Date of publish: 04/07/2020 21:18 CET
There is an absolute ruler in the real-time strategy camp, ‘Age of Kings’ by Ensemble Studios. CDV and the Russian developer GSC Game World are now trying to shake the throne of the genre primus. New features and an expanded resource management should make ‘Cossacks: European Wars’ more exciting, strategic and better than the great exemplar.
The well-made, but somewhat pixelated and short intro gets you into the upcoming wars quite successfully. The graphically appealing menu and the discreetly dull background music also successfully contribute to the atmosphere of the 16th to 18th centuries, in which ‘Cossacks’ is located. In the main menu you can choose between single missions, entire campaigns or a random map generated game with random AI.
In terms of campaigns, you replay historical battle of the mentioned era. Whole wars are not missing; such as the Thirty Years’ War, the English Revolution and of course the protracted conflict over the Spanish Succession. Over 85 of these battles and wars, some of which are perfectly imitated, are available to you. Cossacks achieves a high degree of motivation precisely due to the historical context and the realistic mission goals. Who has not always wanted to command the large armies of times long past and to gain fame and glory after the victory on the battlefield.
The developers have almost surpassed themselves in terms of the realistic background and the variety of units – practically every type of army that existed at the time will also be found in ‘Cossacks’. On the other hand, the animations of the units, which were created with great attention to detail, seem unfinished, the landscape is very barren and the sound of the troops and the battle noise has unfortunately been poorly implemented. Especially when the troops are standing, they seem dead because the last frame of the display is simply stopped: everything stands still as if it were carved in stone, only sometimes does the computer seem to reflect and a short animation, for example of a rearer horse, can be seen. In particular, the representation and movement of the cavalry leaves more than to be desired. As a result, much of the illusion of a real world is lost. Only the shipping industry can really be regarded as successful: the ships do not turn on the spot, but take a nice-looking turning arc while the oars are pushed into the transparent water. What also has a negative impact is the fact that because of the large buildings, you often lose sight of your units when they disappear behind them. Unfortunately, the developers saved some time in the wrong place. A transparent shadow or something similar would have been good for playability.
The campaigns themselves are a lot of fun if you do not place so much emphasis on the grandiose animations and sound effects familiar from ‘Age of Kings’ and have a horrendous level of difficulty. Due to the very strong scripting of the missions, regarding the AI of the opponents and their movements, you quickly know what you should do or which areas of the map should be visited and which ones you should avoid. GSC clearly had to make a compromise here, because in order to mimic realistic battle progressions, it is precisely that distinctive scripting with the use of extensive trigger functions that is required to prevent the whole thing from getting into an arbitrary battle.
The operation of the units and the development of the settlement is done in the typical manner, here GSC has not changed much to the great exemplar, and this is a good thing. What stands out positively is the exemplary help function, which actually provides detailed information about each unit, and this in nicely made small windows that also portray the unit itself.
Where the CDV product differs significantly from ‘Age of Kings’ is the way in which formations are implemented. Here, the developers clearly rely on more realism, because only after training appropriate officers is it possible to select specific different formations – but even without a formation, the soldiers stay together nicely and do not scatter. The troop parts shaped in this way can then be conveniently positioned by mouse dragging and clicking. Since the direction of attack, the level of the attack and the type of attack (firing, cutting or spraying weapons) play a decisive role, the greatest care is required when setting up your own battle series, if you do not want to be silent and silent against the clever and sometimes even sophisticated AI perish.
Large armies also meet often, which requires more strategic skill than tactical skill; Due to the good implementation of the formations, it is even possible in ‘Cossacks’ to get an advantage against overpowering opponents through targeted strategic maneuvers.
With the ‘Fog Of War’, the programmers are breaking new ground, but terrain that has already been explored, but is not in sight of troops or buildings, can no longer be seen at all, but is surrounded by a completely black veil. This is not only unusual, but also extremely annoying, as you are constantly clearing up the area. In this respect, it is also inconsistent, because country maps already existed at that time.
By introducing a real supply and consumption system in ‘Cossacks’, however, the title gains enormous strategic depth. It is no longer possible to rashly attack or maintain huge armies without the necessary infrastructure to maintain them, because every soldier and every civilian unit needs the appropriate resources, which in this case is food. If this is not available for a long time, mutinies and deaths occur. Every shot and every cannonball wants to be paid for dearly with the appropriate materials. This approach is very promising and should be tried again in a better framework – maybe Ensemble Studios will be happy with a comparable system in the near future.
If the Americans also watched the very successful siege system from ‘Cossacks’, the thing would be perfect. Because, unlike comparable titles, walls can only be attacked with the appropriate artillery. It is therefore no longer reserved for cavalry and infantry to bring huge stone walls to collapse in an unrealistic manner. Here the game collects significant plus points and stands out pleasantly from the competition.
However, GSC goes a little too far with realism. For example, the Russians should only vigorously consider the completely annoying capture of enemy civilian units and buildings only by walking past with a war unit, especially since during the game it is not at all clear to what extent units are now protected by their own war guards or not. So it can happen that while you are busy deploying troops, a single reconnaissance of the enemy rides through your settlement and all farmers and buildings suddenly belong to the enemy. Here I liked the unrealistic but well thought-out system with the takeover of units and buildings by priests from ‘Age of Kings’ much better.
Now to the battles themselves: With good sampling sound and appropriately programmed animations of the units, ‘Cossacks’ could have ushered in a new era in real time, because the large and easily controllable troops would certainly create a real battle feeling. However, the idea of gigantic armies meeting in a breathtaking battle for life and death unfortunately remains only an illusion. Apart from that, the game has the enormous strategic depth that a real-time strategy game in this form has probably never had before.
The detailed and very well-made encyclopedia, in which you can learn everything about the time, also contributes a lot to the historical background.
Cossacks: European Wars’ should have set new standards in the real-time strategy genre. Unfortunately, CDV and GSC Game World have not quite succeeded. As in many other ‘only’ good games, the interesting, sometimes ingenious ideas fail to be implemented. Often, too much realism is more detrimental to gaming fun than useful, and that is exactly what applies to the initially promising title from Russia.
Original date of publish: 12.12.2000