Review: Company Of Heroes 2
The World War II based strategy juggernaut finally returns, introducing players to the trials of the Eastern Front. But, is refinement enough to justify a sequel?
- Worth The Time?There's a ton of content that varies the gameplay constantly, making every second worth it.
- Things LovedA long and varied campaign, Theatre of War is a fantastic mode with great challenges. Gameplay personifies the helplessness of the Russian army, as well as their triumphs. Varied campaign missions with different objectives. Weather makes a massive impact on gameplay and forces you to think differently. The tried and tested formula is back and more refined. Online multiplayer is still a standout feature.
- Things HatedA few balancing issues still present. Overall narrative is disappointing and cliché. Cutscenes and voice acting are terrible. Enemy AI is all too content on sitting back and letting you attack them. No SLI or Crossfire support, I know. Snipers, fucking snipers.
- RecommendationIt does little to innovative on the near perfect formula that the original established, but fans of the first Company of Heroes should not hesitate to pick this up. Newcomers shouldn't be afraid either, as a host of content is waiting for you to just dive into.
- Name: Company of Heroes 2
- Genre: Real-Time Strategy
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online, Co-Op
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Relic Entertainment
- Publisher: SEGA
- Price: Approx. R399
- Reviewed On: PC
Enemy Tiger armour crawls over the snow littered mountains, shells ringing over your lone squadrons head as you realise that the battle is now well and truly lost. You order a retreat, your team of six quickly stand up from their pinned positions and throw caution to the wind in order to save their lives. Reaching your home base, just barely, your lone squadron is quickly executed by your officer in command, making their sacrifice all the more worthless. These types of moments happened frequently during the invasion of Russia during World War II, and it’s these moments that Company of Heroes tries to personify. While missing the mark completely in terms of a personal narrative, the extensive campaign allows you many freedoms while tackling explosive missions in this latest iteration of the world renowned RTS franchise.
It’s been a long and bumpy road for Company of Heroes 2. It’s been a few years since the last expansion, Tales of Valor, released and even long since the original made such an impact on gamers. After THQ’s troubles last year, SEGA picked up the rights to the franchise late in the development cycle, pushing the game back until now. While it doesn’t seem like SEGA had much to say in terms of the final product, Relic Entertainment has produced an incredible addition to the Company of Heroes franchise, but maybe not the one fans of the series were hoping for after all this waiting time.
What Company of Heroes does above anything else is refine. Instead of innovation, Relic has chosen to fine tune the near perfect formula they had going, which suffice to say is not exactly a bad thing. Why change something that isn’t broken, right? That’s the approach taken here, ad those familiar with the original will feel right at home as soon as they start up the very first mission. The classic hotkeys are all there, the intuitive and innovative cover system is back and all the tactical action the series is known for makes a resounding return, making it a little bit difficult for those new to the series to grasp the many mechanics quickly. Tutorials within the campaign itself usually deal with the few differences and additions Company of Heroes 2 has rather than the many things that make it tick, but thankfully a pretty handy set of beginner and tutorial videos buried in the main menu does a good job of introducing, or reintroducing, you to the bare basics.
And you’ll need them as well, because the campaign can be quite daunting to those not familiar with basics. Throughout the rather lengthy 14 mission campaign, you’ll see some of the most important, tide turning battles that brought about the end of the Second World War From the invasion of Russia by Hitler’s forces right up to the fall of Berlin, Company of Heroes 2 straps you into some of the most memorable battles and conflicts and shows you the nitty gritty of it all. You’ll feel the despair of your troops as you order hordes into battle, knowing that there fate is sealed and death is the only outcome. It’s not any different to sacrificing troops in of RTS title, but having them speak of the Motherland and fellow comrades before each battle, coupled with the fact that you know brave soldiers like this actually fought for their country, really drives it home.
The actual gameplay of Company of Heroes 2’s campaign is really the star of the show here in trying to convey the disparity of war, with a few notable missions really making you feel like a heartless yet regretful general. Most of these standout missions include explosive action and far reaching objectives, sometimes taking you well over an hour to complete if tackled correctly and precisely. In fact, you can feel yourself becoming more attune to the Germans tactics as the campaign progresses, almost mimicking what Russian generals must have felt as the war was turning. It’s a truly gratifying and invigorating feeling, and one that will keep you coming back for more and more even after you’ve sunk hours into it. Cranking up the difficulty increases the costs of war significantly and makes for some tense battles, it’s just a pity that enemy strategies rarely change all that much, with the Germans typically allowing you a lot of breathing room as you prepare your assault over and over again.
What does not add to the engrossing campaign, however, is the shoehorned narrative and cutscenes. Instead of taking you through a key point of history in a new, more exciting view, Company of Heroes chooses to focus on the interrogation of a once commanding officer turned journalist who is being question by one of his former Generals. From the get go, you can feel the strained accents and sloppy writing carving away your brain, and it doesn’t take long before you’ll probably learn to tune out the voices and skip the dated and ugly looking cutscenes. It’s a bit of a shame as well, because Relic are no strangers to writing some fantastic stories for RTS titles, especially taking their landmark Homeworld series into consideration. The action and gameplay more than make up for it, but it is a bit of a let-down when you take the whole campaign into consideration.
Thankfully, the fun doesn’t stop when the campaign ends, rather ramping up as things progress. With a bit of offline practice down from the fairly straight forward campaign, you might think it would be a good idea to jump straight online. For veterans, sure, it might even entice you before you begin the campaign, but newcomers might want to benefit from some additional training before taking on the hordes of micro managing geniuses out there. For that, there’s probably one of the finest modes in Relic’s sequel, Theatre of War. This mode introduces additionally challenges for you to tackle offline, introducing you to even more pivotal battles during the course of the Russian/Nazi conflict. However, this time around, you’re able to fight from both sides of the battlefield, taking on the role of a Nazi general during some of their more successful Eastern Front conflicts. These challenges are spread out amongst three categories, namely solo challenges, co-operative missions and AI skirmishes. Each category features its own set of unique mission from both perspectives of the war, all taking place in various different locales and climates in Poland, Russia, Germany and more.
Solo challenges pit you against the AI under extremely difficult conditions, usually with very limited supplies and resources. Considering Company of Heroes has a different take on resource management, rather granting you resources automatically with structures built on control points bumping up your supply rate per minute, you’ll soon understand how vital proper resource utilisation is in the heat of battle. Order too many or too little of the required units, and you’ll soon find yourself dug in deep waiting for more supplies to come through as you fend off counter attacks. Co-Op mission follow a similar structure, albeit with a friend along for the ride. Having a partner help take on the Nazi/Russian masses is extremely enjoyable and the challenges designed for two players are wonderfully realised and fitting. Lastly, AI Skirmishes put you on various different battlefields and play put similar to online matches, however certain rule sets and limitations are set in motion to make the match play out in a different matter to regular online bouts.
All in all, Theatre of War makes up a very large portion of Company of Heroes 2 as a whole package, almost feeling like a second campaign of some sorts. The challenges, as well as the ability to play around and train with new units, makes this mode a must-play for newcomers and veterans alike, and it’s a perfect place to hone your skills and come to terms with the biggest change this entry has to offer: weather. The Eastern Front was known for its bitterly cold battles, and this facet of war is beautifully realised both visually and mechanically. Maps covered in dense snow become completely different battlefields in their own respect, forcing you to deal with all sorts of new and terrible factors that affect your units. Most usual conscripts will suffer from the cold and freeze in the snow, forcing you to seek out or construct fires and shelters to house them in and keep them alive. Dense snow also slows troop movement, which could lead to some nasty ambushes when moving to new cover. These and a few more aspects of the cold make these maps a joy to wage war in, as well as making the conflict all even more unpredictable. Veterans will have something new to master in terms of the weather, but sadly that’s where most of the innovation ends.
Because, quite frankly, Company of Heroes 2 is more of a refinement than an innovative rebirth. As already implied, the classic mechanics and dynamics still exist and thrives, with only a few minor tweaks here and there making themselves known. It probably wouldn’t be hard to fool someone into thinking that this latest entry is in fact the original with a bit of a visual overhaul, which could either sit very well, or very badly with fans. Considering the near perfect RTS formula the franchise is renowned for, it would be a risky move by Relic to start chopping and changing mechanics left, right and centre, but it also wouldn’t be too hard to criticize them for lacking the courage to make a noticeable change. The addition of the weather system is good and effective, but it’s a far cry from the innovation you’d expect from the long development time.
But, regardless of all of that, Company of Heroes 2’s most popular and entertaining mode is still all the fun you’d hope it was. Multiplayer battles still bring out the best in what Company of Heroes has to offer, a more welcome similarity to the original in many ways. Other human players are still able to exploit some of the game’s more fine mechanics to their advantage in ways that the computer can’t in the campaign and AI challenges, making the online battlefields a formidable and entertaining shift. Early levels where you’re pitted against enemies with more passive advantages grated by their increased level can sometimes feel like a slog, but thinking of them as practice rather than outright losses is a better way to approach your early online hours. Once you’ve unlocked access to more interesting and advantageous upgrades, you’ll probably know how to utilise them in the best way, making higher level confrontation’s more and more exciting.
However, there are still some small balance issues that can bring you some troubles. Sniper units are insanely overpowered in some situations, being able to take down multiple squads in unrealistic situations. Load two of these onto a convoy and you have a mobile enemy to really fear, even more then some of the more armoured vehicles out there. This and a few more similar examples can make interesting conflicts frustrating, but any strategist worth their salt will learn to combat these cheap and exploitable tactics until Relic re-visits some of the balancing. That said, they’re rarely enough to make the Multiplayer a complete failure, as skipping out on this frontier would most certainly be a disgrace to the title as a whole. Invite a few friends, and start waging war, because it’s more than worth it in the end.
And, in the end, isn’t that what Company of Heroes is known for? Intense online battles that can turn at any moment, based on decisions made at the beginning or end of each match up? Fans have been hoping this, this very little attribute, was something that made it over to the sequel, and in that regard Relic has delivered. In addition to that, the campaign does a good job of keeping you entertained with some varied and explosive battles on the Eastern Front, despite the cutscenes and “over all” story being a complete let-down. Couple that with the fantastic Theatre of War, and you got a package that certainly doesn’t disappoint. The lack of any drastic innovation leaves somewhat of a desire yet to be fulfilled, but thankfully the tried and tested formula is still enough to keep you coming back for more.