In a move that completely surprised no one, the latest addition to Company of Heroes 2 ended up being the British Forces. There was certainly a degree of concern as the British in Company of Heroes 1 introduced mechanics and tactics that contradicted the very nature of what made Company of Heroes such a success in the first place. Especially so, as the same mistakes were made with Company of Heroes 2, the thirst for excessive asymmetric design unleashed similar frustrating mechanics onto the Oberkommando West. Forward bases that promote camping in a game about map control? Abso-FlakCannon-utely! Aura Officers that reward blobbing? You Bet! Super soldier Space Marine squads that negate enemy infantry? This time, they were called Obersoldaten. Even the remake of the US faction had glaring issues, the British Forces certainly seemed like a hinge point for the future success or failure of Company of Heroes 2.
Then along comes a really interesting and well-designed faction. The British in Company of Heroes 2 manages to capture the personality, play style and silly tea references of the original faction while removing the previous pitfalls. The British Infantry still maintain their elite status, but only at long range. This allows the Axis squads to assault in close to gain the advantage. The British Troops are also expensive and easily out spammed, so a defensive and synergistic play style is required. This is a complete reverse on the traditional Allied vs. Axis matchup, incentivising Axis to play aggressively against the Brits puts the faction dynamic in a whole new perspective. It’s certainly revitalising and adds lots of new experiences to the game, especially since the US and Soviets play out in a very similar fashion to each other.
The British have plenty of tools to support their defensive play style; Infantry Sections can still build Trenches as well as sandbags, but this time the trenches aren’t free and actually have counters. Royal Engineers can construct emplacements, but their expensive costs and vulnerability requires careful placement and consideration. Artillery support takes the form of Infantry Sections deploying Smoke Flares to designate a barrage from two base howitzers. The British certainly feel familiar to anyone who’s played the original, but the new implementations turn what was once a frustrating faction into something fun with reactionary combat and plenty of room for counterplay.
Hats off to Relic for this one, as creating a defense oriented faction is always risky business. It’s easy to cripple proper flow by granting too much of a defenders advantage which limits player options, but, fortunately, this certainly isn’t the case with the British and the matchups are still just as proactive. Company of Heroes 2 is a game about map control, so even as the British you still have to be active and fight for territory. Most importantly, every defensive tool has a means to be countered: lone squads can be charged, trenches can be cleared with flamers throwers, machine gun teams can be flanked and emplacements can be barraged and forced to brace.
Bracing is an interesting mechanic for the British emplacements, it’s an ability that grants them a large damage reduction in exchange for having their weapons disabled. This makes Emplacements difficult to destroy but easy to evade. Before a large attack, an emplacement can be barraged and forced to brace allowing for a nearby engagement. As a result emplacements feel quite reactionary and much less all-in, especially compared to the OKW’s Panzer Headquarters.
There’s plenty of other mechanics that are actually fun and add new kinds of depth. The Infantry Sections only fire at full efficiency if they’re behind cover, so positioning needs to be very tactical. Combine this open terrain penalty with a poor fire on the move accuracy, inefficient garrison-clearing, low squad count and high reinforcement costs, and you’ll end up with a recipe for a very tactical faction. Positioning and engagements need to be taken very carefully, as being forced to retreat and concede territory is very punishing.
One aspect I love about Brits is the amount upgrades they have. As a Coh1 veteran, it’s certainly tragic how the Coh2 factions lack the strategic depth and decision making of the originals by having essentially no tech upgrades. The increased squad sizes and weapon rack unlocks combined with the fast tier 2 allow for a variety of opening build orders and play styles that are actually viable. This sure is refreshing, the other factions appear as if they are flexible, but in practice generally end up being quite rigid.
After the opening build order, the player can choose between the Hammer and Anvil specialisations for each tier. These were a big marketing point intended to let the player customise between an aggressive and defensive play style. Though as it turns out, they are little more than a limiting gimmick of which two units would you like to not build, as well as having a few abilities thrown in with whatever one of the Tier 3 Tanks you chose. This annoys me because lumping these upgrades and abilities into an arbitrary and mutually exclusive unlock slot wastes a lot of opportunity for what could be interesting on their own unlock. Tech paths and upgrades should organically create depth by having an appropriate investment and create opportunity cost, Why would you want to intentionally prevent player choice and limit options?
Nitpicking aside, the British are certainly a welcome addition to the game, and it seems there was a great deal of care to make sure they would properly interact with the existing factions in an active and fun way. There’s still issues that need ironing out, but overall it really is a fantastic time for Company of Heroes 2. Balance is probably the best it’s ever been, the meta is diverse, patches are frequent, the maps have been reworked and the active player base is growing. If you’re thinking about getting into an RTS game in 2015, look no further than Company of Heroes 2.