Real-time strategy (RTS) can be a pretty daunting genre to get into, at least when it comes to player vs. player.

Learning all the units, how to counter them, and formulating strategies is hard enough, but throw in unit micro-management, reaction speeds, and knowing how to spend your resources and RTS can be immensely competitive and demanding.

Enter Blitz Mode, Halo Wars 2's arcade-style RTS mode that looks to be far more accessible than its separate, hardcore Deathmatch-style PvP modes. Here's everything you need to know before you head into the Blitz mode beta starting January 20th, through to January 30th!

See Halo Wars 2 Blitz Mode Beta on the Windows Store

Build a deck

Halo Wars 2's Blitz Mode revolves around card deck building. Each card represents either a group of units, characters from the Halo Wars universe, or even abilities (such as air strikes). You can also select a leader card for your deck, which determines which faction your deck will be but also grants unique passive bonuses that can completely change your playstyle. Blitz modes allow for co-operative play, so one player could focus his deck around support and unit healing, while another player builds a deck around offense, for example.

Each deck is made up of 12 cards, and each card comes with various bonuses. Generally, ground vehicles are best deployed against infantry, infantry are most effective against aircraft, and aircraft are designed to take out ground vehicles. Like rock-paper-scissors. Most units in Halo Wars have on-use attack abilities, adding an additional layer of interactivity. There are also modified unit cards that come with special passive abilities, including things like exploding on death, or boosting the stats of nearby units.

Unlike Halo Wars 2's classic RTS modes, Blitz has a reactive, but light resource economy. You will spend energy to play one of four active cards from your deck at any one time, and managing your energy effectively will be key to victory. Every time you spend a card, a new one appears in your hand from your deck. You can reroll a card at any time, but doing so will cost energy as well.

Energy spawns on the map at random, and both Blitz' PvP and PvE mode will, in part, be about obtaining these resources before the enemy team.

Building a balanced deck that features both expensive cards, supportive cards, and so on, will be paramount.

Earning new cards will be a simple case of playing the game. Similar to Halo 5's REQ packs, you will be able to buy random packs of cards to help complete your deck using both in-game currency and micro-payments. Creative Assembly was keen to stress that it's simply an option, however, as players will be matched based on deck strength and skill. It won't be a case of losing to players who have spent more money than you, particularly as some of the more powerful cards can only be earned by playing Halo Wars 2's single-player campaign mode.

Here's a schematic of what the icons on each card means.

Duplicate cards can be used to "level up" existing cards, granting Blitz mode a progression layer. 343i and Creative Assembly will support Blitz mode post-launch with new content, new cards, and new game modes. But for launch, Blitz will launch with both a versus mode, and a firefight mode.

Blitz Versus Mode (PvP)

Blitz PvP Versus Mode is a domination-style game for either 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 battles. Players will fight for control of three points in the middle of the map, building up score points as they go. The team to hit the score cap first wins.

Launching a counter attack using an archer missile strike card in Blitz PvP.

The path to victory in versus mode will not only be about how well you maintain control of the points, but also how well you can steal energy from the opposing team. Energy represents Blitz mode's economy, and you will need energy in order to play your cards. Powerful cards, such as orbital lasers and air strikes will require heavy amounts of energy, and choosing when, if, and how to spend your energy will be key. In 2v2 and 3v3 matches, each team will share a pool of energy, so good communication over how to spend points will also play a role.

General PvP tips

  • Remember that generally, ground vehicles beat infantry, infantry beat aircraft, and aircraft beat ground vehicles. Try to spawn the correct cards for the situation.
  • Spawning cards outside of capture points issues a respawn penalty, cutting hit points by half. They will regenerate over time, but generally, try and spawn units either in your base, or on a node you currently own.
  • Hunt energy drops as a priority. Energy drops on the mini map, and the more energy you steal from the enemy, the more units you can spawn.
  • Pay attention to what your cards do. Nightingales are an aerial unit that can passively heal your squad, for example. These units can be very critical.
  • Don't spam your ability cards, such as missile strikes. These cards are best used in conjunction with a counter-attack, to improve your army's chance of winning a skirmish.
  • Have fun!

Blitz PvP matches are fast paced, lasting between 8 and 12 minutes. CA and 343i hope that Blitz Versus Mode will help casual players learn the general rules of RTS gameplay, giving them a more gentle path towards jumping into Halo Wars 2's full blown PvP death match modes, more typical of classic RTS games. Still, PvP can be hectic for some, which is why Blitz also comes with a player vs. environment (PvE) mode!

Blitz Firefight Mode (PvE)

This mode won't be available in January 20th's beta, but in the full game, expect Firefight to join Halo Wars 2's lineup. Blitz' Firefight mode similarly to Blitz' PvP mode, except players will face off against increasingly difficult waves of CPU-controlled enemies. This is more like Gears of War's Horde mode, where managing your resources and reacting to the threats presented by each wave makes up the bulk of the gameplay, and it supports both solo, and co-operative play. You will battle for control of three map points, similarly to Versus mode, battling back enemy waves along the way.

Deploying a MAC Blast orbital laser strike against an onslaught in Firefight mode... there were too many!

Enemy waves spawn infinitely in Firefight, making it more of a survival mode complete with leaderboards. You will score additional points for earning Killstreaks, which are similar to those found in other Halo games, such as Halo Spartan Strike. Firefight presents interesting opportunities for teams of players to create complimenting decks. For example, one player could focus on defensive lines, while another focuses on support and offense. Saving powerful abilities such as the MAC blast orbital laser or archer missiles will be critical to overcoming difficult waves, but making sure you're using your units effectively will always be the most important aspect of play.

Is it fun?

I played Halo Wars 2 Blitz mode briefly at 343i back in October, and while it was an earlier build, the potential was clear. Halo Wars 2 Blitz Mode is fast-paced, frenetic, and dare I say addictive. It's easy to jump on for quick bursts, and the deck building aspect of it is incredibly rewarding.

Blitz Mode's most fun moments, for me, were as a result of luck. Pulling out a missile strike at a critical juncture can turn the tide of battle, and the visuals are spectacular to boot. You'll be able to try Blitz mode PvP for yourself starting January 20th, in Microsoft's open beta.

As an Xbox Play Anywhere title, Halo Wars 2's Blitz Mode will lend itself well to gaming on the go, since your card deck will be available regardless of the device you want to use to play. Sadly, Halo Wars 2 won't feature any form of cross-play (even in co-op) due to the control differences between PC and console, but you will still be able to use your unlocks and progress between devices.

Blitz Mode is more for people like me, who might find the classic hardcore RTS gameplay of Halo Wars 2's classic PvP modes a little daunting. Blitz Mode is very accessible, but there is tons of room for high-level play, allowing seasoned players to take advantage of their skill and experience.

Halo Wars 2 goes into open beta on January 20th for both Xbox One and Windows 10, ahead of the full game's launch on February 21st.