When returning to the Blitzkrieg series, Nival set out to create something that defied the usual format for an RTS game. Whether it’s Starcraft or Company of Heroes, the single player is there for the masses to enjoy before budding generals turn their gaze to the multiplayer to pit their wits against one another. Having entered into Early Access last month, Blitzkrieg 3 turns this structure on its head in a number of ways.
It’s really the multiplayer that is the focus of the game, but in choosing to feature an asynchronous form of attack and defence multiplayer, it’s quite unlike other mainstream RTS games. It all centres around building up your own base while attacking those of other players online in order to gain more resources – though they do naturally build up over time regardless – expand and upgrade your base buildings further and recruit more advanced troops and tanks to take into battle or add to your defensive line.
With a strict 10 minute time limit on a battle, there’s little time to stand still once your troops are on the ground. With a handful of familiar maps, it’s easy to probe a route and see where the defences lie, or simply pick your favourite strategy and charge in headlong. Just be warned that the latter can quickly see you defeated, as foot soldiers are relatively easy for a solid defence to tear apart, leaving you with the attrition of tanks firing at emplacements and other tanks. Making good use of the limited support points to call in artillery barrages to seriously weaken or destroy the enemy defences that lie in your way.
Of course, approaching this from the other side is also quite difficult, as you have to try and find a defence that can cover as many angles as possible, while not being spread too thinly. You only have a certain number of points to spend on what will defend your base, just as there are limits to how much you can use to attack with, so it’s important to examine the map to find choke points, as well as be a sneaky little so-and-so when it comes to hiding minefields – these are marked with a flag, but this can be hidden amidst the visual noise of a treeline, for example – and placing anti-tank troops within buildings is another excellent tactic for weakening or destroying armour. It certainly helps that you can enter a test battle and probe your defences for weaknesses with things like the fog of war in action to see if you have things lined up right.
What’s interesting is that Nival have decided that it’s the multiplayer which is designed to be the introduction to the game, rather than easing you in with a single player campaign. The historical missions in the game are designed to be very difficult and, with more on the way in an upcoming patch, I couldn’t even complete the first one, The Neisse Crossing. With only so many points to spend on calling in artillery barrages from off screen and the incredible armoured might of the advancing German tanks, it was already tough enough to simply defend the two anti-air emplacements that were my main objective, but I also had to try and capture a third control point from the enemy and then push forward to destroy mobile artillery units that were pounding my lines. Needless to say, my resources were stretched beyond their breaking point and I failed to complete the mission multiple times.
Failure is also something that you need to be used to in the multiplayer, as you will sometimes go up against a foe whose defences can easily hold off the lesser units you have from the start of the game. In fact, it’s one of the things that Nival try to teach you during the multiplayer’s introductory missions, which blur the lines between a tutorial and simply playing the game by sending you off to attack bases before guiding you through the early stages of building you base. Except that it’s not entirely clear that these battles are part of the tutorial, meaning that when they throw you up against what I assume was a pre-formed battle that you have no hope of winning, it feels frustrating, like they’ve matchmade you with an opponent that is ludicrously powerful.
Except that this can happen as well once you get into the main pool of multiplayer opponents. By and large, it did a pretty good job of matching me with a conquerable base, but one that still provides a degree of challenge as I flanked round emplacements and tried to gain the upper hand. However, there have been some enemy bases that were either very poorly defended or featured emplacements and technology far beyond what I would be able to handle. Thankfully, you can skip an enemy for a trivial amount of supplies, and with resources tripled for a win at this moment in time, a loss doesn’t feel like too much wasted time and progressing is still very fast and easy to do.
It’s one of a number of rough edges to the game, as it is very much in the midst of development. It’s not really made clear that capturing a zone requires that you destroy all the enemy units and emplacements within a larger red circle, and not just within the green capture point, for example, and path finding can be a little bit flaky as units clip through each other, while I sometimes found that their focus during battle would very quickly return to what they wanted to shoot at rather than what I wanted them to be doing. Even though each defence can potentially be completely different from one player to the next, it could also do with several more maps, as you currently tackle the same ones repeatedly and can try to employ the same tactics time and again. I’m also not entirely sure whether my base has ever been attacked, without a battle history that I could find to view.
But being an Early Access title means that Nival are still very much hard at work to fix bugs and add more and more content. Needless to say, the asynchronous play is a major break from tradition and, while I find it to be quite an interesting and compelling change of pace, allowing me to dip in and out for 20-odd minutes at a time, Nival have heard their community loud and clear and are adding head to head multiplayer in two forms, both a straight up 1v1 fight to the death, as well as active base defence if your base is attacked while you are in the game.
Yet, while Nival will obviously listen to and adapt the game to suit the community’s wishes, I hope they don’t lose that initial and quite original focus on asynchronous multiplayer. That, for me, really helps the game stand out from the crowd and manages to present a very different style of play that lets you simply pick up and play for 15 minutes at a time.