Company of Heroes 3: Console Edition Review

June 7, 2023


Also on:
Xbox Series

Whilst I wish writing game reviews was my full-time vocation, my regular job is as an ICT Manager at a post-production company. It’s a pretty exciting place to be and we’ve done some pretty amazing stuff in my time there. One thing we do a lot of, however, is WWII based documentaries. I’ve heard and seen enough of that era of our history to last me a lifetime. Then I wondered, as I was playing Relic Entertainment’s real-time strategy Company of Heroes 3 (Console Edition), I wondered what history would have made of me if I actually had been a commander during WWII. Given some of my inept attempts at completing the missions and tasks laid out before me I was fairly sure it would not be flattering.

This isn’t the game's fault, I’m just clearly not cut out for command. I’m too eager to take points on the map, recon is out the window, and I perhaps put too much faith in my armoured vehicles than I should do. During an ill-fated attempt to hold the gates on a mission in the North African campaign — one of two available on launch, the other being in Italy — I lost it all believing my tanks were better than the Allied forces’. Though I do feel that if I’d known the counterattack was coming from the top of the map and not elsewhere, I may have set my defences up a bit better. The compass does have North on it, though from my couch it was not easy to pick out. Some form of additional on-screen notification would assist in resolving this issue but I suppose that would break the immersion.

I was marginally successful in this mission, only losing a few units

The North African campaign is a more directed experience comprising six missions. Its focus is on the story surrounding the Libyan city of Benghazi and Erwin Rommel of the German Afrika Korps. For a fuller and more challenging experience the Italian campaign not only sees you directing skirmishes but you also need to command your naval fleet, move your squads around as you attempt to take Rome and keep the British and US Commanders on-side. It’s no easy feat and this campaign is dynamic, so your choices matter and will affect how your forces fare. I managed to lose one of my main battleships fairly early on as I pushed ahead too far and it was bombarded into submission. In its brief time under my stewardship, however, it was used to shell the towns my units were about to take in an effort to make the upcoming battle a smidge easier — or at least that was the plan.

For the towns and cities which don’t require a skirmish to take, any type of bombardment takes off one shield, or level of protection. To capture you need to take them all away before your forces can stroll in and liberate it. If it’s a skirmish, it will perhaps reduce the number of forces you’ll encounter but it won’t make it any easier. What may help, if you use it correctly, is the new tactical pause system. Click L3 at any time and the battlefield becomes a static map of chaos. Here you can plan out the next few moves for each of your units as you try to encircle or flank the enemies in front of you. It reminded me of Breach & Clear. Dotted lines show the unit's path and the schedule below indicating the task. Used wisely, you can wipe out your enemies with precision. Or, if you’re like me, you can create a spider's web of dotted chaos. It did help me get out of a few jams, however, and the more comfortable I got with it, the more efficient I was at seizing objectives. 

The use of artwork for the North African Missions is rather lovely

Despite the genius of the tactical pause system, properly utilising cover seemed trickier than it should be. Whilst the game denotes cover using yellow for partial cover and green for fully covered, I found it hard to discern whether some or all of my squad were safe. There were also instances when I felt I should have cover, such as behind a fence, but my units were taking more damage than usual. It was also tricky to tell if there was cover at times, especially on the desert locations used in the North African campaign. Personally I’d have preferred a symbol system rather than colours as they’re easier to see and understand at a glance. Having multiple squads under control at a time, handy when imitating the blitzkrieg tactic (when in Afrika Korps…), most of my infantry didn’t seem to want to take cover, forcing you to take control of them individually to manoeuvre them to safety.

To the micro-managers out there this probably won’t matter, but if you’re relying on greater numbers to win the day then you’ll be burning through units and supplies in no time. This made the skirmish missions really tricky for me and by the time I’d managed to secure the points I needed to, defending them against a counter-attack was next to impossible. Eventually my forces were defeated and they were sent packing with damage taken and no way, yet, to heal them as far as I could tell, since I hadn’t captured a town that had facilities to heal my units.

You’d think we had cover; we did not.

Ultimately my tactical naïvety cost me, but I would argue some of the systems and depths of the control wheels used to manage your units and your passive abilities all add to an overload of options. The tutorial that you play through when you launch Company of Heroes 3 for the first time gives you the basics, but if you’re a newcomer like I was, there’s little to be learned beyond how to move things around, what some units can do, and that was about it. None of the nuance of what you build impacting your supplies is covered in-depth, including that of actions taken on the larger scale map between missions and skirmishes. Granted you’ll eventually pick it up, but I do feel newcomers would benefit from a little more hand-holding before being unleashed upon Italy or Northern Africa.

The tactical pause system is clearly the highlight of Company of Heroes 3. As you learn the wider systems its usefulness grows until a skirmish turns into a glorified stop-motion montage of explosions and destruction that would make Michael Bay stand up and applaud. However, it puts a lot of expectation at the feet of the player and assumes that they are already well versed in real-time strategies. Veterans of the genre and previous Company of Heroes games will relish a sizable campaign from launch, but the brutality of war may put off those who know only how to burst in the doors and start shooting.

You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:

Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!

Company of Heroes 3 can be an enjoyable romp when you’re not dealing with ability overload. Whilst a cookie cutter approach is taken to some missions, the dynamism and the tactical pause system really makes your campaign one of your own making.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.