Halo Wars 2 Blitz Beta - Impressions and Takeaways [VIDEO!!!]
I need to both say and then remind myself later that this was just one mode of Halo Wars 2. It should not be taken as my overall impressions of the entire game, as I have not participated in any other mode betas (if they've been held). That being what it is, Blitz is an interesting take on the multiplayer, PvP, RTS formula. But like many modes in the core Halo game, I did not find it grippingly enticing, or at all necessary.
Another cautionary note, this is from just about 40 minutes or so of gameplay, and we can argue about whether or not that was sufficient soak time for me to formulate a truly informed opinion. It will have to do, because right now there are just too many other games to play that have already been released and are sitting in my backlog, as well as comics to read, super-hero shows to watch...you get the point. One of these days we'll have to chat about how people ever find time to play betas in the first place, and whether that experience is truly of value to the individual gamer. That's for another day.
So, yes, I walked into this fray with no franchise-oriented frame of reference. I didn't play Halo Wars 1, and I'm not deeply steeped in Halo lore. So I come at this as an RTS purist. Blitz is a PvP mode that adds the mechanic of having you earn troops, units, and special attacks via a card deck. I started out this scenario with something like 115 cards. There was a deck of 23 X 5 cards given to me at the beginning of the game. I'm not sure if that will be the norm in the full-game release or a special mulligan for the beta. I also could not get a grip on whether or not I was earning more cards through the course of gameplay or in-between rounds or what. That's on me; I chose not to play through the tutorial.
Let me pause here and say that I really like the way the game looks. And it scaled well on my Core i3-6320 3.9GHz, 32GB DDR4 PC2133 RAM, Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Mini GPU-powered system, defaulting to just about max settings in all graphics categories. Sound was excellent, with big booming explosions, and PhysX powered screen rattles to accompany particularly bombastic events. The screen scrolled quickly, with no sign of hitching, even in 6-player matches. In general, I figure that this game will play quite well, if I can find some interest in it outside of this mode.
So, you have cards. Those allow you to periodically call down units, or small squads of troops one at a time. This makes it difficult to form an assault or defensive force that truly reflects any kind of combined arms unit with any effect. Because when you can call down a vehicle, you can only bring down one; squads are typically in groups of 4. I guess the whole point of this game mode is to allow for matches that resolve quickly, incentivize very fast and immediate combat engagements, and reduce the amount of muss and fuss. But they could have done that by just granting you a set of resource points at the beginning and allowing you to earn a minimum amount as you captured and held on to victory points. The card mechanic seems an amount of unneeded bloat that just restricts the types of offensives that you can orchestrate.
I had a good amount of issues with the control scheme, as well. While I could use number + CTRL to designate a combat squad, I could not snap control to them by hitting or double tapping the "1" key afterwards, because that was linked to my card deck, with there being cards taking up keys 1 through 4. I could use this convention if I used number keys 5 or above. It was confusing because I am pretty sure that the key mappings in the settings screen showed that CTRL + 1 through 4 would be available for this common RTS control paradigm.
I was also not impressed with the dynamic of the tactics that unfolded on the field. This might be a result of the Blitz mode, but there was no essence of combat maneuver once two opposing forces found each other. You just showed up. Then you each sat in one place and blasted each-other. All strikes / super weapons are called down from the sky, and were, essentially, unavoidable, and did not really impact gameplay in any way except in an entirely linear fashion. There were single routes to most control points from a given base-pad and the whole thing felt, as Mr Spock might say, very two-dimensional. Overall, Blitz mode degenerates into a contest of who can click on their cards fastest and put together the sum total most powerful, toe-to-toe rockpaperscissors squad and then rush them to a control point. This makes for a very boring RTS session. It's not Company of Heroes, to say the least.
All that being said, I am not the person most interested in PvP RTS gameplay. I'd be down for some co-op with my friends against the CPU AI. I feel like RTS PvP always collapses to click-fest exploit-spamming amongst a bunch of nihilists who are not interested in truly exploring the chess-like fun of PC-rendered tactical warfare. What I saw last night convinced me to keep my eye on this game to see how the other modes are viewed from website reviewers, but it didn't move me to pre-order and put the game definitively in my purchase target-line.
I've got my gameplay video down below from last night's livestream where I play a set of 1v1, 2v, and 3v3 matches, but be warned that the audio-mix balance is not great and my commentary overlay is pretty low. You can hear it fine between rounds, but not very well once shots get fired. No worries, as most of what I said in-game was captured here in the write-up. Enjoy and please feel free to check out other videos on the Rounding Off Infinity channel (link is in the nav bar at the top of the page).