Battlefleet Gothic Armada II Review – Smashing Space Fleets
Battlefleet Gothic Armada IIJanuary 24th, 2019
When I was a kid in school, a teacher overheard me talking about Warhammer. He sold me his old collection of Fantasy High Elves which I took to the local Games Workshop store to repaint with my terrible skills, but the staff was hypnotized by the models which were apparently older than I was. I walked out of the shop having sold them the models for more money than an eleven-year-old should ever reasonably own. I’m telling you this because it is the closest I came to Warhammer and Warhammer 40K. But despite that, I enjoyed Battlefleet Gothic Armada II, even if I don’t have much of a clue on what is going on in terms of lore.
That’s not to say I don’t understand the game, because I do. It’s a space-based RTS where players amass gigantic fleets and wage war over a flat plain. But the game is filled with titles, characters, and races that are beyond my comprehension. There is the Eye of Terror which is bad, of course. Then there are the Space Marines which are apparently good, except they keep putting skull motifs on everything and it makes me think of the old Mitchell and Webb sketch “Are We The Baddies?”. But there’s also space bugs straight out of Starship Troopers and Undead robot people that seem strangely Egyptian. Each of these three races has their own campaign and unique playstyle, although I will stress again, I’m still not sure what is actually going on.
The campaign rules are simple enough, with players required to build up vast fleets to take over various star systems. There are a lot of extra rules to this, which is fitting for Warhammer's enigmatic dice system. There are several meters that you should be aware of and the game does its best to tell you what you’re looking at, although the tutorial is still a little vague. On top of that, there are evolving systems that produce resources and offer other bonuses as well as ship construction and fleet management. It can be a little overwhelming to start with, especially with the incomprehensible names and cryptic lore it’s all wrapped up in. Despite that, it is easy enough just to get in and play, and you can just experiment with the systems until you get a feel for what they all mean.
But the meat of Battlefleet: Gothic Armada II is the combat, of course. While if you’re playing the campaign, your fleets will begin relatively small but after several hours of carefully orchestrated destruction, you will be commanding massive fleets that practically block out the stars. Which is almost a shame, really, because the backdrops are all stunningly beautiful.
Anyway, back to the ships. Although the battle map is always huge, the ships still feel incredibly massive. From what I could work out through the cutscenes, even the smallest ship is crewed by thousands and you can absolutely feel that weight. Moving and turning the ships is a herculean effort that can only be done quickly in very specific circumstances. Maneuvering your fleet is probably the most important part of any battle, making sure to align the cannons without being left exposed yourself. You can set different stances on the ship as well to enforce its role in your gigantic battle. Running silent means you can attempt to ambush or surprise your enemy, while there are also modes to allow a ship to take, or deal, more damage. These stances can only be changed every couple of minutes, though, so you have to plan ahead to reap the advantages.
On top of that, ships also have their own abilities to influence the fray. These are different ship to ship as well as race to race which really affects the way they play. Unlike other space based RTS games, Gothic Armada II has a focus on boarding enemy ships. All races have their own version and they are one of the most devastating abilities to use during battles. Relying solely on the traditional cannons will slow battles down to crawl as the ships bombard each other relentlessly until one hull finally breaches.
Personally, I prefer the playing as the Necron, the undead space mummies. Their playstyle is all about speed, surprise, and evasion. Rather than traditional engines, the Necron can jump to decent distances instantly, appearing either at the flank of an enemy formation or in the middle of it. From there you can pound the unprepared fleet before teleporting out of range once they’ve managed to reform into anything resembling a defense. The Imperial forces use massive ships in a more understandably naval fashion, they are the best while on the move so will roll to fire a broadside before wheeling around to do it again.
The space bugs were the least enjoyable in my experience. While their giant organic ships are probably the most interesting, their roles didn’t seem as well defined on the battleground. It felt like they should be rushing and charging the opposition, but that doesn’t seem to be the most effective way to play them. Still, the variety of different styles available means that there will be a favorite one for each and every player to find.
I mentioned it earlier, but by far the worst part of Gothic Armada II is the vague instructions. Battlefleet Gothic Armada II is impressively complex and the tutorial only tells you the basics of the game, often teaching you about something without showing you what that thing actually is. There are so many stats and numbers in the battle screen that towards the end, I just stopped trying to understand them. It's not a major issue and you can work out everything you need to without knowing the rest, but it's still a shame for anyone that really wants to get into the micromanagement of the situation.
Another issue is the battle map. While it can have interesting scenery and the occasional environmental effect, battles can be won with much battling. While you can win by routing the enemy fleet, you can also capture randomized spaces on the map. It can be a little frustrating if one silent ship sends its time sneaking unit between these points trying to secure a victory against a fleet it couldn’t possibly beat. It's understandable why this victory condition was in the introduced, but it can needlessly extend a battle rather than shorten it.
But if you are a fan of the genre, Gothic Armada II brings some really interesting different game styles together to smash into each other. If you understand anything about Warhammer 40K the story might be worth following, but even if you don’t the hulking ships pommeling each other is a fun, slow take on the space RTS.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher). You may purchase a digital copy for PC via Green Man Gaming.
There are a couple of issues here and there, but ultimately Battlefleet: Gothic Armada II feels fun, different and powerful, even if you don't know much about the source material.
- Really feel the weight of the ships
- Combat is huge, pounding and exciting
- Campaign is well balanced
- Vague tutorial
- King of the hill style of winning can be a bit slow