Fans of the Cossacks games have been eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series ever since it was announced. The original Cossacks was one of the first RTS titles to truly challenge Age of Kings for the top RTS spot, but that is all ancient history now. Cossacks generated several expansion disks that added to the gameplay in subtle ways, but kept the core of the system largely in-tact. American Conquest: Fight Back then expanded on these original play ideas, but the subject matter wasn’t quite as popular as the original had been. This was also one of the complaints with the original as the time period and battles covered were not familiar to many gamers outside Europe.
Enter Cossacks II, which is set during the bloody Napoleonic era. Now this is an era wargamers can sink their teeth into! But is Cossacks II just a re-hash of Cossacks with different units? Hardly. We recently had an opportunity to play through the preview copy sent to us and although it lacked polish here and there, it was enough for us to get a good feel for what the final product is going to be like. Cossacks II has changed dramatically since the original and so far it looks as if the changes are for the better.
First, the underlying engine has undergone a massive redesign from the ground up. Cossacks II handles a lot of gameplay elements very differently than its predecessors. So much so that veteran Cossacks players may be a bit bewildered at first as to how everything works. For starters, there is now an strategic mode called Battle for Europe that is similar to Rome Total War. Though not as detailed as that game’s campaign mode, the strategy mode in Cossacks II has many of the same elements.
Resource gathering has undergone a complete overhaul and takes a bit of getting used to. The original title followed the tried and true method of scattering various deposits around the map that had to be mined in order to extract the resources necessary to build units and conduct research into new technologies. In Cossacks II, the players no longer needs to build mines. Instead, there are small villages located at various points on the map that have their own local garrison. If you defeat the locals and take over these villages, they now belong to you and and the settlement will send a packhorse to your base from time to time to deposit its resources. After a while, there are little wagons running around all over the map. This helps lend the game a more realistic air than most other games of this type.
Fog of war is another area that has undergone revision. In the original title unexplored areas of the map were simply black. Even areas that had been explored, but where no friendly units were present, were completely concealed. In Cossacks II such areas are shrouded in an impenetrable fog layer. But once explored, the terrain in these areas are still visible–through a haze–even if no friendly units are present. This system is much better and a marked improvement over the original.
Numbers is the name of the game in Cossacks II. If you are one of those players who prefer limited numbers of powerful units rather than massive armies of expendable units, you’re best best bet is to stick with titles like Dawn of War and stay well clear of Cossacks II. The unit limit has apparently been upped to a staggering 64,000! Although we did not test the sim with numbers that large, some of the battles we tested sported armies in the thousands. Players wishing to recreate whole battles from the Napoleonic era and play them out in real time may just get their wish.
Players can now build a specialized type of unit called sappers. These units are similar to modern day combat engineers and can be used to take down enemy fortifications. Simply click on the sappers and select the little explosive barrel icon, then target the offending structure and ka-boom! We obliterated several enemy towers this way.
The most obvious area of improvement since the original title is the graphics. Cossacks had decent graphics for its era, but it simply does not compare well to more recent offerings like Dawn of War or Battle for Middle Earth. We’re happy to report the graphics in our preview copy were a huge improvement. The game engine is now 3D instead of the older 2D mode and the developers have put it to good use. Buildings, trees, and even the land all now look much more realistic than before. In addition, there are lots of little details scattered around the maps such as animals, fences, etc. All of this combines to create a unique look and feel. Water is one area that stands head and shoulders above the simple blue waves in the original. It now looks real and is partially transparent.
So far our impression of the unit animations is generally positive. The units look a lot like the units from the original, although they do seem to be more detailed and somewhat more colorful. Fans of the original Cossacks will be familiar with the way whole formations often seemed to be using the same animation for each unit, which tended to diminish the feel of the just a tad. In this preview build that behavior was still apparent in many of the units. It should be noted, however, that this is preview copy and there may be significant differences in the final release of Cossacks II. That being said, the animations are a fair improvement over the original and for the most part are pretty good..
All in all this preview build was still a little rough around the edges. Certain aspects of the interface still require some tweaking and we experienced problems with the sound at times. Also, there were numerous places where sound and voices seemed to be missing or the characters were speaking in Russian. No doubt all of this will be far more polished in the final release.
Cossacks was one of the all time great RTS games, and from what we saw in this preview build the developers have improved the gameplay over the original in every single area. Battles are bigger, the storyline is based around one of history’s most intriguing periods, the graphics look great, and the game’s mechanics are more refined. Cossacks II appears to be poised to do everything the developers claim it will do and more. We’re eagerly anticipating its arrival.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 11.03.2005
Author: Don Maddox
Language of publish: english