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Company of Heroes 2 focuses on details with a steep learning curve

Gameplay screens showing off battles and effects
Gameplay screens showing off battles and effects
Cory Wells

Company of Heroes 2

Rating:
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Real time strategy games are few and far between, and they normally are released on PC. Dating back to the original Command and Conquer titles, war titles have generated their own following. Back in 2006, THQ released the original Company of Heroes. The title was an excellent World War II RTS as it saw future expansions that further enhanced the title, rather than just giving extra content. Eight years later, SEGA and Relic have released the sequel simply titled Company of Heroes 2, as the game looks familiar, but focuses much more on details on micro-managing.

The Soviet Army
Cory Wells

The two factions featured in the game are the Soviets and the Germans. Also taking place during World War 2 (specifically 1941-1944), the campaign tells the story of the Soviet army’s comeback from the dead, to a dominating victory. Relic states that everything in the game, from the story to the units, is historically accurate. Focusing on the Eastern Front portion of World War II, the campaign will take players through Operation Barbarossa to the Battle of Berlin. The story is a series of flashbacks from a former soldier, as it portrays the mindset of the Soviets towards its soldiers. Progressing through the campaign can help newbies get accustomed to playing the title, and help veterans get up to speed with the new title. COH2 has an extremely steep learning curve, even for those veterans, due to the amount of micro-managing with each unit. It takes time and patience to learn how to navigate, and then mix that with speed to keep up with the A.I. The game does have a tutorial, but it just basically provides an overview and isn’t interactive.

Back to the campaign, there are different difficulty levels to choose. 14 unique missions are playable, which allows for an estimated 12-15 hours of gameplay, depending on how proficient the player is. Completing adjectives will provide enhancements to your faction’s generals and his units. As for progressing through the campaign, the ability to save in-game is there and so is an auto-save feature. However, the auto-save feature doesn’t happen frequently enough, and you could find yourself starting way back if there are any issues. For objectives, arrows will be put on the game screen, but are less visible from far away. The map HUD does not show the locations, either, so it can be difficult to locate where to complete the corresponding objective. Lastly, the campaign crashed a few times during play, but this could be due to the press version as compared to the retail version.

COH2 is running on an enhanced graphical engine from the previous game called the Essence 3.0 engine. With the help of Direct X 11, the idea is to deliver more detail in the game and it does just that. While the game and engine look familiar, there is a lot more going on. Explosions and weather effects look excellent in COH2. Zoom in and there is also excellent detail to the player and vehicle models and rendering. Every building is destructible in COH2, and can catch on fire. Whether zoomed in or out, watching buildings crumble or tanks explode looks improved. The cut scenes could definitely use an improvement as they look a bit dated. Also, due to these effects, when there is a lot going on, there will most certainly be some frame drops. At the end of the article are the specs that were used for review, so you can judge your system against it.

The big changes for COH2 can be seen in its gameplay. Truesight focuses on line-of-sight with units. Much like a first person shooter, units can take cover and better defend themselves against the enemy. This makes flanking and sniping more reassuring when pulled off. This is a huge innovation when it comes to strategizing attacks, and it also makes bunkers useful. ColdTech can be experienced in snow conditions as this adds the element of weather to the battlefield. Instead of being just another pretty map, snow covered terrain can actually kill your units. Fire pits can warm them, as each unit will have a thermometer indicator to make sure you know if they are freezing to death or not.

Both of these innovations culminate to how the game plays, and that’s micro-management. As mentioned early, each faction has 3 commanders that bring different special units to use. Each unit will have its own upgrades, rather it be weapons, duties, or special attributes. Rather it be skirmish or specific missions in the campaign, taking control points is the name of the game. These can be fuel or munitions depots, or can be converted over to specific ones by engineers. Identifying your units can be a bit difficult, as there are icons in the upper right hand corner to click on. With the map HUD being so small, clicking on the icon will reveal a small white dot on the map, or double-clicking will take the view directly to it. Either way, it’s still difficult to locate the unit. This becomes increasingly difficult to manage as your army grows and the enemy A.I. shows no mercy. COH2 does allow for grouping with allocated numbers, but if you’re trying to group your entire army, you’ll notice that specific unit’s attributes won’t be able to be used, and the A.I. won’t. There’s no easy way to manage the battle, and playing multiple times is the only way to improve. This certainly isn’t a game that’s easy to jump into, even for veterans as more is going on.

Most RTS always have issues with A.I. and where units go, and this still remains the case with COH2. While it’s not bad, you’ll certainly question, at times, why a unit is going a certain way or will be the only one from the pack standing in the middle of the road. Even on the easiest difficulty, the enemy A.I. can do little wrong. It certainly can become a bit overwhelming at times, especially when that moment comes when the enemy has a tank, and you have no way to defend it. Luckily, units are still able to pick up weapons from killed soldiers such as machine guns, anti-tank guns, and mortars.

An additional mode included in COH2 is Theater of War. Featuring 18 new missions, they are split between single player challenges, A.I. skirmishes, and co-op battles. Pitting players in really difficult predicaments, they add around 15 hours of additional gameplay. There is plans to bring future campaigns to this mode as some are available for free post-launch.

Leveling up your commanders can also be accomplished through the multiplayer mode in the game. 100 levels of progression are available to be earned through both the campaign and playing online. Featuring thirteen maps at launch (eight unique maps and five weather variants), players can play online with up to 8 people. There is also a team-based mode featuring up to four that can play against the A.I. Victory and Annihilation modes return as the options for style. A cool feature, called Seasonal Warfare, allows maps to change depending on the time of year they are played in. COH2 also features Twitch functionality, so players can stream directly from their game.

There isn’t much in terms of online options for multiplayer. Matches featuring up to eight players going head-to-head, or up to four players against the A.I. are possible. When playing against the A.I., the teams will start together at the same base. While the options are limited for gameplay, this is where the elite players will play. The suggestion is to save playing online for last as players become more accustomed to the game. Lag did pop up online, but overall the game runs equally online as it does off.

As in any other RTS title, the campaign will only go so far, as the major battles boil down to Skirmish mode. Leveling up commanders adds another incentive to doing this, but helps with the campaign as well. Cooperative missions and single player challenges with the Theater of War add a nice touch to keep things going. With additional challenges becoming available, there’s plenty to spend time on and come back to. This all depends on the player’s desire to improve.

Veterans of the Company of Heroes games will see this game from the outside as a re-polish of the original game. Once diving into the game, those veterans will see the improvement to details, much more management, and the important changes to the gameplay. Newbies to the series cannot expect to jump in, build a giant army, and just attack. Company of Heroes 2 takes time to learn, and even more time to be good at. The game doesn’t offer a friendly interface during gameplay, but anyone with interest involving the World War II time era and war should certainly spend some time with this.

Positives 

+ Essence 3.0 engine for improved detail and excellent effects. 

+ TrueSight adds a new innovative gameplay mechanic to strategy. 

+ Commanders can level up and XP can be earned both in campaigns and multiplayer.

Negatives

- Steep learning curve.

- Unfriendly user interface during gameplay.

- Micro-managing can be overwhelming

OVERALL: 8

PC Specs Used For Review

• AMD APU Quad Core Processor 2.6ghz OC’d to 3.5ghz

• 12 GB DDR3-1333mhz RAM

• AMD 6870HD Video Card

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