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Company of Heroes 2
The original Company of Heroes was one of the most awarded and well-respected strategy games of its time, so making a sequel was no small matter. That’s why, judging by our time with the game at Eurogamer Expo, Relic Entertainment hasn’t fixed what wasn’t broken with Company of Heroes 2. They’ve merely enhanced what was already there, big-time.
It’s not like Company of Heroes 2 is a lazy update with some shinier graphics – far from it. Which is not to say the graphics aren’t shiny. The build at the show already looked a lot more detailed than the original, which is no mean achievement considering that COH was a gorgeous title. Troops, vehicles, buildings and scenery were all crafted with meticulous care, down to the fur on your soldier’s hats. Yet that wasn’t even as good as it gets, as the show version was running in DirectX 9, while the finished game will make full use of DirectX 11.
With DX11 enabled, units in Company of Heroes 2 will leave ‘realistic’, three-dimensional tracks in snow, shadows will be more detailed, there will be better lighting effects from fire and explosions, and more. However, it’s the new additions to gameplay and physics that really make this strategy blockbuster a worthy successor.
You see, the new COH has a realistic weather system. And when we say realistic, we’re not just talking about a pretty day/night cycle. Company of Heroes 2’s Essence 3.0 engine uses what Relic is calling Cold Tech. This consists of three components.
The first is Snow. Your units move noticeably slower through snow, but that isn’t unique as there are plenty of other games where this is the case. However, COH 2 takes things a step further, with the thickness of the snow affecting how slowly your troops or vehicles will move. You can also clear snow with grenades or flame throwers to restore your units to normal walk or drive speed. In other words, the snow in Company of Heroes 2 is dynamic.
In the DX11 version of the game, you may even be able to tell which vehicular units have been in an area by the tracks it leaves, as they’re all unique. Colour us impressed.
The second component to Company of Heroes 2’s Cold Tech is Ice. Ice not only affects movement as your vehicles lose traction and slip, but if a number of heavy units cross ice it may crack. Of course you can help it along with a friendly shell or two, making sneaking up on the enemy over a frozen lake or river a high-risk proposition.
Then there’s the third element, Cold. Your troops are human, and as such have no innate protection against the freezing weather in the worst winter maps. If they’re cold it will not only slow them down but, over time, soldiers may even begin to lose health.
You can prevent this by keeping them moving or putting them close to fires, which will warm them. Getting them into shelter without a fire nearby will only suspend the effect of the cold, and as soon as the troops leave their decline will continue.
Naturally, this weather trio isn’t the only enhancement to Company of Heroes 2. Did it frustrate you in the original game that your human units had to go all the way around a picket fence a 12-year old should have been able to leap over? Well, now your battle-weary men can do exactly that.
A far bigger change is to the line-of-sight system, which is now just as dynamic as the snow. Soldiers can see exactly what they would be able to see in real life, meaning that if a wall is too high to look over, the area behind it will be obscured by fog of war. The same goes for vehicles and trees. Where things get really impressive is that something like the smoke from a fire can also obscure men’s vision. If the wind causes that smoke to move, so will your visible area.
There were a few glitches in the version of Company of Heroes 2 we played at the show, like looped death animations. But otherwise the game already seemed remarkably polished, and there’s plenty of time for Relic to work out any remaining niggles. Either way, there’s little doubt that Company of Heroes 2 will once again be one of the best strategy games ever to grace the PC.
We asked Relic’s Global Communications Manager, Simon Watts, if there was any chance of seeing a version of Company of Heroes on a console, specifically the Wii U with its touch screen. “If it wasn’t as good an experience as on the PC we wouldn’t do it,” he replied. And we can only admire that kind of attitude. Look for Company of Heroes 2 to come to a PC near you early next year.
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