After a six-year hiatus, the stellar Company of Heroes is finally getting a sequel. We recently checked out the game, and the presentation only detailed the enhancements over the original but it also focused on the Eastern Front. In particular, the demo showed Russian forces clashing with some German troops that were defending a snowy town in an operation dubbed the "Rzhev Meatgrinder." Company of Heroes 2 is already shaping up to be a true sequel.
The easiest thing to notice about Company of Heroes 2 is the improved graphics and effects, since it's the first to utilize the new Essence 3 engine. Other than supporting both DX9 and DX11, the engine showcased many effects that are new to the series, such as enhanced destruction as well as snow that shows proper depth as troops slog through it. In one example, a small home was set on fire with flamethrowers, and after a period of time, the structure weakened to the point that it caved in. Smoke also now billows from burning homes and wrecked vehicles, and it's both a cosmetic and mechanical change.
Units can no longer see everything within a certain radius; instead, they have proper lines of sight, so if there's an enemy squad on the other side of a house, you may only know of its presence once you walked over there and started getting shot. Smoke affects this dynamic LoS system, so if a tank gets shot up in the middle of a narrow street, it makes the area both a chokepoint as well as a fantastic ambush spot. The LoS system basically redefines the use of ambushes, as now you can pretty much set them up or experience them anywhere. Tracks are persistent, so you can tell if a bunch of tanks has gone through an area, and well-researched players may even be able to tell which tank made the tracks.
Numerous small touches also handle the setup of the game mechanics. Units can now vault cover, which was sometimes a source of frustration in the original. Icy surfaces can wreak havoc with vehicle handling, with a tank slipping and sliding on the surface of a frozen lake. The same type of AI used in the Skirmish mode of the original is now used in the campaign mode for the sequel, and it could help keep things a bit more dynamic. The original was far from broken, but the changes in CoH2 are certainly welcome additions to address the flaws of the original and help expand the gameplay.
The focus on the Eastern Front allows for the exploration of the Russian side of the conflict, which wasn't covered in the original title. Alongside all of the new units, vehicles and weapons comes the incorporation of the notorious Order 227, which had commissars fire upon any Russian soldier retreating from the field of battle. During one pitched firefight where a Russian squad was pinned down, they chose to retreat, so the poor bastards were running and getting shot in the back by German MG42s while commissars were gunning down any that successfully made it back to the Russian lines.
Company of Heroes 2 is slated for release next year, so we're going to have to wait a bit more. The authenticity and epic feel seem to be fully intact, and the sequel seems to adhere to the same direction as the original while still coming across as a bigger and better game. The game is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to the original, and that in itself is no small feat.
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