Now that Relic has finally taken off the wraps off the multiplayer portion of Company of Heroes 2, we chatted with global communication manager Simon Watts about how the game has changed since 2006, and whether it needed to change.
On how online multiplayer changed in the past six years: "eSports has become a lot more important in the past six years, but it's also become more multiplayer savvy. That has done us a lot of favors, and the RTS genre a lot of favors just because there are a lot more strategy players out there. When you think about the fact that a [Massively Online Battle Arena] game is actually a strategy game of a type, you've got tens of millions of new players who are now versed in strategy. So I think there's a more diverse player base. We'd love to see Company of Heroes 2 become an eSports title. We're definitely going to see what we can do to facilitate making that happen."
On winter's effect on multiplayer: "The winter makes for a very different type of game, and players are going to have to adjust their thinking between the summer and the winter setups, which is something we really wanted for this game. It adds that variety, that tactical uncertainty, and it makes it so that you don't have that one tactic you use in every single match. You see that the match is winter, so you think, 'Alright, I was going to go heavy infantry, but maybe I'm going to go more mechanized.' Or vice versa. One blizzard could also be your savior because it forces an opponent to kind of hunker down and wait for it to end. We think that it could be something really exciting for the competitive game."
On whether the random elements will turn off competitive players: "It's not so much luck really. Tactical RTS is about being a smart commander and making smart decisions on the fly. If they're a great player, it shouldn't be just about having one build order. If a blizzard blows in, they should be ready to adapt to that. If they don't have a contingency, they aren't a great player. That's what strategy is all about. You're making those decisions during the battle, not before the battle. The weather elements also aren't completely unpredictable. If a blizzard blows in, you know how to stop the infantry, how to move the troops across the ground in those conditions. The only random factor is not knowing when the blizzard will blow in."
Players will need to be able to adapt to blizzards to survive.
On infantry strategy and Katyusha rockets: "Vehicles are obviously very important in the winter because they're not as susceptible to the cold, but there are also infantry units you can use. For instance, sniper units aren't as susceptible to the cold, so you can use those guys. Staging mortars is also still a viable tactic, you just need engineers to build fire pits in the area where you want to set those guys up. But yeah, vehicles obviously come into their own on winter maps because of their mobility, but they're also vulnerable in close environment. Without infantry support, it's really easy for a vehicle to get taken out by something like an anti-tank gun that's been hidden around a corner. You need infantry to support them in the battle.
"Winter obviously involves a degree of hunkering down as well. If you see a building, it's easy to hunker down, and you won't be affected by the cold. But that also plays into the scorched earth policy, which is a real thing from World War II. Every building in our game is destructible, so if they're hiding, you can use flamethrowers, artillery, things like that to burn them down and deny your opponent their cover. The Russians have the Katyusha Rockets, which can level a whole football field. They're a bit of a glass cannon, but a couple of those can destroy anything. The Germans were terrified of them. So camping out and hunkering down in the cold is not a viable strategy against a good player."
On whether Soviet numerical superiority gives them an early game advantage: "The Russians can definitely field a lot of units in the early game, but I wouldn't necessarily say they have the advantage, because the German units are definitely stronger. It depends on the player techniques. If the German units dig in and get cover, they can probably hold out, but they can also get overwhelmed. A German commander really needs to focus on gathering resources and teching up to be able to start building their technologically advanced upgrades because that's where there strategy is. As a Soviet player, you can leave the teching up a little bit longer and just focus on numbers before vehicles. But from the very beginning, the Germans will have the advantage in firepower."
The Soviet Katyusha rocket launcher, also know as Stalin's Organ
On whether CoH2 is that different from the original: "We didn't want to change the essence of what it was. We have a really successful game, and we didn't want to change it up. We didn't want to revolutionize the model, just enhance it and improve it in as many ways as possible. It will still feel like Company of Heroes, but it will be better. The line of sight improvements will change the way you approach engagements, we'll have the dynamic weather systems, things like that.
"The thing is, the strategy genre hasn't really moved that far. Yes, six years ago, we were the first RTS to have 10 individually modeled fingers on our soldiers, and we still have that. But we have a lot more detail as well. I don't think anyone is doing weather like we are; no one else is doing line of sight like we are. I can't think of anything coming up that's nearly as good looking as we are. So from a technological standpoint, we're still pushing the envelope. I would say that we're still right up there in terms of technology."
Russians have the numbers, but Germans have stronger units