Giving new meaning to the term ‘Cold War’.
Every time we see Company of Heroes 2, we witness an underlying confidence at Relic that we haven’t really seen for years. After wowing the world with Dawn of War and conducting the divisive experiment that was Space Marine, the acclaimed developer is returning to their roots with an RTS which claps onto historical accuracy like a hot water bottle in the cold Russian wilderness.
Company of Heroes was one of the first strategy games to incorporate cover in a meaningful, gameplay-changing way, and the Canadian studio is once again shifting the status-quo by emulating another core component of the battlefield; weather. Winter 1941 is commonly accepted as one of the harshest cold spells of the 20th century and is arguably the key factor which held back the Nazi’s from successfully rolling over the Soviet forces on their way to Moscow, so it’s only natural that Relic do their part to communicate that influence to the player.
How their doing that is via different weathering conditions altering the battlefield, for instance blizzards sweeping into lessening visibility, and a hypothermia meter which when drained can result in units moving slower and eventually collapsing due to the extreme cold. So how exactly do you keep your little fellas warm? The answer is rather simple, taking cover behind areas to get a break from the harsh winds, garrison houses, and stay close to the capture points which now sport giant pulsating fires to replenish your troops physical and mental form. This kind of punishing mechanic may sound a bit gimmicky, but the quality of the animations and the extra environmental fidelity, care of the new Essence Engine, makes it clear when you’re orders ask too much of your men. Keeping an eye on their thermometer next to the health metre is one way to gauge when they’re struggling against the elements, but the other is when you see units struggle to trudge through deep snow or battle against strong blizzard winds zapping their spirits. Simply put, Company of Heroes 2 is a marvellous game to look at, even when your watching squads collapse one by one from hypothermia. This mechanic just means you need to think twice before ordering your troops, not only due to enemy fire, but also how the land will affect their combat proficiency. The extreme cold isn’t all bad though, with frozen lakes allowing formerly impassable areas to be traversed by light tanks and infantry. The new thoroughfares are procedurally generated though and under too much stress, either by weight or enemy fire, the ice will crack and splinter sending your units to an early watery grave. Again this is where risk versus reward comes in, do you risk an easy assault on a capture point via a frozen lake or go the safer but heavily guarded, route?
During the four-man FFA skirmish we witnessed, with 3 AI and 1 human player, the weather regularly changed from a harsh blizzard to almost no snowfall at all, with visibility drastically changing whenever copious amounts of the white stuff fell. The new Truesight dynamic also changes unit vision dramatically with fog of war replaced with a direct line of sight which can be obscured by buildings and tanks. Support powers were also shown off briefly with commanders once again able to call in airstrikes at key moments, but during heavy snowfall this option was impossible.
Towards the end of the demo there were skirmishes involving the Soviet KV-1 ‘Super Heavy tank, more concise looking German armour options and the devastating vehicle-based rocket launchers, Katyushas, which sent volleys of missiles over great sways of the map. This is where we were shown more of the new engine’s improved destruction mechanics, with buildings being raised to the ground, ice breaks trapping soldiers underwater and impact craters chucking up tons of snow as they form. Relic has always offered reactive experiences, but this sequel dials it up to a whole new level. Sure they’re plenty of questions that need answering regarding AI, the campaign and multiplayer infrastructure, but CoH’ 2’s base gameplay at least is unsurprisingly immensely promising…
Tags: Company of Heroes 2
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