When the original Battlefleet Gothic: Armada came out in 2016, I decided to skip it. To hear some tell it, that means I missed out on one of the best strategy games of that year. This time around, I vowed to make time out of my busy spacefaring schedule to check out its sequel, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. After just a few hours with the game’s pre-order beta, I’m legitimately blown away.
The team at Tindalos Interactive sells the dream of Warhammer 40,000 combat on a galactic scale. Games set in the 40K universe are a dime a dozen these days, but the moment-to-moment gameplay in Armada 2 has so far exceeded my wildest expectations.
The original Battlefleet Gothic is a tabletop miniatures franchise from Games Workshop, first published in 1999. While traditional 40K miniatures battles are fought by ground forces representing the squad or company level, Gothic is a game of space-based naval warfare. Just a handful of ships is all that’s required to represent crews numbering in the tens of thousands. The game benefits from Games Workshop’s grimdark lore, of course, but also from mechanics that draw upon the hobby game industry’s generations-long love affair with naval wargaming of all kinds.
Sadly, the franchise went out of print in 2013. Tindalos picked up the slack, releasing Battlefleet Gothic: Armada just three years later to critical acclaim. Its sequel begins at a seminal moment in the history of the 40K universe — the fall of Cadia. Fans of the 40K universe will know that engagement as one of the most epic battles of the 41st millennium, with millions of warriors on each side. It’s the same battle where the fortress world of Cadia itself, as the saying goes, broke before the Imperial Guard did.
For PC players new to the franchise, expect to be completely overwhelmed by the scale of the battles that unfold. The introductory CG sequence alone includes thousands of ships in high orbit moving in parallax against a brightly lit nebula. What appear to be stationary stars in the background are in fact thousands more ships painted onto the massive skybox itself.
To properly get your head around what this means in gameplay terms, understand that the tutorial required me to ram an orbital weapons platform the size of a small continent into a starship the size of a large country. During the cutscene that followed, the wreckage of that collision fell from orbit and cracked the planet itself in half.
It was awesome.
Even more exciting than the cutscenes, however, is the sheer quality of the game’s tactical engagements. Compared to similar fleet-level space combat games, such as Stellaris and Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, the difference is night and day. Not only do Armada 2’s battles look flashier and more detailed than those in the other titles, eager admirals are given a host of different bells and whistles with which to control their fleets. For instance, there are nuanced settings that allow you to control which side of a single ship its AI-controlled captain should keep facing the enemy. Meanwhile, it’s fairly straightforward to flip a single switch and issue orders to your entire fleet all at once.
I’m just a few battles in, but already the game is showing me how highly it prioritizes tactical decision-making and rewards adaptation.
In one early engagement in the Imperial Navy campaign, two new allied ships warped onto the map in answer to my admiral’s call for aid. While their appearance tripled the size of my fleet, it also brought a small flotilla of new enemies in hot pursuit.
I ordered all three of my vessels to accelerate to full speed, a pace that the ships would not be able to maintain for very long before needing to recharge. With the clock ticking, I sent my flagship charging full-bore into the incoming enemy formation. Meanwhile, the two new ships I sent screaming away from the enemy forces at a 45-degree angle. To cover their retreat I slammed my flagship hard to the right and fired a full brace of torpedoes across the enemy ships’ line of advance. The maneuver worked, causing the enemy vessels to pull up short and take evasive maneuvers.
With the enemy bunched together, I sent my two retreating ships into an emergency turn, skidding them around to launch another volley of fire into the enemy’s midst. The barrage scattered the enemy formation, nearly causing two ships to collide. With just a few more clicks of the mouse, I had the entire attacking force surrounded. My ships closed in on them like wolves circling a flock of sheep, all the while bombarding them with withering fire that disabled their weapons and, eventually, brought them down.
Rarely does a strategy game respond so realistically to my actions. I expected the enemy ships to charge forward directly into the initial volley of torpedoes. To see them react in a realistic way was, frankly, unexpected. I can’t wait to find more ways to make the enemy AI scramble.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 will be released Jan. 24 on Windows PC. It includes all 12 factions from the original tabletop game. It also comes with three dynamic solo campaigns, one each for the Imperium, Necrons, and the Tyranid. In addition, there’s a host of multiplayer features, including competitive and cooperative modes of play.
While I still need to spend more time with Armada 2 once it comes out, right now it appears to be a tremendous value at just $39.99.