By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
If you read my review of Space Hulk: Tactics back in October, you might have picked up on the fact that I’m a bit of a Warhammer 40k fanboi, and to some extent Games Workshop’s entire expanded library (my fiance and I even get out our Talisman board game when we feel like testing the bonds of our relationship). Truly, the Warhammer 40k universe is my favorite though. I’ve always loved the genre/setting, with its gothic architecture on scales that often include the planetary. The Imperium’s towering arches and soaring spires have just always been so damn cool to me. Nowhere do you get to see this in play so much as the figurines of the Battlefleet Gothic game, where the space-faring vessels of the Empire of Man closely resemble churches in space: Churches with broadside cannons, even.
So I was pretty stoked when the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada game was announced. Named after one of the expansions for the board game, this was the first time Games Workshop had taken their space naval battles into digital format. I had some mixed feelings. I thought the art and overall design of the game were great, but I, like many many others, had issues with the escort missions against the Orks, to the point where I sort of shelved the title for a while. That being said, it was a pretty fun game all in all, and if you can figure out how to pass those escort missions, very worth playing (Hint: Just cheese it.)
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is a great example of developers listening to their playerbase, and working hard to improve on a design based on coherent feedback. I’m not going to focus too much on comparing the two games, because I think they’re both quality games on their own merits. I will say, however, that I really appreciated the updated UI in BGA2. I feel it was much easier to process, the skills were more accessible, and the color scheme was just easier on the eyes overall. Also, the campaigns play out quite differently, so while the game looks and feels like a sequel, it does NOT feel like just “more of the same” from the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, which I think is how sequels really should go.
In Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 the first campaign once again puts you in the role of Admiral Spire of the Imperial Guard naval fleet. You quickly discover that a good deal of time has transpired since the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. In fact, Admiral Spire has spent over 700 years in the Warp. The Warp is a place between dimensions that ships in the 40k universe use to travel from place to place. It is also where the elder Chaos gods dwell, and spending more than a few moments in the Warp has driven lesser men to madness and worship of Chaos. Spire, however, is not most men, and his dogged determination to serve the Emperor and bring down Abaddon the Despoiler, one of Chaos’ mightiest champions, has served him well in helping to maintain his sanity.
Abaddon the Despoiler. One of the greatest foes to the Imperium of Man.
The planet of Cadia, which is a prominent figure in both Battlefleet Gothic: Armada games, rests near the edge of the Eye of Terror. The Eye is a tear in the dimensional fabric of space leading into the warp, and is the source from which Chaos spills forth into our realm. When Abaddon’s 13th Black Fleet crashes a massive battle station into the planet, several ancient pylons, which helped to hold the Eye of Terror closed, are destroyed and the sector that is the Eye magnifies in size. This is relevant because it follows the story line of the tabletop game and brings Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 in line with the latest expansions of the books, which many aficionados of Games Workshop’s games are likely to appreciate.
The game itself includes two main modes of play: Campaign and Battle modes. The first is currently single player only, but Tindalos did announce plans to add a co-op multiplayer mode for the campaign, which is pretty cool if you have friends that are also into the game. Battle mode on the other hand has four separate modes. Skirmish 1v1 and 2v2, and Ranked 1v1 and 2v2. One of the amazing things about the Battle mode is that Tindalos and Games Workshop have included all 12 playable races with the game. In previous GW titles, you’ve often been forced to purchase these separately as DLC. Tindalos has also been working very hard to consider game balance, tracking win/loss statistics in the ranked matches, and listening to feedback from the playerbase. While Tyranids and Eldar Corsairs have been outliers through beta, a large balance fix is planned for launch, and they intend to continue watching the situation.
FOR THE MIGHT OF THE EMPEROR! Note: This is footage from the beta build. Changes may occur.
The campaign mode itself revolves around controlling of sectors of space, and the planetary systems within those sectors. Battles are fought to control a system in a Dominator mode. There are 5 rings that give control points as time progresses. You can also win by eliminating the entirety of your enemy’s fleets, but since repairs can be costly (in either resources or time), it plays into the grander strategy game to decide whether it is better to fight head on, or attempt to evade enemy ships and only engage when it means taking a control point with minimal losses.
Once you’ve got control of a system, you gain benefits from the points of interest there, be they planets, asteroid belts, gas clouds, or what have you. Some might produce resources, while others can offer reduced rates on improving other POIs, and others can even increase the armor rating of your ships. Generally speaking though it’s good to be in possession of POIs, and once again, choosing where to allocate your resources is part of the overall strategy long game going on.
Buying new ships is far more expensive than repairing. Sometimes warping out of a battle and taking the loss is the wiser choice.
Another feature of the campaign, which some find undesirable, is the ‘urgency gauge’. This gauge increases as time passes, encouraging you to finish objectives and progress the campaign (rather than just hitting end turn repeatedly to stockpile resources to your heart’s content). If the urgency gauge fills, you lose the game. Some players have argued that they feel rushed by the urgency gauge, however, so Tindalos said in a letter to players that you would be able to disable the gauge. Frankly, I’m cool with that. I get some players aren’t down with feeling rushed. However, I also am personally inclined to think that doing so should disable Steam achievements. That’s entirely my subjective viewpoint though, and whether or not that’s how it goes remains to be seen.
I mentioned before that Battle mode allows you to play all 12 races of the Battlefleet Gothic tabletop game, which I think is going to be a real crowd pleaser. Furthermore, you can choose between different factions within those races. For example, Chaos forces include the Sons of Horus and the World Eaters, while Space Marines can choose Space Wolves, Blood Angels, or other of the famous chapters. As of this time it does not look like you can create a custom chapter or faction, which is a bit of a bummer, but with as much variety as exists, it’s not the end of the world by any means.
In this 1v1 Skirmish, I take the Eldar out for a spin, and get my butt kicked by some AI controlled Orks. Note: This is footage from the beta build. Changes may occur.
All in all, I really feel like BGA2 is a great game. It adds a lot of polish to the rough edges of the original Battlefleet Gothic Armada, which while not abundant, were there. The game is quite immersive to me and I tend to get very intent on the ebb and flow of battles to the point where time really flies by. I enjoy the wide tactical variety available. There are currently only 3 campaigns: Imperials, Necrons and Tyranids. I would really like to see the rest of the races get unique campaigns, even as DLC.
The graphics in the game are quite good, though sometimes the maps can be very busy. The backgrounds are stunning, but sometimes so much so that they draw the eye away from the action. The sounds are great too. I’ve mostly only played the Imperial Guard campaign so far, but I love the sound of orders being barked in true IG fashion, and the battle music is quite keen.
I definitely see myself chalking up a good number of hours on BGA2, and it has even spurred me to reinstall and play Battlefleet Gothic: Armada as a refresher on the story there. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Games Workshop universe, I think Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 stands as a great 4x space strategy game, with an engaging story, quality gameplay, delightful graphics, and polished finish. I give it 4 out of 5 Chaos stars.
Have fun out there folks, and remember: The Emperor Protects
Note: A game code was provided for review purposes.