Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer preview: winter of discontent

If any game can do winter right, it's Company of Heroes 2. It's just too bad that few people are apt to notice it in multiplayer.

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Company of Heroes 2's tagline is "Winter if Coming." With the Soviets serving as the primary protagonists this time around, such a (faux) tagline makes sense. It is, after all, very cold in Mother Russia. But how will that affect the multiplayer? For a rather large contingent of fans, this is not a trivial question. The original Company of Heroes remains one of the most popular traditional real-time strategy games this side of StarCraft, and it retains a devoted multiplayer following. Much of that appeal is derived from sheer novelty. Where StarCraft, Command & Conquer, and every other RTS are high-speed clickfests, Company of Heroes is slow and realistic. It prides itself on simulating a real battlefield. So what's the problem? Shouldn't a new weather type add an interesting new wrinkle to the tried and true Company of Heroes formula? Well, yes. But as in the normal campaign, there are a couple potential downsides to consider as well. Among them, it's possible that people just won't want to play in the snow. Competitive players are notoriously fickle about random elements; they frown upon anything that might throw off their mojo. "Final Destination, no items"--a reference to the hyper-serious Smash Bros. community's love of flat levels in the normally kinetic party game--became a meme for a reason. Serious players just don't want anything else on their mind while trying to destroy their enemies. But winter, if not random, is certainly an element that demands attention. Its chief feature is that blizzards deal damage over time to soldiers and kill them. Entire armies can fall through glare ice and perish, losing the game for one side in an instant. Snow reduces mobility. Fires have to be built to compensate for the cold; or, if possible, vehicles. Lots of vehicles. On a new map based on Rzhev, a real life battlefield where more than one million Soviets ended up dead or injured, opted for the latter. Rather than risk an early confrontation in the freezing cold, the prevailing strategy was to rush up the tech tree to vehicles that can ferry soldiers around without them getting hypothermia. After that, it was all tanks, all the time (and rockets too). This all makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. In the past, snow has just been another tileset; a nice aesthetic change, but nothing more. In the realistic world of Company of Heroes, it's only natural that your soldiers should be freezing to death in the midst of a driving blizzard. Some players may even embrace that brutal reality. More likely though, players will go out of their way to avoid it; because quite frankly, playing in the winter time takes some getting used to.

Freezing to death is a real factor for soldiers in the game

Over here on the press side, even seasoned Company of Heroes veterans are getting chewed up and spat out by the winter tilesets. The number of x-factors involved with the snow raises the degree of difficulty considerably; and with summer maps also available, it's easy to say "Screw that" and go with a somewhat more traditional approach. Competitive players, so sensitive about those random elements, will undoubtedly do just that. Luckily though, even without one of Company of Heroes 2's signature features, the multiplayer still feels fresh and exciting after all these years. Apart from the snow maps, Relic is bringing a raft of features to the table, including personal profiles with ribbons and medals that can be earned through multiplayer achievements. Relic has also retooled the command ability trees, and the result is both easy-to-understand and strategically significant. Essentially, either the Germans or Russians can bring three commanders and their unique set of abilities with them to any given battle. One commander can power up infantry, for example, and bring powerful artillery barrages to bear while a Stuka JU-87 patrols overhead. Another commander is much more defensive in nature, allowing players to dig in and play defense with the help of special emplacements and the ability to call in relief infantry. You can choose from one of these commanders at any point in the battle once they've charged up; but once you've committed to one commander, you're stuck with them. For that reason, it's usually good to see how the battle is going before calling in a commander. If you're losing, one well-placed super tank might turn the tide of battle. If you're winning, then defense is called for. Calling in the right commander at the right time can be one of those most critical decisions of a game. Beyond that, Company of Heroes 2 is mostly notable for the Soviets, who stand in stark contrast to the more technologically capable Germans. The Soviets, true to form, are able to get to light tanks and other weapons much faster than their Nazi counterparts, and their soldiers are much easier to train, though they lack raw power in a stand-up fight. Being able to get to vehicles faster also makes the Russians more capable in the snow early on, which will doubtlessly make them the faction of choice for those who are keen to dispense with building fires and just want to roll over the opposition. Of course, that's assuming that people don't go out of their way to avoid winter maps (don't put it past people to simply quit if they see a hint of snow). Knowing the gaming population at large, many are apt to do just that. In the end, dealing with snow isn't really that hard once you've adapted to it; but a lot of people are unlikely to see it that way after watching their infantry freeze to death. Summer maps will be Company of Heroes 2's equivalent of "Final Destination." It's kind of a shame, really, because of all seasons, winter is the one most apt to have a major effect on people's strategies. As in real life, they will have to think twice before charging out into the snow; and though it slows the pace of the already reserved Company of Heroes even further, it fits in rather well with the game's "war is hell" approach to defensive combat. If any game can do winter right, it's Company of Heroes 2. It's just too bad that few people are apt to notice.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 10, 2012 9:00 AM

    Kat Bailey posted a new article, Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer preview: winter of discontent.

    If any game can do winter right, it's Company of Heroes 2. It's just too bad that few people are apt to notice it in multiplayer.

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      December 10, 2012 9:26 AM

      Looks awesome, what the heck though I thought this was F2P it looks like it's not anymore or am I on drugz?

      Thank god I am so happy if that is the case --> http://store.steampowered.com/app/55300/ say SP and is a full price game, cool :)

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        December 10, 2012 9:45 AM

        Command & Conquer will be F2P. I don't think this ever was.

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          December 10, 2012 9:53 AM

          Blah thanks Keef that is what it was, not sure why I got it mixed up, thanks :)

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            December 10, 2012 10:10 AM

            COH was always a retail game but they put out COH online which was a F2P. Kind of like what ARMA did with ARMA Free.

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      December 10, 2012 9:58 AM

      I want this game already.

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      December 10, 2012 11:46 AM

      CoH is so fun, but it is not a competitive game. The randomness makes it not fun.

      Same with Dawn of War.

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        December 10, 2012 12:01 PM

        [deleted]

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        December 10, 2012 12:15 PM

        No the randomness is what makes it fun and makes it more interesting from a competition standpoint. Thats why it never got stale for me even after all these years. I can't touch a game like starcraft anymore... balanced or not.

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          December 10, 2012 12:46 PM

          Agreed. I look forward to playing with you guys in a few months.

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        December 10, 2012 1:10 PM

        Haven't played COH multiplayer, but what's random in Dawn of War?

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        December 10, 2012 1:50 PM

        There really isn't a lot of demand for non-Blizzard competitive RTS games. I think Relic has carved out a nice niche by focusing on bombast and destruction in their games.

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        December 10, 2012 2:01 PM

        I sort of agree with you. It sucks when a sniper misses and it costs you the game. There's not much fun about losing due to a random event.

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          December 10, 2012 2:04 PM

          I don't think a sniper hitting a shot should be vital to your strategy then? Plenty of room to allow for some bad luck in a game; it might skew battles but doesn't determine the outcome of a game.

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            December 10, 2012 2:44 PM

            It definitely effects the outcome. A single unit's survival can effect the outcome of a match in CoH. Snipers are worth 340 manpower. Losing one early in the game will most likely cause you to lose.

            Using a sniper to kill another player's sniper is a viable strategy, except for the 5% of the time when a sniper misses and you end up losing yours instead. It's not good game design.

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              December 10, 2012 3:15 PM

              It is though, it makes for DRAMATIC MOMENTS, like when the counter-snipe also misses! I really shouldn't comment as I haven't played CoH multiplayer at all, but I've watched a ton of what I assume are high level games over the years and rarely did it seem like individual moments of bad luck determined the outcome. It's an amazing game to watch anyway. Every unit you field is a calculated risk of possible utility vs threat of wasted resources, I think it's a great system for a competitive game.

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                December 10, 2012 5:07 PM

                I find the level of randomness OK except when dealing with snipers. In other situations you can try to compensate by retreating, repairing, etc. The swing is also not as big with other units. It's either not much manpower lost due to chance, or it's later in the game when the loss of one unit is not as damaging.

                The problem with snipers is their cost, fragility, and the fact that they are tier 1. Losing 340 manpower in the first few minutes of the game is almost impossible to recover from vs good players.

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              December 10, 2012 3:30 PM

              [deleted]

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              December 11, 2012 12:38 AM

              Exactly this.

              I mean, the game is undeniably fun, but it is not fun competitively.

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      December 10, 2012 12:00 PM

      [deleted]

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      December 10, 2012 1:52 PM

      Kat Bailey? I have no idea who works for the shack anymore.

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        December 10, 2012 2:16 PM

        She's a freelancer that does the RPG podcast on 1UP every so often. Pretty legit episode last week about the Wii being the stealth RPG console of the generation.

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      December 11, 2012 12:54 AM

      Who is Kat Bailey?

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      December 16, 2012 1:44 AM

      Among them, it's possible that people just won't want to play in the snow. Competitive players are notoriously fickle about random elements; they frown upon anything that might throw off their mojo.

      Some people don't want to play in the spring with bunnies and flowers.

      Those "competitive players" should take off their diapers and take the soothers out of their mouths. War is not a sterile environment. Their skill means nothing if it can only be used in a controlled environment, and symmetrical maps are what killed rts multiplayer for me.

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        December 16, 2012 2:29 AM

        Forgot the quotations on the opening article quote. And symmetrical maps just suck and are uninteresting to play.

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          December 16, 2012 3:38 PM

          And asymmetrical maps are awesome sauce unless you have to start on the disadvantaged side in a competitive context.

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