As some (or none) of you may know, I form half of the Company of Heroes dream team of £VAJ, so it stands to reason that CoH2 has been something of a point of anticipation for me.
Reviews have been largely positive, and I would agree with many of the good points people are beginning to pick up on. But I’m not going to just repeat what’s already been said, I’d like to talk about my experience of the game as a borderline addict of the first game.
So there are no Allied forces to be found in CoH2, this game focuses solely on the conflict which raged on the far side of Europe, between the Soviet and Axis forces on the eastern front. The game puts a heavy focus on historical accuracy, prefacing each mission of the campaign with historical background and general fluff to set the scene. Since I myself am less than educated about what went on on Stalin’s side of the war, I was actually genuinely pleased to learn something during my game experience. The historical segments and storyline set up the atmosphere of each mission, many of the early ones being more about the back foot the Soviets were on at the time where the game’s story begins. The game is about turning the tide under pressure and focuses in on the personal valour of the soldiers you command. This is a refreshing change from many RTS games which treat your units as little more than cannon fodder. You become invested in the survival of your units to a point that is unusual in the genre.
The general format of the game is very similar to that of the first, the overall way the game is played is largely unchanged, although the interface has seen a (possibly ill advised) overhaul, meaning that veteran players of the first will at first struggle to find their way around. The layout ins’t exactly 100% intuitive either, so new players may find the game confusing to pick up initially. Another important aspect of the game that returns from the first is the need to actually spend some time to learn the intricacies of the game, such as which units are effective against others. Most are logical, a rifle squad obviously should not be engaging a tank. The game does help you out by telling you which unit class a unit is effective against, but this can be a little too vague at times, so some practise is required. Something that adds a layer of difficulty to both games is the level of realism applied to the ballistic weapons, such as mortars and howitzers. These weapons, like in the real 1940’s, were not exactly accurate, and this shows in game. Mortars will rarely hit exactly where you aim, and a degree of luck is required to score a good hit. Larger cannon type weapons are more accurate, but their accuracy decreases over distance, meaning that although a howitzer CAN hit a target a good distance across the map, the further it is, the less likely you are to score a hit on the first shot.
As in the first game, the environment is largely destructible, buildings can be used for garrisons, but can also be toppled with enough damage. Wire fences and sandbags can be deployed, but will crumble under sustained attack, and will even be ploughed right over by heavy vehicles. Explosive weapons will leave craters in the ground and scatter soldiers in the nearby vicinity, which can be delightfully chaotic in the heat of battle. The cover system remains largely unchanged from the first entry also. Units placed behind a wall, hedge, or other cover will be less vulnerable to the weapons of advancing enemies, and ensuring your units have good cover is crucial to victory. Conversely, deploying heavy weapons such as machine guns can pin down enemy units, which renders them unable to accept commands and panic. The only option at this point is to destroy the pinning weapon or command the units to flee, which will send them running back to base, unable to accept commands until they arrive. Learning when to flee is also a crucial part of the game. This can at times be frustrating if your units flee blindly straight into enemy forces, as they are unable to fight back, they can and will be mown down, offering no resistance.
Something new to the series is the addition of a temperature system. The game will sometimes start a random blizzard, which will put your units into a “cold” status. This must be remedied by ensuring your units are near a heat source for the duration of the blizzard, or face attrition. While it’s a nice attempt to simulate the harsh Soviet winter, it seems a little superfluous and often comes at just the wrong time, halting a battle while both sides thrash around to find a heat source. This sometimes spells an irritating halt to the action which feels a little unnecessary.
Overall, the game is a worthy successor to the original, although little has really been changed or innovated. Even the visuals, while definitely an upgrade from the original, still don’t feel like much new, and the overall look of the game is largely unchanged. The game is more of an evolution of the original than a true sequel, but really, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!