Game Review - by James Allen
If there has been an area of gaming in which numerous repetitions of the same gameplay theme has been rampant, that's in real time strategy. From the tracks laid by Command and Conquer and Dune, most of the games in this genre follow the tried and true formula of resource management, building a successful town, and defeating the opposition. Cossacks: European Wars follows in this grand tradition, focusing on the warfare in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is paramount in real time strategy games to make enough innovations to merit purchasing the latest iteration in this genre. Will Cossacks: European Wars control the entire continent, or be subjected to foreign rule for generations to come?
Cossacks features battles between sixteen European countries, ranging from Spain to Saxony. Each has their own variations on units and buildings, which seem to not make much of a difference other than visual. There are several modes of play, both single and multiplayer. Single player games include several campaigns, some single missions, and the ever popular random map. This parallels the gameplay options found in games such as Red Alert, so if you are familiar with these games, you'll find nothing strange here. We also have multiplayer over LAN and the Internet, both of which normally use the random map mode.
Since this is a real time strategy game, you'll succeed by constructing buildings and making units. There is a slightly impressive list of structures and units in the game. The center of your town is the town hall, and all the other structures stem from this in the common form of a technology tree. It takes a couple of games to figure out which buildings to spend your time constructing, but you can consult the trees in the game manual (with really small and indistinguishable little icons). The normal array of support buildings are found, all with a 1600s flavor. The mill, dwellings, storehouse, et, barracks, and churches can all be built with the appropriate prerequisites. Specific buildings can produce specific units. Your basic worker is the peasant, which can reap the fields, construct buildings, collect stone and wood, and work in the mines. This makes it easier to switch a mine worker to building a tower, but some level of specialization might have been nicer. Most of your units are combat related, including pikemen, calavry, artillery, and battleships. Really, there's nothing in the features of Cossacks that we haven't seen in any other form in earlier games. Nothing missing, but nothing new added to these wars in Europe.
As for the sound, I really didn't notice it, except for the music during menu navigation. There is nothing too reable here, as construction has it appropriate associated sound, and each building has a bound jingle (which gets annoying after a while; I KNOW which building I selected). It seems like there is just enough noise in Cossacks: European Wars so that you don't check to see if your speakers are connected, but, sadly, nothing more than that.
The gameplay follows the tradition of real time strategy, with a couple of new wrinkles, two of which render the game unplayable in random map mode. Let's start with the good things. The resource model is a fresh change. You need to collect food, wood, stone, iron, coal, and gold by mining, chopping, or growing it. There is an alternative, as you can trade a bountiful resource for one you lack. This is a nice addition, as you might not have any gold around, but plenty of coal. Another improvement is the abundant number of research opportunities. Most of the buildings can upgrade unit specific properties, and the academy opens even more possibilities. These two things are fine, but will be overshadowed by the enemy sacking your town with ease.
As you may have guessed, most of the game consists of building a large village, forming an army, finding the enemy, and crushing them. However, you only need to capture a certain percentage of their buildings to win, and capturing is entirely too simple. This design issue bugs me the most in Cossacks. All you really need is a couple of fast moving cavalry units to gallop around the oppositions town, and gently pass their buildings to capture them. You don't even have to fire upon them! How convenient! This means that, if you have your troops on the other side of town or exploring far, far away, and the enemy comes from the other direction, you are screwed. I cannot tell you how many times I've rolled the dice going south, and their three cavalry units came from the north and captured all of my buildings riding through town like Lady Godiva (without the nakedness, thankfully). This is soooooo frustrating. And forget about building walls: they suck up too much stone and take so long to construct, you won't be able to build any other buildings. This basically eliminated the need to make large brigades of units for the advertised large battles, since you only need a couple of fast units in the right direction to win.
If you ever engage in a battle, may Cossacks have mercy on your soul. The individual unit AI is amazingly inept. You can click on an enemy unit to attack it, and they just might fight them, but they'll probably turn their back and get slightly killed. Huh? Who are the ad wizards that came up with this one (bonus points for the origin of that quote)? Everything else is pretty good in Cossacks, but these two bugs make most of the game too frustrating to play. I hope they make a nice little patch to fix these issues, unlike that patch I downloaded which deleted Cossacks from my hard drive, leaving only the updated executable file. Doesn't that just fit with the common theme in this game?
The graphics are actually very nice to look at, presented in a very smooth view from above. Each civilization has its related architectural style, which tends to mix up the graphic monotony, but is, at its roots, superficial. My only beef with the graphics (which may actually be more a gameplay issue) is the fog of war. The developers apparently decided that if you don't have units there, you don't deserve to know what's there, even if you've traveled to that location in the past. I like a fog of war to be removed on explored terrain, but not reveal any present units unless you go there: much like a map. But, Cossacks decides to blank everything out of range, which makes finding specific places in successive attempts all that more difficult. Truly, this is the only problem I have with the graphics, as they serve their purpose, but aren't by any means groundbreaking.
I really wanted Cossacks to be a great game, and it had potential, tarnished by poor decisions in AI and building capture. If it was necessary to battle the buildings before capture or surrender (like in Kohan), Cossacks would be all right. But, as it is, Cossacks: European War is a great attempt at another real time strategy game that falls tragically short.