R E L I C N E W S . C O M
MULTIPLAYER HANDS ON
Welcome to the Relicnews Company of Heroes Multiplayer preview. I recently traveled to London to be shown a multiplayer-enabled build of Company of Heroes 2 (http://www.companyofheroes.com/) and contained below are my impressions of the game as stands.
Much like the single-player hands on previously published (which can be read here) it’s worth stressing that these impressions are based on a non-final build of the game and are particularly susceptible to change before launch, not to mention the barrage of balance patches that will undoubtedly drop post-launch.
This article is split into two parts, one addressing the major changes to the Company of Heroes 2 pre-game and the other addressing the various changes/improvements over the original Company of Heroes and the previous versions of this game that have we’ve covered before.
Multiple Map Versions
Clearer Blizzard Mechanics
Balance and Beta
Was it fun?
The pre-game options refer to the following choices that are made before the player enters the battlefield:
Each of these options is explored in more detail below.
Specialised commanders make a return in Company of Heroes 2, but unlike the original where each army had just three ability trees to choose from with two branches, the Commander system in the new title takes this formula and tweaks it somewhat.
As a player you have a pool of commanders to choose from, three of which you can take with you into a given match. Each Commander comes with 5 abilities at their disposal which can vary from passive always-on upgrades for your troops to artillery strikes to access to special units such as halftrack-mounted mortars. The intention with the Commander pool seems to be to furnish yourself with a wide variety of options that compliment your play-style and also protect you against certain powerful enemy tactics.
When you enter the game proper your three chosen Commanders are listed on the right-hand side of the screen with a circular indicator below. At any point you can choose the one you want for the remainder of the match, though you might delay until you know what the enemy is planning. As you fight during the match and gain in-game XP you’ll see the indicator fill up whether you’ve chosen a particular Commander or not. Once you’ve selected your Commander their five abilities become visible, though access is to them is restricted until you’ve gathered the requisite in-game XP by destroying enemy units, with each progressive ability requiring a larger amount to unlock. Unlike in the first game you don’t actively choose and spend XP to gain abilities, the abilities just become available as you accumulate the required XP which doesn’t reset during the match.
The main out-of-game choice here is choosing your selection of 3 Commanders from the up to 7 available (it’s unknown how many you can choose from out of the box). You can expand your options to the full seven by unlocking them as your user profile gains XP through the game’s single and multiplayer modes. Also, it’s been confirmed that additional Commanders will be available as DLC and as it stands Steam is offering a free unlock as part of an incentive offer to preorder from them though it’s unclear if this is a DLC Commander or a built-in one. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the DLC-variety Commanders are intended to bring along with them new or variant unit types as part of the purchase when they drop post-launch.
WE ASKED if some Commander Archetypes are sold as DLC, what happens if a paid Commander turns out to be the most effective one?
THEY ANSWERED that they’ll apparently be working hard to make sure the Commanders are balanced and are not looking to sell more powerful Commanders as DLC. They say they’re looking to give people more options and variety described as ”looking to go sideways rather than upwards”. They said they’ll be carefully monitoring the relative Commander strengths and adjusting accordingly.
This was one of the more surprising aspects of the day as I certainly hadn’t heard anything about these before.
Intelligence Bulletins were explained to us as pamphlets that were given out to troops to explain various things, such as the weak points of enemy vehicles like the German Tiger tank. These served two purposes, firstly to allow troops to effectively engage a given vehicle but also to encourage them that the enemy was not invincible and could be beaten.
How this is being implemented as a gameplay feature is in the form of various individual power-ups that a player can unlock by various gameplay actions. The example we were given (Not necessarily a finalised in-game example) was that when a player had successfully destroyed twenty Tiger tanks with anti-tank guns they would unlock a powerup that gave their anti-tank guns a bonus against heavy armour. Other (possibly theoretical) examples I was given were giving your troops more resistance to artillery or various other damage reductions or bonuses for some or all of your army.
Though we weren’t able to use these ourselves they certainly sound interesting. I was able to confirm with a Relic developer that all of these unlockable Bulletins are achievable solely by playing the game and that none need to be paid for, though having unlock conditions do suggest that certain ones will be much harder to get hold of than others.
WE ASKED if somebody has more Intelligence Bulletins than their opponent, won’t they have an unfair advantage? What about new players, especially?
THEY ANSWERED that similarly to the Commander choices they’ll be looking to make the Intelligence Bulletins balanced with each other and that at least some of the Bulletins will be relatively straightforward to get hold of while still being generally useful, with the intention that harder-to-get Bulletins will merely be offering additional specialisations rather than just making an army more powerful than an army without those particular Bulletins.
There’s not so much to say here except that you’re able to mix and match from the skins you have available, for light, medium and heavy vehicles. These historically accurate Skins are mostly paid DLC (sadly no mention of historically inaccurate choices) but are also available as pre-order bonuses from various places. it’s worth noting that as stands the pre-order skins will remain exclusive to pre-orders and won’t be sold post-launch. Though a small point, it’s worth mentioning that the pre-orders tend to be just for that particular class. For example, below is the Origin pre-order for a heavy vehicle skin and my understanding is that the same pattern will be available to purchase for the other classes of vehicle, though you’ll still need the pre-order skin for the full set. Additionally, for every skin there are winter and summer versions for no extra cost that will activate depending on the map you play.
Origin’s preorder skin, for example
Changes to the game itself
Some things haven’t noticeably changed from the first preview here but listed below are the notable changes that I became aware of during play or by during the initial presentation about the game:
Various systems were in place in the original game and its expansions to deal with veterancy, and Relic have said before this was something they’ve been thinking about a lot. New to this version were extra abilities units can unlock once they’ve accumulated enough combat experience (indicated by a yellow bar filling up on the unit portrait). For example, it’s possible to unlock a counter-artillery mode for your mortar team that returns fire automatically at any enemy artillery in range.
In the previous version at Eurogamer each territory started blank and it could be modified by constructing a small building that changed it to an Ammo or Fuel-generating territory.
In the current version this has been modified to be somewhat closer to the original Company of Heroes as certain territories now grant a large income of Fuel or Ammo while captured and are marked as such on the game map. It’s also worth mentioning that all territories now grant a small amount of Ammo and Fuel along with their normal Manpower.
There is still the option to upgrade territories through the mechanic of building directly on a given capture point in the same way as the original game’s listening posts. Once this is done it causes the territory to provide you with additional Ammo or Fuel production, but presumably less effectively than capturing one of the ‘large’ Ammo or Fuel points.
Another change is that the number of territories on a given map is much lower than the original games, down from around 22 in the original game to 12 in the average CoH2 map, apparently to limit this “exponential requirement in brain power” that it took to manage that many in the original. The same mechanics of capturing behind enemy lines to cut off supply from forward territories exist from the original but it seems like the maps are being designed to allow this as part of their design rather than as a by-product of having so many territories.
Upkeep is getting a look at as well, an often-forgotten mechanic from the original which meant your income was reduced by having more troops in the field. This allowed for a degree of rubber-banding when a player is behind for whatever reason and also slowed down the deployment of huge armies. Relic didn’t go into detail, but they’re hoping to make this much clearer in this version so hopefully all players will at least be aware of its effects.
Multiple map versions
Heavily tied to the previous point Relic confirmed there will be multiple layouts of each of the maps. So there will be the ‘front-line’ variant which has the resources more symmetrically laid out to cater to competitive play, getting the map symmetry down to the level where balance is easier for Relic to deal with. There will also be the ‘battlefield’ variant, described as a “more asymmetrical map that’s designed to promote tactical play and also engage different areas of the map”. They’ve said the maps feel very different when you play the variants and it allows them to get a lot more coverage (used area) of each map. We weren’t able to compare the different versions ourself on the day, unfortunately, but it is encouraging to see these kind of avenues being explored for the game.
In a very surprising development as stands it’s actually possible to play as both German and Soviet on both sides of a team game, allowing German & Soviet vs Soviet and German teams. This was an option missing from the original presumably for authenticity reasons and when questioned if this would remain in the retail game I was told that it was possible, but potentially only as a feature of non-ranked custom games. It’s still up in the air, but apparently as stands will be part of the upcoming beta test for the game.
An interesting ability that became apparent during play were firstly the ability of the German Grenadier unit to construct trenches on the battlefield, similarly to the British army in the first game. These trenches differ in that they also have, for a cost, the ability to deploy large quantities of land mines and barbed wire in a seemingly random formation around them. I’m not sure if it’ll be implemented this way in the final release but it’s certainly interesting visually to be able to generate an entrenched position so quickly.
Clearer blizzard mechanics
These weren’t fully implemented in this version, but concerns were raised in the previous build of the game that it wasn’t clear when blizzards were about to start and finish. Relic plan ultimately to have timers and audio cues available to make this completely clear, and these were partially implemented in the version we played so it’s definitely on the way.
Balance and betas
Relic stated that the reason for the multiple upcoming betas for the game are to try to get the armies balanced as best as possible pre-release and to try and get to the sweet spot of having all units be useful. They want the armies to be effective as combined arms, with even a tough durable tank needing infantry to scout and to capture territory, for example.
The Post-Game screen
Similarly to games like Starcraft II, Company of Heroes 2 now has a detailed breakdown of your actions in the post-game information, along with various statistics about your most and least effective units. Personally, I’m looking forward to being able to get a much better picture of why a game was won or lost as you can also compare your build orders and actions directly with any other player in the game.
Was it fun?
It was a whole heck of a lot of fun. I never expected there to be so much revealed at one event, but everything I’ve seen so far has made me very optimistic for this game turning out great. Even putting everything else aside I enjoyed winning but I also enjoyed getting hammered at the game, and that seems as good a recommendation as any.
I hope I’ve been able to address at least a few of the many questions I’m sure you’ll have but even with a huge amount of additional time to play I wouldn’t have been able to scratch the surface of what’s there to be seen.
As it stands it appears that Relic are doing a great job of taking an already incredible game and not screwing up the formula, instead building on what was there and hopefully allowing the series to get that much closer to its full potential. There are understandable concerns about the previously-unexplained new mechanics and DLC but the pitfalls seem to have been avoided thus far.
It seems very much a labour of love for these guys and the amount of forward thinking on the project is obvious even from just hearing them talking about it, so I’ve personally got high hopes for the game’s future.
This isn’t the last preview for Company of Heroes 2 by any means, so we’ll keep you posted on Relicnews as we get hold of more information in the new year.
Click here to return to the table of contents.