Relic Entertainment, having gone through the recent turmoil of the THQ breakup, is now owned and published by SEGA, but even with the new publisher, Relic continues to improve the beloved series. Seven years later and the original Company of Heroes still stands as one of the most critically lauded real-time strategy games, effectively changing the landscape for the genre. Following the success from the Dawn of War franchise that uses the same engine to deliver a powerful experience, Relic has finally released their follow-up to the original CoH and its expansions: Company of Heroes 2.
Company of Heroes 2 felt like I stepped back to the threshold of a familiar and engaging game, once again in the role of a commander. The trappings were familiar and the décor felt the same, but there had been subtle rearranging to the overall look and feel that while still retaining a familiar feel, giving me enough to separate it from my previous experience while still enjoying what I loved. The game still uses the majority of the original engine that Company of Heroes itself made popular, just replacing the protagonists with the endless Soviets and their push to win back their motherland.
Still though, there have been many improvements over the original CoH. Taking advantage of the new Essence 3.0 engine (CoH ran on Essence 1.0) that allows for numerous graphical improvements over the original, as well as a number of new and interesting gameplay elements. Thanks to the new engine, the game features a realistic line-of-sight system, pushing the bar for real-time strategy titles. Unlike the original title that focused on the Western Front of World War II, Company of Heroes 2 replaces the American faction for the Soviet perspective of the war on the Eastern Front. Not only are you having to deal with the invading German Army, but also the terrible wrath of their own commanders. Perhaps one of the intriguing new gameplay elements I experienced was Stalin’s infamous “No Retreat” order, Order 277. Only a few missions into the game and any of the conscript squads (the basic units) face a serious penalty if they retreat back to the HQ – death by commissar. Players stuck between a rock and a firing squad will literally be forced to decide how they will want their troops to die – by their enemy’s hands or their own country’s.
Much like the original CoH – players control various units to capture spots on the battlefield, hold down chokepoints, and do everything they can to crush their enemy. One of the changes made for this title is related to capture points and resource gathering. Previously, certain points on the map would collect provisions or fuel as static locations; Relic went back and upped the ante for battles, allowing capture points to produce whatever a player wants. This changes the flow of the battlefield immensely – a formerly important point can be overlooked to focus on capping a less contested capture point while still providing the same benefits. Aside from this difference, the game is still primarily squad-based and players will be issuing commands from afar, doing everything they can to keep their troops alive. Paying attention to possible cover points (literally everything in the battlefield provides different amounts of coverage), weapons to pick up (machine guns are incredibly useful), and more. While the primary focus of the game revolves around utilizing multiple squads spread across the map, vehicles do play an integral role.
Company of Heroes 2 features a full single-player campaign revolving around disgraced Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a former lieutenant during the war. Isakovich is incarcerated in the infamous Gulag, being forced to resurrect memories of the war and retell them to his former commander. Through his eyes, players see both the great accomplishments of the Red Army and its terrible, terrible secrets and failures. The missions are varied and most certainly challenging; the game also adds in the ability to replay missions at higher levels, gaining new medals, commendations, and experience.
Experience may seem odd in an RTS title, but CoH2 uses it as a way to allow players to level up, unlock new units, abilities, or bonuses for battles. Some bonuses affect the single-player campaign if they are unlocked, but the majority affect both skirmishes and online battles. Whether you are battling against enemy AI or online battles, the gameplay feels much better suited in these matches than in the campaign.
If anyone has played the original Company of Heroes, I can say this: picture that, but make it look and play much, much better. That’s really all I can say ultimately about the game. It ultimately builds upon of the original, but done in such a way that it feels fresh, yet oh so familiar. Something that might pique some player’s interest too – the game supports twitch.tv streaming, so for those looking to get some internet fame as a supreme commander fighting for the motherland, this might be the way.
Note: The Company of Heroes 2 review was written based on the PC version of the game provided to us for review.