Date of publish: 01/11/2020 11:04 CET
It’s been a while since I last ordered around a handful of tanks to destroy vital supply depots at the height of World War II, just as it seems like an age since I conquered half the known world with an army of knights, spearmen and all manner of siege weaponry during the medieval ages. A sign that I’ve not been engaged in many recent strategy games? Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s because developers are finally deciding to explore other aspects of history in order to make some more interesting strategy games. There haven’t been many games that have tackled the Napoleonic wars, certainly not as many that have took on the Second World War or the age of swords and sandals, so it’s nice to get the chance to actually play a game that chooses an era a bit different from the norm.
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars is a game that puts its emphasis on battles. It’s the Napoleonic ages, a few hundred years away from the close quarter fighting of the 16th century and a couple of hundred years away from the long range attacks of the 20th century. Here it’s all about mid-ranged battles, all on a massive scale. There are of course resources to be gathered and bases to be built, but Cossacks II relies more on its clashes with big armies than micromanagement. Having said that, management does still play a part. Bases have to be constructed in order to create new troops and other weapons, while certain resources are required in order to keep troops fully equipped with enough ammunition to continue fighting. Simple resources such as stone still have to be collected with more complex resources needing to be captured.
Each map has a set amount of villages and towns, each of these towns also coming with its own resource camp, collecting some of the more valuable resources in the game; gold, iron and so on. In order to acquire these you have to take a more direct approach and actually raid each camp, killing off any militia that pose a threat and occupying the area until the camp and its resources are in your grasp. Factor in the rarity of these resources and their desirability to all the major powers and it’s not long before huge battles start to play out around these camps, as each side tries desperately to gain control for themselves.
The battles in the game are unavoidable but necessary. Here, winning battles is more to do with correct management of troop formations than it is with firepower. There are no one-on-one encounters; troops can’t be sent into battle individually, they instead have to be organised into massive columns of infantry. Officers, flag bearers and drummers can also be added to increase morale and the squad’s effectiveness against enemy columns. Other troop types such as cavalry, artillery and smaller squads such as engineers, who can plant explosives to destroy defensive structures or riflemen, who act as long-range snipers also play their part, but again must be used correctly.
The game thrives on its realism; fights aren’t just won by sending everything you have against the enemy, things such as morale and fatigue can alter the performance of a column of troops drastically, changing their effectiveness against enemies. For example, sending troops across a field in formation will make them fatigued fast, exhausting them to the point where when they eventually enter a battle, they fail to score as many hits. There are ways to avoid this though, such as how columns automatically march along roadways to get to places faster while cutting down fatigue dramatically.
Fighting itself is quite an organised affair. Columns often face each other, throwing volley after volley into one another until one side retreats or they both charge and engage in close combat. Again, realism factors in here. The range of the weapons can alter how effective they are against approaching enemy troops. A helpful colour coding system shows how far each column can fire. Green is the least accurate but allows troops to fire from a greater distance, yellow is mid range in both the damage it can deal and the distance it can be fired and red is the most accurate but covers the least ground. Use the system while attacking a flank or from behind and it can often cripple an enemy column before resorting to close combat.
There’s a generous helping of levels to fight over. The main campaign mode is driven by a story that’s never that interesting enough to follow and punctuated by some ludicrous voice acting, with missions that vary from plain simple to impossibly hard. There’s not a great deal of variety or much interest to keep you hooked; the whole campaign just seems here solely as an introduction to Cossacks II’s mass battles. There are some nice historical missions to take part in though, featuring some of the more famous battle in the Napoleonic age, though strangely no Waterloo map to fight on.
Cossacks II’s biggest feature from a single player aspect comes in the form of the Battle for Europe mode. Basically a cut down version of the turn based 2D map section of the Total War series, it allows you to organise troops and your empire to crush, conquer and capture enemy territories. Armies are trained up and moved to strategic locations while various structures need to be built to defend against attacks. Generals gain more experience with each successful battle, allowing them the ability to command more troops in the field. It’s simple to use and easy to understand, if somewhat lacking in depth.
For starters, naval combat doesn’t feature at all, which is odd as sea warfare played as much a part in the Napoleonic wars as ground combat. There’s also a distinct lack of things to do while on the map. Only a certain amount of structures can be built and as all of these are merely defensive there is no option for you to build up cities or towns, while on the whole civilian structures don’t seem to play any role whatsoever. The plus side to this is that it’s easy to get on playing the game, as there is less time spent micromanaging things that don’t play an important part to the continuation of the game. The downside is, it eventually becomes a bit too repetitive.
Graphically, Cossacks II can’t help but look a little dated. As far as the 2D presentation goes, it scores highly in detail; environments all look top notch while the game itself can handle massive battles with ease. It’s certainly not Rome: Total War but for what it is, the battles can still look impressive, especially when it involves hundreds of soldiers all battling one another. Sadly, it’s often difficult to follow these massive scuffles when the soldiers themselves look so small. With big engagements it can extremely difficult keeping up with what’s going on, as the masses of red and blue uniforms converge on one another.
The game also comes with a few bugs. The more severe can often crash or freeze the game, sometimes from loading up saved game files. The more minor can be less troublesome but no less annoying. The long loading times, the background music that can inexplicably play louder than the rest of the sounds in the game despite being turned down, all irritating to some degree. A patch should hopefully sort these problems soon though.
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, while not really pushing the genre to new heights, succeeds because it manages to provide an experience that feels different from the majority of current strategy games on the market. While the lack of variety in the single player aspect and various bugs do hurt it, the massive battles and range of tactical depth are enough of a saving grace for the game. Worth checking out for those who’ve long since exhausted strategy games set in overused time periods.
Written by Kieron Giacopazzi
Original date of publish: 10.06.2005