Party like it's 1941.
I've been dutifully grinding away during the beta stress test for Company of Heroes 2, torching pesky mortar squads and making it rain with howitzer emplacements just to bring you fine folks the best impressions I can muster. So I was surprised when I was contacted for another hands-on session, wondering what else the folks from Relic could possibly have up its sleeve. Apparently, the developer has been keeping a whole gameplay mode under wraps, and it's quite substantial.
Say hello to Theater of War, CoH2's take on challenge maps. The mode comes with a collection of 18 missions (9 each for the Germans and the Soviets) designed to give campaign players who aren't quite ready to graduate to the school of multiplayer something to do besides go online and get shellacked. These first 18 are set throughout the Eastern front of 1941, with future packs presumably covering subsequent years of the conflict. While they aren't as scripted or plot-heavy as the campaign, each is inspired by actual conflicts or scenarios that occurred during the period, further broadening the historic scope of the series.
I had a go at a mission called Blitzkrieg, a fitting title given the year, but even more fitting was the unit load-out I was given to complete it. I can't say for sure if the exact models used were 100% historically accurate, but the composition of medium tanks, light artillery vehicles, and mechanized infantry combined with close air support is very true to the blitzkrieg doctrine. Sure, Company of Heroes 2 maps aren't big enough to stand in for an entire region, but the principle of the mission is the same as the military tactic: use speed and concentrated firepower to overwhelm enemy positions quickly, and then move on to another target before a counter-offensive can be mustered.
In game terms, this meant I had to capture any 10 strategic points on the map without losing all of my infantry, which made my reinforcement granting half-tracks worth their weight in gold, as well as the pioneer squads to keep them in tip-top shape. On my first attempt, I split my forces and got perhaps a little too in the spirit of “lightning war.” My northbound group started taking a pounding from heavy artillery in the north eastern corner. I decided to blitz my vehicles straight up to crush them, only to lose my scout car and half-track (with two squads of infantry inside) to a well-placed minefield. Only my Panzer IV survived, but the treads had been knocked out, making it a sitting duck. I ran my pioneers over from my group in the west to try and repair it, but lost them and my armor after watching shells crash down around them for a while, hoping for the best but expecting the inevitable worst.
My second attempt went considerably better but still came down to the wire, with the last member of my last infantry squad capping the tenth and final command point with an enemy MG just beginning to deploy yards away from him. Afterwards, I was given a bonus objective to complete, which I failed immediately once that MG had finally trained its sights on my last standing grenadier. Each run is timed too, so between that and any extra objectives, playing theses missions over should be a good time.
In addition to the objective-based solo missions, Theater of War mode also sports co-op missions as well as a few more traditional skirmishes. Anyone pre-ordering will also get a second batch of missions, which I didn't get to take a look at, but it does show that Relic plans to continue to release content for offline generals to chew up once they've rolled the credits on the campaign. If all the missions provide the kind of thrills that I got from playing Blitzkrieg, then I can see this mode giving the game legs for a long time without ever having to dip your toes in the shark-infested waters of multiplayer.
Look out for more on Company of Heroes 2 as its June 25, 2013 release date approaches for PC.