Company of Heroes 2 (CoH2) is instantly different from the usual World War 2 game. You're representing Soviet Russia fighting back against the Germans in the brutal eastern front campaign of WW2. In the single player campaign you experience the story through Lieutenant Isakovich. He is in a Gulag being interrogated about his time in the war. The game quickly introduces how horrific it would have been fighting for the Soviet Army under Stalin - an endless sea of conscripts forced into service and thrown at the more power German army, retreat and your own commanders would have no hesitation in killing you. It is an angle I never expected to be explored in a high profile WW2 game. The German army were obviously the bad guys in the war, but the Soviets tactics seem only slightly lesser of two evils.
The single player campaign is surprisingly linear for a RTS game. Most of the time you just follow the objectives to continue forward; sometimes you push forward and the rest is being pushed back, either way the game usually moves along as you keep meeting the objective goals. Early on in the game this means there's a few moments where everything is looking grim, only for it to be the way the missions is meant progress. Given that the game is trying to follow history I can understand that there's going to be times where the soviets are on the back foot, but it can still be frustrating when your efforts wind up for nothing when things fall apart. The rest of the single player gets better and opens up later on, and thankfully there is enough variety to keep things interesting for over ten hours.
Physics can play a big part in COH2. Cover can be destroyed by heavy artillery or run over by tanks, bridges and buildings can be blown up. Too much of the time I forgot about these things, but it's always fun to rediscover it when you're breaking the ice under an enemy troop and sending them down to the freezing depths.
The real game lies in the Theatre of War and Multiplayer modes. The game opens up a lot more and makes the single player feel more like a tutorial to teach you the different mechanics. Theatre of War missions are co-op and single player missions set in 1941. They don't tie into the story but continue to focus on the Eastern front. If you're after more content, once the main campaign is over and you aren't up for a multiplayer match this is just as fun. There are only 1941 missions for now but more years are likely to be added in as DLC. The multiplayer game is where most people are likely to spend the most time to get the most out COH2. Throughout the single player and multiplayer modes you are regularly earning achievements and unlocks and levelling up your profile. It's in the Multiplayer where this all gets put to use. You can customise your team through COD style unlocking, levelling up and achievements, and for those who don't like the colour of tanks offered or want more commanders you can purchase them as DLC.
Multiplayer is the reason fans of the original will be looking to get this game. It would be an understatement to say that there is a big difference between playing the campaign and playing against other people. The game becomes a race to secure resources, cutting off each other's supplies (which is especially important later in matches). The Soviets' strength lies early in the match with floods of conscripts to keep pressure on the Germans. The Germans need more time to get their tanks built to steamroll over the soviets. Every match is a new lesson in what does and doesn't work. Early on it can be brutal on new players to the franchise, but hang in there and you'll be a formidable force over time.
While playing the game the visuals look great, whether you're playing from the traditional RTS view or zoom right down into the action. Troops and vehicles alike have plenty of detail for a game of this genre, although you won't have much time to admire the detail as the bullets are flying and tanks running down your conscripts. However, the auto-detecting in CoH2 set my graphics levels to its lowest, when it could handle more than that. The real head scratcher though is the campaign cut scenes, for a game that usually looks pretty good the faces and human movements felt like they came from a game of a different era.
CoH2 mainly plays it safe, the game retains so much of what made the original game so popular. Thankfully, the cold mechanics adds some unpredictability that can make matches tense, fighting while struggling to keep your freezing troops moving through the snow towards a fire or shelter. Changes to how line of sight works now means that you have to be more aware of the landscape; you'll only be able to see units that your units should be able to see. While these additions are good, the real question should be are they enough for a sequel? Don't get me wrong, CoH2 improves on the original and puts the spotlight on the Eastern Front instead of the worn out Americans vs the Germans. But the first game was so well made the sequel feels like the kind of expansion packs that are still getting released for Civilisation V.
In CoH2's defence it has also been long enough that newer gamers haven't played the original, and it's been long enough to give the game a new lick of paint and give the return fans a new version to play. There's a new army, maps and modes so there's plenty of different things for fans of the franchise to enjoy and who doesn't want more of a good game.
Company of Heroes 2 is a great game in the RTS genre, but so was the first game! I guess that's the downside of making such a great game in the first place. While plenty remains the same, Relic still adds in enough to keep you interested. Multiplayer fans will likely get more out of this game as the other modes don't offer many reasons to return once completed. For those who haven't played the original and like a good tense RTS game for the PC you should definitely pick up Company of Heroes 2, and for long-time fans you'll find plenty to enjoy.