The original Battlefleet Gothic was one of those niche games that fulfilled a very specific task. In the 40K lore, massive space battles are always spoken of in grandiose terms, and BFG tried to catch that spirit in the game. Now, we have Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, a game that has taken the old classic and made it… Well, it’s certainly made it into a video game, that’s for sure. As it stands, I’m not sure it’s worth diving into, but as time goes on, I’m sure it will improve. Still, if you’re a 40K die-hard, this game will please you immeasurably.
It is clear that Tindalos prize servitude to The Emperor’s vision above all else. As someone who finally submitted to a friend’s repeated nagging to give the tabletop game a go, Armada is as loyal to the tabletop version as one could hope for it to be, barring a 1:1 recreation. Ships are instantly recognisable, and the attention to detail in every regard is outstanding. And the sound, by Dorn’s fist, THE SOUND. The game is a shining example of an adaptation done with the passion it so deserves, and any 40K fan shall not be disappointed. Of course, an accurate portrayal of the 40K universe does not necessarily mean a game worthy of commendation, but this tribute is an adaptation worthy of Commissariat approval.
One of the most important parts of the tabletop BFG was constructing your inspiring fleet. As a video game, it works much the same, but there’s a larger focus on customising each ship to be unique. Since you can only field a max of 4 or 5 cruisers in any one battle, the game offers a large variety of upgrades to let you specialise each ship to specific roles. Perhaps you’ll want a ship that can force an enemy ship to attack it while a more fragile vessel comes in with a plethora of bombs, like a Vespid in a pincer trap. It allows for high replayability, since you can tweak each ship and see which combinations work best with others, and the gameplay doesn’t disappoint either.
Once you are satisfied with your ships, you deploy them onto the battlefield and begin the slaughter, and it feels excellent. Ships move with weight and inertia like you’d expect them to, and the UI is clear enough to grasp quickly while also offering a plethora of options on-screen. The controls are also extremely responsive, unlike Total War’s click-and-wait ambiguities. Each race even has their distinct stylings of the UI, so when they say the Orkz have a big red button, you get to press a big red button. It all comes together in a wonderfully satisfying game to play, which will hopefully be enough to get you through the otherwise forgettable campaign.
Spanning a 20-year war over the Gothic sector, the campaign is nothing if not functional. You play as Admiral Spire, a newly appointed Imperial servant tasked with maintaining control over the Gothic sector. The campaign looks like something similar to the Dawn of War style campaign maps but acts more like a whack-a-mole game. Because you can deploy in any system you want, it’s just a matter of picking the right race to take on so that more enemy incursions don’t show up. The whole thing feels like you’re selecting which skirmish to play next instead of employing strategy to make cunning plays. It’s not awful by any means, but it’s hardly memorable, and full disclosure, I could only stomach three chapters until I had to move onto multiplayer. Thankfully, this is not a singleplayer focused game.
The campaign acts as one long glorified tutorial for multiplayer, which is fine because there’s a lot to learn. There are heaps of game modes on offer, like standard assassination missions to more exciting bombardment missions. Some missions feel tailored heavily towards the Eldar because they can just run away and win, but the sheer variety here is nice to see. I’m hoping you’re getting the impression that I like this game a lot, because I do, but the foul stench of chaos all too easily corrupts the purest of souls.
Despite being an incredible adaptation of the tabletop game, I felt like I’d done and seen everything there was to the game after a couple of hours. The game is fun to play, but mechanics that could add more depth to the game are missing, like the sun-facing side for Eldar from the tabletop game. On top of that, maps are procedurally generated for replayability, but it’s always the same gas clouds and asteroid fields every time. There aren’t even fleshed out line of sight mechanics, so positioning doesn’t hold the same heft as, say, Deserts of Kharak. Without something like the old Homeworld’s counter system (or any hard/soft-counters in general), the game feels simplified to a fault. Even though everything feels great, there’s not much to sink your teeth into once you learn the basic mechanics.
Perhaps the biggest problem I have with Armada is that it feels unfinished. The AI is dumber than an Ork general (regardless of race), parts of the UI cut off, and fatal errors still seem to be a common occurrence. Crucial parts of the game are missing at launch, like a custom multiplayer game mode that lets you battle against your friends. Not including this mode is absurd, not just because there’s a singleplayer custom mode there already (albeit lacking much customisation), but because it neglects what the tabletop version was all about. You got together with your friends, shit talked each other’s fleets, watched as your fleets got pummelled, and laughed at the merriment the game brought about. Instead, you have to play with random people in random games, but you can’t just play the game either.
If you want to play multiplayer, you’ll find that it’s alarmingly similar to the singleplayer campaign. Between battles, you’re rewarded based on how you fared, but your ships will also be affected depending on how damaged they were… In multiplayer. Let me reiterate that: Permanence mechanics are present in multiplayer. On the one hand, this is a cool idea, but if you just want to get into a game with a whole heap of ships, you’re out of luck. There’s no freedom to experiment with the mechanics without grinding to the top, and it doesn’t even help with matchmaking when level 7’s can take on level 1’s. On top of this, it means that players aren’t on equal footing on a game-to-game basis. It’s a frustrating system to have to go through just to play the game, and without custom multiplayer, it’s enough to put you off playing the game entirely.
A fantastic game is hidden inside Armada’s mechanics, but it’s covered up by a lack of depth and an alarming number of omissions at launch. That said, the game’s updates can easily remedy these problems, and remedies to many of my issues are in the pipeline already. While I’d highly recommend it for anyone that has an inkling to buy it, it’s not a must-buy by any stretch. Time may not be forgiving on the poor ol’ Emperor, but this game can only benefit from further development.