We've already been impressed by Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2's space battles since February when we attended Focus Home Interactive's What's Next event, but during an even more recent trip to their Parisian office we were able to try this game once again and get into the battle. The developers had promised a sequel that would take the best aspects of the first game and improve them, and it seems they've done just that.
The gameplay, as in the previous game, uses the foundations of a real-time strategy game like Total War. You have a fleet of ships under your command which you'll have to position along the map at the beginning of the game, and then you have to take control of several strategic points. To win you have two options: either get more points than your opponent by capturing all the objectives, or destroy all of their fleet. The premise is simple, but by no means easy.
To carry out your mission, you must keep an eye on the three gauges floating above your warships. The green one is dedicated to the health of your vessel, which you can try to restore by ordering to repair the ship, but this means the ship is then immobilised. The blue one shows the shields that regenerate themselves, and the orange, meanwhile, corresponds to the morale of the soldiers in the ship. If the ship takes too much damage at once, it goes down quickly, and if it falls to zero, a mutiny in your ranks will prevent it from doing any actions for the next 20 seconds.
Tindalos Interactive has clearly delivered on their promises regarding scale at least, as here you have the choice between 12 factions: The Imperial Navy, Space Marines, Adeptus Mechanicus, Necrons, Chaos, Aeldari Corsairs, Aeldari Craftworld, Drukhari, the T'au Merchant, Protector Fleets, Orks, and the Tyranids. The game also offers you three distinct campaigns which put you in command of the Imperium fleet, Necrons, and Tyranids, but others are also planned in the future.
Each of these factions has its own strengths and peculiarities, taken from the Warhammer 40,000 lore. The Imperium's soldiers, for example, are insensitive to the effect of mutiny, while the Necron ships will leave the map and flee if the morale of their troops is down to zero. We particularly enjoyed the Drukhari's way of fighting, as you don't have a shield, but your ships are invisible when they're moving, presenting an interesting way of playing which forces you to constantly move your units, but proves effective against slow fleets like the Orks.
There's also a choice of skills to select before starting a game, as you must choose two skill points, which offer new weapons or new powers to apply to all of your fleet, such as being able to teleport. There are also two upgrades which will only apply bonuses to a specific category of ships. Here too each race has its own advantages and skills, in connection with their ways of fighting.
Regarding the controls, there are many actions and buttons to take into account, meaning it'll probably take several hours to get truly comfortable managing your fleet. Those who are accustomed to the Total War games already know these chaotic battles, during which it's necessary to have an eye on all your units at the same time, everywhere on the map. That said, it's still rather simple to move them and ask them to attack or storm an enemy ship, but be careful not to crash them into one another.
The difficulty lies, however, in the subtleties and exploiting the weaknesses of the opposing factions. It will undoubtedly be essential to become a good player, to go through customisable shortcuts for controls to pass your orders as quickly as possible to outpace your opponent. For those who struggle with this kind of game, the good news is it's possible to pause the game or slow it down to manage your units without being under pressure, but only when playing against the AI of course.
Visuals are a true sci-fi delight, as nebulae and clouds of cosmic dust make the map beautiful, despite the grid that limits it. The ships are well-detailed too, especially when you zoom in to the maximum, helped in no small part by the fact you can customize the colours of your warships as you wish. The spaceships are of all sizes and sometimes even so tiny that it's difficult to spot them amid the stars, particle effects, and lights.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 promised us a bigger and more dynamic game, and it certainly seems the case, as there's more choice, more action, and flexibility in the battles, all with extra ships on the map. With all this comes shorter loading times too, as you can find yourself in the heart of the battle after only a few clicks. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 will land on PC this September, and we can't wait to get back into our commanding chair and conquer our foes.