Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor Preview
Less than two months after our Dawn of War II Review, we have our hands on another Relic title, which is due in stores later this week. Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor is Relic's latest offering, and is perhaps the best "expansion" to the series yet.
On a single player level, Tales of Valor introduces three new campaigns and a new "Direct Fire" mode, which enables players to take control of both infantry and vehicle turrets. While direct fire is entirely optional, the potential for pulling off faster and more precise shots and even setting up a good ambush makes the mode quite fun and useful. Each campaign focuses on a historical battle, with very intense and engaging story lines.
Each campaign focuses on an elite crew of men who must push their way through the toughest of encounters to achieve victory. Cutscenes and dialogue introduce and carry the storyline of the men involved, and the battles faced in each of the campaign objectives are always unique and entertaining to play through. From dominating allied forces as the Wehrmacht with a Tiger Ace, to holding off enemy forces as the Panzer Elite until an evacuation can be made, the single player campaigns in Tales of Valor remain exciting to the very end.
On the multiplayer side, Tales of Valor offers all of the content of the original game and the Opposing Fronts expansion right out of the box and then some. With that considered, Tales of Valor's $29.99 price point is truly a steal for newcomers looking to join the fray. Dedicated fans, however, will find the most value in the new vehicles, maps, and game modes offered.
Tales of Valor brings nine new skirmish units to Company of Heroes, even when games are played against players who do not own the expansion. In typical Relic fashion, this means that the community stays united, as all Company of Heroes products remain compatible in multiplayer.
The British previously had functioned as more of a defensive and slow-moving faction, but with the Kangaroo and Staghound, the British become much more friendly to aggressive players. The Kangaroo can cart in full squads of infantry at a very fast pace to any battle, and any infantry inside can fire out at will at nearby targets. The Staghound brings armored car command functionality to the armor tree, and can be upgraded with an anti-infantry machine gun. Both units support more offensive play if desired, or alternatively can continue to support the defensive tradition.
When it came to the Panzer Elite previously, well, they just had a very difficult time punching through heavily fortified positions prior to Tales of Valor. With the Hotchkiss Stuka upgrade, however, the Panzer Elite can now give a healthy dose of overhead artillery to defensive positions. Combine the changes that the Hotchkiss brings with the new Schwimmwagen's tactics-based abilities such as early game mine drops, and you've got a much more versatile faction.
The US and Wehrmacht remain relatively offensive, and their new units offer more punch in exchange for armor. The US Hellcat is an optional replacement for the M10 Tank Killer, and is able to upgrade itself with an anti-infantry top mounted machine gun. While initially the thought of a tank killer with anti-infantry capabilities sounds may sound a bit overpowered to some, the reality is that the Hellcat drops even faster than the M10 to anti-armor attacks. The US version of the Staghound packs a heavy armored car punch, but will best be known for its white phosphorous ability which stuns enemy vehicle crews for several seconds.
The Wehrmacht can now utilize the Geschutzwagen, which punches much harder than the popular StuG IV tank, and offers an anti-infantry machine gun for free to boot. Much like the US Hellcat, however, the Geschutzwagen goes down fast when confronted with anti-armor. The Wehrmacht's own version of the Schwimmwagen initially seems to offer very little over the motorcycle, however it soon becomes evident that it is essentially a rolling machine-gun platform without suppression abilities.
The main drawback of the new units in skirmish games is that each replaces an already-existing and familiar unit. For example, when toggled on, the British Kangaroo heavy armor transport replaces the very popular Cromwell tank, while the German Panzer Elite Hotchkiss Tank replaces the Panzer IV Infantry Tank. Each new unit reveals several new tactical possibilities, but their use also comes at a difference of cost and utility of the units replaced.
The new maps come in a variety of sizes and flavors, with a small number culled from a recent Relic community map contest. There are twenty two total for Skirmish play, along with one map each for the new game types made available in Tales of Valor.
New Game Types
The first new game type is called Stonewall, and it plays much like a tower defense style mod that players may have seen in other games, with waves of enemies rushing at players from various points in the map. Initial waves start off relatively tame, but very quickly ramp up in difficulty. Stonewall allows for up to four players in co-op mode as either the Axis or the Allies. The difficulty level of all waves are adjusted based on the total number of players in the game. While there is not a competitive version of this mode, it is still a lot of fun especially when played with friends.
The second mode is called Panzerkrieg, and is really quite a treat when it comes to intense fast-paced competitive play. In Panzerkrieg, up to six players go head to head with beefed up tanks and abilities. All of the standard rules go out the window in Panzerkrieg, since each player only has to focus on their own individual tank. The hero-like tanks level up in an almost MMORPG fashion after gaining set amounts of experience, which can be earned from destroying enemy tanks or by capturing victory points.
The victory points in Panzerkrieg function differently as well, with each tied exclusively to one support function. For example, the infantry reinforcement point at the north side of the map allows for different tiers of infantry support to be called in depending on how long the point is held for. The radio tower point at the south, however, is entirely focused around air support, with strafing and bombing runs offered after the point is held for long enough. Once players begin to level up their tanks and earn enough to utilize the victory point abilities, the real fun starts and Panzerkrieg shines.
Unfortunately, the third new game mode is under an embargo until release later this week, but we can say that we expect it to be very popular. Fans will definitely not be disappointed.
In terms of performance, Tales of Valor is really at its prime with current-generation video cards. A single GeForce GTX 280 card just screams in Tales of Valor, even with all of the bells and whistles turned on at a resolution of 1920x1200. We ran the game through a series of benchmarks, making use of the following test bed:
Intel Core i7 920 processor
Intel DX58SO motherboard
Corsair Dominator 6GB RAM (3 x 2GB)
EVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Single)
Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro Sound Card
PC Power and Cooling 700W Power Supply
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Our results using the in-game performance test were impressive to say the least:
1280x800 Ultra DX10 16XAA 116.4 fps avg, 220.3 fps high
1280x800 High DX9 16XAA 150.3 fps avg, 263.2 fps high
1680x1050 Ultra DX10 16XAA 89.9 fps avg, 187.8 fps high
1680x1050 High DX9 16XAA 128.4 fps avg, 195.6 fps high
1920x1200 Ultra DX10 16XAA 75.2 fps avg, 147.4 fps high
1920x1200 High DX9 16XAA 122.7 fps avg, 192.0 fps high
With all things considered, we have to say that Tales of Valor offers the most bang for the buck that we have seen yet for the series, and this is for both fans and newcomers alike. With the new game modes, maps, vehicles, and campaigns, Tales of Valor is definitely a title that should be on everyone's buy list at the end of this week. It's an absolute blast to play in its preview build form, and we expect it to be worth every penny at retail.
For the hardware crowd, Company of Heroes can now reliably be played with a single-card solution at a resolution of 1920x1200 without ever dipping below an average of 75 frames per second. Considering how good Tales of Valor looks, this is one game that properly shows off a good gaming build.