The real-time strategy (RTS) genre has been a constant niche market for gamers—with staple series like Age of Empires and Total War always continuing to push innovation. Of course, Starcraft will always be up there too! Age of Empires IV really showed how a long gap in development could be a success. The same creators also worked on this sequel. Company of Heroes 3 reminded me of what made some classic games great. It showed how much the game developers were able to listen to their fans.
Relic Entertainment gave me a lot to eat and digest with this latest iteration of the iconic RTS game. CGMagazine was able to get a hands-on preview of the campaign and multiplayer experiences for Company of Heroes 3 in their development stages throughout Gamescom 2022 and beyond.
Beginning Company of Heroes 3 with the campaign experience, the voice acting was very immersive and nothing over-the-top with the commanders in both the North African and Italian campaigns. I started with the more standard, story snapshot-driven RTS campaign—the North African campaign. The narration from a North African local soldier and the German Deutsches Afrikakorps commander, Erwin Rommel (aka The Desert Fox), was very interesting to learn about the North African front from German and local perspectives. The briefs before each mission provided a great overview of what I needed to accomplish for each mission—they were not just an add-in but essential to the gameplay.
I thought this campaign contained a variety of tasks to complete with each different area of Libya and Egypt—with some compelling storytelling from each narrator. The cinematic visuals were also a great additive touch. It also introduced the concept of how third-party units could help out the player if they reciprocate the help first. Sort of like how the classic Fire Emblem games worked when certain characters could turn enemy leaders to the player’s side.
“Company of Heroes 3’s campaign use of the Italian troops was highlighted in this campaign”
As for the dynamic Italian campaign of Company of Heroes 3, with its newer approach compared to the previous two Company of Heroes games, I think it was the strongest point of the main parts of the game. I definitely noticed where the heavy focus of the campaign was, as it took me at least two or three times longer to complete – liberating Italy was a long, tiring mission. But that was what made it so great.
Relic brought the ammunition by offering players a genuine ‘dynamic’ experience for the Italian campaign, mixing the story missions and the skirmishes. Again, Company of Heroes 3’s campaign use of the Italian troops was highlighted in this campaign, but from the resistance fighters’ perspectives. It showed how Relic really wanted to nail that accuracy of how the Allies in the real-life second World War had struggled to find footing on the Italian front and how divided the Italian people were on the war.
I was able to fully experience the upgrade tech trees of the U.S. and U.K. forces in the Italian campaign as well. Building out more of the diversity of troops, the Indian Artillery and Gurkha troops were added to this game. And this was not simply done as adding diversity to the game, it was historically accurate. And they put the ‘dynamic’ in practically all aspects of the game.
Relic’s executives spoke earlier on in the development stages about how they wanted to highlight stories that may have been overlooked in the common school history books, and I thought adding in these troop types that most people would never have typically mentioned were brought to the forefront. These units were also quite strong and versatile!
With so much content in the Italian campaign, I expected to encounter some glitches. At the time of reviewing this magnificent RTS, I found a couple of bugs. One was that the map overview could lose textures after a few hours of play, which happened a lot when simulating enemy turns. However, it usually fixed itself after returning to the player’s turn.
Then I noticed that if two units were blocking a third unit under cover, the third unit could get stuck when I gave the third unit a move command. It was more of a nitpicky case, but still something that annoyed me when my units were not where I needed them. Numerous bugs were addressed throughout the development stages and even in this final build. Relic has noted that they are continuing to collect more data on these bugs and hope to have them resolved by launch.
I have to commend Relic for working closely with the Company of Heroes communities and recognizing this game was targeted at both fans returning to the franchise and newcomers. While the game could get overbearing, controlling many units, the implementation of the tactical pause was awesome to give players a chance to pause the game while still issuing orders once the game is unpaused. Of course, this was only single-player and not multiplayer.
On another note, I loved how far the HUD came from its barebones images of the units and upgrades to what it is now. The same with how the map was not just a simple square but contained a car-like dashboard. The four main resources felt like they were more balanced from the early developments of the game—I was not struggling to create new units or research new tech as much as before. I found the resource capture points were placed a lot better than before as well.
“The general gist of Company of Heroes 3 had a simple premise to most of the skirmishes and story missions.”
The general gist of Company of Heroes 3 had a simple premise for most of the skirmishes and story missions. But with the various scenarios and mid-game strategy switch-ups, the matches offered a variety of playstyles for its player. Even for the multiplayer mode, I found the skirmishes to be an ever-changing experience, depending on my teammates’ skill level and their awareness to react well to my pings and actions. I was glad that none of my games disconnected for any reason, but with more servers up for the world release, it could be a different story.
Their use of the all-new Essence Engine 5 continues to take Relic’s games into a new era—first in Age of Empires IV and now in Company of Heroes 3. The graphic details of soldiers getting blown to bits, buildings being demolished or bulldozed through, and flamethrowers burning the land were grotesquely brutal. Brutal, yet satisfying in connecting with the visual status of the player(s)’ troops—with their health and recognizing where the gunfire was coming from.
As my first entry into the Company of Heroes franchise, I was blown away! From my first time experiencing the early game previews, I could not put the game down until my access time was over. Most of the strategy games I have played were more turn-based, like X-Com or the Civilization games, but this was a really enlightening change of pace—cast against a compelling backdrop of the story and fun gameplay.
I found myself fully immersed in the micromanaging of different U.K. and U.S. companies in the Italian campaign. I think going forward, I would love to see what other players and modders do to expand the game’s free range even more—given the fact the developers have given a lot of freedom to the players with the modding toolset. I also hope that all of the small bugs can be exterminated once the final launch rolls out.