Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 follows on 800 years after the first title, Admiral Spire’s fleet returns from the warp after defeating the 12th Black Crusade, after the loss of Cadia to the Chaos forces. Itching to drive Abaddon’s forces back, Spire launches another campaign against the heretic war master.
Immediate first impressions were not great, the opening cinematic when playing the Prologue lagged and skipped, dropping frames all over the place. Beautifully rendered and featuring some amazing artwork, just not so beautifully run. Thankfully the issues smoothed themselves out as soon as the gameplay started.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2’s gameplay is initially a little weird, as an entry point it’s not the most user-friendly. Fans of the previous game will no doubt feel at home, with some minor tweaks to the UI, but otherwise, it remains mostly unchanged. The default controls take a little getting used to and the hotkeys seem to be oddly laid out, of course, the key bindings are fully customizable so they can be manipulated to suit your own playstyle.
After the initial annoyances, the game became pretty good fun. Navigating the map and getting your ships into position can be a little annoying at times. It often seemed easier to just leave the ships on auto-pathing, allowing them to take evasive actions on their own. Whether this helps them survive remains to be seen, ships always seem to hit their mark when left to their own devices. It’s human intervention of the various torpedoes and targeted attacks that end up missing.
Visually Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is nothing short of incredible, as you’d expect when it comes to the Unreal 4 Engine! The attention to detail is exquisite and the background scenery is simply gorgeous. Zooming in on the ships shows them off in all of the Emperor’s glory… Playing as anyone else is pure heresy!
The animations and ship details are fantastically well rendered if a little sluggish and sometimes slightly inconsistent. Scaling is an understandable and acceptable issue however. Some of the ships have crews of 45,000 people, but when launching a squadron of fighters or bombers to attack an enemy ship you can clearly see them. Comparatively these ships should be miniscule compared to these leviathans but it’s a very inconsequential issue!
The campaign missions, battles, and general interface are all superbly done. Excellently written and performed by all, the writing more than meets the expectations associated with anything coming out of Warhammer 40K’s Black Library. The tone and aesthetics work perfectly together to capture the themes and atmosphere fans have come to love from the 40K universe.
I’m not much a fan of RTS titles, they often rely on overwhelming force in order to enforce challenge and difficulty, something I find more artificial and tiresome than well designed. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 only occasionally succumbs to this, however you’re always able to balance the scales with some clever planning and preparation. Careful disposition of ships is essential to victory, although you’re often able to out-maneuver the often dumb enemies while using a vastly reduced force to gain the upper hand and sweep the victory.
The range of combat scenarios do become a little dull after a while, ultimately every battle can be solved by eradicating the enemy before whatever the specific target of that map is reached. These missions often involve controlling and dominating the majority of the map or eliminating certain targets. Pretty standard bag for an RTS title.
That being said the sector map and turn-based elements are utilized brilliantly, adding that extra layer of tactical thinking to your gameplay and strategies. There’s a key moment in the Imperial campaign where you are exposed on both flanks and have to make the decision to either push forward and proceed with the objective or clear one flank of the Chaos presence before continuing so as to not get murdered from behind or get cut off from your supplies.
These elements are what made Star Wars Battlefront 2 (the good one) so great when playing Galactic Conquest.
With the superb visuals and rather fantastic writing, it comes as no surprised that the music in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II is equally incredible. The orchestral score is the perfect compliment to the Warhammer 40K aesthetic, with grand scales and a sense of majesty despite the whole universe on a slippery slope to shit. Of course there will never be a better accompaniment than Flight of the Valkyries…but Battlefleet gets pretty damn close!
Coming back to the ships though, obviously the most important part, they do move really quite slowly when maneuvering into position. Running the game on 3x speed seems to be the only way to get things done in a timely manner then switching to normal speed when the combat begins. Without this feature Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 would be agonizingly slow.
The fleet progression appears to suffer from this as well. Fleet management and upgrades appear overly complex to the untrained and un-practiced eye, but the system itself does move quite slowly as well. The upgrades range from having seemingly no benefit to suddenly making your ship some kind of shiny golden god of a vessel.
The game does come with multiple different campaigns, including the ever-hated Necrons. However, they have some of the coolest ship designs that are the most fun to use. The Necron campaign is much the same as the Imperial one, but with a selection of sweet neon green glowing ships and skeletal motifs.
Despite its early teething troubles, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 turns out to be an overall pretty enjoyable title. The gameplay is a little tricky and takes getting used to but visually it’s sublime, with some exceptional attention to detail. It is challenging to get to grips with and no doubt fans of the series will adapt far faster than a complete greenhorn.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is not “Noobie’s First Space Sim” by any stretch, it takes a practiced hand to get to grips with quickly. Once that initial threshold is overcome though, it quickly becomes a great addition to any Warhammer fan’s library.