In Relic’s other big project, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, the veteran RTS developer has shifted its focus away from building up bases and divisions of disposable troops, putting more emphasis on tactical control of a smaller number of units. Tales of Valor - the second expansion to one of our very favorite real-time strategy games ever, Company of Heroes - features three mini-campaigns designed to run around an hour and a half each and to continue that trend, focusing on a handful of squads.
I played a mission from the first campaign, which for the first time puts you in command of the German Vermacht. It’s a politically delicate situation Relic says it’s handling with great care; the comic book–like cut-scenes I saw portrayed German soldiers as men swept up in the war who didn’t necessarily share the Nazi ideology, and more than anything just wanted to get home to their families. The setting was Villers Bocage, a small town in Normandy, France. Relic says the mission is based on a true story of how a single Tiger tank fends off a full battalion of British armor, so I was given a lone tank to control. Good thing the Tiger Ace is the meanest tank in the game.
As I gave orders, the unit acknowledgement sounds were chatter from the same characters I’d seen in cut-scenes - a nice bit of continuity. I maneuvered my Tiger around buildings to take potshots at the enemy, and what little fire I took mostly bounced off the Tiger’s thick plates. Every kill awarded me munitions, unlike the original campaign and multiplayer, where you received resources based on captured territory. This is a much more action-oriented style of play.
Just as I was getting warmed up with the Tiger’s 7.5 cm cannon, the tank’s notoriously unreliable machinery broke down, rendering me immobile. While my crew worked to repair the engine, I got to play with an entirely new feature: direct turret control. Toggling direct fire mode, the Tiger’s turret tracked my mouse around the screen and fired on command, blasting enemies hoping to capitalize on my moment of weakness.