The dynamic Italy campaign plays out differently every time.Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
Two new locations, refined gameplay mechanics, turn-based campaign map and new graphics engine. With a multitude of new features, Relic Entertainment wants to repeat the success of the previous games. Can this work?
With more than ten million buyers, top ratings and regular placements in the top 100 charts of the most played games on Steam, "Company of Heroes" (2006), "Company of Heroes 2" (2013) and the associated expansions are still valid today among the most popular real-time strategy games for PC, Mac and Linux. The third part is scheduled to appear on November 17, 2022. At a recent press event, we were able to find out how the Canadian genre professionals from Relic Entertainment intend to make "Company of Heroes 3" perhaps the best part of the series.
The community sets the tone
What does a game have to offer in order for it to clearly outperform two particularly popular predecessors? Relic also dealt intensively with this tricky question in advance and did what many studios do today. They brought the community on board to incorporate their feedback. "Before we made any major design decisions, we had 10 of our most trusted community members flown in here to Vancouver to discuss all sorts of ideas with them," said a spokesman for the studio, which was founded in 1997.
Technology engine in the background is Relic's in-house Essence Engine 5.0. Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
But that was just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, online polls were conducted with more than 50,000 fans to find out what they wanted. "In this way, we collected an incredible amount of data, which helped us a lot to validate the design focus," says Relic. Finally, in 2017, a community council was founded, which was involved in all important decision-making processes.
As of today, «Company of Heroes 3» is slowly but surely nearing completion and offers numerous features that fans have been asking for for years. It starts with a two-part story campaign, in which you experience the events from the perspective of the Germans for the first time. More precisely from the perspective of the German Afrika Korps, which fought in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia between June 1940 and May 1943 and was confronted with the British-led Allies around tactical genius Bernard Montgomery.
Some vehicles from the fleet of the German Afrika Korps.Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
Relic was well aware in advance that you could make a lot of mistakes with such a faction, which is why it was decided early on to bring history experts on board. Relic continues: "We definitely don't want to tell a romanticized story that talks about the clean Wehrmacht or Gentleman General Rommel. Rather, we want to tell an authentic and grounded story».
Lots of gameplay tweaking
But what does all this mean from a gameplay perspective? Well, at first glance everything stays the same. You still guide various squads of units in real time over versatile, destructible battlefields, try to use their special skills as optimally as possible and set heaven and hell in motion in order not to lose a squad. After all, the units collect experience points with every successful action and thus become more and more efficient.
Trucks can now haul heavy artillery to other locations. Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
However, if you take a closer look, interesting detail improvements are noticeable. For the first time, players can order infantry to sit on top of tanks. Advantage: Rapid position changes become child's play and enable new tactics when flanking. Also new: While heavy artillery was installed at fixed locations in the previous parts, certain guns (such as the 88mm anti-tank gun) can now be towed to another location on the map using a truck and thus used very flexibly.
"North Africa: This is not an easy story, but an important one."
In the case of the DAK faction, players also get access to a recovery vehicle from the first campaign level, which repairs defective vehicles after a few minutes – tanks included. Keyword tanks: They now have a revised hit zone model that finally also takes sensitive areas on the sides into account. The latter means you have to be even more meticulous about how you place the multi-ton metal beasts in battles. In addition, tanks can now smash over trenches (if narrow enough).
Space bar = short breather
Don't forget the tactical break. For the first time, strategists have the option of freezing the action with the spacebar at any time in order to then analyze the situation in detail, adjust commands, etc. RTS experts can safely ignore this help, but newcomers should make regular use of it, especially in confusing situations.
The Battle of Gazala is just one of many historic locations.Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
During the demo, however, it also becomes clear that "Company of Heroes 3" shows courage for new ideas in many areas, but still needs an extra portion of fine-tuning in some disciplines. This is especially true for the current max zoom level. Because even if you zoom out to the maximum, the camera is still much too close to the action. This is good for the feeling of being right in the middle, but clearly reduces the overview.
The Canadians also have to do it again when it comes to AI. It is already acting quite aggressively, but still too often follows the same patterns. Once you've figured this out, it's far too easy to eliminate opponents – for example, by deliberately luring enemy tanks into range of your own artillery.
Unfortunately, the Italy scenario is not part of the demo. The highlight here: Similar to Sega's "Total War" series, the campaign there is not linear as in the Africa setting, but dynamic. This is made possible by a turn-based strategy part that takes place between the real-time battles.
In this game you not only have to strategically and cleverly reposition unit formations in order to conquer important locations such as airports or production sites, but also order supplies, manage fuel and ammunition, assign targets to warships and bombers and much more.
«Company of «Heroes 3» is not yet running smoothly in all areas – especially with AI, detailed animations and the topic of zoom levels, the makers are still not on the home stretch. Apart from that, however, there are signs of ambitious further development.
While North Africa is dominated by flat desert, the Italy levels have many elevation levels. Image: @ Relic Entertainment / Sega
Be it the addition of the German Afrika Korps, the new gameplay mechanics, the introduction of the dynamic campaign map for the Italy scenario, the beefed up visuals or the targeted scope (which according to Relic exceeds all of its predecessors) – part three has what it takes to hit.
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