I've liked dreadnoughts since they first showed up in Rogue Trader. Those early marine, ork, eldar, and chaos dreads were remarkably inspirational and I have ended up with quite a few of them over the years. Their effectiveness waxes and wanes over the editions and with different codexes, but they always manage to at least look cool.
Today I want to discuss helbrutes, the current designation for chaos marine dreadnoughts. First up: they still look cool!
OK the original single-pose model from the 6th Edition boxed set can get a little old when you see it over and over but the full kit that was released later has a lot of flexibility.
Let's look at a helbrute compared to an all-LC predator, for example:
- 140 points with the twin lascannon turret, + 50 more for the two side lascannons = 180
- it's Toughness 7, has 11 wounds, and a 3+ armor save
- In melee it has 3 attacks (to start) at Strength 6, no AP, Damage 1, hitting on 6's
- Move is 12
- 122 points with a twin lascannon arm, +40 for the fist = 162
- It's Toughness 7, 8 wounds, and has a 3+ armor save
- In melee it has 4 attacks at Strength 12, AP -3, Damage 3, hitting on 3's
- Move is 8
So for 18 points less you lose speed , 3 wounds, and two lascannons - that's not inconsiderable. However you gain no degradation, chapter tactics, and a very effective melee capability. You could put a heavy flamer on the fist which makes the points almost equivalent and adds a fairly decent short-ranged attack but is totally not the same as two lascannons.
In a vacuum, say a one on one gunfight starting at least 24" apart, the Predator should win - it has twice as many guns and doesn't have to move to be effective and so is not taking a -1 to hit every turn for moving with a heavy weapon that the Helbrute will be taking.
But we don't fight in a vacuum. All it takes is one model charging that Predator and it doesn't get to shoot for a turn. It has to back out of the fight in hopes of getting to shoot next turn. if the opponent keeps charging it with something, it will keep not getting to shoot. There are enough deep striking re-roll or roll an extra die shenanigans in the game now that this is a reasonable possibility in almost every game. This is even more true if you take the somewhat popular 3-predator option to use the killshot stratagem as you're an even bigger target to a savvy enemy.
If one enemy model decides to charge the Helbrute, in contrast, he's going to get a Str 12 punch ... well first he's going to get auto-flamed if you took that option and then he's going to get 4 hard punches. there is also the chance the Helbrute gets to charge in first, something you would never do with the Predator.
You could go with a more comparable missile arm Helbrute which evens up the gunfight a bit (2 lascannon shots and a krak missile shot and no longer needing to move every turn vs. the 4 lascannon shots and not moving either of the predator) and reduces the brute's point cost down to 147 and is still way more effective in melee than the tank will ever be.
Let's also not overlook the inclusion of Helbrutes in the Legion benefits as well: Iron Warrior brutes get to ignore cover! Predators do not! World Eater brutes get an extra attack on the charge! Renegade Legions can advance and charge in the same turn! Alpha Legion brutes are -1 to be hit at more than 12" away.
While it's true that Predator trios get the killshot stratagem Helbrutes get "Fire Frenzy" which for 1 CP lets a brute fire twice - admittedly at the nearest target but still a nice option to have.
There is of course the option for the double-melee Helbrute. With two combi-bolters this option only runs 126 points and can just run right up the table. He gets an extra attack from the second fist, or three extra from a scourge, so he's even nastier up close. Make him a World Eaters brute and you're looking at 9 swings on the charge - ouch! For about the price of two lascannon Predators you could take 3 of these guys - I won't say they're more effective in general but if the rest of your army can handle the ranged anti-tank, this could be a really fun option.
If you want a more practical use for these guys than an across the board charge I would say "backfield defense". They are a lot tougher than a 5-man marine squad or a 10-man cultist squad, they can carry a decent gun, and they are notably charge-resistant to most things that can deep strike. If some Eldar yahoo wants to turbo-boost his wave serpent over into your deployment zone you can blast him and then go bash his hood in to finish him off! With an 8" move followed by a 2d6 charge you can actively defend a fairly large area.
For me, well, I like to group up 2 or 3 of them with a Juggerlord or a Daemon Prince and go after something.
Anyway they're fun! They're flexible! Check them out!