Date of publish: 31/10/2020 9:19 CET
“… the hardest of the hardcore strategy buffs won’t be able to forgive some of the game’s shortcomings…”
Partly by way of an introduction to this review, I’d like to state right here and now that if the Armchair Empire – specifically, the President – sends me another “in-depth to the point of mind-numbing” strategy game I’ll walk through hell (and back) so I can beat him to unconsciousness with his keyboard. I’m not against historical strategy games per se but I do one a year at the most and I’m still recovering from Rome: Total War so this comes as a burden. It just takes too long to play a game like Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars before a solid review can be written, even if it was received ahead of the release date.
That said, it’s a credit to the developers at GSC Game World that it’s taken this long for a review of Cossacks II to be put to “paper.”
Cossacks II features a single-player campaign, a Battle for Europe mode, skirmish, and multiplayer – each with slightly different rules and considerations. The single-player campaign forms a good bulk of the game, putting you in the role of a British officer and where fighting through the missions can be almost as challenging as coping with the mediocre story. Some battles can last upwards of three to four hours (not including the time it takes to quickload numerous times) and tedium begins to creep into the game, but when the gamer is “rewarded” with a cutscene hobbled by poor acting and low production values it doesn’t feel all that worth it. The best that can be expected of the single-player campaign is that it prepares the gamer for Battle for Europe mode (chose one of six nations and give ‘er), which is a lot friendlier to gamers unfamiliar with the era’s warfare – It takes how long to load a musket? – and divides the resource gathering and battle phases. The single-player campaign puts a greater emphasis on resource gathering and while many battles are won thanks to proper preparation and securing supplies beforehand a tactical thinker can pull out some impressive wins.
The real-time strategy basics are accounted for as they relate to the era – when standing in very straight lines and firing at your opponent (also standing in very straight lines) on an open battlefield was considered “good strategy” – with the addition of a color-coded range system, which makes some encounters a Napoleonic game of Chicken. When the “range” hits the red, the troops are in a good position to attack. However, most times it also means your enemies are also in a good position to attack. And weighing the fact it takes a bit to reload a musket you’ll always want to ensure that the first volley actually does some damage. The enemy AI is such that it won’t waste an opportunity to make you eat it.
During smaller skirmishes, maintaining control over your troops poses little problem, however, during the larger encounters – soldiers running around in formation, cavalry charging about, artillery laying waste, etc. – it’s particularly hard to keep a reign on the proceedings. If formations, varying terrain, firing time and supplies weren’t enough to worry about, morale can play an important factor. If morale drops too low, you’ll experience The Runs, whereby your faithful legions lose their cool, don’t follow orders, and generally run for the hills. A battle with the enemy isn’t the only cause of dwindling morale. If you make your troops march too far, too fast, you’re just asking for trouble.
While the enemy AI is generally good, the path finding ability of your own troops can be touch and go. There’s quite a bit of babysitting to be done to keep everyone in order and not stretched out all over the place. In all my exposure to real-time strategy games, I have yet to see path finding perfected, and Cossacks II is only ¾ the way there.
Most (low-budget) historical strategy titles opt for a relatively low-tech presentation and oddly enough it never hurts the gameplay. Cossacks II is bright and easy to look at for the most part, but it also features some of the finer details of the environment. The camera can be pulled out just far enough to provide the gamer with a good view of the battlefield and the interface doesn’t get the in way of anything. And, although they are looped, Cossacks II inserts short move clips of re-enactors timed with events unfolding on the battlefield (like reloading muskets).
The sound design, while good overall, suffers from synthesizer music, which, although shoots for classical, just doesn’t sound right.
Fans of historical European warfare will be right at home with Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars. Though the hardest of the hardcore strategy buffs won’t be able to forgive some of the game’s shortcomings (such as, lack of naval warfare) the overall package offers a rounded strategic experience with minutia and major factors to consider during the course of a campaign or battle (even while playing online). Some battles can be a little too frustrating to win and the path finding issues can offer a bit more frustration, but for strategy fans, those issues are par for the course.
– Lots of strategy involved
– Many modes of play
– Video clips are a nice touch
– Nice looking game
– Naval battles are basically ignored
– Some pathfinding issues
– Poor synthesizer choice
– A few frustrating missions
Written by D.D. Nunavut
Original date of publish: 08.08.2005