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Hands On With Company Of Heroes 2: The Western Front Armies

A fresh spin on a familiar war.

As Relic returned to their seminal World War 2 strategy series, in Company of Heroes 2, they shifted focus quite dramatically from the war on the western front that had been at the heart of the first game and its expansions, to the Eastern Front, with the bitter and brutal fighting between the Soviet forces and the German invaders.

However, in carrying on with their traditional series of follow ups, they’re returning to their old stomping grounds in late June with the aptly titled The Western Front Armies. They’re also sticking to their guns with regard to distributing this expansion as a standalone release, meaning that there’s no need to own the original Company of Heroes 2 game to play, but the two are related and compatible with one another.

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In terms of the armies themselves, the expansion will naturally see the US Forces, a name which implies some fairly broad strokes have been made in creating it. It seems to be trying to capture the overall essence of the US military at the time, with a focus on flexibility, getting the most firepower out of limited manpower and, of course, paratroopers.

They’re actually quite surprisingly distinct and different to the various armies which we saw in the first game and its various expansions. It starts with the base, which is quite unlike anything that’s gone before. While you still have individual buildings, they’re all erected within a single tight and circular encampment, gently reminiscent of the clichéd circle of wagons in the Wild West. However, it’s really flexible, in that it houses several upgrade points, where you can instantly equip a unit with better weaponry.

It’s a flexibility which can be seen in almost every facet of the army. Vehicles can de-crew, for example, which does leave them far more vulnerable than staying behind metal, but means that your tanks and vehicles can now head out and capture control points for you.

Dropping in paratroops has also been improved, allowing you to do this at any point on the map, but with a varying degree of risk. Sending them deep into the fog of war is generally unwise, but the option is there, and there’s an improved interface, with a circle that scales and has chevrons to indicate wind direction simply and effectively. Helping you back them up, you can also drop in unmanned machine guns and anti-tank cannons.

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It all adds up to an army that, at first blush, seems to be light and nimble. That’s something which stands in contrast to the similarly broad strokes of the Oberkommando West. It brings together the ideas of the German’s technological superiority at the time, with heavily mechanised forces and particularly fearsome tanks, but also the lack of resources that led to the ambitious surprise attack at the Battle of the Bulge.

Here too, a large part of the individuality comes from the base building, with the army running off the backs of trucks. As you capture territory, you can play with the risk and reward of driving what are effectively your base buildings out to control points, to create a forward base of sorts and give a visual twist and bulge-like look to the minimap. You gain more resources for doing so, but it leaves part of your infrastructure vulnerable, even if these trucks are then dug in and surrounded by sandbags.

However, for me the real joy of the Oberkommando West comes with the tanks. Having seen my US army be wiped out by a single King Tiger, I was pretty eager to turn the tables and unleash my own on the AI, and it was great fun to see it leading the charge for me.

Of course, the rustiness that saw the King Tiger wipe me out was also the reason why I let it get separated and ultimately destroyed by the AI’s heavy guns, which again plays into the risk/reward balance of the army. Things like the Sturmtiger tank need the crew to actually get out to reload its gigantic gun, making them terribly vulnerable, while the loss of any of these expensive tank units will difficult to recover from.

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The focus of the expansion is strictly a multiplayer one, with a fresh set of eight new maps on the Western Front to go alongside the new armies. Alongside this pack comes a new method of delivering content to the game, called Warspoils, which gives them a lot more flexibility to get new maps, units, skins and so on to the players.

Ultimately, while it’s nice to return to the Western Front, I hope this is a stepping stone to other theatres of war. The move to the east was an intriguing aspect of Company of Heroes 2, and I’d personally love to see Relic tackle similarly fresh and distinct locations, such as the fight in North Africa or even the war that raged in the Pacific.

One Comment
  1. ron_mcphatty
    Member
    Since: Sep 2008

    This sounds great, the first game is sat shamefully low on my backlog and I only bought it because I enjoyed Dawn of War and was told CoH was basically the same but with less orcs and more Nazis! I’ll probably never get around to CoH2, but having seen a few YouTube videos I’m very impressed.

    Comment posted on 29/05/2014 at 22:09.
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