DeanBeat: Scratch the surface with Company of Heroes 3

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At the recent Gamescom show in Germany, I had the chance to play another preview of Company of Heroes 3, where my assignment was to take over a German-controlled airfield during the Italian campaign of the Second World War. I was then able to interview Steve Mele, executive producer at Relic Entertainment, about the latest details of ongoing development.

The Real-time strategy game will be published on PC by Sega and Relic via Steam on November 17, and it’s looking pretty slick. My job in the demo was to take over an airport, and I barely got into it before I had to move on to my interview. I also played another demo which I got cleared pretty well. If I showed you that on video, it would be as funny as my 2017 performance on Cuphead. With only half an hour at Gamescom, I’ve only just started playing this game.

I guess I’ll have to get used to giving me the head in this game, especially when I’m playing multiplayer with some expert strategists. But this is the kind of game you learn little by little. Compared to my previous demo, I feel I have a better understanding of how to navigate through the strategy map. I did a few airfield reconnaissance missions and discovered difficult defenses. I bomb them by plane and do a fire mission against them from my battleship. That softens them up pretty well while it doesn’t drain me of resources for other campaign goals.

But when it comes to battle, it’s unpredictable. It is quite easy to encounter German armor and infantry, who will tear your team to pieces. And that’s what I like about this version of Company of Heroes, which I’ve been playing since the series first came out in 2006. It’s been over eight years since Company of Heroes 2 came out in 2013 with Russian Front background.

I can say that I will be happy to spend many hours on this game when it comes out. I talked to Mele about the beauty Relic has put into the game since previous demos.

Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

Steve Mele is executive producer of Company of Heroes 3 at Relic Entertainment.

GamesBeat: Have you been involved in the project all this time?

Steve Mele: Almost the whole time. I worked with Relic for four years, and all of that time was in Company of Heroes.

GamesBeat: How did it come together? What do you have left before summer delivery?

Mele: It all comes together as we get closer to the launch date later this year. We’re in the final stages, so now it’s about stability and critical bugs that we want to fix before launch. All the pieces are there. Experience is all there. We are very proud. It’s the biggest Company of Heroes ever and we’re having a lot of fun, both creating it and playing it.

The high-level thing we wanted to share, we wanted to make sure we were capturing the core essence of Company of Heroes, the RTS gameplay. When you look at this, it feels like what we’re trying to do is Company of Heroes. It is not something completely new. But we are giving players new ways to play, with strategic maps. Tactical pause is also new. During missions, you can pause the action using the spacebar and give commands. That’s new, and it allows players to get in and get used to the RTS, to slow it down. And the last important thing is that we’ve updated everything. We have the new Mediterranean theater, which gives us all this variety. The engine, the graphics, the destruction are all modernized. We are proud of what we have here.

Fight in the trenches of Gazala in Company of Heroes 3's North African campaign.
Fight in the trenches of Gazala in Company of Heroes 3’s North African campaign.

GamesBeat: North African setting, is that a surprise to everyone?

Mele: We knew we wanted to – from the start we met with our community board. Together we formed a small group of people in the community. We call them our co-development team. We started talking about what people wanted to see in theaters, where we wanted to go next with Company of Heroes. There are all different ideas. The Mediterranean, the soft land of Europe, everyone is excited about it. That’s what we chose, Italy and North Africa. People are excited about the variety you get in both places.

The way we approach North Africa is also part of the push to be able to play the way you want. In Italy, we wanted to give people that strategic map layer, so they can play more strategically, but in the North African operation it’s more about the traditional linear narrative experience that players are familiar with in the game. our previous games. When you get into the game in North Africa, it gets more open in the deserts, more tank battles, bigger maps to go through. It’s a different style of play. Italy offers you more mountains, hills and urban areas than in cities.

GamesBeat: How difficult is it to link strategy maps with tactical gameplay?

Mele: We talk about that a lot. We want strategy maps, campaign maps, impact RTS missions. As you move your companies, you will have different types of companies on the map. You have different influences on that. I see that you went and bombarded one of the places there. That will help you approach the mission, get you to a new position. You can also bombard the actual mission area you are going to. That will weaken some units in that mission. It will also damage some buildings there, so you will see slightly damaged terrain versions.

The companies you are working for, whatever you apply to them, the characteristics, will affect what you can have there. The other thing is, as you move your companies forward — one here and another here, both can join if you choose to do so. This will give a medical effect that will help you heal better during the quest. And of course, the outcome of the mission afterwards also affects the campaign map.

GamesBeat: Aren’t you always better off carrying that kind of attached force with you? Does that automatically take effect?

Mele: What happens is, you get this preview window. It automatically applies them, but then if there’s another effect you want to select, you can go in and say, “No, I don’t want that, I want this instead.” You can bring a number of things to influence your company when you go live.

Flamethrowers can wreak havoc in Company of Heroes 3.
Flamethrowers can wreak havoc in Company of Heroes 3.

GamesBeat: Do you have any movement left for the participating units?

Mele: No, that’s not important. You only need one action that can be used to start and join the battle. As long as you have that, and you have the others in place, it should work that way.

GameBeat: If you’re fighting many of the same cities – if you take it, the enemy takes it back and you take it back – what variations can you see?

Mele: Oh, yes, there really is – in a lot of these mission areas, what we have is a defensive version of the same mission. You go in and you occupy the area, and then there’s a defense mission for you to play if the enemy counterattacks. That works very well. What you will see is that you have the quest map, the main quest map, scripted. Then you have dynamic skirmishes happening around these spaces. Depending on where you are on the map, some of them will be dynamic, and then when you go into the big towns you will get a main quest there, something scripted.

GamesBeat: When I played the previous versions, I spent a lot of time on the strategy map. I’ll skip some battles and just move on.

Mele: Obviously there’s a lot of great content out there. Here’s what we said about playing your way. If you want to focus on the strategy map, move things, focus on that and be really strategic about what you’re doing, you can do that. Also, if you really wanted to pass and get into the RTS game – you even did, when Andy was helping you. Just drop the parachute into it and you can get in right away.

GamesBeat: Is it hard to figure out how much balancing you can do on the strategy map? Is there any possibility of making the pass too easy?

Mele: When we announced last year, we shared the campaign map, the Italian experience – we shared that with players early on. We showed an introductory experience. We listened to our players and learned from that, taking feedback. We listened to the community and what they were saying. It’s largely a matter of how quickly we’re going to reach the content, how quickly you can move across the map. Range of motion, how we approach detachments and positions. From there we learned and addressed that in subsequent iterations.

GamesBeat: I remember you really don’t want to use your plane early.

Mele: Exactly. We give you that option. Where do you use your resources? In previous versions we split – the way those groups work is we separate them and they are like a unit on the chessboard. Now, they have more capabilities within the company.

Company of Heroes 3 is getting a demo on Steam.
Company of Heroes 3 is bringing back RTS combat.

GamesBeat: I found that – when I was online, of course I was wiped out. Do you have any tips for people like me?

Mele: I should have brought our gaming group here! It’s funny, because even in the office there are different levels. We have hired some people from our community. One of the highest ranked players in the world in Company of Heroes 2, we hired them to the team. He’s currently a designer, helping us balance and tune the game. He is excellent. But the thing is, you can watch him play, you can watch really good guys, and then you can watch guys like me in between. There are many skill levels that our game offers.

Going online – obviously starting to fight AI is what I do. You build that skill set. The team plays the game, they keep talking about strategies and units and using them effectively. It’s a skill like any game. You just need to spend time on it. Recon is very important, because it is a counter-attack. If you look at their forces, if they’re evolving in some way, you need to have an answer for that particular technology.

That’s one thing the gaming team taught me, understanding what the other side is going on. When you start from the RTS side, you can choose which path your force will take. If you walk heavy infantry, that’s fine. That is an approach. You will build that aspect faster. But the problem is that you will have to deal with them if they are traveling with vehicles. How will you handle that?

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