Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is an intense space naval combat RTS that doesn’t just play well but also looks insane. With some of the bigger ships in each fleet miles long, you will get to captain some impressive war machines and navigate through equally impressive alien worlds.
Battlefleet is inspired by the board game of the same name. Set in the Warhammer universe, there are four factions fighting for supremacy. There is the Imperium Navy made up of humans who are fighting the Chaos invasion (the second faction and the nemesis of the Imperium). The other two factions are the crafty Eldar pirates and the bloodthirsty Orcs. All these factions are fighting for supremacy in the universe and will use force to gain control of star systems, supplies and weaponry. Each race will use different tactics against to claim victory on the battlefield, such as the Orcs who prefer to ram enemy vessels, and the Imperium Navy who prefer keeping their foes at arm’s length using ranged combat.
This thing is a monstrosity
The campaign mode sets you up as the Admiral of the Imperium Navy during the 12th Black Crusade. With the threat of the Chaos lurking it will fall to you to lead the Navy into battle and wrest control of the systems. Once you prove your worth in the first few starter missions (which act as the tutorial), you will gain your stars and will be granted the authority to plan, strategise and command the Imperium Navy as they protect their interests throughout the far reaches of deep space. The Imperium’s main foe is the Chaos army, who have an agenda to completely take over all Imperium-controlled assets and star systems. The Orcs and Eldar pirates will also throw their hands into the bowl, exploiting the distraction of the war between the Chaos and Imperium to their advantage to gain wealth and power. Additionally, they launch unwanted enemy attacks and are unpredictable variables which really affect your decision making throughout the game. There will be times when you will have to lose control of certain locations and resources for the greater good of the Imperium. As the Admiral you have final say, and in effect your decisions will determine the outcome for entire populations, as well as affecting supply lines and political influence amongst the systems. The game features some overplayed voice acting, but this is overall pretty effective in conveying the intensity and drama of this twenty-year long war. All things said and done, the storyline makes good use of the license and the game has that authentic Warhammer feel to it.
Do you even upgrade bro?
Battlefleet’s main focus is this campaign, and as far as RTS games go, it does a commendable job of reimagining an old Warhammer board game to PC. As detailed earlier you have final say on how everything plays out, and to keep close to its board game roots you are presented with several options each turn. You get to choose the mission but you can’t be everywhere at once. Do you defend your allies and strengthen your rapport with them or do you ensure much needed supplies arrive safely in a convey mission? It’s a game of priorities and each and every action has consequences in both the long and short term. Once you have chosen your course of action you then playout the impending battle against whatever foe is causing the conflict in the area. Each battle starts out with a limited amount of resource points for you to invest in. The beginning of each battle see’s you pick the Flag ship, which is in essence a huge and powerful mothership. Depending on the situation you can then choose to fill up the battle formation with frigates, destroyers and battleships, all of which have their own unique characteristics with pros and cons. Your success in battle is determined by how well you coordinate your strategies and set up your ships to respond to threats and capitalise on opportunities.
You will gain your stars and will be granted the authority to plan, strategise and command the Imperium Navy as they protect their interests throughout the far reaches of deep space
During battle, ship micromanagement is highly encouraged. You can set each ship’s battle tactics, attack ranges, firing priority and even boarding party Rules of Engagement. It seems like a lot to manage, but setting up all these details before the skirmish means you can focus more on moment-to-moment strategy and let each unit essentially carries out the basic orders you have set out for them. To increase your lethality you will build fleets with upgrades and add-ons to give you the edge. The choice is yours as to whether you focus funds on defensive or offensive upgrades like shields, fire power and intelligence tech. As you gain levels, recover artefacts and customise your fleet with upgrades, you will find your efforts rewarded. It’s an effective game mechanic to keep things interesting but if there is one issue I found with all this, is that it was almost impossible to figure out which ship(s) you used were the most effective in battle. Basically the game doesn’t inform you as to what sort of damage your units are dishing out and it just becomes one big guessing game by trial and error. This can make the upgrade process feel aimless, but these upgrades are essential to ensure victory. While there’s a deep strategic logic to be discovered, and with so much individual management and tactics, you might need to go over things a couple times before you grasp all of the game’s intricacies. This steep learning curve might turn some off, however persisting with it and rising to the challenge is rewarding.
Set the coordinates, then activate Warp Speed!
Gamers will enjoy the impressive graphics and visuals that make up the world, and these certainly add to the atmosphere and enjoyment. Some could argue that it takes its board game roots too literally as the battlespace is played out in only two dimensions, so the firefights tend to play out more like conventional marine naval battles rather than how you’d imagine skirmishes would in the 3D environment of space. You might also think you get to control huge fleets, but while some of the ships themselves are indeed huge, you will never control any more than ten ships at a time. This is also mirrored in the enemy fleets, which are just as small in size. It would be fun if while you scouted the area ahead you were suddenly overwhelmed as endless unidentified red dots filled the battlespace, but unfortunately it doesn’t. The relatively small-scale of the battles makes it slightly underwhelming at times.
It’s a game of priorities and each and every action has consequences in both the long and short term. Once you have chosen your course of action you then playout the impending battle
The campaign is very long (clocking in at about 30-40 hours) and overall is quite satisfying, but unfortunately the other factions don’t have main plot lines for the campaign modes. You can play them in a Skirmish Campaign only, levelling and upgrading as you have before and fighting it out in space during random skirmishes and battles. These are fairly fast paced and will last generally 10-15 minutes, sometimes shorter. This can be exciting but at times it ends just as it’s getting fun and your just left craving more. In addition to the single-player campaign and skirmish modes, there’s also an online mode where you can test your mettle against three other human opponents in an online skirmish. You will really test your skills here as the opponent quality is high, unlike the matchmaking system which often has some difficulty finding opponents. Fortunately I didn’t experience any lag or input issues when testing out the online lobbies, and the online component is definitely a great addition for anyone who is committed, adding replay and lifespan to the game.
For those RTS fans amongst us there are definitely more fleshed out games available, and it’s a shame it only plays out in 2D. If you’re a fan of naval RTS games you will find the gameplay loop both familiar and enjoyable, and if you’re a Warhammer fan you can’t go past this title. It will provide hours and hours of game time and a significant challenge for even the most seasoned RTS player and makes good use of the hallowed Warhammer name.
Reviewed on PC