When Company of Heroes publisher THQ went to the wall in 2012, the future of Relic’s sequel to their acclaimed 2006 WWII PC real-time strategy game seemed in doubt. Sega stepped in, themselves no strangers to the genre being publishers of the Total War games, and in June 2013 they released Company of Heroes 2.
Late last year Sega released Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault, the first standalone expansion for the game.
The Company of Heroes games are RTS affairs generally played in an isometric camera view- although this view can be adjusted to suit players’ tastes. Players control individual squads on relatively small maps, compared with other RTS games out there. The focus on individual units gives the game a more personal feel rather than having you pushing huge nondescript battalions about.
The main campaign in Company of Heroes 2 focuses on the plight of our Russian allies fighting on the Eastern Front, from Operation Barbarossa to the Battle of Berlin (1941-1945). For Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault the action switches back to the United States European campaign.
The decisive battle in the Ardennes forest, also known as The Battle of the Bulge, was a potential turning point in the war. Allied troops on the Western Front were marching towards the German homeland. The cold winter of 1944 had, however, grounded the superior allied air force and, without vital air support, the troops were left cold, hungry and vulnerable.
Taking a leaf out of Total War the path of conflict can be determined using a strategic meta-map. From here, players can choose in what order to play the missions and turn the tide of the war against the Germans. The expansion features 11 new missions and seven engagements. With every failure I found that elements of the mission objectives changed, keeping the game fresh, rather than have me repeating scenarios until successful. This and the non-linear way that the campaign is controlled from the meta-map give the game a bit more replayability than your usual RTS.
As with the main Company of Heroes 2 and its predecessor, Ardennes Assault looks smashing. You can almost feel the biting cold as you watch your frozen men traipse through the snow-covered terrain. Whilst the attention to detail is amazing from afar, the action still looks fantastic from when zoomed right in, the visuals not far off that of a first-person shooter.
The campaign gives players control of three historic companies: the airborne Able Company, the mechanized Baker Company and the support units of Dog Company. Each company has a different commanding officer with his own abilities. You really have to adjust your strategy depending on which outfit you are playing. Which each company having their own skill tree, no two players’ games are going to be the same.
The more well-heel fans can add a fourth company to their game, the rangers of Fox Company, available as DLC. Company of Heroes 2 isn’t shy when it comes to DLC, with countless small bits of DLC available for a handful of dollars. Ardennes Assault’s Fox Company only costs US$4.99, but if you add the cost of all the additional squads, maps and extras it is quite a significant outlay. You don’t have to buy the extras, but it’s worth noting- especially as the game likes to constantly reminder you via in game advertising that there’s more content available.
My only real gripe with Ardennes Assault is really the same issue I’ve have since the first Company of Heroes game, namely the lack of a decent zoom out on the camera. The game has us commanding small units of a handful of men each and individual mechanized units. Things get very busy and the ability to pull right out rather than rely on a tiny mini-map for a macro view would’ve been nice. It’s easy to forget about a unit – sometimes they are difficult to spot against the vegetation – and have them wiped out by the enemy.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault admirably continues the legacy of this now classic series. It looks great and is extremely engrossing. The game offers some deep strategy whilst at the same time being very accessible. Hardcore combat strategy fans used to the likes of the Wargame series may find things a little pedestrian, but this is a game with a story to tell, and it does so very well.