It's hard to believe that almost seven years have passed since Relic Entertainment and THQ released Company of Heroes, a real-time strategy title on the theme of WWII that impressed me and many other RTS fans at the time. I've even invested in the following two expansions – Opposing Fronts and Tales of Valor – and in addition to recording many hours of gameplay, I've featured the game in numerous CPU and GPU reviews as it is an excellent benchmark for measuring the performance of both Components.
The built-in benchmark made life easier by testing a decent part of the game, which became even more relevant to hardware testers like me when Relic added a DirectX 10 rendering mode a year after Company of Heroes first shipped, as well as improved shadows and lighting. This update made Company of Heroes the first commercial video game to support DirectX 10.
CoH is based on the "Essence Engine" which has been re-encoded by Relic from the ground up to use special graphical effects such as high dynamic range lighting, dynamic lighting and shadows, advanced shader effects and normal mapping. It also used the Havok physics engine for more realistic physics than previous RTS games. For example, high-powered weapons could blow up buildings while tanks could go through walls. Things like debris could also be affected by explosions, as barrels would often fly.
For its time, CoH looked very impressive – especially for an RTS – and when Relic and Sega released the game's sequel on June 25, we busily installed a copy and started benchmarking.
Like the original, Company of Heroes 2 is set in World War II, but focuses on the Eastern Front. It is based on Relic's proprietary Essence 3.0 engine, with which the developer can supposedly bring "new technological advances" into play. CoH 2 uses DirectX 11, but also supports DirectX 9 and its engine has a host of new features such as ColdTech, a dynamic system that provides effects such as snow accumulation on buildings and vehicles and restricts movement depending on the snow depth and snow tracks made by units were left behind.
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This extreme level of detail should put a lot of strain on both the CPU and the GPU under heavy loads. We hope that CoH 2 will serve as a good PC benchmark in our test reports in the coming years. In the meantime, let's see how to tackle today's hardware.
We tested almost 30 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia, covering all price ranges. The latest drivers were used, and each card was paired with an Intel Core i7-3960X to remove CPU bottlenecks that could affect high-end GPU scores (at least that's what we took into account in the CPU tests to to see what we mean).
While we usually rely on Fraps to record up to 90 seconds of play time for our benchmark data, Relic gave us another option that is both simpler and more accurate. CoH 2 has a built-in benchmark that players can use to optimize their systems for maximum performance.
With the integrated benchmark, we were able to use different settings for the graphics quality, so that we tested both at the medium and at the maximum level. We ran CoH 2 at three popular desktop display resolutions – 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200, and 2560 x 1600 – with DX11.