Date of publish: 10/08/2020 20:40 CET
It’s time to go back in time and wage war during one of the most turbulent eras in man’s history.
What we have here is a game that is epic in scale; not only is it one to tout a huge number of units (which reaches into the thousands) on the screen at any given time, but one that also has a technology tree that takes hours to complete. There are 16 nations featured with varied advantages, disadvantages, and each with their own look and style of play. Not merely content with featuring three nations or a standard set of units used by all with only few being different enough to notice the diversity, Cossacks: European Wars shatters any barriers or limitations and goes all-out to give gamers an experience that is both challenging and fun.
The game is set up with four campaigns (and a tutorial), multiplayer with death match and historical battle options, and a skirmish mode. The limited number of campaigns might seem a bit disheartening at first but each one is sprawling with new objectives constantly being given just as the last is being finished. The campaigns range from helping the Church reform the French army into one that can withstand the turbulent climate of the time, freeing an enslaved country, and colonizing a settlement for England, among others. Each moves at a good but hectic pace, as the computer is hell-bent on destroying you with its sheer number of soldiers. Even on easy, the game is difficult because tactics are thrown to the wayside in favor of sending wave after wave of soldiers to slowly beat down your defenses and seize your territory.
Wanting to experience more of what I could really face-off against, I ramped up the difficulty, but I still found the same method being used to overtake my holdings: wave after wave of cannon fodder slowly wearing me down. I did see some good tactics being used, such as when my opponent would rush with a large amount of cheap units to distract my main army while a small raiding party would sneak through the chaos and ensue havoc on my town. There was also the favored strategy of luring some men out with cavalry and have them ambushed by large amounts of archers and other projectile units, but these examples weren’t used nearly enough and I found myself always having to slowly expand my borders to make any headway.
This would have been much more of a nuisance if the units weren’t so much fun to use. The pike men and musketeers are standard units, with light infantry such as roundshiers being reserved for only certain nations. As the technology tree advanced, so did the skills of your units, causing your research to lead into several forms of horseback units. The horseback units ranged from marksmen, to scouts, dragoons, and even saber wielding mercenaries who could seem to cut down any defense. These units also cost a constant amount of resources so keeping a large supply of peasants is a must. Luckily, mines can be erected to store these units so they won’t get in your way – an important element, since even the amount of workers needed for farming and timber will more than fill up the screen. If you just can’t seem to manage a solid army with a slumping economy and your academy isn’t producing any upgrades capable of staying off attacks, a Diplomatic center can be built and mercenaries can hired to fight the enemy for you. While they have a swaying loyalty, they do come in handy in a pinch.
One of the most notable features (to me at least) is that a captain is needed to put men in formation. While you may have 25 pikemen, they won’t be nearly as effective as they would in a straight-line formation with ‘stand ground’ selected. Another interesting unit is the drummer boy (stop laughing): this unit is very effective as it, along with priests, can boost morale a significant amount and can also help the formations to travel as the units will march with the beat. This ingenious unit is pretty much restricted to land as the sea units are standard fare with fishing boats, transports, and galleys – nothing too radical.
A new twist is added with artillery, which consist of cannons, mortars, and howitzers. Not only are they a blast, but only they and the archers are able to destroy enemy buildings; the other combat units are merely able to capture it if the enemies’ military isn’t present. Additionally, peasants and the artillery itself can be taken as well if they aren’t guarded with a solid regiment of men. There is an added feature that destroys units and structures before they are taken over, but this gets a bit annoying. There could be 20 men in front of a cannon, 10 men behind it, yet if somehow an enemy managed to sneak in the middle, he would take it over. I would understand this if there were no units around, but considering there is a small army around it, I really don’t see how it could be taken over so easily whenever this kind of luck isn’t given to the player as it attempts to capture the computer’s belongings. It is a nice feature, but the field of protection given by the units seems too iffy.
I also encountered an odd bug: whenever I saved a game before a pivotal moment in the campaign, the story would not progress when I loaded it back up. In one map in particular, I saved right before an escorted commander for the opposing army reached the walls of my base and when I went to load the game the next day, the story failed to kick in; he just stood there, failing to respond no matter what I did. There I was, a good length into the mission, and I had to resort to a previous saved point that was a good deal behind that one. There is currently no patch I have seen that addresses this, so be careful when saving.
In all, Cossacks: European Wars does have its flaws, but few games can match the sheer thrill of having 200 units rush a fortified hill because having artillery on that elevated terrain could mean a shortening of the campaign by hours. The pacing of the game is fantastic, the stories are interesting and not even the computer’s overwhelmingly favorable odds will stop you from wanting to know what’s going to happen at the next arch in the story.
Although it appears to be another title that relies on higher resolution to show large portions of the map with small, bland units, this title proves that just because a unit isn’t large doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t look great. The colors are vibrant, giving the environment a lush visual tone, with the units and structures looking lively with brilliant designs. The various nationalities have distinct units that really make nations feel diverse instead of having all the same with only special units being different. All feature excellent costumes with animations that make them seem so much more than cannon fodder.
Drummer boys pound away as the soldiers march in to the beat while keeping their formation and passing through fields of grain with only the tips of their pikes and muskets showing only to be greeted by cannon fire and charging cavalry – it is a lovely sight indeed. The sheer number of units on the screen at the same time is astounding and will only rarely give way to slowdown; even so, the trade-off is much more than acceptable. Imagine seeing 200 musketeers march, then stop to get into assault formation, with huge galleys firing from the sea, their reflections swaying with the water and huge chunks of their broadside flying off as a tower protects the coastline. That example is just a small portion of what will be seen and it looks absolutely lovely.
The weird part I have seen with the graphics is that the menus to train and upgrade have a clear background. This was mainly a problem due to the fact that if a unit happened to be passing in the background and you mistakenly click to the side you would select the unit and if it happened to register as a double click (as it mentioned more in the control’s section) you could have a small army of units selected when all you were trying to do was upgrade the speed rate at which your cannons are produced; a simple wood grain looking background would have solved this and is very odd that it was not set with any sort of protection against background units. Beyond those annoying encounters, gamers will be treated to some beautiful visuals and clever animations that will keep their eyes very pleased.
Cossacks: European Wars features some of the most beautiful music I have heard in any game. They all have a great tendency to build up with thumping drums in end in a bang that really gets the blood pumping and the mouth salivating for a huge encounter on the battlefield. There were a few tracks that tended to drag on, but they never lasted long enough to sound redundant; however, with the high quality presented, I would have loved for there to have been more songs to listen to. Despite sounding great, the music did tend to drown out the sound effects and even with the volume adjusted accordingly, the sounds of musket and cannon fire always seemed to slowly fade into the background.
Aside from the effects not being loud enough, I was also severely disappointed that there was no vocal recognition from the units. Taking into account that there can be hundreds of thousands of units on the screen, and that for each unit to have their own voice would cause some performance issues, I could have easily seen this being worked around by giving the captains the sole purpose of acknowledging their selection once they were given a party. Even with that suggestion, I could have seen where this was difficult to implement — with 16 nationalities present and the number of players — but it did make this a bit confusing and the world to not seem as lively as it could have been.
Using the standard mouse and menu control, Cossacks: European Wars also hampers itself with a few oddities and minor nuisances. One of the first things I noticed as I was going through the first campaign was that the beloved Escape key did not bring up the menu (F12 does), and while this certainly isn’t a serious drawback, I did find it weird how such a standard in all games was passed on in lieu of a key many wouldn’t even think of pressing. This was always awkward, as even after I knew which key to hit I kept pressing the Escape key out of habit and it was an adjustment that took much more to get used to than I had imagined.
One of the biggest problems I had was that when I was selecting a character, I wouldn’t necessarily double-click on that unit, but it would invariably select all of said units, and since there is no voice recognition or way of me knowing how many were selected, I would send one recently trained peasant to chop wood only to be followed by all those who were gathering food. Now this would seem like a minor problem, but considering the rapid pace at which you must progress your kingdom in order to survive, this set me back in several missions as resources were constantly being depleted. I got around this problem by making a box around the rally point that was set for my units to come out of, but that is going a step farther than it should have been and stands as an issue that should have been addressed. Aside from these factors, the game is played like the vast majority of real-time strategy titles and shouldn’t give too much trouble to new or veteran gamers alike.
This is a solid title that looks great, sounds great, and has a fantastic single-player campaign. While the computers’ early adoption of the rush methods may turn some people off, I would recommend sticking with it until you get to see your opponents truly shine as they use some ingenious tactics to overtake your command – getting to that point just takes a while. I would highly recommend this to any real-time strategy fan as its epic sense isn’t matched in any other game I have played — all while retaining its addictive nature and just being one hell of a title.
Original date of publish: 11.05.2001