Cossacks is an upcoming historical real-time strategy title from German game studio CDV. Taking place in Renaissance Europe, the game focuses on historical accuracy, but not at the expense of quick and addictive gameplay. It’s due out in April 2001, and based on the demo, the final version should be something to see.
To say that Cossacks drinks heavily from the fount of the enormously popular and critically acclaimed Age of Empires series is a bit of an understatement. Forget about the two being in the same ballpark: Cossacks has set up permanent residence on AoE’s pitchers’ mound. There was no documentation supplied with the demo CD I received, and none was needed. Not only is the user interface a piece of cake to figure out and eventually master, but many of the features are direct imports of Empires, which most of us played to death last year. The familiarity factor is welcome, as it allows you to get your bearings relatively quickly, and get to the meat of the game.
Only two countries are available for play in the Cossacks preview, but CDV promises that no less than 16 countries will be featured in the full release. Each country will carry with it distinct strategic advantages and disadvantages. The English rule the seas, for example, while the Ukranians have the most formidable cossacks. Gameplay will be balanced between countries, however, with no nationality having an overwhelming advantage over the others.
Cossacks’ graphics do not disappoint; they are sharp and smooth throughout. The construction of buildings is a joy to watch, with elaborate graphics depicting the progressive stages of a structure’s creation. Much of the game develops along relatively mundane RTS lines, which finds you directing your peasants to harvest food, mine for iron, chop wood for buildings, etc. There are no major advances to be found here, but gameplay is certainly solid and rewarding.
The meat of Cossacks comes through on the battlefield. We’ve all seen RTS conflicts executed with style and flair before, but not on a scale of this magnitude. In contrast to the Age of Empires series, which feature battles between armies numbering in the hundreds, Cossacks allows battles of up to 8,000 units at a time! I recently played (and enjoyed) Shogun: Total War, which also simulates the clash of large, thousand-man forces, but the size was deceptive, as individual warriors were grouped into units for single command. Not so in Cossacks; each unit will be independently controllable, making for one of the more realistic and user-definable battle models available on the market today.
While all this makes for a heated battle experience, control can get tricky. The developers have done what they can, though, and by and large things run smoothly once you get adjusted to the initially overwhelming fracas. More amazing is how well the Cossacks engine holds up; with all that activity onscreen, I was playing at 1024×768 without noticeable slowdown, even when the screen was awash in glorious battle. Troops can be organized into formation, receiving a bonus in combat if they can hold formation. Getting your troops to stick to formation is a function of morale, however, which can be improved with the use of certain units like leaders, priests, and even drummers that accompany your legions into the fray.
In addition to the strategic possibilities opened up by these wrinkles, Cossacks players will find that not only does it of course cost resources to build units, but they also have a maintenance cost. Thus, losing track of your resource production translates directly to breakdown on the battlefield. Run out of food and your peasants will croak; even more disastrous (and embarassing!), if your supply of iron or coal disappears, you lose your gunpowder, which leaves your meticulously positioned musketeers and battleships sitting around useless.
This becomes even more of a problem when you factor in the above average AI. Opposing armies have a disconcerting tendency to head straight for your resource production centers. On more than one campaign, I found myself cursing and smiling simultaneously as enemy soldiers adopted the exact strategy I would’ve adopted in the same situation. Another nice wrinkle: terrain is really 3D, and high ground actually translates to strategic advantage. This too-often overlooked adjustment, exploited so well in the aforementioned Shogun, literally brings a new dimension to the gaming experience.
There’s a stunning array of units to choose from, especially considering that Cossacks doesn’t benefit from a sands-of-time format a la Age of Empires. I worried initially that a medieval sim would run out of unit possibilities relatively early, without the advantage of technology progressing as time passed. This was not the case. Cossacks’ tech tree is deep and expansive, with over 300 technologies to discover in the course of play. Mix in a decent diplomacy model, and a full menu of multiplayer options (Internet or LAN), and you’ve got a game that may resemble Age of Empires on the surface, but as plenty to offer on its own merits.
It will be interesting to see how Cossacks will be received. On the one hand, its superficial resemblance to AoE will attract attention to those who enjoyed that classic title. On the flip side, I’d be a little concerned that it will be dismissed, when in reality it’s much more than a clone. Also, the emphasis CDV has placing on adhering to this specific historical time period hasn’t really been tried on these shores. Time will tell how it plays out. For what it’s worth, however, I’m enjoying Cossacks very much and am eagerly anticipating the full version, due out in April. RTS fans will definitely want to check it out.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 2001 (exact date is not known)
Author: Dan Watson
Language of publish: english