Just as Dungeons & Dragons dominates the pen-and-paper RPG space, Warhammer dominates the tabletop gaming space. It’s not the only tabletop miniatures game, though if you were to look at the video game industry, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the only one; we don’t see too many other efforts. Noble Armada: Lost Worlds is a rare exception. Based on the Noble Armada miniatures game (in turn, based on the dark fantasy Fading Suns roleplaying game), it’s almost… noble… that a developer would take a swing with a miniatures-based game that isn’t Warhammer. Sadly, this game crashed and burned. The Steam release from three years ago has just four user reviews, which should tell you everything, really. This game isn’t even interesting to fans of the miniatures game. Why it was ported to Nintendo Switch is beyond comprehension.
The presentation is obviously cheap and tacky, but that would be almost forgivable if the gameplay was great, but unfortunately it’s only one of those “in concept” experiences – i.e. it all sounds good until you actually play it. Noble Armada is a blend of real-time and turn-based combat; the action plays out in real-time, but whenever you want you can pause to issue new commands to your ships. Each ship behaves according to the physics of space – inertia and all, and has set angles for firing weapons. After you manoeuvre around and manage to soften an enemy ship up, you can then board that ship and participate in some turn-based tactical combat to take control of it.
This all sounds great. Who doesn’t want to play space pirate boarding parties? But, unfortunately, Noble Armada is let down by a fair few issues. Firstly, it’s ugly. It’s not just that it’s unpleasant to look at, but it’s actually aesthetically broken, and that makes the on-screen action difficult to follow. What ship can do what becomes hard to remember when it’s all a big mess of clashing colours. Secondly, information feedback is less than useful. You’re told that the right time to board an enemy ship is when the ranged combat has softened them up first, but it’s hard to tell just when you’ve successfully “softened” them enough to make that boarding strike. The turn-based combat on the ships, meanwhile, is an ugly mess of little squares crashing into one another – it reminded me vaguely of the really early Romance of the Three Kingdoms or Nobunaga’s Ambition titles from a few decades ago, only less visually impressive. The other big issue is that there’s not much variety to this combat. Sometimes you’ll be asked to “destroy all enemy ships,” while at other times you’ll be told you need to “size the space station,” but the differences between these things are minimal.
Now in fairness to the developer, there is a lot of content to work through, with a huge number of campaigns (I guess that’s where the story stuff comes in, though I was never inspired to pay attention to it), and an additional skirmish mode for when you want to break the miniatures out for a quick bout. Unfortunately, the campaigns aren’t overly inspired in structure. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the screenshots of the campaign maps made it all look almost-kinda-sorta like a small-scale Stellaris-type experience with planets to colonise and fleets to build. The reality is something much more shallow. You do get to upgrade your ship weapons, crew and boarding forces at various planet facilities, but that’s the extent of it. There was a Star Trek strategy game on the Wii (Star Trek: Conquest) that offered deeper strategy than this, and that game was rightfully panned for being painfully shallow.
Nothing else about the game helps elevate it, either. The music is entirely forgettable (if you do happen to play this game, turn the music off and put the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack on instead. Trust me). The interface was designed for a mouse and keyboard and is a real pain to navigate with a controller, even if it is manageable. The tutorial does help you to understand how to play, but is a bit deceptive about the game’s actual difficulty, which the developers don’t seem to have playtested. You’ll complete the tutorial, feel like you know what you’re doing, and then get immediately creamed in the first scenario you play. This is not a game that is rewarding enough to justify that kind of hardcore unforgiving difficulty.
I’m not sure why the developers figured they’d give the Nintendo Switch a crack with Noble Armada: Lost Worlds. When your game picks up just four user reviews on Steam in three years, it’s clearly not resonating, and throwing a clumsy port onto a console isn’t going to change that. If this kind of game does appeal to you, then I highly recommend Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock instead. It’s on Nintendo Switch and it is infinitely better than this in offering the same kind of miniatures wargame in space theme.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb