40K on Mobile: Battlefleet Gothic: Leviathan

The PC RTS Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, with it’s beautiful graphics and amazingly characterful cinematic scenes, was released with a fair amount of fanfare. On it’s heels was a somewhat more obscure game, Battlefleet Gothic: Leviathan by Grand Cauldron Games, that slipped a bit under the radar.

As a mobile title, and an apparently faithful rendition of the board game, it caught my interest. Does it scratch the BFG itch?

Leviathan is priced at $5.99, which is something of an awkward price. A little out of range for a casual impulse game (of which there are many 40K-themed options), but not expensive enough that it’s clearly a premium game. Still, I think it’s worth it for what you get.

And what you get is a faithful rendition of the original game. Armada took some liberties, and is clearly a BFG-inspired RTS. Leviathan on the other hand is BFG on your tablet. This is…both good and bad. Good in that you’re getting very much the classic BFG experience, but mediated by a computer. Bad in that the mechanics are a little opaque. You have to remember whether you should fire weapon batteries or lances first (weapon batteries), what the various order symbols mean, etc. The app is in dire need of tooltips, and an undo button for the aspects of the game that don’t have an RNG component to them.

But it feels like playing the game. And that game is fun. Multiplayer is exactly what it sounds like, and the hotseat option is *perfect* for games with a friend. The campaign follows the Shield of Baal, and takes place on a networked map of the area, where you maneuver fleets to counter the Tyranids, are blinded by shadows in the warp, etc.

That’s not menacing or anything…

It does have the same problem many games have when they have campaigns – it’s hard to feel like the Tyranids are a threat when I’ve had an unbroken string of victories against them. Yes, you can talk about the endless hordes of aliens from the outer dark, but it feels like that could be sorted out with a solid torpedo volley and good old Imperial steel.

The campaign is made up of a combination of set narrative missions with fixed fleets, and then missions countering the main invasion where you get a points limit and build your own fleet. The former are a little frustrating at times (I have feelings on Imperial escorts), but the latter are pretty enjoyable, and really what I was looking for. I will confess that I’d prefer to name my own ships, rather than go in for the default names. Difficulty wise, the campaign presents you with two objectives – completing one nets you a victory, while completing both nets you a bonus. I’ve found the first one is fairly obtainable, while the second ranges from “Difficult” to “What Kind of Mastermind Do You Need to Be!?”

Their ships may look like potatoes, but they're *deadly* potatoes
Their ships may look like potatoes, but they’re *deadly* potatoes

That faithful rendition comes with another problem – the factions involved. Leviathan, as the name somewhat suggests, takes place in the “Shield of Baal” campaign setting, so it’s a matchup between the Imperial Navy, Blood Angels and Tyranids. But only one of those is what I’d consider a “core” Battlefleet Gothic force. The original game, trying to hold with the post-Heresy changes in the way the Imperium was organized, made Space Marine fleets highly specialized, and lacking decidedly in the open void war department. The Tyranids never even had a model line, and as I remember, were introduced as specialist games generally were on the way out. This leaves things in kind of an awkward place – multiplayer is between a classic, included-in-the-starter-set fleet and two niche fleets, who awkwardly also occupy part of the same niche – getting up close and boarding-based combat. It’s a little painful to be playing the Space Marines, know your schtick is deadly boarding troops, but not wanting to get close because the other guy has more deadly boarding troops.

Hotseat game of the Blood Angels fleet being tossed around like rag dolls

I assume this is an artifact of licensing, and Armada taking most of the classic BFG fleets (Orks, Eldar, Chaos and Imperials). Or maybe just the decision to absolutely stick with a modern campaign. But regardless, it’s a weird decision. If there were prospects of expansions with new fleets I’d understand more. And there’s promise of more content coming, but if you’re hoping for a version of BFG where a computer takes care of all the paperwork, at the moment Leviathan is a weirdly balanced one. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but there’s nothing more than vague promises currently on the developer’s site.

All in all? Leviathan was a game I desperately wanted to love. Instead, it ended up as a game I like. The interface is a little clunky, the faction choices aren’t great for capturing the feel of the original game, but when it comes down to it at the end of the day watching a bunch of Tyranid ships disappear into clouds of green, gooey debris after hitting them with a well placed torpedo volley is great fun.

Score: 7/10.

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