The Valiant feels almost like a callback, only I’m not sure as to what. It’s almost like playing the combat sections of something like Age of Empires, tracking closest to Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes in terms of mechanics. It’s small-scale medieval strategy with just a touch of fantasy about it, and it’s way more compelling than I expected it to be going in.
KITE Games’ have done an excellent job building a little slice of 13th Century Europe, and filling it with chivalrous heroes and nefarious villains. It’s a tale of Knights and warlords, built around the conflict between two former Crusaders. It begins at the tale end of the Crusades, when a knight names Ulrich betrays his vows to claim an ancient holy relic in Jerusalem. You play as Ulrich’s sworn brother Theoderich, who sees first hand that the relic is corrupting his old friend.
After returning home and attempting to live a quiet life, Theoderich is called upon to put an end to Ulrich’s new reign of terror. Guided by the darkness of the relic, the former Crusader has become a tyrant and must be stopped. What follows is a campaign that sees Theoderich recruit loyal hedge knights and warriors to his banner, while slowly building an army strong enough to rid the land of Ulrich’s evil.
Action in The Valiant is presented from a top-down perspective, which gives you a vantage point over the whole battlefield from which to command your squads. Capturing camps on the map allows you to replenish the health of your soldiers, or disband ailing squads and replace them. There’s a variety of different soldier types to recruit, such as mounted cavalry, archers, and spearmen. A standard rock-paper-broadsword system makes it easy to remember who to send against who.
Each squad has a number of abilities you can unlock and equip as you level them up, while named heroes will be recruited as the story progresses. Hero units are, unsurprisingly, much tougher than regular squads, which is why missions limit the number you can bring in. Most missions will allow you to choose who to bring with you, though, so you may well develop favourites.
There are 16 missions in the fairly lengthy campaign, all of which require you to complete multiple objectives. This could include escorting a VIP, taking multiple enemy camps, or rescuing allies from assault. At all times the focus is on knowing when to push and when to hold, when to chase after a fleeing enemy and when to let them run. Acting rashly can be incredibly costly, while reading the battlefield becomes essential by the mid-game.
You can use squad or hero abilities to help turn the tide of battle. The cavalry units can charge an enemy squad, scattering them, while Archers can lay down oppressive volley fire to harangue the enemy. Theoderich himself can rally his troops with banners that create area-of-effect buffs. Each hero has multiple skill trees that present a multitude of different bonuses and special abilities, all unlockable using skill points between missions.
There’s also loot to be had in the form of new weapons and armour, or accessories that convey passive bonuses. You won’t be hoovering up drops like it’s Diablo or anything, but it creates a surprisingly deep system when combined with the ability trees.
On the battlefield, you can use tactical troop placement to get the upper hand, hiding in the long grass or advancing through thick forest. Archers can find higher vantage points, while you can hold an enemy force in place with footsoldiers and use the cavalry to flank their position. At certain points you can even erect defences such as watchtowers for your archers, or spiked fences to slow advancing enemy horses. Again, this is nothing overly comprehensive, but it does allow for a mixing of tactics during an engagement.
At times, it can become a little difficult to keep track of everyone. When zoomed into the map you lose sight of your squads, and when zoomed out the effect can be something akin to a cartoon cloud of limbs and stars where people are getting hit but you can’t tell who. Units move relatively slowly, too, so getting out of danger isn’t always easy. Likewise, traversing the map outside combat can be slow-paced and uneventful. Thankfully, there’s little downtime between scraps.
Perhaps the only place I felt The Valiant really struggled to impress was in the cutscenes. While the story is told in semi-static frames that are beautifully drawn, in-engine cutscenes fare less well. There’s no mouth movement for talking characters, and the animation is stiff and uncomfortable. It’s not game-breaking, but it meant the cutscenesquickly became my least-favourite part.
On normal difficulty only the rare boss encounters will likely present much more than a decent challenge, although it will take time to understand the intricacies of each squad type. The Valiant is a well-made RTS game, though. Environments are detailed and authentic enough to conjure the required atmosphere throughout, and there’ enough earnest gallantry to carry the somewhat po-faced story through to its conclusion.
When you’re done with the campaign, you can engage in PvP multiplayer and lead your squads in battle against other players. It works very well, though my head isn’t built for clever tactics and I struggled to find my feet here. If you crave a challenge against a free-thinking opponent with all the resources you have, this is a great mode for you.
There’s also a wave-based horde mode that sees you defending an objective from a constant onslaught of enemy forces. You’ll go in with three heroes and limited resources, but you can level up to unlock new abilities and gear as you go. If you do come away from the campaign craving more, this will more than scratch that itch. It’s more immediate than the story mode, offering the kind of instant gratification that comes from surviving against the odds over and over.
As a complete package The Valiant is pretty impressive. KITE Games understand the intricacies of skirmish combat and have done a solid job of building a world and threading a coherent story through it all. It might not deliver non-stop thrills, but The Valiant is still a solid, compelling and, above all, enjoyable tactical strategy game that comes highly recommended for fans of Medieval action.
Good variety of units
Battles feel fair
Poor cutscene animation
Story isn’t great
Sometimes hard to track the action