I’ve played my fair share of Warhammer 40K games and, in hindsight, the quality strike rate is pretty damn high. Rarely do you get a dud. Among the fire sale of licensing comes Tindalos Interactive‘s tabletop-turned-digital take on the now sadly discontinued pewter and plastic of starship combat in the 41st Millennium. No secret around the Wargamer drawing room that Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is damn good.
Looking back on our in-depth interview with Tindalos founder and Armada production honcho Romain Clavier, Tindalos have delivered on their lofty promises. The same level of fidelity and quality remain from the beta, which you can ogle here. But if you want the definitive musing as the full release burns from its Port Maw mooring, read on.
Armada delivers a full broadside of 40k bombast better than any other Games Workshop video game, and that’s probably due to its lavish naval trappings. It’s Jutland with space-demons. Tsushima with star-elves. Anyone who posits the lack of z-axial movement as a deficit is kidding themselves, primarily because even the great Homeworld never mechanically benefited from its three-dimensionality. It was all just eye candy and thankfully effortless camera control. Armada is about getting one’s interstellar Jellicoe on; a game of fleet composition, range and position on an abstracted star map that keeps things on an even keel. In doing so, mirroring the original tabletop game, it opens up a box of truly tactical treats.
The single player campaign, starring the stoic Admiral Spire, has players run their ships through a cascade of missions – primary and secondary – against Universal Angry Man Abaddon the Despoiler and his Chaos fleets, with a side order of Eldar corsairs and Ork pirates to contend with. Players level Spire as well as his subordinate captains, each with flow-on effects in upgrades, crew enhancements and greater classes of ships becoming available. The primary missions relating to the repulsion of Abaddon’s crusade into the Gothic Sector form the core missions of a turn-based strategic mode. Here, armchair Togos can deploy an increasing number of fleets per turn to deal with not only with Chaos incursions, but systems under harassment from greenskin piracy or Eldar prancing.
These side missions might appear superfluous, but can upend proceedings in critically damaging your fleet or losing worlds with valuable assets that grant bonuses. Reach a maximum of fifty worlds yielded and the Imperial presence in the Gothic sector falls. An Emperor’s wrath awaits.
The idea of ship persistence ameliorates later game obsolescence, certainly one of the genre’s biggest issues. Beyond a select array of ship variants within each class, this is not a game of massed units and each vessel is vitally important from the Light Cruiser upwards. With each successful mission and points awarded, players can tinker with the aforementioned upgrades, skills and crew proficiencies. If a ship is lost in battle, it will require a few turns on the strategic map to be repaired and brought back online. The kicker is, no experience will be awarded for the first battle thereafter on account of the fresh crew. It’s a nice touch, highlighting the immense cost inherent in these starships.
I’ve covered the combat in-depth in the multiplayer beta preview, and not much has changed since then. There do seem to be some reports of imbalance between the faction fleets, and while I can agree to the vast differences in power between certain ships, I wholeheartedly appreciate the divide. Not that historical retrospect means a great deal here, but gun range deficiency didn’t stop the German fleet devastating the English line in the opening tussle at Jutland. Each faction in Armada feels distinct, sporting their own strengths and weaknesses. Eldar are voracious hunters, hitting and running and turning on a dime. The Chaos might not have the tungsten resilience of the Imperium, but range, speed and an excess in fighter-bombers make them appropriately fearsome. And Orks? Well, Orks be Orks.
As I’ve said elsewhere, deep in feverish discussion on the merits of Armada, being real-time in place of IGOUGO is absolutely fine. The systems in place are geared for such measurement; cool-downs should be approximated, rather than grokked in abstracted turns. Broadsiding and torpedo ops should be an art form, the kind of nail-biting pyrotechnic pétanque it was from the Age of Sail, domain of the dreadnought and onwards. Churning and burning and snatching vessels from their warp jump getaway is an engagement whose tension would be drained completely, were this anything other than real-time. I certainly didn’t believe it when I first heard the claim, thinking Tindalos would be serving up an ornate version of Conquest: Frontier Wars, tizzied with spikes and spires. Not so.
Armada is a game that makes the most of its new-found temporal flexibility. A high-stakes affair, whether you’re playing the campaign or taking your fleets online, the tabletop game lives on. If you’ve ever wanted to know who’d win in a fight between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Liverpool Cathedral, inquire within.