There are several genres that are inexoribly linked to PC gaming, and Real Time Strategy is one of them. It’s a genre that started on home computers in the late 80s with Populous, and more or less reached maturity in the mid-90s with Warcraft, Dune 2 and Command & Conquer. Company of Heroes could arguably be considered the last hugely succesful new franchise that uses this formula, and now that 2006 classic has a true sequel with Company of Heroes 2. Have Relic and Sega managed to improve on what is the highest-rated real time strategy game of all time?
To answer that question, let’s briefly look back a history of the genre again. After gameplay dynamics such as resource gathering, base building and unit generation were introduced, innovation was most often found in the game’s delivery. Total Annihilation went the 3D route, later Command & Conquer titles used live action video and multiplayer online modes were introduced as well. The core concepts, however, largely remained the same, and Company of Heroes struck a perfect balance while adding subtle improvements such as fighting from cover and holding strategic points on the map. So how do you change a winning formula while not breaking the game that your fans know and love? Well…. you don’t. Company of Heroes 2 doesn’t quite have the impact of the original, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a very warm welcome to a familiar territory.
Perhaps warm isn’t the word I should have used here, as Relic has chosen to explore the cold eastern front of WW2 as the scenario for this game. These atmospheric conditions are also some of the most important new elements in the game, as thick layers of snow hamper your progress and heavy vehicles can sink through layers of ice. Snow also leaves tracks that you can use to find your enemy, and other strategic elements come into play by adding Relic’s TrueSight technology to simulate line of sight accurately within the game. They’re not revolutionary changes for the genre, but evolutionary nonetheless.
To move the game forward, its story is told from the perspective of Soviet Army lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovich, who narrates us through some of the iconic battles of the eastern front. As most of popular culture generally focussed on the western front, this creates a compelling storyline surrounding what was factually the largest battlefield of WW2. It was a bold choice by Relic, but one I feel ultimately works out very well and creates some of the subtle changes in gameplay dynamics outlined above.
Very much in line with its changes in gameplay dynamics, Company of Heroes 2 also takes some steps forward when it comes to presentation. While the original set new standards for the RTS genre, the changes are more subtle this time around. The attention, however, is in the details. DX11 is supported, and everything from lighting effects to unit animation looks top notch. This shine seems to come at the cost of some lags in performance, but this may also be due to a lack of new video drivers at the time we tested our review copy.
So where can we fault Company of Heroes 2? And should we? The game, though lenghty, feels like some corners were cut to make way for future DLC scenarios. This is the way the gaming industry currently works, but it still feels like you’re playing through an incomplete story. One might also argue that Relic didn’t do enough to change the original formula, but go back to the 2006 original and you’ll find that the experience is every bit as fresh today as it was back then. So what we’re left with is still the definitive WW2 real time strategy experience, and a must have for all fans of the genre. I’d love to see Relic combine the different fronts in a single game to create an even more diverse experience, so my fingers are crossed for their future RTS installments.
CPU: Intel 3770K
Video: Asus GTX 660 Ti
Installed on: Kingston HyperX SSD drive
RAM: 8 GB DDR 3, Kingston HyperX Beast series