Robbie Palmer recently went hands-on with the eastern front-focused Company of Heroes 2′s multiplayer. Is the realistic weather enough to change his critical view of the series, or does it still leave him feeling cold?
Despite being widely praised, I’d always felt the Company of Heroes games were a shallow comparison to there RTS competitors. Putting aside my concerns – which were only heightened by Vinnie Jones starring in a short film based on the game – my view on the series has since been changed, as I recently experienced Company of Heroes 2‘s multiplayer.
Company of Heroes 2 doesn’t change the fundamental elements of the original, but instead adds some interesting new features that change the dynamic of the game, giving it a far greater sense of believability. As Relic’s game director Quinn Duffy puts it: ”Company of Heroes 2 is all about authenticity”.
Running on Relic Entertainment’s Essence 3.0 engine, environments are increasingly more destructible and fragile, meaning the intensity of dynamic weather effects is palpable. The multiplayer matches I played were executed well, as the weather played an incremental part in the pacing of the battle, with maps having intermittent snow storms which acted as a temporary ceasefire.
Unit speed is drastically reduced by snow depth and ice can break with heavier units, while prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather without warmth will also kill soldiers. It results in weather effects having a notable impact during conflicts, meaing you’ve got to take them into consideration during your tactical planning.
The game is also considerably better looking in parts, with units and environments bearing more detail and fidelity. Not only does the game look better, but it performs better as well, with a lot of action happening simultaneously Explosions seem to have a realistic impact too, as random objects hurtle outwards from all different angles.
Whilst it feels like an expertly crafted pre-beta game, some underlying issues in the Company of Heroes series remain. Pathfinding units remained a constant issue throughout my playtime, with units regularly choosing the longer route. Some regiments were also unresponsive to commands at points in critical combat situations.
All the resources of Company of Heroes return, but fuel and ammunition is now attained by building depots with engineer squads. Depots can be tactically placed behind enemy territory to steal potential enemy resources, and it adds to the sense of versatility in building placement, without the restrictions of the previous system.
Aside from the noticeable additions, Company of Heroes 2 plays largely similar to its predecessor. The emphasis is on tactics, with zonal control points being the key to victory. Players can tailor armies to their playstyle thanks to a choice of over 20 abilities per army. Armies are also customisable in their appearance, with custom skins available to unlock at various stages.
Summer and Winter uniforms are also included for each army. There are seven commanders to choose from, all with customisable loadouts. The emphasis is on choice, and the amount of abilities was overwhelming in its variety. Taking in all that information as quickly as possible seemed a challenge – though one that may not be such an issue outside of a limited hands-on playtime.
It’s the approachability of the game that worries me most, as the deep strategy and intimidating amount of choice does not make for the most welcoming of introduction. That worry may stem largely down to my inadequacy facing others in multiplayer, though, where I was continuously leading my troops to a cold, wintery death.
According to Duffy, Company of Heroes 2 will be continually supported post-release, and he hopes the extensive levelling system will ensure players continuously return to the game’s multiplayer. Experience points for your multiplayer level is gained across all game modes, with 20 military ranks available to progress through. It’s an exciting proposition that screams of a potentially gripping system, albeit one that is now part-and-parcel of most multiplayer setups.
Company of Heroes’ emphasis on post-launch support is vital to keeping players engaged with its multiplayer. The foundations seems strong enough to support itself at launch, and promises to build on the revered first game are welcome. Some small bugs hindered the experience at times, but as it’s in pre-beta, hopefully those issues will be addressed. In the meantime, I’ll be heading down to my local library’s military tactics section, so I stand a chance of winning at least one multiplayer match come its release.
Company of Heroes 2, from Relic Entertainment and THQ, is due out in Q1 2013 for PC.