From the very start, Company of Heroes 3 has been a game built on listening to the franchise’s fervent fans and giving them what they want out of a new game. One of those things has been more variety in the overall WWII theater and in a recent preview event, I got a good look at how Relic Entertainment is doing just that. An Italian campaign has been revealed for the game and I had the pleasure of trying it out alongside a host of further cool features.
Beauty and destruction
The core aim of the new Italian theater in Company of Heroes 3 was in not only adding variety to the usual World War 2 Allies and Axis conflicts, but in designing unique and enjoyable battlefields based on the rolling hills, waterways, urban, and rural qualities of the area. During my session, I was treated to a number of missions that included claiming a beach head against dug-in bunkers and machinegun fire, as well as pushing deep into the heart of a hillside village and establishing an outpost. In each, I was happy to see this game break away from a drab aesthetic I’m used to in many WW2 games and explore a verdant and warm color palette with the grass, hills, and brightly colored architecture of the Italian countryside. And this was only a few missions of the overall campaign.
Functionally, rural and urban WW2-era Italy also provided a wonderful variety as I pushed into the heart of Axis territory with my troops. When moving to stairways or elevated trails leading up to balconies, I’d have my riflemen throw grenades to get enemy squads out of cover or risk being exploded. When entering a courtyard full of machinegun nests, I’d march my soldiers into local houses where they’d audibly break out windows and begin unleashing covered fire on said nests from unique angles. When I rolled light tanks into the streets of a village, I’d also carefully have a squad of engineers ride on the tank to use their flamethrowers to torch out alleyways where enemies might ambush my vehicles.
That doesn’t even get into the wealth of gameplay options both blatant and subtle. I mentioned the house fortifications and tank-riding, but just as you can set up a house to be a defensible position for your troops, you can also attack enemies holed up in houses with the new Breach option. If an enemy squad is in a house, you can march another squad up for a Breach. They will line up against the door, break it open, throw a grenade in, and then swarm the confused enemies inside in close quarters combat. It was a really cool thing to see and a fun counterplay to defensively dug-in foes.
Company of Heroes 3 also has a Tactical Pause that can be used in single-player campaigns. For those who don’t excel at thinking and acting in the hurry and chaos of real-time strategy, this option now allows you to pause, plan, and issue commands at your leisure. It’s not a feature we haven’t seen before in other strategy games such as Desperadoes 3 at this point, but it’s one that’s wholeheartedly appreciated in a game like Company of Heroes 3. This franchise has long allowed things to get frantic and go wrong in a jiffy. Now, with the press of a button, you can pause the action, get a look at the situation, issue commands to multiple units, and then unpause to let it play out. It’s an excellent way for players to plan their strategy without being constantly overwhelmed by the flow of real-time combat.
I also observed what looks to be solid upgrades to destructibility in Company of Heroes 3. There was a mission where a sniper was high in a tower overlooking a wide-open courtyard I needed to take. Unable to move my vulnerable troops in the courtyard, I instead had to wait for opportunities to call in artillery battery support, all while fending off enemy reinforcements on the ground. The artillery was inaccurate, but it actually took massive chunks out of the building the sniper was hiding in. I saw rooms and floors crumble to the ground while the sniper stayed hidden in that tower. Finally, one shell took a chunk out of the of the tower and exposed the sniper. From there, my troops were able to take the vulnerable gunman down. It’s pretty excellent how differently you can go about your mission by the way explosives and heavy military weapons and hardware alter the environment.
A promising new WW2 theater
Company of Heroes is a franchise that hasn’t had anything altogether new in quite some time. It would appear that Relic Entertainment used that time to listen to its fans and up its game in a wide variety of ways for Company of Heroes 3. The new campaigns look vibrant and interesting, the tactical options have been expanded thoughtfully, and gameplay features like Tactical Pause add some refreshing quality-of-life improvements to the game. It’s clear how much passion has gone into both improving on what the franchise did best, and bringing it to a new theater to tell fresh stories in environments that haven’t been fully exhausted. If this is one of the last stops on the way to Company of Heroes 3 coming out, then victory looks all but assured for launch in February 2023.
This preview is based on an early PC build supplied by the publisher. Company of Heroes 3 is set to launch on PC on February 23, 2023.
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Company of Heroes 3's Italian campaign adds environmental splendor to WW2 strategy
I wonder if they will have a level with the Vesuvius eruption