February 23, 2023
One thing that struck me right away while playing Company of Heroes 3 was just how, well, funny it is. It’s not a laugh-a-minute or anything and this is still war, after all, but there were definitely moments that had me chuckling. In particular it’s the little soundbites from your soldiers, tossing insults in strong Welsh accents, speaking in Cockney rhyming slang, or deep American drawls. Your men might spend as much time screaming for a medic as they do insulting the enemy, but the balance is skewed towards the “tally-ho” side of WWII.
As the Theatre Commander of either of the two campaigns, Italy or Africa, you’ll direct squads of fighting men, led by squabbling Generals who you’ll often be forced to side with as they trade grudgingly respectful barbs and bicker over which targets to strike or which towns to capture. Between combat missions you spend time on an overmap, moving squads of soldiers or vehicle units to different strategic positions.
In the Italy campaign you’ll control Allied forces, primarily British and American, while the African campaign casts you as the Axis forces as led by General Rommel. It’s more vehicle-focused initially, given that Rommel was an infamous tank commander, which allows for some tactical variety.
In this mode your primary goal is to advance the war effort by capturing and holding specific targets, destroying enemy defences, and liberating captured settlements. You can call in air support or bombard coastal targets using warships, or transport troops around by sea to get ahead of enemy movements. This is where Company of Heroes 3 gets closer to a traditional grand strategy game, and you can even auto-resolve battles if you don’t feel like getting your boots dirty every time.
That being said, getting your boots dirty is the best part of the game by far. Once you enter combat the action switches to ground-level arenas that feel dynamic and authentic. Here you’ll produce units at special buildings limited by a population count, and then advance on enemy-held locations such as town centres and supply points. Shock and awe is usually the order of the day, hitting the Hun with as much firepower as possible.
At least, that’s how the early game plays. As you face stiffer and more ruthless opposition you’ll need to start playing much more tactically – especially if you attempt multiplayer against free-thinking human beings. Here going in guns blazing will only get you so far before it gets you pancaked up the side of a building. You can pause the game in solo campaigns and skirmishes to queue up commands, allowing you to enact pincer movements and flank enemy gun placements, or get your own machine guns, mortars and bazooka squads into position.
You’ll want to keep your men in cover as often as possible, pinning down the enemy to allow squads to advance one at a time. If you end up suppressed you won’t be able to move your soldiers, who’ll literally adopt a foetal position and scream until they can move again.
Squads come with grenades, sticky bombs, satchel charges, heavy weapons, and you can establish aid posts to replenish your forces or forward operating bases to field more vehicles and ordnance. Each battle is fairly short, favouring fast-paced, ballsy decision-making over chin-stroking deliberations. It’s an absolute point in favour for Company of Heroes 3, one that makes everything feel like a big wartime adventure rather than a harrowing examination of the realities of war.
Graphically it’s impressive enough. Environments are highly detailed and rarely feel too similar. You’ll fight across multiple terrain types, out on arid plains and in densely-packed urban arenas. Snipers can take positions in bell towers and clifftop vantage points, and you’ll need to advance carefully to avoid being picked off. Or just take the building down with a tank, if you like. I had issues with the tracking camera that never felt smooth enough to me. Often it was juddery and a little unwieldy, and always suffered framerate drops at the start of any battle.
Company of Heroes 3 is at its best in the combat sections. When explosions are rocking the landscape, heavy ordnance is taking out buildings, men are screaming, barking orders, following your commands to rain hell on the enemy, it’s incredibly immersive. You’ll have your pensive moments, for sure, but they’re always prelude to it going super loud.
This is a game about making those split second heroic decisions, dealing with a sudden influx of enemy reinforcements, when one moment the odds are in your favour and the next they’re against you. Holding down a defensive position or snatching victory from the jaws of certain defeat – these moments always feel emergent and, importantly, earned.
It’s hardly an original setting or concept, but Company of Heroes 3 makes up for it with sheer charm and playability. If you can look past the casual wartime racism, iffy framerate and somewhat expected stereotyping, there’s a solid war game here with a ton of replayability to keep you busy for a few while.
Solid turn-based tactics
Iffy camera speeds
AI pathfinding can be iffy
Nothing hugely original
It's hardly an original setting or concept, but Company of Heroes 3 makes up for it with sheer charm and playability.