A sequel that isn’t afraid to experiment
Relic Entertainment has opened the doors to allow people to try out the multiplayer component of Company Of Heroes 3. While the upcoming campaign mode is an interesting new approach for the series, multiplayer skirmishes have always been the real draw of the franchise, at least for me.
The post-match survey the pre-alpha offers asks which mode players have enjoyed the most in previous games. For me, the “skirmish vs AI” box is firmly ticked. Overcoming a pair of AI foes while working with a friend has always been the most fun, and Company Of Heroes 3 continues that challenge.
Jump into a match and everything feels very Company Of Heroes 2. Base building is the same as ever; building structures unlock units in the same progression you’d expect. However, it feels apparent that tuning behind the scenes has taken a different direction. In previous entries in the series, rounds would start with a significant infantry focus and transition to a tank on tank battlefield with infantry still kicking around to capture points and knock out anti-tank threats.
With Company Of Heroes 3, armour takes a different role. Infantry is the core of your army, and gunfights between two squads across an Italian vineyard are often slow and mathematical. Fuel to support vehicle production is harder to acquire, and where and when you spend fuel has drastic impacts on your army. Upgrading to unlock grenades will allow your rifleman to breach and clear enemy-controlled buildings but will slow down your upgrade to request air support.
Once a tank is created, it is an understandably powerful asset, but the metal death machines of Company Of Heroes 2 are no more. Keeping a tank alive requires good positioning and careful scouting from less expensive units. A single lousy manoeuvre can see a tank ripped to shreds in no time. Company Of Heroes 3 is about supporting infantry with armour, instead of the reverse. At least it seems that way so far.
The campaign preview let players try out the British forces and included some of the attachable Australian and Indian divisions, which gives hope of a more global feeling battlefield. Still, for this preview, things stay traditional – the US forces versus German Wehrmacht. The two factions have appeared in every Company Of Heroes, and while they always played differently from each other, this time around they feel very distinct.
German troops can be retired and upgraded to units unlocked further down the tech trees, allowing your dated volks grenadiers to take a quick break at the base and become newer panzer grenadiers. Upgrades and improvements feel less like an equipment change and more like a doctrinal shift across the army.
US troops are built with specific specialities in mind, with pathfinders sitting further back to engage troops spotted by forward riflemen or sneaking up to gather intel from the frontlines. Players can upgrade vehicles such as the M3 with an anti-air gun or artillery piece to fill different roles.
While this is listed as a pre-alpha, certain aspects of the game feel incredibly satisfying. The sound design is genuinely standout – explosions feel hefty, and gunshots in the same location as your camera hit hard and echo off into the surroundings. Anything happening away from your camera sounds like a distant battle. Tanks that get knocked out in a fierce battle don’t immediately explode into fireballs but instead slump to a creaky stop like the felled metal behemoths they truly are. When buildings get hit by mortars or artillery, they shake, causing bricks and tiles to pour to the ground. The battlefields of Company Of Heroes have never felt so brutally alive.
New quality of life features like a toggle for auto-reinforcing units, and automatic upgrades of old units to new ones unlocked by battlegroups, assist in improving the game in areas where it didn’t appear to need it. however, some changes like the new transparent UI may have been a step in the wrong direction.
All of the great presentation is hampered by performance issues. The settings menu feels bare, and no matter what tweaks are made, the camera often feels jittery when moving across a battlefield. Attempting to keep an eye on all your troops to dodge grenades and mortars at a moments notice is not worth the uncomfortable feeling of the camera, and it considerably hampered my ability to play smart. The game is listed as a pre-alpha, so hopefully, these issues get ironed out before Relic decide to share more of the game. Otherwise, it looks like Company Of Heroes 3 could be a grand entry in the RTS genre.
Company Of Heroes 3 is currently in a pre-alpha stage, with a release date yet to be announced. Until then, keep your eye on the game’s Steam page for more details.
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