Company of Heroes is the best RTS game I ever played and with this in mind I pre-ordered Company of Heroes 2. (BTW people, don’t pre-order games! It’s not worth it!)
Relic Entertainment is one of the best studios developing strategy games out there, creating series like Homeworld, Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, so with such a background is hard to believe things could ever go wrong. But things don’t always work out as they should.
Everything started with THQ financial downfall leading to the game being postponed a few times, then the big hit came with THQ filing for bankruptcy and all the studios and game licenses under their domain being auctioned. SEGA saw the opportunity to become the strongest strategy games publisher and acquired Relic Entertainment together with Company of Heroes rights and Dawn of War licenses (the horror!). As most of the fans were happy about this move, I was skeptical, thinking about the not so nice things that happened with Shogun Total War 2. Following these events the game was postponed even more for polishing and of course for SEGA to have time to leave their mark on the game. Everyone was optimistic (I wasn’t, yet I still pre-ordered, damn fanboys!) because SEGA is such a big publisher and has huge experience with strategy games and there were lots of promises flying around that everything would turn out great.
The game was ultimately released on June 25th, 2013, let’s see how it turned out.
Company of Heroes 2 is a combination between RTS and RTT genres with the gameplay focusing on tactics, units positioning and map control. The action is set in WW2 on the Eastern front, the player takes command of the Russian army on their desperate attempt to protect the Motherland from the invading German army.
The campaign is presented as a number of flashback stories, as one of the leaders of the army, now in prison, is asked questions about what happened during the war with the army under his command. The story is about difficult decisions that had to be taken and the necessary sacrifices that were made in order to defeat the (evil!) German Army. Basically this is the script of every modern shooter turned into a story for a WW2 strategy game. Why the hell not? Shooters sell millions of copies every year with this kind of recycled story, why can’t strategy games do the same?
The progression of the campaign is so slow and the game insists on holding your hand in almost every mission, becoming really frustrating, and by the time you are at the 6th or 7th mission you still feel like playing a tutorial instead of being the commander of an army leading your soldiers in decisive and cruel battles. The “hand holding” has been practiced in almost every genre in the last years. Producers should stop treating gamers like they are a bunch of idiots, because that’s what these prolonged tutorials look like.
The game mechanics of Company of Heroes were complex, more so than most of the RTS games at the time and even long after. The game is using cover system for all units, an realistic armor system for vehicles and suppression mechanics for infantry, all these features add up to an awesome gaming experience.
The gameplay in Company of Heroes 2 is similar with the first games, but with a few additions to improve what was already an excellent game.
The most important new gameplay mechanics are:
- Weather plays a big role in the game now, blizzards disrupt your actions and kill your units if they can’t find some cover or if they can’t light a fire.
- Moving through deep snow slows down vehicles and infantry movement speed, making it harder to control your units and forcing you in some situations to take a different path. Also moving on the snow leaves footprints which are visible for the enemies.
- Water now freezes on winter maps opening new path ways as you can pass over it with your units, but it can also break and the units caught there will sink. This mechanic can be used for both defensive and offensive strategies.
There are some other features but these are the most notable ones.
Adding all these new things to the already complex gameplay of the first games seems like a good improvement, but it is actually more complicated than that. It’s not enough to add new features to make a better game, the core mechanics should work properly as well. The AI and pathfinder took a huge hit in this game, the units are dumb as hell and get stuck in one another or other obstacles all the time, they can’t find their way to cover and sometimes not even to what looks like a simple location, overall the pathfinder is terrible. In a game where you have to position your tanks all the time to always face the enemy anti-tank unit , your tanks are unable to find a good path to their set destination and tend to rotate in place or move in reverse towards the direction set by you. These problems are incredibly frustrating, you lose games because of this in both singleplayer and multiplayer and even now after so many months from release date these issues have not been completely addressed.
The multiplayer has the same mechanics and modes as the previous games. Players can choose between one of the two factions in the game, the German or Russian army and join 1v1 battles or up to 4v4 matches. The standard modes for multiplayer remain Victory point control and Annihilation. Victory point control focuses on holding certain positions on the map, both players start with a set amount of points and the player that controls at least two out of the three victory positions makes the opponent lose some of his points, when one player runs out of points he loses the game. In Annihilation in order to win you have to destroy all your enemy’s buildings. A new feature to the multiplayer are the commanders which replace the old leveling system during battle, commanders are selected before the game starts and each one comes with a set of abilities good for different kind of strategies. A progressive ranking system with rewards together with a perks system has been added which complement each other, as you rank up your profile you unlock new skins and perks for your units.
All things considered, the multiplayer is probably the biggest letdown in Company of Heroes 2. In 2013 this game that was designed to be competitive and possibly an e-sport, with integrated twitch.tv support, and had some online tournaments, lacked so many important multiplayer features, a part of which have still not been added. Company of Heroes 2 was released without a lobby, chat channels, ladder, the possibility to play custom games with other players than your friends and dedicated servers. Everyone knew how many problems were caused due to lag in multiplayer games in the first games of the series or even in Dawn of War 2, games that are based on the same graphic engine, yet SEGA decided to ignore all these problems and the wishes of the fans releasing the game without dedicated servers. On top of everything the multiplayer was totally imbalanced at release, allowing all kind of cheesy tactics that could be used to win the matches fast and easy, the kind of tactics that should not be seen in a game like this one. It took several months to bring the units of both factions on a much more leveled ground.
On the technical part, the game uses Essence Engine 3.0, a modified version of the engine Company of Heroes and Dawn of War II use. The game takes advantage of DirectX 11 and comes with improved graphics and physic, but not such a huge jump from the first titles of the series. In all fairness those games still look very good, so even if is not such a huge improvement the changes are visible. The optimization was an issue from the beta and remains one even today, the game doesn’t run well and causes all sorts of performance problems even on high-end computers.
Instead of custom game mods a series of DLC named Theater of War were released with some co-op missions and singleplayer challenges. The missions are fun and some are hard but heavily scripted.
SEGA didn’t spare Company of Heroes 2 from pay to win DLCs, they did it with Shogun Total War 2 so why not here. A series of commander DLCs with very powerful commanders was released to use in the multiplayer matches.
A few months after launch the game has received important updates which added Steam chat and ladder integration, custom games with random players, lots of bug fixes and more. SEGA also confirmed the possibility of adding dedicated servers for the game. But the question still remains how a AAA game that cost 50 euro at release could come without all these features and with so many bugs?
Company of Heroes is my favorite strategy game of all times, for the innovations it has brought to the genre, the challenging and brilliant gameplay and the true feeling of war that it recreates. Sadly Company of Heroes 2 had a poor timing, changing publishers during development and trying so hard to bring something new instead of polishing the already existing features. The game is far from what the sequel of this series should have looked like. But it is a good example of what is wrong with the industry today, publishers pushing for DLCs and unrealistic release dates instead of giving the developers the necessary time to finish their game and listen to the requests of the fans.
The quality of strategy games dropped a lot in the past few years and the genre is in danger. The RTS games are dumbed down with the hope of attracting more players and sell more copies of the games and by doing this, the core fans of the genre are pushed away. On the long-term this kind of business strategy is damaging: on the one side the hardcore players won’t buy these games anymore because the final product doesn’t reflect their expectations and on the other side the newcomers won’t stick with the genre anyway if they don’t like it. Strategy games are for players that look for complexity in a game and this should not be forgotten, for action packed story and a screen full of effects there are other genres.
Maybe is time for the developers and publishers to focus more on the quality and complexity of the games rather than making the RTS’s more accessible, people have different taste in everything you can’t force them to like something they don’t enjoy. A high quality and complete game will be well received by enthusiasts and if the game is good might attract even those outside the strategy games hardcore community.
As an ending note, I say with regret that Company of Heroes 2 was a big disappointment for me. Is far from what I expected and what should have been. The huge amount of bugs, the lack of crucial features and the campaign full of clichés and optimization problems ruined this game for me.
+ Following the gameplay mechanics of Company of Heroes
+ Good graphics
+ Cool new mechanics and features
+ Epic battles
– Imbalanced DLCs
– Lots of bugs
– The lack of key features for multiplayer at release and a long time after
– Optimization problems
– The story
– Imbalanced units