Wounded in action.
Expansions are funny beasts, you know? It’s hard to generate a terrible expansion, but it’s also hard to generate an excellent expansion. Case in point, Tales of Valor, the latest addition to the excellent RTS Company of Heroes.
[image1]Tales of Valor comes at the $30 price point, and contains three mini-campaigns (each of which can be played in about 90 minutes), about a dozen ‘alternative’ units you can swap out with any of the armies, and a collection of new multiplayer maps and special game types or ‘Operations’. While there’s a good amount to offer here, it falls short of the standard set by the previous expansion, Opposing Fronts, and feels like a hodgepodge effort.
The three mini-campaigns feature heroic stories of, generally speaking, insane crap that wouldn’t be believable if it wasn’t real history (which it isn't). Each mini-campaign takes place through three missions on a single map; the first two, ‘Tiger Ace’ and ‘Causeway’, feature larger-than-life heroes with preposterous capabilities, especially once you work them up the RPG-like upgrade tree.
'Tiger Ace' features a, well, Tiger Ace crew. While tanks have always been powerful buggers in Company of Heroes, the Ace crew takes things to a ridiculous degree, landing just about every shot and regularly shooting down any and all infantry that come anywhere nearby. With the abilities to swap cannon loads for different situations and aim the turret manually, the campaign quickly feels like a walk in the park, with corpses for grass and enemy vehicles for trees. Although things are broken up briefly by a mission where your crew has to abandon their vehicle, it’s only a brief respite in the rolling doom.
'Causeway' features a pair of way-more-powerful-than-necessary allied infantry squads, Able and Baker. Both mow down opponents with just plain silly efficiency, though on paper they have different intents – in practice, running them both around together lets you just shoot down everything that moves. Unfortunately, many of the upgrades available to your squads don’t prove to be especially important on this campaign.
[image2]The last mini-campaign, 'Falaise Pocket', plays more like a traditional round of Company of Heroes… only with some very stacked odds. You take on the role of the Axis defenders of the town of Falaise, the key town that allowed considerable amounts of the German Seventh Army to retreat in August of 1944. Without the defense put up by the German forces there, World War II would’ve ended several months sooner, in all likelihood. Playing through it, and getting a feel for being on the losing side of that war, was an interesting experience – and given the grim conditions of Falaise, sobering. This mini-campaign, oddly enough, proves the most engaging of the three, despite having the least to offer in terms of unique gameplay; instead, it relies more on the qualities that made the original Company of Heroes such a breath of fresh air, and is by far the most successful as a result.
Most of the alternate units are entertaining, though a little questionable in value in some cases. In other cases, though, it’s a clear win to pick the alternate unit. The addition of the new units makes for some interesting variation to the game, especially in conjunction with the company commander abilities. Using the new Kangaroo troop carrier with the royal engineers company commander can make for some interesting combined fire options for the British, while the Hotchkis tank for the Wehrmacht makes an excellent light interdiction tank for getting early battlefield control.
The new multiplayer modes – or ‘operations’ – are each a unique multiplayer gameplay variation. Unfortunately, they feel poorly balanced. One is a co-op game where you and up to three other players fight off wave after wave of Wehrmacht attackers. The set-up makes it difficult to hold on, however, as you get little to no munitions to work with, unless you kill an opponent – so if you get in a hole, it can be hard to dig yourself out of it.
Another puts the players in control of ‘hero’ units on either side, augmenting and guiding the attacks and counter-attacks of AI-controlled soldiers and vehicles. Unfortunately, there are only two heroes worth taking – the leader and the heavy weapons expert. The medic almost seems worthwhile, but can do so little on his own that it requires a cooperating teammate. A little more concerning, though, is how quickly the AI ‘gives up’ attacking – if either side makes a little headway into the enemy base, the AI seems to stop trying. This gives you little support out in the field, and means that whichever team has the numerical advantage in heroes is essentially guaranteed to win. Likewise, whichever team is put on the defensive first has little in the way of getting out of it.
[image3]The final ‘operation’ puts the player in the role of a heroic tank. Problem is, the Axis has the clear advantage in this one, being that they have the best tanks. The most competent of the Allied tanks is the M18 Hellcat… which actually feels pathetic. It can go down very quickly, and doesn’t seem to deal enough damage to make up for its lack of hit points. Each tank choice comes with its own upgrade tree, granting special abilities and little distinctions from the other tanks, but when you see every player trying to play the same tank, it quickly becomes obvious that the balance needs some work.
The biggest thing, in my opinion, that Tales of Valor brings to the table is the most stable network code to date for Company of Heroes. I have had the least difficulty hopping online and playing CoH with the ToV expansion.
Tales of Valor has some decent content, though there’s not much, all things considered. The previous expansion brought two complete factions, with two complete campaigns, whereas Tales of Valor brings just over five hours of single-player fun and a few imbalanced multiplayer modes to the table. Big fans of CoH will find fun here, to be sure, but it’s mostly the same experience we’ve been having with CoH to date – questioning whether ToV is of any real value (or at least $30 worth).