Company of Heroes 3 has some cracking tanks. They come in a lot of different flavours, from nippy little things to massive rumbling fortresses, and I love them all. The North African operation, the WW2 RTS's second campaign, really lets them shine, giving them wide open spaces and encouraging tank battle after tank battle. They're powerful war machines that are a hoot to command, and also to stare at, because Relic's lavished them with so much tiny detail. But after playing the operation's first mission, tanks have been knocked off the top spot. Now the humble recovery vehicle is my best friend.
Given the heavily-mechanised Deutsche Afrika Korps' reliance on vehicles, there's usually patching up to be done after every confrontation with the enemy. Thankfully, all DAK infantry, not just engineers, can perform field repairs, albeit pretty slowly. Those longer repair times could leave you vulnerable, however, so when you've got a big job, that's when you tag in the recovery vehicle—in the DAK's case, the Famo half-track.
The Famo isn't armed, so you'll want to keep it pretty far away from the fighting, but when the smoke clears that's when you'll want to bring it in to work its miracles. The vehicle it's fixing gets hooked on its winch and then the team starts getting down to business. Now, while quickly repairing a damaged vehicle is a very handy skill, Company of Heroes 3's recovery vehicles are a bit more impressive than that. They can also fix up wrecked vehicles—ones that have been completely taken out of commission.
Even the toughest of tanks have weak spots or weapons that can counter it, so you can lose a precious vehicle pretty quickly if you get into a jam. Which I often do, because I'm reckless and get far too excited about the prospect of more tank battles. Resurrecting these dead vehicles is obviously an exceptionally powerful ability, but there are already limitations that make it more complicated than hitting a button and watching a tank return to full strength.
Once the vehicle has been resurrected, you're not done yet. See, fixing up wrecks just gets them kinda working again—it doesn't heal them. They come back as damaged as they can possibly be, unable to do much aside from serving as a very obvious target. So you need to then do proper repairs. If you're doing this out in the open—and it's not like you can control where the broken down tanks end up—then you're going to make yourself easy prey. It's the perfect time for the enemy to strike.
The final trick these vehicle healers can perform is my favourite: they can also bring back wrecked enemy vehicles, and make them work for your side. There is no greater "Fuck you" to the enemy than stealing their stuff and using it to blow them up. It's thrilling. And it greatly expands the kind of tanks you can field, giving you access to toys you'd normally never be able to play with.
Now, these stolen vehicles count towards your population cap, and whenever you resurrect something you also have to pay a portion of its cost. It's cheaper than making a new one, but you won't be able to do anything if you're broke. Even with these limitations, however, the Famo still felt like one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal. And it was made even more powerful when I encountered a bug that let me resurrect vehicles after my pop cap had been reached. Oh, the fun I had, storming a village with 11 behemoths.
As a rule, whenever a fun and powerful unit is added to a strategy game, there's quite a bit of moaning. This is mostly because the vocal parts of RTS communities are typically people invested in the multiplayer side of things, and they're obsessed with balance. We don't know how the recovery vehicles will affect multiplayer balance yet, and balance is something that's constantly being tweaked and revised, so the complaints seem premature. And while balance is important, particularly in competitive multiplayer, it shouldn't trump fun, and recovery vehicles are a tonne of fun.
The fact that it seems more fun than balanced is part of the appeal for me. And in singleplayer especially, that should be the objective. While the multiplayer folks might be quite loud and their perspective on the game is just as important as anyone else's, they aren't in the majority. Campaigns and comp stomps always draw in more people, though it can't be denied that the multiplayer is what gives these games a long tail. There's a lot of enjoyment to be had in micromanaging units and stopping them from becoming victims of their vulnerabilities, but I also want to feel overpowered sometimes, or at least empowered, because I'm here to watch shit blow up in the desert.
I expect recovery vehicles, like all units, will go through many changes before and after launch—it's always the case—but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Relic won't balance them until all the joy has been sucked out. As long as I can be a dastardly thief, surprising my opponents as I topple their defences with stolen tanks, I'll probably be happy.