, and the mighty Jabberwock unfurling its wings while its draconic head snakes low to the ground.
Left to Right: Giant Stag Beetle, LeuCrotta, Quoppopak, and Emperor Cobra
As great as the sculpts are, I think I’m more impressed by the paint applications in Darklands Rising. There’s such a nice variety of colors, accents, and details at play, and everywhere you look something new to appreciate. This is probably the biggest difference between these modern WizKids figures and the older D&D ones; the paint is just so crisp, especially in fine details like faces, eyes, spots, trim, etc. Even on miniatures that don’t have a ton of colors, the contrast and blending works so well; you can see examples of this on the Quoppopak and Emperor Cobra. Meanwhile, some of the minis just explode with colors! Check out the shimmering carapace of the Giant Stag Beetle, the D’ziriak’s chitin colors and tribal tattoos, and the Witchwyrd’s vivid blue skin contrasting with the orange and yellow clothing, along with the color pops of the Leucrotta’s white fur, the bonsai-like growths atop the Arboreal Regent, and the shimmering blue crystals on the Cavern Troll.
Faces on the humanoids, especially the characters, shows truly great work, especially on the expected Allevrah and Zon-Kuthon, but also the Hollowborn Rogue and surprisingly the humble Deep Gnome Warrior!
Left to Right: Allevrah Azrinae and Zon-Kuthon
Lastly, I’d like to point out the cool use of translucent plastic, and not just on floating/flying bases. It appears on the Jinx Eater’s energy absorption, the bodies of figures like Blood Mist and the Urdefhan, the Animated Dream’s smoky base, Witchwyrd’s energy, the Adamantine Golem’s smoke and “windows” peeking into its fiery depths, and the Leng Spider’s webbing.
Deep Gnome Warrior
I want to point out just a few of my absolute favorite figures and what made them stand out for me. I gotta start with the humble Deep Gnome Warrior; this is a race that doesn’t get a ton of miniatures, but this one looks so fun and has nice colors and a fantastically detailed face. The Hollowborn Rogue has a lot of personality but is “generic” enough to stand in for a variety of races/classes, while the Tengu Jinx Eater is just incredibly beautiful with those striped pants, the “eating” effect from the skull, and even the tiny parrot on its shoulder! I’ve mentioned them before but both Allevrah Azrinae and Zon-Kuthon are just magnificent characters and absolutely plan on using them for future drow arch-villains and cult leaders respectively. I’m a big fan of Norse mythology so of course I’m enamored with the Norn, and the floating manipulator of fate looks so cool with her horns, Viking-inspired clothing and hair elements, and of course her thread-cutting tools. The Cavern Troll is rad, super detailed and yet generic-looking enough to stand in for various opponents and resplendent with that shiny blue literally erupting from his drab rocky skin.
Getting into the bigger creatures, the Irnakurse Fleshwarp is absolutely revolting… and that’s a good thing! The mutated elf is truly vile, with slick pink and white flesh looking like someone turned inside out, and studded liberally with limbs, bones, teeth, and facial features. Check out the absolute unit that is the Adamantine Golem, a smoke belching construct with cool orange light piping and shoulder pads that would put any Space Marine or Stormcast Eternal to shame. What at first I took to be a green dragon was even better, the Lewis Carroll-inspired Jabberwock with its iconic and distinctive head shape attached to a sinuous and broad-winged body. And I’ve mentioned them before but the Leng Spider and Shoggoth are equal parts mind-blowing, gross, and cool, and they’re going directly into my collection on display.
While the Darklands Rising booster set of figures is rad, there’s something else coming alongside it that’s really stunning: the Mengkare, Great Wyrm Premium Set. Sold separately and in limited numbers, this is a single figure but what a figure it is! Mengkare is a gargantuan ancient gold dragon, and in plastic looks just as impressive as he sounds in the texts of Age of Ashes and Hellknight Hill. Not just a very powerful dragon, the wyrm also rules the kingdom of Hermea as an experiment to see what a nation can do when guided by absolute good (with the ends ominously justifying the means…). On the tabletop, this premium figure stands over 10 inches tall with a wingspan to match! Fantasy dragons have evolved over the last couple decades, with some specific body types being “standardized,” but I love that Pathfinder has gone its own way with Mengkare and the gold dragons, giving them unique fringed wings, four-fingered feet, and spike-fringed heads with horns that multiply as the wyrm ages.
Mengkare is glorious, perched atop a rocky promontory as he surveys everything he believes is his. He’s even so powerful and weighty that you can see the cool detail of his claws digging into the rock in order to hold him in place. While the dragon crouches his wings are held straight up, letting those distinctive fringes flutter and curve in the wind, while his epic tail coils and curves around his rocky base. The detail on this premium figure is nuts, with beautiful textures contrasting with layered planes of armor. Just look at the photos to see those scales! The pose is perfection, and his regal bearing shines through with his neck upraised and his head tilted down. Obviously Mengkare is overwhelmingly a bright metallic gold, with a pale underbelly, red eyes, and a dark, mottled brown appearing on his claws, horns, and wing tips.
Without any recent large-scale dragons, I just had to compare Mengkare with my old D&D colossals, and he does so quite favorably! He towers over the Black, Blue, and White dragons, and even though the Red is much beefier Mengkare’s wings are nearly as tall as the chromatic wyrm. Alongside just about anything else the gold dragon will be the king of the table, whether your players are journeying to meet him on Hermea or he’s standing in for another dragon. As you can see, Mengkare is also a fantastic display piece or centerpiece for your collection!
Whether you’re looking for specific denizens of the Darklands to populate a new adventure or entire campaign, need some new and updated minis for your collection, or just want some great looking models, this set is highly recommended. It has a really interesting lineup, with other miniatures (not shown here) like a Leprechaun, Giant Amoeba, more drow, Tengu, Deep Gnomes, Fleshwarps, variants like a riderless Mammoth, and more. Darklands Rising will be in stores February 3rd, with an MSRP of $19.99 for a standard booster or $159.92 for a brick of eight boosters (32 figures). The Mengkare, Great Wyrm Premium Set has an MSRP of $89.99 and is limited, so make sure to check in with your local game store to see if they can get one for you.
Review and photos by Scott Rubin.
Review samples courtesy of WizKids Games.
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