Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars

2_1Little men with little muskets, marching on.

When developers march for a sequel, they try to keep what works from the original design and cut whatever wasn’t. In the original Cossacks, the prospect of fighting huge battles with rows of disciplined troops was the part that worked. Managing hundreds of peasants and dozens of marginal tech upgrades was not. So, the obvious solution is to ditch the micromanaging and make Cossacks II all about the battles. And that’s what you get in a nutshell in this sequel. The economic minigame is almost entirely removed.

Resources are collected automatically through villages that your forces occupy. They always produce at maximum capacity, so you only have to upgrade their villager capacity. Each village has its own militia to protect it but they aren’t very good. Except for stone and timber, the economy almost runs itself, which means that you are free to amass thousands and thousands of men.

Well, hundreds and hundreds, at least. Despite the constant claims that Cossacks can support tens of thousands of soldiers on screen, you never see it unless they are given in a prefab battle. Your computer opponent is content to let its men dribble in to attack you, so those grand set-piece battles that mark the Napoleonic era almost never happen. The trickle of men is typical for an aggressive AI. Cossacks II’s lowest difficulty is “normal,†and the tutorial scenarios in the campaign do little to prepare you for how efficient the computer is at making waves of men.

3_1Considering how little economic management there is, there still seems to be a lot of frantic clicking. Click to get your guys lined up right. Click to make sure they have a drummer with them. Wait on the click so that you can see the whites of their eyes. While you wait, another flank is getting rolled up. Click over there. The shame of it is that the formation warfare of the period is nicely done. The uniforms look great, the trick of timing is present, and artillery can really ruin your day. Battles are over very quickly since morale drops with every volley of bullets.

There is an effort to paste a Rise of Nations type campaign on to the skirmish game, but it’s an ill fit with a truncated map of Europe. The story-based campaign has a “labors of Hercules†feel, since, in the guise of training, you are continually asked to do very difficult things. There will be much reloading and gnashing of teeth as you try to find the “answer†that a map is looking for. Ultimately, Cossacks II seems more like work than play. Units require too much babysitting for the larger battles to be manageable, let alone comprehensible.

System Requirements: Pentium III 1 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 128 MB Video, WinXP

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