In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. In the meantime though we have been offered a beta code for Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive. And seeing as I have been a Warhammer fan since my teens I gladly took one for the team and put the latest Warhammer 40k game through its paces.
As a Warhammer fan these are interesting times to be into video games. As since THQ unfortunately went under, what had been one of their prime licenced IPs, were made available to many other developers. And many developers of various sizes have jumped at the opportunity to create games for this popular and expansive universe filled with rich lore.
With the Warhammer 40k universe being so vast, there are many areas for game developers to look at when creating their games. Yet Tindalos Interactive’s Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is, as far as I’m aware, the first video game based on the Battlefleet Gothic table top game.
Something Warhammer based games often need to consider is how best to portray the game to keep existing Warhammer fans happy with the depth and lore accuracy versus not confusing gamers who may not know anything about the Warhammer universe/s. If you push more towards one end you create a very niche game, but if you go too far the other way you may risk backlash from what should be your initial fan base.
Tindalos Interactive have, so far as I have seen, done quite a good job of riding the fine line between lore depth and accuracy alongside being “simple” enough for Warhammer newcomers. The intro cinematic is a great example of this. The language used introducing the game’s story both suits the Warhammer universe while providing detail that existing fans will appreciate but still maintaining understanding from newcomers. Abaddon is always referred to as the War Master of Chaos – it implies bad guy even if you don’t know who Abaddon is yet etc.
The intro cinematic also shows Tindalos’ excellent understanding of the Warhammer Universe. While it might not be as cinematically beautiful as, say, the Blizzard cinematics, it shows the real grit of the Warhammer universe. It isn’t a clean place, the images look like they’ve had a once over with a high grit sander – and that is a good thing! Not to mention it features one of the best lines in a game intro I’ve possibly ever heard: “A Chorus of a Billion Throats will cry out your name in fear and hatred!”
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a Real Time Strategy game, yet is very different from other RTS titles that have come before it. Featuring space ship based warfare it is generally much smaller scale than your StarCraft or Command and Conquer titles, with each player only having a handful of ships under their command. However that is more than enough to keep you busy, as much like other RTS titles there is a LOT of micro-management to keep you busy in game.
With Battlefleet Gothic: Armada being quite different from other titles (at least any other RTS games I’ve played). It does leave a game that actually does need you to play through the tutorial, which I think they knew because there is no option to skip it at the start of the Campaign Mode. When I first got my hands on the Beta I jumped into a quick Skirmish Match, set the computer AI to easy and still got annihilated pretty much before I managed to tell my ships to attack.
The Campaign Mode’s Tutorial is also the stories Prologue. It starts off rather slowly, but introduces the player to both the mechanics of the game and how to play it etc as well as to the characters and their motives etc. While still carefully treading the fine line between having enough detail for fans without alienating those Warhammer newcomers.
The Prologue starts slowly, as mentioned, with basics on manoeuvring your ships and the general basic controls of the game, before moving onto the basics of combat. Throw in some story aspects, a few more ships to control and then the upgrade system for the game and before you know it you’re ready to start on a few of the easier missions to start the game properly.
To start with the combat is fairly slow, to keep it easier for players to keep on top of what is happening, to keep the game manageable while players learn how to play. But once you get a bit further into the story (or build up renown in the online/skirmish modes) you soon find yourself controlling bigger fleets of ships, with more abilities and cooldowns and generally more things to keep track of and micromanage. This creates a much more fast paced game as you jump between your ships using their various abilities while also trying to out-manoeuvre your opponent.
Unfortunately my aging PC is starting to feel the slow drag of time as the Chaos God of Fear (Nurgle if you didn’t know) brings us all closer to death. In computer terms, the newer games are becoming more and more of a strain for my PC to handle. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is no exception. My, once amazing, PC now only just hits the minimum settings due to having the minimum spec GPU (GTX560). So I could only play the game on its lowest settings. While certain aspects did look a little rough around the edges, generally the game still looked pretty nice – and I can only imagine how glorious the detail would be on higher settings! I do intend to jump on my mates PC with a GTC980Ti and see how good it looks, unfortunately time got away from me and my deadline arrived before I got a chance to do so.
The only downside I really found was that sometimes in battle you weren’t given enough information as standard and had to look for detail. A prime example being that you’ll get a message saying that a turret or weapon has been destroyed, but you’re not told where on the enemy ship said weapon has been destroyed. If you took out all of its starboard broadside weapon batteries you’d only be told that some weapon batteries were destroyed, you’d have to zoom in and pan around the ship to find the damage yourself (Which is a good excuse to enjoy the high level of detail on the ship models). Whereas if the notification said that the starboard weapons were destroyed, you’d know to stay on that side of the enemy ship to avoid incoming fire etc.
One big factor for me, which is something I frequently judge Warhammer based games on, is how they handle the Chaos Gods. Many games in the past have not been very lenient regarding Chaos God choices. Many games either automatically align you to one of the Gods, not giving any choice, or take the lamer approach of not “involving” the Gods as it were. Something I, as a Warhammer fan, have liked about what I have played in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada so far, is that they handle the Chaos Gods correctly. Abaddon is the champion of Chaos Undivided, he is the War Master of all 4 Chaos Gods. So it is only right that he has access to boons from all 4 of the Chaos Gods. And so in Armada Chaos players can upgrade their ships to with bonuses from whichever of the Chaos Gods they want – and so I fully intend to make a full Nurgle fleet! Hail Grandfather Nurgle!
Providing you like your RTS games Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a game you’ll likely enjoy. Even if you’re not a Warhammer fan the game isn’t reliant on you knowing the background stories for everything, it explains enough for it to make sense, yet is rich enough to shine if you do know the background etc. If you can run it on the higher settings you’ll have a stunning game with an in depth campaign mode and online multiplayer to keep you going long after you finish pounding the AI.