I recently spent some time in the Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer and I can safely say that I’m at least a month away from being anywhere near tolerable as a team mate. I suppose that’s the point though; if you create a steep enough learning curve, you create a wider variance in skill which, in turn, makes the game more fun. The truly deserving will usually win, with luck rarely playing into the equation, the exception being if you’re unfortunate enough to be teamed up with me. This is no Mario Kart.
Company of Heroes is nuanced and that doesn’t change with the sequel. In fact, the changes made are limited and most would contend that, in terms of design, this is exactly how one should handle a Real Time Strategy sequel. There is just enough here to make the upgrade interesting.
For one, taking a page from shooters, you can now customise your troops outside of battle via the loadout menu.
At the forefront of the loadout system stands the Commander feature. Commanders are troops who can be called in midmatch and come with their own exclusive perks, structures and units. Players can choose between 7 different available Commanders, setting up to three of them per loadout. This affords players a degree of flexibility, depending on how their match is proceeding.
For one, the game now takes place on the Eastern Front of World War II so you can expect snow. You can expect lots of snow, and that plays into the game in a surprisingly huge way. Mobility is affected by deep snow across the board. Units leave tracks and infantry has to keep in mind that they need warmth to live, so you better spend some time near a fire.
Troop routing becomes a focus, balancing stealth, speed and risk as you traverse the map. Some paths lose viability as the game plays on. One particular stand out was the presence of frozen rivers which will wear and crack through use, sometimes plummeting vehicles to a watery grave.
Tense were the moments when a blizzard halted advances, decreasing visibility and chilling troops. Having no familiarity with the game’s meta, I waited in anticipation, trying to figure out what I should do. When would my superior opponent burst through the blinding storm and destroy me? Apparently, never. It’s this kind of psychological human versus human guesswork that keeps Company of Heroes 2 interesting.
A central tenant to the Company of Heroes experience is the cover system. Cover ranges in quality and is indicated by a colored dot, changing from green for heavy cover, to yellow for light. Obviously the various degrees of cover will affect how players traverse the map, jumping from hay bales to broken down walls to self-deployed sand bags.
Vehicles also play a large role in combat, with an emphasis on the versatile upgradable tanks. My personal favourite was a bulldozer attachment that allowed the tanks to plow through tough unfavourable terrain, but I’ll have to admit that the flamethrower attachment that my opponents frequently used on me was pretty damn cool. Supposedly, tanks have a weak point that can be exploited if you manage to flank them, but I never quite managed. Still, an RTS with this much priority put on positioning is a welcome change of pace. Now if only we could do something about the early onset of tanks and Company of Heroes 2 would be a guaranteed buy for me.
Fortunately, there is plenty of time between now and release for tweaks to the gameplay. I can’t wait for the refined title to utterly destroy me when it is released this June. I have this sneaking suspicion that this will be something big, if word gets out about it. It’s hard to shake the feeling that there is just enough unique about Company of Heroes’ fast paced gameplay to fill a niche in the rapidly growing RTS genre.
Company of Heroes 2 is exclusive to Windows PC, and will be released on June 25.