Once again it’s time to go back to the eternally dark Warhammer universe where friendly hand shakes are a myth and even the baby sitters wear spiky armour and wield lethal weapons. The first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada proved to be a surprise, offering up some brilliant spaceship battling. Considering that the Warhammer licence gets handed out like free candy these days it was even nicer to be gifted a game about massive spaceships clashing. Now, though, we have Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, the sequel that offers more ships, more factions and more awesomeness.
This time around we get three separate single-player campaigns that focus on the Imperium, the Necrons and the scary-ass Tyranids who field massive floating space creatures rather than ships. You can’t access these until you’ve gone through the prologue, though, which focuses on the Imperium and their massive warships. Out of the whopping twelve factions in the game the Imperium is the easiest to grasp, their massive ships capable of taking a pounding while dishing out plenty of damage.
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
The story is fairly typical Warhammer schlock, and before anyone tries to dismember me I’m a fan of Warhammer. But the setting and stories it creates are fairly schlocky, which is why its so fun. This time round the forces of Chaos are launching yet another crusade, so in the Imperium campaign you’ll be taking control of Admiral Spire who was lost in the warp for hundreds of years and has now returned to fight again.
The story in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 can be tricky to grasp at times due to the terminology being thrown around and is largely forgettable stuff. However, like the first game Armada 2 is good at telling stories in its battles. Ships can almost develop personalities over time, their loss being both a big resource drain and a potentially emotional punch. Sure, you might not get as attached as you do to your soldiers in XCOM, but when a massive cruiser is destroyed you’ll feel it.
Fielding your ships feels instantly familiar if you’ve played the first game at all. In real time you’ll micro-manage your relatively small group of vessels while dealing with a couple of objective types; blow the crap out of the enemy fleet, take and hold some positions around the map or defend some A.I. ships from being decimated. Each ship from big to small has its own stats regarding armour and weapons, as well as a selection of special abilities such as slow-moving but deadly torpedoes.
At first glance the changes here are seemingly non-existent. Aside from a iffy U.I. redesign everything looks and feels the same. That’s because most of the changes are small and frankly difficult to even chat about without going back and playing the original game for a few dozen hours. However, my initial impressions is that boarding actions feel more capable of crippling large ships. This potentially makes the smaller ships more valuable than they used to be.
Like the original Battlefleet Gothic: Armada there’s a unique pace to the battles. The ships you control are massive, slow behemoths that take forever to turn and several ice ages to get anywhere. Yet somehow despite this the action feels tense, hectic and always engaging. You can simply click on an enemy ship to order an attack, but to get the most out of your ships you’ll constantly be looking for the best firing solutions, timing the launch of torpedoes for maximum damage, dropping mines in space or even just zooming into the action so you can watch the mayhem play out.
And what wonderful mayhem it is. There’s something really satisfying about watching huge spaceships pummel each other. You can zoom right into the action in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, and there’s plenty of detail when you do. The sound design deserves special mention for making gunfire sound awesome. I especially loved the creaks of the ships as they took damage.
The campaign map is where you get to make the grand strategic decisions. The real-time stuff is ditched in favour of turn-based action. During your turn you can dispatch fleets to various systems in a bid to either capture them or shore up their defences. It’s light 4x system, really, whereby you build up your fleets using resources earned by holding solar systems, then use said resources to buy new ships or upgrade your holdings. Reckon that system over there is under threat? Maybe spend some resources to add defences then move a fleet over there.
Cleverly, it’s the limitations that make the campaign interesting. The resources you earn, for example, are always pretty tight. Do you spend them on a new ship, keeping in mind each new vessel has a constant upkeep cost? Or should they be spent to upgrade a sector in order to increase the bonuses it provides?
Likewise, your fleets are limited by a point system that dictates what you can bring to the fight. The bigger and more powerful the ship the more points it costs, and that point limit is determined by your current level. It makes building your fleets more interesting. However, it is a little strange that you can’t simply transfer ships from one fleet to the other, instead if you want to get rid of a ship you have to destroy it entirely. You recoup 25% of the resources for doing that, but it’s still a strange piece of design.
You can somewhat get around this points limit using the rule that allows you to take up to three fleets into a single fight. However, here we see a slightly strange design decision in action; instead of getting to choose what ships from your fleets you take the game decides for you, taking all your first fleet and then grabbing random ones from the other two. Whenever one of your ships gets destroyed a new one will appear as a reinforcement.
It’s also rather strange that you can’t fully disband a fleet. You can destroy every ship aside from the flagship which also houses that fleet’s leader. This is problematic if you find yourself struggling for resources and need to make some cuts. The only thing you can do is take the remaining ship and send it on a suicide mission.
As for the enemy forces, they’ll gradually reinforce themselves over time and launch attacks on systems you hold. You get warning of this happening, though, giving you time to gather a fleet and defend your hard-fought territory.
The campaigns do a generally good job of keeping the action interesting across their extensive run times. A few set piece moments appear here or there that help spice things up, too. However, there are a couple of awkward missions in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, the first appearing early in the Imperium campaign.
Arguably I’d like to have had a little more meat to this side of the game, but the truth is too much more complexity would probably have muddied the waters. As it stands this extra layer of light strategy feels like a nice contrast to the hectic real-time fights. I especially like how ship damage and lost troops carry over, so you frequently need to let a fleet rest for a turn or two before sending it back into the fight.
Sadly, one missing feature from the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada left the campaign feeling a tad hollow. I’m referring to ship customization. In the first game you had a degree of control over the build of each ship. Citing multiplayer balancing reasons, though, the developers took all of that out for the sequel. Now, you simply have a selection of ships that you can buy and must decide which set of stats and abilities look the most appealing. It means you have less sense of ownership and pride in your fleets in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2.
There is an upgrade system in place but instead of customizing individual ships you can pick from universal upgrades. This naturally means that each fleet doesn’t feel as different to the others.
When it comes to forming a new fleet on the campaign map you do get to pick from a selection of leaders, each offering their own abilities. Generally I found these to have the biggest impact on how I would handle my fleet in combat.
While the campaigns offer up three of the factions to play with there are actually twelve factions that include the Tau, Orks and Eldar. You can choose any of them, pick from a pre-made fleet or build your own and then fight the A.I. or real online players. On top of the twelve factions each one also gets several sub-factions that alter stats and abilities further. Considering a campaign can last 15+ hours, too, that all adds up to a good chunk of content for your money.
The new standard game mode has sparked some arguments between players on the Steam forums. Instead, on just focusing on decimating the enemy fleet you now capture locations scattered around the map in an attempt to score the most points, although destroying the opposing ships will still snag a victory. On the one hand this game mode gives you a chance even when your fleet is vastly outgunned. Some clever orders can let you fend off an enemy fleet long enough to grab the points you need. And on the other hand, it feels a bit strange to be focusing on tiny bits of space in a Warhammer game.
However, while the pre-launch code for the game featured these missions heavily it seems the launch day update has made capturing of little bits of space much rarer.
Outside of the main campaign modes you can jump into 1v1 skirmish fights against the A.I using either pre-built fleets or one you’ve put together yourself. The A.I. is reasonably competent when it comes to fights, though when it comes to capturing bits of space it tends to bunch ships together, making it easy to run around them and gobble up points.
In terms of multiplayer you can head online and partake in 1v1 or 2v2 fights. Without spending dozens of hours in the game it’s impossible to tell how well-balanced everything is, but I can tell you that getting into a fight with a good opponent is a lot of fun. With promises of much bigger fleet limits to come as well, the future of the multiplayer looks good.
There is also the option to tackle the campaigns in co-op, though at the moment the developers are saying that this feature is essentially in Early Access. I personally didn’t get a chance to test this, but the Steam forums report a lot of issues with it at the moment.
There are some technical hiccups in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 that we need to tackle. Firstly, prior to launch I encountered a four crashes where I couldn’t even bring up the task manager and had to reboot the whole system. It’s unclear if these are completely fixed, but since launch I haven’t had a crash yet. The initial load times are horrible, and entering into the ship selection screen makes the entire game freeze for a few seconds. And when a ship explodes in combat the framerate drips massively for a couple of seconds, although at least that means you always know when a ship has been wrecked.
I feel bad for Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 because it’s launched in a busy period. Sandwiched between the likes of Ace Combat 7 and Kingdom Hearts 3 it might struggle to grab attention. But man, it deserves attention. Sure, an argument could be made that it feels more like a chunky expansion for the original game, but to me there’s enough here to justify being its own game. You get three sizable campaigns with at least one more coming for free, twelve factions who feel distinct enough to be interesting and terrific real-time battles and turn-based strategising. While not perfect, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is absolutely worth your time.