We’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to the original Cossacks series ever since it was announced. The Napoleonic era is sorely underrepresented among war and strategy games, but there is plenty of fascinating material here for a game designer to work with. The battles that took place in Europe while Napoleon was in power were dramatic and deeply affected military theory on how future wars were to be conducted. We would like to see more developers take an interest in the era. So it is with some regret that we report that CDV’s latest effort, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, falls a little flat in some areas. But despite its shortcomings, there is still a solid game here that many real-time strategy fans will appreciate if they give it a chance.
Installation & Technical
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars is contained on two CD-ROMs and we found installation to be painless and bug-free on our test system. In-game performance was decent. Our test system was way above the recommended requirements, yet there were times when the system grew slightly sluggish while displaying larger battles. We experienced no serious crashes or lock-ups throughout the course of play. Our only real complaint here is that loading times are definitely a little on the long side.
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars is not just a rehash of the earlier Cossacks with new units. There have been a lot of changes to the engine and the overall feel of the gameplay itself. In fact, there have been so many changes that veterans of the earlier games will quickly discover that taking the tutorial for a spin is a must prior to starting the campaigns. Are the changes for the better? It really depends on what you want out of the game.
The first thing that stands out as an obvious change from the original is the inclusion of a grand strategic mode which allows players to battle for the whole of the European continent. The Battle for Europe mode is presented in a similar fashion to the campaign mode of Rome Total War. Unfortunately, the Battle for Europe mode does not compare favorably with the refined gameplay that game offers. Diplomatic options are somewhat limited here and the gameplay is not nearly as deep or interesting. Players conquer new territories by moving their army commander around the map and attempting to seize regions controlled by the enemy. But players are somewhat limited in exactly how they do this as the commander is the only “army” that can actually enter hostile territories and take the fight to the enemy. In addition, the number of units your army can contain is sharply limited and is based on the rank of your commander. As your commander gains experience over time he will eventually be promoted, allowing you to expand the size of your army. Here is where the Battle for Europe gameplay falls somewhat flat. Since you can only maneuver one army around the map, this tends to reduce the player’s strategic options to the point where, at times, the player may feel more like a spectator than an emperor plotting grand strategic moves. You end up rushing around the map, frantically attempting to regain lost territories more often than not. Alliances are crucial to your survival. In short, the Battle for Europe mode is not nearly as fun as it could have been. It feels like it was tacked on to the product rather than a core feature of the system.
Battles in Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars are played out in very similar fashion to the real-time battles in the earlier titles. However, this time around the player will very quickly learn that micro-managing each unit is a must. Units are generally formed up into squads of 120 individual soldiers. To form the soldiers into a proper unit the player also has to provide an officer, a drummer, and a standard bearer. This is one of the fundamental principles of gameplay in Cossacks II, as individual groups of soldiers not in formation are virtually useless. Without proper leadership even very large groups of soldiers are ineffective in combat and will frequently just retreat away from enemy formations.
To win in Cossacks II the player must learn to effectively manage multiple units. It sounds easier than it is, for maneuvering on the battlefield to gain tactical advantage is seldom easy to accomplish. The AI opponent is reasonably proficient at maneuvering its own forces, and will sometimes attack from multiple directions, shredding your flank and causing your formations to fall like dominoes. This is where Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars shines. A smaller army that aggressively maneuvers and makes wise use of the terrain is more than capable of inflicting a decisive defeat on a larger, better equipped force. One of the selling points of the game is the massive number of soldiers that can be on-screen at once. This sounds cool in theory, but in practice the player will not be able to effectively control a really huge army. The battles included for the game range in size, but mid-sized battles are—somewhat surprisingly—both easier to manage and more fun as a result. Perhaps fighting the entire battle of Waterloo is something that is best left for turn-based wargames.
Maneuvering around the map is an area that received special attention from the developers. Formations can be set to move in either column formation or in line formation. Column formation allows the player to maneuver units around the map at a reasonable march rate without exhausting the soldiers. But units are terribly vulnerable to enemy fire while traveling along roads—as they should be. Units will also move much more quickly on roads, so control of the road network is a major gameplay element in many battles. Line formation is used while in combat and allows the formation to bring its full firepower to bear. Units that remain stationary for a time receive a considerable defensive bonus and are much harder to break than units that are fresh from a move.
Morale also plays a critical part in every battle, and for the most part this is an area where Cossacks II is a significant improvement over the original games. Units gain experience while in battle and veteran units pose a much greater threat than inexperienced ones. Formations that suffer too much damage from enemy fire and artillery will eventually break and rout towards their own base. Again, this forces the player to keep an eye on every formation and closely control everything it does. This isn’t Strarcraft where you can simply create a horde of Zerglings and send them to rush the enemy base! Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars has a very stately pace compared to most other real-time strategy games, and not every RTS fan will enjoy this type of gameplay.
There are some drawbacks here, though. Napoleonic era infantry armed with muskets had a very slow rate of fire compared to Civil War rifleman, and formations take a long time to reload. Effectively managing your units while they are reloading is easier said than done, and does tend to produce some tedious situations where each side attempts to bait the enemy into wasting a shot so they can close up to point blank range and deliver a devastating volley. The side with numerical superiority has a massive advantage as they can fire and then “leap frog” a second formation forward to deliver a subsequent blow that will often cause an enemy formation to collapse and fall back in confusion. Part of this is realistic—up to a point. But players are also able to employ dubious tactics that Napoleonic era purists may object to. Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be a bad thing.
One area that has been omitted from Cossacks II is naval warfare. This is puzzling as naval warfare was an interesting element of the previous games in the series. Why this was done is not clear as some early screenshots of the game appear to show ships. However that may be, it is clearly a disappointment and significantly reduces the overall value of the game. Players looking to re-fight Trafalgar will need to look elsewhere.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: around 18.05.2005
Author: Don Maddox
Language of publish: english