Company of Heroes has long been regarded as one of the best RTS experiences available. Forgoing the traditional base building and resource management of most games in the genre, CoH focused on unit management. This difference, as well as some amazing graphics, top notch combat and excellent historical accuracy allowed it to stand apart from the crowd and gain a massive dedicated fan base that is still playing to this very day. This means the recently announced CoH2 has a lot to live up to. I recently had the chance to talk with Simon Watts, creative manager on the project, about fan expectations and how the team at Relic Entertainment is looking to improve the game for both fans and newcomers to the series.
The first thing I asked about was accessibility. The original game was quite difficult with a steep learning curve. Was there was going to be a more gentle approach to the second game? Watts felt that accessibility was important but, on the flipside, that any dumbing down of the gameplay would alienate the existing fans. The plan is to use the campaign to slowly introduce new players to the mechanics and gradually build their confidence. He went on to say that Relic spent a lot of time improving the game’s skirmish AI so that players will be able to use these matches as training for online competition.
Following down this line, I asked if CoH2 was going to be radically different from the first game. Watts was very clear in his response, stating that what they wanted to do was evolve the gameplay of the well-loved first instalment and improve on areas they felt were a little rough. He went on to say that players of the first game will find themselves right at home but will still find plenty of new tactics, systems and units to enhance their experience. He explained the cover and line of sight systems have both had a massive upgrade making them more realistic and approachable, but at the same time the game still feels like CoH and not a new franchise.
I then took the opportunity to tell Watts a personal tale of my experiences with the original game. I used to employ the first game as a benchmark tool for new PCs and graphics cards. For its time, it had amazingly realistic graphics and an astounding level of detail. Was this graphical realism a focus in CoH2? Were they striving again to push PCs to their limits? Watts stated the new Essence 3 engine had allowed them to create a game that is highly adaptable to various levels of PC hardware. Supporting both Direct X 9 and 11 as well as having large amount of scalable detail options has enabled them to create a game that will play on as many PCs as possible. He was clear that if players have a top of the range PC the game will look incredible, but that there will be a much lower barrier of entry for low end PCs.
CoH2 switches the main faction from the USA to the USSR so I asked about the impact that this will have on gameplay. Historical accuracy is very important to the experience according to Watts. He described the Russians as the ‘Hammer’ faction, less technologically adept than the Germans, they approach battles in a “force of numbers” style. More units are used in the Russian army than any other faction in CoH but these units are not individually as effective as those from other armies. The Russians were given an order by Stalin that stated that all retreating soldiers would be put to death and this has resulted in an aggressive style of play where retreat just isn’t an option and there is a constant need to push forward. On the other hand the German faction plays very differently, less a hammer and more a scalpel. Technologically superior to the Russians, the Germans rely on precision rather than force of arms to win any battle.
Finally I asked about the inevitable multiplayer component of the game. Unfortunately Watts was more tight-lipped about this, saying he was not able to give me too many details as to which factions would appear and how multiplayer had changed. He did however confirm that both the Russians and Germans would be appearing in the multiplayer mode. He also stated that the German army from the Eastern front is significantly different to the German army from the Western front and these differences will be important to the multiplayer experience.
That was sadly where my time with Watts ended. From my brief time, it is clear that Relic software is on the path to improving one of the most loved strategy games available. The focus on historical accuracy as well as the introduction of a battlefield rarely seen in video games is something that will be appreciated by gamers sick of the same old locations and units. If Watts is any indication, CoH2 is in the hands of a very enthusiastic group, keen to give fans the best WW2 strategy experience possible.