Date of publish: 23/10/2020 10:16 CET
Overview: What do the RTS games Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars and Axis & Allies have in common? Read on to find out.
Just this past week I was able to get a hands-on preview of the upcoming game by GSC GameWorld and published by CDV Entertainment Software, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars. Despite the focus on a less common historical period in gaming, I must say the game is shaping up to be one of those games any RTS fan is going to want in their library. After several different expansions off of the original game, the Cossacks series is finally getting the true sequel that it deserves. Hosting a large number of improvements such as the ability to control tens of thousands of troops in several different formations, and a new morale system that will greatly affect the gameplay, Cossacks II is looking to make all the right changes in the right places.
In a lot of ways Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars acts very similarly to another big name RTS, Axis & Allies. The subject matter is different, and takes place in two completely different eras, but at the core level the two games are incredibly alike. The main gameplay feature of Cossacks II is its Battle for Europe mode, which plays out like a board game of Risk. Players are able to play as six different armies: the French, Prussians, English, Austrians, Russians and Egyptians, each with their own unique and building architetures. One is then put on a map of Europe (and Egypt) where the player must move his or her armies from territory to territory, figurin out whether diplomacy, treachery, or outright warfare will support the conquest of Europe. All of the action is turn-based, the player invades a territory owned by another nation, the game switches to RTS mode to resolve the conflict.
An aspect of this mode of play that is unique to Cossacks II is the fact that you don’t necessarily have to wage war in order to take over territory. There are several different ways that you can bypass any kind of battle, and still be successful in the game. For example if you accumulate enough gold you can actually buy other territories, bringing them under your control as a protectorate. However this won’t last forever and if you try to do this with every single country, they will eventually get wise to what you are doing and refuse any offer you make, no matter what the price.
This however is only one method of strategy, and the core of the game is still within its RTS mode, which is incredibly deep as it is. Players are able to mass several thousand troops at once, with the ability to use three main different formations to have the best chance at success in battle. First is the rank formation, which is a long row of soldiers that is best for firing across a broad area. Second is the column formation, which is similar to the rank (but shaped in a square-like configuration of troops except when marching along roads), but concentrates the firepower into a single area and is least exhausting for movement. And last there is the square formation, which is a hollow version of the column that allows you to defend against an attack from all four sides and maximizes defensive bonuses.
Because of the historical accuracy of the game, not only is formation key but it also becomes very important exactly when you want to fire at your enemy. It takes history-appropriate long time to reload, so once you fire, you are left completely defenseless against an enemy attack for a while. So, in a sense, it comes down to a game of 19th century chicken. You want to be as close as possible to inflict the greatest amount of damage, but you don’t want to be so close that you enemy will return or even initiate fire and deal more damage than you dished out in the first place or never give you a chance to shoot back. It adds a completely different level of strategy into the game that other RTS like Axis & Allies don’t address. In other RTS games a majority of battles can be won just by sending in troops after troops until you are successful, but in Cossacks II, that just isn’t going to cut it.
Throughout each of the maps there are several clearly defined roadways, which play a very important role in more ways than one. Similarly to games like Axis & Allies, roadways are key because they are the only way to transport supplies from town center to your troops. But as an added level of strategy, if you are able to intercept your opponents’ supplies before they reach their troops, you can slowly kill them off by means of attrition.
Roadways also become important now that troop fatigue is a key factor in the game. Troops marching into battle have many paths to get to the fight that include roads or across the open terrain. If you decide to take the roadways your troops will become much less fatigued while traveling. The downside is that your enemies might be able to ambush your troops if they are in plain sight and unprotected by the surrounding environment, as 19th century marching troops are simply not well-equipped to quickly deploy for complete combat effectiveness. If you decide to walk across open terrain, you may be able to retain an ideal combat formation but your troops’ fatigue will rapidly increase; at some point this will negatively affect their morale and make them much more likely to flee when the first shots are fired. The choice is ultimately yours, but there are many ways to tackle the of picking how, when, and where to fight the enemy.
As hinted above, if your fatigue drops too low, it starts to affect one of the more crucial portions of the game: the morale of your troops. In a nutshell, the lower your troops morale, the quicker they will flee the moment you are fired upon by enemy forces. And if they flee, basically you are screwed. But there are also several different ways around this problem. whTroops should first and foremost be grouped into armies, as individual units are of very little effectiveness beyond skirmishes and quick capture of undefended villages. Therafter, drummers, flag bearers, and officers can all be added as organic components to an army that help permanently boost morale. Priests are also available as more freely-deployable units that, by “blessing” nearby units, can temporarily improve troop morale. It is all a very unique way to add a lot of different methods of strategy to the gameplay. For players who do not find this appealing, do not worry. GSC has added an Arcade mode, which will halve the impact of both fatigue and morale on gameplay, placing more of an importance on troop formation, resource management and other elements central to the RTS style gameplay.
Written by David Wulzen
Original date of publish: 02.07.2005