It has been a good time for Warhammer 40K games in recent years. If we forget a Dawn of War: Soulstorm here and a Storm of Vengeance there; odds are that if a game is released using the licence it will be a solid experience. Newest in the line of 40k themed games is Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, a spaceship management/combat strategy game set during the Gothic War.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a video game adaptation of the table-top game from Games Workshop, previously axed from their roster but still claiming a substantial cult following. Like with all of Games Workshops games the idea is to create a force up to a certain points limit for each player and then fight it out for either total victory, or to complete certain objectives. The tabletop elements are transitioned well into the video game format here, allowing you to either select a swarm of smaller ships to overwhelm the enemy, or to go for a few heavy hitting battleships. The main emphasis is on the play-style of the factions as well as personal preference, as opposed to ‘teching up’ to late game or overwhelming your opponent with superior units.
The biggest hurdle for the developers to capture from the table-top is the sense of scale, the amount of abilities available to each ship and of course the ability to micro-manage each movement and shot. In a table-top that is an easy of case of taking turns and letting the dice do the talking, but in the video game of course controlling units and making tactical decisions is often a daunting task. Thankfully the developers have included a ‘slow down time’ or ‘tactical cogitators’ button that allows you to make split decisions, assign priority targets and plan your attack. This simple addition makes the game that much easier to handle and also makes each mistake in an engagement that little bit more your fault, as each mistake can easily be avoided.
Ships have a variety of weapons, some shooting from the ship’s prow and others on the broadsides. Bigger ships have abilities and additional weapons such as the ability to teleport bombs to the map, launch strike craft, teleport your ship within it’s sensor range and fire torpedoes in a cone from the prow. With all of these in your arsenal it allows for a lot of re-playability, and many different strategies to try out and perfect.
The major skill element of the game comes in ship placement, and ship selection. Ship placement is greatly assisted by tactical manoeuvres, allowing you to make quick turns and boost to maximum speed to close with the enemy quicker or avoid attack. The manoeuvres are linked to a gauge that quickly depletes if over-used, and so a level of restraint is required to succeed in tougher engagements. This in conjunction with the tactical cogitators allows for total control of your ship’s facing and firing arcs allowing to pull off ship rams, boarding actions and successful torpedo salvoes to see victory. It makes for a satisfying experience when crazy strategies actually work out: ramming an enemy ship into an exploding plasma bomb, firing torpedoes at point blank range after pulling off a 180 degree turn. During a battle it’s these little moments that make the experience as fun as it is; knowing that you turned the tide, deciding the conflict with one well placed attack.
The game features a full single-player campaign, where you take command of Battlefleet Gothic. You primarily lead the fight back against Abaddon, Warmaster of Chaos and the forces of his Black Crusade. You are presented with multiple planets on a star map that need defending from the enemies of the Imperium. Battles are either straight up clashes between fleets, or involve escorting transports or acquiring data. After each success or defeat in a battle you are rewarded with renown points that allow you to upgrade your ships, speed up repairs or purchase new ship slots for your fleet. Main story missions take you through the course of the plot and are often suped up versions of the standard battles you encounter usually, making for some desperate battles for survival. The joy of the game often comes from being able to rebuild your forces after a defeat and managing to turn the tide, learning from past mistakes.
The biggest success that the developers have had with Battlefleet is capturing the feel of the 40k universe as well as they have. The look and feel of the ships is just as it should be; powerful and ancient looking Imperial vessels, clunky and cobbled together Ork cruisers and the sleek, honed look to the Eldar craft. Overall the aesthetic of the game is spot on to the source material. Voice acting is also pretty good in most places, the campaign is well acted and sets the tone well for the dark, eternal warfare of the lore. Some of the ships voices sound a little off, such as Chaos ships sounding more like cartoon super-villains rather than the spawn of the ultimate evil, but most voices are serviceable. The areas that battles are fought on look stunning in places. Dying stars and asteroid fields can often distract you from the task at hand; definitely making for the right setting of huge clashes.
In addition to the campaign is a standard solo skirmish mode and multiplayer, where you are pitted into random battles and missions against enemy AI/human controlled fleets of varying strengths and factions. Rewnown returns for the skirmish mode allowing to kit out ships in a similar way to the campaign, but without the management of planets to worry about. In single player I have had no issues with bugs or glitches to speak of, but in multiplayer I have experienced quite a few crashes to desktop and a few glitches that prevented me from controlling my fleet during a live game. These are issues that the development team is currently working on which is a good sign, but a very troubling set of problems to see after launch. I’d recommend focusing on single player for the time being, and let the kinks be worked out of multiplayer.
In the end it is a game that grabs your attention, and makes each match feel winnable and satisfying. The game challenges you in such a way that it never feels too easy, but equally never too hard, and always offers new ways to kit out ships and find new ways to engage. The promise of new factions down the line will only add to the potential strategies and play-styles of course, and so I see a promising future for this game.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is one of the better RTS games to come out in recent memory, and definitely worth a look for those already invested in the 40k lore. It captures the feel of the world incredibly well, whilst providing a solid gaming experience to boot.