The Company of Heroes franchise holds a very special place in my heart. Back when World War 2 first-person shooters flooded the market, the only thing I played at the time was Counter-Strike 1.6, Warcraft 3, and Call of Duty 2, so the concept of a World War 2 RTS was mindblowing for me. I ended up dumping countless hours into the first Company of Heroes, and all I did was play the single-player campaign and matches against the AI where I would play maps with chokepoints and spam defenses and artillery. Keep in mind this was all done while using a computer that required me to turn down specific settings in the user configuration file for Counter-Strike: Source. Playing Company of Heroes 2 brought back fond memories of my 13 year old self who spent an eternity immersed in the gameplay of Company of Heroes.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Company of Heroes 2 works, its design is similar to other Relic RTS titles like the Dawn of War series. Units operate in squads rather than comprising of a single unit, excluding snipers and vehicles, and there is a cover system in place. Units can use cover to their advantage to take less damage from enemies. For example, units who take cover behind a tank will take less damage than units who fight while standing in an open field. Squads can use abilities such as grenades or mortar barrages and can also be upgraded with better weapons provided you have the resources for it. In all honesty, the controls and gameplay don’t deviate much from the first Company of Heroes, which is a good thing because the first Company of Heroes had very intuitive controls for people who were familiar with the RTS genre and possibly for newcomers as well. Games can either range from standard victory point games where players attempt to hold points longer than the enemy or annihilation where players have to destroy all enemy buildings to win the game.
The two main factions for the game are the Russians and Germans as Company of Heroes 2 focuses on the Eastern Front rather than the Western Front of the first game. Russians closely emulate the playstyle of the Americans where they focus on flooding the map with infantry rather than having incredible armor. Germans are focused on strong individual squads and strong vehicles. The infantry and vehicle selections for both factions are pretty varied, and there’s a wide range of doctrines and commander powers for players to choose from. I do wish the Russian playstyle more closely emulated its real-world counterparts, though. I expected squads to contain commanders that could shoot its own soldiers to make the soldiers fight harder like commisars in the Imperial Guard from Warhammer 40K. What the player gets is just mild references to the insanity of the Russian army like penal battalions that just serve as stronger riflemen. This isn’t a huge issue, but I felt like Relic could’ve done more with it.
Some gameplay elements have changed from the first game to the second. Germans no longer purchase veterancy with requisition points and must earn veterancy through kills and combat. I think this is a fair change because I felt that Germans had the advantage in the first Company of Heroes with regard to veterancy with units. Since you could just purchase the upgrade which would apply to all current and future units of that type, new American troops would have a tougher time engaging new German squads since the American troops would have no veterancy while the Germans would have it right off the bat. Now fresh German squads are on equal footing with fresh Russian squads.
An element of the game that has been added that I despise is the random blizzard events that take place on winter maps. Blizzards will randomly occur for a period of 60 seconds on winter maps, and when they occur, infantry must take shelter or be near fireplaces so they don’t freeze to death. While it does add variety to the game, I think it’s an awful mechanic because it slows down the gameplay because I have to tediously micromanage my squads individually to make sure they don’t freeze to death. In addition to that, it unfairly punishes the Russians because the Russians are infantry-based, so when blizzards roll around the Germans can dominate the Russians with armor that is unaffected by the weather. I absolutely love winter settings and environments, but I can’t play them because blizzards make the game incredibly frustrating. I’ll probably get used to it eventually, but for now I just avoid the winter maps.
The single-player campaign isn’t as good as the first Company of Heroes due to missions not being as varied as in the first game, but that isn’t a big deal since the singleplayer is just to acclimate players to the units and mechanics of the game before they attempt multiplayer.
There’s a wide variety of achievements to get in the game that unlock small buffs to troops and vehicles. For unlocking a certain achievement, you could choose a bonus that will give +2% to grenadier health or -5% reload time on artillery. This allows players to customize their armies and playstyles much further. The only issue I see with this is a lot of these bonuses are only unlocked after reaching specific criteria, so it might take a long time to unlock them. It just feels grindy in an unpleasant manner like unlocking guns in Battlefield 3.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the game. However, I can honestly say that the game hasn’t changed much from the first Company of Heroes at all. It really just feels like a reskin of the game. While I have no problem with this, others might have an issue with purchasing a full price sequel that is highly similar to the first. If you’re a fan of the first Company of Heroes or you’re looking for an RTS where you don’t have to be Korean to play well, check out Company of Heroes 2.
Available on: PC; Publisher: Sega; Developer: Relic Entertainment; Players: 1-8; Released: June 25, 2013; ESRB: M; MSRP: $59.99: Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.