Company of Heroes Online is approaching, bringing us frantic infantry skirmishes, devastating air raids, fast, explosive strategy and, most importantly of all, shopping. It's a free-to-play version of one of our favourite strategy games. I've infiltrated the Korean beta of the game and had a good trawl through the store. Read on for an overview of how it all works, and my pick of the most powerful items on offer.
Whatever you do in Company of Heroes Online, whether it be a tutorial, a single player mission or a multiplayer battle, you'll earn a small amount of Supply. If you want to save yourself a bit of time, you'll have the option of buying them with cash. There's no news yet on how much any of these items will cost, the prices have yet to be announced.
There are two types of item on offer, Army items and Hero units. Army items can be slotted into one of 8 HQ slots before a battle, and grant general bonuses to certain types of unit. For example, there's one that increases the speed of your tanks, and there's another that increases the sight range of your Riflemen, giving them a better chance of spotting those pesky Snipers.
Army items are useful, but the Hero units are much more interesting. They're special varieties of ordinary units that can level up during battle and gain access to new skills. If you're prepared to save up for a while you can buy some pretty extraordinary stuff, though there is a hidden cost. Each unit has a certain number of action points which are depleted with each battle, once they've run out you'll have to buy more, either with Supply or real money. There are already over a hundred Hero units in the game already, here's a few of the best from the Allied and Axis stores.
Reconnaissance Jeep(opens in new tab)
“A Jeep that does reconnaissance, what's so interesting about that?” I hear you say, “isn't that what Jeeps are for?” Well, yes, but I think it's fair to say that this special unit has been poorly named. Level it up a bit and this Jeep gains the ability to call in air strikes . That's not reconnaissance, that's mass murder! Anyway, in honour if this impressive new ability I've taken the liberty of renaming it 'Nuke Jeep.'
Nuke Jeep also gets a 20% boost to speed and acceleration, combine this with the Jeep's naturally huge sight radius and there's plenty of scope for players to sneak in behind the enemy and call in a crafty air strike without the Germans even realising that they've been spotted. Jeeps are normally a bit pants in Company of Heroes, they're great Sniper hunters, and they can tear across the map to tip the balance in early game infantry stalemates, but as soon as the real guns hit the field they inevitably get one-shotted by an AT gun. With this Hero unit's air-strike ability there will be some incentive to deploy a Nuke Jeep in the late game, providing you have enough munitions to afford the strikes, and the micromanagement skills to keep your unit out of the shadow of the many Stugs and Panzers that will be roaming the field.
Charismatic Engineers(opens in new tab)
As they level up these Engineers grow to become a competent combat unit. After a few levels they gain two extra members to the squad, and deal 10% more damage in fire fights, which is hugely impressive in itself, but their talents really come into play at their highest level when they gain the ability to break suppression and heal surrounding units.
So when your Riflemen charge into the sights of some entrenched German heavy machine gunners these Engineers will be able to sweep in and save them from certain death. For most units in Company of Heroes suppression means annihilation. Under heavy fire Riflemen throw themselves to ground in terror and can only shuffle along at about two inches a minute until a lowly Pioneer squad flanks and puts them all out of their misery, or the heavy machine gunners are killed, or the unit retreats. With the Charismatic Engineers on the field you get that vital second chance. Once you've seen your enemy's defences and survived, you're at a big advantage.
Survival Sniper(opens in new tab)
Survival Sniper is the most expensive item in the entire store, costing some 8480 Supply to purchase. To put that in context I have just reached level 9 and I've accumulated about 2500 in total.
Survival Sniper justifies his cost by being hard as nails. With a few victories under his belt he gains a 20% health boost. This becomes more impressive combined with the fact that he takes 25% less damage while fleeing, and, at the highest level, can camouflage as he escapes.
As long as you keep an eye on him Survival Sniper just isn't going to die. The enemy are probably going to have to call in an air strike to lay waste to the general area he's in, and hope one of the shells land directly on his head. Even more worryingly for your foe, Survival Sniper gains the ability to sprint while cloaked, meaning that you can audaciously charge him into enemy territory and quite easily have him set up behind enemy lines, covering Victory Points and wiping out AT gun crews until the final klaxon sounds.