This is war.
Set in 1944, Relic’s new expansion pack for Company of Heroes 2 follows the so-called ‘Battle of the Bulge’ that took place in the forested Ardennes region of Belgium. The player controls three American companies and is provided the opportunity to change the events of that historic encounter via a mixture of main campaign events and dynamic scenarios that are both hectic and fast-paced.
The campaign of Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault takes place across a large map of Belgium. Split into a multitude of regions, the player must manoeuvre the three companies at their disposal across the map by selecting particular battles. As each mission is completed, German forces regroup elsewhere on this map by moving into neighbouring territories. This is where Ardennes Assault provides an interesting diversion from the average real-time strategy campaign – when regrouping, scattered enemy forces defeated in one particular battle by one of the player’s companies directly impact the campaign of a different company by moving into their region.
Price I’d Pay: $39.99
In practice, this has the effect of making a mission on a different front more difficult, or may result in the introduction of tailored obstacles depending on decisions made in a previous operation. Feeling the impact of the actions I undertook in one region emerge on another front with another company was compelling, and kept me on my toes. Relic clearly wants players to get replay value from Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault, and this type of single-player campaign structure definitely delivers that.
The story plays out from the perspective of the three Officers in command of these companies. Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault has a progression system in which each company gains experience through veteran points, which are accrued over time. This means that the overall effectiveness of a company is lowered if too many troops are lost in an individual battle. The personalities of the Officers change over time as well. After each mission the player is greeted with a report.
While this sums up the overall performance of the player after completing a particular mission, these reports also serve as a key source of narration for Ardennes Assault’s overall story direction. I found this to be a particularly effective way in which the game demonstrated the importance of the player’s own actions and decision-making over the course of the campaign, especially after a defeat. Officers lose morale, and they question their ability for command.
Hold your fire.
Before reviewing this game, I had never played Company of Heroes 2 before. I enjoy real-time strategy games, and was looking forward to diving into a new franchise. However, with Ardennes Assault, Relic certainly doesn’t take it easy on those new to Company of Heroes. While the opening mission does an okay job of allowing new players like myself to get to grips with the various game play mechanics on offer, there is a lack of basic tutorials at the start. Perhaps Relic were reticent to spoon-feed too much basic information to newcomers, out of fear that such a move might be a turn-off for more experienced players. While I was eventually able to figure out what I was doing as I went along, things were definitely confusing in the early stages of the game for the simple fact that menu navigation is never explored, and basic keyboard commands aren’t outlined.
Given that Ardennes Assault is a stand-alone, single-player offering, and as such might be considered a game that could appeal to newcomers, the amount of trial and error required at the beginning could easily have been avoided by simply providing an opening mission that offers the necessary guidance for players unfamiliar with the basic controls. Navigating the various menus and options, selecting and directing units across the map, the structured objectives – all these elements probably flow in a relatively logical and seamless direction for veteran players.
For those uninitiated with Company of Heroes like this reviewer, this presentation made me feel as though I was frequently playing catch up with the fast-paced nature of the game. As a new player I found this discouraging, especially given how well Company of Heroes 2 has structured the Ardennes Assault campaign narrative. Even new features specific to this expansion pack, such as company skill trees, are barely explained.
Fight the power.
Despite the significant lack of guidance that permeates the game, Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault is worth investing time in. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from successfully completing each mission, partly because as a player, I often felt under pressure to meet all my primary objectives. For example, an early mission required one of my companies to undertake a relief operation for allies under siege at Bastogne, taking advantage of weather conditions in order to clear the way for wounded troops to be evacuated before the Germans bombarded them further. Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault does a great job of making the player aware of every window of opportunity, and the ramifications of failing to take advantage of those opportunities that could present themselves further down the line.
The game offers different perspectives. Its game play is predicated on cause and effect. In short, there are a lot of moving parts that take time to master. The fast-paced nature of the campaign leaves little room to take a breath when in the middle of a mission. While this is a little overwhelming for new players, it certainly offers an awful lot of excitement and replay value.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.