Cossacks: The Art of War
Last year Cossacks: European Wars surprised everyone. In the RTS genre, where Age of Empires 2 was deemed to be the benchmark, nobody was expecting a title to equal it let alone surpass it, in so many departments. Instead of battles that looked silly, with 50 or 60 units taking part, Cossacks, with it's ability to display thousands of units on screen without any slowdown on even a modest PC, gave you the chance to use more authentic military strategy. Visually the game was gob smacking. Each nationality had its own appearance and architecture. Both the naval battles and the land battles looked like a Hollywood blockbuster with the sheer amount of activity and units that were involved. Cossacks was superior to Age of Empires 2 on so many levels that it is impossible to mention them here (click here to read our Cossacks review). So taking all this into account then what can The Art of War expansion pack possibly do to improve things. Let's take a look.
Well there have been plenty of additions. The game now comes with different difficulty settings. There are four in total, (easy, normal, hard, very hard) and these make the campaigns and single missions a lot more appealing to the beginner. There are five new campaigns that revolve around Prussia, Austria, Saxony, Poland and Algeria. Bavaria and Denmark have been added to the already extensive list of nations and just like with the original nations, they have their own architecture and units. There are six new ships of which Nelson's Ship of the Line and the Venetian Galleass are just two. The Prussians now have a Hussar and a Musketeer. Maps can be up to sixteen times larger (these are so huge that a mammoth 256MB of RAM is required to play these). New cursors have been used and this makes it easier to give commands. An example of this is loading your troops onto a ferry. In Cossacks it was a little awkward at times, because you could never tell when the cursor was in the exact position, but it is now a breeze thank to your cursor changing when it is in the correct position.
You now have a greater degree of control over your troops. Pausing the game allows you to give out commands. It is a shame that the paused caption doesn't disappear though as it can block your view a little. You can now replenish your formations. If one of your formations has taken losses and other troops are close by, you can simply click the icon to add these troops to complete your group. You can also set cavalry formations with a choice of rank, wedge and column formation. No commanders or drummers are required to form these formations. Cannons can attack the ground now too which can be highly effective as a deterrent in stopping encroaching enemy forces.
All of these new additions are wonderful but it is the alterations that have been made to the random map game that are the most welcome. You can now allocate peace time to your game if you so wish. Peace time is a set amount of time for which you or your opponent cannot attack. If you elect to play peace time then a border is placed across the map and if any of your attacking units cross the border then they will be instantly destroyed. Once the peace time is over though (a countdown of the time remaining is visible at all times) the borders goes and the battle commences. Peace time can be anything from 10 minutes to 4 hours long. What peace time does is, it enables you to build up a significant economy and a large enough army to attack with. With the original Cossacks you did not always get enough time to prepare for battle and appreciate the complexity of the economic side of the game.
Masses of other options exist for setting up a random map game. You can elect to play without the fog of war if you so wish. This is a useful option if you are a beginner as you can see what the enemy is doing and also learn how to combat its behaviour. You can elect to play with eighteenth century units and technology from the beginning if you so wish. You can have log cabins to house firing units. There are many more configurable options but one that most will prefer is the ability to turn off peasant captures, civilian building captures or both. This makes the game far less intimidating to play for the non-expert and is a very welcome addition.
There has also been some new historic battles added to the multiplayer game. The outstanding battle here is Marston Moor. This English Civil War's classic battle has been lovingly recreated and is fantastic to play as either Parliament or the Royalists. There is also a Global Rating System that enables you to submit the battles for rating and earn titles for yourself depending on your performance. You begin as an Esquire with the ultimate title being that of King.
As with the original Cossacks, Cossacks: The Art of War is perfect for deaf gamers. All the campaigns and missions have click off dialogue boxes (the game pauses when these boxes appear). All messages can be recalled at any time. Unit and every other piece of information can be accessed through the hotkey. The manual is again spot on and tells you all you need to know about the expansion pack.
The Art of War comes with a map editor and, exclusive to the UK, a scenario editor. The map editor is easy to use and the manual does a good job of explaining how to use the editor. The scenario editor enables you to create your own scenarios. It comes with full instructions that are provided in a Word document. Combined, these two editors will enable you to create unique missions. The real added bonus here though is that even if you don't fancy the idea of making a mission yourself, you will be able to download what other Cossacks fans (and there are many) have created.
The only disappointment I have with Cossacks: The Art of War is that it installs itself as a separate entity to Cossacks. None of the above new features are present when you play a random map game or campaign from the original game. Indeed they sit on your hard drive as two separate games. Many gamers would have benefited from an easier difficulty setting in the original campaigns. You still can't play the original Cossacks in Windows XP, this is infuriating as the expansion works perfectly (indeed it is officially supported). I would have expected the expansion pack to have at least fixed the problems with Windows XP for the original game. This is my only real niggle with The Art of War expansion but it is a disappointment nevertheless.
Overall Game Rating: 8.8/10 Cossacks was a superb strategy game and The Art of War expansion has done nothing to damage that fact. The sheer amount of extra features alone make this worth the asking price. For me the key feature has to be the inclusion of peace time, as an option in a random map game. I would have liked to have seen all these additions made accessible in the original game and campaigns though. As it stands Cossacks: The Art of War, although it is an expansion to the original Cossacks, feels like a separate game and those of you who upgraded to Windows XP will still be unable to enjoy the masterpiece that was the original game.
Deaf Gamers comment: Just like the original game, Cossacks: The Art of War is both fully accessible and fully enjoyable for the deaf gamer.