When it comes to the subject of New Year’s Resolutions, I consider the topic to be a fairly silly one. If there’s something in your life that you could improve upon, or a habit that should be broken, don’t wait for a new year to try to make that change – just do it! Making a resolution for the sake of one is also silly, sort of like giving up something for Lent, but people are going to do it anyway. I abstain from the practice, though if I were to make a resolution for 2023 it might have been to narrow my toy collecting a bit. For the most part, I tend to stay in my lane, but every so often I stray. I also widened that lane in 2022 due to the launch of collectibles based on the X-Men cartoon from 30 years ago. That caused me to broaden my Marvel collecting a bit more than it probably needed to go, but I can’t say I regret it. Mostly, it just felt like my collecting was expanding because other lines I was interested in started showing up or expanding. I’m talking about Gargoyles, Disney Ultimates, and soon I’ll be talking about The Simpsons. My Dragon Ball collecting continued to grow, and Bandai launched a line from its Robot Spirits brand focusing on my favorite Gundam series. Plus NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rolled along and then there was the Christmas splurge. Yeah, if anything, I might have dove into the ranks of Christmas toys more than I should have because now I’m struggling to make room for everything I have and that’s a problem that isn’t going away. Which is why now isn’t really the best time for me to once more go outside my comfort zone, but sometimes a toy so cool comes along that it becomes hard to ignore. And that is why, my friends, I’m going to tell you all about NECA’s latest from its line of action figures based on Dungeons & Dragons – Warduke!
Warduke is a character born in the 80s, or late 70s, and was featured in LJN’s line of D&D toys back then. I’m assuming he appeared in some actual campaign materials as well and I think he was featured in the animated series. That said, I have no familiarity with the character other than I’ve seen images of him before. I never got into the show and my brief dance with D&D in middle school didn’t cross-over with anything featuring Warduke. I was a DragonLance guy and I will say I see some influence in the designs of some of the dragon riders from those books likely borrowed from Warduke. Basically the blue-tinted scale mail and winged helm. Neither is probably all that original in the fantasy world, but considering both are D&D properties I wouldn’t be shocked to find out some of Warduke made it into DragonLance. As for Wardule himself, his design is pretty damn original and unique owing in large part to the half-armored/half-naked look he presents. Say what you will about the effectiveness of his attire in actual combat, you can’t deny it’s striking in figure form. There’s an outlandish element to it, but he pulls it off somehow. He should look silly, downright stupid, but it works. And since I do have that Hasbro Drizzt figure from a couple of years ago, I was able to convince myself to just grab this figure and enjoy it for what it is and hope I don’t end up falling down a D&D rabbit (esquilax?) hole. This guy also received a lot of hype and praise in the toy world with the chief championer of Warduke being Dan Larson of Secret Galaxy. A prominent toy collector from my native New Hampshire is basically the tipping point so let’s find out if the hype is warranted or not.
Warduke is part of NECA’s Ultimate line of figures and comes in the standard five-panel box. The front cover features some lovely artwork of the character by Daniel Horne that’s very evocative of old school Dungeons & Dragons game manual covers. The rest of the box is reserved for product shots and the front flap opens to reveal a look at the figure inside. I love the use of the classic D&D font and who doesn’t love a box advertising the fact that it’s figures are evil? Once removed from his prison, Warduke stands a mighty 7.5″ to the top of his head and 8.25″ to the tips of the wings on his legendary dread helm. The entirety of the figure, or near entirety, is painted and the portions that should be matte are, and the ones meant to shine a bit under light do. The blue of the helm and armor pieces are especially eye-catching as it has a nice, metallic, sheen to it. The face behind the helm is entirely black, his helmet is sort of tiered with blue outside and a black one inside, with the red eyes being the only spot of color there. The paint is quite clean and crisp throughout which continues to be NECA’s strong suit. I don’t know how they achieve such consistency at their prices, but whatever they’re doing other companies need to start copying.
The costume for Warduke is, in a word, intense. His torso is layered with straps and jewelry and his midsection features a garrish belt looking like a WWE take on a D&D champion. His torso and arms are well-muscled, though I feel like he could have used just a touch more bulk. The image on the box cover is a hulking being with a more exaggerated upper torso that I think would have looked better. This figure seems to be going for a slightly more realistic interpretation. It’s really only an issue for me when Warduke is just standing at attention as once posed with weapons in hand he looks more intimidating. His arms also can’t be placed at his sides which looks a little goofy, but again, you’re not going to pose him that way so it’s a moot issue. There’s a nice paint wash applied to his furred loincloth which adds a lot of depth to the piece and I love how the shoulder pad looks distressed as if he’s been through many a battle. This is the type of figure where there’s so much to take in upfront you’re bound to miss something. I keep spotting new things or finding something else to appreciate each time I pick him up which makes me want to fiddle with him, even if there’s a delicate component to all of the stuff on him that also makes me want to handle with care. I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice the satchel on the rear of his belt when I first picked him up or even the asymmetrical boots. And even though there’s a lot here, NECA was pretty smart with how it affixed everything to the figure. The straps on his torso are all separate pieces, but they’re glued down in places to keep them from lifting too far off of the figure. The necklace is either keyed in or glued as well so it lays relatively flat like a real necklace should. Often, plastic necklaces on figures don’t work out too well when they’re separate or removable because they lack the necessary weight to behave like a necklace should. The sculpt is just all-together incredible so I have to shout out the credited sculptor, Thomas Gwyn, for his work here. Jon Wardell and Geoffrey Trapp are the credited painters and they deserve a ton of praise for how this this figure turned out as well.
Let’s jump right into the accessories since they’re a big part of the aesthetics with this guy. Warduke comes with a pair of gripping hands in the box with the right gripping hand having the thumb off to the side. He has a second right, gripping, hand where the thumb is still towards the side of the hand, but it’s attached to the fingers to make it a bit tighter. I’m left to assume that one is intended to work better with the shield and the other one with the weapons. He also has a pointing, right, hand when he needs to point out the next person to die. For the gauntlet hand, he has a second, loose, gripping hand. Again, I think it’s for the shield since this hand is far too loose for any of the weapons. There’s no gesture, or style posed, left hand which is a bit of a bummer, but he does have lots of weapons – three to be exact. First we have his long sword which has a gold hilt with a red jewel embedded in it that matches the helm, necklace, and right boot. The pommel has a claw grabbing a sphere and it’s all in gold with the handle in brown. The blade has a nice silver finish and comes to a long point and it looks like the type of thing one would rather not see opposing them. If you need Warduke to look more menacing, it has a flame effect which slides down the blade all the way to the hilt. It’s a bit tight, but easy enough to get on. It’s cast in translucent yellow plastic with some orange added to the tips of the flames and it looks really awesome. I don’t think Warduke needs flaming weapons to cause a man to void his bowels, but you never can look too intimidating when you’re an evil gladiator.
If Warduke wants to dial things down a bit he does have a short sword. It has a gold and blue hilt and features the same red jewel in the hilt. The blade looks a bit more worn than the sword and I assume that’s intentional as it has a black wash applied to it. Lastly, we also have a dagger. It’s a curved and rather nasty looking item with a handle all done in blue to match his scale mail. It’s more of an ornate looking weapon and I assume this is what Warduke might use to intimidate someone or just to finish off a victim. The blade is a bit more pristine like it’s something the mighty warrior treasures and takes special care of. All three bladed weapons have a scabbard to slot into. The long sword is affixed to Warduke’s right shoulder strap. It’s brown with gold trim and has the red jewel on it as well. The fit is tight, so maybe be careful with that one. The short sword has a gold and blue scabbard which hangs from Warduke’s left hip via a gold chain. It’s a real chain so it flops around when handling the figure and is something to be mindful of. There’s a lot of sculpted details to the design of the gold on the scabbard and it’s just a really nice looking piece. The sword also slips in with relative ease. On the right hip is a brown scabbard for the dagger. It’s wider and comes to a point and features a red diamond strapped to it. It’s pretty damn tight, but I got the dagger to go in. Unfortunately, the once pristine blade came out streaked with brown and scratched a bit. I took a magic eraser to it to get some of that brown off, but that also takes off the paint wash and doesn’t do much for the scratches. I think I’ll try heating the scabbard before placing the dagger back in since I think Warduke is destined to be posed with sword and shield.
Warduke’s final accessory is his massive shield. It’s a circular shield with a horned skull on the front. The skull lacks a lower jaw so it definitely reminds me of the Danzig logo to a point. The skull is also raised on the shield, well off of it, so it has a ton of depth. It’s a gray, but brushed with black which really makes it look like a metal object. The rear of the shield is also sculpted and features an 8-pointed star that kind of resembles a sun. There’s a “metal” handle towards the front of the shield with a faux leather strap in the rear. I found it easiest to remove Warduke’s hand, affix it to the handle, and then slide it on from there. It’s a little tricky to get the hand flush with the forearm doing it this way, but it’s also going to be hidden behind the shield so one need only seat it far enough that it won’t fall. The shield can work with the left arm, but it’s a little harder getting the rear strap over the gauntlet. The loose, left, gripping hand is pretty easy to get on though, but it’s not as secure a grip as the right hand. The hands are a bit pliable so getting the weapons into them isn’t too great a chore. The alternate right hand is definitely trickier. I had to break the seal on the thumb and index finger to flex it enough to get a weapon into it, but it does get a better grip than the default one. Especially with the very thin handle of the short sword. There’s a lot of paint here though so definitely air on the side of caution when trying to jam weapons into those hands. If it’s not going easy, just heat the hands up with some warm water and you should have no problems. The shield can also slot over the rear scabbard if you wish so he can basically store everything he comes with save for the extra hands and flame effect when not in use.
Normally, people seem to want to save the best for last. This figure pretty much went all out on the sculpt, so it’s probably not a shocker to hear that the articulation isn’t the equal of the sculpt. Just look at this guy and try to figure out how to articulate him. He’s not some lithe ninja character so he doesn’t need a ton, but it’s definitely compromised and has at least one preventable flaw that shouldn’t be. At the head, it feels like we’ve got a double-ball peg. It can rotate and tilt up and down or to the side. The helmet sits right on the necklace though and since it’s all painted you definitely need to be careful. The shoulders are ball-hinged and they were the most tight of any of the joints out of the box. He can almost get his arms out to the side in a full horizontal pose. Rotating them is definitely squeaky, but doable. Both arms have obstacles to contend with. For the right arm, it’s the big scabbard behind it. For the left, it’s the massive shoulder pad. In both cases, I think you’re going to get enough range. There’s a biceps swivel which works fine on both arms. The elbows are single-hinged and they give you about 90 degrees of bend. They also pivot which is more useful for the shield arm than the sword arm, if you’re using the shield.
At the wrists is where we encounter our first problem. And really, the only major problem I have with this release. All of the hands can rotate and all hinge, but guess what direction that hinge moves in? It’s a horizontal hinge on all hands, so it goes in and out. What we should have, at least for the weapon hands, are vertical hinges that move up and down. That is the appropriate hinge for any character wielding a melee weapon or even a gun. Very few weapons benefit from this setup – maybe a staff? For the shield, it’s not really important, but for sword wielders it’s a perplexing oversight. NECA is very inconsistent in this department which I discussed in my review of the quarter scale Leonardo figure they did recently. We have some figures that get the right hinge, and plenty of others that do not. It’s like they have some people on staff aware of it, and some who just don’t understand. It’s really weird though that a character like Warduke would have such an oversight. The left gripping hand is also a little loose for my liking. The peg looks slightly slimmer than the alternate hand, but it causes the hand to just spin on its own due to the weight of his weapons. I could put the shield on that arm, but I’d much prefer the shield cover the bare arm than the cool metallic one.
In the torso, we have a diaphragm joint. It’s not going to do a whole lot because of all of the straps in place. You get a little side-to-side out of the diaphragm and some twist. There’s basically no forward and back. I can’t tell if the figure has a waist twist or not as it doesn’t seem to want to move. Twisting the figure just causes the diaphragm to move and it’s probably stressing those straps, which appear to be glued down to the belt, and I’d hate for them to break. The wrists are a curious oversight, while the torso is kind of just bad when it comes to articulation. Here though, there isn’t an obvious or easy fix so I take it as an example of NECA prioritizing the look of the figure over the articulation. I wish they had sacrificed a little something to get a better twist into this one, but that’s more of a subjective complaint on my part. I get why they did it this way. At the hips, we have ball and socket joints and they work pretty well. The loincloth is going to get in the way, but Warduke can kick forward almost to a full 90 degrees with his right leg, a little less with the left. The legs rotate at the joint and you get some decent range there and he actually can get pretty far out to the side with his splits. The knees are single-hinged and bend about 90 degrees. They pivot like the elbows and that works fine. There’s also a boot cut you may not notice given the swivel at the knee, but it’s there. The ankles hinge forward and back a decent amount and the ankle rocker is pretty good.
Warduke is a figure that poses well enough below the waist. You can get a good base for this figure, but the upper body is definitely limited. He can lift his weapons over his head well enough and position his shield, but the limitations in the torso make it tough to really do a swinging pose. He can’t gesture forward with the bladed weapons due to the hands lacking the proper hinge and he’s best posed in what I would call a “ready” position. Action shots are not this guy’s strong suit. Is it enough? Probably, because the sculpt and paint are so good. I do wish NECA had tried a little harder to get more out of the torso, or maybe tried something a bit more exotic like a butterfly joint to make up for it. It probably would have looked bad on the right shoulder, but the left could have hidden it under the shoulder pad. At least then he would have had one arm that could bring a weapon out in front in a slashing motion.
Criticisms of the articulation aside, this is a really lovely figure. I could tell before buying it that the articulation was going to be limited and I really didn’t care. The sculpt, paint, and overall design of the character are just too damn cool. He can move enough to look like the badass he is and that’s really all I need out of this guy. And you can’t beat the price. This guy is $35 with maybe some stores out there charging a bit more. He seems to only be available at specialty shops and via NECA’s Amazon store, but we might see him show up at Walmart or Target in the near future. There are enough buying options that it shouldn’t be too hard to get him at MSRP. And in this day and age, $35 is a good price for a collectible quality action figure, especially of this quality. Marvel Legends keep hovering around 30 bucks it seems and Hasbro recently solicited a $35 Spider-Man that’s just the same old Spidey buck and with limited accessories. Place that figure beside Warduke and it gets blown away. There is no way such a figure should cost the same as this one. Does that mean I think NECA should up its prices? No! Please don’t! NECA is presently the best value in toy collecting and their quality control right now is maybe the best ever for the company. There’s a lot that could go wrong with this figure given the intricacies of the design, but it all turned out pretty damn great. If you’re an old school D&D fan that remembers Warduke, you owe it to yourself to get this guy. And if you just like badass and well made action figures then you should probably just go ahead and grab him as well. This guy may have come out in January, but I think it will still be high on many a year-end list come next year.
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