Date of publish: 20/10/2020 19:34 CET
Just a few weeks before the release of its American Conquest, CDV has published yet another expansion of Ukrainian developer GSC’s hit real-time strategy game, Cossacks. Cossacks: Back to War is a stand-alone expansion, so you don’t need a copy of the original to play it. If you already have Cossacks, you’ll find no great incentive to buy this expansion. If you don’t, you should save a few bucks and buy the Gold Edition of Cossacks instead.
Cossacks: BTW repeats the settings, nations and mission styles of the original game and its first expansion (Art of War). You are placed in command and control of a 17th century European country. You direct peons to collect resources (wood, iron, food, stone, coal and gold) and build an army with these resources. Armies can be upgraded and you can advance to the 18th century for more upgrades and better soldiers. Cossacks’ great innovation was inexhaustible but consumable resources. Your gold mine would never run out of gold, but maintaining an army and navy would steadily drain your coffers. Ships needed wood, guns needed iron and coal, and walls needed stone and so on. Inexhaustible did not necessarily mean plentiful.
The main drawback of the original title was the shallowness of the purported depth. There were over a dozen nations, but all the armies were more similar than different. East European countries got a number of uniquely named but similar units and West European nations played nearly identically. I guess the English got a bagpiper instead of a drummer, but that was about it. Each nation did have unique (and beautifully drawn) architecture. But the game was a Potemkin village – as decent as the game was, it was never as good as it looked or sounded.
So what does Back to War add? Two more countries (Switzerland and Hungary), Bedouin Soldiers for the Turks and Algerians and over a hundred single player missions. That’s it. For big fans of this game that may be enough. They’ve already bought it anyway. But considering that this little content could be stuck in a patch or mod-file, I wonder why CDV is charging full price for it. Charging forty dollars US for a game that is essentially the same as the original is a little silly. In some ways, BTW is even less.
There are no campaigns in Back to War. I’m not big on RTS campaigns unless they are long and really interesting. Cossacks had campaigns that were, at least, hard. Their very difficulty made the completion of even half of a campaign rewarding. Even if you didn’t like the campaigns, it’s hard to justify selling a stand-alone expansion that ignores them completely. Maybe you can find a way to play the old campaigns with the new game. Of course, to do that you would have to own the old game and then buy the new one.
The single player missions that are provided are nice. There is a lot of variety in the set-ups and maps, though the goal is always to eliminate your enemies. BTW has also included every historical battle included in the previous editions, but these are multi-player only.
On all single-player maps the AI makes the same moves it did in the previous editions. Expect lots of early pikeman rushes and armies top-heavy with mercenaries. Artillery will be left unguarded and soldiers will charge into tower fire before the defensive guns are neutralized. Even on the most difficult settings the AI is no match for a balanced defense, giving the player time to amass an army that can cripple the computer in one swift strike. A human player can certainly give you a much tougher time with less predictable army combinations, though I had difficult finding a MP partner.
The naval vessels are still the artistic high points of the units. The ships are realistically huge and expensive to maintain. Ships-of-the-Line do a lot of damage to other vessels and coastal towns, but they can quickly exhaust an underperforming economy. If you can maintain a navy you can effectively cripple an opponent by destroying his/her fisheries and shelling shipyards. No other RTS has come this close to emulating the importance of navies in military strategy.
But good looking ships were in the old games, too. You can buy Back to War for forty bucks. You can get the Cossacks: Gold Edition for twenty. If you really love Switzerland or Hungary, buy Back to War, but wait until it’s on sale.
Graphics – 6 – Well drawn buildings and ships clash with bland settings and boring land units.
Sound – 6 – Music is uninspired and the sound effects uninteresting.
Interface – 8 – Clear and uncluttered, a mostly standard real time strategy presentation.
AI – 5 – Predictable and unable to maintain a coherent attack but fares better on defense.
Gameplay – 7 – Easy to get into and the armies get very big. Sometimes size does matter.
Multiplayer – 7 – If you can find someone to play with, this game’s modest technical requirements and promising scale make it a good candidate for skirmishes.
Fun Factor – 5 – After a while, every map and every game feels exactly like the last one.
Value – 4 – Earlier versions of Cossacks are cheaper and nearly the same. Back to War won’t stay on your hard drive for very long
Overall (not avarage) – 5 – Not enough personality to compete with newer RTS titles and too few improvements to justify the expansion
by Troy Goodfellow
Original date of publish: 18.02.2003