Company of Heroes 3 is an RTS from Relic Entertainment and SEGA, and originally launched on PC on February 24, 2023. The game is coming to Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 4/5 in the form of Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition that launches on May 30, 2023. I have been reviewing the game on Xbox Series X and I was apprehensive about how the game would play using a controller considering how intense these games can be using mouse/keyboard. I am pleasantly surprised at how simple and intuitive it was to use the Xbox controller, and the tactical pause feature was also a great addition. Graphically though, I had to settle for the lesser quality performance mode as the 4k resolution mode, while looking fantastic, just didn’t feel the same playing at 30fps which is a shame.
One big thing I need to mention up front is that there is no in-game store on this console edition at launch. I saw this was a big issue for the PC version, but I am glad to see none of that in this console edition. The words ‘at launch’ still leaves things open for interpretation, but I am told that present plans are for a mix of free content drops, as well as premium content packs via first party stores. What that looks like, time will tell.
My experiences with the Company of Heroes series go back to the launch of the original game in 2006, when the game came shipped with a new graphics card I bought at the time. I then spent a lot of time in 2013’s Company of Heroes 2, playing co-op online with mates. Now here we are 17 years later playing Company of Heroes 3 on a console for the first time and Relic Entertainment have certainly tweaked the UI to ensure console gamers can react to situations as well as PC players, and I am having a ton of fun with the game.
I started with the tutorial which was helpful to be guided through the new user interface and giving commands to our army with the controller. I glanced around the UI and before the tutorial prompted me, my first thought was, ‘can I click-drag to select my units?’ As my hands intuitively moved to click-drag by holding down A and pulling back on left stick, I was rewarded with a blue highlight box selecting my troops – bloody awesome. I could double click on a unit to select all that type or use down on the d-pad to cycle through units. The context menus though are very well designed and a godsend to play this game on a console.
Holding down the left stick when you’re hovering over something will provide a context menu for that unit or building. If you’re using it on a squad of grenadiers, you can select to lob a grenade and then click where you want it to be thrown. Or if you have selected your HQ, the context menu allows you to build troops or new buildings. Moving troops is easy by pressing X to move or B to attack-move, and the standard green, yellow or grey dots for your troop placements tells you if they’re under cover, semi cover or out in the open.
I noticed the graphics were not as crisp as I was expecting, having played previous beta tests of the game on PC. I carried on through and the gameplay ran very smoothly, and I thought nothing more of the graphics. I logged in the next day and again noticed the lower quality, so had a look in the game’s options. The default graphics mode is set to performance mode which is 1080p with 60fps. The other option is resolution mode that runs in 4k but only 30fps which I tried and straight away felt the sluggishness, but it looked so much better.
I jumped into a campaign game, but I just couldn’t get used to the 30fps mode even though it had excellent lighting and shadow effects and the units looked crisp. Switching back to performance mode and 60fps performed a lot better and I was happy for the slightly lower graphics to have the smooth responsive gameplay. The shadows were noticeably less detail, and the soldiers were a little fuzzy around the edges. It’s a shame I couldn’t play in 4k mode, but others may not have an issue with it.
One of the better features for Company of Heroes 3 for me is the tactical pause menu. This is where you can queue up movements and actions for your troops while the battle is paused. In the tutorial, I used this to place anti-tank mines in three positions, while also moving an anti-tank gun and some riflemen into cover positions while we awaited a frontal attack. Once I had this all queued up, I unpaused and watched the squads move into position and efficiently took out the oncoming waves of enemies.
When your troops start getting hurt, you can press Y to send them back to HQ to be reinforced and they will find their own way back. You no longer must micromanage their movements back to HQ. Once reinforced, you need to bring them back to the battle yourself, but to be able to see a squad getting nailed, quickly selecting them and hitting Y and knowing they will run back to reinforce and heal on their own while you can continue pushing the attack with other troops, makes for some fantastic and frantic gameplay.
There are two main single player campaigns in Company of Heroes 3, a dynamic Italian campaign or a story-driven North African campaign. I knew a little bit about the Italian campaign from reading about it previously, but also from playing Mafia 2 (it’s totally educational!). I didn’t know as much about the African war campaign so started there, and the gameplay is pure RTS and what the series is well known for. After playing a few of the African missions that has a fantastic, narrated story, I then checked out the Italian campaign.
We start with a beach landing that gave me a little bit of gaming PTSD of so many Omaha Beach landings, but this was fun to play through as we moved up the beach and took over the neighbouring town square. To my surprise, the game then switches to a turn-based campaign that provides us with sandbox-style gameplay in an overhead perspective reminiscent of a grand strategy game. We launch a squad from an offshore naval ship, watch the transport boat head to shore and then see a tank representing a squad on an overview map. We use one action point per turn, indicated by a blue dot above the unit, and then end the turn. We wait for the enemy to play their turn, and then it’s our turn again. As we move into enemy territory, the United Kingdom’s General Norton suggests that we take over a seaside village first so we can gain more reinforcements from the navy. Whereas the United States’ General Buckram suggests we take an in-land village so we can bolster a frontline attack faster.
Whichever you choose will gain or lose loyalty with the three commanders, with the third being the Italian Resistance faction led by Eleonora Valenti. As you gain loyalty with each commander, you will unlock tiers of benefits. Siding with General Buckram will gain you airborne advantages, General Norton favours the navy and the Italian resistance grans you bonus to recon and intel and involves rescuing partisan groups. I love underdog stories and have enjoyed other games that have a focus on partisans, such as Partisans 1941 and War Mongrels. But at the same time, there were times where I thought Buckram’s aggressive tactics were worth pursuing, then other times when I preferred slower tactical suggestions from Norton were valid.
When you come across a combat situation, you can see the percentage chance of success and you can click auto resolve, or you can battle it out RTS-style yourself. I tended to just autoresolve most of the time which I found far too easy, and I found being so hands-off, it got a little boring pretty quickly. It’s my fault for clicking auto resolve and not fighting myself, but the fact I have the choice at all is my issue. It could have been better if every fight put you straight down into the RTS battle mode rather than giving us an out by auto resolving. I dunno, maybe I was just expecting a traditional RTS across the whole game. The North African campaign in that respect is where I got most of my enjoyment. The game also offers skirmishes against AI or a full suite of options for multiplayer games, but as I have been playing in the review period, I had no one to play with so stuck to the campaigns.
Overall, Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition is an excellent console port with controls that were intuitive, easy to use and reactive to commanding several squads at once. I was very apprehensive going into the game with a controller, but this was a fantastic experience. I enjoyed the North African RTS gameplay over the Italian turn-based sandbox campaign, but they both featured quality storytelling that I love in WW2 games.