Back when Company of Heroes was released many were amazed at the progress Relic pushed forward on the RTS scene. This lightning struck a second time with the release of Dawn of War II, which, again, pushed the genre forward a good bit. Some time has passed, the dust has settled, and Relic has released a second stand-alone expansion to Company of Heroes entitled Tales of Valor, asking players to enlist in World War II yet again. Is there enough content to justify a second tour, or should gamers fake a back injury and get sent home early?
The singleplayer sees a slight expansion that can be completed in an afternoon by anyone who already knows the game's engine fairly well. Three campaigns separated into three parts each round out the game's nine additional missions. Each mission focuses on the tale of a small group of units, boiling away additional RTS elements and leaving a core experience similar to Dawn of War II's. While some missions involve creating units or capturing bases, they are usually secondary to commanding a squad down streets and through alleys, creating more intimate fights. They're different than Company of Heroes normal missions, enough so that purists (see: the stand-alone expansion's audience) might feel a bit isolated, but they're generally pretty fun.
Tales of Valor's multiplayer might not give the long-lasting satisfaction that the original did, but there's definitely a few wrenches thrown into the works that create unique playtypes that should supply a burly amount of replayability. Each of the three modes closely resembles gameplay modes featured in other hit titles, which, while a bit different, is a breath of fresh air in the RTS online scene.
Panzerkrieg has players controlling a single tank and capturing bases while defending against enemy tanks and units in a Battlefield sort of way; Stonewall plays like Gears of War 2's horde mode, leaving it to a team of players to hold out in a small town as waves of enemies attack; and Assault can easilly be related to Demigod, with players choosing a specific powerful unit and leveling him up while fighting an AI controlled army and enemy units. Each provides a wholly unique experience, and shows how the mechanics of an RTS can be adapted to just about any idea.
The problem is, for as fun as the new campaign modes and multiplayer selections are, they're not really that deep. The singleplayer can be knocked out in a few hours and the multiplayer offerings pale in comparison to the scale of those already found in Company of Heroes. But just because the scale is lower doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable, and many might find the different modes found in the expansion more than worth the price. Tales of Valor is likely worth a purchase for fans of the series and anyone looking for something to spend some time on before a bigger, more complete RTS hits later in the year.