There’s no ‘U’ in Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor, which reflects the absence of a British campaign. There’s no ‘I’ either, but they probably should’ve worked one in. Considering the way most of this standalone expansion shifts CoH’s focus from the company to the individual heroes, it’d certainly be fitting.
Valor offers an evening or two of single-player content in the form of three mini-campaigns that incorporate its new concepts into well-presented but ultimately unchallenging missions. In the Tiger Ace campaign you control a single German Tiger tank that thunders through British forces as though it was in god mode – earning new abilities from an RPG-like skill tree for even more overkill. In Causeway, you control a handful of American infantry squads that might as well be composed entirely of Rambo clones – all you have to do is set them to attack-move behind their targets and let them do their thing, occasionally pushing the ‘revive squad member’ button when prompted. Falaise Pocket offers more of a challenge since you use more conventional CoH mechanics to hold off Allied forces while your wounded German comrades retreat, but it’s still only three missions long.
The real meat here is in the multiplayer. For the traditional MP battles, Valor unlocks all four armies and adds a handful of optional replacement units. None of them appear to be overpowered, but they do open up some new tactical possibilities. The American/British Staghound light armored vehicle, for example, comes blazing out of the gate without the need for upgrades like the Greyhound it replaces.
Much more significantly, three new modes of play completely toss out the rulebook. Panzerkrieg is a light action-RPG where each player controls a single tank that levels up and gains selectable new abilities. The goal? Reduce the other team’s Victory Point pool to zero first. Maneuvering to get that clean shot at the enemy’s weaker rear armor can be a riveting game of cat and mouse (in which both drive multi-ton war machines), and smashing through walls never gets old. The upgrade abilities, such as a speed burst or mine-laying, keep the game evolving from start to finish.
Assault is an infantry game in which you control a single heroic soldier of a chosen class – such as a sniper or medic – and fight your way through enemy territory heavily fortified with AI-controlled troops and bunkers to destroy their HQ before they do it to you. The RPG aspects are less interesting – you can only increase your hero’s weapon, armor, or grenade power each level – but you can swap classes to take advantage of a different set of abilities every time you die. There’s less tactical maneuvering, but your army of NPCs does a fine job of making you feel like a soldier in a larger battle.
Our favorite mode is Stonewall, where you and up to three other players in co-op defend a small town against 16 increasingly powerful German attack waves. The action is very similar to traditional CoH, with no heroes or XP upgrades – the main difference is that you earn resources by killing Germans rather than holding control points. It’s the best way to play co-op against the AI yet.
It’s too bad that each mode has only one map designed to work with it, making Valor’s long-term value entirely dependent on Relic delivering more. Considering that essentially the same amount of money now buys you the original CoH with its magnificent campaign and multiplayer, Valor is best suited for dedicated fans seeking a new way to enjoy their favorite game.
Apr 28, 2009