Blitzkrieg 3: The Mighty Quest for Epic Tanks.

For a series titled ‘Blitzkrieg’, Nival’s strategy games have made the slowest progress. I remember reviewing the first 12 years ago, by games industry standards I’m now a tottering pile of dust and creaky bones reminiscing about playing Wolfenstein 3D on shareware, and Nival is only just working on the third game.

Admittedly, Nival has released a lot of other titles since Blitzkrieg II in 2005 Allods Online , Heroes of Might & Magic V, King’s Bounty but it’s a little rich to expect anyone but us doddery types to remember what the first games were about. Especially, given that they were two of many very-similar tactical tank games developed in Central and Eastern Europe in the mid-2000s, which were eventually conquered by Company of Heroes.

Blitzkrieg 3 is the same sort of real-time tactics game again. You control a small squad of tanks, infantry and support units and have to make your way across an isometric map capturing objectives and destroying enemy vehicles. You’ve got a limited array of support special moves at your disposal airstrikes, paratroopers, mortar barrages and the like but much of the game is about the agonising process of scouting heavily-defended positions before you try to flank or storm them.
Trees topple as tanks roll over them, smoke billows and spreads, hiding lines of sight
I didn't get to see the singleplayer campaign, but I’m told it’s three separate storylines, from the perspectives of the Allies, the Axis and the Soviets. Amazingly, the Allies’ story does not involve D-Day, like every other WWII game since the year dot, but the equally-important and much more tactically interesting land battles in Italy. The other two campaigns will deal with equally-ignored parts of the war the Germans pushing into France in 1940 and the Russians pushing to Berlin. Fascinatingly, Nival seems to feel that the singleplayer is fan service just there to serve the old hardcore gamers, while the younger gamers will enjoy the multiplayer.

So that’s where the focus is: the multiplayer, an asynchronous base-building game like the Mighty Quest For Epic Loot. But with tanks. You’re given access to a map, which gets larger and more complex as you level up. Players build the defences of their base first, essentially setting up a series of traps for the enemy player, by throwing down mines, tank traps, field guns, infantry and tanks, as well as certain buildings. As you defeat enemy players, you acquire resources that enable you to level up buildings and units. If you pay for a Premium Account, you gain resources faster. Given that you’re only ever facing off against enemies of the same level, it’s pay-to-advance, not pay-to-win.

The game hasn't visually shifted a huge amount from the impressive-looking original games, but the Unity engine has allowed Nival to bring Blitzkrieg 3 much closer to Company of Heroes 2 in terms of battlefield detail and modern standards of beauty. Trees topple as tanks roll over them, smoke billows and spreads, hiding lines of sight, and infantry soldiers go flying as tank shells land amongst them.

Like Men of War, battles are all about vision, orientation and surviving but also, given the short time limit, about speed.

The map I test first has two bridges to the enemy’s defences, and three minutes to complete it. On my first assault, I cautiously take the eastern bridge, expending almost all my mortar and howitzer shots to take out a cluster of bunkers, tanks and anti-tank guns defending a secondary base, but fail to reach the main base within the time limit. On my second try, I take the more direct northern bridge, pushing my heavy tanks forward, with my infantry and tank destroyers covering. This area is much more heavily defended, which means my troops keep stumbling into more traps as I attempt to flank enemy positions. I lose sight of them and the enemy in the smoke. When it clears, every last soldier is dead. I lasted maybe two minutes.
When the smoke clears, every last soldier is dead. I lasted maybe two minutes
Though the battles have the style of classic real-time WWII, at the moment what’s missing is something to add complexity. You can only specify the most basic behaviours for your units, so they tend to sit there and wait for the enemy to come to them which is fine, except that the enemy has access to artillery support, which can eliminate super-fast any expensive defences you've got. As a game mode it’s fun, but at this stage the limited layout options don't promise a hugely complex experience although that could be a consequence of my only having access to the early levels.

The strategy genre isn’t in crisis, but the received wisdom is that it’s in dire need of innovation, and Nival accepts that. It remains to be seen whether Blitzkrieg 3’s  multiplayer can answer that challenge and stay entertaining.

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