Review: Tales of Valor

April 17, 2009
Gold lettering is cool.

Gold lettering is cool.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Overall score: 7/10
Graphical/audio proficiency: 9/10
New content: 9/10
Game balance: 5/10
Technical polish: 5/10
Price: 7/100
Value: 7/10

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.

Original artwork is always nice.

Original artwork is always nice.

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.

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In-depth: 2.501, Tales of Valor and the future

April 13, 2009
Will the trinity expand?

Will the trinity expand?

With the release of the latest COH expansion and the winds of change blowing, I decided it was time to play weatherman and speculate on where our game and community are headed. Here’s my take as a former top-ranked player.

Larger community
Back in the stone age of the vCOH beta, it was rare to see more than 300 people online. I never remember seeing more than 3,000 online throughout all of regular vCOH. With the release of Opposing Fronts, the average number of players almost doubled. I was stunned to see 5,000 or 6,000 people online at peak hours. I was even more surprised to see peak numbers continue more than a year after the release of OF.

Yesterday, a new all-time high was reached: more than 10,400.  While it’s true that single-player users are forced to login to Relic Online,  they only account for about 30% to 40% of users online at any given time. This still leaves yesterday’s 10,400 figure well above previous OF highs. Despite the cries from the prophets of doom on GR.org, the game does not appear to be dying at all, but is growing larger.

What does this mean? It means COH may have the numbers to support multiple community sites, more pro-level players, and larger, more frequent tournaments due to a larger advertising base for sponsors. Think PC hardware, software, gaming companies and even soft drinks and snacks targeted at the coveted 18-34 young male gamer demographic.

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In-game reflections on 2.501

April 12, 2009

I took the time this weekend to play a good four or five games of COH with 2.501 in full effect. Now, first off, I still don’t have Tales of Valor, nor did I run into anyone using the new units. Still, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

interface2The new interface changes are stupid/unnecessary. I’m talking about the veterancy indicator changes and the infantry weapon icon change. Certainly this is open to debate, but I personally liked the American rank stripes and Wehrmacht dots. I also don’t see why Relic placed the weapon icons beneath the unit identification bar, though I’m more agnostic on this one. The real problem is with the veterancy change. It’s harder to notice the little white bar indicating veterancy, particularly when you’ve got multiple units running around.

interface1The interface changes also introduce some minor glitches. Two things I noticed in my brief play period were the manpower indicator and the sound effects for the American Medic Tent. As you can see in the shot to the right, the current manpower rate isn’t properly spaced anymore, as it runs into the +XXX figures for whatever reason. The Medic Tents make the same noise that Observation Posts do when you click on them. Random buggery, Relic-style.

Game balance
It felt pretty good to me. I know the issue that’s all the rage on GR.org is how effective the “new” units are, but as I said I can’t comment on that yet. Overall balance felt good to me, particularly in the U.S./Panzer Elite matchup. I didn’t really fight any strong players, so this impression remains tentative.

New/tweaked sound effects
On this front there’s good and bad, though more good in my opinion. The new Strafing Run sounds are a massive improvement, while the dull, punchy new Ostwind firing effect is much less intimidating than before. I haven’t really messed with the tanks yet, so no comment on that.

Look for more thoughts and a full review of Tales of Valor late next week. I should be getting the game on Tuesday or Wednesday.


Relic: 2.508 imminent, beta to end soon

January 15, 2009

relic_logo2Well Houston, we’ve got an update. Relic community mananger Thunder reports today that patch 2.508 for the beta playtest is “impending” and that we can expect the retail game to be updated with something very similar to 2.508, SOON. That’s the key here, troops, soon. To quote Thunder himself: “We’re locked down on balance right now and just in bug fix mode in anticipation of finalizing the patch for retail.”

I know I usually post the patch notes, but here they are so scant as to barely be worth mentioning. Of note are some AI fixes, like AI can no longer use abilities like Sector Artillery unfairly. I’m not sure how you can possibly use Sector Artillery unfairly, outside of spamming it in enemy sectors. Imagine how amusing it might be to have the computer activate Sector Artillery in your HQ. For all you comp-stompers, this one’s for you.

With COH: Tales of Valor still slated for a March 9 release (see Amazon.com), the endgame is very much in sight. At the earliest I predict the beta patch will go retail in early or mid-February. At the latest, it will be concurrent with the release of COH: ToV.

So dear readers, mark well the date March 9! And stay tuned for more Rifles Ready! content this weekend!


Relic: Beta to go retail after holidays

December 11, 2008

relic_logo2It’s official, sports fans. Relic has all but confirmed the timeframe for the balance beta to end so that a final build of the beta can replace the retail game. The bottom line, according to an official Rifles Ready! analysis: final beta patch after New Year’s, then beta goes retail probably in late February, just before COH: Tales of Valor comes out.

Thunder, Relic’s community manager, says that 2.507 will “very likely” be the final patch to hit the beta, with a changelist coming soon.

“The next steps will be to give you all some time to play with the new beta patch to shake out any new/major issues. Then we’ll be doing a final round of bug fixes for issues that the new code and balance changes introduced to other areas of the game, such as the campaign, and the big final QA pass.”

How long will all this take? Well, it won’t be till after the holidays, Thunder says: “I’m sure there were players out there hoping for a final retail patch for the holidays but there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to happen. We also don’t want to release a patch just before everyone leaves for the holidays, just in case something goes wrong.”

That tells me the beta patch won’t hit till after “the holidays,” which probably includes both Christmas and New Year’s. Assuming the final patch is out in the first week of January, Relic will probably give it at least a month or more for players to play it and offer feedback. Hopefully the fact that it’s the last patch will improve player participation. Then there’s all that final bug-fixing and QA-passing, and finally the beta ends and goes retail.

If you are counting the months on this, you’ll realize this timeframe bumps up very near to the estimated release date for COH: TOV, which is supposed to ship on March 9, according to Amazon.com. It would make very little sense for the beta to still be ongoing when Tales of Valor comes out, so it’s probably safe to use that March 9 date as a drop-dead deadline for the beta to hit retail.

SITE UPDATE: In other news, my video card has been received by the manufacturer, and they’re preparing to ship out a replacement. I probably won’t get it till the middle of next week, or the end of next week. So that means no new Battle Reports for at least a week and a half. However, we’ll all continue to post and that means Surprise‘s highly popular WCG series will keep running. Hang tough, troops!


Relic: Patch process plagued by staff shakeups

November 16, 2008

Relic upgrades to honesty 2.0.

Relic upgrades to honesty 2.0.

Staff departures and personnel issues are responsible for COH’s lengthy beta patch process and the company’s overall lack of responsiveness for the last three months, according to a Relic official. In a remarkably honest, matter-of-fact audio interview with GR.org, “Thunder” — Relic’s community manager — reveals that the departure of key COH programmers slowed the patching process and admitted that his myriad responsibilities have limited Relic’s overall responsiveness to its fanbase. Thunder also revealed numerous tidbits about COH: Tales of Valor which I’ll sum up below.

GR.org shoutcasters Yoink and Bawx gingerly but persistently eased the explanations out of Thunder, who sounds like an honest, simple guy answering questions with a minimum of PR spin. Why has the beta taken so long? Well, key COH staffers left Relic while others were reassigned to other projects — specifically Dawn of War II and COH: ToV. When key staffers leave, their replacements need time to get backup to speed. “There was definitely some attrition on our end,” Thunder admits,.

What apparently doesn’t help is the massive workload Relic’s lone community manager must handle. By his own admission, Thunder is responsible for:

– Reviewing and responding to all drophacking allegations for COH
– Reading the forums at RelicNews, GR.org and PlanetCOH daily to answer questions and take notes on the state of the community
– Respond to general user feedback and emails
– Rinse and repeat for ALL OTHER RELIC GAMES

The last item probably is responsible for tripling the guy’s responsibilities. I still don’t think that fully justifies the lack of communication (just say you’re busy, that’s better than nothing), but Thunder deserves some slack for the fact that he’s relatively new.

Other intriguing facts about how Relic works and its future plans for COH:

– Thunder sits in the same room as the staffers responsible for balancing COH, and communicates usually by yelling in their general direction (i.e. not via emails)
– Thunder is a “middle man” who communicates player feedback to the programmers without injecting his own opinions
– Relic has no special plans to push for COH’s entre into professional gaming organizations like World Cyber Games (WCG)
– Relic is aware of the state of the community and is looking to start wrapping things up
– Beta patch 2.506 will be the final patch that will ship to retail

And now, the promised tidbits on COH: ToV:

Direct fire mode is a mode allowing you to manually control a vehicle, specifically when it fires, what it fires at and how it moves
– Direct fire mode will NOT EVER be useable against another player (i.e. solo only)
– Confirmed: the Tiger Ace Campaign is ToV-only material
– Confirmed: there will be new multiplayer modes (see previous coverage), though Thunder can’t explain exactly what they are


Unofficial: Tales of Valor previewed

November 10, 2008

Details, details...

Details, details...

The eagle eyes of our reporters here at Rifles Ready! spotted a brief post over at PlanetCOH that purports to be a translation of a German gaming magazine’s preview of COH: Tales of Valor. Can you say all that five times fast? While I fully agree this information has traveled a remarkable distance (German-language magazine to translation by someone at the RelicNews forum to PlanetCOH to Rifles Ready!), it does seem totally genuine.

Here’s my summary of the translated information from the German magazine, PC Games.

  • There will be a new multiplayer mode where you — and possibly a teammate or two — must defend a civilian town against AI opponents.
  • There will be at least one new campaign, the Tiger Ace campaign, in which you will control ONE Tiger tank and possibly some support troops. Could this be the “direct-fire” mode? 
  • This campaign will play out in a special mode; the Tiger will be controlled by four soldiers, each with unique skills that can be improved with accumulated experience. There’s a maximum “level” cap of four. Increased levels allow the soldiers to provide the Tiger with new abilities. For instance, your gunner will gain the ability to fire high-explosive rounds when he’s leveled up. Other abilities will allow you to improve the Tiger’s maneuverability attributes. Experience gained and abilities upgraded will be preserved between missions.
  • The other new campaigns will take place in Normandy, but no word on whether they’ll be like the Tiger Ace campaign or be more conventional.
  • This is vague, but the German preview mentions Relic discussing “a system which lets the AI only see what a real tank could see.” I have no idea what this means, but maybe it means the Tiger can only see directly in front of it, with the fog of war obscuring everything outside that narrow area? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • There is no word on any new factions, but designers did mention an introductory cinematic that takes place in… *drumroll please* … LENINGRAD! Also PlanetCOH quotes the magazine as saying “the lead designer didn’t want to talk about things like ‘Russia’ (yet…).”
  • The Essence engine which powers COH will NOT be upgraded in ToV.
  • Please remember, as far as Rifles Ready! is concerned, these details are all very open to debate. The information here is like fifth-hand and filtered through a translation. It most definitely doesn’t meet our ideal journalistic standard, which would call for us to independently confirm the translation. Alas, I speak no German.

    So: take it all with a grain of salt and wait for Relic to do an English-language interview. The fact they gave an exclusive to a German magazine must say a lot about COH’s fanbase, no?