Company of Heroes 3: North Africa Campaign Mission Hands-On – IGN First
Can Rommel make lighting strike twice?
North Africa in Company of Heroes 3 isn't just a different campaign structure and a sandy color palette. Compared to Italy, where the might of the US and British forces keep your offensive churning along, the Deutsch Afrika Korps often has to make a big difference with smaller, undersupplied forces and whatever they can find lying around – sometimes literally. In this brand new exclusive mission, Desert Route Raid, we went hands-on to see the kinds of challenges the dunes can throw your way.
Running Out of Time
This scenario, which takes place some time after the pivotal Battle of Tobruk, opens with Erwin Rommel detailing a high risk, high reward opportunity to hit British fuel supplies. There's no base building in this one. And worse yet, you don't even get any real armor to play with. It's just two armored cars and four squads of infantry, sent deep into enemy territory to take out some depots before a larger patrol returns. Sure, whatever you say, Feldmarschall…
These Sonderkraftfahrzeuge, or Sd.Kfz. if you prefer, are nimble and effective at suppressing infantry. But they don't have much armor and are very vulnerable to anti-tank rifles and grenades, so I found that I really needed to use them for quick, hit-and-run attacks before falling back for repairs. That, fortunately, is something the DAK is very good at, since even their basic infantry know how to staple a car back together. Losing even one can be disastrous, since there is no way to replace them. And just about every step of the way, you're going to be outgunned.
Blood on the Sand
I found the tactical pause feature to be really useful here, since every movement had to be fairly precisely coordinated. But the real key to success ended up being to loot every squad weapon in sight. You can't train new squads, but you can reinforce the ones you have. And sending some Panzergrenadiers to grab a discarded machine gun, for instance, creates a new HMG squad that can be reinforced on its own, while also bringing the infantry back up to full strength. You can get a pretty decent force together this way.
With my ragtag strike force wielding whatever I could find lying around, I made a push to do as much damage as I could while Rommel yelled at me about how close the patrol was getting and how I was running out of time. I wanted to radio back, "Gee mister, it sure would have been nice if you had given us, maybe, ONE TANK, but don't worry. We've got this." The one major advantage I was able to leverage was air support, with both bombers and strafing runs at the ready to even the odds.
Taken Moments Before Disaster
Even so, it never felt like we had the time or the firepower to make this zany plan work. It's not game over if the enemy patrol does show up, since you can try to sneak around them to hit the last objective area. But with the Brits dug in and lacking any serious ability to push, it felt like we were being sent to our deaths. Not that I particularly have a problem with watching Nazis get their asses kicked, of course.
You really have to get creative, and don't really have the time to go for anything other than an all gas, no brakes lightning assault.
Tobruk feels like a mission to highlight the strengths of the DAK. Desert Route Raid is more of a story about their weaknesses, with a possibility to overcome them. You can't take advantage of some of their most useful unique abilities, like tank riding or salvaging enemy vehicles. The core of your force is a pair of highly effective but extremely vulnerable motorized units. You really have to get creative, and don't really have the time to go for anything other than an all gas, no brakes lightning assault.
No Way Out
Having to rely on squishy infantry, scavenging the battlefield, and going after objectives with a couple of irreplaceable vehicles definitely emphasizes the desperate and deadly aspects of the North African conflict. Conducting a conventional war in an environment that just doesn't want you there, often with very few of the supplies you need to fight effectively, was definitely a reality for forces on both sides of the theater. Due to its linear structure, these details come out in the character of the missions themselves rather than at the strategic layer.
It also proves Company of Heroes 3 is really not messing around with stretching your skills as a commander to the breaking point, if you're up to the challenge. We're playing a faction that we know, historically, was defeated. And there won't be any kind of alternate history going on here. You might win some battles, but not the war. It's the story of a doomed army stranded in a dry land, fighting for a madman's ambitions. And in that sense, the fact that this mission felt like such an ill-advised suicide run makes a lot of sense in context.