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Published on May 3rd, 2013 | by Richard Motokovsky

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Company of Heroes 2 – Hands On

Playing any real-time strategy game against other players without having an idea of optimum build ratios and unit strengths is tantamount to self-flagellation. This stubborn trend is true of the StarCraft series and Command & Conquer, and it was the case with the original Company of Heroes. Sure, single-player campaigns usually do their part in making you feel prepared to flex your strategic muscle against real Generals online, but a few matches later it isn’t unusual for players to retreat to their AI skirmish-only corner damning their false confidence and promising to never venture online again. Thankfully Relic identify that this thinning out of the competitive RTS herd is a problem which negatively impacts the RTS genre, and with Company of Heroes 2 they’re doing something about it.

Even though the sequel’s World War II setting has shifted from Europe to Russia, with Soviets forces against the Third Reich, Company of Heroes 2’s fundamental capture-point based gameplay hasn’t really changed. Wins are still determined by ticking down an enemy’s victory tally by owning the most victory points at any given time, and ammo and fuel accumulation (funding soldiers and tanks respectively) is still tied to owning other points around the map. There’s still that mad scramble to own as many points as possible at the beginning of matches, but this time supremacy is less about pumping out as many units as possible, and instead using the ones you have wisely.

The economy seems much more stretched, than before, with players switching between infantry and light vehicles to tanks and heavy artillery at a more gradual pace. Like the historical reality of the Eastern Front, technology is expensive but man power is alarming cheap for both sides, so sacrificing units willy-nilly is actively discouraged. The effects of this are two-fold. First, powerful units like Russia’s terrifying Katushya Rocket Truck and Germany’s Panzer tank are usually few in numbers, so it’s relatively easy to take care of them, and secondly these units have an air of uneasy majesty to them as you see them lay waste to not only soldiers, but also giant sways of the landscape.

That’s the other non-RTS fan hook Company of Heroes II has going for it: this RTS is a beautifully bleak and graciously violent experience. Artillery blows soldiers’ limbs apart, ice creaks and breaks under tank-treads and soldiers left in the cold during blizzards actually lose health over time. Relic’s Essence 3.0 Engine shows just enough of the brutal destruction weapons of war can cause, but it never gets to the point where you think twice about sending a unit into slaughter.

In every way that matters, Relic has refined the Company of Heroes formula

The base gameplay and the attractiveness of the engine will certainly attract new or lapsed RTS players into the fold, but what’ll make them stay after their first few losses is the effectiveness of post-battle report. This statistician’s dream not only allows players to watch matches back with the ability to witness what the enemy was up to at any given time, but every action during said match is distilled into time-based action menus, economy graphs and unit-by-unit performance reports. All these tools prove invaluable in gaining an idea of where any given match got away from a player and the graphs don’t hide the important stuff like traditional RTS games do.

Not only that but Relic have also introduced a Call of Duty-inspired progression mechanism with players unlocking more General profiles, unit skins and activity ribbons for activity both in the campaign, against the AI and other players so even disastrous matches won’t constitute as a waste of time.

In every way that matters Relic has refined the Company of Heroes formula, making it a smarter and more accessible without limiting its complexity.

All these additional tools will help newbies get into the series more easily than ever before, while at the same time giving veterans more to think about. Expect this series to take the RTS world by storm again, only this time everyone is invited to the strategy party.

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