I have never played a Company of Heroes title. If that statement doesn’t scare you away from my review, then I am happy to share my virgin thoughts on the series with you. Jumping head first into such a storied franchise has been overwhelming, but it also helps curb expectations. Having cut my teeth on the genre with titles like Total Annihilation and of course the original StarCraft, Company of Heroes 2 was definitely a new experience; and one I enjoyed quite a bit.
Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game set during World War II. While that may sound generic, the series has managed to make the setting interesting by adding its own unique flavor. One of those is the idea that units shouldn’t need to be micromanaged. One of the largest issues I have had with strategy games over the years is that my units feel brain dead at times. Pathing issues and failing to shoot enemies right in their line of sight is infuriating. That said, Company of Heroes 2 units flank, use cover wisely and still manage to always find their bearings in the heat of battle.
This is fantastic news, as the campaign in Company of Heroes 2 is massive. Spanning over 15 hours, this meaty experience takes players through multiple battles including Barbarossa and up through Stalingrad. The entire story is told through the perspective of a Soviet lieutenant, as he recollects the war and the mistakes he made. It is also a stressful campaign, showing some of the more dark sides of war.
Missions are intense from the outset. Objectives rarely feel achievable, and desperation is the theme. This drives players to constantly think on their toes, while also giving Relic a chance to showcase their new Essence Engine 3.0 . This is a gorgeous game. Watching the explosions tear apart buildings is a sight to see. The real star here though is the new, dynamic weather system. Snow was a major factor in the war, and Relic has done an outstanding job of recreating that within their engine. Blizzard-like conditions can crop up, and if units are not close enough to a heat source, they will suffer hypothermia. Yet another dynamic that adds to the stress of being at war.
All of these effects also use the environment. Blizzards can block line of sight, which forces units to move around the battlefield, and lakes can freeze over, giving players a chance to cross areas otherwise unavailable. The dynamic conditions on the battlefield are one of the most defining aspects of the game.
All of this doesn’t come without a price though. Being new to the series It felt like a long session with the tutorials would come in handy. So I sat down and started digging through how the game systems work. Unfortunately Company of Heroes 2 assumes a lot about its player. The systems and functions, most notably the upgrade branches, all felt rushed and poorly explained at times, which left me having to perform trial and error in several situations. This, of course, won’t be an issue for players of the original, as most of the basics have not changed, but for newcomers, this is a major hurdle that could hamper enjoyment right out of the gate.
In addition to the campaign, Company of Heroes 2 also offers up a pretty standard online experience. The prototypical RTS tropes are present, such as gathering resources, building structures and upgrading armies. Modes include standard deathmatch and capture types along with a plethora of options to tweak, including AI-controlled opponents. The online is also much faster-paced than the campaign, which again was a shock for a newcomer like me. Battles feel much more frantic, and rushdowns were brutal and often in my experience. I have still yet to win a game.
I really enjoyed my time with Company of Heroes 2 once I got over the initial learning curve. As I mentioned, this is not the case for players returning from the previous iteration, though they will likely find little in the way of true innovation outside of the new weather effects. Still, this is a solid RTS that showcases what the best developers in the business can do with the genre. If you are a fan, I definitely recommend giving this one a look.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
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- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670