Date of publish: 17/10/2020 21:12 CET
The acclaimed Cossacks: European Wars by Ukraine developer GSC was hailed as a masterpiece in RTS gaming. It stood out among the other RTS with its historical battles covering the 17th and 18th century Europe, large armies in huge battlefields, economic and combat reliance on resources and supporting thousands of units simultaneously on the screen. The game was campaign-based rather than the traditional story-based RTS. The most interesting concept was that all ammunition is drawn from a pool of resources. Should a resource be extinguished, the player’s troops would not be able to fire. GSC released an expansion to complement their original success, so it is interesting how Cossacks: The Art of War could improve the original.
Going through the features in the add-on was like reading a Christmas wish list for Cossacks! One of the goals was to add new commands to reduce micro-management such as new animated cursors and troop commands. A new animated cursor is introduced to indicate the exact spot units will arrive at. This is especially important in Cossacks because controlling terrain is taken very seriously in the game.
The “Embark cursor” indicates if units can board a transport. Previously, ferrying troops was an exercise in juggling both units and the transport. Things get complicated when trying to co-ordinate and deploy large number of units and transports. With the embark cursor it removes the administration stress and frees the player to concentrate on the battle. But even with the “embark cursor”, I found it difficult at times to execute the order because the cursor is small and blends in with the color of the transports making it difficult to identify at times.
In the original Cossacks, if players had to defend key troops (especially cannons / mortar lines) or structures, a vigilant watch was required to avoid or repel attacks. However the new “Guard command” allow players to assign troops to protect important locations or units now.
Unfortunately the Cossacks expansion suffers the same audio problem like its original. Some units may possess audio effects while others do not. For instance when moving units, there is no acknowledgement from units when ordered to move. Artillery pieces have audio effects when they fire, but are ghostly silent when moving across a battlefield. There was no improvement in the audio portion of the game. Audio improvements would have made Cossacks a complete gaming experience.
New toys to play with…
Probably the most interesting new addition for land-based units was those for Prussia. The Germanic state received two new 18th Century units, a musketeer and a fast attacking Hussar! Nevertheless the new units may be too overwhelming for other nations, i.e. the Prussian Hussar has higher creation rates thus producing large numbers is not difficult. Art of War pays attention to historical accuracy as Prussia was considered a superpower during the 17th and 18th Century, and hence it has more powerful units.
The naval units in Cossacks: AoW have new additions including low-cost Cutters and Ketches, while the Turks get their own unique Turkish Yacht. The Venetians also get a unique ship – the Venetian Galleass. (Sounds crude doesn’t it?) Once players attain 18th Century technology, the game will unlock powerful new Frigates and Battleships. These vessels are favored because of their superior firepower and defense, but players should beware of their high initial cost and upkeep.
Calvary can now assume formations while the “Replenish Formation” option relieves the tedious process of dismissing a formation and creating a new one. But probably one of the most important formation options to be included is the ability to join several formations into even larger attack forces. Players can now create whole armies of pikemen in front, musketeers behind them and fast cavalry along the flanks – moving them as one large force. To further ease player control, there is a whole series of new hot-keys to aid in issuing faster construction commands and quick access to important structures.
Random Maps were in the original Cossacks, but GSC added a few more options here. The game now let players ally with the AI at various difficulty settings. New start conditions give players a choice of their nation start size and starting conditions. For example players may begin a game with just a battery of cannons and a group of peasants or a few defense towers and a group of peasants.
There are three notable options for Random Maps: Cannon policy, Peace Time and Capture options. The Cannon policy defaults players to five artillery pieces per artillery depot, limiting the construction of large numbers of cannons or howitzers. This however doesn’t stop players from building more artillery depots. Building additional structures of the same type will increase the per additional-structure cost. There are other Cannon options to explore including “No cannon, Towers and Walls”, which is a self explanatory and the “Expensive Cannons” which make artillery pieces very costly, restricting their construction even further.
Peace Time permits players to build up their armies during a provisional truce before actual war breaks. The length of the truce can be selected and may last from ten minutes to a whopping four hours! In essence peace time prohibits aggression and units that do so will be removed from the game. Players can also set new Capture options, defining if they disallow peasant captures, building captures or even restricting all captures to only artillery pieces.
The new Random Map options are great improvements to the original Cossacks. Nonetheless gamers who enjoy single-player games may be disappointed by some inconsistent AI behavior. Sometimes the computer does not build proper defenses such as towers or walls to prevent armies swarming their bases. During some Random Map games, the opposing nations appear to cease upgrading their bases or do not build the necessary structures to improve their troops.
Even though the original Cossack obtained high praises, it would not be suitable for every RTS player. A Cossack player would be one who enjoys war games and love historical battles. Finding such players may be difficult so Cossacks: AoW now supports a whole host of new multiplayer options to bring like minded gamers together.
All Random Map features are also available in multiplayer mode, making online gaming a lot more challenging and fun. GSC has also added global rankings to internet games, Cossack players can now compete against each other online and their standings are reflected in a decorative coat-of-arms. This new option is only available to players who register themselves in the global database.
While flipping through the manual, I was very impressed by its contents. All the new features were documented in detail. But flipping past the unit description pages I discovered that GSC still had one more ace up their sleeve – they included the game editor! This utility opens up the opportunity for players to create scenarios and share them with others. The manual explains the tools in the editor and even has a page detailing its hotkeys. The powerful game editor is able to simulate nearly any terrain aspect and is an amazing tool which adds value for the fans.
Cossacks: Art of War is not the normal run-of-the-mill expansion that just adds a few units and some gameplay improvements. The Cossack expansion provides better gameplay options, improved multiplayer gaming and the developers even threw in a game editor. There are not many add-ons that could boast such a package.
However there is still some room for improvement. Notably the inconsistent AI for single-players who are not interested in internet gaming. The AI is also very important to fans that have been waiting to tackle the Random Map features. I would also have expected GSC to add more audio responses to their game since the original Cossacks; however those features seem to be overlooked.
Cossack is a game that will test not only players in their ability to commandeer an armed force, but it will also challenge their ability to maintain the economics of their war machines.
Overall Cossacks: Art of War is a true gem and is highly recommended for Cossack fans. I would also recommend war gamers to give Cossacks: European War a second look.
Original date of publish: 01.05.2002