On June 4, 2013, Sega and Relic released an open beta version of Company of Heroes 2 free for all players on Steam. The beta was for two weeks during which Relic stress tested their network service and gathered feedback for any last minute patches. After playing this beta for most of the last two weeks and with the official release about a day away at the time of writing, I’ve decided to sit down and give my impressions of the game as it gets ready for launch.
Overall, Company of Heroes 2 has the same core gameplay as its predecessor. Multiplayer matches revolve around traditional annihilation or the more modern point capture modes. Yet there have been many improvement, for example the commanders. The commander system from the previous game has been streamlined and expanded. Individual commanders have a more streamlined skill tree that automatically unlocks abilities as the match progresses but the commanders are more numerous and better tailored to specific playstyles. However, one change that I welcome with open arms is the revised resource system. Like the original game, commanders must manage supplies of manpower, munitions, and fuel trickling in at a rate proportional to how much territory they control. However, in the original game, control points were defined by the resource they boosted, leading to complaints of certain maps and the fuel-dependent Germans in general being somewhat unbalanced. Relic changed this for the second game, manpower is awarded at a rate inversely proportioned to how many units you’re fielding and all captured control points contribute a steady stream of munitions and fuel. Control points can also be reinforced with constructible supply caches that provide an additional bonus to either munitions or fuel. Just an example of Relic fixing the few things that was wrong with the original game.
As previous articles have established, the second game focuses the Eastern Front opposed to the first game’s Western Front. Subsequently, of the four playable armies from the previous game, only Germany’s Wehrmacht makes a return. Aspects of the hyper-mobile Panzer Elite from the Opposing Fronts expansion pack have been folded into the Wehrmacht army and as the game is set on the other side of Berlin, the Soviet Red Army replaces the Americans and the British from the first game. While on paper the Russians appear balanced in the same way the Americans were in the first game (ie: using numerous and relatively cheap units to counter the Germans’ smaller and more expensive but better equipped and more experienced forces) they most certainly don’t play the same way. Not only are the Soviets heavily invested in numbers, their army is also focused on offense. Static defenses are virtually nonexistent and the Russian tech tree is designed to get their strongest troops and vehicles on the field quickly. In contrast, the Wehrmacht plays much like it did in the original Company of Heroes. Technology progression is somewhat slower compared to the Red Army but the multi-purpose German bunkers return from the first game.
Like the original game was at launch, the Eastern Front introduces gamers to only two armies at the beginning with the possibility of more being added in with expansion packs or DLC. This has caused some complaints with some individuals; either due to the relative lack of playable factions compared to other games in the genre or the logical omission of old favorites from single-player and multiplayer. Personally, I don’t really have a problem with this as the general setting contains a number of interesting WWII actors like the Greeks and the Polish Resistance that don’t get a lot of attention otherwise.
In conclusion, while this may not be a day one purchase, it is certainly a good game. The much-touted “General Winter” feature is everything it was promised to be, the battles every bit as graphically brutal as you might remember from the original Company of Heroes, and the little details that immerse you into the game world like the idle chatter between soldiers are still there. Despite initial reservations, I am definitely interested in seeing what the future of the franchise holds.