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AI and Company of Heroes 2

Every time I think I’ve entrenched my defense, there’s a squad in my backyard, taking a random piece of territory just to break my supply line. It’s a legitimate strategy, but it’s frustrating, because we’re already fighting on two fronts and all my troops are occupied on the front lines. I have to send back a unit to eradicate the sneaky but intrepid volksgrenadiers.

How did they even get so far back into my territory? It must have been while I was distracted mowing down infantry squads attempting to cross a bridge directly into the face of my machine gunners (who, naturally, are entrenched in a bunker, safe as can be unless my opponent somehow gets flamethrowers over to them). It’s hard to break a British defensive line once I’m set up.

Then again, attacking with vehicles will do the trick, and they do it, with tank after tank after tank!

Haven’t I held the fuel points for more or less the entire match? Why am I seeing Panther tanks? How am I seeing Panther tanks? How does the other player have enough resources to build them?

Well...this is Company of Heroes 2, and I’m playing the expert level of AI.

A typical example of using “Artificial Difficulty”, (i.e., cheating), Company of Heroes 2 is an otherwise a really fun real time strategy game. Set in World War II, it features a wide variety of units, and you can play as many of the main participants in the war in Europe (England, America, Russia, and two kinds of Germans), each with their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

Usually, I play this with or against a friend, but...I have only a few friends who play this game, and so we usually supplement the two or three of us playing with AIs. My skill level puts me somewhere between a standard and a hard AI difficulty (the difference is made by the map, and by which faction I’m playing), but my one friend is better than an expert, regardless of situational factors. When he plays, he handicaps himself by putting his opponents on higher difficulty levels than his allies... and that’s how I end up in the aforementioned situation.

The thing is, playing against AIs is frustrating. According to him, (and assuming he’s not pulling my leg) it’s more fun to play against me, even taking into account my inferior skill level, because I am more creative, more intelligent and more fun than an AI. Why? Because when you turn up the difficulty, the AI doesn’t get smarter, it just gets more resources and the ability to see through the fog of war, and that’s not all that fun.

The AI will, for example, run its squads into a machine gun, or carelessly walk a sniper into my forward base. It doesn’t care -- there are dozens more where that came from, because of the intense resource bonus afforded to the higher difficulty levels. So I kill the interloper and get back to the game. It’s rather like swatting flies so you can concentrate on some other task without them buzzing around your head.

Company of Heroes have not released the specifics of their difficulties, as far as I can find, so I don’t have any concrete numbers for you, but it’s clear from playing, and from reading other people’s experiences, that this is a source of some frustration for players. When you are a beginner or intermediate player and playing with the lower levels of the AI, you don’t notice this as much, because it is not cheating. But the better and better you get, the less you can rely on the AIs to provide a challenging and satisfying gaming experience.

“Why doesn’t your expert-level friend just play online?” you might ask.

Because he doesn’t like to play online unless it’s with people he knows. As I said in my last blog post, there are many reasons why someone might not want to play online, ranging from not finding it relaxing to engage with other humans (especially if you don’t know them), to not being able to find someone of a similar skill level through the matchmaking process.

So what does that leave? A lot of players, searching for a good who doesn’t cheat.

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