The original Company of Heroes was a favourite among real-time strategy fans during a time when the genre was arguably in a slump which left many gamers questioning its future. It managed to achieve an impressive Metacritic score of 93/100, making it one of the most well-received PC games ever released. Two solid, albeit not earth-shattering expansions were released subsequently, and eventually it was turned into a free-to-play multiplayer game.

So the announcement of the series’ first fully fledged sequel was received with much anticipation, and this was only heightened as Relic began releasing gameplay videos, which showed off a dynamic weather system, realistic line of sight engine, and cutting edge cover dynamics.

In many ways, Company of Heroes 2 looks set to pick up exactly where the original games left off, but with the addition of the aforementioned technical advancements.  Those who have played the original game will be instantly familiar with the style of action. However, now the weather has a meaningful impact on the outcome of each encounter. Let your men get caught out in a blizzard, and they will freeze to death. In fact, you will have to keep an eye on their temperature throughout each battle, seeking refuge from the snow in burnt out vehicles or in buildings, as you try and move them safely across the map.

Before even encountering any enemies, I realised that the battle for survival was already on. Relic calls it “ColdTech”, and it really does add a whole new dynamic to the experience. In Company of Heroes 2, you will constantly be as aware of the weather as you are of your enemy.

It’s not all about the addition of freezing cold weather though. The environment dynamics in general have been beefed up. Troops will steadily get colder and move slower as they wade into deep snow, and overzealous tanks will find themselves sinking into frozen lakes that just weren’t strong enough to support their lumbering mass. This means that you will carefully plot your route from A to B, and one poor choice could easily see an entire squad wiped out, or vehicle sink to an icy death. Obviously these losses will put you at a severe disadvantage, assuming your opponent manages to keep more of their troops alive, so it is as much a game of cautious survival as it is a tactical war game.

One of my favourite features that Company of Heroes 2 introduces is its dynamic line of sight system. As your units move, only parts of the map that their real-life equivalents would be able to see are visible. We have seen similar systems in other RTS games, but there is something about how Company of Heroes 2 pulls it off in real time that is really compelling and slick. In combination with the new environmental destruction engine, the game introduces various layers of tactical depth which make for an incredibly dynamic and often volatile experience.

I am extremely impressed with what Relic has done with the gameplay in Company of Heroes 2, and it’s looking set to raise the bar on this front. There’s icing on the cake as well,  because the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The environments are rendered with striking detail, and the weather effects add an incredible level of atmosphere. The sound is also outstanding, and the studio actually tracked the sound effects for each weapon used in the game, so you’re getting the real deal in terms of the auditory experience.

Company of Heroes 2 is due out on 25 June, and I for one have seen enough to place my pre-order.

Official website: www.companyofheroes.com

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