Review – Company of Heroes 3
Going in, my expectations for Company of Heroes 3 were very negative. I found the previews unengaging and uninspiring. Early impressions I read weren’t particularly positive or hopeful. And hanging above all was the specter of Dawn of War III’s disastrous short-lived life. While I may be a newcomer to Company of Heroes, I’m a huge Dawn of War fan. So the failure of III still feels very fresh, and came to mind whenever I saw anything about this game. So, unfairly I’ll admit, Company of Heroes 3 had a lot to prove to me. And impressively, though not without some caveats, the game absolutely delivered.
Company of Heroes is a real time strategy franchise set during World War II. What sets it apart is its cover system. It’s very similar to XCOM’s, but plays in real time. Any object, be it a bush or a building, provides some kind of cover for soldiers to use. Cover is dynamic as well, meaning it will be created and destroyed during combat. Buildings can be leveled and tanks killed and used to advance. All in all, it’s a very fun system that sets it far apart from games like StarCraft. It reminds me of older Battlefield games, where the map could change at the drop of a grenade. It makes for very strategic gameplay, where careful use of the environment matters and deathball rushes are suicide.
Like most strategy games, there’s two halves to Company of Heroes 3. There’s the Singleplayer campaigns, and Multiplayer skirmishes. I found both to be compelling and unpolished by the same measure, but for different reasons. Singleplayer has two full campaigns. One of them is a traditional mission based campaign set in North Africa. The other one is the highly publicized Total Waresque campaign set in Italy. The former was a textbook example of great RTS map design, and really highlighted how fantastic the cover system is. I had no issues with it, and felt the game would have honestly been fine launching with just that. A lot of strategy games have been getting away with having even less. It was the other campaign that had issues.
This game’s big selling point was a brand new Total War inspired mode. A full sandbox campaign, combining a 4X map with real time battles. But the masterpiece that is Total War: Warhammer III is a tough act to chase. And Company of Heroes 3 falls well short. They aimed high for sure, and ambition should always be celebrated. But this feels like an Early Access version of a new mode, not the finished product. Just like Total War, you raise armies and move them across a World Map. You interact with enemy armies and cities on the map. Battles can be fought in real time or auto resolved. There’s even a pseudo Diplomacy system, though it feels more like an RPG reputation system. The problem is nothing feels fleshed out or interesting enough to stand on its own.
The map for starters feels lifeless and static. It portrays Italy well enough, but looks boring. Maps like this are defined by the small details that flesh it out, and this one is lacking. It doesn’t help that enemy armies were sporadic and unaggressive, further decreasing the excitement of the map. The push and pull of the world map gameplay is what makes Total War so exciting, having to expand while also defending your own. Here, it’s just expand, expand, expand. Things got boring way quicker than any Total War campaign I’ve ever played. The enemy didn’t feel like an enemy, just obstacles standing on the map. There was nothing dynamic feeling about it. There were also no Siege battles, with most cities being captured via map actions with little fan fare. Battles were just regular maps, and there wasn’t a large variety of them either.
There’s two forms of progression here, both of which I liked. First there’s the armies, known as companies. Whenever you hire one, you chose a theme for it. Themes range from US Special Forces to British Armored Divisions. And each one has a unique skill tree, unit selections to expand and customize, and a special battle ability. I loved this so much, and thought it was the most fleshed out part of the whole mode. The other progression system is the reputation/diplomacy mechanic. As you progress through the campaign, you have to balance out your reputation with the leaders of the US, British, and Italian Revolution forces. As you earn more reputation with them, you earn substantial gameplay bonuses. Bonuses you can lose if your reputation with them drops. This I also found engaging, adjusting my gameplay strategy to try and keep everyone happy.
Singleplayer had some bumps, but I enjoyed it way more than I anticipated. So I went into Multiplayer with expectations. After all this cover system in Multiplayer should be amazing. A real human person will always be a better opponent than a computer in an RTS. However, this is where balance issues reared their ugly head. Every game has issues with balance, especially out of the gate. But Company of Heroes 3 is feeling especially egregious of this, with nothing feeling like it’s quite working as intended. The small unit variety which was fine in Singleplayer is also an issue here, pigeonholing each faction into playing a specific way. And the factions are hardly divergent as is, with there basically being two German factions with different names. So I did have fun, but I can recognize a multiplayer scene already on life support when I see one.
Company of Heroes 3 won me over. I will admit I went in expecting to hate it. Instead I can see why this franchise is spoken so highly of. The cover system is absolutely fantastic and just works as described. The level of destruction and interactability with the environment is something every RTS should have. It launched with two full campaigns as well, even if I much prefer the mission based one to the Total War knockoff. The biggest issue I have with the game is how unbalanced and limited the Multiplayer feels in its current state. There’s also a total lack of Multiplayer progression, which feels like a weird omission for an RTS title. Still, there’s nothing broken here that can’t be fixed, and while I’m really getting tired of playing unfinished games, at least the foundation here is incredibly solid and fun.
Company of Heroes 3 is a great looking game, with plenty of particle effects and large scale destruction.
The minute to minute gameplay is legitimately phenomenal; though balance, unit variety, and the Campaign Map feel lackluster and unpolished.
While the incredibly cheesy voice-acting worked for me, the soundtrack was just generic WWII music.
Fun Factor: 7.0
I had way more fun with this game than I was expecting, and while there is some work still to be done, the foundation is solid.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Company of Heroes 3 is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Company of Heroes 3 was provided by the publisher.