Company of Heroes 3 blasts itself on to the scene this week and brings back the series’ much-loved gameplay. But can it distance itself from its predecessors?
Those who have experienced Company of Heroes before will be familiar with the slower RTS gameplay of the series, which focuses more on terrain than on production and resource management. Company of Heroes 3 doesn’t change the formula much, but it does do a great job of making you feel like a genuine tactical general who must make decisions in advance to best utilise the units under their command.
The narratives of each campaign leave a little to be desired: there’s absolutely nothing original here. But the Mediterranean and North African settings make Company of Heroes 3 look and feel unique. And it’s the actual battles within the campaigns that matter. Thankfully, they’re suitably dynamic and engaging – and rather on the challenging side.
Your men aren’t plentiful and can be easily lost. If you don’t take care in placing your troops, you can easily be blindsided and annihilated by the enemy. Thinking ahead is ever so important. Yet, there’s still the need to adapt to the ever-evolving battlefield as the skirmishes unfold, though you may want to keep reserves behind to do so. Knowing when to use abilities, and when to push or hold makes playing Company of Heroes 3 less formulaic than a game of chess.
Especially impressive is Company of Heroes 3‘s AI and how well it sets up to screw you over with its positioning. That said, it did appear to struggle to deal with a concentrated force on one wing while another held its position. But using actual WWII tactics to be successful in a WWII RTS isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Pathfinding is fiddly in Company of Heroes 3. There are very specific ways of navigating your troops but it takes a good amount of getting used to. For a game that’s based heavily on unit placement and terrain this can be annoying, but it’s done in such a way to allow you precision with your actions and the order of them being carried out.
Chaining orders is particularly important to make your units take specific routes to and from cover. This is where some of the new features in Company of Heroes 3 come in handy. One of the best of these is a single player ‘Tactical Pause’, allowing you to survey the map and give orders to your units and even review their action priorities. Not only is it incredibly useful, but it reminded us of playing with physical models over a diorama.
It also allowed us to experiment with the numerous ways that units can interact in Company of Heroes 3. Getting a lift on a mobile unit to get your infantry to the front lines can come in very handy in a pinch, for example. Unfortunately, this is about all you get when it comes to new features within the skirmishes.
While the gameplay of Company of Heroes 3 is as good as ever and its minor innovations are very welcome, we can’t shake the feeling that it’s just a bit too similar to previous entries. This is even more apparent in multiplayer where you don’t have access to the Tactical Pause function.
In an effort to set the new entry apart, developer Relic Entertainment has introduced a sandbox-style grand strategy element to the Italian campaign. This War Theatre overview allows you to approach different missions in any order and utilise the different units at your disposal. But while this is a fun change of pace, it feels too similar to a Total War game or Hearts of Iron 4. Why would we not just load one of those up instead?
Company of Heroes 3 does boast on its website that it is launching with double the amount of factions than any other entry in the franchise: there are four factions as opposed to two. Thankfully, the differences between the four factions are distinctive enough to make them all unique without completely changing the way you approach the game. But four factions still hardly feels worth shouting from the rooftops about.
Also, fighting in Italy and North Africa seems to miss out one major faction: the Italians themselves. Historically, Italy surrendered after the Invasion of Sicily but they were more than just a road bump in North Africa. They may have needed Rommel’s help, but to exclude them entirely seems like a huge omission and a bit too generous to the Germans.
But even overlooking historical omissions, we can’t help but feel that Company of Heroes 3 feels more like an expansion than a brand new instalment. Perhaps it’s a case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” – and that’s fair; the Company of Heroes series remains great, and this newest entry is no different. But with 10 years since the last mainline entry, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to have expected a little more.
Playing Company of Heroes 3 is a great experience if you like dynamic, tough, tactical RTS games that revolve around utilising the terrain to your advantage. But if you’re expecting a major evolution from the previous games in the series, you’ll likely come away disappointed. If you’re a fan of WWII strategy and somehow haven’t dived into the series yet, you’ll have a great time. But otherwise, you may as well stick with the original Company of Heroes.