Date of publish: 20/10/2020 18:55 CET
Normally, expansion packs are handled in one of two ways: (1) aim them at players of the original game looking for fun new units and scenarios to play with, or (2) target new players by making the product standalone and pricing it accordingly. The two different types of expansions have very different requirements, and trying to put them together often risks falling short in some areas. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened with Cossacks: Back to War.
For Cossacks Fans…
For fans of the original looking for new content, CDV has provided two new countries to play, Hungary and Switzerland, with their attendant armies and architectures. Of these two, the most interesting is Hungary, whose units seemed to combine the best of European toughness with the Turkish excellence in mounted combat. Switzerland, on the other hand, I found almost identical to every other army in the game. Even taken together with a new special unit for Algeria and Turkey (The Bedouin), these don’t really offer enough in the way of new gameplay options to justify the $40 price tag.
On the other hand, the game also includes a modification that, according to the instruction manual, was put together by two of the members of the development team. Mod 1.35 includes all sorts of great new units (including a badly needed coastal defense cannon) and gameplay tweaks that fill in the holes in military strength left in the original game. I can’t understand why they weren’t included in the actual expansion rather than being hidden in a file on the CD — or released as a patch.
Back to War also offers two new Internet multiplayer options. VIZOR is a system that allows you to view games in progress without actually participating. The Automated Championship System allows the best 100 players as rated by the Cossacks Internet Rating System (introduced in the previous expansion: The Art of War) to participate in monthly “Best of the Best” tournaments. Unfortunately, most hardcore Cossacks players are in Europe, as are the servers for this feature, meaning lag and real-world time differences will pose a significant handicap for those anywhere else. If you can manage to reach the top 100 or your idea of fun is watching somebody else play a video game, you’ll definitely appreciate these new features; otherwise both systems are pretty useless.
For Cossacks Newbies…
Although Back to War is a standalone product, seemingly to help introduce new players to the series, it has one glaring deficiency holding it back: no single-player campaigns. There’s an introductory campaign that acts as an excellent tutorial, but after that — nothing. The new player is thrown back on his or her own resources.
True, there are 101 new single-mission maps that are both well designed and offer plenty of gameplay, but what they don’t do is ease the new player into the game. What a single-player campaign does better than anything else is get a player addicted to the particular style of fun of an RTS. After I’d finished the tutorial, I would have loved to play through a Turkish or Swedish or British campaign, one that slowly showed me the ropes and helped me develop my skills until I felt ready to enter the world of online competition. Instead, I was presented with an overwhelming array of single-player maps without any indication of which were easier and which were tougher, leaving me to get slaughtered by the computer AI if I picked the wrong one. I could just as easily have downloaded 101 user-created maps from the Internet, picked one at random, and had the same frustrating experience.
All this is really unfortunate, because, quite simply, Cossacks itself was a very good game, just missing that “certain something” to make it great. Back to War doesn’t come close to adding that certain something, and doesn’t even fix some of the more glaring AI deficiencies that have plagued the game since it was first released. Soldiers still don’t have the brains to respond to artillery barrages by getting out of the way, and the computer is easily defeated when you realize that it tends to destroy its own buildings rather than try to recapture them.
What’s the verdict on Back to War, then? It depends on whether you’re a Cossacks veteran or a newbie. Diehard players who want all the new stuff in this expansion would be advised to wait a month or two when the price drops down to a more reasonable level. $40 is simply too much money for the amount of stuff you’ll get in this expansion. Real-time strategy fans new to the series would be better served purchasing the Cossacks: Gold Edition that contains both the original game and the first expansion, The Art of War, for a lower price. By the time a new player has worked his or her way through the “Gold” edition, Back to War’s price will have come down to a more reasonable level.
The Lowdown: A standalone expansion that comes up short in several areas.
Pros: 100 excellent new single-player missions; included Mod 1.35 is really fun.
Cons: No campaigns; new countries and units don’t add much for $40; AI blind spots haven’t been repaired.
by Allen Rausch
Original date of publish: 27.01.2003