Strategy games are big business these days. Ever since a small team known as Westwood devised the real time strategy genre, it has become one of the most popular gaming genres around. Cossacks was one of these games and despite the fact it sold two and a half million copies worldwide the first time around, it really hasn't managed to gain the hype and publicity that are given to titles such as Command and Conquer. We recently played a build of Cossacks II, and came away incredibly impressed and predicting it as one of the better historically accurate RTS games ever made.
Cossacks II is based in Europe during the Napoleon era. Europe is at war with itself and the main super powers of the continent are at each other. In a period where the word sovereignty was basically non-existent you take control of a number of nations in a variety of game modes to sort out who really is the top country in Europe. The campaign mode is where most of the storyline will come from and is based on historical events, but there are other modes for those who may not necessarily want to recreate history in their games.
Cossacks II in many ways is a traditional real time strategy game. You have your traditional units who gather resources to build up townships and train units, and then head off to war. The game is much deeper than this though and when you get under the surface you can see how much detail GSC has achieved for the historical accuracy. It is apparent as soon as you begin the game that it represents exactly the architecture, units and style of war during the time the game is trying to replicate. It has an instant wow factor, even if you're not necessarily into European wars.
As we played the game we discovered even more depth. For instance when moving units, using the path means soldiers do not fatigue and can continue on, cutting through forests tires them requiring rests but it can also make them a lot less viewable to enemy units. You have the option to play six nations; France, Austria, Russia, Prussia and Egypt each with unique buildings, unique units and unique options for the style of play. You also have control over how the units form with formations and options for defense and offensive play. At any time you can order them to shoot, but being old weapons they can't move and shoot at the same time, again leading to some strategic gameplay.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Cossacks II at this stage is the scope of the game. The two game modes are completely different to each other. The first is the campaign mode where you relive history but the other mode allows you to conquer Europe in a 'civilization' style game. You begin with a small amount of units and must move to hostile blocks to fight them and win control. You can also have negotiations with allies to help you win the battles. This was a surprise as the developers have focused more on campaign than conquer Europe but it definitely is a game mode that will long be played once the campaign is over.
The graphics of the game are already stunning with highly detailed buildings and units. The only issue we have with the current build is the lack of ability to zoom in and out. The camera is set and you can't really move it. Watching hundreds of units move across the battlefield is a sight to behold and as they clash it is even more impressive. The engine is extremely powerful and the final build may need a hefty collection of hardware with the beta build not exactly running well on a fairly recent video card. The voice acting is done well thus far and multiplayer is offered online and skirmish on LAN and AI.
Cossacks II is a game that many people may have been ignoring up till now but it really is going to be one of the best historical RTS games this half of the year. GSC has gone to an insane amount of trouble to put together the most comprehensive and historically accurate game around. Cossacks II is due for release on April 15th.