Even the most hardened of games journalists would have to admit to underestimating the impressive rise of Cossacks: European Wars to the top of the gaming sales chats last year, their winning formula consisting of an Age Of Empires style presentation and gameplay mixed in with Shogun`s love of numerous units on-screen, seemed to have caught the attention of the gaming public. The success from those sales and numerous awards it won made the appearance of an add-on inevitable and appears in the shape of The Art of War.
In short the original Cossacks was superb, likened to an 16th – 18th century add-on for Age of Empires, in some respects that could be considered to be a fair point, as obvious parallels can be made between the two, especially with the resource management, but seeing as Ensemble look to be going down an entirely new path with Age of Mythology that has left the door open for others to creep in. The most notable inclusions in this first expansion pack are the five new campaigns, set in Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Poland, all adding up to around thirty new missions in total. Denmark and Bavaria make up the two new Nations introduced to add to the 16 included in the original, both of which have their own building styles and unique units. New historical battles have also been added including my personal preference, the English Civil war (Marston Moor and Dunbar), the war of the Austrian Succession (Hohenfriedberg) and the Dutch war of independence (Mook and Newport). The ships, which in the original actually bettered any of those included in the Age of Empires series are also given an extended lease of life with six new vessels added, including Admiral Nelsen’s famous flagship the `Victory`.
One of the new aspects of this add-on you will notice from the offset, will be just how bigger the maps are, quoted as being 16 times larger than in the original. This allows for more dynamic single and multiplayer modes as the emphasis is pushed further towards the number military units you can litter the screen with, this makes for some spectacular struggles for supremacy, but you always find yourself sprawling to get your barracks up and running and begin churning out units by the bucket load to avoid a quick enemy invasion. In fact it`s as if the balance of play has been shifted more towards the strength of your military might rather than the resource management side such as farming, timber gathering and mining. This can make for very long and seemingly endless campaigns as you try and wear down your opponents bit by bit, but who said war was ever over in a day? You also have to bear in mind that these massive new maps and increased presence of units may stretch your system if it is on the lower end of the specification scale; to put it into some kind of perspective a Pentium III 500 backed up with 256mb of ram is recommended.
The gameplay itself has been streamlined to allow for more user customisation, for example allies now play a bigger part in proceedings. In the original everything was played in a manner akin to deathmatch, however in the Art of War allies can really help in an hour of need, especially in the way of supplying you with a number of military units, just as long as they get something in return such as resources from your markets. However, what I`d prefer is your allies and your troops to join together and engage in battle against an enemy in the sense that you control your units and they direct their own. It always seems as if the allies are more than happy to just sit back and let you do all the fighting for them, as you`re in control of the troops they allocate. A welcome inclusion is the new function of being able to give orders to your units while the game is actually paused, I found this extremely useful as I often needed to take stock of situations during a mission and needed time to plan my next cause of action. Another plus point is the introduction of four difficulty levels for your opponents in campaigns, say you`ve started with both Spain and Denmark as your opponents you can set Spain as a hard opponent while Denmark as a weaker one, this makes for a better all round game and increases the re-play value.
If there was one disappointment with the original it was the lacklustre multiplayer, something that Age of Empires has thrived on in the past. The main gripe was the fact that no AI-controlled opponents were able to join in the games meaning it was always a human versus human deathmatch scenario, thankfully this and other limitations have been addressed in the Art of War. One of the brightest features is the introduction of a global ranking system, which uses both your political and military performances as a guide. So, perform well in your games online you`ll earn new titles and elements to your coat of arms, there are nine titles in all, ranging from an esquire through to a king. You can now also record and replay your victories and defeats as many times you like by utilising the save replay function in games` options, also if your game dragged on a fair bit (as it often does) then you can opt to view the replay at a faster pace or simply use the function to fast forward to the bits you`d actually like to see again, it’s all very simple and easy to use.
The Art of War has also been shipped with and powerful map and scenario editor, allowing the more patient and creative members of the community to further extent the game’s life span. It`s also great for giving yourself massive advantages against your intended opponents as you purposely place all the natural resources on your patch and leave the rest with desert surroundings.
Some could argue that this add-on could have been simply made available as a series of downloadable patches, especially the multiplayer improvements, but to be fair you could say that about any expansion pack such as this. It`s clear that the developers have listened to the voices and criticisms after the first instalment and went about addressing them; they haven`t gone overboard in changing vast amounts of its gameplay, which might not be able to appeal to the contingent who gave the original a miss, but to be honest why should they aim to radically change it, as this is most likely going to appeal to those who bought and enjoyed the original? If it isn`t broke – and it certainly wasn`t – then don`t fix it.
7 out of 10
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 04.03.2002
Author: Richard Ingram
Language of publish: english