BATTLEFLEET GOTHIC: ARMADA II Review – Space Horror On Space Boats With Space Bugs
Developed by Tindalos Interactive
Published by Focus Home Interactive
Available on PC through Steam
I’ll never stop in my eternal crusade to include the Warhammer 40k universe within the lexicon of horror. I mean seriously, it’s about a grimdark future where humanity’s light among the stars has long since begun to fade. Beset on all sides by horribly mutated demons, bloodthirsty Orks, ravenous space-bugs, and immortal cyber-skeletons, even the “good guys” routinely wipe out entire galaxies just for not praying hard enough. It’s like H. R. Giger meets Paul Verhoeven meets David Cronenberg meets Peter Jackson, a sentence that should instinctively cause you to faint from euphoria. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture.
In all its various game adaptations—be it board, video, or tabletop—the Warhammer 40k universe has never really been done true justice. In the grimdark future of the 41st Millennium, billions of lives are… huh… that’s weird. I feel like I’m repeating myself. Is this just another case of déjà vu? Am I trapped in an infernal Tzeentch time vortex? Oh hold on, I figured it out. This is just a repeat of my first review for the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. How telling.
I was honestly going to just copy and paste my entire review for the first and see if anyone noticed. While there are several improvements that bring Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 a few pegs above the first, most of the game remains unchanged. I don’t mean to say that this is a bad thing. I liked the first game, and Armada 2 is essentially a more polished and expanded version of that. Just don’t expect anything groundbreakingly new for the space-boat combat simulators genre.
As I don’t want to repeat myself, I’ll just quickly recap the things that make the series special. Games rarely get the feel of Warhammer 40k right, but the Armada games really give you the sense that billions of people senselessly dying is just a normal Tuesday. Armada 2 starts with a whole planet exploding, and only ramps up from there. The Armada series also manages to faithfully adapt the board game into a digital format, updating and streamlining mechanics while eliminating the cumbersome dice and unit cards that make tabletop gaming so inaccessible. It’s uniquely slow and tactical for a modern strategy game, far closer to the speed of Total War than Starcraft. If you’re the kind of person that prefers strategy over micromanagement, then Armada is probably your thing.
So why buy Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 when there’s a perfectly good Battlefleet Gothic: Armada still available? Well, Armada 2 adds a number of gameplay features that set it on firm standing above the original. It’s more of a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 level of, “same shit, but better,” rather than a Resident Evil 7, “out with the old, in with the new approach.” The most obvious improvement is to the roster of teams.
While the original game launched with only 4 factions (up to 6 with the DLC), Armada 2 launches with a whopping 12. You’ve got the Orks, Tyranids, Necrons, Eldar, Evil Eldar, Magic Eldar, Humans, Other humans, Other Other Humans, Chaos Humans, Tau, and Tau. Okay, so there’s a bit of overlap there. While there are major differences in how similar factions play, there’s a lot of overlap in what kinds of weapons they bring to the field. All human factions have access to the Nova Cannon, but the Adeptus Mechanicus uses it like they’re 40s at a frat party (absolutely mandatory). There’s also a lot of variation between the races. Tyranids have access to a multitude of close-range weapons and dash attacks, while Chaos is almost entirely long range accurate laser weapons.
However, not all teams are built equal in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. Glancing at the available roster, it’s clear which factions didn’t get as much love. There are six classes of ships (Escort, Light Cruiser, Cruiser, Battle Cruiser, Giant Cruiser, and Battleships), with some factions missing entire classes. Necrons have a single Battle Cruiser, and then jump straight to Battleships. Meanwhile, the Tyranids have about a dozen different flavors of Cruisers, just in case you needed a different color of bio-plasma. It’s weird too, because the Necrons are one of the main campaign teams. Maybe it’s thematic that the Necros aren’t well fleshed out.
The second major way that Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 improves upon the first is through the campaign. The previous game focused on Admiral Spire, an Imperial Admiral who led a Battlefleet in the Gothic sector against the Chaos bad guy Abaddon and his 12th black crusade. The campaign was fine, but laden with pacing issues, bugs, and some inconsistent design choices. It did a decent job with the source material, but we already know that Abaddon fails in his attempt to end the Imperium.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 kicks things off at an 11, with Abaddon returning to blow up the Imperial planet Cadia as a prelude to his 13th Black Crusade. Admiral Spire arrives just after the fireworks go off, which was a surprise to me seeing as how this is 800 years after the first game. Apparently he’s just been kicking around The Eye of Terror since the conclusion of Armada, eternally hunting down Abaddon and blowing the shit out of all the Chaos baddies that get in his way. Being essentially a machine designed solely for delivering hot broadside volleys into foul Xenos/Heretic face, Spire is immediately ready to receive new orders and get back to the fight.
This story serves as the backdrop for each of Armada’s three campaigns. The campaign system has been overhauled in Armada 2, taking a few steps further towards grand strategy. There is now a campaign map, with various systems and subsystems to conquer at your discretion. You’ll expand your territory by wresting it from the control of other factions, and build up your economic base through upgrading the development level of those planets. It’s all very basic, with no actual choices to be made in what kind of buildings you’ll make. Each planet comes pre-loaded with benefits, and your only decision is to spend the funds to upgrade it. You’ll also have the option to build different defenses, but most of the decision making comes from what order you choose to tackle the objectives in. It’s simple and fun, allowing you to focus more on building up your fleets and combat.
The first campaign available follows Admiral Spire on his eternal quest to make all Chaos scum regret ever lighting the candles for their first infernal incantation. This is the most basic and straightforward of the campaigns, but also the most robust. You’ll lead not only Imperial Navy fleets, but also Adeptus Astartes and Adeptus Mechanicus. There are also a few moral choices (do you side with the evil space Elves, or the evil inquisitors?), which give some replayability. The second campaign follows the Necrons, and feels like a more advanced version of Spire’s campaign. They build their fleets and expand their territory similar to the Imperium, but are more consistently beset by enemies.
The final campaign is the Tyranids, and is hilarious. You play as the evil space bugs who only desire to consume the galaxy. As the Tyranids are all controlled by a consciousness beyond our comprehension, the story is instead told from the perspective of all the races that the bugs are currently gobbling up. You’ll get to watch the pathetic humans and Eldar argue and refuse to get along, Chaos be befuddled by this new larger threat, and Orks get excited they have a new thing to butt heads with. The campaign mechanics reflect their voracious nature, with planets being devoured rather than colonized. Hold a planet for enough time, and it will be “consumed” for a large number of resources. Small benefits can be gained from maintaining your hold on systems, but overall you can feel free to just keep trucking along and eating the universe.
Story wise, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is a big treat for Warhammer 40k nerds. This is the first game set in the new video game expansion of the “Gathering Storm” storyline. What does that all mean? Well, Gathering Storm is the building off point for future narratives. Almost all of the 40k story is done retrospectively, meaning there’s only so much you can actually change. Now, with the future being unclear, it really could be canon that the Tyranids just eat everything. With the stakes actually being high for once, Armada 2 should bring fresh excitement to fans of the franchise.
So if Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is just more of what I like, that means the game is perfect, right? Well, no. Tindalos, in their pursuit to make each team feel unique, have left some pretty glaring holes in the balance department. And I’m not just talking about the discrepancy in roster sizes. There are some serious issues in fundamental team mechanics. The Necrons are the most obvious example. In the lore, Necrons are made out of an alien living metal that regenerates over time. This makes them functionally immortal. The way this manifests in the game is that Necron ships all regenerate hit points over time. If Necrons manage to consistently pull away to a safe distance, their longevity is far greater than the other teams. To balance this out, Necron ships do not have shields.
This all sounds fine, until you take crew into account. All ships have a certain number of crew, that when depleted render the ship dead and drifting. While Necron hulls will regenerate, their crew will not. You can kill enemy crews by performing boarding actions, which require you to get dangerously close. You can also board at longer range with a “lightning strike,” but only if the enemy shields are down. You know what doesn’t have shields? All of the Necron ships. There are entire campaign missions I simply couldn’t complete because they required me to keep getting into lightning strike range. It’s incredibly frustrating, with no real way to play around it. This is just one major example, but take any team and you can at least find one major annoyance.
There are also some design decisions I frankly can’t figure out. First off, you can’t replace flagships in your fleet unless they are destroyed. As flagships are recruited from your currently available pool, this means you won’t be able to upgrade your Light Cruiser into a Battle Cruiser unless it blows up. This is especially prevalent for the Tyranids, whose flagships serve as a giant moral boost to all surrounding ships. Without the ability to swap out for higher class ships, you’re left with a massive flaw in your forces. Speaking of planning your battles, there’s a consumable resources called battleplans used to delay enemy attacks and unlock hidden regions. Don’t wait for the game to tell you this, though, as I had to figure it out myself. Battleplans are far too rare, and don’t really add anything to the game.
All the little issues add up to make Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 an undeniably rough package. It’s very clear the game didn’t have a massive budget, and as a result many design decisions are half-baked. Some bits feel like vestigial remnants of features once meant to be fully implemented, while others are simply inadequately tested. There’s no real reason you can’t upgrade your flagships, other than that they just didn’t think (or couldn’t afford) to add it.
Still, despite all the jagged bits needling me at every turn, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is still a cut above the first. The series as a whole is a unique experience, combining tactical combat and gothic space horror. If you want to fight a fleet of ravenous space bugs with your army of teleporting elves that shoot start shurikens, this is pretty much your best option. The look and feel of this game are truly epic, as hulls groan and buckle under the weight of enemy fire and broadside volleys echo through the cosmos. Plus, the Tyranid ships explode with blood when they die, which is just super duper. If you liked the first and are used to fuzzying your eyes to look over all the blemishes, it’s a great experience. The new teams and improved campaign add a lot. If you’re new to the franchise, just be aware that there’s a certain amount of chaff you have to just accept.
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