Battlefleet Gothic: Armada – A First Look

Wanted to command fleets of ships filled with spires and flying buttresses? Yearn no longer!
Wanted to command fleets of ships filled with spires and flying buttresses? Yearn no longer!

It is a time of endless war.

The worlds of Man are scattered across the galaxy, threatened by savage aliens, heretics who defy the Emperor’s will.

YOU are being called upon to subjugate them all … Admiral.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is an upcoming real-time strategy title, which pits fleets of advanced galactic warships against each other in  ceaseless warring for universal dominance. Take out the dusty star maps, laser protractors, warp calculators, and get ready to out think your opponents on a grand scale. In every battle, you are bound to lose something. Ships? Cargo? Sectors? To the one who sacrifices the least, but gains the greater objective, belongs the victory. Armada is not only poised to be a new fantastic addition to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but packing enough firepower to leave its mark on all PC gaming with its compelling gameplay and emphasis tactics.


Battlefleet Gothic: Armada embraces fluid real time combat, and gameplay involves issuing broad ranging orders to each ship ensure victory. Like a digital War Department, Armada pools several gaming warfare styles into one experience: games like Starfleet Command, StarCraftTotal War, and even Silent Hunter. A deep familiarity of ship statistics and Warhammer background is not necessary, but a cursory understanding of naval warfare might deepen appreciation of this title.

Position your ships to unleash the full brunt of their weaponry, but keep an avenue available to spin out of their retaliatory strikes
Position your ships to unleash the full brunt of their weaponry, but keep an avenue available to spin out of their retaliatory strikes

Battlefleet Gothic is centered around intergalactic capital ship engagements on a 2d grid. Skirmishes begin with fleet deployment along one side of the quadrant. Each ship class has its own set of abilities, and a set of standard evasive maneuvers, and firing arcs, which are displayed across the lower left. Right clicking on the grid will move your units to that position; drag your mouse as you right click and your fleet will move and face in that direction. These little movement nuances are important for setting up ambushes, or tightening your fleet for a stalwart defense.

Positioning and movement is a central strategic element in Battlefleet Gothic. Depending on your ship, weapons may fire broadside, forward, or rear facing; along with optimum firing ranges per ship class. Some ships are equipped with powerful torpedoes, which fire in a narrow spread and in straight lines. This means you will have to bring your ships around to the desired bearing before firing, as well as precision timing to hit their desired mark. Torpedoes do not differentiate between friend or foe, exploding against the next obstacle they come across. Friendly ships can be caught in devastating barrages if not accounted for. In addition some factions, like the Orks, can ram their armored destroyers into enemy midsections for a crippling strike.

Shouting out Moby Dick, Shakespeare, and even Dickens quotes work great with each barrage of high energy weaponry.
Shouting out Moby Dick, Shakespeare, and even Dickens quotes work great with each barrage of high energy weaponry.

Each skirmish carries into the next, in every game mode, and your improvements are dependent on each successful battle. Every move has ramifications, both on the battlefield and in the overall war. Most of the fleet overview happens at space dock. Here you can manage upgrading, repairing, and enhancing your ships. Renown and experience is earned through successful sorties. Renown can be used to purchase new ship abilities. Experience is applied to both your ship’s captains, as well as your in game avatar: the Admiral. As your fleet Admiral levels up, better ship classes become available. Meanwhile, as captains progress they gain skill points that can be applied to one of seven officers. Each of these crew members can improve aspects such as ship shielding, targeting, repair speeds, and more with the points you apply.

Armchair commanders will relish the decisions required as mission objectives unfold. Throwing units at an enemy ship is a brute solution, that seldom works in the long run. Losing ships constitutes a loss of considerable time investment — however the right sacrifice could mean overall mission victory and further progress in the war. Do you focus primary firepower to disable enemy battleship engines, leaving your cruisers to take considerable damage but allowing your cargo transports to survive? Do you sacrifice ramming your best support vessel into an enemy frigate, destroying it, but forcing the enemy to disengage its best ship from the battle? When do you cut your losses and engage emergency warp, losing the current mission but saving your fleet to strike elsewhere? Should you hide part of your fleet in a nebula, ready to flank enemies as they engage your armored cruisers?

This Ork battlecruiser was ripping apart my Corsair fleet, I decided to ram it forcing it to flee combat but allowing my escort ships to mop up and win
This Ork battlecruiser was ripping apart my Corsair fleet. I decided to ram it forcing it to flee combat, but allowing my escort ship to mop up and win the battle

The beta to Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is still a work in progress, with several portions unavailable. Yet despite this, it was still one of the most robust strategy titles I’ve played in months. I was engrossed with each engagement, in each meticulous high energy turn, high speed ram, and successful torpedo strike. It’s no coincidence most of this article has been discussing the strategic elements presented (and there’s still much more to discuss including factions and ship class abilities). Tactics and a deliberate approach are the lifeblood of Armada’s gameplay.

All of this great strategic action comes wrapped in spectacular visuals and sweeping orchestral movements. Imperial ships are intricate and ornate, exhibiting majestic baroque influences in their designs. Ork ships are bulky, grotesque behemoths spewing plumes of toxic yellow-green smoke from exhaust ports. Chained Chaos slave ships hang in the darkness of space. While the Eldar ships are sleek swan-like, ethereal beauties that suggest advance technological abilities. When the explosions and chaos of combat commences, these distinct designs mirror their combat philosophies.

The wonderful attention to detail is not for mere show, unsure of weapon placements? Zoom in and take a look, turret placements fire in the direction they face, and during combat you can watch each side macro cannon fire its volley as the enemy ship passes in range. There’s a feature you can enable with a button press called “tactical cogitator” (read: slow motion mode). With this mode engaged, you can not only make multiple adjustments to each ship, but also appreciate the graphical effects on display, it makes for wonderful screenshot material.

You play as Admiral Spire in the single player campaign, a man scouring the galaxy for dietary fiber.
You play as Admiral Spire in the single player campaign, a man scouring the galaxy for dietary fiber.

Armada will also feature a dramatic single player campaign, with multiple mission avenues to choose from. You take the role of Admiral Spire, as he rises from mere captain to defender of the Imperial sector from threats both internal and external. Dramatic cutscenes segue players into the next few mission choices. I was impressed with the game’s AI, it is quite intuitive and adjusts to counter your mission objectives at every pass. On one mission Ork destroyers put on an impressive chase to destroy my weaker cargo transports. At one point one Ork cruiser caught full spreads of torpedoes, exploding in spectacular fashion, but allowing it’s brethren to survive and ram my cargo transport to smithereens. AI ships will move out of range of your devastating mines and assaults, and return to strike when your offensive skills are on cool down.

Once you’ve mastered tactics versus the game’s formidable AI, you can take your chances against other human players. Much like the single player campaign, and skirmish mode you improve your Admiral through victories. Piling on upgrades, better classed ships, and improved crew skills through gained renown and experience. The difference here of course, is the cunning and unpredictability of facing other cunning human players.

Anticipation is very high for Battlefleet Gothic: Armada which is due for full release April 21. It is not only a worthy entry in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but deep and engrossing title for strategy fans to satiate their appetites with. It is the kind of game that will light up forums with feverish players looking for an edge in their next encounter.


The Emperor has ordered YOU to eradicate the opposition, and nothing must stand in your way!