Overall score: 7/10
Graphical/audio proficiency: 9/10
New content: 9/10
Game balance: 5/10
Technical polish: 5/10
The U.S. Postal Service was on point this week, delivering my copy of COH: Tales of Valor a full day earlier than expected. Of course, they took an extra week to deliver my collector’s edition of Street Fighter IV, but that’s neither the here nor there.
TOV is essentially a lazy man’s add-on to the Company of Heroes pantheon, but that’s not to say it’s worthless. In fact, TOV is a lot of fun and feels almost like a deliberate attempt by Relic to get gamers away from the deadly serious issue of “balancing” highly competitive ranked play and back into blowing up Krauts and Yanks. My take on that? They blow up real good. If you don’t own either the original COH or COH: Opposing Fronts, TOV is a great buy for the money. Go get it now, you rookie. If you’re a COH veteran, keep reading.
TOV adds three short campaigns to the single player game, representing the Wehrmacht, Panzer Elite and Americans. Each of the campaigns — Tiger Ace, The Causeway and The Falaise Pocket — consist of three story-driven missions featuring wildly modded units and gameplay mechanics. You’ll encounter a Tiger that can fire smoke bombs and fire artillery shells, plus American Paratroopers sporting Kraut-mowing Thompsons and as they say in show biz, much, much more. These units have an absurd amount of health and their slew of overpowered abilities make every single mission relatively easy. As a result, each campaign — or “tale of valor” as Relic somewhat fancifully puts it — won’t take you longer than two or three hours.
Each campaign really shows how Relic is stretching the existing game engine to its limits. It smacks of the flavor that DotA (Defense of the Ancients) added to Warcraft III, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. Of course, that depends on how much you like DotA versus the original game.
The much-hyped “direct fire” mode is somewhat underwhelming, and usable only in single player and in the new multiplayer modes — you won’t be able to use it in regular skirmishes or ranked games of any kind. This video gives you a sense of how it works. With a human controlling the cannon, you’ll rarely miss even moving targets, but in general it’s not a major improvement over letting the AI fire by itself. It’s pretty entertaining to lead targets though — watch how I smack that T17 Armored Car right in the ass late in this clip:
Keep reading for a full explanation of my score, which essentially amounts to a low C — not exactly the kinda test score that’ll get you into Harvard.
The same flavor applies to the three new multiplayer game modes — called “Operations.” Speaking of DotA, Operation Assault pretty much is DotA for all intents and purposes. This mode has you controlling a single “hero” unit in support of an AI-controlled army of regular units that respawn. The object is to destroy specific targets on the map. It’s a helluva lot of fun actually, and has many more examples of unit modding and new ability trees that replace the standard Commander trees in the original game.
Operation Panzerkrieg is similar in concept, except the objective is to hold Victory Points and destroy enemy tanks using your own. You pick from one of three tanks for the Axis and Allies, each representing a sort of “doctrine” of its own. Each tank comes with its own Commander tree, yet again showing off Relic’s creativity for unit abilities. One is forced to wonder how awesome the metagame would be if Relic was as thoughtful and enterprising with its patching process. People have gotten quite good at this little minigame, using units and abilities in conjunction with each other to really make the team-based action come alive. It’s competitive but feels a lot less stressful than playing an opponent in the regular game.
Lastly, Operation Stonewall is base defense with limited units, feeling like a souped-up version of the Caretan mission from the original American Normandy campaign in vCOH. Certain civilian buildings offer bonuses, like healing or reinforcing, which is crucial as your squads need time to recover between vicious waves of AI attackers. It’s a great game mode that emphasizes cooperation with your human partner and takes away a lot of the competitive stress that characterizes multiplayer COH.
Now comes the medicine. TOV comes hand-in-hand with patch 2.501, which solves many problems from the unmitigated disaster of 2.400, but introduces even bigger gamebreakers. The Pak 38 seems to gain offensive first-strike damage indefinitely over time, so a cloaked Pak that’s been cloaked for 5 minutes will reduce a Pershing to 5% health in one shot. The MG42 can switch windows instantly, which means it’s a waste of time trying to flank an MG in a building so long as your opponent takes advantage of this. Head over the GR.org balance forum for COH if you want a full accounting of the pain.
Game balance is terrible; it’s inexcusably bad. I understand balance and bugs are made much more complex because of Relic’s standalone model for each COH expansion, but enough is enough. The Pak bug is simply absurd. It will do nothing but create anger and unfair matches.
The new units are a mixed bag; they feel stronger than the original units, some because of their mix of abilities, some because they’re… well, better. The T17 Armored Car is a better infantry sniper than the M8, which was already giving Axis infantry night terrors. Why would anyone ever pick the M8 over the T17, unless they didn’t happen to own TOV? As Surprise points out, you don’t want to empower one customer over the other.
TOV is an interesting expansion that focuses on adding new gameplay mechanics and modes rather than new units and art. The production values are generally high, with great-looking original artwork and voice acting in the short but fun single player campaigns. The new online modes are uniformly fun and creative — they add a welcome freshness to the game and put a lot of meat on TOV’s otherwise thin bones. The bugs that accompany 2.501 are not welcome, however. They take away a lot from the game, and given Relic’s poor track record of fixing the game in a timely manner, they’re depressing to most fans who already own COH or OF or both.
The $27.99 price tag is a good value or a little pricey depending on who you are. If you’re a COH pro who’s spent $80 or more on the original game and OF, maybe you don’t feel like forking it over so easily. If TOV is your introduction to COH, the price is a great value.
Here’s hoping TOV gets better over time, and that new sales give Relic some incentive to speedy with fixes.