Revisiting Company of Heroes 2

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When I don’t feel like playing some Starcraft 2, my go to game recently has been Company of Heroes 2. It’s a much slower RTS than Starcraft so it doesn’t have the same “on the edge” feeling when playing it. It also helps that I am a huge fan of World War II history and seeing a Sherman and a Panzer IV duke it out in a game gets me giddy.

Company of Heroes 2 is often generally shunned by RTS fans. Despite improving upon the base mechanics of its classical predecessor, CoH 2 managed to alienate fans through its myriad of DLCs and microtransactions. While Relic has fixed most of these concerns through balance changes and the War Spoils systems, first impressions last.

However, the game has been growing slowly and steadily since its release. Relic also has not given up on CoH 2, with regular balance patches and paid expansions that does well to extend the life of the game. I personally believe that more people should give it a second chance.

What is Company of Heroes 2?

For those unfamiliar to the Company of Heroes series, it is a tactical WW2 game that allows you to control armies of both Allies and Axis factions. It’s different from most classic RTS in that it’s less about making an army and more about tactically maneuvering your army to make the most out of them. Gameplay-wise, it’s more similar to Warcraft 3 than it is to Command and Conquer: Generals.

There are two main modes of gameplay. The first is the more traditional Annihilation where the objective is to destroy all your opponent’s buildings to win the game. The main game mode played on Automatch is the Victory Points mode. In it, there are 3 to 5 Victory Points scattered across the map and if you hold the majority of VPs, you slowly deplete your opponent’s points.

Game Mechanics

CoH’s resources are not harvested. They are generated automatically and the rate at which it’s generated depends on the number of Capture Points you have. These are locations on the map that can be captured by infantry units by staying within a designated area around a point. There are 3 resources, namely

  • Manpower, the primary resource
  • Munitions, the ability resource
  • Fuel, used to buy vehicles

Infantry units are trained and move as squads. The number of troops in a squad may vary for every unit. For example, a US Rifleman unit has 5 squad members while a Rear Echelon unit has 4 squad members. Each unit has it’s own strengths and weaknesses and it’s common to see a starting unit still utilized greatly through the late game. Like Warcraft 3, the game is less about simply producing units and is more about having the perfect composition for the situation at hand.

Unit micro ranges from using abilities such as grenades and first aid, to setting up flanks and ambushes through corners. CoH 2 introduces a new system called True Sight in which the game simulates field-of-vision of individual units instead of the usual overhead visibility seen in most RTS games. That means that if your squad can’t see around the corner, you can’t either making ambushes that much more effective.

In addition, units can move into cover. Cover provides substantial defensive bonuses to infantry. There are 3 types of cover in the game, each with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Heavy machinegun units as well as some mortar and howitzers can suppress enemy infantry units. When a unit is suppressed, the squad drops to the ground which greatly limits its movement as well as combat effectiveness. If a unit does not move out of suppression, it runs the risk of being pinned. This makes it totally immobile and useless in combat.

Luckily, you can retreat. Retreating is available to most infantry squads at the push of a button. Retreating units run to the nearest retreat point, usually back to base, without stopping or attacking anything in its path. Once a unit retreats, you can’t control it until it reaches its retreat point. This is extremely useful in preserving squads.

Unlike in other RTS games, units in CoH 2 are not expendable. Units that obtain enough experience will be able to level up to the next Veterancy level, improving its efficiency and sometimes unlocking new abilities. There are 3 Veterancy levels (5 for OKW armies). If a squad is wiped out, you lose more than just the squad. You lose the Veterancy experience gained by that squad as well. You can lose individual members of a squad (often referred to as “models”) but a squad will not be wiped out as long as a single model remains in it. In order to replenish a squad, they can be reinforced when they are next to reinforce points located in your base.

Vehicles in CoH 2 are different from other RTS games and are much more valuable. Most vehicles behave as they would in real life. This extends to the nature of damage they receive. For example, small arms do little to no damage against tanks. If you get caught unprepared to fight a tank, no amount of rifle fire will be able to kill it.

In addition to units, CoH 2 also introduces Commanders which confer bonuses and benefits to your army. Commanders sometimes drastically alter the way an army is played. You can select up to three commanders to use in game.

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Criticisms

Which leads us to the point as to why CoH 2 failed to become another classic RTS. The Commander system, which has a large bearing on gameplay, was hidden behind a paywall. While each army came with 3 default commanders, other commanders were bought through DLC microtransactions. These paid commanders were often a little better if not outright so than the default commanders too. Before Relic introduced the War Spoils system, the paywall essentially made the game pay-to-win on top of being priced as a full game. This understandably turned people off from the game.

Microtransactions, if they ever need to exist in a game, should never involve things that can affect gameplay. Skins, decals, and other cosmetic items are fine. This is where Relic dropped the ball in my opinion. To be fair, the decision to include microtransactions into CoH 2 was probably the publisher’s call. At the time, THQ wasn’t doing so well financially ultimately leading to them declaring bankruptcy.

The War Spoils system attempts to address this issue along with balance changes to the default commanders. The War Spoils is essentially a drop system that gives you a random chance to have a commander drop after every game. Unfortunately, the drops are far in between, and the chances of getting a commander drop are pretty low. It’s still better than the pay-to-win system they had though.

Less Stress, More Fun

I have to confess that ultimately, the reason I decided to play Company of Heroes 2 after letting it sit in my Steam library for a while was because of the fact that I recently binged watch Band of Brothers. And to be honest, I’m glad I did. What I’ve discovered is an excellent RTS and an excellent game all around. As it’s probably obvious, I am a pretty huge fan of Starcraft 2 and while SC2 is still going to be my main RTS game, I can see myself playing CoH 2 regularly along side it.

First of all, it’s much less stressful. The pace of the game is much, much slower than Starcraft 2. Matches don’t feel like you’re fighting on a tightrope with one wrong move costing you the game. I think it’s because losses usually follow a crescendo pattern. Losses are usually the product of losing a couple of smaller skirmishes until it reaches a point where you are simply overwhelmed. There are less instances where you lose the game outright, as is the case with SC2.

The focus on tactics also makes me feel like I am commanding troops rather than simply playing a game. CoH 2 is grounded in reality, and mechanics such as the cover system, True Sight and vehicles, only serve to strengthen that. Making up a plan to retake a point on the fly and executing it well feels really good. I also love how artillery behaves like they should in the game, with barrages doing as much damage to infantry as you can imagine.

I only play 3v3 or 4v4 in CoH 2. I’ve tried 1v1 and 2v2, but the massive battles of 3v3 and 4v4 are what I enjoy the most. They are, in a word, epic! Troops are running around either towards the front lines or retreating for their lives. Artillery barrages explode in the background as you try to set up a massive advance to retake the last victory point. It all feels so satisfyingly immersive.

All in all, Company of Heroes 2 is a great, fun game that too many RTS fans write off too quickly. I say, give it a chance. Put it on your Steam wishlist and grab it when it’s on sale. You might find that the RTS you were looking for has been here all along.

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