This is going to perhaps be the quickest videogame review I’ve ever written. It’s an easy one, because Relic has made themselves a very run-of-the-mill “expansion” pack (the reason that I put expansion in quotes I’ll cover in just a moment) for Company of Heroes, their outstanding RTS of two years ago. New playable factions? Check. New single player campaigns? Check. It forges little new ground, though I would argue that it didn’t need to. Even two years old CoH remains one of the more addictive RTS games installed on my machine, and all it really needed was a little freshening up to spark that addiction all over again.
To be completely clear, this is not technically an expansion pack. This game can be installed completely standalone and played both single and multiplayer. Players that do not have the original CoH installed will be unable to play as the original German and American forces in either skirmish or multiplayer (though they can play against players using those forces) and of course will not have access to the original CoH campaign.
CoH:OF actually adds two new factions: the German panzer elite and the British. Whereas in the original CoH the German and American forces were very similar in terms of their play strategy, the British and German panzer groups are very different. The British units would be best suited for turtle players. They construct superb base defenses including slit trenches that give infantry units an insane defense bonus (except against flame weapons), and machine gun and anti-tank gun emplacements. They also construct heavy artillery capable of hitting almost any point on the map with devastating effect. The panzer elite make speedy tanks and lots of them as well as fairly versatile soldiers, but they construct only the most rudimentary of defensive structures (barb wire, sandbags, mines). The panzers have to keep attacking and moving - staying in one place (especially if your British enemy has artillery handy) is a sure recipe for defeat. The two new factions are interesting additions to the game, bringing significantly differently play styles into the action. I found it very difficult to nibble the map away as the British while keeping my defenses impregnable, but as an allied force the British really show their value. The run and gun of the panzer elite is not generally how I play RTS games, but I saw players online use them with great skill (read “kick my ass”).
With the two new playable factions, CoH:OF has two new single player campaigns – one for each faction. This is one of the better inclusions in the expansion pack, as the campaign included with the original CoH was played entirely with the American forces. Though each of the two campaigns are only of medium length, taken together they are as long if not longer than the original CoH campaign. The German campaign tells the story of two brothers attempting to repel the allied airborne invasion, while the British recounts the battle to liberate Caen, France. The animated movies and music do a good job of keeping you in the story without keeping you away from the action for too long. I will say that the German campaign is a little heavy-handed in its scripting, and you are interrupted several times during some missions to get little objective updates, which does distract from the action and is somewhat irritating at times.
The game engine has been modestly updated. The graphics engine now supports DirectX 10, but I don’t have it and so can’t comment on how that changes anything. Limited weather effects have now been added including night and rain, though the night and rain effect neither unit movement nor sight ranges – it’s all entirely eye candy.
When I think of expansion packs (despite that fact that this one can be installed independently) this is more or less exactly what I envision. It adds a significant helping of additional single player action and new playable factions that are far more than just cosmetically different from existing factions already in the game. I’m going to keep this one installed for some time after my review is handed in, which is far more than you can say of many if not most of the games that I review.