If large-scale real-time battles are your thing, CDV’s Cossacks: European Wars will have you waging war with up to 8,000 units.
It’s pretty safe to say at this point that the resource management/base building style of real-time strategy games is going to be a mainstay of the computer gaming landscape for the foreseeable future. We are also beginning to see more variety in the games being delivered beyond the mere cloning process, from adding elements of role-playing and adventure gaming to maintaining extreme levels of historical accuracy. Cossacks: European Wars takes a bit of the latter approach and then “kicks it up a notch” in scale. We aren’t talking more building types, or a confusing number of unit types, but an attempt to recreate the scale of battle in the 18th Century. We are now looking at, in addition to base building and resource management, battles involving up to eight THOUSAND units.
That is a lot of units to be running around on the screen at one time, and under most circumstances it could be very nearly impossible to manage such large armies. It is the addition of command units, which along with drummers, allow units to be grouped together in easy to manage formations. The smallest at 15 units was the simple line formation, but with more units the column and square formations were also available. By creating groups in these formations you can easily put together a rather good size regiment marching across the field of battle. At times it almost felt like managing battles of the scale seen in movies such as Braveheart. And the units themselves shoot for a bit of historical accuracy for the period, with less variation among the 16 countries available than might be expected, but with well-defined use.
Some of my favorite units were the various artillery pieces available. It is with these combat units that Cossacks use of 3D terrain and real-world physics really showed. The common field cannon tends to shoot in a relative straight line, making it useless for attacking objects on the other side of a hill or plateau. However, placing the same cannon in an elevated position — such as the same plateau — would noticeably increase its range of attack as it would shoot into the fields below. But, by far the most enjoyable unites are the mortars and howitzers, especially when placed in a line behind a fortified wall. These larger cannons, with the noticeably upturned barrels, easily shoot not only a long distance, but over walls and larger hills.
While many games have tried for some level of historical accuracy in the units and the scenario designs, usually centering around World War II, they also have had a tendency to concentrate on smaller squad level tactical combat and limit the base building and resource management aspects. Cossacks allows a full selection of over a dozen different buildings to work with, including walls, gates (placed in any of the eight major facings), and towers as well as a rather involved upgrade/technology tree. There is also a noticeable variation among all 16 countries in both the architecture of the buildings and the dress of the units. Countries that share architectural styles across Europe will share many of the same styles in Cossacks without having completely identical building sets. The units not only have cultural based appearances, but with 64 facings fully animated for each unit the smoothness in movement is higher than any game I’ve seen short of Total Anihilation.
Plus don’t forget the resources, all your favorites are included: food, stone, wood, coal, iron, and of course gold. I really liked that the Cossacks went the route of unlimited resources — there is nothing more frustrating than having a long, involved game degenerate down to rock throwing peasants due to depletion of all the major resources required for building and unit recruitment. Once you have resource spots set up and are extracting a healthy flow of fresh materials, be quite sure you have them all properly guarded with military units. You are no longer faced with the mild inconvenience of having your peasants killed and your mines destroyed, but instead all your none military units and buildings face the threat of hostile takeovers. A single pikeman can infiltrate and convert an entire town simply by walking through it as long as there are no enemy military units within a reasonable distance.
The first time the strategic effect of this maneuver hit me was as I began to march a rather large invasion force off to decimate an opponent, only to have a single ferryboat unload a half dozen infantry into my unguarded seaport. Next thing I knew my entire town and its complement of workers was switching colors faster than a chameleon sitting on plaid. Unless you were simply desperate for more resources of your own, keeping track of all your opponents’ buildings can be quite a chore. It’s just not worth it in the long run and you don’t want to simply destroy them, as that’s just a temporary delay. Instead, use them as booby traps. Just wait for a group of enemy soldiers to approach in attempt to recapture or destroy the building and simply demolish it yourself. The blast from the destruction of buildings is enough to take down a respectable number of units standing in the near vicinity.
There are a number of single-player campaigns and scenarios to play as well as the randomly generated maps patterned after some of the better-known historical conflicts that spread across the continent during the 18th Century. Not all of them involve base building, but instead incorporate themes such as rescues and escorting. They also require effective management of the limited troops many of these missions start with. The best times to be had will surely be in the multiplayer battles. With up to eight players, 8000 units, and topographically accurate maps for historical battle re-enactments there is certainly a lot to look forward to in Cossacks: European Wars’.
With LARGE battles, detailed 3D terrain, and a little bit of history thrown in for good measure Cossacks: European Wars, while not making ground breaking changes in the genre, definitely keeps the hopes of fresh RTS gaming alive.