There was a time where the merest hint of 40K would rile my jimmies harder than a Commissar at an Aeldari Bar Mitzvah. I can still remember the fragrant, air-conditioned musk of the Carillon GW store as my 14-year-old self lurked near the Tyranids without a dollar in his pockets. The days of irritating salespeople with “just browsing” are long gone, and I’m more keen on playing 40K video games than paying $70 for a codex. Most games from the IP are heresy incarnate, but Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 has stayed true to its predecessor’s legacy while bringing new factions and mechanics to the fray. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it’s just the same game with more content.
The first thing I noticed about Armada 2 was that not much had changed since the first game. At all. The procedurally generated maps, ship models and battle mechanics haven’t been touched since our last adventure with big shooty space churches. That means the camera still lingers too close to the ships, the combat feels super simplistic and games last all of 10 minutes. If you enjoyed maneuvering your ships and customising your fleets in the first game, you can stop reading right now, buy Armada 2 and have a great time. If you were on the fence from the last game, there are plenty of additions to lure you in again, particularly the new factions.
There’s a rule of thumb in 40K that adding Tyranids to your game will immediately make it better, and what do you know, it holds! There are now 12 factions to choose from – triple the original game’s lineup at launch – and they provide some much-needed variety. Where Eldar was the only distinctive race in the first game, Necrons, Tyranids and Drukhari have interesting mechanics that spice things up. Tyranids are especially strange since their abilities are so different from every other race, like using tentacles to suck troops from enemy ships as long as they stay within range. These additions are great to keep the gameplay interesting, but there’s a massive inconsistency between each faction’s customisation options.
Crafting the perfect fleet is a fun part of Armada’s gameplay, but some factions are lacking when it comes to ship choices. The Eldar Corsairs don’t have any Battleships or Battlecruisers to choose from, and they don’t have many other ships to play around with. Meanwhile, Orkz have a plethora of ship types and models in their arsenal, and it makes you wonder why Eldar aren’t allowed to play with bigger toys. Weirder still, The Eldar Asuryani are in the same boat, but the one Great Cruiser from the Corsairs is a Battleship instead. The Tau and Necrons are similarly lacking, and it’s a bit annoying to see that your faction of choice lost the customisation lottery, but at least we won the UI Powerball.
The in-battle UI has had a serious revamp while still looking familiar. The faction-specific information bar is gone, replaced with a minimalist line of actions at the bottom of the screen. Anyone familiar with the first game will feel right at home, though, as the icons and hotkeys have been preserved between games. Your ship list is now off to the right, the minimap is above that, and you can see more information on a selected ship to the left. Overall, it’s a welcome change from the first game, and it gives more room on-screen for the battle itself. Hell, the actions are even labelled by hotkeys, which is a stroke of genius by Clyde from the design team, but he went full Horus when designing the menus.
While the in-battle UI is pretty damn good, the menus in this game gave me an ulcer the size of the Eye of Terror. This might sound like a silly criticism, but it’s not that hard to show the loadout of the ship you’re about to buy in the campaign. Information is available for those who look hard enough, but it will require checking a thousand tooltips or going to an entirely separate menu. I loathe that every vessel has traits represented by icons instead of just listing its unique rules, especially when those rules only modify the base stats. The game also forgets your ability loadout from battle to battle, so if you have a build you like, you’ll need to select the traits every time you play a ranked match. It’s an unnecessary level of obfuscation mixed with oversights in design that irritates me to no end, and it’s especially frustrating in the campaigns, but they have their problems.
Armada 2 has three whole campaigns, and each one is as dull as the other. I couldn’t stomach finishing all three because so little happens from turn to turn. Enemy fleets don’t move from their positions unless they’re conducting assaults, and most battles feel like a formality with such inept AI gunning you down. There are occasional story missions that keep the enthusiasm levels up, like controlling a Space Marine Fortress-Monastery to glory, but these are few and far between. The further in you get, the more interesting the campaigns become, but the pacing is so slow that it’s not worth your time. Diehard fans will get a kick out of the campaigns, but it’s not good enough to convince those on the fence to get the game, and it has a more fundamental issue.
The core scope of the game is both its biggest strength and weakness. Outside of the campaign, battles always have a points limit of 1200, which is quite limited. You can’t have glorious fleets versing one another, only little flotillas of ships that require more twitching than thinking. There’s no way to change that limit, and while it’s not a huge deal (and makes perfect sense for ranked matches), I’d have preferred to see more player freedom with the battles. Who am I to question the Emperor’s will, though? We got a pretty all right game, and that’s what counts.
If you were a fan of the first game, Armada 2 is a no-brainer. For the rest of us, it’s the same as before with more stuff in there. The new factions add some much-needed variety into the mix, but the campaigns are static and uninteresting – at least for the first few hours. The unchanged combat is still off-putting to me, but it’s still good for a quick bit of dumb fun. Most importantly, it’s not a bad 40K game. It’s not amazing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not heresy incarnate.