It’s always risky to return to an incredibly successful franchise, but about a decade after Company of Heroes 2 we’re getting another sequel in the iconic real-time strategy series. We played it through Steam to see if it lives up to its predecessors.
Set once again against the backdrop of World War II, Company of Heroes 3 is a real-time strategy game developed by Relic Entertainment that’s being published by SEGA. Offering an immersive experience of some of the battles that took place during the war, the game builds upon the success of its predecessors and offers a refined and well-crafted experience that we think is sure to please both veterans and newcomers to the series – though depending on what you’re looking for you might run into a few rough edges as well.
The basics are going to be familiar here. The game puts you in command of a variety of units, from infantry to tanks, as you lead them through intense battles across various theatres of war, emphasizing the lesser known Italian and North African frontlines this time. Each faction has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and mastering them is the key to victory. Apart from a new location, it’s familiar territory for RTS fans – a testament to how mature the genre is, but at the same time a sign that points at the relative lack of innovation in it.
With the US, UK, German Wehrmacht and the Afrika Korps, Company of Heroes 3 features four separate factions, which is fantastic in terms of content for multiplayer gameplay. On the single player front, a fairly linear and scripted African campaign eases players into the game, but is best suited to those with a vivid memory of the last game thanks to a poor implementation of the tutorial and user interface. Company of Heroes excels when you start customizing units with abilities and upgrades you earn by surviving battles, but newcomers might not get enough guidance here – for us it helped to add an experienced player into the mix, but that shouldn’t have to be a requirement. One mechanic that works relatively well is the tactical pause option, which lets you pause the game and issue orders that get executed once you unpause, but even this leads to some trial and error.
The second campaign takes place in Italy, and feels like the real meat of the single player portion as you aim to gradually reclaim the country – though the premise it somewhat deceptive as you’re not completely free to choose how to tackle the overworld map and plot your own course and battles. Instead, it’s quite scripted and full of story events that push the campaign forward – we never saw any kind of ebb and flow where territories change hands because the AI reclaimed an area we had previously captured. While the in-game action is excellent, this feels like a missed opportunity – adding more strategic depth to a campaign that you can also make more dynamic and challenging than it currently is.
Perhaps we’ll see the game expand in that direction post-launch (Company of Heroes 2 received plenty of new content after it launched), but Relic’s more immediate focus is probably going to be on fixing some of the bugs that plagued the game at launch and seem to still affect the game a few weeks later.
Once that happens, Company of Heroes will easily become the most gorgeous and fantastically playable game in the series thus far – the highly entertaining multiplayer is a testament to that. If Relic also decided to make the campaign more dynamic and challenging – or add an additional campaign that does that, this could be the best real-time strategy game ever made. Until then, it’s a game with great combat that looks fantastic, but also has its rough edges.