Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars Hands-On

Wage the Napoleonic Wars from a strategic and tactical level in this upcoming strategy game.

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Two hundred years after the Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe, CDV and Russian developer GSC Game World are preparing to revisit the era with the newest entry in the Cossacks series of Napoleonic real-time strategy games. The first three Cossacks titles all debuted in 2002, and they let you take control of one of the major powers of the era and battle it out on a huge real-time battlefield. Those games were met with success, as CDV claims that they sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide. Now, with Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, the series is looking to get a graphical and gameplay upgrade.

The first three Cossacks games were all real-time strategy games. But the big new feature in Cossacks II is the Battle for Europe, a turn-based strategy component that is not unlike the kind seen in Creative Assembly's early Total War games. In the Battle for Europe campaign mode, the game will alternate between a turn-based strategic layer, where you'll move armies across a map of Europe and manage your provinces, and the regular real-time strategy layer, where you will resolve battles. The two layers are interconnected. If you invade a province with a powerful army, you'll increase your chances in battle. Win the battle, and you'll seize control of that province, giving you more resources as well as a more experienced army.

The map in the Battle for Europe is divided into provinces, and each province specializes in one of the key resources of the game. Each province also has a population that you can recruit from, though the more populated provinces will be able to provide more men than the sparsely populated ones. This will play a role if you can conquer key provinces that are vital to the enemy, and vice versa. To protect your holdings, you can move armies into provinces for defense, and you can also invest resources and gold into beefing up the defenses in a province. It also doesn't hurt to have friends, and Cossacks II will feature improved diplomatic options, such as signing non-aggression pacts and alliances with other nations in the game. You can also turn another nation into your protectorate, or vassal state, as well as negotiate for passage rights so that your troops can march through their territory unharmed.

You will take control of the major powers of the era, including France, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As Napoleon also campaigned in North Africa, Egypt will be a playable nation in the game. Each country has a number of its own famous military commanders that you can play as, including Napoleon Bonaparte himself, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and Gebhard von Blucher, the famous Prussian marshal. Each commander will start out at a junior rank, which determines the number of squads that he can lead at a time. As commanders gain experience and rank, they'll be able to lead larger and larger armies in the field.

Terrain can disrupt battle lines, presenting openings and gaps for the enemy to exploit.
Terrain can disrupt battle lines, presenting openings and gaps for the enemy to exploit.

Compared to the chaotic tank rushes featured in other real-time strategy games, the combat in Cossacks II is very formal. Keep in mind that this was the era of gentlemanly warfare, when armies faced each other in the open and took turns firing at one another. As such, the game allows you to build hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, group them together, and march them across the map in splendid formations. Each nation had its own unique style of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, which will be reflected in the game. The British, for example, can recruit Highlanders, the French can get chasseurs, and the Prussians have musketeers and the Black Corps. While a formation of one of these units can easily accommodate up to 120 men and more, you'll quickly discover that numbers can only go so far, and this is because the game will model morale. Very few battles in history have been battles of annihilation. In most battles, the victor is the side that can break the other side's will to fight first. In Napoleonic warfare, this meant lining up the armies and having them shoot at each, with the occasional bayonet and cavalry charge throw in for good measure. You can improve your chances in battle by using sound tactics (for example, don't get flanked), and you will be able to bolster your troops' morale by adding officers, drummers, and flag bearers to each formation.

Formation Warfare

Once your troops are in a formation, they'll march and fight as an organized unit, but if they break under the stress of combat, the men will disperse until you can reorganize them again. Each formation of men has several different formations that you can choose from, depending on the circumstances. The column formation allows for rapid marches, especially up roads, but it's poor for combat. By comparison, the rank formation is the ideal battle formation, as the men line up in rows, but it's also a slow-moving formation. And since terrain is never flat, trees and other objects tend to break up your battle lines, which open holes for the enemy. Then there's the square, which is a defensive formation that's useful against cavalry. However, the square is a completely immobile formation, so it's worthless if you want to go on the attack.

You can move your army to defend a province or invade another.
You can move your army to defend a province or invade another.

Controlling your troops will be fairly simple in combat. If you click on a formation, a series of colored circles will appear on the map, indicating the ideal firing ranges for the unit. This way, you can order your troops to hold fire until the optimal moment, a particularly important detail considering that reloading a rifle of that era could easily take 30 to 60 seconds. You'll also have various tactical controls over your formations, such as having the men volley their fire so the front line will fire first, and then while that line is reloading, the second line will aim and fire, and so on. And when it's time to meet the enemy in melee combat, you can order your men to charge with bayonets.

In order to create and sustain your huge army, Cossacks II will feature logistics, which is where the resource management part of the game comes in. Your men will consume huge amounts of food, so you need to make sure that you're producing enough food back at your base to feed them. And if they use lots of ammunition, that will put a drain on your other resources, such as iron. You can build bases where dozens and dozens of workers can harvest all the resources you need, including wood and stone, which are required for buildings, as well as food, gold, coal, and iron.

In keeping with the format of the first game in the series, Cossacks II will feature big battlefield maps to allow plenty of room for maneuvering. Whereas most real-time strategy games are just big enough to accommodate the players, the maps in Cossacks II are downright huge, consisting of a wide stretch of terrain dotted with villages and roads. Both roads and villages will play an important role in the game, as you can seize control of villages for their resources, while also denying those resources to the enemy. Roads and road junctions will also have a strategic role, as roads are obviously the easiest way to move armies across vast distances, which means that it should be easy to block and ambush the enemy. Also, resources from villages are moved back to your main base via the road network, so you'll have to keep it clear of marauders if you want your supplies to flow back to your base.

A river crossing presents obvious problems to both sides in this battle.
A river crossing presents obvious problems to both sides in this battle.

Cossacks II will feature multiplayer support for up to seven players in skirmish mode, but the Battle for Europe campaign mode will not be playable in multiplayer because of the complexities and length of time that would be required to resolve such a game. Cossacks II will use an updated version of the graphics engine from the first games, and obviously, it will be a lot more colorful and detailed than its predecessors. To complement the graphics, the game will also feature live-action video montages from Russian Napoleonic War reenactments. Apparently, Napoleonic War reenactments are to Russians what Civil War reenactments are to Americans, so there will be plenty of footage of Russian reenactors marching, firing their weapons, and so on. Put it all together and Cossacks II will certainly appeal to fans of 18th- and 19th-century warfare. The game looks like it's coming together well, and it's scheduled to ship in April.

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