One part small-scale, isometric sword-and-shield skirmishing and one part continent-spanning treasure hunt for a powerful religious artefact, The Valiant is a medieval squad-based RTS that’s as much clicking as it is conquering. If you microwaved your copies Kingdom of Heaven and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and made a scented candle out of the molten goop you might get a whiff of what developer Kite Games is going for here. However, while the result is a competent strategy game overall, it’s also a bit repetitive and shallow – and subsequently not quite as fun as that previous fusion sounds.
An adequate way to quickly describe The Valiant might be as a 13th century Company of Heroes. A more accurate parallel, however, might be 2018’s Ancestor’s Legacy thanks to its broadly comparable Middle Ages setting and its very similar range of unit types. They differ considerably in terms of story, though; while Ancestor’s Legacy is more overtly inspired by historical events (albeit loosely), The Valiant is a the tale of a retired crusader knight, Theoderich von Akenburg, and his search for an ancient and dangerously powerful relic – which he’s racing against an equally dangerous Templar of doom to recover. Joining Theoderich along the way is a brave band of medieval expendables, plucked from several corners of the post-classical world.
Praise the Sword
The Valiant is the kind of RTS that takes a more intimate approach to tactical, top-down combat by focussing on individually managing a handful of units rather than an enormous army. This approach brings with it a fair degree of initial accessibility, because juggling the actions of a half-dozen or so small squads is certainly a lot more straightforward than managing giant swarms of them in something like StarCraft 2. The Valiant also does quite well at pacing its 20-hour campaign to slowly and organically teach us how each of the units tick, rather than handing over the keys to the castle from the first mission. The campaign definitely gets a bit samey in stretches, with a lot of identical encounters staged one after the other, but it was engaging to be exposed to brand-new squads, like the healing War Priests, even late in the main story.
Even though certain missions are built around specific units’ abilities, there’s still some inviting flexibility here in terms of how we can approach each mission – and that really opens up in the closing stages of the campaign when all the unit types are unlocked. Only a finite selection of the main heroes and the backup mercenary squads can be taken into each battle, which is a smart way to compel us to find and embrace the tactics that work for our own style instead of being tempted to simply enlist one of each and toss them all into the grinder.
For instance, my playstyle is slow and methodical, and thus I found myself gravitating towards doubling down on archers whenever I could. Archers dole out piles of damage from afar but are cut down in any sort of close quarter combat, so my approach was to draw the enemy into battle with my tank-like heroes up front and then rain arrows upon them from a distance. I found cavalry handy, too, for quick hit-and-run strikes against enemy archers – but mounted units are, in turn, vulnerable to spearmen and shieldbearers. This scissors-paper-rock philosophy is obviously typical of the genre but it’s something that The Valiant not only does well, but also communicates clearly in its menu screens.
However, things do become a little more cumbersome once you layer on the special abilities and various supernatural powers The Valiant’s heroes possess, or earn as they level up. The aggressive micromanagement required can get a little boring and exhausting at times – and personally I got pretty numb to all the math disguised as magic when success regularly comes down to fastidiously spamming special attacks and boosts, watching them cool down, and then spamming them again. There are some keyboard shortcuts that speed it up a fraction, but it can feel like a bit of a grind.
Outside of combat, the need to backtrack considerable distances to replenish squads at camps tends to bog things down, too – and the lack of a manual save option is very annoying when you need to replay lengthy battles that could’ve easily had one or more extra checkpoints.
There’s some very basic base building in The Valiant, but only in a few siege missions, and it’s limited to a trio of defensive towers and the chance to build catapults and trebuchets. These missions aren’t quite as fun as they seem, as they don’t seem totally suited to the deliberately constrained squad limit of The Valiant. That is, you need to take over resource facilities around the map in order to build a modest camp and the necessary siege engines – but you can’t really protect all your resource facilities and your camp with your limited squads. You have to traipse back and forth, retreating to your camp every couple of minutes as the castle sends out an attack.
There’s a decent variety of locations – even if the combat is all effectively the same whether you’re fighting on snowy mountains, dense swamps, or blazing deserts – and they do look nice at a distance. Character models aren’t exactly brimming with detail when you zoom in, but to be fair they’re designed to be seen at a few millimetres tall.
Some of the missions let us tackle objectives in the order we choose but outside of that The Valiant mostly channels us through a specific, linear series of encounters. There are 16 story missions, and there are additional challenges you can toggle on when redoing them, but there aren’t any I’m desperately keen to play again – especially following the infuriating final boss fight. This last clash – which inexplicably strips away every perk, buff, and weapon The Valiant spends the entire campaign encouraging you to select and curate – is absolutely awful and bafflingly hard. It’s deeply unsatisfying to suddenly have bog-standard enemies shrugging off blows from the trash weapons I discarded a dozen missions ago, and having all but one of the special abilities you’ve earned arbitrarily removed doesn’t just feel anticlimactic – The Valiant is outright cheating against you at this point.
One Knight Stands
It’s a shame the stench of the final battle lingers like a fart in a suit of armour, because I otherwise enjoyed the story overall. There’s a fair bit of filler in the middle, and The Valiant has a habit of sidetracking Theoderich with the needs of random royals interrupting his own quest, but the writing is earnest and the voice acting is very good.
The Valiant’s story campaign isn’t the only mode available – technically, there’s also PVP play for two or four players, and a cooperative PVE horde mode for three players called Last Man Standing – but it’s really the only scene at the moment. Right now the multiplayer is deader than a medieval monarch with an ambitious, knife-wielding nephew, making it all but impossible to get much out of it unless you’ve brought your own opponents.