It’s crazy to think that Relic’s World War 2 RTS sequel Company of Heroes 2 was supposed to be out already; indeed, it was to be released day and date with StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. Thankfully for gamers (and not so much for employees) THQ went under so Relic was not forced to meet their earlier deadline and their new masters at SEGA pushed the release date back until late June. This is good, because while the game is a ton of fun, it isn’t ready yet.
You can get into the beta by liking the Company of Heroes 2 Facebook page, or by pre-ordering the game, and I think a little “Like” on Facebook is a small price to pay. Unlike the original game, which took place on the Western Front, CoH2 features clashes between the Red Army and the German Army on the fields and villages of Russia. Company of Heroes 2 now throws the seasons into the mix, playing on the infamous contributions of “General Winter” to the war.
During Spring and Summer, the game functions normally, but when the maps are wrapped in the throws of Winter, heavy snow will cause troops and tanks to struggle and frozen lakes and rivers will sometimes give way if they’re taken too much damage, plunging your men and vehicles into the watery grave. This is especially aggravating when your newly minted Tiger tank is just on the edge of a lake when the ice collapses underneath it and the whole thing sinks backwards. Blizzards also pop up randomly and these cause the action to stop down dead as any foot-soldier caught outside of the warming glow of a bonfire or a building will slowly freeze to death, meaning that blizzards are a time to lick your wounds and regroup.
The two factions in the game, Russia and Germany, play very differently. For those of you unfamiliar with your World War 2 history, the Russians relied on mass amounts of cheap soldiers (called conscripts) and swarms of tanks to counteract the German Army’s highly trained and regimented fighting force. This is true in Company of Heroes 2, as well, where early game the Russians will outnumber the German soldiers to a great degree, but the basic German squad is more than a match for a few handfuls of conscripts. The counter to a good attack in the early game from either side is the mortar, which at this point is an indiscriminate killing machine. A direct strike on one of your squads will usually take out all but one of them, causing you to retreat lest you want to build a whole new fire team.
At the start, there are one of three “doctrines” to pick and these give you bonus powers like special soldiers, off-map artillery barrages, or more powerful tanks. It helps to pick a commander that fits your play-style, and as you rank up you gain access to more Generals to choose from.
As the game is currently in beta, there are a few bugs; nothing game-breaking, but at one point my soldiers spent a good five minutes trying to take out an unmanned anti-tank gun which had become sentient in the absence of a crew and was firing into my base. There are small balance tweaks that need to be worked out, hopefully alongside a much-needed mortar nerf, but the game is a blast to play, even in beta.
Company of Heroes 2 isn’t an RTS like StarCraft, it’s much more cinematic and slower-paced and instead of managing a whole mess of units you’ll mostly be controlling a small number of infantry squads and maybe some armor as you try to capture points around the map. If you play the beta and don’t immediately want to watch Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan right afterwards, well, then I don’t know if this game is for you. Company of Heroes 2 captures the feeling of World War 2 skirmishes so perfectly that it’s easy to forgive it for its unpolished state and it makes me excited for the full game in June.
Has anyone else tried the beta for Company of Heroes 2? What did you think?