It’s hard not to love the idea of floating Cathedrals covered in guns battling out in space, only to be rammed nonchalantly by a lump of scrap metal with giant rockets strapped on it. This all happens in the first hour of Armada, and it continues for a long time after that. This is a space-based strategy game where you take ships under the command of one of four races from the Warhammer 40K universe (Space Marine, Chaos, Ork, Eldar) and battle it out against the others. It’s intensely tactical and quite difficult, but you never quite get away from the awe of just appreciating what you’re watching. Anyone who’s read some Warhammer 40K fiction will appreciate the madness of their spaceships, the warp, and everyone on board, and all of this is translated well into the game.
Games play out in real-time but you can constantly slow down time to a crawl with the space bar. This gives you time to consider your options, of which there are absolutely loads. With each ship you can move to different positions, turn sharply, boost, stop, send out boarding parties, focus your aim, fire torpedos (that have to be manually aimed) and control any other extras you have like shields and repairs. This might not sound too bad but you’re quickly in charge of a whole fleet of ships and every one of them has this kind of capability. You’re also having to deal with sending out probes and being aware of where the enemies are. This is the kind of game where a single ship can take out far more than you’d expect so it always pay to be as careful as you can.
Multiplayer is exactly what you’d expect from a Warhammer strategy game. You get given a set number of points to spend and you pick your race and ships until you’ve spent your points. There’s a certain rock-paper-scissors mentality to which ships are good against which, but a lot of the choice comes down to player skill. If you’re good you can wreck and large ship almost instantly with some clever torpedo barrages, but this is incredibly hard to pull off in a real match so larger, lumbering beasts are often the safer option. Battles take around half an hour and thanks to the slight RNG going on (fires can break out and cripple key components completely changing the flow of a battle) it’s never a completely lost cause. That being said sometimes you come up against an opponent that completely outclasses you and there is a steep learning curve when you start picking fights online.
A much better start would be with the campaign. It’s the typical overblown fantasy soap-opera mixed with unintelligible madness that you’d expect from Warhammer, but it’s fun enough and steadily introduces some of the key systems before throwing you into a galaxy of possible missions. Should you lose it’s not game over, you simply have to face the consequences down the line like more difficult missions or less resources. If our experience is anything to go by, you will lose more often than you’d like. On our second or third mission we were tasked with escorting three small ships through space patrolled by the orks. Within seconds of engaging the enemy one ship was down, then just as a large cruiser barrelled towards our two remaining ships we managed to hit it with everything we had. We’d saved the day! Or so we thought. In reality the Ork ship exploded in an incredible fireball (can that happen in space?) and destroyed the vulnerable ships along with it. Mission Over.
If you’re into naval-style space strategy, then there’s not many games out there and this is certainly a fine entry into the genre. Sometimes it looks a little rough around the edges, but the strategy is deep and it’s incredibly challenging. If you’re just after another Warhammer Universe fix, be wary. This game is hard and complicated and often painfully slow. Once it gets going it’s brilliant, but this is hardcore strategy and definitely not for everyone.