Available On: Xbox One, Windows 10 PC
Played On: PC
Release Date: February 21, 2017
Halo Wars 2 is currently running an open beta for players to try out the new Blitz mode. I decided to give it a try, despite being a neophyte when it comes to the Halo universe and the Halo wars series.
Blitz offers unique and fast-paced real-time strategy matches using cards. I enjoyed how the cards were integrated into the gameplay, making me wish the Blitz mode could spin-off into a more full-fledged game on its own. Earning new cards and trying new deck combinations together is a fun prospect, but the limited card pool and 12-card decks left me wanting much more.
Warring With Cards
Blitz is an all-new game mode for Halo Wars 2 that infuses a collectible card game into the traditional real-time strategy. You play with a deck of 12 cards, each of which represents a unit or ability. Each card has an Energy cost, from cheap Hellbringer infantry to insanely huge vehicular monstrosities. Energy is gained gradually through a match. Energy cells will also spawn periodically to award Energy to the first one to grab them.
With zero base-building or resource gathering, it’s all about armies clashing together. Units are summoned from your cards onto the battlefield. They can be summoned anywhere you already have at least one unit, creating some chaotic situations where both players drop a dozen units on top of each other. Summoned units have half health unless they’re summoned in your base, however.
The only map available was The Proving Ground, which held three control points. Capturing the majority of points gradually raised your score, and the first team to 200 wins. The match automatically ends after 12 minutes, but I never had a match last even that long.
Matches can be played 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3. I was impressed to find match-making near instantaneous in each mode, with zero latency or framerate issues. It was easy to add a friend and jump into matches together as well.
Two-on-two seems to be the sweet-spot and is considered the default. One-on-one felt a little more boring and less strategic, as both players work to secure at least two of the three control points. Three-on-three was pure insane chaos. Fun, but difficult to tell what was happening and who to target for a newbie like me.
Halo Deck Builder
Despite only having twelve cards you have some options for how to configure your deck. You can choose between different leaders, each of whom has unique units and abilities that only they can use. The beta had six different leaders to choose from, three from the human UNSC faction, and three from the alien Banished faction. Different leaders specialize in different tactics. Isabel enjoys subterfuge, making hologram units to distract foes, while Decimus uses life-stealing units and abilities.
To build a balanced deck, you’ll need a variety of cards that range in cost, and can counter the rock-paper-scissors gameplay of infantry-vehicles-aircraft. Actual stats of units are horrifically lacking. There’s no information on unit hit points or damage. The only information on the cards are how effective they are at countering one of those three enemy types.
Many cards have special abilities. Abilities could be always on (like cloaking) or need to be activated, like switching a Scorpion tank from tank to siege mode. Knowing which units to draft to counter your opponent makes all the difference.
There’s a major randomness when it comes to deploying units and abilities, however – you only have access to four cards at a time. This makes Blitz much more like an actual card game (like Hearthstone) where both players have to deal with the randomness of the card draw. It’s another reason you’ll want a balanced deck so you’ll hopefully always have the right card available.
Playing a card replaces it with a new one from your deck, or you can spend five energy to discard it for a new one. I was annoyed with the strict limitation at first, but it helped add to the random chaos of the battlefield, and forced me to use unique combinations rather than relying on any one single strategy.
It wouldn’t be a card game without booster packs, and here the love/hate of Blitz mode will reveal itself. Booster packs contain half a dozen cards, whether new to you or duplicates. Gain enough duplicates of a card and you can raise its level, raising a unit’s stats (which still aren’t listed anywhere). This means that the more cards you earn, the stronger your units become, which could create an awkward imbalance between veterans and newcomers.
Booster packs are earned by completing Daily and Weekly Quests, a concept I really love. Quests are randomized with certain requirements, such as playing games as a UNSC leader. Quests earn XP and packs, and leveling up your rank earns you packs as well. I was earning new card packs left and right and loved the motivation to complete the Quests. But you’re still at the mercy of the random booster packs in getting the cards you want for the leaders you like to play. You can also purchase booster packs for real money.
Considering Blitz is one of four game modes for Halo Wars 2, I was impressed with how unique and polished it felt. It offers a really different feel from standard base-building and resource gathering. The super quick matches are very appealing for many folks who balk at the length of time many RTS matches can last. I hope new cards and leaders will be added post-launch to help keep it interesting. Blitz might not be the difference maker for jumping into Halo Wars 2, but it could easily become my favorite way to play.