It’s been a long time since Blitzkrieg 2 was released, with the WW2 era tanks receiving a fine coating of dust as they sat waiting for their time to roar into action once more, but now they have their chance. Nival have tired of seeing RTS games with extra game mechanics and the infiltration of elements from other genres, so they’re returning to one of their most popular series, with a clear goal of going right back to the basics.
Your typical mission sees you take command of a small handful of troops and tanks of various descriptions, looking to break through the enemy’s defences and capture their base. There’s no base building in situ from which you can call reinforcements, but rather a reliance on your own tactical nous to recognise the threats to your forces and find a way past while minimising your own losses before the 10 minutes on the clock run out.
A war of attrition is not what this game is about – the name is the polar opposite of this, after all – but you won’t be able to select all of your troops and just rush into the hail of gunfire without a modicum of thought either. You’re far better off calling in mortar barrages and using up some of your precious support points, or splitting your units up into smaller strike forces of complimentary units and trying to circumnavigate whatever’s in your path. You’ll be particularly wary of minefields and machine gun emplacements that will take out your soldiers before you can really react, while anti-tank emplacements and enemy tanks surrounded by sandbags will provide a sterner test for your armoured vehicles.
However, there’s a twist in the tale: this base you’ve been attacking was created by another human being, and your own base could well be fending off its own attackers at the same time. You see, Blitzkrieg 3 takes to heart the scarcity of time that many people find in their modern day lives. It’s all designed around letting you dip in for 10-15 minutes at a time, but does so via asynchronous multiplayer.
You start off with creating your own base on a map, with a headquarters, a barracks, some supply depots and so on. As you play more and more matches, you take the supplies from your victories and turn them to improving your base’s buildings, adding fortifications, defences and even defensive units in locations where you think your enemies will approach. Though the maps are pre-created by Nival and designed with a handful of routes through them, you’re able to create something potentially quite unique for your future opponents to go up against, especially as you unlock higher levels.
Offence, as they say, is the best defence, and if you’ll excuse my bludgeoning of this particular saying into submission, that kind of idea is at the heart of the “selfie-multiplayer” in which you turn your own forces onto your base and see how well you fare against your defensive layout. Naturally, you won’t earn any new resources for this, but it lets you battle harden what you have prepared and find weak points, such as a small path that runs around to the rear of the base, which I found worked wonders when I was attacking a pre-prepared base. Watching replays from those that attack your base will provide a similar insight, too.
I’ll admit that this does all smack of a free to play game, with base building, asymmetrical play and so on, but Nival are pitching this as a fully paid for game without microtransactions. There will be a premium account to allow you to accelerate the rate at which you can earn base upgrades and so on, but this will naturally take second place to actually knowing how to use the units at your disposal. There isn’t any form of traditional head to head multiplayer either, so what fleshes this out into something more palatable to the RTS fan’s wallet will be a trio of single player campaigns which tackle key campaigns for the Germans, Allied and Russian forces.
In an odd reversal to most games, this single player campaign is actually where the meatier and tougher challenge will lie. Each campaign will feature 7 or 8 missions, and demand around 35-40 minutes to complete, with plenty of side missions on the way. However, rather than being designed to ease you into the gameplay, these will challenge you by giving you just a small number of units and limited resources with which to complete your objectives. A sample mission I tried dropped me into the middle of a warzone with just a trio of infantry units at my disposal and an objective half way across the map. Needless to say, I died as soon as I bumbled my way into a handful of tanks, but had I headed in a different direction, I might have found an LAV to help turn the tables.
With the game just about to head into alpha testing some time this month, and with Early Access on the horizon, these are still quite early days. Nival have interesting plans to add Generals to the game – which I feel somewhat contradicts their idea of returning to basics – as well as the potential much further down the line of shifting to a Vietnam War setting, a period in which Blitzkrieg 3 was originally to have been set. However, what strikes me is that they’re on the cusp of achieving what they set out to do, with a game that relies as much on your tactical ability as possible, but without needing you to sit and play for hours at a time.