What is Blitzkrieg?
Blitzkrieg is a complete realism overhaul mod for the classic 2006 RTS wargame Company of Heroes. Featuring new units, skins, abilities, damage and protection values, sound effects, a present total of 32 community maps in addition to the vanilla, and a host of other deliberately and systematically improved aspects, Blitzkrieg does a great job of and adding realism and by extension immersion to the already praised Company of Heroes experience. This mod review will oversee the gameplay of the mod with a focus on the influence of new features, and compare it with the gameplay of vanilla Company of Heroes.
The Armies: Faction Structures and Doctrines
In Blitzkrieg as in the original Company of Heroes the player is responsible for leading a company-sized unit in combat on the Western Front as an Allied or German player. To gain access to better units and abilities as the battlespace demands the commitment of more combat assets, there are two paths, base building and the selecting of a doctrine of the player’s choice, but for now we will focus on base development.
Base building is done through constructing structures (henceforth to be used interchangeably with buildings, shacks, barracks, unit factory, troop portals, etc.) with your engineers, which you’ll start the game with and get more of from the headquarters building. Only subtle changes are present from the base game, excluding the US Army, which has been more openly changed. To allow the Americans to mechanize earlier than they would be able to, the mechanized building can be built after the Weapons Support Center, leaving the Supply Yard more of an option where it used to be required for any and all vehicles with the exception of the little MG scout jeep, which now has different armaments depending on doctrine.
The Wehrmacht, Commonwealth, and Panzer Elite all retain the prime characteristics of their base buildings. Wehr still requires headquarters upgrades for buildings, the Commonwealth still build units from command trucks which require officers, but the Panzer Elite is noticeably distinguished. For them, the first two buildings must be completed, before the last two may be accessed, where before either of the first buildings provided access to the final buildings.
Doctrines have been dramatically extended. Though all of the doctrines are the same as they were vanilla, each has double the benefits, there are six doctrine benefits in the vanilla CoH but Blitzkrieg adds another six to make twelve unique characteristics of doctrinal armies. In both CoH and CoH2 as released by Relic it’s very possible to play entire matches without bothering to select a doctrine, and while that’s technically true here the army’s ability to field armor and therefore compete as effectively later in the game depends on doctrine.
While all Wehr doctrines and all US doctrines offer the Panzer IV and the Sherman, respectively, the role of tank and the cost often depends on doctrine as well. For example, a choice within the US Armor doctrine tree can make the M4A3 Sherman as cheap as 30 fuel and Shermans offered within US trees cover weapons armaments from howitzers to flamethrowers. As a consequence the doctrine/company you choose should be carefully selected in order to combat your enemy at maximum efficiency, as PE’s Tank Hunter would be wasted against US’s Airborne, whereas in the vanilla this was hardly a concern. In addition, a number of unique doctrinal units are available as in the original games, but to a much further extent. For example the CW can access Commandos through RAF doctrine or Royal Engineers sections through Royal Engineer Support doctrine. The Panzer Elite can insert Fallschirmjaeger and Gebirgsjaeger after spending CP on the Luftwaffe doctrine abilities.
For the more claustrophobic of the 32 extra maps included on Blitzkrieg’s installer, US Infantry doctrine offers Rangers that can use Thompson SMGs and “Close Combat Teams” than use Model 1898 shotguns, Tommy guns, grenades, and grease guns. As far as infantry aren’t concerned, the Wehrmacht’s Defense doctrine tree grants the player access to leFH18 howitzers both in emplacements, flak cannons, and fixed AT guns, as well as several nightmarish German jagdpanzer including “Nashorn” and “Elefant”. Out of over a hundred new units added, many are accessible only from the doctrinal trees, so getting the most out of any army means learning how to properly use their doctrine of your choice. Conclusively, Blitzkrieg has a more than measurable impact on the armies. Though base building has only been modified slightly to allow for the gameplay style the mod seeks to provide from Company of Heroes, army doctrines have gone from simply accentuating each faction to defining them. Being able to compete in the Blitzkrieg late game, with the AI especially, depends on adopting and exploiting the appropriate doctrine.
The Troops: Infantry, Mechanized, Armored Units
The original CoH saw everything from Half-tracks with four browning .50’s mounted in the bed to the German Wehrmacht’s “Knight’s Cross Holders” elite infantry and even the French Hotchkiss H35 with rocket racks mounted on the sides fielded by its armies. The Blitzkrieg mod adds over a hundred new units while retaining all of the old ones, and does so while increasing squad sizes and adding abilities and upgrades.
Besides simply adding units, Blitzkrieg is community-famous for it’s fully fleshed out, well researched and executed realism features, all of which contribute to a focus on tactical level combat. The mod adds new sounds and fx effects for weapons and battlefield events like, say, explosions and new high definition and historically considerate skins for each and every unit within the mod. On top of that, there are new ways to use your forces. The ambush system realizes CoH’s sniper and tank hunter camouflage system within plausible environments such as trees and bushes, while every unit’s weapons have been carefully assigned new values for damage output with realism as the ultimate goal. The end result is essentially a Normandy simulator, demanding environmental awareness along with consideration of your opposing forces and careful tailoring of your own to answer theirs as effectively as possible in tactical situations.
Infantry are the core of any army, and this emphasis in CoH has been extended by Blitzkrieg with troops that behave as trained soldiers. Not only line infantry squads, but elite troops and even engineers scatter and hit the dirt when under mortar or artillery fire. The suppression mechanic has been extended to machine guns mounted on light recon vehicles and mechanized vehicles, but can’t immobilize troops, and to offset this effect AT guns capable of roasting early to mid-game vehicles are available from the start.
Vanilla CoH players were frustrated by troops that would run into the open and out of cover when they came under fire from, say, a mortar, though they’d behave that way when confronted with AT or tank gun fire too, and because of this needless losses could occur from subsequent mortar rounds or small arms fire from enemy troops. Blitzkrieg helpfully defeats this by adding a universal infantry ability which holds them to cover, meaning they will not move from cover unless the ability is undone. The mod’s grunts perform beautifully and capably with proper use, but if treated carelessly are next to useless. Mechanized and armored units in CoH were game changing. Being unable to respond immediately to their presence usually meant the game would be lost quickly, though the inverse was true as well, and acquiring tanks and motorized anti infantry well before your opponent gave striking opportunities your opponent wouldn’t be able to recover from easily. Due to the added ballistic realism, a halftrack will never be able to survive a hit from a medium tank such as occurs in vanilla CoH and frequently in CoH2, but this also means that a single quad .50 mount on a US halftrack or the flamethrower-equipped Wehrmacht halftrack will tear through infantry and gun crews mercilessly.
Mechanized vehicles’ uses extend far beyond simply infantry counters, however, a wide range of available vehicles fill a great number of uses. All factions have halftracks equipped with heavy and light AT guns, all factions have access to mortar halftracks, and all factions have some form of armored car available with either a light tank gun or an automatic cannon in the case of the Wehrmacht’s Sdkfz. 222. These vehicles are comparable to tanks in that while they are expensive enough to warrant cautious use, they are so much cheaper than tanks that simply micromanaging them well is often enough to balance countering the enemy’s armor and supporting your own troops without a building a single tank, which is excellent. Due to an excellent camouflage system designed with ambush tactics in mind a lone, well-placed, AT halftrack can turn an open field into a tank graveyard, and infantry support is relatively negligible with the addition of a simple machine gun with a infantry troop in reserve to go out and kill any mortar teams trying to break your defense due to the increased population size and realistic pop values. With Blitzkrieg, proper management and intelligent micromanaging of available troops translates into good gameplay quickly.
Blitzkrieg’s armored vehicles are a double edged sword. Played well on the micro-scale, with concern to covered movement and guard against flanking as well as adequate infantry support (tanks can’t use AP and HE at the same time), can cause your enemy losses well beyond your own investment of resources and eventually cede control of the battlefield. Tanks gain the ability to switch between using AP and HE ammunition via an upgrade available at your base or around a munitions truck. Some AP rounds will penetrate and destroy, or at least critically damage, enemy tanks that would normally provoke a longer engagement. Realistic ballistics mean that Panthers and Tigers, as well as the German Pak AT guns, will regularly kill Allied tanks in a single round at very long ranges, though this is compensated by Allied tank losses being substantially easier to replace. Self-propelled AT is another story all together. What they possess in terms of excellent tank killing armament is offset by their mobility, or lack of, and vulnerability. Of course, such tank destroyers are intended to be used so that neither of those matter, but sometimes repurpose as an assault gun is a necessity to shell a building or defensive positions. Though cheaper than tanks, on larger maps especially it’s disappointing when TD is flanked, and where a tank could traverse it’s turret, most TDs need to take the time to traverse the whole vehicle, usually ending very badly because of their thin armor. Realistic ballistics also mean rockets, panzerfausts, and AT guns are all the more potent, offering another viable solution to the end game escalation into armored tank fights. The first match I played Commonwealth, I knocked out a Tiger in one shot from PIAT-equipped sappers, think a primitive RPG wielded by the Commonwealth engineer unit, which was surprising given the ineffectiveness of infantry AT in the vanilla game. In another example of Blitzkrieg being tactically focused, Panzerfaust which will destroy any Allied tank in two shots at the most, Panzerschreck which will typically net a tank kill in one shot, and American Bazookas are widely available as unit upgrades. However, dedicated Bazooka and Panzerschreck teams are also available to US and Wehr factions, respectively, offering a choice. For a similar manpower cost, you could acquire an infantry unit or AT guys on an infantry platform. While the riflemen can be upgraded with an AT weapon, they’ll need support against enemy infantry and won’t be as effective against tanks as dedicated tank hunters. However, Bazooka/Panzerschreck teams are hopeless against enemy infantry without support, often necessitating withdrawal, but their presence frequently means enemy tanks become smoking hulks of twisted, burnt-out metal.
Company of Heroes was a great game when it came out eight years years ago, it was a great game when it got it’s standalone expansions in 2007 and 2009, and it remains a great game today along with it’s successor CoH2. The original game showed obvious influence from cinema such as “Saving Private Ryan” and, more recently, “Band of Brothers” but Blitzkrieg depicts Normandy and truly the entire Western Front as never seen before in all of previous digital media. Units attention and care to perform at their best, but even extensive micromanaging can’t guarantee their survival, as the battlefield puts everybody at risk. Maps, community and Relic-made, are full of possibility and danger, as unknown fortifications are made in the fog of war and the opponent can turn any forest grove or village into an ambush or stronghold. Good early game play may doom your late game if you have a core of infantry and weapons teams for killing infantry and the opposite rolls tanks out. Tactical thinking, quick action and timing, and full use of the extended capabilities offered by the mod creates victories in what has become a CoH staple mod and an immersive portrayal of the combat operations in northern France in 1944.