Considering the core Company of Heroes 2 game was released this time last year, it’s been a long time waiting for the first significant expansion pack. I deliberately use this term instead of ‘DLC’ because what this standalone multiplayer adds to the Company of Heroes 2 experience feels more like an old-school PC expansion, rather than the current zeitgeist of DLC cash grabs that empty wallets without perceivable value for money.
Players can jump in as one of two new armies—US Forces or Oberkommando West—and it will be rather overwhelming if you haven’t played Company of Heroes 2. If you don’t own the core game, you can still use these two factions to play against players that own Company of Heroes 2 and/or the expansion, which is great. There are a lot of tweaks across the board that improve the experience, too. For instance, ‘Public Games List’ option means the long-requested server browser is in, while it’s a much cleaner interface for configuring matches.
In game, there are some key optimisations at play that make the game look prettier on high-end PCs and play better on low-end rigs. Little touches such as the addition of blast radiuses for grenades remove guesswork and afford meaningful visual information when managing micro. Controversially, the progression system has been eliminated in favour of randomised ‘War Spoils’ Bulletin rewards for players at the end of certain matches. While this may feel like a kick in the teeth for veterans that’ve gone through the grind of unlocking specific Bulletin perks, it makes perfect sense for encouraging new players into the often complicated online foray.
What’s less encouraging is the lack of specific training for the new armies, and with only AI skirmishes on offer before heading online, the learning curve will be steep for newcomers. The two new armies are the real shining stars, though, whose design continues to embrace the asymmetrical trend of the series. When playing as US Forces, players aren’t required to construct core manufacturing buildings, instead, spending a similar level of fuel and manpower on calling in officer squads that unlock a particular structure’s units, all of which takes place from a centralised base.
While the inclusion of paratroopers and para-dropped items—that can be deployed anywhere on the map—are the most obvious new feature via specific US Commanders, there’s also a balanced emphasis on regular infantry and armour, too. That being said, infantry is the main emphasis here, with fast access to anti-armour capabilities and an ambulance unit that can replenish/heal troops closer to the frontline in friendly territory. Combine an ambulance with a Major command squad’s frontline retreat ability, and you’ll find super-aggressive hit-and-run tactics rewarded, without the lengthy downtime between retreat and reinforcement.
Oberkommando West favours end-game players, with a strong out-of-the-box emphasis on heavy armour, including the King Tiger and Sturmtiger tanks that dominate the battlefield. The lack of the option to lock down control points for additional munitions/fuel is initially jarring, but it encourages Oberkommando players to dominate land faster. This army plays like a cross between the British 2nd Army and German Panzer Elite forces of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, with the ability to convert generic construction vehicles into any of the four manufacturing structures in any controlled territory.
Considering the Schwerer Panzer Headquarters (the structure that builds the heavier tanks) has a flak cannon attached to it, it’s perfect for placement in hotly contested zones. A half-track with infrared searchlight makes reconnaissance a breeze, while five levels of veterancy further incentivises players to keep their units alive for as long as possible. Both armies encourage the use of different tactics to the standard Soviet and Wehrmacht factions and can definitely give as good as they get in a fight.
AI armies are now thankfully closer to their listed difficulty, which means newbies can ease their way in against Easy opponents, but the real test of how well Relic has balanced the new armies will come when the game is released today. The infrared half-track, for instance, presents a potential over-powered defensive option for players that like to bunker down, but they are relatively easy to kill, particularly if you have access to paratroopers.
Regardless of whether it’s perfectly balanced at launch, Relic has shown its dedication to listening to the community with subsequent updates, and The Western Front Armies is a worthy addition to any multiplayer-loving Company of Heroes 2 player’s war chest.
Nathan Lawrence can be found fragging n00bs in a variety of digital battlefields, but most commonly the ones from the franchise with a capital ‘B’. He loves games with a strong narrative component, and believes in a gaming world where cutscenes are no longer necessary. In his lack of spare time, Nathan can be found working on a variety of wacky script ideas, and dreams of freeing cinemagoers from unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes by writing films with never-before-seen twists and turns. But mostly he’s all about the fragging of n00bs.
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