Company of Heroes 2 preview

The first Company of Heroes game is beloved by many, and rightfully so. Relic Entertainment's World War II RTS pushed the envelope in so many ways, with its bleeding-edge tech and intimate focus on infantry-level tactics. Its campaign was ambitious as well, spanning the "greatest hits" of the Battle for Normandy. With such a storied legacy, how can Relic possibly build upon the formula? By taking the war to the Eastern Front, of course. With more than 30 million dead, the Eastern Front of World War II is largely considered the deadliest conflict in human history. Capturing the massive scale and brutality of that theater of battle requires brand new tech, one that should make the seven year wait for a sequel more tolerable. focalbox Taking place during the winter of 1942, Company of Heroes 2 will explore the "Rzhev meat grinder," a series of battles where the Soviet army lost a million men. And during gameplay, you'll see the many ways these soldiers lost their lives: grenades, tanks, and worst of all, Order No. 270. A cutscene showed this brutal order in action--proving Relic is unafraid to show the less-honorable aspects of this part of the war. Essence 3.0 is the new engine powering COH2, and thanks to DirectX 11 support, it looks terrific. But Essence offers much more than a shiny coat of paint. It also powers the real-time snow and fire effects, crucial to the sequel's gameplay. Snow is "not just a flat texture," Relic explained to us. Instead, it is a 3D object that players will have to deal with. Traversal will involve constant decision-making: do you take the open road, or risk being encumbered by walking through deep snow? In one battle, I saw a unit get decimated as they were unable to run away through the thick snow. Fire also plays a crucial role in gameplay, as buildings can be set aflame. Using a flamethrower, a Soviet soldier set a house on fire, causing black billows of snow to puff out the sides. Nazi soldiers were smoked out, and gunned down as they ran out. Soon afterwards, glowing embers started to appear, as the house lit up in a bright fire, smoldering moments later.

Flamethrowers play a big role in COH2

While navigating around the snowy environment is one of the biggest additions to COH2's gameplay, there are other changes to consider as well. For example, the game's signature cover system returns, but this time with the ability to vault over cover as well. However, the biggest change affects the "fog of war" system. Relic calls it "TrueSight," as your field of vision is determined by your soldiers' actual field of sight. Smoke grenades, fog, foliage, and buildings can obscure your troops' vision, and you'll only be able to see what they can physically see. TrueSight changes the dynamic of vehicles in the game. Getting ambushed by a tank, for example, will be devastating. However, the overwhelming power of tanks is offset by their poor vision. Although we only saw about ten minutes of the game in action, Company of Heroes 2 already has us excited. With a compelling new setting, beautiful visuals, and intriguing new gameplay mechanics, Company of Heroes 2 might just be able to live up to the original's legacy. Expect it on PC in 2013.
Watch the Shacknews E3 2012 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. This preview is based on a hands-off demo shown at a pre-E3 event.