SPOILERS CONTAINED TO PROLOGUE ONLY
Get ready to kill some filthy Xenos! Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is an RTS set in the Warhammer 40K universe. It is developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is available on Windows via Steam and can be played offline for the campaign mode; Online is required for multiplayer skirmish and ranked battles.
Being a real-time strategy(RTS) game, BGAII operates in a traditional manner as other games in the genre. You’ll command units, or in this instance fleets over the vastness of space against enemies in various settings and conditions. Strength doesn’t always determine the outcome as strategic actions and quick decision making have more weight than a strong ship.
All ships, hold position. Doubt forms the path to damnation!-Lord Admiral Spire
Battles will take place over expansive grids with beautiful space backdrops. The game’s primary battle mode is a point capture style of play with a score limit. This can result in both some interesting and frustrating battles. Ensuring your fleet can maintain domination over the capture points longer often takes precedence over battling itself. This makes fleet composition and management the most vital aspect of the game since you will want faster weaker ships for capturing and sturdier line ships or better for defending and obstructing.
Ship skills will play a big part of this as the game offers various approaches to fight in each engagement. You won’t always be in a situation where overwhelming firepower is available or desirable. Damaging the morale of a ship to cause a mutiny or disabling their turrets then troops is another method of controlling an encounter. Kiting cruisers with escorts is more often than not, viable and preferrable. Some ships also avoid map hazards such as asteroids better than others. You can even send squadrons out to commandeer a derelict ship.
Each ship amongst all of the factions will have different attributes allowing you to mix and balance your armada to your particular play-style and requirements. Stances are also available for each vessel which helps them adjust to most situations such as increasing your firing range, reload speed, or shoring up your defense for a ship taking inevitable damage. Maneuverability with ships can be controlled as well both by skill in the case of ensuring you directing your ship efficiently in terms of turning and with skills utilizing the combustion gauge. Maneuvers like high speed turning or full burn will use up your slowly replenishing gauge, but judicious use of these abilities can make or break an encounter or battle.
During campaign play, your armada will tackle additional concerns such as resource, fleet, and time management. Each of these concerns and more await you depending on which one of the three major campaigns you play, each with their own inherent strengths, weaknesses, and play-styles. On every campaign turn you will have to complete mission steps and decide on how to best utilize the resources that you have and plan on how to acquire more before the urgency meter grows too high. Ships that sustain damage in battle will carry that damage over once the fight is concluded. Repairs can be made on the fly, but cost significant capital to do so. Alternatively, you can allow a ship to rest and make repairs over time, but this will require it sitting out and not being utilized in tactical moves. Each system you capture can be developed and and defended with mines, defense platforms, and even space stations.
I often find micromanagement to be a word no one likes, but BGAII manages to turn it around and make it enjoyable. You can easily point your ship at the enemy ship and call it a day. You may even win a few with that mindset. But where this game really shines is the level of detail in battles. Picking the angles of engagements, priority targeting, the ability to target parts of a ship, utilizing frontal assault vs broadsiding with specific weapons, and distance automation. These are just a few things that really make the game more fun rather than being tedious and the campaign map functions have many similar aspects to enjoy.
Once you have your tactical act together, you can start playing with or against other players. BGAII features both ranked and skirmish multiplayer modes. A nice highlight is the ability to fight alongside another friend in 2v2 battles against other players or AI. Skirmish modes are fully customizable, even down to environmental effects and hazards. Ranked play is a bit more restrictive, but rightfully so and has its own rules for domination and generated point control. Once you select your faction, you can either select from a number of premade fleets or customize your own. Customized fleet loadouts can be saved and used again later if you find you like your creation.
BGAII takes place during the Gathering Storm era in the Warhammer 40K universe. Abaddon the Despoiler has launched his crusade on Cadia with his innumerous Chaos forces and the Blackstone Fortress. Despite a cumulative effort, the Emperor’s agents fail to protect Cadia as the Chaos troops ram the Blackstone Fortress from orbit into the planet itself.
Progress from here depends on the chosen faction. The Imperium, Necron, and Tyranids are all playable and any fan will notice the detail to the game has paid to their respective champions. Each faction will come with the various sub-factions one comes to expect from 40K and the game replicates character art and colors fairly faithfully.
Many of the controls, shortcuts, and commands will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played RTS games before. New players to the genre will require some acclimation, but like many similar titles, a low speed and pause mode is available during the campaign to help until you get a grasp on things. Battlefleet Gothic Armada II offers a robust introduction and campaign to detail each of the game’s functions and it varies across the factions as well. Some of the unique meters and interfaces could have been pointed out a little better, particularly in the campaign map where there is a lot to learn. A full help menu exists however in the event that you miss something or close windows by accident.
BGAII utilizes the familiar looming fully adjustable camera to zoom in and out and grant a malleable field of view on each battle map. Much of your time will be spent making minute adjustments to line up skills such as torpedoes,ensuring boarding fields are correct, or sending out support squadrons across the map so being smooth at the helm is a must. You can also rearrange shortcuts and keybindings in the event you don’t like the default controls.
Graphics (Played using the epic setting)
A variety of art styles present itself in the game. Some are incredibly detailed while others have a minimalist approach to animation. Regardless of the scene or setting, I found everything to be incredibly detailed and pleasant to look at both in and out of battle. As you zoom in and out on the battlefield smaller things like fighter squadrons become detailed along with all of the gritty detail you’d expect to see from the larger ships in the 40k universe. The special effects and attacks were either hit or miss in the pleasing department but they all embodied a faithful attempt at graphically recreating the elaborate world 40k is known for.
If I had one reservation however, it would be ship damage. Many RTS games have an excruciating amount of detail on unit injury and this is the one place I feel it fell short on graphically. Instead of seeing realistic damage, your ship instead looks like a stubbed toe or a giant rash when fully zoomed in. It’s not a game breaker by any means but some RTS fans may not like the look or feel of this approach.
One things that has remained constant in the Warhammer 40K IP regardless of title is the consistent dedication it has in delivering a compelling voice acting performance. The actors really dig in and sell the scene on almost every level. Supporting effects on voices of characters with a nontraditional sound like the Adeptus Mechanicus are also done to a very persuasive level. After a while of playing, you kind of want to die for the emperor yourself.
Other sounds such as combat were on par and some were impressive. What I found particularly enjoyable was zooming in on the action and have specific sounds enhanced and then dampened again on zoom out. While that’s not particularly uncommon in RTS titles, BGAII creates an aural environment that is fun to be in, especially when combined with the graphics and music.
Composed by Doyle W. Donehoo, the soundtrack is done in an epic orchestral style and fits the setting perfectly. Mr. Donehoo has made soundtracks for many other Warhammer 40K games and never fails to capture the essence of his target work. From the tutorial, campaign settings, and right down to the heart of the battle; you’ll feel like you’ve dove into the pool of the 40K and came out bloody and possibly heretical on the other side. The OST for this game sets the tone right from the get-go and keeps you immersed in an atmosphere fit for the emperor himself.
When all is said and done Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is just pure immersive fun. The sound, graphical detail, and music really come together to sell the 40K atmosphere in a way that games seldom do. As an RTS it is exciting, and has all of the options and unit variation that I expect to see in one. I do feel that they could have explored alternate match conditions more rather than just point capture, but I understand it from a competitive aspect. The level of technicality used for ship to ship combat is impressive and it will create many avenues for skilled players to pull off some interesting tactics that I’m sure will grow over time.
If you are a 40K fan but aren’t a fan of multiplayer competitive strategy games, Gothic Armada II still has a lot to offer. Even flying the Phalanx in the prologue was just sheer fun. The campaign itself with various difficulty settings, multiple factions, and adjustable game speed should keep an average gamer busy for quite a while.
The Emperor protects!