|Company of Heroes 3
|Nov 17, 2022
The RTS genre seems to be undergoing a real revival. After re-releasing classics like Command & Conquer Remastered, the Age of Empires DE series, Iron Harvest, Dune Spice Wars, and of course Age of Empires IV, it’s now the turn of Company of Heroes. That’s not a big surprise, because the game was announced exactly one year ago for release this year and we also published the first preview around that time in which some of the innovations were explained. After two short public multiplayer tests players have been able to get a taste of the game for a while, but now Relic and Sega have released a complete mission of the game for the first time. We were able to get started with it for a day two weeks ago, but everyone will be able to do it next week. In this preview, you can read our findings.
We’ll start with a quick rundown of what to expect from Company of Heroes 3 compared to its predecessors. After the focus on the Eastern Front and the Ardennes, it is now time for the illustrious battles in North Africa from 1941 and then the amphibious landing in Italy in the autumn of 1943, which heralded the landing in Normandy. This offers opportunities for an enormously varied landscape: from the Sahara desert to Mediterranean Italy with rolling hills and slender cypress trees. New to the game are some Italian units, such as the black-clad Guastatori combat engineers and the light L6/40 tank.
Furthermore, in addition to beefed-up graphics, new landscapes, and a higher level of destruction, the game contains a number of novelties compared to CoH 2. As with Age of Empires IV, Relic established a community council before CoH 3 was actually started. That was almost five years ago, in 2017, when this game was just an idea. Ten selected fans contributed ideas on all aspects of the game and 50,000 players provided feedback on the multiplayer alpha.
You can read more about the revamped Dynamic Campaign, Companies and Detachments, and the Battleplans in our expanded preview from July 2021, shortly after the game was announced in June of that year. In this preview, we mainly focus on the innovations that we were able to experience during the first released mission, as can also be seen in the video in this article. Note that this video was shot in 1080p, which Relic said was the best setting at this stage of the game. The graphic quality is therefore limited.
In Mission Alpha, you play as the German Afrika Korps, or DAK: the German army units led by Rommel that were sent to North Africa to support the demoralized Italian troops against the British army. The fighting took place mainly in Libya and Egypt. This playable mission is set near Ajdabiya in western Libya in January 1942. The objective of the mission is to come to the aid of Italian troops and chase the British away. That starts by producing troops and using the recovery vehicle to repair some defective tanks. The first you encounter is a Panzer III with the flamethrower, which seems indispensable for later moments during this mission.
That repairing tanks and other vehicles with the repair vehicle is a nice addition. Repairs have been possible for much longer, including with engineers, but now it is true that a destroyed tank can still be made suitable again. This takes place in two phases: during the first phase, the defective vehicle is completely unusable, but not completely destroyed. First you bring it back to life: the vehicle can then drive again but is still badly damaged. A single hit is then enough to take him out again. It must then be repaired again so that it is like new again. This can be done with the repaired vehicle as well as with troops and panzergrenadiers can now also perform repairs, albeit more slowly. Those two repair phases feel a bit artificial, especially that you have to click twice with the repaired vehicle. We also encountered some bugs during the mission. Some vehicles could not be repaired even though we had enough points and the game also did not indicate that we were already at maximum troop capacity. A vehicle can also be really broken, for example after it exploded. In that case, repair is pointless.
We could now also experience the Tactical Pause for the first time. This allows you to pause the game for a while, but instead of calling up the menu, you can command units to move, attack, or give other commands during that pause. This way you can take the time to position your troops well before you launch an attack. It’s a nice addition, although it’s unclear to us how often we would use it in practice, instead of making decisions in real time. It could come in handy during tricky matches against the AI.
In addition, there is now a vehicle that allows you to move heavy artillery, which previously in the previous CoH versions could only be built in a fixed place, such as a howitzer. So now you can move them and put them back into operation elsewhere. Another new feature is tank riding. Just like jeeps and trucks, you can now also have a group of army units ride on a tank. That improves the speed and looks nice. Once the tank enters combat, the units will dismount automatically and you will have to manually run them for cover or send them to a strategic location. Also new are waypoints, where you can send your units in a direction via a safe route. Furthermore, the other factions also seem to get unique new units, such as the British Gurkhas, but we couldn’t test that during this mission.
For experienced Company of Heroes players, the rts part of the game feels instantly familiar. The interface is a bit different and the commanders have disappeared and been replaced by Battlegroups, but you immediately know what to do. In part three, it is still old-fashioned about getting and keeping parts of the battlefield. You do this by capturing flags that are placed here and there at strategic points. This provides the resources with which you can acquire and train units. But you only get those resources if you manage to keep the supply lines intact from the different flags you’ve captured, which have a direct connection to your headquarters. It also still revolves around the same resources as in the second part: Manpower, Munitions and Fuel. In addition, the Unit Count is of course important.
If we compare the interface with part two, the map is still in the familiar place at the bottom left. This also applies to the part at the bottom right, where you can produce units and vehicles and with which you can give your units certain assignments. There we also find the tabs with the different types of command posts, each of which gives you access to specific troops and upgrades, although they are now shifted from top to bottom. Previously, the icons of your different units were shown at the top right of the image, but now they are at the bottom left next to the map, where they have also become a bit smaller. Shortcuts to certain actions or troops that you can immediately deploy in the field have been moved to the right side of the screen. Despite the changes, it feels familiar and we didn’t have to search.
The interface has become a lot tighter. With CoH 1 and 2, it was deliberately classically designed to match the zeitgeist: with metal edges with rust, buttons with gray gradients and an old-fashioned radar with glass over it. The new interface is sleek. It takes some getting used to, but it makes the game a little less corny and more modern. Version two is almost ten years old and playful 3d buttons were still in vogue; now everything is flat and fairly minimalist.
The final version of Company of Heroes 3 will be released on November 17th this year, so we’ll have to wait a little longer. However, like us, you can try the Mission Alpha for free between Tuesday evening July 12, and July 19. Players who have participated in the multiplayer pre-alphas will automatically see an update on Steam. At the time of writing, it was not yet clear whether a Mac version will also be released in November. Officially only a PC version is mentioned, but version two also appeared for the Mac via Steam. More information about this may be announced at a later date.
The playing time was too short to get a good impression of the degree of destruction. According to their own words, buildings and other parts could now be completely destroyed. During the alpha the opposite also happened and we drove a tank through a train without any visible damage. Graphics performance is also difficult to assess at the moment, partly because a maximum of 1080p was recommended and because higher resolutions have not yet been optimized. We certainly see progress, although CoH 2 is also quite detailed if you zoom in a lot. At the moment, the graphics are not yet shockingly beautiful for a game from 2022. The zoom level could also be improved – you can zoom in to the square meter, but the maximum zoom out level is still limited. The mission was challenging enough, but not very difficult for experienced players. To defeat the enemy it is important to attack with the right combination of troops. Especially for beginners or less experienced CoH players, the Tactical Pause option can be useful.
Furthermore, it is now known that the game will have four factions in November. We already know the first three, but the units, vehicles and speech have been modified: they are the Americans, the British and the Wehrmacht. New is the aforementioned German Afrika Korps. That does mean that we have to miss Obercommando West and the Russians, although that is no surprise with this theme. It’s a shame because this made the game more varied because each army has unique properties and units. There may be factions added later because there are now four instead of the five of Company of Heroes 2, which received three more expansions since its release in 2013.
Also, mods and maps will probably be missing during the release. At least, we didn’t get a concrete answer to our question about this. Relic focuses on this Alpha and the final release for now. We saw that with Age of Empires IV too. There it took about half a year before the mods became available, including maps and tweaks made by players.
It is, of course, too early to judge. The mission was fun, but also quite short and the two times we participated in the multiplayer alpha were also limited and been a while. As far as we are concerned, it is a title that we are looking forward to with great interest this winter.