Company of Heroes Online Review
By MMOHut's Erhan Altay
Company of Heroes was originally released in 2006 and is one of the best rated and most innovative real-time strategy (RTS) games. The game’s popularity led to two standalone expansions, and more recently, to a free-to-play version called Company of Heroes Online. The mechanics in Company of Heroes are very similar to a previous RTS called Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War. Both games were developed by Relic Entertainment, a studio owned by THQ, and stress fast-paced action over base and resource management.
From Korea, With Love
When Company of Heroes first came out in America, it was sold as a typical retail video game that had to be purchased at the store (or through digital download). When the game was released in Korea, it had to adopt the business model of the region. The Korean influence must have had an effect, as now Western gamers are getting the upgraded, free-to-play version called Company of Heroes Online. COHO is not a truncated or trial version of the original. Instead, it will contain all the gameplay features and even the single player campaign found in the original. Added on top of the old content is a new RPG influenced progression system. But, before experiencing any of that, players must get past the daunting 6.55 GB download. While THQ does publish another free-to-play game called Dragonica Online via their ‘THQ Ice’ brand, the two games don’t seem to share login information. This means players will have to register a new account and log in using their email address.
Create a Commander
Each account has four character slots, which should be more than sufficient considering that there are only two playable factions; the Americans and Germans. Expansions to the original Company of Heroes eventually introduced additional factions (including the British), so the existence of multiple character slots may mean more factions will be offered at a later date. Perhaps through the item mall! All factions function similarly, but do have their own minor strengths and weaknesses. Germans have powerful armor units, but are more heavily reliant on fuel (one of the three resources). Players are given the opportunity to customize the appearance of their commander by selecting from a few hair and face styles. Commanders themselves won’t be present in games, but will be displayed while in the lobby and other parts of the interface. Voice-acted prompts explain the interface and menu options to new players, eventually guiding them towards the training missions.
Strategy games are not known for their ease of use, and unlike previous MMORTS games like Shattered Galaxy or BattleForge, Company of Heroes is a full fledged RTS with buildings to construct and multiple resources to juggle. The learning curve in COHO is steep compared to most other free games, but Relic did a great job cutting out the most arcane gameplay elements that traditionally went with the genre. A short series of training missions explains the game’s basics including movement, special unit abilities, base construction, and resource management. The missions are entirely optional, but they each reward enough experience to level-up your commander and so are well worth doing. Players will also receive hero squads and items that buff their army by completing the training missions. These are two of the new components introduced in Company of Heroes Online. Each player has eight army item slots. These items provide bonuses to certain units, for example one of the items received early on provides additional armor to a certain type of tank. Hero units are assigned to building types pre-game and can be trained while in a game. Both army items and hero units have ‘charges’ which are exhausted with use. They won’t disappear after their charges are depleted, but will require a recharge before being used again. Additionally, players can learn commander skills using ability points acquired by leveling up. There are a variety of commander abilities, each with its own tech tree. Some allow calling down artillery strikes on a targeted location, others provide passive bonuses. These new features add a whole layer of customization to the game that didn’t exist in the original retail version.
Back to Normandy
World War 2 seems to be a popular setting for video games, but its usually in first-person shooters that gamers get to kill fascists. Company of Heroes allows players to experience the second world war from a more strategic angle. Rather than control a single soldier, players command squads and armored divisions. In most RTS games, players control each unit individually, but not in COHO. Infantry are trained and controlled as squads. There are several squad types available, and they can be equipped with different weapons like grenades, bazookas, machine guns, and so on. Tanks and other vehicles like halftracks are controlled individually, but maneuver more realistically than in, say, Starcraft. Terrain plays a major role as sandbags, craters, walls, bushes, and other objects provide cover bonuses to units nearby. Training units costs resources, and to generate those resources, players must capture munitions, fuel, and strategic points scattered across the map. Once captured, these points automatically generate resources: Manpower, Munitions, and Fuel. Since there are a finite number of resource points on a map, players who are aggressive will capture a greater portion of them and thus maintain an advantage. This set up discourages ‘turtling’, a common RTS strategy that leads to dragged out games. The drawback is that this system is not forgiving. The winning player is always at an advantage, forcing the loser to move fast or fall further behind.
Match Making Mode
Company of Heroes Online supports up to eight players per game in either 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 matches. Victory is achieved either by destroying all opposing buildings or reducing the enemy side’s point counter to zero. The player or team who controls the majority of victory points on a map will cause the enemy’s ticker to slowly decrease. COHO utilizes a match making system that pairs players with those near their skill level. Players can form teams of up to four and ask the system to match them with another team. While the new features help keep the game fresh, the interface feels archaic. It’s functional, but why does it look like something out of 1996 rather than 2006? There’s a shop where players can buy items which did not exist in the original version. There are a wide variety of goods available in the game’s primary currency, called Supply. THQ Bucks are the premium currency, but despite the microtransaction model, skill will always trump money in an RTS like this. Company of Heroes was a great game even when it was $50 in the store. The chance to play it for free should not be passed up.
Final Verdict: Great
Company of Heroes Online is a the complete MMORTS package. It contains all the content of the award winning retail game, including the full length single player campaign. The ability to level-up your commander and customize your army adds motivation to play the multiplayer mode. The graphics still looks great, and make up for the slightly dated interface. Whether you’re new to the RTS genre or returning veteran, Company of Heroes Online is worth checking out
Pros: +High production value. +Six playable divisions. +Customize unit upgrades, commander abilities, and more. +Fast-paced RTS gameplay.
Cons: -Steep learning curve. -Dated interface. -Only 2 playable factions.