The British Forces is a standalone multiplayer expansion for Company of Heroes 2. You might see some reviews for the expansion appearing today, but we're waiting to see how the new army performs in a live multiplayer environment this weekend before assigning a score when the pack is released on September 3. Here are some impressions from the single-player skirmishes I've played so far.
The British Forces commando drop is one of the most spectacular things you can do in an RTS, and this is a genre that lets you build huge spider bots and crash moons into planets. Instead of parachuting troops into enemy territory, the ingeniously bonkers British solution crashes a glider full of special forces onto a street. First there's the noise: the plunging scream of the incoming plane. Then it smashes into the ground, losing its wings to the surrounding buildings. Then the vessel comes to a screeching halt, and commandos matter-of-factly hop out of a hatch at the back and try to kill everyone nearby.
It's a bold move. Crazy, even. But with a few upgrades the commando drop becomes Company of Heroes 2's loudest and flashiest smash-and-grab solution. With the correct investment the drop can be presaged by a preparatory recon flight and a strafing run from a pair of Hawker Tornadoes. The torrent of machinegun fire instantly pins enemy forces in the vicinity, leaving them exposed to the short-range killing potential of the commandos' Stens. Another upgrade turns the remains of the glider into a forward base that resupplies friendly squads. Point a commando drop at a victory point and you can make it your home in minutes.
The commando drop is very much the "hammer" of the British Forces' branching "hammer and anvil" doctrines. These divergent base upgrades let you choose between aggressive unit types and expanded building powers, but both options feel more defensive than other Company of Heroes 2 armies. British forces excel at holding ground and then softening up enemies with bombardment. This turtling tendency is reflected in the potent cover bonuses afforded to ordinary infantrymen, and an upgrade that lets them throw a flare to call in explosive support from artillery cannons mounted on your base. Hold-and-bombard
I've been having great fun with the British in conventional one-vs-one AI battles so far; it's fun to lock down sections of the map with Bofor emplacements and repel assaults with crunchy artillery barrages. Against soft targets, the British are terrifying. The Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tank spews liquid fire at surprising range and burst-fire artillery and flame mortars can dig infantry out of cover quickly. It's also interesting to work around the limitations of the British Forces, particularly the frailty of their armoured divisions.
The Brits can field various iterations of the Churchill and Cromwell tank lines but both falter when facing powerful German tanks. This gives the British the potential to fade in the late game when the map turns into tank town. Their anti-tank infantry options, such as the haphazard spring-action PIATs, struggle to reliably hold back heavy tanks, so the British must rely on stationary heavy anti-tank emplacements and the expensive-but-amazing Sherman Firefly: a variant of the stalwart US tank which bolts on a ludicrously huge 17-pounder gun and optional rockets.
The British Forces expansion follows CoH2's tendency to pick out the most interesting troops and vehicles of the period, not just the most conventional. Relic decided to add the AEC Mk 2 armoured car after seeing the vehicle in Ardennes during a press tour. The vehicles are beautifully modelled, and a number of new weapon effects have been added to sell the new ordnance. Armour-penetrating rounds have their own characteristic noise and feel, and the Crocodile's oily jets of flame recall the horror of the original weapon. The army's most extreme bombardments are some of the biggest in the game so far.
The British Forces have a lot of character too, thanks to some top swearing. Troops hail from different regions of the UK. The royal engineers are from Wales; commandos are from Ireland. Officers deliver understated warnings in clipped queen's english while infantrymen sit in ditches and go on about wanking. The British Forces' ability to comically insult each other under fire is frequently hilarious. Few RTS games try to endear you to your units, but the rapport makes battles feel more meaningful.
The expansion also includes eight new maps, mostly spread across Germany. The dark, industrial zones such as the port of Hamburg feel quite familiar, but deform in new ways when blown apart by artillery. The prettier maps are set in rural areas, and modders will benefit from new terrain pieces such as picturesque German houses and castle ruins that offer claustrophobic and tense infantry scuffles. I can't wait to drop commando gliders on all of them when the multiplayer servers go live.