Last week I flew to London to attend a press event for Company of Heroes 3. If you follow the real-time strategy genre, you can easily understand the curiosity and the desire to finally try out the long-awaited title that gripped me in the days before the press tour. After two great episodes, and the successful experience with Age of Empires 4, Relic is in fact finally almost ready to return to the famous saga, which fifteen years ago was able to innovate like few others a historical genre like that of RTS. Therefore high premises and expectations, also corroborated by the exciting hands-on of a few months ago, which I was finally able to put to the test: will Company of Heroes 3 be a handful of months after its launch revealed to be up to par?
Two campaigns and lots of content
The first thing that Relic wanted to show me, once I set foot in a location perfectly created for the occasion, is how Company of Heroes 3 will definitely be the greatest ever. Two campaigns compared to the only one in the previous episode, 52 (!) different maps against 22 in the second chapter and 120 unique units compared to the 42 seen in Company of Heroes 2: these are just a few incredible numbers which show how the Canadian studio intends to offer a full-bodied experience full of things to do as never before. Obviously, without quality, quantity counts for little, but, as we will tell you shortly, the Company of Heroes 3 blanket feels quite long not to leave anything uncovered. If, like me, you wait with trepidation for next February 23, the official launch date of the title, in short, you don't have too much to prepare for. But let's go in order.
The main novelty of this new chapter, more than in the number of contents more than doubled, however, is to be found in the first campaign. The single player mode that takes the name of Spagnan Dynamic Campaign in fact, it contains within it, in addition to the classic RTS missions we are used to, also nothing less than a game map a la Total War on which we will spend a lot of time helping the Allies to reconquer our beloved peninsula. Certainly do not expect the depth and number of mechanics present in the episodes of the famous series of The Creative Assembly, but between villages to conquer, decisions to make, naval units and areas and much more, what Relic has created in this regard has already been able to capture our attention also in this proved.
In fact, the liberation of Spain takes place in Company of Heroes 3 physically, always moving the units one centimeter ahead, slowly tearing strips of land from the opposing troops. A reconquest in which we will be supported by different factions, like the Americans, the British and the Italian partisans, each of which will however have different points of view on how to conduct the campaign. Precisely in these clashes of vision a simple but effective relationship system is built, which allows us to forge a closer relationship with the faction that most approves our actions on the battlefield. Gaining the trust of the Americans rather than the British also gives access to different units, technologies and buffs, thus making our tactical choices even more crucial within the game, as well as making such highly replayable Company of Heroes 3 campaign.
Be careful in any case to raise too much expectations for this new dynamic map: although in my hours of testing I was satisfied with its implementation, it is undeniable that it is something ancillary to the traditional gameplay of the series and which does not seem have the willingness to reach the same levels as seen in similar titles in this regard. The expansion of the mechanics, such as the air units that arrived only in the very last moments of our test, and a level of difficulty calibrated upwards could very well exponentially increase the appeal in the final release of Company of Heroes 3, making it another beloved mechanic in the series. For now, however, it is impossible to expound further on the subject.
The other campaign in the game is instead decidedly more traditional, being linear and more focused on what the narrative is. To make everything even more interesting is a completely different scenario compared to the Spanish one, namely North Africa. A change of setting which, in addition to changing who are the actors in the field, allowing us to get to know the dreaded Africa Corps, it also manages to offer something different in terms of gameplay, with the positional warfare typical of the Company of Heroes becoming faster and more mobile here due to the large desert expanses. Even then I could not delve into the goodness of the narrative, which seems to have more than one thing to say thanks to subplots and the fact that we will take command of none other than German troops, but the mission I was able to prove it convinced me both as a map and as a pace. In short, a campaign that seems to have all the stylistic features of the single player mode of an RTS and more than one ace up its sleeve. Even in this case, however, until next February 23 it is really difficult to go too far.
Tactical pause and other news
Moving on to what the gameplay on the battlefield is, I can instead guarantee you right now how Company of Heroes 3 has once again hit the mark. Of course, everything can and indeed must be validated in the long term, but the five abundant hours of play in London more than reassured me about it. The third episode of the saga, in fact, from this point of view manages both to welcome back the historical fans of the series with due honors, making them feel at home right away, and to welcome new players, with some not bad news that makes learning game mechanics less steep.
The most obvious of these new mechanics is certainly that relating to tactical break, a feature that, for easily imaginable reasons, will only be usable in single-player modes. The tactical pause, in fact, allows you to stop the game completely, giving the user time to better decide his own moves and plan the movements of the various troops with greater care. An absolutely optional mechanic, which can be used or not at the complete discretion of the player, and designed above all for newbies, although it can also be of great help to the most experienced strategists. The huge amount of different units and the other novelties of Company of Heroes 3 indeed make the tactical pause something extremely useful also for the experts of the saga, who can thus study the characteristics and potential of all the additions of this third chapter with greater care. A novelty, therefore, at the state of the art, capable of offering something more to practically anyone and, at the same time, absolutely unobtrusive, given its absolutely optional nature.
In Company of Heroes 3 they also make their appearance many other news, even more substantial in terms of gameplay. For example, verticality now has a much greater impact, giving those who own the so-called highground substantial bonuses over their opponents. An obvious improvement, which feeds the strategic vein of the title with a whole series of new reasoning to do and which makes the game maps and positional warfare even more crucial. Even the tank riding, that is the possibility of having the units on foot get on the tanks, gives a breath of fresh air to the game system, this round is more aimed at flushing out opponents than at perching in some tactical position. Combining the potential of riflemen with that of a tank allows in fact to maximize the characteristics of both, thus increasing the possibility of breaching the enemy forces. I can not then not mention again all those who are the new troops, which I obviously didn't touch in their entirety, but which convinced me as far as I saw, especially for their variety. The Indian artillery, for example, succeeds with its peculiarities in revealing itself as a loose cannon, capable of affecting the balance of the game.
In addition to these and other improvements, the gameplay of Company of Heroes 3 it's exactly what I expected. The tactical game system, based on positional warfare, is in fact as addictive as ever, with the battle heating up house after house, inch after inch. An overall picture that looks as convincing as ever, able above all not to disappoint the demanding palates of fans of the saga. If Relic manages to fix all the little glitches, graphics and more, that we encountered in this test between now and February 23rd, in short, there will be something to enjoy.
On the technical side, although I don't know how armored the configuration on which I tested the game was, Company of Heroes 3 didn't show the side to slowdowns of any kind, remaining solid even in the most agitated moments. The graphic-artistic layout also seems successful, with the creation of explosions and the destruction of the environments that gives a quid extra to everything.
Company of Heroes 3: In conclusion
Bigger, thicker and meaner: this London hands-on by Company of Heroes 3 left me with very good sensations, with the future Relic title that seems to have all the credentials to prove not only a worthy episode of the saga, but also one of the best RTS of recent years. The gameplay is in fact solid right now and the number of entrancing content: if everyone turns out to be of the quality of what we saw last week, in short, there will be little to complain about. The ball now passes to the talented Canadian studio, with the hope that they will be able to fix those little bugs and graphic problems that we have encountered in these last few months that still separate us from the launch. In any case, the future looks far more rosy.