Confident is definetly a word that can be used to describe Relic Entertainment's Quinn Duffy, and he has every right to be so. As he points out to the assembled crowd, 2006's Company of Heroes is still one of the highest rated RTSs on Metacritic (it was recently replaced by the original Command & Conquer at the top), and is considered by many to be the finest tactical real-time strategy game ever made.
The size of the task in front of Relic is considerable. The benchmark is theirs to raise, but the level of expectation is huge. So how are they going to make Company of Heroes 2 bigger and better than the original? First let's look at bigger.
The Normandy invasion, one of the defining moments of World War II (and the focus of the first game), only ranks as the 23rd bloodiest battle of WWII. A map of Europe appears before our eyes, a heat pattern highlights the area in the north of France where the Allies made their reentry into Nazi-controlled Europe.
Quickly our eyes are drawn to the other side of the map. The two blooms of red to the west are dwarfed by a series of large dark circles splattered like paint across the east. Whilst the Normandy invasion may be an iconic chapter of the war, the devastation that reigned down on the then Soviet Union was on a completely different scale. We are reminded of the long, cold Russian winter, and the deaths of tens of millions of Soviets.
Duffy and his team at Relic have a story to tell, and the struggle between Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Third Reich sets the stage for Company of Heroes 2.
Whilst Relic are determined to up the scale of the conflict, they're also dedicated to making it better. Improved AI, the ability to vault cover and set pieces that include Stalin's brutal order 227 (where Soviet troops would open fire on any of their own forces should they attempt to retreat) will also conspire to add depth to the proven Company of Heroes formula. As was the case with the original, Duffy and his team are trying to create a game that focusses on tactics, not resource management.
Truesight is another innovation that should serve the series well. Soldiers and vehicles will provide the eyes for every player, the traditional fog of war replaced by an ever-changing field of vision that depends on the positioning of your forces. It means surprise attacks and flanking manoeuvres will be more important than ever before.
You can't set a game on the Eastern front and not have snow. And the white stuff features prominently here. Relic hasn't made it easy for themselves; this snow has depth, can be compacted by vehicles, slows down foot soldiers, and it will spread procedurally.
It looks good too. In fact, the whole game looks fantastic. Relic's Essence 3.0 engine certainly has a few impressive tricks up its sleeve. The level of detail is better than anything we've ever seen in a RTS before. Vehicles are detailed, and carry a weight and substance few have managed to capture before. Troops move through deep snow and over cover convincingly. The harsh landscape captures the time and place perfectly, and once again destructible environments will offer tacticians a variety of options.
Audio is equally impressive. The sound of machine gun fire and exploding tanks has a harsh quality usually reserved for the blockbuster FPS. Relic are clearly pulling out all the stops. The short demonstration we see today leaves a lasting impression.
Quinn Duffy is confident man. He knows that the team behind him has the pedigree needed to improve on the superlative original, and he seems assured that Relic are going to meet the high standards that they set themselves when the game is released next year. Company of Heroes 2 looks bigger and better than the original in nearly every way, and for fans of real-time strategy, that can only be considered a victory.