With THQ’s demise quite a few developers and games found themselves in a little spot of uncertainty earlier this year. In Relic’s case it was a fairly obvious studio to survive, with Sega seeming a natural place for them to land in many people’s opinions, thankfully meaning that Company of Heroes 2 was a case of “when” and not “if”.
With a new release date on the 25th of June and some extra time on their hands, Relic have naturally been able to lavish the title with extra layers of polish, but have also taken the opportunity to start work on additional content. One consequence of this is the recently announced ‘Theatre of War’ post-release pack, which those who pre-order will get for free, along with some other incentives.
At first glance it’s an interesting proposition, giving players additional missions that aim to compliment the main campaign. The main path seems to be the Solo Challenges, where you’ll be dropped into a level with particular gameplay style objectives to try and tackle.
The mission I tried saw me tasked with using Katyusha Rocket Trucks to destroy buildings occupied by Germans within a set time. You have to be quick and forceful to make it to the end, being careful to keep the Katyusha trucks safe while still having enough troops to push forwards and scout out more buildings to destroy, teaching you how to get the best out of your artillery in the process. I got taught a lesson, that’s for sure!
That pure objective mode stands in stark contrast to the AI Battles which will set you against a particular style of enemy AI, who might focus more on infantry specialisations, but both the challenges and battles are there to really teach you how to play the game away from the narrative led battles in the campaign.
It’s here that you can really learn the nitty-gritty of how best to use the army at your disposal, and it could be the perfect avenue to learn about how you handle the rather different German forces, as half the missions are for the Axis. As an offshoot of this there are also Co-op Scenarios, meaning you can team up with a friend for more than just multiplayer and plain AI skirmishes.
All told, it looks like a nice stepping stone which will expand on the Eastern Front battles featured in the story campaign, showing a variety of new battles and scenarios, whilst helping to prepare people for the totally different challenge of going online.
For more on Theatre of War and the rest of the game, we had a chance to sit down and chat with Jason Lee, Lead Designer on Company of Heroes 2:
TSA: First up, I think everyone is glad that Relic survived earlier this year. How has the transition to Sega been for you guys?
Jason Lee: Oh, like we’ve been working with them forever! It’s almost like there wasn’t a transition, you know? Nothing’s really changed and it was really smooth. In terms of our studio, it didn’t affect anybody, there was no disruption at all, maybe just how we send our email and stuff?
TSA: What has it been like returning to the grander scale of Company of Heroes compared to the more close up Dawn of War 2?
JL: We still wanted to keep that personal side, I mean that’s what CoH is all about. One of the reasons why we keep the camera at the distance that it is, is because we want the players to feel more intimate with their soldiers.
So when you play the campaign, we tell the story through one person, right? That’s something that’s a bit different to CoH, where it was more about the whole company. A big reason for that is because we want to tell the story from the ground level and the soldier’s perspective, and we wanted to show how decisions made from higher up affect them and the consequences of some of those decisions on the soldiers, the people that have to pay for it with their lives.
TSA: From the Western Front to the Eastern Front the war was a very different experience, and the Russian’s relied quite heavily on weight of numbers. How have you tried to reproduce that in the game whilst keeping this scale?
JL: A lot of it revolves around how you have conscripts that are always going forward to merge with squads. So it is about numbers and what the conscripts do is they add bodies and they’re there to reinforce and keep more elite troops from falling back, and holding that front line.
TSA: With CoH getting additional content for many years, it built up a lot of variety in units. With CoH2 wiping the slate clean, how diverse and broad are the new units you have?
JL: Well I can’t remember exactly how many units we have per side, but it’s even. On the German side we still have the badass tanks, the Panzer, the Tiger tanks. We have the Panzergrenadiers, and the classic heavy machine gun teams.
With the Soviets you have the T-34 and the IS-2, which is available through the commander tree. The Katyusha Rocket Truck and something that’s a little more unique is the SU-76, which is kind of like an anti-tank vehicle, but it’s an assault gun at the same time. So there’s a lot of new stuff in there.
TSA: Have you brought across the idea of having sub-divisions of the army? CoH eventually had American and British armies, the Panzergruppe and the standard German army. Do you have that kind of specialisation still in there?
JL: That’s kind of like what the commanders are there for, but in a bit of a different way. Even though you had infantry, airbourne, and that kind of stuff, some of those trees would have a certain advantage against another tree, so people waited until the other team picked their tree, then countered it. We didn’t want that anymore!
What our commander trees do is different. You have your base army, and it’s not to increase the power level of your army, but to give you more tools in your toolbox, so that they play just a little bit differently depending on which commander you pick.
TSA: One thing which is quite popular is co-op against the AI, and I spotted that you have co-op missions in the Theatre of War DLC. Has this been to give a different challenge for those kinds of players?
JL: The Theatre of War stuff is actually really cool, and something we’re really excited about. There are three main things that we wanted from this, and one is for it to be a fun and interactive tutorial for people to learn certain things about certain mechanics and how to execute them in a good way.
Also, the second thing is that we have a lot of players that don’t like playing against other people, they just like playing a lot of skirmishes. We wanted to give them other things to play, other than skirmishes.
The third is really that we’re hoping a player, after they’ve finished the campaign, that once they’ve mastered all of this they can make that transition to multiplayer a lot smoother. Going from campaign to multiplayer can be pretty rough.
TSA: So, as a whole, could you just explain briefly how Theatre of War works? I’ve tried one mission so far, which saw me having to destroy German occupied buildings against the clock. Are they all objective based and against the clock?
JL: So, they’re like challenges which are very hard tutorials. So they help you master how to play around with tanks, keep your armour facing forward, and how to flank other tanks. Challenges like that, which are tank combat, or there’s also sniper combat.
Others are more like skirmishes, or some which are more like a campaign mission, but add extra challenges rather than being just a scripted mission. So maybe you have to defend against waves, kind of like how you would in a DOTA game, or something.
Thanks to Jason for taking the time to talk to us. You can expect more CoH2 coverage in the coming weeks, as we run up to the game’s release for PC on the 25th of June.