Welcome to enemy territory, soldier, and be prepared to fight for survival in Relic Entertainment‘s latest addition to Company of Heroes 2; Ardennes Assault. It’s a standalone campaign, detailing the battle between US Allied Forces against the German Oberkommandos as they fight for control over the Ardennes Region.
Ardennes is an impressive setting, and Relic have really managed to capture the atmosphere and style of the era with beautiful graphical presentation and sound effects throughout the game. Truly noteworthy is that at times missions can feel like you’re standing in the thick of battle, explosions ringing and the shouts of ally and enemy soldiers filling the area. It is very theatrical; almost like a Hollywood World War II experience, and Relic have done a good job in creating the immersive and engaging setting of the Ardennes.
The campaign is laid out over a tactical map almost like real World War II, in which players can plan their moves to take over the region, which allows for surprising flexibility when tackling the German forces. Players are able to navigate their companies around Ardennes as they please, engaging the opposing forces in different orders to either conserve troops or better utilise the three varieties of companies available; Support, Mechanised Infantry and Airborne.
Each company has its own specialisation and troop abilities, but are further differentiated with various exclusive skills that can affect the entire battlefield. Companies also accrue experience points upon victory; the more you focus on one, the better it gets whilst the other two will lag behind. This is just another layer of strategy and another decision the player will have to make; a department that is most definitely not lacking in Ardennes Assault.
There are dynamic scenarios and main storyline missions, the former of which pits the player against a random opponent with a random set of objectives while the latter is a more straightforward affair, scripted and story driven. Each engagement is open to various methods of interpretation as there are multiple methods to conquer each and every battle, dynamic scenarios especially, which really boosts the replay value of the game.
Ardennes is a particularly perilous battlefield, especially when each move will reduce your company strength a little. It’s a great way to set up a campaign, and adds plenty of tension and drama each time opposing forces meet. The campaign makes you pick your battles carefully and strategize well in order to minimize losses. Units gain veteran ranks as they battle too, ranks that persist through each encounter which makes losing them particularly devastating to any company.
Boy is the campaign hard, too, each mission filled with objectives that demand the best commanders send just the right troops to deal with situations. One wrong move could potentially lead to the loss of an entire platoon, unforgiving and harsh, much like its mountainous snowy setting. Random objectives also appear during the course of an assault, creating a dynamic battle that encourages multiple plays in order to perfect your strategy when dealing with all facets of the engagement. Each fight feels important and meaningful, and never once are you thrown into battle without a clear goal and a purpose to which you’re sacrificing your valuable troops.
Each mission has a voice briefing and debriefing, as well as cutscenes for the main scenario missions. Small tidbits of information are also scattered amongst the ranks, where you may overhear one soldier telling the next about the heroics of the squad you’ve been tasked to rescue.
Relic delivers mostly a solid effort, though Ardennes Assault does falter slightly in the delivery of its campaign storyline. The narrative primarily follows Derby, Edwards, and Vastano, three officers in command of the companies battling in the Ardennes. A fourth commander Durante is also available, but comes in an additional paid DLC. It’s not the most solid work, with uneven and slightly cheesy voice acting and clichéd lines spoiling some of the drama that the developers worked so hard to create. Simplistic and predictable, but it does the job.
While the tactical map is nice, it’s slightly disappointing to see that the Germans don’t seem to care about the invading Allied Forces, as they never seem to fight back or attempt to retake any of the territories that you’ve captured. This provides a sense of safety after each battle knowing that the territory is now safe, though it seems to be at odds with the game’s intent at creating a sense of danger throughout the region.
Also whilst visually impressive and detailed, Ardennes Assault doesn’t really vary much in its colour palette or environments, preferring to stick to the snowy greys and whites in each of its scenarios, resulting in each battlefield feeling rather samey. Not really a bad thing, as mountains do tend to share similar traits, but it does get slightly boring battle after battle that seemingly captures the same piece of land, even if it is part of the same larger region. It would have been nice to see even a little variation here.
Despite any shortcomings, however, Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault remains a solid WWII affair, with Relic delivering one of the most polished and in-depth releases of CoH2 yet. It might be slightly lacking in the overall narrative, but the game more than makes up for it, resulting in an effective, realistic depiction of the battle in Ardennes. With a difficult, open-ended campaign structure and immersive visuals and gameplay, it’s one of the best games in the Company of Heroes franchise and a solid title for any RTS aficionado.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault was developed by Relic Entertainment and published by SEGA exclusively for PC. A copy of the game was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.