Company of Heroes : Tales of Valor

Let's back up a bit: Company of Heroes has a great track record to date.

The original game rightfully holds the title of "best WWII game that isn't Call of Duty 2." And its first expansion, Opposing Fronts, is a damn fine example of what expansions should be. It provides more of COH's fantastic gameplay, and then enhances it with new additions (via the British and Panzer Elite armies) and shorter, yet more-focused single-player campaigns. By all rights, Tales of Valor should also be a homerun for Relic, with a feature list that includes three new multiplayer modes, new units for each army, new multiplayer/skirmish maps, and three new campaigns.

These features sound great on paper, but are underdelivered, and ultimately, a bit disappointing in execution. It's not that this expansion is "bad", but that it's not nearly as good as the previous one. And the main reason is that it feels like TOV delivers a tease of a great expansion, as opposed to a complete and great finished product.

The three campaigns (Tiger Ace, Causeway, and Falaise Pocket), each introduce new features. They tend to feel a bit more like Dawn of War II -- due to their focus on managing smaller, persistent forces -- than COH, but that's okay. It's good to have variety. I had fun managing a single tank crew, and deciding which crew member to level up as the tank gains experience. It's cool to use the new Direct Fire feature, and directly control what my tank fires at. I liked managing just two small (yet very distinct, with a specific technology tree and ability set for each) squads of Airborne soldiers to valiantly defend a single stretch of land. And I enjoyed the stress and tension of dispatching various Luftwaffe squads to protect 10 vulnerable Panzers from incoming Airborne squads.

As much as I liked those aspects, I didn't like finishing each campaign in less than two hours. COH has a grand American campaign, and Opposing Fronts provided two smaller, but still meaty, campaigns (the British and the Panzer Elite). With TOV, the game only throws you three campaigns of three missions each. Basically, just as you get a good grasp of the new mechanics, and get into the well-designed scenarios that Relic provides, you're done. Because the content and gameplay of these campaigns are really good, it stands out even more just how short and unfulfilling they feel once you reach each one's conclusion.

A similar "this is good, but not nearly enough quantity" feeling comes from the new multiplayer types. You can be glib by summarizing each new mode as something lifted from another game: Assault is TOV's take on Defense of the Ancients, Panzerkreig is TOV's take on the Tank game in Combat for the Atari 2600, and Stonewall is TOV's take on the Horde mode in Gears of War 2. But hey, it's cool to have COH-style makeovers of these other game modes. Running around as a badass sniper, shooting enemy soldiers and bunkers to level up, and attacking the enemy fortress is fun; so is managing a single tank against a bunch of other players in their own customized tanks. Cooperating with buddies against giant waves of enemy soldiers is damn fun as well. It's too bad that these modes are restricted to a single map apiece. I realize this gets into semantics, but they feel less like "three new multiplayer modes" and more like "three new multiplayer maps with very special rules for play." Like the campaigns, these are snazzy, but it becomes annoying when you realize that the modes only work on one map each.

Then there are the new units (which aren't added to the existing armies, so much as they replace existing units within the armies). For example, man, the Schwimmwagen almost feels unfair. It might not be as fast as the Motorcycle it replaces, but the fact that it can drive in reverse, has a better machine gun, and can even drive through water, makes up for its additional cost and lower mobility. The Schwimmwagen replacement is the most drastic of the new units, as most of them are more like tweaked visuals and stats of existing units. Also, the replacements still, on a strategic level, fulfill the same role as what they're replacing; the main difference comes in using/opposing them on a tactical level. They're pretty nifty, but they don't feel meaty enough for what you'd expect in an expansion.

Notice the general theme? Tales of Valor plays and feels more like a mod, or a series of small DLC packs, than an expansion (THQ prices it at $30, which is pushing it a bit). One nice touch is that unlike the previous expansion, this does give you full access to the multiplayer. So if you never picked up COH, but always heard about how great its multiplayer is, this is an easy purchase. Diehard COH multiplayer fans will want this by virtue of being able to use the new units that all the other veteran players will be using with their copies. But the player who either wants a great offline experience, or simply another fantastic COH expansion, might feel a bit cheated and disappointed with how paltry this expansion feels.

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