Noble Armada: Lost Worlds
Developed By: Hoplite Research, Holistic Design
Published By: HR Games
Category: Adventure, Board Game, Role-Playing, Strategy
Release Date: 03.08.21
Composers: Sam Dillard, The Changelings
I suppose I could spend some time talking about the backstory of Noble Armada: Lost Worlds. I could talk about the tabletop RPG setting it is based on, Fading Suns. Or I could go into how it was successfully funded on Kickstarter. But that would just be a distraction from the only things players really need to know about the game; that it’s a tangle of undercooked ideas and joyless gameplay.
Assemble the Fleet
Noble Armada: Lost Worlds offers three ways to play. First, there’s a skirmish mode that lets you assemble a fleet of up to four ships for you and an AI opponent and lets you go at it in a one-on-one battle. There is also a campaign mode, as well as several individual missions to complete. The campaign mode sees players travelling from system to system, in search of schematics for a powerful weapon. Individual missions feature a short scenario across one system. The stories are barren and interchangeable between the six different houses. Moreover, they do very little to take advantage of the potentially vast lore of the setting.
The Systems In The Systems
On the surface, NA:LW offers plenty of options to keep players engaged in its story missions – aside from a deep story, that is. Each system has multiple planets, and some have multiple paths from the gate to the final planet. Enemy forces lurk between worlds, and when you approach an opponent a fight breaks out – more on that in a sec. When you make it to a planet, you have up to three available actions. Some planets have stores where you can buy new weapons or ships. There may also shipyards where you can repair your vessels or refit them with the weaponry you’ve acquired. Finally, you may be able to recruit new crew for your vessels or more marines for your boarding parties.
So, on the surface, it seems like there’s plenty to do – until you realize each house only has four ships, and there are only four weapon types to buy. The marines can only be upgraded via surviving combat, so there’s not a lot going on with them except restocking warm bodies. Practically speaking, then, there really aren’t a lot of options for customization. Also, the game doesn’t offer a tutorial for the shops so you’ve got to play around with them a little just to figure out what anything does. It’s not that complicated, to be sure, but it’s the first instance of many where the game’s tutorial proves insufficient. So, we’ve got no real story and shallow customization – if the gameplay isn’t really fun, this game may be in trouble.
This Game Is In Trouble
Noble Armada attempts to blend real-time and some turn-based strategy elements with real physics. Everything about it, from the movement, to giving commands, to simply selecting a unit, is unintuitive. Worse, even after overcoming a poorly-detailed tutorial and climbing the learning curve, the gameplay is bland, repetitive and unsatisfying. Unlike most RTS games that have players use a cursor to select a unit, Noble Armada uses the ABXY buttons select a ship instead. Once a ship is selected, the game automatically pauses while for you to input a command.
Movement is accomplished by positioning your ship with the left stick; a cursor will extend in the direction you wish to turn, and your ship (usually) turns in that direction. Sometimes it took a few tries. Once you’re facing the right way, hitting up or down on the d-pad will adjust your thrust level. Then you have to open the command menu and hit another button to execute your orders. Movement is based on real physics, and in space there is no drag so the only way to slow down or stop is to apply thrust in the opposite direction. For instance, if you’re moving left and fire thrust while positioned facing screen-north, your ship will move diagonally. It’s a tedious process that only gets worse the more ships you command. Trying to control four different ships careening around the screen with any degree of precision is next to impossible.
Combat has two phases, ship-to-ship and boarding parties. Ship-to-ship combat is, much like movement, a little overcomplicated. Instead of assigning your ships a target and letting them approach and attack, you have to maneuver your ship into range. Then make sure your ship is facing the right direction to hit something by bringing up the action menu and selecting attack, and then selecting an enemy within your firing arc. And then you open the action menu again and hit execute. And then you have to do that every time you want to attack – apparently your ship captains can’t figure out whether or not it’s a good idea to return fire on their own.
Complicating matters further, firing arcs sometimes have three dots near them that are in no way explained. They start out green, but then they sometimes turn red – I think after firing, but sometimes after I’d taken a hit. I don’t know if that meant they were out of ammo, in cooldown, damaged, or what. And then sometimes they’d just disappear altogether, along with the firing arc. This potentially only happens after taking damage and having those weapons destroyed, but lots of things happen off screen when you have multiple units so it’s hard to say. It would be nice if, say, the tutorial were to have mentioned what was going on with them.
Once you get close enough to an enemy ship to board it, an icon will appear over that unit. When you select that ship, you can hit right on the D-Pad to target it, and left on the D-Pad to launch your boarding party. Your ships can be boarded as well, but the AI doesn’t seem to do it very often. Boarding combat takes place on a small grid; you deploy units at certain points and move one space at a time. When your unit and an enemy unit occupy the same space, they start fighting and both of your unit counts start dropping. Don’t ask me how damage is determined, because I don’t know. It seems like whoever’s squad has the most members wins – but even that doesn’t seem absolute.
Noble Armada: Lost Worlds is a disappointment all-around. The music is decent enough, but the game’s visuals are dull and do nothing to distract from gameplay that is overly complicated, tedious, and just no fun overall. There is no significant narrative element to otherwise engage player interest, either. Even at the most basic level, the game’s tutorials do not explain the various elements of gameplay enough for players to fully understand what’s happening on the screen. I will give the developers credit for trying to innovate in the often-stale realm of the RTS, but the end result here fails to satisfy in any way.
Noble Armada: Lost Worlds
Digital – $19.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.