Look, I went a bit long when writing the dang review of PC Invasion, so I’ll try to keep this one a bit more concise. Of course, as a person with Opinions about both Company of Heroes and Dawn of War series, I have stuff to say about Company of Heroes 3.
For the third installment of the series, we’re going to the Mediterranean. The linear single player campaign follows Afrika Korps up until it gets beat in El Alamein. Meanwhile, the dynamic map campaign puts us in control of Allied forces in Italy.
Company of Heroes 3: It’s A Game
Undergirding it all is the standard Company of Heroes gameplay a.k.a. the model that should have made the “classic RTS” obsolete.
Except that it’s expensive and hard to do, so we’re stuck endlessly repeating Age of Empires and StarCraft.
The bases in Company of Heroes 3 are still small, and resource collection is tied to map control. Infantry can still be suppressed, tanks have directional armor, and cover is versimilitudinous to the world. Reliance on unit abilities as well as sometimes very short time-to-kill means that he who micros wins. It’s less pronounced in single player, where you can effortlessly engage the Tactical Pause to leisurely give out order.
Great, glad we got that out of the way. Onto complaining!
How clean is your Rommel?
I don’t know how much of it is rose-tinted glasses, but the Afrika Korps campaign just isn’t fun:
- For gameplay, the missions are short, oppressively constrained by population capacity limits, and just not that creative. Do you like protecting static positions while slaughtering waves of Commonwealth troops? Because that’s an annoyingly common refrain. For bonus objectives, you get a barely-disguised tutorial very much focused on salvaging vehicles.
- For personality, do you remember how Company of Heroes took pains to focus on the little guy? Do you remember the brothers in the Panzer Lehr campaign? Well, what if instead of that, we got Erwin Rommel laying out the mission for your three tanks, two infantry squads, and the inexplicable stationary respawn truck? He may even mention lack of supplies or ignoring Berlin’s orders again!!!
- For the overarching narrative, Rommel isn’t the one who tells the story between missions. A Jewish man that enlisted with the Commonwealth does. Relic frames the suffering of the Jews of Benghazi as important, and then proceeds to crank out a story of Nazi occupation so indistinct, you’ll forget it the moment you take your eyes off the screen. It even has an evil commandant! It doesn’t help that the rest of his narration is him being extra mad at Commonwealth for losing.
The Jewish part of the story is presented in mostly-static 2D drawings. The Commonwoes feature some of the most cramped, explosion filled gameplay footage a 14-year-old could muster, and it looks awful. Even Company of Heroes 2 was smart enough to give us in-engine cutscenes featuring character interactions – and Company of Heroes 2 was almost dumber than Dawn of War 3.
It’s a map, run!
Is the Italian campaign better than that? Of course not. The Tommies, the Yanks and, the, uh, Pastasans get one character each to pester you on the campaign maps (in battle, corporal Conti takes that role). You can effortlessly fill their loyalty tracks to unlock various benefits and their support for the assault on the Winter Line.
I assume this was supposed to be “difficult” and “challenging” at some part of the Company of Heroes 3 development process, as early campaign does feature choices on who to support, but I guess they got bored with it.
And how could they not? The early campaign is super boring – just vast tracts of lands, few battles, and no active opposition.
The popcap is at its most merciless here, as anything you build feeds off it – not only the companies you move, but also the static emplacements (useless when they have no active enemy to oppose south of Naples), the boats, and the planes. Oh, and so help you God if you unlock any of the “get free X when you take town Y” loyalty gifts – those things are coming out of your population allowance, mister!
At least the missions are a bit more involved, and there are attempts to make the regular skirmishes interesting. Instead of just straight up fights, you get objectives like capturing (and holding) the sectors surrounding the enemy base or getting a decrewed recon vehicle back to base.
It basically tries to recapture the magic of Ardennes Assault, but fails. And I’m the one reviewer who didn’t immediately fall in love with that DLC!
Two issues remain, though:
- Despite the enemy companies being classes into mechanized, armored, and such, you can’t actually don’t feel the difference, especially when…
- The importance of speed in the skirmish battles means that you’ll rarely get to play with the entire arsenal – you can win with nothing but a couple of light tanks.
Plus, I will complain about the Indian Artillery company, one of the two British units you can recruit the Italian campaign (the other being British Armored). Namely, the only Indian thing about it is the crew for the heavy mortar and Gurkhas, your elite infantry call in. The rest are the same British guys as always – no skins, no unit barks, nothing.
So, just like with the story of Jews of Benghazi, the attempt to depict the Indian contribution to the Italian campaign is, at best, half-hearted. But at least they did their duty to the Polish contribution by making a reference to Wojtek!
And now, for an entirely brainworm take: the factions in the game are Americans, the British, the Wehrmacht and the African Korps. The Wehr/Korps split accounts for the difference in gear between the African campaign and Italy. So how did they do it for the British? They didn’t. You can take M3 Lees and Matildas in skirmish and face off against Panthers. Meanwhile, the American is doing burnouts M24 Chaffees.
But Company of Heroes 3 at least looks and sounds nice. The visuals are generally cool (smoke bombs and larger explosions excepting) and the unit barks are still top of the line.
Unfortunately, the version we got to review still lacked a lot of polish, even when it came to some of the menus. I got crashes if I played more than two battles without closing Vivaldi and I heard of taking a screenshot crashing the game.
Ultimately, Company of Heroes 3 will be good for the multiplayer crew, as it delivers what they want. But as a single player experience, it still has way to go before being satisfying.