“Yes, this is just another Warhammer 40,000 game,” I hear you say. Haven’t I done enough of these already? But wait! This one is different!
Most of the Warhammer 40,000 games out there involve large ground battles, mainly involving Space Marines – Armageddon, Dawn of War, Dawn of War II, Space Marine, all of these focus on the efforts of soldiers and warriors on the battlefield. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada takes the fight somewhere else. Into the depths of space itself.
Based on one of Games Workshop’s secondary product lines – in fact I think it’s currently out of production – Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Entertainment, tells of the struggles of the Imperial, Ork, Eldar, and Chaos naval fleets as they fight for control of the Gothic sector of the Imperium. In terms of the wider Warhammer 40,000 lore, this game takes place during the twelfth Black Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler. Leading his vast forces from the Eye of Terror, Abaddon seeks to claim the areas of space for the gods of Chaos and from there the rest of the Imperium of Man.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is currently under development and due for release soon. A beta has been released showcasing some of the campaign and multiplayer features. And it looks fantastic. One thing that is immediately apparent is the sense of scale. These are not small ships with crews of fifty or a couple of hundred. Instead even the lowliest vessel has personnel numbering in the thousands, with tasks such as manually stoking the engines or loading the weapons. These ships are huge, and they look huge, even when zoomed out. The game already looks and sounds incredible. I have no doubt it will look even better when released!
The single player campaign puts you in the role of an admiral of the Imperial fleet. A routine investigation of a derelict space platform leads to an ambush from a Chaos patrol fleet. Barely escaping with much of your ship damaged, you report to your superiors and convince them of the potential threat brewing. Given command of your own fleet, you are tasked with investigating the nature of the Chaos incursion and also maintain order in the surrounding systems.
The first couple of missions are tutorials to familiarise you with the various controls and, I’m afraid to say, they are of the hand-holding type where you are directed to press a button without fully understanding why. I prefer the information screen tutorial style as you learn more of the game but that’s probably more of a personal opinion. In any case the groundwork for the story is well laid out and you get a good idea of what will be expected of you.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is played out both at a turn-based strategic overview and at a real-time tactical level. You are presented with a map showing the systems under your jurisdiction. Some of them may be under attack from various enemy forces and others may start to rebel against the Imperium’s authority. You can choose where to send your fleet, at which point you enter the real-time tactical game. The ships you choose to send are all you have available in that mission so you need to choose wisely. Additional ships can be constructed at the shipyard between missions and components like weapons, defences, and skills can be upgraded. Ships can be obliterated in missions as well, at which point they are lost, gone forever.
Once you have completed your allocated mission deployments you can end the current turn, at which point further events take place and you may find some systems suddenly requiring attention. It’s a great way of building your own personal fleet and narrative, as the choices you make will no doubt affect future scenarios. The ultimate goal, of course, is to defeat Abaddon and send him and his armies fleeing back to the warp. How you go about it is up to you.
Individual missions pit your fleet against an opposing fleet, along with other obstacles to navigate, such as mines and asteroids. Your ships come with skills and abilities – boarding parties to inflict ongoing damage, lightning discharge arcs, short warp hops to teleport to a different location, you can even execute one of your ship captains if they look like they’re about to flee in terror. The battles are slow and ponderous as befits the setting – don’t forget these are huge behemoths that are not built for manoeuvrability, with the possible exception of the Eldar, but they’re annoying like that anyway.
Multiplayer again puts you in charge of a fleet which can grow over time. Everyone starts off with a handful of points to spend on a few ships, then as you fight battles and gain experience you can start to buy some of the bigger stuff. The game will attempt to match you with someone of a similar level so you should be evenly matched, however I have a habit of making silly decisions such as driving headfirst into a stationary mine or asteroid, so my opponents are automatically at an advantage! The battles look great, with beam weapons lancing towards enemy ships and projectiles hurtling through the vast darkness. I’m hoping for some sort of replay feature with a cinematic view so we can watch epic battles or dismal failures, but that’s up to the devs.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is another great interpretation of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The fact that it’s not based on the main 40K game but on one of the side products makes it worth a look. We’ll probably do a review once the full game is released but right now it looks amazing. The ships look accurate to the setting, the cutscenes and voice-acting fit perfectly, the sense of scale is incredible, all the detail on the ships and stations are unbelievably precise. This will most likely be a must-purchase for any fan of Warhammer 40,000 or of space RTS games in general. I genuinely can’t wait.