Having grown weary of the traditional, scripted single player campaigns of Company of Heroes 1 and 2, Relic Entertainment have looked towards their SEGA stablemates for inspiration. Creative Assembly’s Total War games feature a distinctive blend of real-time tactics and turn-based strategy, and it’s in this fusion that Company of Heroes 3’s standout feature has its roots.
The Dynamic Campaign Map is a bold new approach which folds in unit production, supply lines and mission planning into a turn-based map that’s evocative of grand strategy. The Pre-Alpha Preview which Relic have made available to gather feedback until 3 August gives us an early glimpse of Company of Heroes 3 long before its 2022 launch.
We begin in Naples in 1943, commanding the invading Allied forces from the perspective of the new Dynamic Campaign Map. From here, the pre-alpha lets us push back the Axis forces on the Italian mainland towards Monte Cassino.
The possibilities for replayability and crafting a more personal approach are made immediately apparent with the choice of three distinct “Battle Plans”. The American Plan favours a hasty breakout, the British Plan is more optimised for digging in, while the Combined Plan is balanced between both. We can’t tell you how varied these are over the course of a campaign, but it suggests at least three ways of adding variety to one story.
The map view will be familiar to anyone who has played a Total War game. The player controls unit groups as they might expect, by left-clicking to select them and right-clicking to direct them to a location or an enemy unit. The movement and abilities of these pieces is, as with Total War, bound by movement and action points.
With each turn, these movement and action points refresh. And in a somewhat Civilization style, you can make use of nearby battleships to bombard troops within range. In fact, with its bright visuals and oversized units, it looks and feels a lot like Civilization.
Mergers and requisitions
The economic angle of this campaign map is concentrated on ensuring you can supply your troops as they venture deeper into hostile territory. Resource convoys deliver manpower, fuel and munitions every three days, while defeating enemy companies and conquering Capture Points allows players access to more.
Supply lines follow infrastructure like roads and rail from seaports to airfields and hospitals. At seaports and airfields, players can purchase troops where they enter a production queue. Requisition points, meanwhile, are earned by completing missions and skirmishes against enemies. These are spent within the real-time battles themselves on units, abilities and such things.
Marshalling supply has been a theme throughout Company of Heroes, chiefly as a way of moderating the amount of troops a player can field. Its role here is similar but on a larger scale.
Relic have come a long way since they repackaged Tom Hanks’ World War Two filmography into the narrative of a real-time strategy game. The hands-free approach does feel liberating, and it’s easy to picture the kind of emergent experiences that it might cultivate.
The hardware requirements for this demo are in line with what we’d expect (Intel i5, 8GB RAM, Nvidea 1060, 4GB VRAM). Even so, playing this pre-alpha isn’t guaranteed to be a stable experience. Playing was choppy for us, which is entirely forgivable for a pre-pre-release version of a game. It does however mean that we never make it to Monte Cassino.
When we launch the demo’s skirmish mode, it feels at first as if we’re playing a slightly updated version of the original. The UI is altered a little while there are few obvious changes. We build up our riflemen, mortar squad and machine gun crew at our starting base from a reshuffled roster, then send them into the field to assault Capture Points.
Company of Heroes 3’s new tricks soon become apparent. A new sense of depth and verticality has infiltrated the game, creating more angles from which units can fire upon each other, while the True Sight system has been upgraded. The camera does feel a bit harder to control and the level of zoom feels a little claustrophobic.
The Tactical Pause function, which is enabled by pressing the spacebar, is a great way to optimise your unit-by-unit micromanagement. It’s particularly handy against large numbers of enemies. It doesn’t feel like a necessity, but it may well lend a satisfying degree of control to larger scraps.
These are first impressions with a build that did not run entirely smoothly on our PC, and Relic are keen to stress that this version is not representative of the final game. The developers are using this and future pre-alpha previews to collect feedback from the broader public. Expect us to return to experiment with future slices of the game, including its multiplayer. In the meantime, you can get your RTS fix from our list of the greatest games like Age of Empires.