There’s something to be said about Relic Entertainment’s decision to focus on the Soviet Army’s brutal Eastern Front during World War II.
In their follow up to the 2006 smash hit Company of Heroes, players assume command of Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a former Soviet officer who was locked up in a Gulag in 1952 after the terrors of war shake his faith in the Soviet cause. Company of Heroes 2 tells Isakovich’s story through a series of flashbacks that force players to break through German lines and culminates in the brutal battle for Berlin.
Digging into the campaign reveals Relic’s attempt to expose players to the terrifying reality that Soviet soldiers faced on the Eastern Front during World War II. Unfortunately, a combination of lackluster cutscenes hinders the narrative that Relic hopes to deliver, and the low resolution 3D models that litter the cinematic moments also hinder the overall presentation level. Attempts at capturing the brutal tenacity of Soviet command feel like a missed opportunity, even throughout the 14 missions offered by the campaign. The game has many small touches that focus on the brutal reality of the Soviet forces’ expendability, but they never reach the impact that Relic was hoping to achieve with conveying such devastating loss of life.
Moments when you call in an endless supply of Penal Squads, which enacts the infamous Order No. 227, provides a passive way to convey the nature of Soviet soldiers’ high mortality rate in World War II. When your soldiers retreat, it’s nearly impossible to feel the weight of Order No. 227 because you’re far too engaged in micro-managing your units to victory. Aside from the inconsistency in the message that CoH2 aims to deliver, the range of missions throughout the 12 – 15 hour campaign consistently lures you back to push the Soviet forces forward to victory for the Motherland.
Improvements to Company of Heroes’ core mechanics can be found in the new Truesight feature, which adds a new dimension to the battlefield. Restricting your visibility in a realistic manner allows for even the best commanders to slip, as they send their troops directly into an ambush. Watching your forces eradicated in seconds remains a powerful blow to your morale. Yet, it also serves as a powerful reminder that Truesight can be used in your favor as well. Often times, I found myself sending light vehicles in with squads of soldiers to distract Fascist forces, and prepared a full scale assault from the flank with tanks. It’s a satisfying feeling to watch as the tides of battle turn with intuitive tactics.
Additionally, ColdTech provides another dimension to the battlefield whenever blistering blizzards sweep over your forces, threatening to lull them into a frozen sleep. This forces you to balance your assaults by advancing through to campfires, seeking shelter in buildings, or utilizing vehicles to move your troops across the battlefield. Relic’s inclusion of the ColdTech mechanics is clearly a tribute to the blistering winters that Soviet forces endured. In fact, one of the most memorable missions occurs as you are tasked with taking over German outposts while strategically maneuvering a small group of soldiers through the unforgiving winter. Yet, the game never fully utilizes these missions over the course of the campaign and it’s a shame because it adds great depth to the already impressive gameplay mechanics.
Once you complete your conquest of the main campaign, Company of Heroes 2 offers a deep and large variety of options to extend your experience. The new Theater of War mode delivers a combination of single and multiplayer challenges that help to provide a wider range of tactics for players to pick up and utilize in competitive multiplayer. Easily offering fans an additional 15 hours of gameplay, you should expect a variety of missions that range from testing your skills commanding elite sniper units to facing off against waves of German forces as you hold Victory Points over the course of several days.
These missions brilliantly extend the experience by capitalizing on events throughout the Eastern Front, and even offer engaging co-op gameplay. Relic plans on supporting the Theatre of War mode in the future as well, with new missions and objectives that will give strategy fans something to look forward to.
The wealth of content that Company of Heroes 2 offers doesn’t stop at Theatre of War, though. A robust competitive PvP option is available for players to engage in, offering simple 1v1 matches, all the way to full scale 4v4 battles of epic proportions. By the time you manage to storm the gates of the competition, Company of Heroes 2 has already provided you with a range of combat situations to improve your tactics and lead you to victory. This is what is most admirable about CoH2. The Campaign and Theatre of War modes are engaging tools to prepare players for the real challenge of testing your strategies in the digital world.
Jumping into battle online allows players to pick from Soviet or German forces across 13 multiplayer maps which feature unique weather variants depending on the time of year they are played in. This provides a variety that will surely keep the maps fresh throughout the year. Victory Point and Annihilation are returning from the first game, which may cause worry in returning players that there’s nothing new to be found. However, the level progression system that Relic has introduced in this sequel provides a much needed expansion of depth in how you approach gameplay.
Over 100 levels of progression are available in Company of Heroes 2, and can be earned by gaining experience throughout all of the game modes. This provides a way for players to challenge themselves to unlock new cosmetic skins and Intel Bulletins. These Bulletins grant players small perks to customize their loadouts and offer a wide range of diversity by affecting each individual unit. Are you reliant upon tank warfare? Then individual challenges you can accomplish will unlock tank specific perks. It’s a great addition to the battlefield and helps provide additional customization on top of the unlockable commanders that provide their own unique abilities and battlefield supports to call in. On top of all this, CoH2 multiplayer offers direct Twitch streaming, which will surely appeal to a wide range of gamers.
Company of Heroes 2 boasts an impressive expanse of content that easily provides 30 hours of warfare for your single player experience, and the robust competitive PvP delivers countless more. While the weight of what Relic is attempting to convey with the experiences of soldiers enduring the Eastern Front may fall short for some, it’s the little touches that affect the whole, which continues to prove Relic’s status as one of, if not, the best creators of RTS games around. With plans to support Company of Heroes 2 with both free and premium content in the future, it only adds to the potential lifespan in the latest installment to their hit franchise. Prepare to fall in love all over again, but prepare yourself to fight for the Motherland, comrade.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Company of Heroes 2 may not revolutionize what the original title did for the RTS genre, but it manages to prove once again that the CoH franchise provides the best strategy gaming around.