Date of publish: 30/10/2020 19:57 CET
You have to admire the bravery/stupidity of soldiers during the Napoleonic era. Two armies would line up neatly on either side of a battlefield, then march towards each other until within rifle-range. Then they unload their single rifle shot into the enemy ranks, and follow by a bayonet charge.
But throughout all that, they maintain a strict line and formation, presenting an easy target for enemy guns. If I had 300 French rifles aimed at my chest, I think I would be justified in at least diving to the ground for cover. But these fellows stood resolutely in line, maintaining strict order and discipline even if it killed them, which it frequently did. This is the kind of warfare you are going to be playing in Cossacks II.
You can choose to lead any of six nations throughout a campaign for European military dominance. The path to riches involves harvesting resources to sustain your army, diplomatic negotiations to aid your cause, and military might to crush the enemy. As the game progresses, you can also upgrade units and buildings, erect defences, and train bigger, better troops.
The morale system is probably the most attractive feature of Cossacks II, and also one of the most important elements of the game. A small group of well-positioned and acutely led soldiers can defeat a disorganised army twice its size with ease. Throwing out your troops in great quantity is not the way to win the game; you will need strategic consideration as well as a clear understanding of how your soldiers’ minds work.
For instance, your men will start fleeing the second their division starts getting wiped out in great numbers. So the trick is to attack the enemy in short, sharp bursts to eradicate their morale, and with minimal loss to yourself. Using cavalry for lightning assaults to the flanks and rear is a devastatingly effective tactic to use.
Formations are also key to success, ensuring your men don’t get tired out over long distances, and also using offensive and defensive formations to counter certain enemy attacks. Setting your soldiers into a square would easily withstand a cavalry attack, but would be quite useless against another infantry division.
And the rifles, ah the rifles. Forget the semi-automatic killing machines of today; these rifles were wildly inaccurate, fired only bullet per round, and took almost a minute to reload. Knowing when and where to use your rifles is one of the things that will determine how quickly you win or lose a battle.
As your troops win battles, they grow in experience and confidence. A group that has undergone many successful fights will harder, tougher, and better fighters. Thus this adds more tactical nuances to the game, as you don’t want to waste your experienced fighters in enemy gunfire, so you need to find ways to bring them into battle when the enemy have already used their round of rifle fire.
In traditional Cossacks style, the unit cap is ridiculously high, allowing up 64,000 units on-screen at any one time. This makes for some spectacular battles and some scenes of unbelievable carnage, men being slaughtered in their thousands every single second. Naturally you have to house all these units though, so keep building dwellings at a hefty pace.
The problem is, with so many things to hold your attention at the same time, it can be hard to effectively manage both the military and economic sides of the game. There are no less than six different types of resource, all of which are necessary to the successful running of an army. Don’t harvest enough food for instance, and there will be a famine, with your troops dropping to the ground like flies.
With a fog of war hiding enemies from view until just before they attack you, and usually regular attacks at that, there are frequent instances where your immediate attention is demanded. That leaves sporadic gaps to issue orders to your peasants, upgrade things, and see to unit production, which results in badly managed economies, and hundreds of troops dying because you forgot to press some button or other.
With a main campaign, a battle for Europe mode, a quick skirmish editor and some decent multiplayer options, there is plenty to keep you occupied throughout your Napoleonic endeavours.
Cossacks II is a polished game with its own distinctive style of gameplay, but it just doesn’t offer as much as Rome: Total War or Empire Earth II. It will certainly serve as a flavoursome filling for your strategy sandwich, but you might just be left feeling a little hungry when it’s finished…
A true strategic test.
Too many things demanding your attention.
Written by Adam Shirley
Original date of publish: 25.05.2005