I won’t ever need to play the tabletop version of this game again. Armada has it all!
When I say I’m a casual gamer, my intent is to express to you, dear reader, that I am not a StarCraft player who can give 300 orders a minute (15 if I’m lucky). I never beat a game on a level above Normal. I play for the story and to have a good time. So this review is from the perspective of someone who intents to take his time, enjoy the Armada story, and save game every time I win a mission. Finally, I am playing the full version released last week; I never played the Beta. At this point, I have played about 18 hours.
The graphics are great in every part of the game: combat, mission selection, Port Maw shipyard. The Grimdark is captured in all its glory. Space debris scattered about every map. Stars, planets, minefields, gas clouds, asteroid fields. All there. Moreover, the scenery is interactive; it actually affects game play. Asteroid fields damage your ships, gas clouds conceal them. The detail on the ships is amazing, and the combat graphics are a joy to watch up close (particularly when an enemy goes boom). I think my favorite aspect is the monstrous clouds of smoke pouring out of the back of every Ork ship…even when they aren’t damaged! The mission maps are beautiful, and chocked full of useful information and icons. When starting a mission, the ships you selected appear on the screen approaching the battle; they are not random ships, they are the exact ones you chose. A nice touch. In terms of detail, their are several video setting to choose from. I would suggest experimenting with several to see which one works for you, both in terms of visuals and smoothness of game play. When I cranked it up to “insanely detailed,” the game started to get choppy, both in terms of video and sound. When I cranked it back down, the game ran smoothly.
If you are expecting StarCraft quality cinematics, you will be sorely disappointed. That being said, I really enjoy the “talking graphic novel” style of story telling. The art is rich, and strongly conveys the 40K atmosphere. The story itself is not linear either, since losses, as well as wins, drive you to different branches on the progress tree. Each new scene has easily readable subtitles. The characters are familiar to anyone who is a Grimdark fan; Inquisitors, Imperial Navy Officers, Tech-Priests, e.g. The voice acting is great as well. The Orks, Eldar, Chaos and Mechanicus characters all sound race appropriate; it is a treat to hear the arrogance in the Eldar, or the contempt in the Chaos characters. The story telling really gets you looking forward to completing a mission (or not), just to see what the next chapter in the story will be. And yes, there are relics to retrieve.
The missions embedded into the overall story are rich and varied. Retrieve a relic, defend an Inquisitors damaged ship, assassination, convoy escort, cruiser bash, provide support to ground forces. The mission screen is easy to read, and full of data to help you make choices. By the way, I strongly suggest saving after every mission choice. If for no other reason, that you can go back and try something else to see what the overall affect on the story will be. Another point of interest regarding the missions is that they are tiered. By this I mean that you usually have a “priority” mission that you have to complete (win or lose), and then you may complete other missions depending on the number of deployments you have available each turn (I still only have two). The “priority” priority missions are directly related to story progress. Additional missions completed will typically recapture “lost” planets, thereby improving various factors that help your fleet. They may also help to reduce threat levels. These threat levels increase as Ork, Eldar and Chaos forces win missions. With each loss you take, the threat level of that faction increases. If it gets too high, you lose. You can also lose by losing all 50 planets in the subsector, although the most I have lost so far is four.
Some of the missions are extremely challenging. One where I was required to provide orbital fire support to planetary defenders was nigh impossible. The bombardment sites randomly appeared, and usually out of normal movement range (there was a time limit to reach each site as it appeared). In addition, there was a sizeable Chaos fleet floating about. I tried several times, and finally just took the loss. By the way, if you lose a mission, it does not mean the game is over. In fact, you still gain a bit of renown (the game currency) and move to another branch on the mission tree. Another mission required destroying an Eldar flagship before it warped out; but those suckers are fast! I finally won by using my Taunt skill, which forces him to engage me instead of running.
One of the many strengths of this game, IMO, is the plethora of choices in upgrading, adding skills and promoting crew. Upgrades affect engines,, weapons, hull, etc. Skills are things that allow special maneuvers (Taunt for example.) Crew promotions improve warp travel survival, increase gunnery skills, improve repair speed or reduce the chance of insubordination. Speaking of which, insubordination is an unexpected mechanic but definitely affects game play. If one of the other ships in your fleet decides the battle is lost or their ship too badly damaged, they will leave the battle by warping out. Not a good thing when you are already outgunned. You do have a chance of executing the mutinous captain (off with their heads!).
Another great aspect of customization is that you can rename ships and change basic color schemes. For renaming, you can choose your own or there is a great name generator that can do the job for you. Finally, the fact that all of the aforementioned customizing is ship specific means you can kit a specific ship in a unique way, and have it serve as your flagship throughout the campaign. It will become more powerful, more survivable; it has me imagining that I am standing on the bridge of a ship I have seen grow through many battles.
So many options make this game one in which you need to be intimately familiar with the capabilities of each ship you deploy. For example, you can assign a “behavior” to each ship. This involves choosing whether to focus on forward facing weapons or broadside guns. You can also set engagement ranges to benefit from better ranges for specific weapons. For example, I have become a real fan of the Firestorm frigates, which have forward facing lance batteries (they each through shields quite nicely). I have upgraded their weapons to have a 9000 unit range (normally 6000). So I change their combat behavior to forward focus and 9000 unit range. This means they will attempt to maintain a 9000 unit range when engaging an enemy, and always use their lances. Again, knowing the capabilities of each ship, and the strengths/weaknesses of your enemies, allows the combat behavior to work for you. Some combat actions are not automatic. For example, you need to manually fire torpedoes and Nova Cannon. You also need to initiate actions such as repairs, lightning strikes (targeting enemy ships through focused boarding actions) and boarding itself. Some may find this tedious. I like the micro-management aspect; it has a certain RPG feel to me. Standing on the bridge of your flagship, giving orders to individual captains in your fleet as the battle progresses.
- Save the game after every success. Some of these scenarios are fun to replay using different ships and tactics. Also, this game is a challenge. Don’t lose progress. Lastly, saving will allow you to go back and make different choices of where you utilize your limited deployments each turn.
- Enjoy the ship customization options. Even if you have three ships of the same class, kit them out with different upgrades, skills and crew.
- Don’t get discouraged if their is a scenario you just can’t win. Take the token renown you earned, and move on with the story after a few tries with different ship combos and tactics.
- Enjoy the environment. The art, music, sound affects, voice acting and combat visuals make this a 40K players paradise.
- Play a few games in Skirmish mode before starting the story. It is a great way to play with and become familiar with some of the controls. And it is the only way to play anything other than Imperials; one of the very few issues I have with the game.
If you were a fan of Battlefleet Gothic (BFG) in its tabletop form, you will love this game. If you are a fan of Age of Sail style combat/games, you will enjoy this. If you are a 40K fan who never played BFG, give this a go.
The game is well executed, is beautiful to watch and a joy to play. The Emperor Protects!