Company of Heroes 3’s Italian campaign map is by far the most ambitious single-player experience in the series’ history. At first glance, it could be mistaken for a World War II-themed Total War mod. Fighting your way from the southern tip of the peninsula all the way to Rome will require careful planning, use of your land, sea, and air resources, and some political decision-making. The focus, though, is still on setting up exciting RTS missions, and Relic has even dialed back some elements to support this goal, like autonomous support companies, based on player feedback.
In our first campaign preview, we saw a slightly different set-up for Italy where smaller detachments of machine guns, anti-tank weapons, and rifle teams could join a larger company in a support role, or position themselves around the map to fight it out in automatically resolved minor engagements. Players and devs felt like this added a lot of extra micromanagement, so these detachments will now only be used in supporting roles for your divisions. There will still be static emplacements like AA turrets and machine gun nests that can deal damage to you outside of RTS battles, though, meaning every advance needs to be carefully planned.
The key to success, I found, is a sort of combined arms leapfrogging strategy. A strong defensive line might be vulnerable from the air, but you’ll need to capture an airfield before you can really take advantage of that weakness. But if the airfield is also heavily defended, it might help to bring some ships into range for a naval bombardment. Not so fast, though! Coastal defenses can chew your boats up, so first you’ll need to send in ground forces to take out the coastal batteries and clear the way. Working backwards from your main objective and figuring out step-by-step how to take apart the Axis frontline using all the available resources is a tricky puzzle.
All along the way, you’ll be pulled in different directions by the rival US and British generals, Buckram and Norton, who are on the same side but have very different ideas about how to best execute the invasion. This situation is based on real-life disputes between the Allied commanders in Italy, and trusting one over the other will unlock a different set of perks as well as impacting the flow of the narrative. A third voice in your ear comes in the shape of Valenti, an Italian partisan leader who you’ll meet early on. You’ll make a lot of choices that favor one over the others, and can even risk losing their support if you’re not careful, but it is technically possible to keep everyone happy. It just won’t be easy.
While Buckram and Norton are more conventional in their approach, Valenti’s partisans open up some new options for asymmetrical warfare. Partisan hubs, which are another type of special settlement, can deploy spies and saboteurs to scout, disrupt enemy forces, or even take control of settlements that aren’t garrisoned by a company without a fight. It’s a playstyle you’ll have to commit to by supporting the partisans, but one that can be very rewarding and open up cracks in the enemy’s defenses where it would be difficult or impossible by more direct means.
A Plan Comes Together
To show how this all comes together, here are a couple different ways things can play out leading up to the pivotal Battle of Monte Cassino and breaking the German Gustav line. This is a turning point not just for the Italian campaign, but for your relationship with the various commanders.
First, I execute a naval landing near Minturno, pushing up to take Gaeta and break through in the West. We could make an end-run up the coast on Anzio here, but bypassing Monte Cassino leaves us vulnerable to counterattack and getting cut off from the rest of our forces. We weaken the hilltop town of Camino with an artillery barrage, allowing us to overrun it easily. Then, we flank Venafro from the east where there’s a gap in the line, though our tanks have to chug through some less than ideal terrain to exploit it. Meanwhile, we repel a counterattack on our Eastern flank from the direction of Ortona, a port we can secure to let us move our navy up that side of the map so both coasts are under our strategic control.
From this point, it’s a straight shot to Monte Cassino. But the Germans are really dug in. So we do what the Allies did historically and bomb the ancient monastery before storming in for the capture. This, understandably, upsets Valenti, who has had enough of us destroying her country’s cultural heritage. She can even leave our service entirely if we’ve been neglecting her requests all along, and we won’t get access to her bonuses anymore.
Roads Not Traveled
But what if history played out a little differently? If we’re clever, there is another way to get into that monastery. Italian partisans stationed at Agnone allow us to recon the defenses around Monte Cassino so we know what we’re dealing with. Then, we can use our artillery and a swift armored advance to cripple up the German anti-air defenses. Another partisan mission softens up the abbey itself, and we’re able to drop an American airborne division right at the foot of the hill.
The choices we made on the campaign map will translate into the story mission itself. We could be dealing with an intact abbey gleaming in the sun as we fight our way up the hill, or it could already be bombed to rubble with enemy mines and ambushes waiting within. Preserving Monte Cassino is definitely the more risky of the two options. If we can’t capture it, our airborne boys will be stranded behind enemy lines and beaten up badly enough that they might not make it out alive. But if we succeed, not only will Valenti be pleased that we spared a historic heritage site, the Gustav line will collapse quickly without its strongest anchor point.
The Choice Is Yours
This is only one of the many difficult choices you’ll face as you try to outfight, outmaneuver, and outwit the Axis. The fact that not everyone on your side of the line agrees about what’s best adds an extra, human dynamic to the tough decisions you’ll have to make along the way. They do say all roads lead to Rome. In Company of Heroes 3, everyone’s road will be different.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey