Barbarossa Nova: Hands-on with Company of Heroes 2
Though there are new factions, new settings, and new units, the game retains much of what made the original a success. Quality voice acting and a sense of bleak comedy bring the troops to life. The RTS gameplay is tactical, but not overwhelmingly frantic.
Multiplayer brings further innovation. Since Company of Heroes 2 will release in 2013 (beta begins sometime after New Year’s), it includes the obligatory meta-game; players will earn XP in every game mode.
XP can then be spent to unlock a number of rewards. The most straightforward, vehicle skins, offer cosmetic but historically accurate enhancements. Then there are the achievement-based “intel bulletins” — complete a certain challenge, and you’ll be able to apply army-wide buffs against specific unit types. You can equip three in multiplayer, out of more than 100 possible options.
Most involved is the new Commander system. There are seven unlockable commanders for each faction, which each provide buffs, bonuses, and toggleable special abilities like powerful artillery barrages. Players will pick three when entering a multiplayer round, and are then forced to choose one once they become available in battle. Commanders will obviously be selected to enable certain tactics and complement certain playstyles, adding strategic cut-and-thrust that almost resembles deck-building games in its own way. The game will provide more commanders (as well as more unit skins and intel bulletins) by way of DLC.
Multiplayer is complicated by the seasonal nature of the maps, which pose particular challenges during winter. On the other hand, it is simplified by a new control point system, which enables Engineers to designate a control as producing fuel or war material depending on a player’s needs. Certain valuable control points will always produce a specific resource, in larger quantities. The developers have tried to ensure that the resource system in general is more streamlined, redesigning unit upkeep and reducing the number of control points per map.
Judging from my hands-on experience, the two seasons will provide a nice variety for dedicated PVP players. Playing 1v1 on the snow-covered “Rzhev Meat Grinder” map seemed to support careful entrenchment and waiting for blizzards to pass. An ice-covered river complex provided lots of opportunities to scuttle enemy armor. 2v2 on the Pripyat map, set in summer, was more free-wheeling, and action centered around quick flanking maneuvers and pitched battles at various choke-points that controlled access to key strategic areas.
Until the Katyushas arrived and laid waste to everything, of course. Look for more Company of Heroes coverage from Game Front in the very near future.