Aeronautica Imperialis is the latest Games Workshop tabletop game to receive the digital treatment. Not content with merely featuring the characters and armies in a digital version like the popular Space Marine and Dawn of War games, Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command aims to recreate the turn-based nature of the tabletop game of the same name. Like Warhammer Underworlds Online and Blood Bowl, Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command uses the tabletop rules and mechanics in its digital incarnation, as players take wings of fighters from the Imperial Navy and Ork armies to battle in the skies.
Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command is a simultaneous turn-based strategy game. It operates slightly differently to normal TBS's, where players take alternating actions with their units in a 'you go, I go' format. In Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command players assign movement orders to their units, and then all actions happen simultaneously. This requires players to read their opponent's actions, before issuing orders to their own. If your fighter is flying directly behind the enemy, on their next turn will they turn left, or right, simply head straight or commit to a dive or other type of evasive maneuver?
Assigning movement, done by dragging a fighter to the end position you wish, is great fun. Moving an aircraft leaves an ethereal trail, showing where the aircraft will move through so that when you assign the movement for your next unit, you can see where all of your aircraft will end up at the end of the turn. This allows you to avoid collisions and set up overlapping firing arcs to gun down enemy aircraft. Once movement is assigned, the firing is done automatically as each aircraft's weapons system reaches range. You can control which weapons systems each aircraft fires and also set a target for your unit, which will then ignore other enemies, but you can't control the firing itself.
The whole turn then plays out through a series of cinematic shots that rotate through visuals of the aircraft. However, these shots don't show you why something happens. When you gun an enemy aircraft down, was it through great positioning, the perfect selection of weapons and range, or just a lucky dice roll worked out by the game engine? This leads to a disconnection with your player agency. It feels quite difficult to learn from and in the early stages and your focus is on simply moving to a position that you think will work and letting the game engine do the rest.
In the tabletop game, after movement is assigned, you still get to roll the dice for each aircraft that fires, keeping you involved and giving you a greater understanding of the mechanics. In Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command, the firing just happens according to the parameters you set. You can click on each aircraft during the game and see the stats for the pilot, aircraft, and weapons. These are all carried over from the tabletop game, where, as an example, a Quad Qutocannon would roll 2 dice at short range and 6 at medium, giving a higher chance to hit at its optimum medium range. You would learn to feel that roll, and over time, working out what weapons work well against which aircraft. If the dice don't go your way, you would know it was just chance.
The cinematics do provide some awesome visual moments as you watch perfect synchronized flight acrobatics, or see an enemy turn into your aircraft's firing solution. But the loss of agency feels hugely disconnecting. That's not to say it isn't great fun, and through our preview, after the tutorial, we got to play the first 4 scenario missions against the AI. In these standalone missions, you can play as either Orks or the Imperial Navy in missions escorting damaged aircraft or defending ground units. They are a blast to play through, and each of the 2 forces has a unique feel. The Orks usually outnumber the Imperials, but their aircraft aren't as durable, and they favor close range.
The in-game AI offers a significant challenge across 3 varying difficulties and pinning down enemy aircraft can be difficult. Flying straight into the enemy's teeth is also a quick way to have your force wiped out and the key is to outmaneuver the enemy so that they are within your firing arcs, but you are out of theirs.
When Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command releases, there will be a full campaign mode, where you can level up your roster of pilots and modify the equipment and upgrades of their aircraft, as well as an online PvP mode where players can take on the scenarios against each other.
Visually, Flight Command is fantastic and some great moments can be captured by the cinematics. Players coming from the tabletop game won't find exactly the same experience in terms of player agency, but it is still great fun and offers a rewarding tactical experience.
TechRaptor previewed Aeronautica Imperialis Flight Command on PC via Steam using a preview build provided by the publisher.