Company of Heroes 2: Theater of War Hands-On: Launch the Blitzkrieg!
Dedicated players have racked up hundreds of hours in the Company of Heroes 2 closed multiplayer beta (see the Game Front preview), parsing the details of the hotly anticipated strategy title even as they fend off counterattacks and cold weather. Meanwhile, the developers at Relic Entertainment have kept a careful cloak over the singleplayer campaign, a story-driven experience that hews closely to real World War II history.
Last week, however, trusty PR representatives set out with bulky Alienware laptops in tow to give journalists a taste of Theater of War mode, a self-contained set of 18 missions inspired by the scenario-making culture endemic to the original Company of Heroes. There are nine missions per faction, and all are designed to hone particular skills and tactics, helping inexperienced players who have completed the singleplayer campaign to ease into multiplayer, while also earning valuable XP in COH2′s extensive metagame. Pre-order customers will receive a few extra Theater of War perks; Relic also plans to support the game with more missions after launch.
Each individual Theater of War mission is designed around a particular unit or tactical challenge. The mode is divided into three categories: AI Battles, which present a distinctive style of AI play — offensive, defensive, infantry-focused, etc.; Solo Challenges require the player to cope with difficult circumstances, often with few units; Co-op Scenarios will enable you to team up with a friend and practice the kind of coordination necessary to win 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4 battles in multiplayer.
Playing in Game Front’s San Francisco offices, I first dived into a German Solo Challenge called “Blitzkrieg.” Set on the sprawling Steppes Frontline map (familiar to beta players), the mission equipped me with a small mechanized force of German troops and, as its name suggests, demanded a rapid advance into Russian lines. The goal was to capture a certain number of Soviet control points within a time limit, but I was soon stymied by a large howitzer battery protected by a minefield. I eliminated the artillery despite many casualties, but missed an opportunity to commandeer a fleet of nearby T-34′s, which were quickly manned by angry foes. I had captured the requisite number of control points, but with a tank fleet in front, and the AI spawning in reinforcements out of thin air behind my lines, I was forced to punt on the optional objective, which required the destruction of all remaining enemy forces.
I then moved on to a Russian Solo Challenge, “Winter,” which focused on using Soviet infantry tactics — anti-tank rifles, grenades, and commandeered anti-tank guns — to eliminate German vehicles in the midst of a driving blizzard. With only a handful of units under my command, I was taught a number of harsh lessons, as my forces succumbed to either the cold or the withering fire of a German armored column that had been immobilized by the weather. The mission also featured a special resource system: infantry squads funded their anti-tank abilities by capturing caches of munitions scattered around the map, rather than earning them by capturing control points. All in all, the mission proved good practice for multiplayer’s many winter maps, although the demo was plagued by a few niggling line-of-sight issues that rendered enemy tanks invulnerable to anti-tank fire.