Sega loves it; expansions where you don’t need the original game. The strategic Company of Heroes 2 is even getting its second stand alone expansion . After the purely multiplayer focused The Western Front Armies, Ardennes Assault will be released later this year. The title already gives away what the expansion is all about: the Ardennes Offensive that the German Wehrmacht launched at the end of 1944.
The battle in the Walloon hills is good for an extensive new campaign of no less than eighteen missions. You read that right: ‘campaign’. Unlike The Western Front Armies, Ardennes Assault is a pure single-play expansion, with a campaign even more extensive than the one in the original game. The fact that the expansion only contains a campaign also means that there is something of a story. That is not extensive, but in Ardennes Assault you are the leader of a company of the American army and are tasked with stopping the lightning-fast German advance across the Ardennes. So you play the battle that we call the Ardennes Offensive, but in the English-speaking countries is mainly known as the Battle of the Bulge.
In the autumn of 1944, the German Oberkommando West managed to penetrate deep into Allied territory. With the surprise attack, the German army tried, in a last convulsion, to cut the supply lines of the Allied army. The German troops, consisting of veterans of the Eastern Front and the battle in Normandy, managed to penetrate 60 kilometers deep into Allied terrain at lightning speed. It’s up to you to regain that ground in Ardennes Assault.
That is of course easier said than done, because with the surprise attack the German army has wreaked havoc among the American troops. So you’re at the head of a put together American mess. You have to be careful with that too, because the biggest innovation that developer Relic Entertainment implements in Ardennes Assault is that you have to make do with the men you have. The troops you finish one mission with also form the group you start the next mission with.
That means that you will have to proceed much more carefully. Getting a narrow victory, where you win at the expense of a large part of your men, is suddenly no longer an option here. Certainly not because there is a new Veteran System that covers the entire campaign. Units therefore steadily improve if you manage to keep them alive. The opposite is also true; losses are permanent, which counts heavily especially with experienced units.
Fortunately, the maps also offer room to be more careful. If the map we saw is any indication, the Ardennes are – just like in real life – a densely wooded area, and therefore the ideal environment for the fragmented American troops. You don’t have many heavy units, so you will have to rely largely on walking soldiers. Company of Heroes 2 has True Line of Sight, meaning the game understands what units could actually see if the battlefield were real. That makes taking cover much more sense than in most RTS games, where units can often see right through obstacles.
Cut supply lines
Also in the mission that was presented to us, it was useful to choose the forest as a shelter. In the mission, the American troops had to try to disrupt the German advance by cutting the supply lines. The German advance was so fast that supplies threatened to become a problem and if successful in disrupting that supply, it could slow down the German advance. Hence your company is ordered to attack Eschdorf. A large transport will depart from Eschdorf, consisting of a column of sixteen trucks. It’s your job to stop it.
Given the importance of the transport, Eschdorf is heavily defended. There is an access road, but entering the village along that road makes little sense. It would cost you a great deal of your company if you succeed at all. So it is important to enter the village via another route. The forest surrounding the village offers enough space for this, although that is of course not without danger. There are several routes through the forest. More than you’re used to. So you have more options to decide for yourself how you want to approach the mission. That forest is a good hiding place, but you are not completely safe there, because trees can be mowed down by the heavy German weapons. If you have heavy weapons yourself, you can force a passage to the village yourself.
At the start of the mission we only had troops on hand, but by capturing German checkpoints on the edge of the map, we were able to unlock an entry point that allowed us to add additional troops to our arsenal. In this case a light tank, which we could use against the superior Germans. The American Shermans are lighter than the German Panzers, but have a big advantage; their simple construction allows them to be repaired in the field. That is not the case with the German tanks. It fits the picture of the campaign; it’s about the long term, about looking after your troops. Ardennes Assault isn’t about winning, it’s about how you win.
It is therefore important to maneuver carefully with the men you have. Micromanagement is more important than ever. Explore the space in front of you, use smoke grenades to protect your own troops or distract the enemy’s, flank where possible and repair or heal where you can. The ambulance is perhaps your best friend and it is almost necessary to have one ready in the background.
If you encounter a superior force of German tanks, it is important to train new units. An American Captain, for example, who has a Bazooka with him. Although you can also come to an end with your own lighter tanks, by using the higher speed. If you manage to get into a good position with clever maneuvering, you can take out a Panzer with shots from the side or from behind, because that’s where the armor is thinnest and the game takes that into account.
Because it’s more important than ever to keep your troops alive, you’ll get more information than ever before and after each mission. Where in CoH2 itself you occasionally received some information during a mission, the game now gives you a fairly extensive sit rep in advance . In that report, the mission is pre-cooked so you can come up with a bit of strategy before you hit the battlefield. You will also receive a briefing afterwards. In it you can see how much experience your troops have gained, but also how many men you have lost. You also receive a summary of the mission, which shows where the opportunities were that you did, but also that you did not seize.
Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault is therefore an expansion that will appeal to the true tactician. Precisely because you will have to be careful with your troops, the campaign is more challenging than you are used to. The best thing about the new campaign is that you can take the experience you gain during a mission with you to the next one. That makes the loss of a unit heavy and you will have to use all features of the game. Line of sight, taking cover and flanking have never been more important.