Date of publish: 26/10/2020 18:48 CET
Cossacks II, a real time strategy game from publisher CDV Software, tackles an era that is rarely represented in today’s big budget releases. Let’s face it—there just are not that many Napoleon-era titles on the market, so using this much neglected era as a backdrop is a good thing; its biggest problem, however, is that it wants to be a realistic game that pays homage to this era of “civilized” combat, but it also wants to be a real time strategy game in the classic sense and in the end it ends up being average in both respects.
The game is more about fighting than it is resource management but there is peasant pushing involved, just not as much as in other RTS games. Peasants can be assigned to mine stone and chop wood. The other resources: food, coal, and iron are collected by controlling vital village locations sprinkled on the map. This makes attacking a crucial part of the game as sitting back and playing possum simply won’t work – you must control as many villages as you can, especially in a multiplayer/skirmish game.
You use these resources, obviously, to create units. Units are bought as regiments of 120 infantry or 45 cavalry. (There is a vast array of historically accurate unit types in the game from Highlanders and Fusiliers to Dragoons; this variety is one of the game’s strong points.) The game shoots for accuracy here and unit formations, morale, and fatigue are all crucial elements in battle. If you need to move a regiment of infantry quickly, put them in column formation and have them march on a road; when they’re ready to fight get them in line formation and watch the bullets fly. Experience, morale and fatigue are really what determines most fights and as was the case in this era of combat, rarely was an entire regiment wiped out down to the last man. Most of the time the first side to flee lost and Cossacks 2 simulates this very well. Attacks from the rear usually force a regiment to panic and flee, while long marches causes a unit’s effectives to wane because they’re simply exhausted from marching long distances. Add in nice touches like regimental commanders, standard bearers, and musicians to boost morale and you have the makings of a complex and rewarding combat model.
The problem is that the real time engine gets in the way. Cossacks II is hard. I mean pound your keyboard and throw things at the screen hard. Playing the game strictly in real time is a recipe for disaster; even for veteran real time players, it’s really tough (and there’s no “easy” setting.) You have to baby-sit your units because it’s vital to fire your muskets at the right time, or charge at the right time because distance matters. Firing at close range does significantly more damage so you need to time your attacks appropriately. Fighting a two or three front war because of this is extremely difficult.
Thankfully, the game allows you to pause and issue orders, but that really only serves as a band-aide because you spend so much time in pause mode that the game might as well be turn based, especially when you get involved in truly big battles. When you pause the game a lot it also reveals holes in the AI that the real time engine masks. The AI isn’t horrible, but you go from being a sadistic RTS game to a fairly easy pause and play game.
There are a few modes play. First there’s the “Battle for Europe” which is like a poor man’s version of Medieval: Total War, and more like a lite version of Risk. You simply take a nation (Britain, France, Germany, etc.) and try to conquer Europe. It’s pretty simple with basic diplomacy options and such, but how can you possibly have a battle for Europe in the 19th Century and NOT have boats involved in any way, shape, or form? It’s obviously meant to be a more abstract game than a down and dirty realistic simulation, but no boats?
The campaign is a bit better even though it’s obviously more linear. The difficulty ramps up quickly, however (use that pause button) but overall it’s a well made campaign. One issue that stands out that has to be mentioned is the fact that the voice acting is bad. Really bad. Usually bad voice acting is the norm in a lot of games, but this is Kevin Costner in Robin Hood bad. How can you use an American accent for a British officer? It’s bizarre and while it takes nothing away from the game (and the other audio, especially the music, is particularly well done) it’s admittedly a bit distracting.
Graphics are anything but state of the art but the game does a good job of showcasing the bright and vivid colors on the time period. Every game does not need to be 3D to be pretty and the quaint graphics in Cossacks 2 are quite effective. The only issue is that it would have been nice to be able to zoom in on the action from time to time.
In the end Cossacks 2 is an average game that is held back by brutal difficulty and a design that would seem to fit better with a turn based model. Serious students of Napoleonic warfare are sure to find themselves frustrated by the game’s pseudo-realism and extreme difficulty while pure RTS fans have much better choices available to them.
Score: 2,5 out of 5 (D)
Written by William Abner
Original date of publish: 06.05.2005