At a Pre-E3 THQ event held last week, I had the chance to view a pre-recorded presentation from developers Relic Entertainment on the next big project – Company of Heroes 2. The name of the project should be enough to get strategy fans excited. After all, the original Company of Heroes from 2006 remains the highest rated real time strategy game of all time, so Relic have taken their time in considering where to go with the series. The result of the development so far looks very promising indeed.
Relic intend Company of Heroes 2 to be ‘more’ of what fans loved from the first game, rather than a ‘different’ or revolutionary experience. The game is set in World War II’s Eastern Front, as you become a commander of the Soviet Red Army. You get to take part in a series of battles known as the ‘Rhzev meatgrinder’ – so called due to the heavy losses the Russians suffered. There is a focus on this kind of grim realism – at one point in the mission I witnessed, several units refused to hold their position against the overpowering enemy and instead retreated. This triggered a cutscene where the commander ordered them to be shot immediately due to Order 227, forbidding retreating from the battlefield on pain of death.
The mission I saw took place on a snowy field. The wintery conditions of the battlefield made for some very cool effects, as particles of snow were blown across the screen and piles of snow were displaced by soldiers’ feet. The game is smart enough to use the snow in several strategic elements as well. For instance, areas steeped in snow are harder for your units to traverse and impede their speed. But, if artillery blasts the snow flat, your units can then move faster over the terrain.
Fire is also becomes an important element in Company of Heroes 2, as it can now spread across flammable surfaces. A cabin in the demo not only caught fire, but was destroyed realistically. The Essence Engine 3 allows effects like fire and snow to look great up close, as well as from a distance as you zoom from an almost third-person view on the battlefield to a more traditional overhead perspective.
Relic intend for infantry to become the most mobile force in the game, and to this end there’s a new vault-to-cover system. Through this, infantry have more access to cover as they can vault over walls to advance on enemies fluidly.
Vehicles have also been much more compelling, taking a far larger role in Company of Heroes 2 than they did in the original. Vehicle movement can be hindered or assistant by the environment, such as ice. Since tracks are permanent in the gameworld, they can be tracked by following their treads. Wrecks also become valuable cover points, although the smoke pluming from them can cause new problems.
Due to the new ‘True Sight’ system in Company of Heroes 2, the player’s vision of the field depends on their units’ line of sight, which is generated as realistically as possible. If a building is obstructing your units’ view of flanking soldiers, then you’ll be none the wiser. If smoke from a freshly exploded vehicle is being blown across the battlefield, this will also affect what you can and can’t see. Combined with what Relic are pitching as much more authentic AI, and Company of Heroes 2 looks to provide a more challenging experience that builds on its predecessor’s strengths.
As far as we’re aware, Company of Heroes 2 is set for a release in 2013, but hopefully we won’t have to wait long for more tidbits about this interesting and realistic extension of the series.