Normally I’m quite a calm relaxed user, able to handle even the toughest problems dished out by computer software without losing my cool… Unfortunately this weekend has driven me to a new level of annoyance thanks to the joys of a WW2 strategy game called “Company of Heroes” developed by Relic Entertainment and published by THQ.
This game is a particularly fun multiplayer RTS which ensures many hours of amusement when played at a LAN party and overall is one of the best strategy games I’ve played in some time.
When I originally purchased the game, it’s DRM simply consisted of a product key and requiring the disk to play – whilst annoying and pointless, this was something I could put up with.
However, in their infinite wisdom, the developers decided that it would be a good idea to lock this product down even further to inflict as much pain as possible upon their paying customers in the name of anti-piracy.
Over time they have pushed out updates making their product more and more unusable by the legitimate customer and driving me crazy.
And so, I give you the tale of woe that is the Company of Heroes customer experience.
USING THE GAME
In order to play online, or to EVEN START THE GAME you must have the game updated to the latest release at all time.
If you just want to start the game and have a LAN or single player game, it will force you to download the latest patches before you can play – regardless whether or not the patch is 100MB or 1.8GB (yes, 1.8GB patches do exist).
I can understand the need to patch in order to be able to play online – there is the security reasons as well as simply needing to have the same API version as the other players. However, forcing the user to update in order to be able to play locally is totally ridiculous and causes a lot of messing around simply to handle developer stupidity.
It is possible to trick this to allow you to play without updating by pulling your network connection or writing some firewall rules to block the connection back to the game servers, which will then cause the game to prompt for the install DVD, but it’s all hassle that shouldn’t be required.
Of course, that is assuming that the disk verification actually works! I had to reinstall CoH, and now whenever I start the game, it claims that it “could not verify media”.
Oh, did I happen to mention that this error happens regardless whether I even have the disk in the drive or not? It appears to me that it doesn’t even bother to check the media and just fails.
I suspect that if I was to connect online and authenticate with the relic servers it will work, but what happens when my internet is down again?
Currently my DSL is screwed (* long story about another equally inept company) with the only fix being my new cable internet connection going live on the 18th. How am I supposed to use this product meanwhile? What about users with only occasional internet access – overseas troops, travellers, or the poor people who still have to use dialup?
I understand the need for patching, I’m even pleased that Relic have decided to support the product and regularly fix issues, tweak features and maintain the product.
However, I’m not please that I have to deal with shit such as:
1. Huge patches of 1.8GB due to new expansion content being deployed via patch.
This happens so that non-expansion players can play with other expansion players and – in theory – players can upgrade to a purchased expansion by entering a product key from the newer release.
However, they managed to fuck this up, so that after I installed the original CoH, applied *all* patches and then entered my product key for the Opposing Fronts expansion, it unlocked only part of the content.
In particular, I found that there were no voice files or campaigns installed from the expansion making the game rather limited.
So I actually need to install from the expansion disk instead of the original disk – but when I do this, I can only play the original content when I have a working internet connection, when offline the original content is hidden as the product key is only associated with my online login.
This was the reason I originally tried to reinstall, in order to try and make both the original and expansion content work whilst offline. I guess I’m asking for too much…
2. Incredibly slow patching when applying.
Seriously, how does it take 15mins to install 100MB of patch?? The main game installer is slow enough that I can go take a shower & sort out the laundry to find it still running when I return and the patches just seem to continue this slowness trend.
3. MISSING PATCHES!!
This point is very, very, frustrating. I have a local copy, of EVERY. SINGLE. PATCH. released by Relic on my file server. They total close to 3.8GB
However, I do not seem to have one mysterious patch which is required after I reinstall the game using the Opposing Fronts expansion disk.
Once this mysterious 114MB patch has been installed, it will then allow me to install the rest of the patches that I have locally. However, this patch does not exist on their website at cohpatch.relic.com, meaning I can’t stick it on my file server for future use.
The only way I’m going to be able to install this patch is to use the in-game downloader and then packet sniff the traffic with tcpdump or wireshark and see what URL the patch is being downloaded from and save a local copy.
I can solve this, but it’s just a PITA and could really be avoided if they didn’t force patches onto users so much since I don’t often use the online play features.
4. Product version lies
And to make product patching even more fun, the version number lies. Under the control panel, I can check the version of the game that is installed.
According to the support information, I have version 22.214.171.124 installed when I’ve done a clean install from the original company of heroes disk.
But hang on, this is the same version that I have installed when I install from the CoH Opposing Fronts expansion disk instead – they can’t both be the same version!
If I then try to patch the install using the orginal disk, I can patch with EN_2101_2201_Patch.exe. However, this patch won’t work if I attempt to patch the install from the opposing fronts disk.
So what is the *real* version of the application? They can’t both be version 126.96.36.199, since they exhibit different behaviours. And how come patch 2101 to 2201 works with version 188.8.131.52??
FUCK RELIC ENTERTAINMENT/THQ
I’m a legitimate owner of both the original game and the expansion, however there is no way I am ever going to buy another Relic/THQ game ever again after all this crap.
I suspect if I just pirated the game, I would not have had any of these stupid problems and would be happily playing it right now.
So I’ve wasted several hours trying to make this product work and I’ve ended up at a stage where the game flat out refused to start with an error about being unable to verify the media, even after a clean reinstall and reboot.
I love the game, but it’s horrific DRM and update “features” have certainly given me a sour taste – I can recommend to anyone considering playing it to skip the retail version and go straight to a pirate download site. After all, Relic must be keen supporters of piracy, as I can think of no other reason for their product to be so terrible towards paying customers.