Interview on CoH2's Multiplayer Changes
Company of Heroes 2 is already positioned to make waves with the changes in gameplay based on the in-game season. Now we have some more detailed information available from Simon Watts, Relic's global communications manager.
Multiplayer in General
With the rise of League of Legends and DotA 2, online strategy gaming has gained millions of players in the past couple of years. That said, it's a very different kind of strategy, and the RTS genre, specifically, has not had a major competitive revolution in a long time.
One example given by Simon came when he was asked if having a luck-based random element (winter's blizzards) would turn off competitive players from the game.
It's not so much luck really. Tactical RTS is about being a smart commander and making smart decisions on the fly. If they're a great player, it shouldn't be just about having one build order. If a blizzard blows in, they should be ready to adapt to that. If they don't have a contingency, they aren't a great player. That's what strategy is all about. You're making those decisions during the battle, not before the battle. The weather elements also aren't completely unpredictable. If a blizzard blows in, you know how to stop the infantry, how to move the troops across the ground in those conditions. The only random factor is not knowing when the blizzard will blow in.
Whether or not serious competitive players would be put off by the blizzard effects is a serious question, but it also points out a way in which the genre has gotten stagnant. The very idea that the in-game circumstances could change from moment to moment in ways that are not controlled by one of the players has people worried that people won't consider it a competitive arena.
The argument here isn't about one faction or another being stronger in winter as opposed to summer, that's an entirely different discussion. This is about the viability of having random gameplay-effecting events at all in a game that pits two players against each other. Is it possible that will give a player who is otherwise losing a chance to turn things around? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, it's just something else for skilled players to look for.
Simon acknowledged that vehicles would take on a greater importance and relative power in winter maps because they will be less effected by the inclement weather, but pointed out that they would still require infantry support. It will be a shift in viability, not a complete change. Different units will have different advantages and weaknesses in winter.
One example given on the infantry side was Company of Heroes 2's snipers. Since they are less effected by the weather than many other units, they become more valuable where that weather is a possibility by virtue of that reliability.
Another example was the Russian Katyusha rockets. If an enemy hunkers down for a blizzard, having a unit that can blanket an area in explosives becomes extremely powerful, but in other circumstances the weapon is extremely vulnerable.
Ultimately most RTS games come down to a highly complicated rock-paper-scissors act when it comes to balance. Certain units are stronger against certain targets, and managing to find a balance of different threats is one of the primary skills that a player must develop to become competitively knowledgeable about any game in the genre.
For Company of Heroes
Another concern in the interview was whether or not the Russian force's numerical superiority would give them an early-game advantage. There is a certain strategy involved in any game with a force that can hit its opponent very quickly with overwhelming force. There is, after all, a reason that attacking someone all out from the very beginning with no thought to defense is often referred to among gamers as 'zerging' the enemy.
Simon was clear that while Russian forces will have numerical superiority from the beginning the German forces will have a notable firepower advantage from that same beginning. How well this actually balances out will be something that only time can tell for certain.
For the Future
The final message we're left with is the promise that Relic does not want Company of Heroes 2 to be a completely different game. They want it to maintain the feeling, the "essence" of the original game that their fans came to love so much. Hopefully, they will succeed.