It seems that adaptations of older games have become a theme in my reviews as of late. Much as XCOM 2 and Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars updated 90’s classics to a modern standard, the recently-released Battlefleet Gothic: Armada takes up the challenge of putting a new spin on tactical spaceship combat.
The team at Tindalos Interactive shared a challenge with the developers of Mordheim: City of the Damned – Battlefleet Gothic was a tabletop wargame, the space-naval companion to Warhammer 40k.
A lot of its heritage shows through today. There are, at the time of release, four mutually opposed factions (the Imperium of Man, Chaos, Orks, and Eldar) that fight each other in points-based skirmishes. If you have any passing knowledge of Warhammer Fantasy, 40k, or other tabletop wargames, this should sound pretty familiar.
The game does diverge in a few places for the sake of gameplay; Unlike City of the Damned, Armada takes place in real-time. The ability to slow time down to a crawl, even in multiplayer modes, offsets this and allows for the fine control necessary to get the most fun out of your fleet.
This is just as well given the sheer volume of factors involved in commanding a space fleet in the world of Warhammer 40k. The starships of Armada aren’t sleek machines that boldly go where no man has gone before. They are massive, lumbering space-cathedrals that bring broadsides and masses of boarding troops to bear. If you imagine them moving more like vessels from the age of sail – albeit with shields and laser guns – you wouldn’t be too far off the mark
Thankfully, this is reasonably intuitive to manage. The basic controls are similar to most other RTS games, and context-sensitive overlays make it easy to figure out your firing arcs, or where your spread of torpedoes (powerful, but non-tracking weapons) will land. The other big part of the game involves the careful use of ‘tactical maneuvers’, which work like a sprint bar for starships. While these can be used to avoid hazards at short notice, they tend to see the most play as each fleet closes in for the kill and jockeys for advantage.
All these factors come together to form surprisingly complex and fun battles with even a few units. It’s just as well, since the combat is where 95% of the gameplay lies. The rest of your time is spent choosing a loadout for your ships, and listening to snippets of plot if you’re in the game’s campaign mode.
There are a couple of minor issues, like not being able to zoom out to view the entire battlefield, and the fact that repainting your starships is a function of buying them ‘favour’ – i.e. aligning them with one of the great powers of your faction.
While the star and long-term draw of the game is the multiplayer mode, the campaign is a pretty solid way to learn how to play, and it provides a decent dose of 40k storytelling in the process. Players take on the role of Admiral Spire, a starship captain in the Gothic sector promoted to that rank after taking out a small Chaos fleet in the prologue and living to actually talk about it.
Astute readers may notice similarities between the launch trailer and the latest GSF CEO update.
After earning your promotion to Admiral, the training wheels gradually come off as disloyal Imperial fleets, the forces of Chaos, Orks, and even Eldar pirates start to intrude on the Gothic sector. The story follows these various incursions into Imperial space, and Spire’s attempts at putting them down. This is a pretty good fit with the turn-based overworld, and the limited number of battles you can start each turn means that you will have to let a few worlds fall, but it would be nice if you could be a bit more proactive in dealing with these threats.
The voicework is pretty decent. The cast of melodramatic space captains, robotic tech-priests, menacing inquisitors, and Orks completely nail the feel of the setting and go a long way to making the campaign feel a bit more lively.
For the most part, you will face the same kind of objective-based battles that you will in the multiplayer game. There is the odd setpiece battle thrown in for good measure, which vary between frustrating and exhilarating depending on how close a shave it is. Still, you don’t need to win every battle, which is a pretty nice feature. Instead, you can carry on to fight another day, and even repair ships that were completely destroyed – savescumming is not something that Armada requires or encourages, and going into battle with the fleet you have is still just as fun.
As soon as my preview copy of the game finished downloading, I was excited about making my mark in the eternal war. I was fully prepared to build up a carefully constructed Imperial fleet, perhaps with a tongue-in-cheek TMC-themed naming scheme.
Then I remembered that I had been playing as the Imperials in the campaign mode. I realised I’d need to take in a broad variety of gameplay quickly, leaping headfirst into battle and aiming to just have fun no matter the outcome.
Of course I had to play as the Orks.
It turned out that Ork ships lack the turning maneuvers of Imperial ships, but they make up for it with a big red full-speed button and excellent ramming abilities. Playing as one of the game’s antagonists was a great way to see just how surprisingly diverse the different starships in the game actually are, and how well they nail the themes of their respective factions.
Armada’s AI is surprisingly solid, but it still falls prey to a few repeating patterns, and there’s no thrill quite like going against another human. All of this is a recipe for some pretty great fun. I lost count of the number of times my victories and defeats came down to the wire, and I loved every minute of it.
About the only oddity with the multiplayer is the fact that a high-level ship has the same points cost as a brand-new one. Good tactics and quick thinking are definitely more useful than an extra special ability, but this may make life harder on new players.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a good game that will appeal to fans of starship combat, and fans of the 40k universe equally. There are little annoyances, like not being able to custom-paint your spaceships, but nothing that’s a real showstopper. About the only thing that will really stop you from enjoying the game is not liking tactical spaceship combat, and even then in this age of Steam refunds, that’s a pretty easy and risk-free thing to find out.
Really, I think that says something about the game. Everything ties together to make Battlefleet Gothic: Armada a thoroughly enjoyable game that captures the feel of 40k, and a worthy addition to the franchise. Whether or not you’re a fan of the board game won’t change the fact that, if you like blowing up spaceships, it is darn good fun.
Now if you’ll excuse me, every multiplayer fleet got wiped on the game’s full release. I’ve got an Ork armada to re-assemble.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Ryan Vincent.