Company of Heroes 3 Review – War is Still Hell

Company of Heroes 3 Review

Released in 2006, the original Company of Heroes did something different. Most real-time strategy games of the time were about massive armies, dozens or hundreds of units, and the anonymity of conflict. Company of Heroes thought smaller. Sure, it still had elements of base building and other mechanics familiar to RTS fans. But instead of armies, you controlled smaller squads. Each death was a major blow, and victory was all that much precarious. Now we have Company of Heroes 3. Once again, Relic is doing something different.

Grand Strategy and Boots on the Ground

Considering the 17-year stretch between the first and current Company of Heroes games, it’s a bit surprising that there have only been three entries in the franchise. I actually think it’s for the best, as each new game has been worth the wait. For Company of Heroes 3, Relic has turned to Italy for one of its two major campaigns, and North Africa for the other (where you play the Axis forces). There are four total factions, two for the Allies and two for the Axis.

What’s new this time is a Total War-type campaign layer. It’s more like a lite version of Total War, however, as you’re really only dealing with a relatively small number of variables. Relative is the operative word. You’re still commanding air, sea, and land units as you push across Italy towards Rome, square by square. In addition to moving equipment and personnel, you also have to appease and manipulate a cast of egotistical commanders.

As each company pushes on and fights or captures territory on the campaign map, they earn XP, which can in turn be used for Upgrades, Abilities, and Unit bonuses and unlocks. These new abilities or units then appear on the ground in the game’s real-time battles, either as equipment you control or as part of events. Additionally, there’s a loyalty system in which you balance a trio of sub-commanders goals by doing favors and building friendships. Success in this mechanic is rewarded by highly useful bonuses.

The campaign layer also includes several scripted enemy moves and battles that are outside the player’s control and trigger important real-time skirmishes. There’s the opportunity to auto-resolve some battles. Doing so would be a shame, though. Company of Heroes 3 is at its best on the battlefield.

Listen Up!

Whether a scripted part of the campaign or a result of action on the overworld map, Company of Heroes 3’s real-time encounters are worth the price of admission. As with prior titles, they’re tense, dynamic and allow for a lot of creativity, even if the victory conditions aren’t negotiable. This is also where success on the campaign map translates to the real world. Softening targets with artillery or airstrikes is reflected in the deformed terrain and villages turned to rubble.

As always, the relatively small size of your squad makes every encounter and every soldier count. Maps make excellent use of elevation, cover, structures, and of course whatever tools you can bring. The range of upgradable weapons and personal upgrades is intense, thanks to the four factions. Over dozens of hours, no two battles will play out the same or even feel similar. The only connective tissue is the structures you need to build and upgrade to generate specific units. Aside from that, there is a lot of variety in objectives.

Company of Heroes is known for its excellent, challenging campaigns and engaging narratives. The personalities of each commander come through thanks to well-written dialogue and acting. In the heat of battle, some of the canned responses of individual soldiers become a little repetitive over time. Individual unit animations are varied and add a layer of personality to the little digital warriors. Mechanically, units are easy to control, and the game’s tactical pause is a life-saver when battles are tipping towards chaos.

Battle Tested

While it might not feature bleeding-edge graphics, Company of Heroes 3 looks great and sounds even better. Aside from a bit of choppiness in a few unit animations, the sights and sounds of the battlefield are terrific. I also appreciated that the campaign maps were clear and not too cluttered with information.

Commanding the Axis forces in North Africa is a rare chance to play the German and Italian factions. Their units are unique and require equally creative tactics. That said, it is a little weird to be rooting for Rommel and the Nazis. They’re not evil fantasy races, after all. I guess in this case, it’s best to remember the timeless words of MST3K’s theme song. “Just relax, it’s just a show.”

If the 40-hour dual campaigns were not enough, Company of Heroes 3 offers unlimited replay value in the form of solo and multiplayer skirmishes. Legions of players make a beeline for this mode and skip the campaigns altogether. The game launches with the Essence Editor, allowing players to create new maps and mod just about everything already there. As making custom maps is my personal favorite part of RTS games, I look forward to diving deep into this mechanic.

The Never-Ending War

Given the excellence of the two earlier games, I wasn’t surprised that Company of Heroes 3 won me over once again. The addition of Total War-style campaign layer adds a little variety without being overwhelming. Even without it, though, the battles are still endlessly fun, chaotic, and challenging. Skirmishes and the Essence Editor will keep players busy until the next entry in the series. Company of Heroes 3 reminds us that there’s still a lot of joy to be found in the best real-time strategy games.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***


The Good

  • Fun real time battles
  • Great mission variety
  • Excellent mechanics
  • Awesome skirmishes and editor

The Bad

  • Total War-style campaign is just ok
  • A few bugs and glitches in the campaign
  • Graphics are a little behind the curve overall