It’s still not all that often we get such big games, although it is increasing, so here’s a more detailed look at Company of Heroes 2 on Linux.
I’ve been holding off on writing this until I put more hours into the game, and I feel like I have now played enough to give it some real final thoughts. In addition I have also streamed it, Samsai has streamed it and you can see our port report here.
I will start this off by noting that the game is 64bit only, it’s Linux-Linux multiplayer only and AMD GPU’s aren’t supported right now.
With that out of the way…
This is a war game inside and out, and that’s very clear in the presentation of the game and story. It doesn’t try to sugar coat anything that happens, and playing it will show you just how brutal war can be.
The game isn’t without its flaws, but overall I’ve found it to be one of the best strategy experiences on Linux to date. I don’t think it quite removes XCOM: Enemy Unknown (also ported by Feral Interactive) from the top, but it sits firmly under it as number two in my list of favourite strategy games on Linux right now.
That’s pretty high praise, and I think the game fully deserves it for the rather enthralling campaign, good graphics and a wide variety of units that will keep your strategy evolving over time. We have a lot of futuristic strategy titles, but next to no proper military strategy games like this, so I see it as a breath of fresh air for Linux gamers.
The game still hasn’t crashed on me a single time which is pretty impressive considering their previous port (Mordor) did crash a few times for me. This has allowed me to play some pretty long and intense sessions without the frustration that often comes with new ports.
While I do enjoy the cutscenes in the game, they aren’t really up to scratch compared with the rest of the game. Many of the textures used in the cutscenes look incredibly washed out and dull compared with the rest of the game, and it lets it down quite a bit. Luckily they are quite short, so you don’t have to watch them for too long.
Company of Heroes 2 does feature some small base-building mechanics, but it’s nothing close to games like Planetary Annihilation. There’s very few buildings you need, but it makes up for the base building in the excellent combat that it offers.
The user interface is reasonable, and pretty easy to get to grips with if you have played any other traditional real time strategy. I can only remember one time I got confused, which is when it tells you to upgrade a certain squad with SMG’s, but it doesn’t point out where to do it very clearly. Everything is where you expect it to be, so there’s not really a lot to talk about here. It would be nice if it was easier to tell different types of units on the minimap easier, but that’s about my only issue with the UI.
It does have an XCOM-like cover system in place that’s really useful, although it does sometimes act a little weirdly with soldiers getting displaced. You really have to pay attention to the little dots on the ground that appear when moving units near walls and other objects, and make sure as many as possible are in the green. It’s realistic enough though, as not all units will fit behind a small sandbag wall, and one or two may be left in half or no cover. It’s pretty easy to overlook a single unit not ending up in cover, and that can be fatal. Is your enemy in cover? No problem! Cover can also be blown up if you have a big enough weapon, and can be completely run over by tanks, so the battlefield will change a bit as battles go on.
You also have the ability to put squads of soldiers inside buildings for extra protection too. This can be especially useful for snipers to gain the upper hand when coming across an unexpected platoon of enemy soldiers where they would usually be gunned down rather quickly. This is another area that the game becomes tactically fun, as entire buildings can be levelled to the ground with enough firepower!
I’ve been playing through on the Normal difficulty setting, as I fear the Hard setting would actually kick my arse. I’ve really struggled with a few missions, so it’s a pretty good setting for me, although I wouldn’t mind going through it again on Hard as I’m enjoying it that much!
There’s one particular level I remember very well with snow and ice, and it was one that I livestreamed my failure on at least three times before I was able to complete it. This is one of the really strong points of the game, as each level really does feel quite different to the one before. This particular level was a bit of a pain for me, as I’m too used to sending hundreds of units to their doom, and this one did require me to take my time and really get a handle on scouting and planning. You will learn to fear the cold in this game like your soldiers do, as it does start getting a bit intense when they start freezing. I enjoy my failure each time in CoH2, since each time I learn something more about the level around me, and I can attempt a completely different tactic. The game isn’t as linear as it may look, and you’re generally open to lots of different types of tactics.
The ice level is a real bastard though; your soldiers freeze to death in the cold weather, and they do it pretty quickly. You don’t have access to many troops either, so you seriously need to watch what your men are doing and look out for them like a good commander would. You really have to get to grips with finding quick routes, taking out enemies quickly and finding shelter or a fire to warm up against.
I managed to play against Edwin who works for Feral Interactive recently online, and it was an absolute blast. I did win quite easily, but considering how bad Edwin told me he is at the game, it’s not really a big achievement (I am still secretly very happy I beat him though!).
The online is just as good as the single player, but it becomes far more intense playing against a human whose tactics will change on the fly just as quickly as yours. It’s not always a good idea to simply send a squad of nameless soldiers into their territory to capture it, as they may already be well on their way to one of your points. You will need a constant eye on the map, and to not make my mistake of maxing your population cap with slow moving heavy squads, as it becomes a nuisance not having any quick squads to send in somewhere to help fend off an attack. It’s useful to keep a squad or two around to act as a distraction and heavy-fire fodder while you move around heavier placements.
When playing online, you will have a choice of different commanders and abilities to select. This will make each game different for both you and your opponent, and it tends to spice things up quite a bit. One commander I used had the ability to lay down artillery fire in a selected area, and it looks beautifully brutal.
The game doesn’t perform all that well in reality with regular framerate dips, but this isn’t a problem just on Linux. Researching it myself, it seems people on Windows with rigs just as powerful and sometimes much more powerful than mine have lots of issues with performance. However, this has not stopped me enjoying the heck out the game, and I’m still very pleased with it.
Final thoughts: It’s easily one of the best strategy games to ever come out for Linux, so you should go get it if you haven’t already.
Feral have really proven themselves to be a competent game porter, but I do still hope they look back on previously titles like this to try and squeeze all the performance out of a game that they possibly can.
I am very much looking forward to the standalone expansions being released on Linux, and I plan to buy some of the existing DLC missions to play through too—I like it that much.
Check out Company of Heroes 2 on Steam.
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