Tales of Valor is the second expansion for Relic Entertainment's widely successful RTS Company of Heroes. The first, Opposing Fronts, offered new factions and and two fairly meaty campaigns. Tales of Valor instead chooses to focus on small game-refinement changes and three new multiplayer modes. The game also includes a bevy of new multiplayer maps and the ability to have direct fire control over your units, of which there are several new ones to choose from. While these additions are nice, they likely won't do much for those looking for robust single-player action. What's there, though, is thrilling stuff and up to the quality standards of the original game, if presented in a slightly different format.
Tales of Valor comes packaged with three mini-campaigns that, while fun, are extremely brief and play radically differently from the large mega-campaigns found in the original game and its first expansion Opposing Fronts. Each mini-campaign is comprised of three missions each giving you very little time to get attached to the history and story behind the action. Although there's the same use of stylized moving-painting productions in the cut-scenes it doesn't do much for those wanting a continuation of the epic story-arcs from the main campaign. Still, the action here is excellent and the more scripted sequences, especially those involving the defense of the game's many bridges, are very fun. The three campaigns took me about six hours to complete, which was extended due to several crashes on the final mission.
The gameplay in these mini-campaigns also differs from the source material in that you're focusing on small amounts of units in a more scripted game world. While that kind of combat became a hallmark for the original, it seems overly pronounced in this offering. For example, in the the three missions of the first campaign, you'll play as a single German tank crew. No base, no paratroopers, just that one bad-ass tank with its massively powerful two-second reload time. While narrowing the sight makes for a fast ride, these missions are definitely a radical departure for the series. In fact, the heightened focus on small tactics feels more similar to the gameplay found in Dawn of War II, Relic's last game, than the original Company of Heroes. Compounded with the short play-time, it's a move that veteran COH players will likely be disappointed in.
On the multiplayer front, Tales of Valor adds three new modes of play: Panzerkrieg, Stonewall and Assault. Panzerkrieg puts you in control of a single tank while your team attempts take over the various control points, Battlefield-style. The action is quick, and though your tank will respawn after each death, the focus here is on attacking as a group. The Assault mode is a carbon copy of the Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients. It plays with a similar single-unit focus, as you control a solitary hero unit as you and your team attack a mirrored base of human opponents. Essentially, a stream of AI-controlled units battle it out over the middle ground and your individual actions as a commander, medic, sniper or other hero class turns the tide and helps those troops make it through the enemy defenses. The last mode, Stonewall, has your team of human-controlled opponents fending off waves of AI-controlled units who try to attack your central base.
These multiplayer modes are nice as additions to the main multiplayer component of the game, but likely will be short distractions from the more traditional multiplayer modes from the original game. Luckily there are also some new maps included for those modes as well, and Company of Heroes continues to be a very popular RTS online.
Overall it's the game's $30 price tag at the time of this writing that stops me from fully recommending Tales of Valor. Considering that the original COH plus Opposing Fronts can be bought around the same price these days, I'd definitely point new recruits to those excellent titles before they look at the new expansion as a stand-alone product. For experienced players, though, Tales of Valor offers enough distractions to fill your need for something new. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself returning to the original campaign and multiplayer modes the next time you need a fix.