In the grim darkness that is the future of Warhammer 40,000, perpetual war is the way of life through the cosmos. The Imperium of Man fights an endless war against the forces of Chaos and the endless waves of xenos. Evils as old as time, and ancient races with technology older than life in the galaxy wage war, as they have for centuries. It makes the perfect setup for a real-time strategy game.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is all about large ship engagements. Ships the size of football stadiums (and often larger) duke it out–large, slow-turning battleships in space. It’s a real-time strategy game that feels familiar to those who have played games in the 4X genre, though it’s probably closer to the Total War series without the diplomacy. During the three campaigns you must fight to conquer system as you battle across star sectors.
Though first introduced to the action from the perspective of the Imperium, you have access to five different factions in the different game modes. Each faction has access to several sub-factions, as well as ability combinations and ships that are unique to that faction. There is some ability overlap, but each faction has a set of unique skills, as well. Despite there being five factions available, the campaign only covers three of them: the Necrons, Imperium, and the Tyranids.
Diffferent factions have different abilities and ships available to them. The Imperium fields massive spaceships that resemble giant gothic cathedrals—like if those megachurches adopted gothic architecture and launched themselves into space. This isn’t humanity as we know it, though—instead, it’s full of fanatics who kill xenos on sight in service to the undying God-Emperor of Man. They have to be fanatics to fight off the terrifying forces of Chaos or the different alien species with their own agendas.
The ancient Necrons employ short jumps to maneuver their relatively slow ships, but their damage output is amazing. And their neon green ships are super rad looking. The Tyranids fight in large, organic vessels that are essentially giant creatures that can ram, hook, and use swarms to devour enemy ships. The Tau, like the Imperium, uses ballistic weaponry—but mostly in the forms of missiles, and their ships aren’t as stylish as the Imperium’s.
The feeling of these large capital ships hammering each other with huge guns is done well. When a ship explodes, it makes a satisfying groan as it breaks apart into large chunks of debris. The sound design is great—with guns sounding sufficiently big, and impacts feeling sufficiently impactful. Battlefield Gothic: Armada II promises capital ship combat, and it delivers that.
When people think of capital ship combat, it might not excite as much as the thought of Star Wars-style dogfighting—but these fights can be brutal. Huge cannons broadside ships, while others use giant cutting beams to wreak havoc on the ship’s decks. When ships get close enough, you can even send your troops over to board the enemy vessels. Crews fight in the corridors of these ships, disrupting ship operations—though you don’t get to see these battles first hand, they can reduce crews to zero or just make destroying any given vessel an easier task.
You have pretty good control over your ships in combat. You can choose how fast they move (in many cases) how hard they turn (in many cases) and even which side guns you want firing. There is a lot of micromanagement involved if you want to use your ships to their maximum potential. Fortunately, you can slow time, pause, or even speed it up to make those decisions easier.
Pathfinding can be an issue, though. Oftentimes ships will collide into allied ships causing massive damage. Micromanagement is a must, and I found myself constantly fighting to keep my ships from shooting, hitting, or otherwise damaging each other. This can be frustrating, especially in pitched battles where one mistake can turn a victory into a defeat.
While completely destroying the opposing side in a battle usually guarantees victory, capturing (and holding) strategic points while you accumulate score is another way to win. Winning by points can feel cheap, though. If you have a fleet made up of smaller vessels, it’s possible to take and re-take points while avoiding much of the combat. While this would be fine in most circumstances, in Campaign mode it essentially erases the opposing fleet without any of their vessels being destroyed.
Despite there being five factions available, the campaign only covers three of them: the Necrons, Imperium, and the Tyranids. There are hints of more content coming in the future—which is good, because as it is, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II feels a little light on content.
Almost like the Total War series in its scope, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II has three campaigns that span across several star sectors. You can play as the human Imperium, animalistic Tyranids, or the ancient Necron. Each campaign has a story, but with little crossover between the other campaigns, each feels like it stands on its own. Fight across star sectors while capturing systems to further your faction’s agenda.
There are different missions that you can choose to complete at any point, or continue to expand and fight through the sector. Your time is limited, though, as each turn inches the threat scale upwards, eventually increasing the threat level. The higher the threat level, the more aggressive and built-up the enemy factions will be.
There is a story that drives these campaigns forward. The cutscenes are cool, hand drawn art and the voice acting is (mostly) good—though I found the actual storylines to be pretty run-of-the-mill 40,000 stuff that serves as a vehicle more so than motivation.
Despite the campaigns being somewhat lengthy, they tend to feel pretty basic. There is no diplomacy, so the campaign map just serves as a way to build fleets and move them around—but with the timer, and the missions objectives, there are only so many places to logically move them. Ship engagements are limited in size, too, so your dream of building a giant fleet that dwarfs the enemy’s is not really possible.
I found some factions in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 to be more fun than others. I really dig the Imperium’s look and the bombastic ballistic weaponry they field, but I ended up preferring the movement options and damage output of the Necrons. Some factions are definitely more fun than others, but this obviously comes down to preference—a great sign for longevity in a game that is propped up by its multiplayer.
There is a skirmish mode, called “Battle Mode,” That is where exhibition battles versus AI take place—and this is also where you can test your mettle against other human players. I didn’t have access to the multiplayer mode with my press copy, but I did participate in some of the beta events leading up to the full release. Multiplayer can be chaotic, but once you learn your chosen faction’s abilities, it becomes a sublime test of skill and strategy.
Now, I’m leaving some of my deepest criticism towards the end, because it’s a problem inherent with the Battleship Gothic: Armada series, moreso than it is with this game specifically: there is no Y-axis employed in these battles. Everything is along a flat plane. This helps those who lack the proper spatial awareness, but games like Homeworld prove that the full six degrees of decision-making can make for a good strategy game. Even so, in this game of broadside cannons it feels more like naval engagements than spaceship combat.
To start you off in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II there is a fair amount of tutorial information given, but I still ended up feeling overwhelmed—and this is from someone who has played the first Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. The intro levels do a good job in showing off what kind of hardware you’ll have access to later, but it’s just a bombastic showcase of what’s to come more so than an earnest tutorial.
The visuals are gorgeous, though. Space battles look great. The gothic architecture of the Imperium is rendered beautifully, turning the cathedral-like spaceships into eye candy. And you can watch as all of these beautiful ships turn into molten slag during prolonged space battles.
If you just want to participate in skirmishes, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II has that option available. Unlike the campaign, you can play as Tau or Chaos forces, using abilities and ships you couldn’t control while playing the campaign.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is fun. The combat can feel satisfying, and to me, that was largely dependent on the faction I played. The campaigns are basic, and serve as an excuse to get the fun, meaty space-combat. But even the combat feels limiting with its restrictions on axis movement, and the absolute need to micromanage (lest your ships tear each other apart) makes some of the battles (and factions) feel tedious. Still, if you’re hankering for some capital-ship combat, it does scratch that itch.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is available now on Windows.
Hi, if you like reading about the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, considering donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR