The Company of Heroes games are amongst the most acclaimed strategy titles ever to be released. That’s no small feat in a genre that spoils gamers with quality choices, and in order to replicate and compound on that success, developer Relic Entertainment is experimenting in new directions and with new gameplay dynamics in its upcoming sequel, Company of Heroes 2.
As with the original, this sequel is set amidst the chaos of World War II, but the theatre has moved from the beaches and hedgerows of Normandy to the bitter Eastern Front of Russia. The most immediate effect is harsher weather conditions. Depending on the season, a mission will unfold differently. Where once there was a deceptively peaceful meadow, now troops will be dangerously exposed as they slowly trudge through deep drifts of snow. Elsewhere they’ll move in convoy up a makeshift ice road that six months earlier was a deep and ponderous river. Now, not only are commanders trying to keep their soldiers safe from enemy gunfire, but troops will also need to be protected from weather that can be just as deadly.
Gameplanet went hands-on with a Victory Point Control mission set along the Pripyat River, outside of the winter season. Partnering with a computer-controlled ally, our conquest-style mission was to capture specific areas on the map and gain control of strategically important locations. Doing so eats away at the enemy team’s ticket system until the countdown reaches zero – the more areas controlled, the faster the enemy’s tickets bleed out.
To build up forces, commanders must first construct ammunition and fuel dumps that boost expendable resources. These allow for the production of new buildings and upgrades such as bunkers and machinegun outposts, and the ability to rally new units in order to take over and hold key vantage points.
In this instance at least, the best strategy appeared to be having the most diverse range of units rather than the largest number. Paring the systems back, Company of Heroes 2 appears to use the same “scissors, paper, rock” fundamentals that can be found in most real-time strategy titles: a convoy of tanks may sound like a great idea, but not if it’s met by a smaller squadron of tanks and a compliment of anti-armour personnel over the next ridge.
Line of sight also plays an significant role as units can break from enemy fire by hiding behind cover. This also means tactics must adapt rapidly as the environment can be either helpful or detrimental to a squad’s chances of survival. A newly introduced vault mechanic also allows squads to find protection behind objects such as stonewalls, and then quickly vault them rather than manoeuvre all the way around them. However, with the game’s destructible environments this means any shelter can be fleeting.
Once any mission is finished, a breakdown of how everything progressed is displayed in detailed lists of numbered statistics and graphs. This shows information such as how many units where lost, resource management, and the build order throughout the game. All this information can be used to learn from mistakes and help improve future performance.
Relic Entertainment has consistently delivered great strategy games to date. Here, added mechanics require players to think more dynamically without ever feeling like they’ve been cheated. This is one for armchair generals everywhere to keep an eye on.