GamingReview: Company of Heroes 3

Review: Company of Heroes 3


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How do you convert the Second World War into a video game? After all, World War II was essentially a throng of brave young men charging headlong into a Nazi meat-grinder. Quite the far cry from right-clicking on the thing that you want dead. Of all attempts, Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes series gets about as close as you can get. Its battles are tense, grueling stalemates that prioritise tactics above all. There’s no building seven hundred riflemen and marching into the enemy base here.

Enter: Company of Heroes 3, which brings us to the Italian and North African theaters, with the promise of beautiful sunshine over battle-scarred terrain. These new theaters come with a heaping helping of ambition. Company of Heroes 3 is far bigger than its predecessors but, unfortunately, it seems that it can’t quite fill those larger shoes.

Company of Heroes 3 - Skirmish

A War on Two Fronts

Company of Heroes 3 is split into two areas: skirmishes and campaigns. Let’s take skirmishes first, as these hark back to Company of Heroes of old. This is the ground-level combat, where you control individual squads and vehicles. It’s largely territory based. In order to recruit more squads, you need resources which are gained from holding specific points on the map. As you progressively capture territory, and bolster your troops, you’ll inevitably come in contact with the enemy doing the same thing. It creates a pleasant arc of conflict, as you clash around key contested points.

The combat maintains its emphasis on tactics, with the biggest focus being on cover. To keep your plucky fellows alive, you have to to move from cover to cover. Otherwise they’ll be cut down in seconds. If you and your foes are both behind cover then things slow right down. Your troops are left picking at each other, taking no casualties and wondering if they should have brought a sleeping bag. Flanking and fortifying are your best bets, following by destroying the cover with a particularly big gun. I frequently used Gurkha rifle squadrons to pin enemies down, then flanked them with riflemen. It rewards creative and tactical thinking, which I appreciated. I do wish the camera would let me zoom out a wee bit though.

The other side of the coin is the campaign map. This changes from real-time to turn-based, as you zoom right out to see the theater as a whole. The first campaign is a crawl through southern Italy, with a landing in Serrano and a vague objective to take Rome. From Serrano, you spread out across Italy, capturing towns, wiping out enemy companies and liaising with partisan forces where you can. When you meet another company, the conflict is resolved in a skirmish, which neatly connects the two. Depending on your choice of company, you get different bonuses. I went with the UK Indian Artillery, giving me access to trusty Gurkhas and a lot of explosions. There’s even a loyalty system, where you can buddy up with three seperate commanders, each with their own unique skills. It’s an ambitious system.

Company of Heroes 3 - Campaign Map

Company of Zeroes

Unfortunately, ambition doesn’t mean much without execution and that’s where Company of Heroes 3 struggles. Let’s start with the biggest elephant in the room: the AI. It’s as thick as a tank’s armour. It constantly makes poor decisions, both on the campaign map (where it barely shows up for work) and in skirmishes. I wondered if this might have something to do with the difficulty setting, so I tried a 1v1 skirmish against a hard enemy. Then I watched as the AI ran directly at my MG emplacement, retreated for a minute, then ran straight back in again. Checking if they were on a smoke break, perhaps? The only change the difficulty made was that the game seemed to be slipping the AI a few extra squads under the table, which would explain why they could churn them out faster than I could.

Even then, the AI was slow to capture key points. In the king-of-the-hill style Victory Point skirmishes, they’d lose a quarter of their points before they’d even showed up to the fight. Set two alarms if you keep sleeping through, lads. It makes the difficulty curve all over the place, something it shares with the campaign. Core missions are generally reserved for taking cities, while enemy companies roam around the map. The necessity of having all fights resolve through skirmishes means that for every interesting, tense battle you’ll have three or four completely trivial ones. There is auto-resolve, but you get better rewards by doing it yourself. A mission where you have to desperately hold off an approaching army of heavy armour should be the exciting climax. It should not be followed by a contingent of Gurkhas playing tiddlywinks in the town square while the enemy’s victory points tick away.

It’s not helped by the campaign map being a little threadbare. I wasn’t expecting Civilization, of course, and there are some nice water effects going on but nearly everything else is just a flat texture. There aren’t many animations to speak of either. When I captured a city with my artillery, there was just a brief pause then everything turned blue. It’s just not that interesting to look at, which isn’t helped by the graphical glitches. It has a weird habit of zooming me really far out after missions for one, turning the entire map into strangely orange fog-of-war. It’s in the skirmishes too. My favourite was a cutscene panning over a Panzer tank and showing it violently vibrating, like it was so gosh darned excited to be here. It reflects a slight lack of polish.

Company of Heroes 3 - Skirmish

Not So Finest Hour

It’s odd really, because other areas of the game make me feel like some real love has gone in. On all the campaign loading screens, there are little snippets of letters that soldiers are sending home. They do all tend to blend together after a while but it’s a neat touch. So too is the voice acting, which has a number of memorable lines. Soldiers will talk to each other about their wives back home and crack jokes to alleviate the tension. Granted, the British soldiers are cursed to either be cockney or posh, but that’s par for the course. Just once I’d like to hear orders barked in a thick Cornish accent.

It’s these sort of touches that made me wonder if I’m perhaps going too hard on Company of Heroes 3. The core skirmish gameplay is still as interesting as it ever was, after all. My final thinking came down to something simple. If you play a game like Company of Heroes 3 that prizes strategy, having an AI that cannot strategise means it cannot be given a high score. That’s half the game that isn’t standing up on its own. The other issues dogpile on top of that one central failing. The fun I had with Company of Heroes 3 was entirely because of the fun I had with the original Company of Heroes.

What Relic have done with Company of Heroes 3 is very ambitious. The campaign boasts forty hours of playtime and I can believe it. But length is not what makes a game good. While I see its ambition as a positive thing, and it’s an interesting title, Company of Heroes 3 falls down in the execution. If you must play it, play it with a friend in multiplayer. Otherwise, Company of Heroes 3 isn’t quite making it to VE-Day.

(Company of Heroes 3 Steam Page)


An ambitious RTS that attempts to shoulder the legacy of its predecessors. The skirmish combat remains fun and the campaign map has potential, but it's let down by wonky AI and a confusing difficulty curve.

+ Skirmishes emphasise tactical thinking
+ Cover system pairs nicely with destructible terrain
+ Some skillful touches in the writing and voice acting
+The campaign map is an ambitious touch

- The campaign map is a little cold
- The campaign difficulty is all over the place
- The AI is slow, dumb and gets propped up in higher difficulties
- Fair few graphical glitches
- Camera needs to back up a bit

Company of Heroes 3
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: Sega

(Reviewed on PC, also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S)
Josh Blackburn
Josh Blackburn
A good chunk of my time is spent chugging tea and gaming on my PC or curled on the sofa with my Switch. Survival, roguelikes and all things horror are my forte, but I’ll dip my toes into any interesting game that comes along. If you can push buttons or waggle sticks, I’ll give it a whirl.

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<strong>An ambitious RTS that attempts to shoulder the legacy of its predecessors. The skirmish combat remains fun and the campaign map has potential, but it's let down by wonky AI and a confusing difficulty curve.</strong><br /> <br /> + Skirmishes emphasise tactical thinking<br /> + Cover system pairs nicely with destructible terrain<br /> + Some skillful touches in the writing and voice acting<br /> +The campaign map is an ambitious touch<br /> <br /> - The campaign map is a little cold<br /> - The campaign difficulty is all over the place<br /> - The AI is slow, dumb and gets propped up in higher difficulties<br /> - Fair few graphical glitches<br /> - Camera needs to back up a bit<br /> <br /> Company of Heroes 3<br /> Developer: Relic Entertainment<br /> Publisher: Sega<br /> <br /> (Reviewed on PC, also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S)Review: Company of Heroes 3