The table top ground warfare of Warhammer 40,000 might be the bread and butter of the venerable Games Workshop universe, but with the various races waging war across the entire galaxy, there’s so much more scope than just fielding ground troops and tanks. Through various specialist offshoots, GW have explored everything from gang warfare in a hellish industrial metropolis to conflicts on an even grander scale, as towering titans do battle. However, it was with Battlefleet Gothic that the battle for supremacy took to space.
Though Games Workshop have pared down their specialist games on sale, they’re now seeming to explore a number of these within video games. With Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, the now discontinued table top game is being given a new lease of life as a real time strategy game, which seems to me to be the perfect fit for the source material.
One thing that Tindalos Interactive are keen to get right, as they transform the game from turn based strategy, is how the ships look and feel as they sail through space. All of the in game models will be true to those created for the table top, with Gothic cathedral-like architecture to the ships of the Imperium for example, but these are also kilometres in length. They will generally be very slow and quite cumbersome, affording you the time to think and plan out your actions and react to those of your opponent.
There’s a great degree of micromanagement that you can do for each ship, and you can try to determine the precise positioning of the ship, which guns and which abilities to use, from ramming other ships to making boarding actions. However, with grand space battles, this could quite easily become overwhelming, and so Tindalos are working on a quite fascinating system to let you try and look at the bigger picture, rather than deal with the minutiae from one second to the next.
For one thing, and something that I always find disappointing with strategy games set in space, the ships can only move across a two dimensional plane, reducing some of the three dimensional tactical options but staying true to the simplicity of the table top game. More uniquely, each ship under your command has its own AI commanding officers and is capable of fighting autonomously, so that you need only look after your admiral’s flagship in great detail.
You can still micromanage each and every ship under your command if you want, of course, but this system could open the doors to those less familiar with RTS games. Rather than issue direct and clear cut instructions, you’re instead handing out guidelines for those under your command to follow. You can set things like the range at which a ship should engage in combat or how much damage the ship should be willing to suffer before retreating from battle to fight another day.
The wrinkle in this is that the ship’s commanding officers all have their own personalities. Perhaps, if you order a ship to fight through to the bitter end, its captain will challenge your order as it starts to reach critical damage and potentially even defy your instructions should you insist that they stay in the heart of the battle, throwing your battle plans into disarray.
Managing your AI subordinates will be key to success under this system, as you have a few options with how to deal with such a challenge to your authority. Should you agree with their suggestion or let them get away with blatant insubordination, you earn tolerance points, with the more tolerant your approach leading to more suggestions and failures to follow your lead. A three strikes policy is in place before the ship’s commissar will summarily execute the captain, restoring your absolute command of the battle group.
However, fighting to the very last is inadvisable during the single player campaign, as the Gothic Sector is besieged by the forces of Chaos led by Abaddon the Despoiler, and the incursions of the alien Orks and Eldar to a lesser degree. This is an XCOM-style exercise in crisis management, as you will have to decide which systems to fight for and which attack to repel on a turn based campaign map.
The damage that your ships take will be persistent too and ship destruction permanent, so a single costly battle can quickly put you on the back foot. You will be able to rescue a ship’s command and restore them and their experience to a new vessel, but that new ship will be without the upgrades that you had on the previous one, from more powerful guns to allowing it to host a Space Marine boarding party.
Some upgrades will be rewards for completing side quests on the campaign map but these will always have to come second to fending off the invading forces. Allowing a system to remain in enemy hands for too many turns will result in the Imperial Inquisition deeming it a lost cause and issuing an Exterminatus order to make the planet uninhabitable, losing you valuable resources in the process and putting you on the back foot.
In addition to single player, there will also be the option to play co-operatively and take part in 4v4 multiplayer battles. Just as in the campaign, the multiplayer will also feature persistent fleets and crews, so that you can upgrade your vessels and be better prepared for battle and the scenarios the game might throw your way.
It might be a long way off, with Tindalos still very early in development and release not planned until 2016, but what they showed and explained really seems to capture the essence of the Battlefleet Gothic game and the universe in which it is set. A lot will hang on whether or not they can deliver complex and nuanced AI to work under your command, but even if taking direct control is the more viable option, defending the realms of the Imperium in a gritty rearguard action should appeal to fans of Warhammer 40K and strategy games alike.