Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is the newest game capatlising on the long running franchise of Warhammer 40k. Warhammer titles have always been a hit and miss afair, luckily Battlefleet Gothic is a critical hit with all broadside macro-cannons although it’s not without its’ flaws. I have always been mildly interested in the Warhammer 40k universe but my interest has never reached beyond that. Dawn of war and Dawn of war 2 were great games but that was in spite of it’s Warhammer 40k theme, not because of it. I’m told that Battlefleet is very true to the lore but frankly I couldn’t care less and for a very simple reason. Space ships shooting the shit out of each other is cool. It is very, very cool.
The gameplay is a standard RTS affair with heavy focus on the micromanagement of a small number of units. There is no base building or resource gathering but there doesn’t need to be. The micromanagement of these large, slow, lumbering ships is incredibly satisfying. Each ship has a number of maneuverability options that allow you to quickly turn, boost speed and stop completely. With these options you are able to dodge missiles, bombs and interdiction bubbles as well as line yourself up for a barrage of missiles or to position yourself for a broadside attack. These maneuveravbility options add so much to the control of your ships that is incredibly satisfying. Screaming “forward forward forward” at the screen as you set the thrusters on your ship of the line to full blast, narrowly dodging incoming ordinance is a great feeling. Each ship also has a number of usable skills, in a classic RTS sense. These skills include short range teleports, missile barrages, plasma cannons and a number of other skills which need to be aimed and controlled. Again these skills add another element of depth to the battlefield.
The campaign sees you joining the imperial fleet as Admiral Something and you are tasked with defending the Imperium colonies across the universe from the impending doom of the Chaos. Oh and also Orks and Eldar and traitorous imperial bastards attack you too. The campaign overview map gives you details on all the planets in your universe that you have to defend, and employs a turn based map where you have a limited number of deployments that you must use to deal with an increasingly large threat. Every turn there are more invasions that you are able to deal with and as such you need to pick and choose your battles wisely. Unfortunately you have absolutely no idea what is a worthwhile mission and what isn’t. The campaign map is very confusing with a large number of symbols and systems that are not explained in the brief tutorial. Even after ten hours into my campaign I still have no idea what the different planets do and which ones are worth saving. I end up choosing based on a small bar in the bottom left that indicates the impending “threat” of the different races encroaching on your universe. It also doesn’t help that the campaign map is frankly ugly. I think to improve the campaign you would need a tutorial explaining how the planets work, in fact, actually make the planets mean something since they only seem to have a small effect on your renown (or currency) gain if you lose them.
The missions themselves have a wide variety of objectives and each can be played as the attacking or defending side. These missions vary greatly, from defending/attacking convoys of transport ships, “breakthrough” missions where you have to destroy defense platforms before reaching the other end of the map, assassination of a target ship before it warps away and the stealing of data from an enemy ship and escaping with it. These objective based missions are actually very smart and require you to actually focus on the object otherwise you will lose – I learned this the hard way. The standard RTS tactic of “destroy everything, objective later” caused me to lose multiple missions. You simply can’t ignore the objective and often have to make drastic tactical decisions, sacrificing multiple ships, in order to complete the objectives. The design and balance of these missions is excellent. The tension you feel as your ships are getting bombarded from all sides, pushing through a defense to trying reach a ship before it warps away with essential data is palpable. The satisfaction of obliterating the final enemy ship just before it escapes. The sigh of relief and the pang of sadness watching your main fleet get overrun and destroyed while a single ship manages to cross the edge of the map triggering victory. These feelings are what makes the game great. This is the design of the great missions and objectives though and the solid base of the gameplay, not the campaign. If you are looking for an in depth tactical campaign to keep you occupied for hours, I don’t think you will find it here and that is a damn shame. Of course you may find that the lore of the campaign outweighs the mechanics in which case you may find it a more enjoyable experience than I did.
Now the Skirmish mode is effectively the same as the campaign, except without the guff and with the ability to play any of the 4 races, Orks, Chaos, Imperials or Eldar. You have the same upgrade mechanics for your ships and you unlock the higher tiers of ships through gaining experience. Having spent half my time here, playing the Orks I can safely say that this mode is definitely my preferred option. The battles are quicker to get into and with the option of playing the other races it allows you to enjoy the varied play styles that they offer. In fact, the races play styles do vary greatly and require quite deep tactical considerations when playing each. For example, the Orks have terrible maneuverability and short range weaponry, however if you position yourself correctly you can slam other ships for great damage and your powerful board ability will rip ships apart. In contrast the Eldar have incredibly quick and maneuverable ships with very strong front ended weaponry, yet their ships are very vulnerable and as such are only effective in “hit and run” style attacks. The gradual increase of experience unlocking new ships and upgrades for previous ships is satisfying, and since the core game play is so strong, you are happy to bash through mission after mission.
I’ve really enjoyed my time with Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, it really scratched the RTS itch like nothing else has since the Dawn of War 2. A solid, well built and enjoyable romp through space. Fire torpedoes!