“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe be regarded as an ever famous American victory.” The famously known words of Winston Churchill on The Battle of the Bulge, or as the French knew it: Battle of the Ardennes. It would go down as one of the most devastating surprise offensives from the Germans in World War II.
Draining German resources immeasurably, and causing the allies to incur unimaginable losses. This 40 day long offensive is the setting for Company of Heroes 2’s newest single-player only expansion: Ardennes Assault. Shown entirely from the United States’ forces’ perspective during both the original offensive, and the ensuing counter-offensive.
This new standalone expansion comes packed with 18 missions, 3 playable Companies (complete with unique Officers, Skill Trees, and Abilities), and an entirely new non-linear campaign map.
The biggest addition, and my personal favourite, is the ‘Meta Map’. It’s used as the campaign hub. Allowing players to choose their own mission paths as they progress. In fact, Relic even went as far as to boast there is (theoretically) over 1,000,000 potential methods of completing the campaign using the Meta Map.
All three Companies are on the map, and the player can position them whichever way fits their strategy best. By moving a single space at a time. You can take any Company and attack any German held territory, prompting a mission within that region which occurred during The Battle of the Bulge.
Once you are victorious, German troops will scatter to adjacent locations, and can even be intercepted if you have positioned your remaining Companies correctly to force a surround on them. Permanently weakening the German forces across the entire campaign.
It’s not all about the main engagements, however. While advancing your Companies, you run the risk of running into a non-playable random encounter. These take many forms, but, depending on the form, players are given a choice of actions; whether to retreat or attack, mortar or rifle, and so on.
These decisions will influence the outcome, and can become devastating to either side if you continue to push across multiple locations in a single turn. You can even lose entire Companies forever if you advance too aggressively.
The Meta Map is also heavily tied in with a new experience system called ‘Requisition’. These points are earned by completing main missions, side objectives within missions, and winning engagements on the Meta Map. Requisition can then be used to advance your Company’s Skill Trees, recover Company health, or upgrading your units veteran levels – increasing the chance that certain units will begin missions with improved ranks.
Be sure to spend your Requisition wisely, as these are spent across the entire game. Meaning if you focus on a single Company, you other Companies health/Abilities will begin to dwindle. Affecting your strength to control the Meta Map. Not to mention, of course, that no matter what you do it’s impossible to fully upgrade everything across every Company during the span of the campaign.
Now, allow me to introduce you to your three new Companies: Able, Baker, and Dog – along with their sets of specialisations. Able is your Airborne Company; with air support and supply Abilities, and mostly infantry units. Baker is your Mechanized Company; with heavy tank and offensive combat Abilities, and a primary focus on medium armoured vehicles. Dog is your new tough Support Company; with anti-tank and defensive Abilities, with a primary focus on heavy infantry units.
Every Company has its own Officer, who has four Abilities which focus on their specific specialisation. For example: Able can call in paratrooper reinforcements to the battlefield, or Baker can call in mortar strikes within a certain line-of-sight.
All four of each Company’s Abilities have six different upgrade options, broken down into two tiers of three key upgrade paths: increased damage, extended skill radius/time, and reduced cost. Making a grand total of 72 potential upgrades combined across all Companies. Apologies if the description sounds confusing, but SEGA did not provide any visual representation of these Skill Trees for this article.
Now, with all those new features now laid out in their entirety, time to talk about how all this affects the gameplay of Ardennes Assault.
Due to the Meta Map, you are free to go into any mission with any Company you choose – assuming you can position them on the map correctly. This lets you play toward your own strengths. I, personally, am a big fan of flanking enemy positions to attempt a full surround. This meant most of my Requisitions went towards Able, in order to boost my paratrooper Ability. The missions remain the same regardless of which Company you go in with, so use whichever Company feels best for you.
However, the difficulty does varies what your mission objectives are. The end goal remains the same, but the side objectives and main objectives (bar the final one) swap depending on the difficulty you’re playing. I tried both medium and hard, and not only were there more side quests on the harder difficulties but they were also more time restrained. Meaning if I wasn’t consistently pushing forward toward the front lines I’d run out of time and not be able to fully complete the mission.
Numbers of objectives completed, as well as the speed which you do them, all factor in to how many medals you are awarded at the end of each mission. The more/higher ranked medals you get, the more Requisition you receive. Leading to more upgrades or increased Company health for strategic positioning on the Meta Map.
All of these new juicy additions fortunately have not detracted away from what Company of Heroes 2 is all about. The story is still very well told, despite the more open campaign direction, and with nice snippets of historical information. The voice acting is sublime in all aspects, from individual soldiers/commands right through to the debriefings, and the sound design mimics perfectly the manic nature of the battles the game aims to emulate.
There are not enough solo focussed RTS games, in my humble opinion. It’s pleasing to see Ardennes Assault doing a superb job in not only making an entirely single-player standalone expansion for the RTS genre, but seemingly adding a ton of replay value on top with a wealth of new systems.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault is currently set to release on November 18th, 2014 for £29.99.
**EDIT** – SEGA/Relic have since announced there will be a fourth playable Company in Ardennes Assault: Fox Company; an “Elite Infantry Ranger Unit.” This Company will be a pre-order “bonus” on Steam, or purchasable at a later date.
At no point during the hands-on, nor any other correspondence, was it ever indicated or mentioned there would be more than the three Companies covered in this article.