Company of Heroes 2 Review – The Harsh Realities of War
Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game that recreates the harsh realities of war in a time before the more strategic and technologically advanced militarys of the world existed. It’s said that during WWII, 50 – 70 million lives were lost during the conflict. The deadliest war in the history of the world, Company of Heroes 2 conveys this in not only how the game is played, but in the unavoidable loss of soldiers as you push life after life into the meat grinder in epic battles between the German and Soviet armies.
In 2006, Relic Entertainment introduced this brand of RTS with the brutal world of Company of Heroes. The critically acclaimed title has long-deserved a sequel, and was also one of the franchises affected in the recent bankruptcy of THQ. With SEGA now at the helm, Relic will soon release Company of Heroes 2, returning WWII fans to the battlefield. Although this time around, the RTS focuses on the conflict on the Eastern Front, with a story told from the perspective of a Russian war criminal named Isakovich.
The game’s 14 mission single player campaign will take players through some of the most famous battles in this part of the war, and when the story is finished being told, a robust multiplayer offering is there to keep the game going strong. Wrapped in a brand new engine and modern trinkets like streaming and theater modes, Company of Heroes 2 brings WWII buffs into the future, while remaining deeply rooted in the past.
For Company of Heroes fans, Relic’s proprietary Essence 3.0 engine is going to be a big jump and noticeable improvement over their 2006 offering. It’s a beautiful game, despite it’s undertones, offering a detailed and full featured world for which to do battle in. For the field general who’s grown accustomed to the intricacies of the previous game, Company of Heroes 2 changes the game in some major ways. More tactical commands at your disposal, the use of weather and line of sight in the Essence 3.0 Engine give the game a truer feel than the 2006 release.
The authentic and historically accurate battles, vehicles, and units are more than enough to appease the most astute war buffs. Driven home by a completely interactive and destructible environment, this recanted tale of an officer in the Red Army is one that follows the war on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1944. It’s a horrible story actually, one that is littered with sacrifice and suffering in some of the harshest environments on Earth.
It’s war, and it’s not pretty. Relic’s dedication to relaying this realism is evident, and they’ll take you through some of the grossest battles in the history of mankind. But those familiar with the series won’t be surprised by this realism. Some things have been traded out, and with war being set on the Eastern front, weather plays a big role in Company of Heroes 2. The ‘Cold Tech’ added to the Essence 3.0 Engine has soldiers wading through knee-high snow, and taking refuge when blizzards become too treacherous. Press forward too far during these events, and your soldiers will face their bitter end not at the end of a gun, but by the hands of mother nature. And she’ll almost always have a hand in this battle. Whether it be by limiting vision or prohibiting certain types of strategies to be employed, players aren’t just fighting against the other faction, but the brutal conditions as well.
Company of Heroes fans will slide right into the sequel, but those familiar with other RTS games will find an equally easy time in learning the games nuances. Some things like customizable hot-keys would have been nice at launch, but our review code did not have this. There’s no telling if Relic plans to implement this going forward, or not. Though as is the case with many real time strategy games, the single player offers little more than a 13-hour tutorial for your time with multiplayer. Better than most though, this RTS will at least evoke some emotion from the player if just from the brutality of it all. Though it is worth noting, Company of Heroes features numerous difficulty tiers and Dynamic Objectives to keep players on their toes in any single player playthrough.
There is a ton of other content in Company of Heroes to dig into once the single player story is complete. The Theater of War mode allows for even more challenge in both single player and cooperative missions as well as AI skirmishes. Not structured within the single player story, the Theater of War mode allows for objective based missions to be completed, XP to be earned, and challenges to be completed if jumping right into the competitive scene isn’t your thing.
There are 18 additional missions in this mode, spanning both the Soviet and German armies. Relic sets up the situations, and gives you the resources to complete your tasks. These will vary depending on the mission, and are a good prep tool before heading online, especially if the story mode didn’t get you up to speed. They offer a bit of a change of pace to some of the missions in the single player story, and could offer upwards of fifteen hours of additional single player content to explore.
With three diffiulty levels and numerous rewards to be unlocked, there’s plenty of challenge and reward for even the most seasoned of RTS players. The missions also unlock bonuses for your army when heading into the world of online play. While you can earn these unlocks by playing against other players, you can do it more easily by sticking with the Theater of War mode, then carry them online with you. It’s actually one of the more controversial features in this new game, especially for those used to the vanilla competitive modes of titles like StarCraft II.
Online is where things get even more interesting for Company of Heroes 2. The war spills into the online arena, and Company of Heroes players are going to have to get used to some of the changes that have been made for the sequel. The 13 map offering plays out across two game modes with support for up to 4v4 play. Seasonal warfare changes thing up significantly, and can make commanders make decisions based on the weather effects on the dynamic battlefield.
While many of the processes for playing Company of Heroes 2 remain true to the original. The inclusion of perks spice things up a bit, and add a layer of strategy on top of the already deep RTS gameplay. Commanders can be changed to take advantage of a number of different playstyles, and the introduction of Intelligence Bulletins allow for players to start out with specific buffs and bonuses on top of that. There’s been some controversy during the Company of Heroes 2 beta between those who enjoy the new system, and those who don’t. These small starting boosts can change the game in meaningful ways, or could put players at a severe disadvantage when just starting out. Not all of these perks have significant in-game advantage, but there’s certainly the potential for exploiting them. Furthermore, it looks like seasoned Company of Heroes 2 players will have at least some advantage when starting out against the newer players.
These bonuses are directly tied to in-game accomplishments, and can be earned in a number of different ways, including playing the offline Theater of War mode described above. While you’ll find similar systems in other popular RTS titles like StarCraft II, these don’t transfer into the hyper-competitive world of online play. It looks like it’ll be up to the game’s Automatching system to put players of similar skill and unlocks together for fair matches, but without the game having gone live to world just yet, it’s hard to tell how big of an impact it will have when the game releases. But assuming that any unbalanced setups are quickly remedied by Relic, the online play offers a deep level of both customization and unlocks for an RTS game, one that should keep Company of Heroes 2 players busy for some time to come.
For the true field generals looking for competitive fun, Company of Heroes 2 offers layer after layer of strategic options. Single and multi-dimensional attacks can be coordinated with ease, but customizable hotkeys and easier micro would have made it even better. The strategy layers between the Soviet and German armies are significant, these are certainly not two factions that are black and white. Players have a number of different ways to build out there armies, but beforewarned, 1v1 matches can be over in minutes when playing against players who know their stuff. Balance tweaks are something that are expected from RTS games as they open to a wide audience at launch, and I expect that Relic will be updating the game regularly as a result.
Company of Heroes 2 is arguably the best WWII strategy title on the market today. Change is always hard, especially when fans have been expecting a sequel for so many years. Relic isn’t going to be able to please everyone, but the new features do offer a reason to go back and take advantage of all that Company of Heroes 2 has to offer. You’d be shortchanging yourself to head right into the online world before checking out the Theater of War and Single Player Campaign in this massive strategy title, and you’ll rewarded as a result. However, many of the deciding factors on whether Company of Heroes 2 will have legs or not, come down to Relic’s diligence in keeping the Soviet and German forces at parity following launch. Relic does strike a nice balance on a different level with Company of Heroes 2 though. The sequel both offers the realism and authenticity that the franchise made a name for itself with, and is a ton of fun to play for either the RTS enthusiast or hardcore competitor.
Company of Heroes 2 Review
- Available On: PC
- Published By: SEGA
- Developed By: Relic Entertainment
- Genre: Real Time Strategy
- US Release Date: June 25th, 2013
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "This sequel both offers the realism and authenticity that the franchise made a name for itself with, and is a ton of fun to play for either the RTS enthusiast or hardcore competitor."