Company of Heroes 2 is coming along marvelously, but let's be honest here: it's not exactly the departure one might expect from the company of game developers that made the brilliantly daring leap from Dawn of War 1 to Dawn of War 2. Instead, we're getting more of what we loved, but with small tweaks, a heaping mountain of snow, and the sobering realization that it's apparently not a good idea to joyride multi-ton tanks across nearly opaque films of ice. During an interview with RPS, however, game director Quinn Duffy said that Company of Heroes definitely isn't stuck in a tiny, World-War-II-shaped box. In the future, he excitedly explained, the series could potentially go "anywhere."
“We could look at setting this game anywhere," Duffy replied when asked what lies beyond the Eastern Front. "We know what we want to deliver in a Company of Heroes game. We know what we want it to feel like. So the setting becomes another piece of military history to tell – or another set of stories. But the game should feel like a Company of Heroes product.”
So then, with all that possibility on the horizon, why even return to a tried-and-tired setting like World War II in the first place? Well, according to Duffy, the Eastern Front is actually anything but.
"Company of Heroes doesn't mean World War II," he said. "But the Eastern Front's the biggest part of the biggest conflict in history, so we couldn't leave World War II without telling that piece of that story."
Long gone, however, are the days when a new setting was all developers had to worry about while churning out a sequel. Especially on PC, "where" very nearly takes a back seat to "how" and "for how much"? Microtransactions, macrotransactions, mechrotransactions. Granted, Company of Heroes has already gone free-to-play once, and that didn't go so well. But times have changed, and Relic's absolutely ready to give it another shot.
"For sure," Duffy replied when asked if Relic's sizing up F2P again. "It's an interesting new market and there's a lot of potential for strategy-type games in that market. Absolutely, it's definitely part of THQ's vision going forward and ours in the studio as well. You know, making sure we've got good coverage going into these new models."
Obviously, though, Relic can't simply rehash Company of Heroes Online. Fortunately, Duffy thinks the series' initial bellyflop in those uncharted waters gave Relic better perspective in the long run.
"To a degree, it was timing," he said of COHO's failure. "There's a real challenge in building a studio to create games for that infrastructure. We had a small team working on it, but a lot of live support. There was new content on an almost monthly basis. That's hard on a team. That's like having a constant milestone process. But in doing that, we got some great insights into the markets and how different they are. China vs Korea vs North America – radically different. And one game probably can't service them all."
"In a market like China, you see a lot more games that do charge for power and accessibility. The psychology they apply to their game development is years ahead of where I think we are. So I think it goes back to that: you really want to tailor a model to suit the market you're delivering for."
What, though, does that mean for prospective players like you and me? For Duffy, that's the tricky part, and - at the moment - Relic's still trying to figure it out.
"[Western markets] are a bit different," he explained. "I'm really not sure what players are completely comfortable with – from a personal basis. That's really part of the development and growth we would do [before taking CoH F2P again]. Because you can't just do customization and skins and things. It needs to be more meaningful than that. At the same time, though, I don't think there's a willingness to pay-to-win. Or people say they don't like it, but some would take advantage of it anyway."
Let me buy thicker ice, Relic. Let me make Meticulously Accurate World War II Tanks On Ice. It's the only way.