Company of Heroes 2 Impressions
Company of Heroes 2
Relic Entertainment / SEGA
Make no bones about it, Company of Heroes 2 is a very difficult game. This is caused in part by very deep, tactical and strategic design and mechanics. The other contributing factor is that the game does absolutely no hand-holding. None. Zilch. This makes getting into the game rather difficult, even for seasoned real-time strategy veterans. But does persistence yield a rewarding experience?
I myself have played quite a few RTS games over the years, stretching back to the original Age of Empires and Warcraft. But somehow I missed the 2006 release of the first Company of Heroes game and its subsequent expansion packs, and I am now being punished severely for it. The campaign in Company of Heroes 2 throws you right into the action with little to no instruction. Remember that for someone used to the likes of Age of Empires II– which literally told me how to select and move units- getting no instruction in such a complicated game can be jarring. As the game provides no tutorial mode at all, I found that I was wholly relying on my pre-existing RTS skills. And when something was ‘different’, well, I was screwed honestly. I failed one of the early missions simply because unit upgrades were delegated on a unit-by-unit basis instead of being housed in a conscription building- it took a lot of getting used to, and I often left many units without upgrades. There were also instances where I was required to use a specific item in the environment, but I had no idea what I was looking for or how to use it. Of course, once you learn all of these things, what they are, how to upgrade them, how to use them, etc. the game obviously gets easier. But you’re really left to figure it out own your own, which took me the better part of the first five missions of the campaign, or about four hours.
Once I got a grasp on the basics, I began to realize how intricate the game really is. RTS staples like resource management and scouting are present and straight-forward. But it’s the rest that takes getting used to. Whereas in other RTS game ‘mounting defenses’ refers to building walls out of housing or setting up watch towers, Company of Heroes 2 doesn’t really afford you that luxury. You’ve got your units, but the rest of your cash is best spent on the hardware. So that means that the units themselves are your defense. We’re not marching musket-baring soldiers in straight lines towards the enemy, no; you’ve got to get your men behind cover, in positions where they’ve got the high ground. Your anti-tank guns need to be close enough to take out the tanks, but far enough away and protected by foot soldiers as to not get flanked. Getting used to putting the men in cover rather than just sending them all over the map willy-nilly was the hardest element of the game to get used to, and I still struggle with it at times.
Then there’s the actual combat itself, which has a mind-boggling number of options and ways to screw yourself over. Preparing for every possible scenario that your opponent can throw at you is, well, impossible, especially if the game is moving at a fast pace with frequent skirmishes. Fire is extremely overbalanced, so it’s usually a safe bet, as are anti-tank guns. But then you’ve got to prepare for those machine gun nests planted right in front of the fuel depot that you want to take. What if your opponent is holed up in a house and you need your engineers to be upgraded to have flamethrowers? Snipers out of reach? In a lot of RTS games, it’s possible to still put up a fight even if you’re disadvantaged in terms of unit type. But this game is unrelenting in its punishment of the ill-equipped or disadvantaged player; a wrong move often means a loss instead of a retreat and rebuild, especially if there are tanks involved.
It’s worth noting that Company of Heroes 2 requires a very beefy machine. All of the events and unit types described above create a lot of havoc and chaos; there’s always a lot going on at once, which demands just as much from the machine as it does from the player. It’s not often that I find myself turning display options down below the recommended settings and still only getting around 25FPS. Players with great rigs may be able to handle this with ease, but players that haven’t had any upgrades in two years or so must beware that the game is not well optimized for old tech.
Some games, like Street Fighter, are easy to play and difficult to master. Company of Heroes 2 is very difficult all of the time; pick up and play is not possible with this game. I’m sure that players can find this depth to be extremely rewarding after many hours of study and practice, but this is definitely not a game for casual RTS players.
Note: This game was played on an ASUS G53SW, packing an i7-2630QM, GTX 460M, 8GB RAM, 1.5GB VRAM.