Let’s face it - Games Workshop is throwing their Warhammer 40k license around like a bakery trying to get rid of stale bread. From chess games (Regicide) to third-person action (Space Marine); lane defense (Storm of Vengeance) to real time strategy (Dawn of War). It’s a wonder that there are any genres of gameplay that haven’t had the Grimdark treatment. Then along comes Battlefleet Gothic: Armada from developer Tindalos Interactive and publisher Focus Home Interactive.
Based on the board game and expansion with the same name, Armada provides a fresh new take on the never ending warfare of the 41st millennium. But is it worth your time to take up arms and fight in defense of the Imperium of Man?
The real meat of the game is a real-time naval combat simulator between fleets of around 2 - 10 ships per side. Strategy and tactical positioning are paramount, and it’s plain to see the turn-based tabletop roots of the combat systems. Time can be slowed (but never stopped) to plan out course of attack, and ships will have their own loadouts of armaments, skills, and even custom engagement ranges. Each faction has unique traits that factor in: Eldar with sleek, speedy ships and prow weapons and fragile hulls, Imperials with long range cannons and sturdy ships, Orks with slapdash ships and destructive tendencies, and Chaos with decent range and speed alike. Each faction requires unique strategy to be successful, but balance isn’t quite tuned and the Eldar suffer most.
The Warhammer 40K universe has a very unique and diverse style and tone, and Armada does a great job of capturing those rich themes. Most striking in the presentation are brief animations that are interspersed throughout the campaign. The first time you see a massive Ork battleship and the iconic “Waaagh!” battlecry, you feel it. Each of the 4 races have very exacting and drastically different ship designs that make them easily identifiable at a glance. When you have Eldar, Ork, and Imperial ships all circling each other and launching their massive broadsides at each other, it is quite a sight. But what can be a little disappointing is that the scale just doesn’t feel quite right - this is definitely a visual adaptation of an established tabletop game. The camera doesn’t quite get in close enough to appreciate the massive scale and detail of these ornate ships, nor does it move out far enough to get a great tactical view. There are definite attempts to present scale by providing planetary or solar backdrops, scattered asteroid fields, and derelict stations, but it falls short of the awe inspiring mass and heft these ships should evoke.
Assuming the role of freshly minted Admiral Spire in the Imperial Navy in the campaign, you are tasked with defending the remote Gothic sector in the face of a three-headed assault. The green tide of the Orks known only fighting, and are found to be in force in this sector. The mysterious, elitist, and advanced alien race of the Eldar will seize any opportunity they can to meddle in the affairs of primitive mankind. And the ever growing threat of the corrupted Chaos fleet has come to a head under the leadership of Abaddon the Despoiler. With war on all fronts, you and your galactic fleet of massive warships must do everything in your power to prevent the loss of life - and the loss of entire worlds - in the sector.
A full run through of the campaign took around 20 hours, but really felt like it dragged on for eternity - and that was a low number, as I opted out of a good 20 or so sorties. Progression is the expected fare - start with a piddly line ship and cheap, expendable escort vessels, and grow your fleet until it is headed by a massive Battleship. But the pacing feels rather off, as you hit your largest possible fleet size around ⅔ of the way through, meaning the tail of the game has you using the same ships and strategy over and over without anything fresh. This is compounded with most of the missions being repeats of the same formula, and it feels more like a boring slog through a copy/paste playbook with bits of narrative thrown in to wake you up.
There’s a high level sector map that you are ostensibly protecting from attack, but the implication of losing worlds has very little tangible impact on progression. But it is worth noting that I played through on Easy mode as the difficulty curve is astronomical, being completely outgunned and outmaneuvered even on Normal. And when you consider that the multiplayer is more of those same missions on a relatively open map (admittedly, with the flexibility of playing all 4 factions), it’s hard to find the hunger to play more, and go through that same slow leveling progression all over again.
Though some aspects of the game are repetitive to the point of being rote, other elements remain frustratingly unpredictable. AI movement for friend and foe alike has difficulty accounting for asteroids and minefields, often to devastating consequences. It was not uncommon to see an enemy escort ship beeline right into a mine, with only its scattered debris emerging from the other side. Or my own ship respecting my 6k engagement distance, but then making a hard maneuver right into an asteroid as I frantically click to change course. Mission types are shared between campaign, AI skirmish, and multiplayer, with some being the equivalent of Team Deathmatch, and others being attack and defense scenarios. On frustratingly random scenario is Planetary Defense, where 5 bombardment points appear one at a time every few minutes through the mission - attackers need 3 to win, defenders need to defend them or destroy the fleet. But when these points are unpredictable, and can appear right next to an attacker, the victor is often the luckiest with the random number generator.
Presented as a whole package, Armada feels like a faithful adaptation of a tabletop game, lovingly crafted by a team that is really in tune with what Warhammer 40K is all about. It’s a fun, if uneven and a little repetitive, space warfare strategy game that hits a lot of the right notes. Some of the missteps, like sense of scale or mission variety, are understandable in a fairly sparse genre, and can be overlooked fairly easily. While trudging through the campaign may be a bit much in a short span, I can see myself coming back to play a mission here or there to get my fix of Grimdark. And in the grand - and ever growing - compendium of Games Workshop anointed adaptations, this earns it’s place in the upper echelon.
Focus Home Interactive
Article by Parker