For ages, real-time strategy is a genre where the number of things you can do per second has a big impact on how effectively you can play. And while there’s something to be said for that, Company of Heroes 3 is trying to extend the appeal of its tactical gameplay to those who want to sit back and think through every move, possibly with a whiskey glass in one hand and a rat in the other. Tactical pause, as they call it, is no more an unpleasant experience for your soldiers, who are sent to take charge of a machine gun emplacement. But it was a much less chaotic experience and, dare I say, a more luxurious experience for a commander.
Pausing a single-player mission in Company of Heroes 3 pops up an action queue for each of your units, allowing you to issue a sequential series of commands, all of which will be executed when you unpause. So you can ask a team of infantry to come cover, throw a grenade, and then keep moving forward without missing a beat. Issuing a complex chain of commands to multiple units at once will cause them to march like a well-run orchestra of destruction, allowing you to perform certain maneuvers that were previously only possible. for an esports professional.
Company of Heroes 3 – North African Campaign screenshot
I was a bit skeptical of this idea at first. In the past, playing against AI in RTS was always an asymmetric war situation. I, as a human being, am much more intuitive and capable of abstract thinking. In turn, the computer is capable of calculating every second and can issue many commands at the same time. With Tactical Pause, that second advantage is taken away. But I honestly don’t see that it makes things too easy. Sometimes I still do the entire task without it, while on other missions it feels practically necessary. But most commonly, I take advantage of it when needed when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and need to take control of the game.
Setting up an attack or a flank, or reacting to an enemy’s onslaught, are two of the most common times I’ll break that space bar. But it’s also really useful to add abilities like air strikes and especially avoiding enemies. The grenade in Company of Heroes 3 has a rather short fuse, so unless you spot it right when it leaves enemy hands, you probably won’t have time to get out of the blast zone. With Tactical Pause, you can really get your people out there before it even starts.
There are two special types of quests that I find particularly important. The first is to protect a strategic point against the enemy’s plot to invade. We’ll use Salerno as an example here, being one of the first towns you’ll liberate in Italy and one of the first you’re likely to face a counterattack. If you look at the amount of land we have to keep here and the number of different defensive options we have – from engineers setting up fields, to aiming all of our big guns right way – we would quickly run out of grace period before the attack happens if we had to do all this in real time.
With Tactical Pause, however, we can get a lot done before the attack hits. I can make sure everyone knows what they’re doing. When I try to do this quest without Tactical Pause, there’s always some stray somewhere that I forgot to order. It’s just too much to follow sensibly. And as the enemy moves forward, pausing can allow me to coordinate an orderly retreat, rather than just clicking spam to get everyone out there.
Company of Heroes 3: Unit Spotlight – IGN First
The other mission I found to be a game changer was Tobruk, one of the biggest and most complex battles of the North African campaign. Leading an attack as Deutsches Afrikakorps, there’s always something happening across this vast battlefield once the action kicks in. In previous RTSs, my solution was to try to create a solid defense or two that I hope won’t have to babysit when going forward with my main group. Now, however, I don’t even need to have a main group. Everyone can be attacked and react to attacks at the same time.
The tactical pause is being touted as a way to make it easier for new players to get into RTS, and that’s certainly one of the things it can do. But even as a veteran who has played the genre since before I learned the times table, I value it simply as another way to play a World War II strategy game. It doesn’t even necessarily lower the skill requirement. It just focuses on a different skill set.
And honestly, having that option simply makes each operation more pleasant to play. At least, as pleasant as full-scale combat. Not having to feel like my brain has to keep track of so many different things right from the start is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I crave chaos, but I don’t necessarily want to sit with it for the duration of an entire campaign.