Cossacks: The Art of War Review (PC)

Great games deserve great add ons. Everyone whom has ever played a good game wishes for even more, and many game companies provide this, via expansion packs. Such is the case with 'Cossacks: The Art of War,' which is the first of two expansion games for 'Cossacks: European Wars,' the GSC Real Time strategy game of tactical combat in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The graphics are virtually unchanged from last year...

...but it's hard to deny that they still look great.

There is plenty in the this expansion for the fans of the first game. Two new powers, Bavaria and Denmark make their debut in the system. There are also five new missions, six new campaigns, six historical battles, and some refinements to the game system that make game play easier and increase the scope of the strategic game somewhat. For those unfamiliar with the first game, it allowed thousands of units to re fight the wars of Europe on tactical battlefields, and even included sea battles and a full range of historical ships.

The new campaigns feature some of the most famous figures in European history, such as Frederick the Great, the Prussian Soldier King, as well as campaigns of men such as Oliver Cromwell. Even Admiral Nelson's famous flagship, the Victory, is available as a unit. Players will take the fight across the length and breath of Europe, in colorful battles that provide plenty of historical interest. The new classes of naval vessels help you control the seas, and sea fights are much more interesting in this add on.

A number of game options were added to this expansion, to improve game play. It is possible to fine tune the AI, so players new and old can find the skill level best suited to themselves. Many of the campaigns are extremely difficult, dumbing down the AI until the game is mastered is not a bad idea at all, in fact, considering the state of officers of the period, it could even be argued that it is historically accurate. Some of the best improvements are to the random map games, players can select the type of force they want, from large armies to none at all, a lot of peasants or none, and you can start in the 18th century if you like opening up the tech tree for all the nations. You can even change game parameters, such as prohibiting the capture of buildings and units, or preventing the AI from building some units types and structures. The game can even have a 'peace' for set amount of time, during which players can build forces and infrastructure. The AI is also adjustable as far as AI teams, so different combinations can be tried.

There are two new powers in this game: Bavaria and Denmark.

Assigning guards to buildings is useful, as it cuts back on micromanaging.

Artillery depots have been radically altered, to limit the amount of cannon a player can field. The Artillery depot can now only field five cannons instead of six, and this coupled with the game increasing the cost of identical buildings, limits cannon production. This forces players to adopt more realistic tactics, in the past, many players simply relied to heavily on massed cannon to achieve victory, this is not really a viable option now, a more balanced approach is needed for success.

There are a number of new commands which improve and change game play. For example, you can now assign guards to your buildings and peasants. They will engage any enemy that draws near, and return to their posts when the danger is passed. You can also assign forces to patrol a given area, and they will march about, attacking enemies that enter the patrol area. Since the AI returns these troops to patrol and guard, it makes things a little easier in regard to protecting buildings and peasants from capture and harm. Artillery can now do the old AoE trick of ground attack, so a given area can be set as a 'kill zone,' where your artillery will fire until ordered to stop. One of the better new options is the grouping of formations, so players can recreate the tactics of brigades and regiments, and the game allows those forces to receive replacements.

The game's units and graphics are basically the same, which is fine, since they are very well done. The units are well animated, troops stop to reload muskets, pikemen charge into battle in tight formations, cavalry horses move and react as if alive, this is a very fun game system to just sit and watch. Even better, the AI is very good in this system, trying to beat it is a real challenge, the system makes the most of the resources provided, and some situations seem almost unwinable.

Using the proper formation for any given attack is essential to success.

Massivebattles are definetely a highlight of the series.

Top game moment: Wreaking havoc on an enemy city with mortars, and then rushing in to finish the job with ground troops.

As expansions go, 'Cossacks: The Art of War' is first class, it does far more then add a few new units and situations. The improvements to game play are excellent, and the AI is probably one of the best yet seen on a tactical level. This game system is attractive and fun, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paces RTS with plenty of action and challenge, to say nothing of historical flavor.

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