It’s been almost 10 years since the last Blitzkrieg game, a rather lengthy absence that’s not gone unnoticed by fans of the RTS genre. The series was once a standard bearer for strategy games, and a landmark title for the continued development and popularity of historic RTSs. Look at titles like Men of War and Order of War and the links to Nival’s legendary franchise are clear to see. Not only in the setting mind you, but in the overarching gameplay, tone and even individual mechanics. Yet the genre has moved on since 2005, and some especially fantastic titles have taken the WW2 RTS to once unforeseen heights - both in terms of product quality and commercial success. Well, one particular series. That of course being Company of Heroes, which may have been a modern reinvention of the Blitzkrieg formula when it released in 2006, it’s grown far beyond that moniker since.
So this is a very different market compared to the RTS scene of 2005. Blitzkrieg is no longer the measuring stick, in its place is Company of Heroes 2 (or arguably the first game), a sleek, detailed and incredibly strategic game that has yet to face a truly worthy opponent. So enters Blitzkrieg 3, created once again by original devs Nival but with a very different attitude towards development. Rather than take on Relic’s monolith head-on, Nival is looking to make a path of its own. It’s an unusual path, if not wholly unfamiliar. In fact, one might argue that the game implements one of the most popular systems of modern gaming. Blitzkrieg 3, for the most part at least, is a base defence and attack game, and shares a fair chunk of DNA with none other than Clash of Clans.
Which of course, is a horrible leading sentence that most RTS fans will shirk at. So you certainly won’t hear Nival say it. Yet there’s no point denying that what we have here is the tried and tested Clash of Clans system in which you build up a base made of production buildings, place defences around that base so other players can’t take your resources, then launch attacks of your own against other bases. It’s an incredibly successful system for many a mobile game, but this is certainly one of the first implementations of the system on a full-price PC title. Before you close this page though, it’s very important to note that through all the similarities, Blitzkrieg 3 is not a free-to-play/pay-to-advance game. The actions that you typically need to wait for in Clash of Clans and the like can be done constantly without payment.
So there’s no waiting for units and buildings to be constructed, or a slow-trickle of resources, nor allotted time between attacks. Instead, the attacks you make on enemy bases can win you the resources that you then use to instantly develop your base and improve the defenses. In short: the negative aspects of those base-building mobile games are gone. It’s still a very strange prospect though. Players can relocate bases to different maps, which gives battles a bit of variety, but the differences between each attack stem largely from how each player sets up his or her defences. There’s a good variety of emplacements, guns and units that can be placed around the maps with a nice amount of freedom. It gives each attack a slightly new feel that’s based largely on how the defender chooses to place their equipment.
Aside from the mobile-influenced multiplayer mode, the game itself has actually changed very little since Blitzkrieg 2. Things are certainly a lot prettier, with some nicely detailed WW2 tanks and lush landscapes (not really on par with the heights of COH2, but expecting that would have been unfair). Yet gameplay is still the familiar ‘drag selection box over all of your units, move them as one cohesive unit.’ Of course, it’s possible to start micro-managing units once you get used to the game, but compared to the unit-specific detail of Company of Heroes, it does feel rather clumsy. While the Relic title does a fantastic job of making every unit feel special and useful, Blitzkrieg is more focused on your ability to manage a large group of units. For those more comfortable with Command & Conquer or Age of Empires than COH, that style will be familiar and easy to handle - but it certainly lacks the dynamism of more advanced RTSs.
Which does lead to a slight problem when the focus of the game is on unscripted battles against AI opponents (despite the bases being owned by players, they’ll generally be away from the game when they’re attacked). After your first hour or so with the multiplayer, things do start to become a little repetitive. There’s a reason this mechanic is used on mobile, and that’s because it owes to the small play times that handheld gaming offers. When you sit down to play an RTS, you’re usually there for the long haul (or at least, more than an hour’s worth of play time). The way people set up their defenses only varies so much, which means eventually they start to blend. Even at this early stage in development, it’s difficult not to wish for a proper PvP multiplayer mode.
What Nival is promising, however, is a fully equipped single-player campaign mode that spans the entire war. At the moment, only one mission is playable with the standard version of the Early Access product - a decent level that’s fun to play, if a little lacking in focus and cohesion. The inclusion of American, Russian and German forces in the Alpha is a great bonus and good sign of things to come, so hopefully the promised campaign can live up to the excellent missions from the original Blitzkrieg games. Once again, Nival has stiff competition from the games currently available, but given some inventive thinking and a commitment to the single-player as well as the multiplayer, we could have something good on the single-player front.
For fans of the series, Blitzkrieg 3 may not be what you were expecting, especially after such a long absence. Yet there’s no doubt that this bold new direction for the series should be a fascinating test dummy for those interested in how mobile game design can be translated to console or PC gaming. Of course, there’s a good chance that the crash dummy could end up being dusted off and placed at the front of a store, a mannequin dressed in fine clothes - an example of inventive mobile-to-PC design leading to commercial success. It wouldn’t be surprising if many a company had their eye on Blitzkrieg 3. It may not be the traditional WW2 RTS that many were once hoping for, but it could be a leap in a new direction for RTS games, and even PC games in general.