Blitzkrieg 3 Press Demo
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
This previous week I had the joy of catching up with an associate of mine from earlier in my journalist career, Sergey Orlovskiy, CEO of Nival Games. In the past I tested out their runaway MOBA RPG hybrid, Prime World, a game that found great success in their native home of Russia. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was Nival had a longer storied history of game development, including a solo player real-time strategy franchise known as Blitzkrieg, focused on bringing the realism of the World War II era to life. As such we were surprised in recent months to see Nival back in the news pushing the third installment of this fabled franchise after a long hiatus, now with online multiplayer functionality. But honestly, what was the thought process behind it?
We’d rate the real-time strategy genre as one of the toughest of all online gaming genres to break into. The market for it has always been seemingly small compared to other gaming genres, and mixing it with the overdone World War II era seemed like a recipe for certain obscurity. The dev videos leading up gave us enough hope to follow up with this press event, given the fantastic graphical representation of the iconic war with realistically recreated war machines from the Axis, Allies, and Communist (USSR) factions. But they needed some hook to give me something to work with. Thankfully they had been hiding (for whatever reason) just that hook in the shadows to catch me off guard in a great way when meeting in person to try it for myself.
Can This Hook Land the Big One?
So what is it that could possible pull in an audience to the faded genre that Blizzard has all but conquered? The key here is Nival isn’t after the Blizzard RTS fan market, at least not directly. The fish they’re going to fry with this is a much newer population to the genre, namely the Clash of Clans mobile group. Nival’s vision for Blitzkrieg is a world war recreated by players representing each of the three factions. Great concept, but ping is always an issue when trying to mix North American and Russian players. That’s why they’re taking the idea of Clash of Clans’ asymmetrical competitive gameplay, and applying it to an AAA quality RTS setting.
This lure offers something to draw in both jaded mobile strategy players looking for something more than just timing and click precision in their strategy game, as well as older gamers that loved growing up on RTS games but don’t have the time to dedicate to half hour plus head-to-head brutal battles. Now if the kid starts crying, the player can simply pause the game to deal with real life before finishing their mission. But while they’re playing the tactics, diverse units, positional strategy, map boons/banes, and skill cap with coinciding knowledge needs is all present.
This all ties into the reward and progress mentality of mobile games by offering or costing you resources depending on your performance, that you then take into the opposite side of the game focused on base and army building, made infinitely more strategic now that you have all the time in the world to plan out your perfect defenses. In essence this isn’t a question of mathematical efficiency in mobile games where a player must put a turret in the right spot between resource buildings to limit losses. Blitzkrieg 3 gets much more advanced, allowing AI scripting of defending units to time pincer formations, position soldiers in strong defensive positions such as machine gunners in pillboxes, rocketeers in clock towers, and the always fun call for surprise reinforcements or airstrikes. As a result, even though players will be fighting a RTS against AI, the AI will carry many of the tricks only a thinking human player would offer, because for better or for worse, these defensive plays will have been designed by a human player intending to counter you.
Progression Drives You On
As time progresses and players build up resources, they can expend them on constructing new structures, whether defensive in nature, resource based, or production focused. They can also research to improve your units from late World War I units to the most advanced military to be found in the final days of the World War II conflict through a tech tree system, though it wasn’t implemented yet on the version I tested. Special support abilities can also be acquired such as recon forces, artillery bombardment, aerial bombardment, reinforcements, paratroopers, and just about any other strategic maneuver you can think of happening on the battlefield of that era. These resources are pulled from a single resource pool, forcing the player to actively decide which of the four equipped support abilities they think will be the most valuable to use at that time, with lesser support moves like recon to provide vision of an area costing less while full on aerial bombardment being quite expensive. Of course this pool is the same ability expenditure pool defenders can script to be used against you.
The countryside is rather nice this time of year, before the bombs start dropping anyway.
One aesthetic highlight I have to give props to is Nival’s clear dedication to make your personal city feel like a living world. In between battles, you will see your troops drilling and training, local farmers going about their daily affairs, delivery men riding by on motorcycles, cranes trying to hoist a tank out of a river from a collapsed bridge, and so on. It’s all entirely unnecessary, but if you’re the type who likes to stop and bask in the glory of your progression, you will appreciate the attention to detail. Can’t say any other game in the genre offers anything quite like Blitzkrieg 3’s living cities.
Gameplay in a Nutshell
All these factors considered, I expected the gameplay to feel watered down compared to other RTS games on the market. That’s not the case at all. Every unit provides a key utility on the battlefield, making your decision of how to fill out your current maximum army size to bring to battle a serious debate. If you find yourself facing off against someone with large city structures, bringing infantry units skilled in guerrilla warfare might save your heavy expensive armors some serious damage from grenade launching ambushers hiding in large heavily fortified buildings. These infantry units can be instructed to raid and take over such structures to prevent you from the much longer alternative of blowing them up brick by brick.
This is vital knowledge as the counter to the human vs AI setting in Blitzkrieg 3 is a battle timer that makes the full fight feel more intense. Rather than slowly picking apart an unthinking AI, you may find yourself rushing in from a non-optimal direction to pick apart your foe before the time limit runs out. Larger maps may reward faster armors, while more concentrated smaller maps will reward you for building out smaller high quality formations. As you progress, you’ll acquire generals that can bolster your troops actively and passively to rise to certain challenges. Every bit you conquer can mean more resources to speed up your progression, only to leave you second guessing your decisions as every unit destroyed on the battlefield will tally up to your overall costs in the battle.
Sometimes the option to order a retreat is the best bet in the long run. But where some might see surrender as the only option, those that master the understanding of their units’ strengths and intricacies of map bonuses may still find victory.
Bet you wish you protected those infantry units earlier on now, huh.
Swampy ground for instance can stall out or slow your tanks treads. Trees can hide and increase the RNG of fire deflection for your infantry. Bullet fire is animated in real-time, allowing you to see the trajectory of shots and adjust your units accordingly. Micromanaging your units’ reload time and positioning can be as rewarding here as it is in games like World of Tanks. Tanks can be readjusted to fire and then turn to their sides if that’s where their armor rating is strongest to make the most out of direct open terrain trades. Certain defensive structures are built to counter certain unit types, making a well-timed paratrooper landing invaluable to clear anti-tank defensive structures with minimal damage. All this I vaguely comprehend from a quick 20 minutes with the dev team, and I shudder to imagine how many tricks of the trade pros will be able to learn come the full launch.
Launch Goals, Business Model, and Clan Support
If the hook isn’t enough to lure in the big fish, perhaps their future support plans are where Blitzkrieg 3 truly shines. To my surprise, this quality project intends to offer free multiplayer gameplay at launch. Rather than chipping away at the experience with paywalls and unique cash shop units, they intend to make a profit through cosmetic purchases as well as bonus DLC content. This DLC content should certainly appeal to the more veteran RTS players out there, as they intend to offer fully fledged single player campaigns telling the story of World War II from various angles in the conflict. They mentioned the possibility of even expanding past World War II to offer new units and tactics in a Vietnamese conflict DLC at some point.
To address the other concern that RTS veterans may have with this new take on the genre, Nival promises that multiplayer functionality is on the way. This will come in the form of individual and competitive clan ranking based on your successes, activity, and who you can manage to take a beating to in the other factions. Cooperative missions akin to raid content are also in the works, allowing you to still play alongside other players instead of always grinding on scripted player built AI challenges.
Overall Blitzkrieg 3 is pushing their treads in a positive direction. I’m not entirely sold on it, and it’s going to have to show some solid gameplay to get over the negative connotations of being a World War II strategy game in 2015. But with their free to play online option there to give players a taste for free, and AAA quality campaigns on the way to add new levels of depth to those that stick around, I have higher hopes than I thought I would for this title.
Beta starts next month and will be stretching through the better part of this year. Find out full details on their official site.