Date of publish: 31/10/2020 8:38 CET
Cossacks was one of the biggest hits in European PC game history. It sold over two million copies and spawned a couple of expansions and a sequel set in early America. Most of the love for Cossacks was on the other side of the Atlantic; by and large, Americans stayed away from the series. Undeterred by the cold reception in the New World, GSC has retuned with a true sequel to the original. Set in the familiar terrain of Napoleon’s nineteenth century empire, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars extends the strategy series in hopes of garnering a following across the pond..
Cossacks II is more about the fighting than any real-time strategy game in recent memory. The fussy economic management of the original game has been toned down. Farms and mines staff themselves to maximum capacity, making possession of the resource points more important than building your own. You are responsible for collecting wood and stone, but villagers run on auto-pilot and will get gold, coal, and food on their own.
So, inevitably, the game becomes about capturing and holding resource collection areas. Each village has its own militia that must be defeated first, but once they are beaten back, they recover and serve their new master. The maps are quite large, but the mini-map gives you an idea of which villages produce what resources. In a period of shortage, you always have the opportunity to replenish your stocks (for exorbitant prices) at the market.
With less to worry about on the home front, this should give you the opportunity to amass those huge armies and fight enormous battles that always been a selling point of the Cossacks series. Thousands of units! Epic clashes of historic foes! The first Cossacks disappointed on this scale, largely because the micromanagement of villagers detracted from the construction of massive armies. They were hard to feed, hard to equip (each shot consumes resources), and the economic investment needed to keep it up was pretty dull. If you wanted large armies and epic battles, you had to stick to the prefabricated battles. You were never going to see them in a skirmish map.
Unfortunately, there are still no epic battles of well-ordered troops unless you play one of the battle scenarios. Despite the great attention paid to setting up formations and waiting for the perfect shot before letting the volley fly, there is no real opportunity to amass Napoleon-sized armies in a skirmish game, or in the campaign.
This is more a complaint about deceptive advertising than gameplay. The principles of formation battles are all here, though artillery is regularly out of position because the armies are not set up as armies as much as they are scattered groups of 120 men. Flanks matter, cover matters, and, most importantly, morale matters. Morale plummets very quickly so the battles don’t last very long. After a couple of volleys, the losing troops crack and run for the hills. So, even the epic battles that are crafted for you don’t feel epic in the end. You have to be in three places at once and the guy screaming in your ear that enemy cannon are killing all your troops doesn’t do much to set you at ease. Everything needs you attention at the same time and there is just no way to do it well.
There are still a lot of soldiers, but almost by accident. The default quantity setting for almost any unit build queue is infinity. Do you really need 120 musketeers? Better keep and eye on your barracks or you’ll have 500 before long. Artillery comes solo, as do officers and other support units. You can accumulate large armies rather quickly, but don’t expect to take on a huge enemy force arrayed for battle. There will be lots of enemies to kill, but they won’t face you down like at Waterloo.
The intelligence is too aggressive for its own good. It will send squad after squad into your town center, usually unsupported. This means that a nice row of towers or blockhouses will effectively stall any assault until you are ready to move out with your army. You can turtle for a long time before being forced to move out by resource shortages or just the desire to get on with it. The enemy will usually not meet you in any large scale organized fashion, so you can whittle them down squad by squad. You seize more villages, build more fortifications, and then move on again.
If you don’t build fortifications everywhere, the game is extremely hard and likely impossible for newcomers. The normal setting for is like Wellington himself, only more gradual in the way he kills you. The intelligence always seems to know where your troops are and will never stumble into an ambush. It is, naturally, much better at resource management, making it that much harder for you to compete.
The “Conquer Europe” campaign is a Rise of Nations-style campaign in which you move between territories and fight real-time battles. The diplomatic options here should make Cossacks II a compelling real-time game, but the campaign fails to generate any real urgency or enjoyment.
The game looks and sounds better than ever. The inclusion of video clips of war re-enactors is a nice touch, but the real eye candy is, as usual, in the beautifully drawn buildings. The soldiers look better than the sprites from the earlier Cossacks games, and when you play the set-piece battles the majesty of the troops marching in a row is awesome. Add in some technical issues, however, and Cossacks II is a major bust. The Starforce protection might scare some people away, but the killer is the unforgivably long latency when moving between scenarios or even back to the main menu. The loading times are much longer than they need to be considering that it doesn’t have to load all that much.
The Final Word
Cossacks II is a picture postcard that promises a good time with huge armies and instead delivers tedium in a nicely wrapped box. Though you can respect what it is trying to do and even accomplishes in a limited way, there is too much going on most of the time to really plan things out. Even the streamlining of the economy does little to mitigate the feeling that you are constantly rushing around to no good purpose.
Final Rating: 65/100
Written by Troy Goodfellow
Original date of publish: 26.07.2005