‘Company of Heroes 2’ preview: War is cold, bitter, and deep

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Despite the dramatic shift in publishers, Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes 2 has risen from the ashes of THQ and will be hitting computer screens everywhere on June 25. That makes this one of those rare instances at E3 where a company was showing off a complete game just before it will be released into the wild, and they were happy to be able to finally talk about the game in its entirety and not hold anything back. It’s only been a bit over a year since THQ announced Company of Heroes 2, and here we are with the game about to launch from another publisher. Relic was very excited to show this one off.

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Story/Concept

Changing fronts. The original Company of Heroes launched seven years ago, and was an extremely well-received RTS game that put you in command of Allied forces during the Invasion of Normandy. The game started out during D-Day, putting you into the same opening sequence from Saving Private Ryan, while you try to find your bearings. It offered a complete campaign up to the Battle of Falaise Pocket, and two separate expansion packs followed with brief campaigns and new units. However, every encounter was based around the Americans fighting the Germans, with the exception of the Opposing Front expansion which added British units as well. 

Company of Heroes 2 shifts all of the action to the deadly and unforgiving Eastern Front, putting you in the uniform of an officer in the Soviet Red Army. Throughout the campaign, much like the original game, you will fight through historical battles and locations. All of which were painstakingly researched by the team at Relic. That extends all the way throughout the game, like using multiple microphones to record all of the weapons in the game being fired. The Eastern Front was the location for many of the bloodiest battles of all of WWII, and you’ll play through them while experiencing the bitter cold and the tragedy of war.

Gameplay

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What you can’t see can kill you. Company of Heroes 2 is an RTS with both a campaign and a multiplayer element, both of which offer up challenging gameplay experiences. If you’ve been inside the beta for CoH2, you’ve probably had your ass handed to you more than a few times. Thankfully, it is less brutal than StarCraft 2, but there is no denying that this game is much more difficult than the first installment.  The multiplayer game has been ramped up exponentially with multiple new unit types and buildings that you can construct and upgrade. Many units have been tweaked, like Snipers who are now only in camoflauge while standing still. The biggest additions to units are the much welcomed new ability to vault over low walls and obstacles, meaning you don’t have to watch your soldiers trudge the long way around when there’s just a rickety farm fence in front of you. 

28043CompanyofHeroes2_E32013_FireyNightFog of War. Another big tweak is the TrueSight system that works in conjunction with the Fog of War. Like most war-based games, Company of Heroes 2 doesn’t show you the entire map in an effort to simulate what the actual forces saw. Anything beyond their sight is obscured by the “fog of war,” and the unknown. But the TrueSight system takes that a step further, emulating what each unit would actually be able to see, and their vision can become obscured by smoke, fire, and other elements on the battlefield. It will make exploration a lot trickier, and totally increase the chance that you will walk into an ambush, or at the very least have some idle infantry units get taken out by a mortar shell that comes whistling in from nowhere.

But as easy as it would be to write several more pages to tell you all about the gameplay… wouldn’t you rather experience it for yourself? You can head over and jump into their open beta right now, and it only lasts until June 18, so hurry. Multiplayer is unlocked, as is part of the campaign, meaning you can see a bunch of the game and decide if you want to pick it up when it comes out the following week. We suspect that you will.

Presentation

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The reality of war. The curse of most RTS games is that you tend to play high above the battlefield, but if you take the time to zoom in, you’ll be amazed at how much the careful attention here makes this a complete experience. From authentic details in soldiers uniforms, to the dialects they speak and what they say. 

There has been a lot of attention paid to the multiplayer maps as well, and some of them have both summer and winter counterparts. It’s when winter rolls around that you’ll really notice the difference, and Relic’s ColdTech weather simulator running in their Essence 3.0 engine really shows off the detrimental effects of ice and snow. Soldiers and vehicles will move slower through the snow, and there’s also the added disadvantage of leaving behind tracks that enemies can now follow. You can also blast ice to drop enemies units into the freezing water below, although you’ll also want to be careful yourself when trying to pass a frozen rizer or you’ll find yourself in the same predicament.  

Takeaway

It’s hard to say “Wow, war sure looks fantastic,” but in this case Relic has achieved that while also paying the proper reverence and respect to the subject matter. While we have currently shifted away from the historically accurate games in the FPS genre, Company of Heroes 2 moves us squarely into the historical RTS category. After they did such a good job with the original, most would have welcomed them back sight unseen. But after spending a lot of time getting to know this game, it has been worth the seven year wait.

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