Cossacks: European Wars was notable as a real-time strategy game for not really being about the warrior horsemen of its title. Instead, it took 17th and 18th century warfare as its theme, pitching a variety of nicely balanced foot and horse units against each other in their correct historical context. If the Thirty Years War, English Civil War and Seven Years War were your thing, you could have a pretty good fight.
The theme continues in the same strong vein with Cossacks: The Art of War, an expansion that requires the original game. It adds 30 missions across five campaigns, which see you campaigning on behalf of the Elector of Saxony and Frederick the Great among others. The missions often sideline the game’s overblown resource management system, focusing instead on military aspects. Unfortunately, missions can involve rather linear paths to completion and completing them boils down to a matter of persistence. However, if you found the originals tough going, the new ability to change the difficulty level will be welcome.
Typically for an expansion pack, The Art of War adds more units and nations. Bavaria and Denmark join the line-up, each with their own architectural styles and single unique unit. As veterans might expect, ships feature heavily, with six more available for the fleets: a massive 18th century ship of the line, 18th century frigate, ketch, cutter, Turkish yacht and galleass. Two units unique to the Prussian army join the land forces: an 18th century infantryman and the Prussian Hussar.
The six historical battles added to the line-up include Dunbar, Hohenfriedberg, Marston Moor, Mook, Newport, Riminik, emracing the English Civil War, Austrian War of Succession, the Dutch Revolution and the Russo-Turkish War.
Extra units – there was hardly ever a shortage of variety in European Wars – however, and maps that are four times larger than in the original are only superficial attractions. Changes to gameplay are more important. Here, The Art of War makes some bizarre choices. Artillery, for example, can now attack the ground, but seemingly only in random map and multiplayer modes. In the campaigns, the function is just not there. To add a function that has long been available in other games in the genre, but execute it across only part of the game is plain daft. Artillery still shells its own forces too, a quirk that games such as Age of Empires II at least recognised as annoying and fixed. One attraction of Cossacks is the vast number of troops that can be in play. Unlike Sudden Strike, which is completely governed by mob rule, Cossacks added considerable to period feel by allowing formations. They were still tricky to handle in any quantity, but they looked and felt right. The Art of War adds the ability to group formations, allowing great wodges of troops to be sent to war in a more controlled fashion. Yet it does nothing to fix the limitation that formations require specific numbers of men to create rather than doing the sensible military thing of forming the available men into a formation, having it break down only when insufficient men remain to maintain it. The result is simply that formations, while an excellent idea especially because they bring the vulnerability of flanks into play, get ignored, and games break down into mob rule unless you are extremely patient. With the poor pathfinding round linear obstructions such as palings and through gates, unit handling can still be frustrating.
In short, the single-player game hasn’t really been improved by The Art of War. The extra campaigns, six single-player missions and extra historical battles add variety and extend playing time, and will be welcomed by anyone who enjoyed this aspect of the original, but they don’t make up for the oddities of gameplay. Some gamers will still find the lack of pace and urgency, plus the more considered style of play just too slow.
The multiplayer game, however, is gains some useful features, which GameSpot has naturally been unable to test prior to the general release of the game. One of the key features is the introduction of a global ranking system for players, that depending on how well you do will earn you new titles and elements to your coat of arms, whose embellishment reflects your glory. The system uses both political and military performance as a guide.
Options in multiplay now include the ability to play jointly with the computer AI, to form strategic alliances, and for the host to remove any player from the game. But as with all these enhancements, you have to ask how many of them could simply have been patched in.
Elements of Cossacks: The Art of War make it very different from run of the mill real-time strategy games, though the appeal of some of its features and the period itself is rather specialised. Too few changes to gameplay, however, have been made to give the game more widespread appeal. If you liked the original, then you’ll find plenty more of the same here.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 04.02.2002
Author: Ian Marsh
Language of publish: english