Hands On: Company Of Heroes 2

Last week I got to sit down and make my hands do things in Relic’s next strategy game, the Eastern Front-set World War II war of men that is Company of Heroes 2. While previously we’ve been shown frozen landscapes with dramatic new snow effects, this time I got thrown into the mud.

I was in a war, you know. A big war, with explosions and tanks and dug-outs and men with flamethrowers and men with mortars and men with machine guns and men with rocket-propelled grenades. It was awful. So I’m only too happy to go back to it.

In my couple of hours with Company of Heroes 2, I swiftly established that it is very much the sequel to Company of Heroes. Perhaps more so than I’d been expecting, given the action-RPG stylings of Dawn of War 2 was a sharp turn to the left from Dawn of War 1’s tried and tested real-time strategising. Company of Heroes is Real War though, so a careful sticking to strategic roots is to be expected.

I got my arse kicked AND I LIKED IT. I didn’t get my arse kicked because I didn’t second-guess scripting correctly or because I didn’t click quickly enough, but because I didn’t plan and strategise and adapt well enough. Partly this was because I was dropped into large map with a implacable and heavily-armed foe (seriously, their 0-world of tanks speed was frightening) and my Company of Heroes-fu was embarrassingly rusty after several years away and partly because COH2 really doesn’t seem to be taking any prisoners.

The essential setup was familiar – Russians v Germans in a push-and-pull battle for capture points across a sizeable map. In this case, that map was the Pripyat river – a name that rings calming bells for STALKER fans but in this 1940s-set case meant a traditional mud’n’vegetation World War II aesthetic, rather than the icy climes of COH2’s weather-centric reveals to date. The most noticeable change, other than a general increase in spectacle and brutality, was that capture points were no longer locked to munition or fuel generation. Instead, my Engineers could place a structure on top of each one that would define which resource it generated.

This helped, once I’d got the knack of things again, to specialise my forces, and spared me from a few situations where I was locked out of building something particular because I didn’t have enough of point x. Instead, I could adapt my hand to suit. This pleases me. I presume it’s part of a broader move to slightly StarCraft-style specialist build strategies rather than a traditional climb up the the tech tree, too.

Something else that stood out was a slight touch of new persistency within maps. Certain vehicles and artillery aren’t necessarily destroyed when they’re taken out – instead, if you can get some infantry over there quick enough they can take control of the downed armour and get it back in the game. If you can plan and safely execute such a reclamation, you’re potentially saving yourself a ton of resources and putting the willies right up the enemy when, say, an anti-tank gun suddenly comes back to life right in front of their best tank. It’s a little bit Men of War and I am totally behind that.

For all that, I perhaps didn’t feel the sense of freshness I was hoping for from a developer that’s long been unafraid to make sweeping changes to its strategy stylings and it means COH2 is currently sat in the mental draw marked ‘more of a good thing, writ a little larger’ rather than ‘ooh, I need to know more nownownow!’ Then again I was dropped in cold into one map, so bigger picture stuff is unknown to me for now.

That said, I didn’t get to experience the new ‘Seasonal Warfare’ feature which alters the nature of maps and even sees units don new togs to suit the climate. I’m Captain Impassive when told that historically authentic uniforms and camoflague will be included to reflect whichever season a battle takes place in, but I’m sure that’s the kind of thing that provokes proud salutes from those who demand ever-more attention to detail from their wargames.

The environmental changes, however, are much more titillating to me. A map bifurcated by an impassable river in a sunnier season would instead see that body of water becoming a frozen thoroughfare in the midst of Winter. Back in Summer, the map becomes a tight war for control of choke points as well as of capture nodes. I like the idea that this could preclude the ‘oh, that map again’ in skirmish and multiplayer, and instead there’ll be a need for an on-the-fly change of tactics and builds dependent on the climate you’re faced with.

The general focus on weather and its effects do seem to have resulted in a game that’s more about careful, tactically-important under-the-hood changes than sweeping ones, and for that reason I do wonder if COH2 will prove to be the slow-burn smash hit that COH1 was. The existing community will go nuts for it, I’m quite sure – there’ll be a lot of new things to master, even if the initial learning isn’t too far departed from the last three Company of Heroes games.

It’s probably the right decision even if, as is probably all too evident from this piece, it rather complicates writing about the game from a broad-strokes preview perspective. In an age where strategy has seeming fled to the extremes of MOBAs’ lanes and StarCraft II’s leagues, the purity of COH2’s warfare is more than welcome.

Also Engineers with flamethrower upgrades are still the most frightening thing.


  1. subedii says:

    I only have one real concern with this game.

    There’s been previous mention of “unlocks” and XP and such. Are they going to be trying to bring some kind of unlock system into the MP? Something other than purely cosmetic (as in you have to unlock units / abilities / factions etc.)?

    Because if they are then that puts a tremendous damper on my enthusiasm. If not, then jubilations.

    • Domino says:

      One need only look at the Steam pre-order bonus’ and assume that online will be a pay to win with cash shop. In which case this will be a sale purchase rather than a release buy either pre-order or otherwise.

      • subedii says:

        Oh I’ve seen the Steam page.

        It’s still not clear as to whether or not that stuff’s purely cosmetic or not. Or whether or not anything functional is limited to the singleplayer or whether you’ll be buying / earning funtional stuff for the competitive multiplayer.

        Dawn of War 2: Retribution had similar pre-order additions, but they were all singleplayer based. The core competitive multiplayer game still remained untouched by any DLC unit shenanigans (apart from more cosmetic stuff, which I don’t really begrudge anyone). And by default DoW 2 always had cosmetic upgrades as you leveled up in a given race, but never anything functional.

        There was some functional wargear for Last Stand admittedly, but again, I don’t really have any issue with that as long as it’s optional and doesn’t kill balance. My key concern is for the competitive multiplayer. C&C 4 alone showed how horrible an idea forcing “unlocks” into a competitive RTS was.

    • magicwalnuts says:

      We can speculate from the information available so far that many of the systems in Company of Heroes: Online will be making it into CoH 2. The only thing “new” I’ve seen are the actual cosmetic items, which CoH:O did not have. Anyone familiar with CoH:O will know that there were three sets of unlocks a CoH:O commander had to contend with: commander abilities, army items, and hero units. All three directly effected gameplay to various degrees, and army times and hero units could be bought with real money, and required real money to maintain for use in matches. I imagine much of this will remain the same.

      I personally have mixed feelings about this. I loved CoH:O and the added strategic wrinkles the army items and hero units brought to the table. But then I go to play a game like Shogun: 2, which has a similar progression and unlock system, and I get matched against an opponent who has half an army made up of units I don’t have access to yet; and it totally sucks ass.

      • Domino says:

        What happened to the time when you purchased a game that had everything in it, readily available from the get go so everyone is on the level playing field then it only came down to ‘skill’ so to speak.

        Cosmetics I can live with, I play a lot of DOTA2 along side DOTA1 – so far so good with the items on that side that don’t interfere with gameplay, the only item of note is the XP battle booster which increases XP gain by 75% for 3/6 days – but levels only grant a chance at a random ‘item’ on level up and don’t do anything else other than show how much you’ve played the game.

        Since the abomination that is ‘rewards’ ‘unlocks’ ‘achievements’ made their way to gaming, people got into the mindset of that games must consist of all of the above in order for the game to be playable, and with the lack of new IP’s for games, hell the same can be said for movies now, I think as with age things become more apparent that nothing is going to change any time soon, I’ve been going old school back to reading books.

        Same old cycles of developers sticking to the known formula for games – no one is trying anything new.

        Rant over back to my book.

    • mate says:

      It’s been stated many, many times that this is not the case. The unit and ability unlocks are single player only and the multiplayer unlocks are cosmetic only; skins, camo etc,

      Sorry I dont have time to find and post source but this ambivalence has been addressed over and over again on official forums and gamereplays.com

      • subedii says:

        Nice to know it’s been addressed. I don’t visit the Relic forums, and I haven’t been to Gamereplays in a looooong time.

        If they’d just made it clear from the outset with an actual statement, that would do wonders for the ambivalence.

        • IpKaiFung says:

          The gamereplays staff has moved to CoH2.org, there’s much more activity there

  2. nēģeris says:

    So the main quest in this game is to enslave and occupy the Eastern Europe?

    • Spengbab says:

      I say. War? In a wargame? Why, I’d never.

    • Rich says:

      …because the Germans weren’t hurting anyone, eh?

      • Captain Joyless says:

        Uh, I’m pretty sure he knows that both sides were trying to enslave Eastern Europe. Kind of the point of the comment!

        Between the Soviets and the Germans, there’s no “good guy.”

      • -Spooky- says:

        Like the colonial empires and such. I´m tired about all the “evil german” shizzle.

        • Rich says:

          To me, his post appeared specifically anti-Russian and seemed like an odd statement to make when you consider the enemy you’re fighting. If the game was about the Winter War with Finland, that would be different.

          As for the imperial powers? I take your point. Plenty of genocide there, although not nearly as organised.

          • Captain Joyless says:

            Why would it appear specifically anti-Russian? There’s absolutely no basis in his comment for that.

            German campaign plot: occupy and enslave Eastern Europe
            Russian campaign plot: occupy and enslave Eastern Europe

          • mckertis says:

            “although not nearly as organised.”

            Well, Brits did invent concentration camps, and their “heroic” deeds in India and China were quite structured.

            “Russian campaign plot: occupy and enslave Eastern Europe”

            Either you had an incompetent history teacher, or you were a worthless student.

  3. Moraven says:

    Flamethrowers on a frozen river causes it to crack and shatter. That would be fun.

  4. cjlr says:

    “historically authentic uniforms … will be included”

    Well, except for the swastikas.
    Not that that effects gameplay.

    Anyway: weather is the future of any game leaning even ever so slightly towards ‘simulation’. It’s such an obvious thing, but damn hard to implement. I’ve been waiting years for snow that behaves like snow, not just a whitened up texture job. A change in unit movement, maintenance cost/time, ballistics, all these things should reflect the season. Hell, you wanna get detailed enough, temperature of metal can really effect its strength, and packed snow is as good as sandbags… I’m actually pretty excited to see how deep the effects are in-game.

    • subedii says:

      Likely not as deep as that. CoH never dealt with things like ballistics simulations, maintenance (other than in abstract concepts like supply) and stuff like that.

      From what we’ve seen in the trailers though, it does affect things like unit stance, speed and travel time, and exposure can kill your units if you’re not careful.

      • cjlr says:

        True enough. I must admit I was thinking of Men of War as well…

        However, something like reclaiming downed units, which is mentioned as being a feature – field maintenance at -20C is gonna be just a little hairier than +20C. I don’t expect reclamation time to be a function of the season, but you never know, I might be surprised.

        But the fact that going prone in a snowbank is NOT a healthy long-term strategy is certainly a plus.

        • subedii says:

          Well, unless you happen to be this guy:

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          • cjlr says:

            Granted. Of course, Finnish specialist winter gear was a damn sight better than what most of the Germans were stuck with. And what the Germans were stuck with STILL managed to make the Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians desperately envious.

          • Bhazor says:

            Would love to see a Winter War campaign in… anything actually. Has it ever actually been represented anywhere? Can’t think of a single film or game that covered it.

          • sinister agent says:

            It would be interesting, especially if they could somehow include the farcical clusterfuck Finno-Soviet politics were around then.

          • spron says:

            Hmm… the Continuation War was portrayed on film in “Rukajärven tie,” called “Ambush” in English, from 1999. Pretty bleak stuff, there.

            There was a somewhat less slickly-produced movie called “Talvisota” (which means “Winter War”) from like 1990.

            Here’s a page of interest: link to en.wikipedia.org

          • C0rnst4lk says:

            I’d say it barely counts, but the Soviet tutorial mission in Blitzkrieg was set in the Winter War, but that’s the only game I can think of. :P

          • wengart says:

            Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin covered the Winter War

          • oatish says:

            Check out Red Winter by GMT. It is a hex-based chit and counter tabletop wargame set in the Winter War with manoeuvre units at company level. Supposedly awesome if you are in to such things.

            link to boardgamegeek.com

  5. SouperSteve0 says:

    What should be the menu song link to youtube.com

  6. Subjective Effect says:

    You can re-crew emplacements, artillery and AT guns in CoH.

    The only new re-crewing this has is of tanks. In CoH you can salvage wrecks (depending on your faction) but you can’t re-crew them.

    In MP people mine abandoned AT guns and such. Nice tricks.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      Yeah, I thought I remembered that too. Kind of disappointing that Meer forgot about that.

  7. Ergates_Antius says:

    This is one of the first games in a long while I’m actually looking forwards to (rather than thinking – “that looks interesting enough, maybe I’ll pick it up at some point”).

    CoH was the game that spoiled “traditional” RTS games for me forever (“I’m flanking this unit, why aren’t I doing more damage?”)

    • Baboonanza says:

      Funny, because Men Of War did that to me. Compared to that CoH is a traditional RTS.

      • sinister agent says:

        Men of War: The RTS that isn’t Starcraft again.

        • subedii says:

          I would’ve said Total War personally.

          • Tancosin says:

            The Total War games are really just so far away from a traditional RTS, they scratch a totally different itch for me. They’re really more like turn-based grand strategy games where you have more control over the outcomes of battles.

            One thing I remember loving about CoH (and annoying about other RTSs) was how realistic it seemed; if you tried shooting a tank with a few squads of riflemen, they would do practically nothing, and a single machinegun could hold back an army of infantry.

          • sinister agent says:

            And yet, in both CoH and Men of War, and a little bit in blitzkrieg, though less so, infantry don’t become obsolete the second you get access to anything else. They always have a use, and are better at some things than any other unit.

  8. wodin says:

    meh..I’d take Achtung Panzer over this any day of the week…typical mainstream RTS fodder…no thanks.

    • subedii says:

      That’s nice. Well you be sure to have fun.

      *Goes back to CoH*.

      Man this game is awesome.

  9. Eficent says:

    I don’t understand the need to break new mold. It’s not like the RTS market is flooded these days. It’s a dieing breed. Hell I’d say “traditional” RTS games sort of like COH are the ones that are less released in this day and age than non-traditional ones. I personally have no problem what so ever with this game being arcady and not simmish enough. It does what it sets out to do perfectly and I can not wait for it to be out. Going to be GLORIOUS!

    • sinister agent says:

      I’d say it’s dying precisely because not enough games were really breaking new ground. I very quickly gave up on about 90% of RTS games I’ve tried in the last ten years or so, since they seem to just be the same thing over and over again.

      • Eficent says:

        I personally think it’s dieing because it doesn’t work on consoles, and consoles are where the money is at these days. It’s really risky releasing a PC exclusive game with a big budget and asking 60 dollars for it. During the early 2000’s I could see your point because there was a flood of standard RTS games that pretty much all played the same, but in today’s market I just don’t see it.

      • DK says:

        The First thing Relic did was break new ground in RTS with Homeworld. Not only did they get burned by that because almost noone bought it, the entire Genre still hasn’t caught up with them. Relic already tried innovating big and it didn’t sell. Everything after that has been innovated on a smaller scale.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        It’s dying because consoles and Blizzard. You don’t need to look deeper than that.

        If the innovation point were true, Starcraft 2 wouldn’t have the dominating stance that it has.

  10. John Connor says:

    I’m honestly glad they aren’t changing too much. They ruined Dawn of War trying to turn it into a shitty MOBA.

    • Syra says:

      You sir clearly have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Have you even exposed yourself to the slightest amount of information or gameplay of dow2 multiplayer? Please educate yourself at once.

      • John Connor says:

        I own and have played the game. Instead of giant armies slaughtering each other on huge battlefields we get a few troops to support lame-ass hero units on titchy maps. Totally destroyed the Dawn of War franchise. “In the grim darkness of of the future, there is a few guys fighting in a backyard.” So shit.

  11. Real Horrorshow says:

    Relic. I know someone there is reading this because you want to see people’s reactions to your game. It looks great.

    But please, once this is shipped. Please. PLEASE MAKE HOMEWORLD 3. PLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE.

  12. Crosmando says:

    Will CoH2 have base building?

  13. Baal_Sagoth says:

    The first one is definitely among my all-time favourites and on top of that Relic really hasn’t done me wrong so far. I’m excited to play it even if it doesn’t introduce sweeping change. As long as the strategic core gameplay is intact and the incredible presentation (sound design and attention to detail in particular) is being matched I’ll be happy to dive into the SP campaign and try my hand at the MP once more.

  14. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Are there any gameplay videos yet of the actual gamplay? I mean the top down managing of troops and units and how it looks to play. Everything I’ve seen up till now has been unnatural camera angles that will rarely be used in the heat of a battle, what with scrolling around the map from up-high and everything.

    • Vandelay says:

      Blizzard had the right approach with their Battle Reports for Starcraft 2. Obviously they were staged, but still gave a great look at how the game played and the feel of the different sides.

      Would like them to show us something similar here, but I imagine the audience for this game would primarily be interested in the single player, so may not be as appropriate.

  15. cliffski says:

    why do they always try and promote Company Of heroes with low level FPS style screenshots with zero UI in them. NOBODY plays the game in that view, because it is unplayable in that view.
    This is why ‘lets play’ videos are popular. you get to actually see what the game looks like, not what fantasies the PR department have.

  16. MellowKrogoth says:

    Reclaiming destroyed tanks was already in Company of Heroes 1… don’t remember which factions could do it, possibly the expansion ones.