In the 41st millennium there is only war. The Imperium of Man fights to retain control of its empire. With countless worlds spread across the galaxy, it faces constant threat from heretics and the lesser species. A captain investigating the loss of contact with the Imperial Space Station Port Maw has reported a massive Chaos fleet encroaching on the Gothic Sector. He has done admirably to bring back this information. As a reward he will be sent back with a fleet of his own to bring the Chaos to heel, and to ensure subjugation of all others who think to defy the Emperor in the Gothic Sector.
Based on the table top game Battlefleet Gothic, Armada is a ship to ship combat focused tactical RTS. Consisting of an epic and entertaining single player campaign, custom games, as well as skirmish and multi-player modes, there is certainly enough game here for those interested in spending time with the occasionally clunky controls, frustratingly obtuse mechanics, and extremely satisfying combat.
The story-driven campaign mode sees you in control of a small fleet of Imperium ships facing off against Ork Pirates, Eldar Corsairs, and Abaddon’s forces of Chaos. It’s a lengthy and well told story with enough mission variety and branching choices to keep things interesting for the duration. The voice acting is great across the board with just the right amount of extreme scene chewing to give the Warhammer 40k grimdark setting its proper tone. While there is some mission repetition, the second to second tactical decisions you need make in battle keep it fresh.
Before each mission you must assign ships to your fleet. Each ship costs Fleet Points, and you can spend your points however you like as long as you do not exceed your cap. As you play through the game, your ship strengths and loadout options will increase. Here is where the frustrations begin.
There are many upgrade and customisation options available including upgrades for core ship systems, special ship abilities, and crew, but it’s not always clear how these affect your ship. You’ll always have an overall idea, but the lack of detailed information here is an annoyance.
This affects combat as well. Every ship has a health and shield bar, but discerning which weapon is causing damage and which is ineffective is virtually impossible. Again, you get a general picture, but more transparency here would only improve the combat, but also help you make more informed decisions.
Having said all that, combat is immensely satisfying, even if Gothic stays too true to its table top game roots and is literally flat. This means things play out a lot more like Sid Meier’s Pirates than the beautiful chaos found in fully 3D games like Homeworld, which is slightly disappointing.
However, battles are slower paced and require a more tactical approach than those in most other RTS’s. You won’t be dealing with massive numbers of ships, but instead control of four to five core battleships, and sometimes a number of smaller support ships or quick fighters. You set your flight paths, and can manually control when you fire key weapons, trigger high speed evasion manoeuvres, deploy infiltration teams, or perform my personal favourite move, the ram.
While micromanagement is the best way to play, there are a large number of behaviours you can give your ships in order to lighten the load and help keep you focused on effecting a well-executed broadside. There is a lot of depth here but you will need to discover it yourself, as the game does a poor job of giving you all the information you want. The woefully short tutorial does not do enough to give you a real feel for what the game has to offer, and it was only after about six hours that I really began to get to grips with the combat mechanics, and as a consequence began to really enjoy myself.
While you are limited to the Imperium in Campaign Mode, all four empires are available in Multiplayer, Skirmish, and Custom. All play differently, and all have distinct visual identities. For instance, the Orks prefer close combat, while the Eldar rely on speed and precision.
Matching your tactics to the strengths of each race is vital if you want to be competitive in multiplayer matches, assuming you’re not hopelessly outclassed. My time in Multiplayer was frustrating as the matchmaking does not work well, and I was constantly facing opponents far more skilled than I was. With some refinement I can see this mode being a huge hit with that niche group looking for something a bit different. For now, approach with caution.
I would be remiss if I did not mention is graphics in this stunning game. Every skybox, ship, and space station looks simply incredible, and each empire is rendered in extremely high detail. The giant bladed and fanged junk piles of the Orks look every bit as imposing and barely held together as you would expect, while the sleek rounded curves of the Eldar ships give them an air of elegance and speed.
Meanwhile, the massive Imperial ships look like giant gothic cathedrals over-laden with heavy weapons, and the Chaos armada is every inch the perversion of the Imperial forces. The game is a delight to look at, and I spent far too much time just examining each of my ships when in port. I am sure fans of the 40k miniatures will delight in the level of detail here as well.
I’ve had a blast with Battlefleet Gothic Armada – it is niche title that should find an eager if narrow audience. There are some irks, quirks, and omissions, but none take away from the fun of controlling mile long heavily armed behemoths in head to head combat.