Years ago, I found myself bouncing off the back of a 4×4 in the desert outside of Dubai, the route of which would be an upcoming rally. After a day’s movement on the dunes and through the ravines I felt a little worse for wear, and before I could sit comfortably again, I came away with a new appreciation of the golden expanse—for the big of it. , open spaces that really rattle vehicles; For its hidden dangers that can stop drivers in their tracks; And for the astonishing variety and sudden, dramatic change in terrain.
These qualities, which gave me such a memorable experience at the age of 12, also make the desert a compelling setting for RTS. This becomes very clear when you see through the dunes a multitude of tanks trying to find some rare desert cover while blasting their gargantuan cannons at the infantry. And thanks to Company of Heroes 3’s North African operation, you’re going to see a lot more.
(image credit: Sega)
We’ve known that Relic’s latest RTS has been headed to North Africa since the announcement, but what shape this journey will shape for a new theater of war was, exactly, a mystery until now. Company of Heroes 3’s North African operation is a return to the more familiar missions of its predecessors, with a more straightforward series of missions and no turn-based portions. It’s about those explosive RTS controversies.
“In the Italian Dynamic Campaign, what we are doing is allowing players to create their own story and their own path,” explains David Milne, senior mission designer. “It is an open campaign map where players are able to choose which missions and in what order they perform them. The North African operation is a linear story. So the player will go through and experience each mission one after the other. As soon as we tell them, the whole story starts coming to an end.”
While we will be playing as the Allies in Italy, the North African operation is played from the point of view of the Deutsche Africa Corps. This heavily mechanized German force separates from the Wehrmacht forces fighting in Europe and arrives on the scene after the Axis are pushed back by the British. When the campaign begins, however, the tables turn and DAK goes on the offensive.
(image credit: Sega)
The faction’s units and tactics are a good match for desert warfare and players who just want to throw as many vehicles as possible into the mix, but there’s undeniably something uncomfortable about playing a faction of Europeans as they invade Africa. They do, especially when they are also Nazis. German factions are also playable in skirmishes, but playing a campaign with them in the driving seat is a vastly different proposition, which may have informed how the team approached the creation of the operation’s narrative.
We don’t want to glorify or heroize Rommel in any way here, even if you’re playing from a German point of view.
Ryan Borate, Remains
Relic tries to soften DAK and not portray him as sympathetic. It is a foreign power terrorizing those who have been dragged into war and they want nothing to do with it. They are, in the language of the film, the ‘bad guys’, and thus not a group you belong to.
“It’s a tough line to ride,” says narrative and audio producer Ryan Borett. “We don’t want to glorify or heroize Rommel here in any way, even if you’re playing from a German point of view.”
So while we follow the progress of the DAK, we will simultaneously follow the story of Selma, a 17-year-old Jewish barbarian girl, showing us the effect the conflict between the Axis and the Allies had on the people. in North Africa. Relic has used regional voice actors, cultural consultants, and historical accounts to craft both their battles and the narrative that runs through them, so while it’s fun to watch Tanks duke it out in the desert, the studio is hoping that it Will still come out respectfully, giving a voice to more than just the invaders.
“Ultimately the story of Selema is a story of survival, and a story of resistance,” Boret says. And this is a common story. This is a story that unfolds when there is a war. This is what people usually have to do. The story of the rebellion.”
As the monstrous DAK war machine roars across North Africa, we will face several major historical battles, from Ajdabiya to Al Alamein. “These were really important victories for DAK,” Milne says. “The way we approached them was really a bunch of research. We’re reading the accounts we can find, we’re watching documentaries, we’re reading books, we’re—in some cases—in the case of We’re going to Tobruk—Google Earth, because you can still see some of the gap lines in the satellite photos.”
The first mission takes place near Ajdabiya, with the DAK coming to support its Italian allies. Within seconds I was trying to use the smoke to hide from British tanks before getting caught in an intense ongoing battle. And I only had a few Panzergrenadiers and a pair of legendary Panzer IIIs.
“I love that little tank,” Milne says. “It’s porous. It’s fast, you can put a squad of soldiers on it, you can give it some upgrades, and it’s a terrific mainline tank. And it looks great with dust all around.” He’s right—it’s a cracking vehicle that’s useful in most situations. And it does – like most tanks I’ve seen – look great with a little wear and tear, some dust here, some battle damage.
(image credit: Sega)
With tank-riding mechanics, tanks can serve as temporary military transports, with soldiers riding on top of the behemoth. This allows you to keep your forces together and move at the same speed even if you don’t have access to dedicated vehicles. Towing, meanwhile, lets you haul big guns to vehicles, allowing you to take them with you as you move to a new part of the battlefield—if they haven’t been flown before.
Everything that turns into a smoldering husk is not for good, mind. The highlight of my battles in the desert was undoubtedly the repair vehicle, and I often took advantage of its distinctive prowess. As you might have guessed, it is used to fix busted vehicles, which naturally makes it a little MVP. Not only can it repair damage, it can also effectively revive vehicles that have been taken out of commission. But its real trick, what makes it really special, is its ability to repair enemy Vehicles, making them work for your favor.
All DAKs can do infantry repairs, though they’re not nearly as good as the dedicated mechanics hanging out behind repair vehicles. They’re all going to be pretty busy too, as Company of Heroes 3 revels in destruction.
appetite for Destruction
“With the North African operation, we are bringing all the elements of the traditional Company of Heroes destruction into that theater,” says group technical director Ian Thompson., “So we can see elements of terrain deformation, buildings being destroyed, and while those buildings are being destroyed, soldiers are still trying to find slots of war… , Destructive leaves, all those things combined with vehicles and units are moving around for a more prosperous destruction environment.”
The devastation you see after a major battle is horrifying but impressive. Big fires, smoke debris and collapsed buildings will catch your eye at first, but what bring these scenes to life are the tiny details, like the dirt on the tanks and the damage of war – all moving – and the countless numbers of rubble scattered everywhere. Fragments, some of it can be identified, some of it not, but it’s all telling the story of the battle that was fought there.
(image credit: Sega)
I was the cause of most of this destruction, but even in this first mission, and even with the British retreating, there are plenty of opportunities to lose a large part of your force. Proceeding from an abandoned train, feeling confident, I was immediately punished by infantry hiding in the carriages behind me, shortly followed by a tank attack. It was a cowardly trap. However, I survived, and continued to move on.
Destructible buildings, destructible leaves, all those things move around together with vehicles and units for a more prosperous destruction environment.
Ian Thompson, Remains
While most of the British attacks in this mission are scripted, once the battle begins you can begin to see evidence of the AI’s reactivity and strategy. Given that the mission is designed to teach you how to fight, the British opponents here aren’t the most dangerous or deadliest, but every unit has major weaknesses and things it can counter, so the fight is a must. Can change in an instant.
“We’ve worked really hard with AI to make this [better at reacting to the enemy], says Thompson. “At the traditional company of Heroes Development, which I have experienced in the past, AI was something we did last. We would build multiplayer games, then we would build AI, but we knew we had to do it this time. That needs to be built much earlier, so we’ve been able to get a lot more experience with AI and so it’s a much stronger player of the game.”
(image credit: Sega)
After a few more tense battles I finally reach the city where I will clash with the enemy, at least in this mission. This is a classic company of heroes, where after you clear the city, you have to lie down waiting for a counter-attack. There’s just enough time to surround your troops in buildings and set up roadside defenses. I kept the main road to the city very clear, but away from the shore, waiting to strike, were a bunch of tanks and anti-tank guns. When the Brits arrived, the party began, which shook the city to its foundation. The British were defeated, but hardly any buildings remained standing.
Even though this final fight has a familiar setup, it still feels different from the urban brawls in Europe. In Italy, narrow streets, tall buildings and frequent elevation changes are a nightmare for vehicles, but make them a playground for infantry. In North Africa, the roads are wide and the height is low – although all flat roofs give the infantry another place to attack – so it is much easier to take advantage of the mechanized force.
(image credit: Sega)
North African maps are partly defined by their sparseness. The settlements are less urbanized, and they are surrounded by a lot of empty space, with rolling mounds that will give you plenty of room to steer your vehicles and engage in massive tank warfare. This is why things like tank riding are so easy: soldiers are much more vulnerable, with great distances to travel and very little cover. But that doesn’t mean there’s no diversity. Trench networks, camps, are rocky areas that thwart tanks, mines and tear to pieces like the derailed train above.
After chasing the Brits, I was amazed at how different the mission felt compared to the ones I fought in Italy last year, as well as in previous games. The campaign structure may evoke the classic Company of Heroes, but fighting in North Africa feels like a whole new experience. And this is the one you can see for yourself right now. The missions I played are available to everyone who has signed up for the CoH-Development Program, which you can do on the community site. For the rest of the campaign, you’ll have to wait until Company of Heroes 3 launches on November 17th.