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Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor and Joint Operations

Here we go! A writeup of the Company of Heroes expansion Tales of Valor which I’ve finished this weekend, along with Joint Operations, a very cool Company of Heroes modification.

Tales of Valor

The actual game, Tales of Valor, let me say now is probably not worth the full price of admission (~£25 they were asking for in various places). It is a standalone expansion, as far as I’m aware, which is nice of them, however it doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of playtime that Opposing Fronts has. I’d recommend waiting and getting this cheap, or bundled, if possible. It does, however, add some nice bits and pieces, and I had fun playing it :)

The extra units – you get no extra armies (we’re never going to see the Russians it seems) range from pretty hopeless or very specific tactically (replacing my Cromwell tank with a open-topped troop transport? you must be joking! the British barely get any AT or tanks to begin with!) to the better-then-before (you can replace the Tiger Ace with a even better Tiger Ace from the campaign, neato). With only a dozen, it’s not really necessary to get Tales of Valor just to play multiplayer.

The mini-campaigns

ToV Causeway cutscene - go Mr American hero, I salute your cutscene death!
ToV Causeway cutscene - go Mr American hero, I salute your cutscene death!

The 3 mini-campaigns (each one taking place on the same map, but over 3 levels) are actually pretty fun. They’re not too long, maybe a few hours for each campaign, making them quite easy to get through, except for the first and second levels of the Falaise Pocket campaign, which was a nightmare for me. The mini-stories are a bit overblown from the source material, but certainly are pulled off rather well. A bit more engaging then some of the original campaigns and Opposing Front missions.

Falaise Pocket cutscene – has VO over the cool static images, which doesn’t work quite as well I think. Still nice to look at.
Falaise Pocket cutscene – has VO over the cool static images, which doesn’t work quite as well I think. Still nice to look at.

One favourite part for me was having some bad-ass airborne squads which you upgraded with XP, which certainly helped push a mission onwards. The Tiger Ace campaign was pretty fun, but one tank isn’t as much of bad-assery, despite pretty much being invulnerable in the mission. If these were mid-point missions in a set of larger overarching stories, it’d be much more awesome as a kind of contrast to the base-building large-army missions most of the normal campaigns have.

Online Operations

There is, nicely added, some new online game modes. The online part of Company of Heroes really is difficult to get into (I had my ass kicked by the AI recently, and with playing with friends – the units are just that hard to get your head around). The new modes include the defensive Stonewall, my favourite, as well as the terribly balanced Assault (using hero units) and not-very-fun-to-me Panzerkrieg.

Stonewall – Satisfying if youhave good allies!
Stonewall – Satisfying if youhave good allies!

Stonewall is, in a word, fun – simple 4 player co-op, doing defensive actions against troops coming from multiple directions, and allowing you to play as the Axis or Allies. Biggest drawback; only a single map! The game also can take around an hour to play, making it a bit of an investment of time. However, it is very fun – and since it scales with the amount of people, with a full complement of 4, you really need to work together and cover each other properly (usually, with half of the people using infantry, half using tanks). Victory or defeat isn’t always that clear cut either, noting my screenshot of victory with barely any men left (and the last levels always have a massive load of elite tanks drive into your base!).

Stonewall - Defeat is not always mandatory, we won with this many remaining!
Stonewall - Defeat is not always mandatory, we won with this many remaining!

The addition of tactical buildings to hold (or lose) helps modify strategy too. I’ve now pretty much played out all the options, so no doubt repeated plays get less intense, but it does randomise many waves and you get more variety in your allies actions that really changes how it plays.

Stonewall – Satisfying if youhave good allies!
Stonewall – Satisfying if youhave good allies!

Assault is, in a word, unbalanced. You have 3v3 where you have 2 NPC armies face each other, constantly spawning, while the players take up hero units. However, Heavy Weapons men just kick ass at killing buildings – and how do you win? by killing a building! (you can actually also run past most of the defences and bunkers with such a unit too). I’ve managed to repel such attackers using a sniper, but this is still distressingly unbalanced and thus unfun. The actual NPC attackers are pretty lightweight, and losses of forward buildings don’t seem to do much – DOTA this sadly isn’t. Only one map doesn’t help this, especially since it’s a huge one!

Setting up Panzerkrieg - you can see the map layout/spawn points
Setting up Panzerkrieg - you can see the map layout/spawn points

Panzerkrieg is, in a word, hard. For a start, the few games I’ve played my team mates have been worse then me – so perhaps I need to give this a second try. It’s based on relatively intense small tank battles, since you can have 3v3 and a choice of 3 tanks, which you upgrade using XP you gain. You lose points (and thus can lose) by losing tanks, or win by holding victory points to drain the enemies points.

Joint Operations

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-04-23-25
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-04-23-25

Joint Operations is a mod which has been out for a fair while now, and is getting highly polished. There are basically various campaign-like missions – defensive, offensive or a mixture, with maps for 1, 2 or 3 players. Since I can’t cope with competitive play, this mod is amazing amounts of fun. You need to bring a friend though!

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-19-64
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-19-64

The maps do range in quality, but most are top bits of work. Defensive operations might be timed (last X amount of minutes), sets of waves (which are unlimited), or objective based (holding onto a point/keeping officers alive) or a mixture of all 3. Offensive operations have either set squads and reinforcements, or base building to complete objectives.

reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-50-12
reliccoh 2009-06-25 20-24-50-12

The main great thing is the co-op nature of it. Company of Heroes lacks a co-op option for it’s campaigns (something they added in Dawn of War 2 most notably), with Stonewall basically being the only option for it. Even failing a mission, it’s fun to do so with friends against impossible odds (well, impossible to us, who are not great players!). The only thing is possibly the difficulty, which can tend to “murderously insane after 10 minutes”. There is a large amount of variety in maps though, with 1, 2 and 3 player options, with some supporting AI allies.

However, the mod is excellent overall. Well worth getting, and gets a bigger thumbs up then Tales of Valor considering the amount of time I’ve put into it!

Conclusions

Well, if you like World War 2 themed RTS gameplay, then Company of Heroes now has everything pretty much – competitive and tight online multiplayer, co-op play (at least via. Joint Operations) if you don’t like the hardcore competitive online games, and a wide range of campaign missions that will suite most everyone.

I have a gallery of some more shots from both the mod and the game.

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