I suppose it’s for the best to explain a bit about myself before getting into the maelstrom that is Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (BFG). I’m a massive fan of Warhammer 40k — probably more obsessed than I am a fan. I’ve been playing and collecting for 16 years — that’s an awful long time. That means I remember the days when BFG (what we wargamers call Battlefleet) was only a tabletop war game. But not so anymore.
A preview build of a digital BFG game has surfaced, with more factions, maps, and an expanded single player campaign being added to the full game. BFG is a space RTS set in the Warhammer 40k universe. You can play as the Imperium, Orks, Chaos, or Eldar (who are not yet in the game). It plays similarly to the naval combat in Empire: Total War, but with far more customization. You can upgrade your ships, weapons, armor, and also the crews. This allows you to gain new abilities in combat and be even more effective.
Being a hardcore Imperial player through and through, naturally the Imperial based launch trailer made me feel all giddy. Since first hearing about this game I’ve been ever so eager to play it. And I finally got to. Here’s what I thought about the preview build so far.
Broadsides ready? Details fire!
For starters I think BFG looks beautiful. The ships for the three factions I’ve seen are near perfect renditions of the illustrations — each capturing the nature of the race they belong to, whether monolithic space faring cathedrals with guns for the Imperium, or the blade-like predators of the Chaos fleet they all capture the essence of their faction. But none do it better than the Orks (as much as it pains me to say that). Their ships look like the workings of a drunken mad man with a welding torch.
As for the maps, they are fantastic and stunning. Each map is diverse enough in the terrain elements to make each encounter feel like a different place. I like asteroid fields — they keep the Orks at bay. Good asteroid fields.
But it was the planets, gas clouds, rocks, and all other space debris in the background that made me go all “oooo” and “arrrrr”, they are especially effective at making the player feel the enormity of space, without making the maps too big to play a game in around twenty minutes or so.
The Factions of Battle
The Imperial Navy
The Imperium’s Navy has been doing what it does for about ten thousand years or so, and as you can imagine they are pretty good at their job. They might not have the fastest ships, or be the best shots, nor have the toughest space cathedrals with guns in the galaxy, but by the Emperor they have guns so big they just can’t miss.
The best play style for the Imperial Navy is either going to sound genius or insane. Take your pick, but hear me out first. I play them like they are the British Navy of old — I do as much damage with my long guns and prow weapons such as Lances, then get up nice and close to fire torpedoes from the aforementioned prows. Finally, in the words of Nelson, “Broadsides, lots of broadsides!” (Okay Nelson probably never said that, but he should have.)
There are all sorts of ships for any budding Imperial Admiral to have a crack at the foes of mankind with. My favorite ship is by far the lowly Firestorm class frigate. You can fit a good number of these little nippers in your average fleet. Though not as tough or hard hitting as the larger ships, in small groups they play merry hell with your enemies capital ships. Oh, did I mention that the Imperial’s ships are all basically giant space faring gun churches?
I haven’t picked a favorite yet, but when I do I’ll let you know.
The Chaos fleet is an altogether more spiky piece of fruit. Where the Imperial ships are grand and hulking, the Chaos ships are sleek and deadly. Though in Warhammer 40k lore the two fleets share a common ancestry, the Chaos fleets were being built around the same time as earlier makes of Imperial ships. This is well-reflected in BFG, with the Chaos ships showing a smattering of common features with the Imperial ships.
The savagery of Chaos side comes across in both the aesthetic of the ships, as well as the play style which works best for this faction. You cannot simply play the Chaos fleet like you plays the glorious Imperial fleet. The best way to use Chaos is to effectively use your escorts as bait, then use the larger ships like a hunting pack. Coming in from the fringes of the map and using the terrain to the best advantage, you can to either keep the enemy forces at bay or to stealth run your ships straight into close-range engagements — preferably behind the target vessel — then use bombers and torpedoes to take out the engines.
There are more skills than those, if you want to become god emperor of Chaos, but they develop as your fleet does.
The Ork faction came into play only a few short weeks ago, but they are already (slowly) gaining a place in my heart — painfully, might I add. They aren’t as tactical as the Imperial or Chaos fleets, and are very much about closing with your foe. Orks want to unleash close range broadsides as much as they want to get in and ram enemy ships, while firing everything and anything they have. I found that if you stagger your lines with Orks, you are in for a bad time, but if you run around the map as a giant space blob of Orky death, then you can’t go very wrong.
Tindalos Interactive has really captured what I think is the essence of the Ork fleets of Warhammer 40k, each and every ship looking like it was made out of all the scrap metal the Orks could lay their hands on — including the kitchen sink. Heavy armor is the key with Orks, and the durability of the ships mean that they are devils to take out. You know that when playing as Orks you can leave ships to their own thing, whilst you focus on something else. Nine times out of ten you come back and the ship is still going strong if a little more battered around the edges.
They are a fun (if slightly comedic) faction, but they can scrap with the best of ’em, “for Gork and Mork.”
BFG is what a lot of Battlefleet fans have been hoping it to be. It really is a pleasure to play, so I can’t really find much to critique.
There’s just one thing that nags at me. Escorts should come in wings — that’s small groups of three to five of their vessels. I realize this could cause balance issues, but the fan in me had to say something. (Sorry!)
All I can say now is that I really believe every fan of Battlefleet Gothic should play BFG, along with every Warhammer 40k fan.
I would like to thank my lanky brother Alex, and his loving partner Szandra, for helping me write this piece. They are actually the die hard Warhammer 40k fans, and were my personal advisers with everything — really all of it! Thanks to both of you!
[Note: Preview copy obtained directly from publisher, Focus Home Interactive.]