I’ve been playing a lot of strategy games lately, some turn-based and some real-time, which is very odd because I am the antithesis of a strategy gamer. I like to be able to jump in and just mindlessly enjoy myself for thirty minutes or maybe a few hours. RPGs have traditionally been my one exception, but strategy has never grabbed me the same way. There’s just so much going on at once, and my brain isn’t wired to keep track of all that, especially not with the pressure of a de facto time limit bearing down on me.
As such, I’m apprehensive as to my capacity to do Company of Heroes 2 justice with my review. My understanding of the genre is incomplete and, though I enjoyed what I played both at a press preview event around six months ago and more recently in a closed press preview of the single-player campaign, I was still uncertain as to my capacity to evaluate the title.
We can all agree on one thing out of the gate, though: Company of Heroes 2 is a gorgeous game. Vehicles are rendered lovingly in accurate, high-definition, while soldiers move about and take cover, vault sandbags, and setup their mortars and anti-tank cannons with realistic and frenetic energy. The maps are at once stunning in their detail and bleak in their tone, and the snow effects, should your system be powerful enough to take advantage of them, are certainly notable. And, while Company of Heroes 2 is a very demanding game, it seems to run respectably on my low-to-mid-range system on medium spec, and it still looks very pleasing to the eye.
The sound design, too, is stellar. Gunfire, explosions, the dialogue of soldiers, and even the hum of vehicles’ engines do much to immerse you in the battlefield. From the perspective of presentation, Company of Heroes 2 is almost a home run. The one blemish on the game’s otherwise terrific presentation are the cutscenes, which use awkward character models and animations that appear as though they were pulled from a title ten years this one’s junior. They don’t do a ton to tell a compelling story, tending to fall on the preachy side of moral debate, but they do give a bit of extra flavor to the proceedings, increasing one’s immersion.
Its single greatest source of immersion, though, is in the way it plays with pace. This is particularly true in the single-player missions and the Theater of War mode, but it also translates over to the multiplayer.
Much like its predecessor, Company of Heroes 2 is a game designed around the premise that units shouldn’t have to be micromanaged. They will behave fairly intelligently on their own, never straying far from where they’ve been stationed, and they reposition within cover to optimize their angle of attack, spreading out when a vehicle tries to roll over them. While they won’t reprioritize targets on their own, at least not when one has been directly assigned by the player, and those with a firing arc will typically maintain that until ordered to move, there is still an overall sense that the armies in the game have something resembling a sense of self-preservation.
This becomes important with regard to the pacing, since this is a hectic and chaotic game. Missions are designed to pressure you, typically from the get-go. If you’re lucky, maybe one mission will give you a bit of downtime to fortify yourself, but as early as the second mission of the campaign, Company of Heroes 2 is throwing you into hopeless situations. In the second mission, you are ordered to defend command points in a small town, but the Germans will quickly overrun your Russian troops, and you will be forced to pull back. Upon doing so, returning to the tracks you’re guarding, there is an all¬-too-short pause before the onslaught begins anew. You will inevitably succumb to this onslaught, and it takes the arrival of Soviet armor to help rout the German forces.
That frenetic action translates over to the new Theater of War mode, which features missions designed around real battles from World War II’s Eastern Front, both for the Germans and the Russians. In addition to those available in solo play, and a selection of skirmishes against foes with special behavioral patterns, there are co-op missions on offer. These can take the form of anything from a typical skirmish to a tower defense-esque trial of fortification.
This is also one of the places in which the new cold weather mechanics of CoH2 come into play. Soldiers who spend too long in chilly weather will gradually decrease in temperature until they take damage and die of what is presumably hypothermia. This can be mitigated by keeping them in cover or constructing field structures, like fires, to restore infantry units’ warmth. It adds yet another layer of pressure to the game.
The bulk of Company of Heroes 2’s gameplay, though, is focused on its multiplayer mode. Matchmaking here is snappy and connections generally seem to be stable and fast. Battles can be one-on one or more; they go all the way up to four-on-four. For these battles, it’s possible to customize one’s army with different commanders and “intelligence bulletins,” which provide minor bonuses to specific units’ performance. More commanders are unlocked as one ranks-up in multiplayer, while most intelligence bulletins have both a rank requirement and a list of tasks that must be accomplished. There are also cosmetic alterations available in the form of vehicle skins, though those are of dubious utility.
Both armies can be customized separately in this way, and they play very differently, but based on my experience getting my rear handed to me regardless of which side of the war I fell on, it seems that there is a solid balance between the Germans and the Russians. As the game makes its way out into the wild and players spend more time with the armies, balance issues might become readily apparent and dominating strategies might be discovered. That’s what updates are for, though.
Really, there’s nothing that jumps out as wrong or underwhelming in Company of Heroes 2. From its scale and presentation to its pacing and balance, this is a game that has clearly been a labor of love on the part of its developers. That isn’t to say it’s wholly without flaws, but qualms such as steep system requirements and the lack of a truly compelling narrative seem somewhat weak in the face of the carefully crafted strategic, military gameplay proffered by the title.
That said, while it’s a very distinctive take on strategy that follows the unique model that the original Company of Heroes codified years ago, it isn’t the strategy game that will convert those who prefer less in the way of brain-melting, multitask-essential gameplay to the strategic fold. It is, in the end, a beyond competent, gorgeous, and well-crafted World War II strategy game. It may very well be the best WWII strategy game ever produced. It is, however, a game for those who already enjoy the genre, and particularly for those entranced by Company of Heroes’ hallmark approach to combat.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
The Essence 3.0 engine is absolutely stunning, though it doesn’t scale especially well, with fairly steep system requirements to really get the most out of it. 5.0 Control
Company of Heroes made its name on providing a more intuitive strategy experience. The sequel is built on that core promise. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Sure, some of the accents are a bit cheesy, but the sound design is overall immersive and feels authentic. 4.5 Play Value
There is a tremendous amount to do such as the base campaign, AI skirmishes, online multiplayer, and the objective-based Theater of War mode, which even allows for co-op. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|