Company of Heroes is often praised as a great step forward for the strategy genre that appeals to both casual gamers as well as the hardcore strategy fans. I don’t necessarily play a lot of strategy games, but I really enjoyed the original Company of Heroes and also viewed the Opposing Fronts expansion as a fairly good addition. I’ve downloaded many third-party maps, because I simply can’t get enough. It’s fun, you don’t have to spend an hour building up your base, gameplay is very simple, and great action begins very quickly. Most people seem to have the same impression. When I first heard of the Tales of Valor expansion, I was really excited to start playing again. After completing the campaigns and spending some time with multiplayer, though, I’m definitely not very pleased. When you look at the price point/gameplay time ratio, it’s apparent to me that THQ and Relic have turned on the milking machine, which seems much too soon.
The new expansion pack features three new campaigns with three missions each, three new multiplayer modes, new maps, and some new mediocre content and features. New campaigns on the single-player side include “Tiger Ace,” “Causeway,” and “Falaise Pocket.” In multiplayer “Operation Panzerkrieg,” “Operation Stonewall,” and “Operation Assault” modes are included along with new units such as the American M18 Hellcat and the German Staghound Armored Car. One of the highlighted new features is direct fire, which is basically just what it sounds like; you can specifically target a unit’s fire with your mouse. The downside is that you are unable to select another unit until you disable direct fire. This new feature is alright, but it really didn’t seem like anything special or amazing. Unfortunately, this is the case for much of the new feature set.
The single-player campaigns are very short and meager, and two of the three are largely different from the original CoH gameplay style. When I say short, I mean finish in an afternoon, 3-4 hours short. Relic wanted to try something different with this add-on, and thus we get the “Tiger Ace” and “Causeway” campaigns. The main difference comes in the form of a small, practically invincible force that you command through several battles. In “Tiger Ace” you command 101st's Tigergruppe, which is just one tank… one tank up against many allied tanks and troops. You receive upgrades quickly, but it all goes by so quickly that you barely get a chance to try out new features. Eventually, the tank is disabled and you are forced to make an escape on foot, and later take revenge with two tigers. In “Causeway,” the situation is very similar. You command two airborne squads, part of the 505th PIR, which is almost untouchable. Soldiers in the squad will get injured, but you just distribute health packs and they’re back on their feet within a small amount of time. The third campaign, “Falaise Pocket,” is much more “normal” in terms of the rest of the Company of Heroes series, but victory in this German campaign means retreating as the allies close in on the town of Trun, which seemed a little funny and unsatisfying. So, much is left to be desired on the single-player front.
When it comes to the multiplayer portion of the game, I’d start by stating that if you’ve never played Company of Heroes multiplayer in the past, now is not a good time to begin. I played multiplayer a little bit with the original CoH, but it’s now been a long time, and I didn’t continue playing regularly. I started playing again after receiving Tales of Valor, and wow, I must just really suck, or something is very unbalanced with multiplayer. I just played on whatever server for a while, not worrying about whether a new map was being played or not, and went on a big losing streak. It was fun either way at first, but after a while, I just got sick of it. When the opposition brings over five tanks in under 15min of play, something just isn’t right. I stuck to the supposed “noob servers,” but it’s obvious that most people have a lot of experience. The fact that that there are usually only a handful of servers available, and once you get in one there’s a good chance your teammates will verbally thrash you if you’re new, makes playing multiplayer a waste for me. This isn’t to say multiplayer isn’t fun – it can be – but you really need a lot of practice in order to be good at it. You might be thinking, “isn’t every multiplayer community like this?”, but I would argue that the CoH community seems a little more vicious than usual.
With that out of the way, the new multiplayer modes and maps seem okay if you are able to enjoy CoH online play. The “Operation Panzerkrieg” is basically just a tank mode, the more difficult “Operation Stonewall” co-op mode drops you and others into a town that needs to be defended while a barrage of AI forces try to take it, and “Operation Assault” (apparently heavily influenced by the Defense of the Ancients mod for Warcraft 3) involves two sides that are heavily entrenched where you control a “hero” unit. Hardcore fans will end up buying this expansion just for the multiplayer.
Downloadable content (DLC) has started to gain in popularity lately, and a lot of companies are pushing out these often large updates at little to no cost. Tales of Valor seems nothing like a full-blown expansion and much more along the lines of one of these simpler content updates. There is absolutely no way that I can recommend purchasing Tales of Valor at the current $30 price point; $10 to $15 seems much more reasonable. I would assume that veterans of the series will also be very distraught with the two new invincible single-player modes and possibly some of the multiplayer balancing issues. Online play can be fun if you have experience, though it would be nice to see some more servers available and for the community to be more open to new players. While I’m kind of sick of WW II games in general, the Company of Heroes series seems to be a bit of an exception. However, I would really like to see Relic expand and bring in Soviet troops, create a Pacific front game, or even a game based on the Vietnam War. So in ending, you’d be able to skip this installment without missing much.