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Company of Heroes 3 review — A Thousand Battles, A Thousand Victories

To the east, a column of fast-moving artillery, and to the west, gun emplacements. My light attack brigade had cut a path directly through the battle lines. Stretched thin, my column was nearing the town of Nocera. If I could reach it, I could secure the town, opening the port and allowing me to land additional troops in the Italian countryside. Without it, however, my troops would surely be enveloped in the next few turns. As the Stuka bombers scouted out my position, my salvation came. A simple supply drop gave me enough munitions to launch a massive strike from my nearby battleship. As the Mark 7 deck guns rain 2700 pound artillery onto the town and the nearby emplacements, the defenses whither just enough for my ragged and tired troops to seize the moment. With the town secure, we just might win this war…

When you set out to make a follow-up to one of the most beloved RTS games of all time, you’ve got your work ahead of you. It’s one thing to simply throw more of the same at the game, and honestly that would have probably been enough for most. The formula was already tight, frenetic, and featured some fantastic multiplayer, so building on that foundation is already a tough act to follow. To that end, developer Relic went back to the game’s roots to figure out how they could preserve what made that game so great, while simultaneously bringing it into the modern era. When I got my hands on the game late last year, the team proudly proclaimed that this was the biggest Company of Heroes game to date. Let me assure you, that statement is drastically understating it. Before we get to the battlefield, let’s do a quick math check.

Company of Heroes 3 - First 35 mins of Italy Campaign on PC [Gaming Trend]

Company of Heroes 2 had 14 campaign missions in total – Company of Heroes 3 has 41. Company of Heroes 2 had 22 total maps to tackle in multiplayer and single player. This title has 52, and a massive randomization element as a cherry on top. There are 42 units to unleash on your foes in Company of Heroes 2, and a staggering 120 for this outing. It should come as no surprise that the campaign will set you back more than 40 hours instead of just 15. It’s absolutely stunning just how big this game is, and thankfully it’s not just quantity.

There are two distinct campaigns in Company of Heroes 3: a dynamic Italian campaign that has the enemy moving around the map and making trouble, and a more traditional story-driven North African Operation. Naturally, you also have the classic skirmish vs. AI mode, as well as cooperative modes. You can tackle the latter two in 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4, in any configuration of AI and human players you wish. There’s also a custom game mode that will expose all of the levers behind the scenes to adjust challenge, resources, and more. Best of all, the game supports mods on day 1, meaning you have everything you need to create whatever scenarios you can think of. If I were a betting man, I’d suspect we might see additional factions in the future for this game as well. This isn’t the last we’ll see of content for this game. .

Company of Heroes 3 - Tactical Battle View - Italy Campaign [Gaming Trend]

During the Italian dynamic campaign, you’ll have three major players in the region to work with: General Buckram, General Norton, and Eleonora Valenti, a leader in the Partisan forces of the region. Decisions you make will help or hinder your relationships with these three, but certain milestones will activate advantages with each. That can be additional naval reserves, the ability to crack Enigma codes, or cooldown time reductions, just to name a few from a long list for each.

As you can see, each “turn” in the game has you moving your units around, attempting to wrest control from the Nazis. Your troops can move a certain distance, attack and seize ports, towns, villages, and in some cases, lob artillery from a distance. Obviously the local citizens would prefer that you don’t shell their towns into rubble, so you’ll want to mind your relationships if you want to maintain the advantages they provide. During the 30 hours that the dynamic campaign lasted, I managed to keep all three factions entirely happy, securing all of their advantages without much trouble. That takes the teeth out of that system – it’d be nice if the tradeoffs were more purposeful.

We have to talk about Anzio. There’s a piece of artillery there nicknamed “Anzio Annie” that my trio of leaders complained about every single round. It was in the opposite direction of where my army was advancing, so I split my ground forces and headed them in that direction. Town after town fell to my advancing army until Anzio was in sight. For whatever reason, Anzio is completely unreachable. There are some tank traps and barbed wire on one side, but a perfectly accessible road around the back. I marched my troops behind the town and still I couldn’t reach Anzio Annie. Ultimately, I heard about it every single turn until the game finally failed me on that particular objective. In retrospect, I’d have shelled it out of existence or saved some of my population cap to land some troops from the water, but there was no indication prior that I wouldn’t be able to take it from land.

During my fight to break the Winter Line in Italy, I had a mission that aimed to be the culmination of the mixed force coalition. I had two factions I could switch between with the press of a button. I commend Relic for trying something new, even if it ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag. I built up one force and used the other force as a bit of a backstop to prevent the line from moving, not advancing with them. I doubt that was the intent.

I ran into a handful of collision issues where my troops would occasionally get stuck behind something, spinning in place. Thankfully, telling them to retreat usually broke them out of this state, but it only affected ground troops. This was highly infrequent, but present enough to stick out.

If it sounds like I’m tearing up the Italy campaign, it’s actually the opposite – out of 30 hours of hard fighting, it was just these moments that I felt could use work. The rest of the game is a tactical masterpiece. Even when I had the enemy pinned and on their heels, they’d find ways to make things dangerous. Snipers were always a hidden danger, artillery or mortars from the fog of war pushed me to move my line further into unknown territory. Best of all, there was enough variety in mission types to keep things interesting across the campaign.

There are four factions instead of two this time around – US Forces, Wehrmacht, Afrikakorps, and British Forces, though there are also several smaller factions such as Nepalese Gurkha fighters to join them on the battlefield. Across all modes you’ll likely run into each, as well as a smattering of Partisans. Each capture type gives you different resources. Ports increase population cap, Air bases allow you to scout and land airstrikes on your foes. Attacking one can give you a toe hold to stake your claim in the area. I ended up cutting a swath directly through from one coast to the other, breaking the German lines and making it difficult to reinforce. This strategy proved to be the right one, as I was able to hold my towns against counterattacks. I did have problems with enemy intel, as they could fly sorties above with impunity as I refused to spend expensive manpower and munitions on flak cannons. I was moving through the countryside too fast to stop.

Company of Heroes 3 - Capture an Airfield = Italy Campaign [Gaming Trend]

The thing I liked most about the Italian campaign is that it will be different the next time I play it. The decisions I make (I’m looking at you Anzio Annie) will change the direction of the campaign. I didn’t push my air fleet because I wanted to curry favor with the local Partisans, but next time I think I’ll eschew that in favor of a shorter war. I have no doubt that I extended the suffering of the local population by sparing their towns, no matter how brutal the alternative. War is war, and horror is horror. The major story beats and the missions associated with them will be the same, but pounding the town with 88s will mean less tickets and resources for the enemy to lean on to field tanks. Defensive missions, skirmishes, counterattacks, and focusing on artillery rather than tanks or special forces versus locally-trained companies will change the look and feel of your battle, and that’s a game changer.

Tactical pause is a gamechanger for this series. The frenetic pace can sometimes lead to hasty mistakes. While that may be more realistic, it may not be for everyone. Here, you can queue up eight individual tasks simultaneously. This is a crucial task as I send out all of my troops to grab up as much land as I can to establish an early foothold. I also used it to execute complex mixed unit tactics such as having my grenadiers throw their payload as my light tanks executed a wheel maneuver to oust an enemy artillery position.

Company of Heroes 3 - Mission 1 - N. African Campaign [Gaming Trend]

In Company of Heroes 2, garrisoning troops was effective, arguably too effective. Digging troops out of a building was a protracted fight, and when those troops were flanked by rocket positions, it could be a show stopper for a mechanized unit. A new breach mechanic makes an appearance in Company of Heroes 3, and it is very effective. What surprised me was how balanced it was. You need to get close to use it, and troops can still be suppressed on their way to that breach activity, meaning angle of approach, cover, and troop composition can make a huge difference. I was able to use this to dig out stubborn LMG ambushers. Unfortunately for me, it was also used to great effect against me, dislodging my carefully planned ambush points. It’s the sort of give and take you hope to see in a tactical game, and the team at Relic nailed it.

The North African Operation was a bit of a surprise. While I expected the more straightforward scripted “classic” Company of Heroes experience, I was surprised to see the war from the perspective of the Deutsches Afrikakorps. commanded by the Desert Fox himself, Field Marshall Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel. Each fight charts his historic march through Africa, including Tobrok, El Alamein, and Ajdabiya, but what surprised me (other than playing the part of the enemy) was that the cutscenes between those locations showcase a compelling story of a Jewish Berber family fighting for his family back in Benghazi. Trapped in the middle between the British forces and the DAK, their story is a compelling one. You can’t help but feel for their plight and their loss, and you can’t help but admire Rommel’s ingenuity. It’s inspiring to see how a commander that knows he is outgunned and cut off somehow rallies his troops with the bravado and tactics that earned him his infamous nickname. To be clear, he’s still a Nazi, but it humanizes the man in a way I’ve not seen before in a game.

Story aside, mechanically the Afrika Korps are, well, a heavily mechanized unit. Most other armies are a mixed brigade of ground troops, light tanks, and support units, bolstered by the occasional heavy tank. The Afrika Korps roll heavy, slow, and dangerous, instead bolstered by lighter and faster tanks rather than jeeps and trucks. Their ground troops are nearly as dangerous, sporting a variety of specialty grenades and enough wrenches to scrap anything that stops moving. To keep their own vehicles moving, nearly all of their vehicles can be mounted as well, meaning they can cause massive damage, hit the scrap like locusts, and then move to the next hot spot in the blink of an eye. It’s scary to see in motion, and I am looking forward to really digging into this newest force against more human foes. Frankly, the Tiger Tank flanked by Panzer 3s are terrifying to see cresting a hill.

Company of Heroes 3 - Mission 2 - N. African Campaign [Gaming Trend]

British Forces, a refreshed Wehrmacht, and U.S. Forces also make a return with brand new units such as the 6-Pounder Anti-Tank Gun, support units like the absolutely brutal Gurkhas, and the versatile StuG Assault Gun returns with new options. Flamethrowers are downright terrifying in the real world, and that is conveyed with shocking ferocity in Company of Heroes 3. Veterancy levels also bring a fresh roster of specializations that can really change the dynamics of the battleground. This series has never been short on dangerous implements of war, but the veritable cornucopia of weapons and upgrades on offer in Company of Heroes 3 change the game in ways that, even at over 40 hours of game time (and counting, I can’t put this game down!) I can’t begin to properly quantify. Experts will be digging through all the various min/max opportunities here for a very, very long time, providing near infinite replay value.

Ultimately, Company of Heroes 3 does the impossible. It takes what was already a phenomenal game and makes it better with additions where it makes sense, and tuning where adding would cause more damage than good. What’s left is a masterpiece of tactical brilliance that is sure to keep us all in the trenches for years to come.

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!

Company of Heroes 3 review — A Thousand Battles, A Thousand Victories
90

Excellent

Company of Heroes 3

Review Guidelines

With fresh factions, two campaigns, significantly more options, and a refreshed skirmish mode, Company of Heroes 3 exceeds the impossibly-high bar set by its predecessor by a shockingly wide margin. It’s a masterpiece.

Ron Burke

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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