Company of Heroes 2 Hands on: RTS fans, rejoice
As soon as given the chance, I deployed on this Company of Heroes 2 hands on test. As a good fan of the prequels, I jumped in the middle of it eagerly, although not without a few doubts. In fact, following the departure of THQ, fans all over the world have immediately wondered what would become of Company of Heroes 2, sequel to the acclaimed real-time strategy game released by Relic Entertainment in 2006.
Fortunately, SEGA came to resolve the situation, buying the developers and leading them under their wing. From April 2 I’ve been trying the Multiplayer section of the game, and below you can read my first impressions.
Set during the Second World War, Company of Heroes 2 places us at the command of the Red Army against the German invasion of the Eastern Front. We are called to manage scarce resources (fuel, ammunition, manpower), set up a base and form a strike force – or defense – to achieve the mission’s objective. The beta version allowed testers to choose the side of Germany or Russia and contained aspects of the online competitive mode we’ll find in the game, coming out June 25, 2013. The goal of the online mode is, quite simply, to either annihilate the opponent or keep control of strategic points around the map for a certain amount of time.
In the past, during online battles, the first thing to do was to select one of the three commanders who have joined us in the fight (the Americans for example, had Airborne Company, Infantry Company and Armor Company), but now the commanders are visible even before entering the game. We can customize their appearance and skills, in addition to also being able to customize the look of the units that we are going to deploy in battle. In the past, Company of Heroes offered active skills that gave distinct advantage during the clashes; now, though, skills are largely passive towards the benefit of objective skill of those who play.
In the name of a better balance, they’ve also balanced the maps, mainly the layout of the strategic points; as well as added the option to choose what kind of resource to draw from strategic points. For example we can choose whether to install a source of gas, or of ammunition. The influx of manpower is directly proportional to the size of your army and is automatically supplied by the game.
Technically speaking, the Company of Heroes 2 graphics engine relies on a new concept: Essence 3.0 owned by Relic Entertainment. To a distracted glance it might seem that there are no differences between this graphics engine and that of seven years ago (Essence 1.0). However, it is clear that they have added several special effects, which also affect a lot in terms of gameplay. The weather can change from one moment to the next during battle, making a real snowy scenery hell plagued by a wave of frost.
The only hope of survival for our infantry is to warm up near the fireplaces dotted around the map, to avoid dying of cold, but doing this also means that they will be easily detectable by the opposing forces. Not only do you have to be careful when it comes to the cold wave: it could happen to stumble across an area of ice that allows the passage of troops from one bank of a river to the other. The problem arises when the enemy is waiting for us on the other side, bombarding us and shattering the fragile path we chose to take. Company of Heroes 2 focuses on roughness of the ground: for example, if we decide to move our troops in where the snow is too high, they will suffer considerable issues in movement.
There are significant differences between the faction of Russia and that of Germany. The Germans still have the same type of game seen in the first Company of Heroes, with the presence of so-called “Tier” that unlocks access to the most effective units. Russia offers a very different kind of game: its strength lies on the numbers, sacrificing efficiency in battle. A team of six Russians riflemen, for example, could lose against a formation of four stormtrooper Germans. On the other hand, Russia can access all of the facilities and units in a shorter time, although at a higher cost.
In addition to the gameplay elements, adhering to Company of Heroes tradition but appropriately balanced and updated to keep up with the times, what struck me was the efficiency of the TrueSight View – a system that allows us to see exactly what our units see, depending on weather conditions. This opens up all new perspectives in terms of strategy, encouraging outflanking manoeuvres and surprise attacks (perhaps during one of the feared “blizzards”).
One more month of waiting and finally Company of Heroes 2 will be released. Everything in my playtest seems to suggest a comeback for the real-time strategy by Relic Entertainment, but of course we’ll save the judgement for the final release.