General game information
Game name: Cossacks 3
Release date: September 20, 2016
Price: US$ 19.99 (or US$ 29.99 for the Deluxe Edition)
Genre: Real-time strategy
Developer: GSC Game World
Cossacks 3 is a full remake of GSC Game World’s Cossacks: European Wars, a real-time strategy game released 16 years ago. Set in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, players will command the armies of one of twelve factions as they conquer the title’s story campaigns, skirmish mode or multiplayer engagements.
Being a remake of the original Cossacks means that Cossacks 3 is firmly rooted in the golden age of real-time strategy games. The player will be able to build bases, collect six different resources and throw enormous armies against the enemy’s staging grounds. This feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that is slowly adding RPG mechanics (no special hero units here, folks) and gamers who grew up playing the Age of Empires series will feel right at home.
Most ground battles will play out similarly, as the player slowly builds a city that can maintain their army on the field. A particularly interesting mechanic featured in all the Cossacks titles is that the game’s units need food in order to keep fighting, and some of them may even need iron, coal and gold (gunpowder units can’t fire without iron and coal, and mercenaries will rebel against their current leader if there isn’t enough gold in the player’s storehouses) This means that gamers must not only think about creating big armies, but they also have to maintain their troops, adding an interesting twist to the tried and true Age of Empires formula.
In order to keep their armies fed and armed, players must build houses, mills and mines (that must be constructed over specifically marked places) and also protect the peasants that build the game’s structures and work in the mills or mines. If the peasants are left unguarded, the enemy can just capture them, something that can also happen with most buildings and artillery units. This mechanic forces gamers to keep a detachment of troops at home at all times, as the enemy could turn their resources against them rather quickly (it also works on the player’s favor, as they can seize the enemy’s supplies in order to bolster their own economy instead of just killing their peasants and destroying their buildings and mines)
Cossacks 3 features a rather impressive number of different units, going from standard sword and shield cannon fodder troops to elite grenadiers, depending on the player’s economy and research level. There are more than seventy different units in the game, although many of those are regional variants (different factions have their own spin on some units) All of the game’s infantry and cavalry units can be upgraded, gaining bonuses to both damage and health.
Every unit can be used for a specific purpose, and well balanced armies must not rely on big numbers of a single type of soldier, as the enemy can quickly counter that kind of strategy with a more balanced army composition (this is an aspect in which Cossacks 3 improves quite a bit over the original) For instance, melee troops will quickly succumb before concentrated musket fire, and ranged infantry needs to be far from the enemy in order to be effective, so positions held by armies of musketeers can easily be taken if the player sends some heavy cavalry to disrupt their firing lines.
Infantry units can be assigned to larger regiments using officers and drummers, and those regiments can be ordered to use specific formations that will greatly benefit their combat abilities. For example, musketeers should usually be arranged in rank formations, so they may have a better firing solution on their targets, and pikemen should usually form squares to protect their officers from cavalry charges. There’s a caveat, however, as the game’s friendly AI isn’t as good as one would hope, and formations can be easily broken if the player isn’t watching (the AI has a tendence to hunt down fleeing enemy units, which usually leads to traps that could have been avoided) Luckily, ordering your troops to defend specific locations works, although players must remember to cancel that order once the engagement is over.
Aside from the normal ground troops, gamers must also use artillery units, which can be captured by the enemy if left unguarded. Those units range from standard bombards which can be used to deal with enemy fortifications, to cannons, howitzers and multi barreled cannons that fire faster than the normal ones. Successfully mastering the use of artillery can often win battles, and players must remember that there is friendly fire for those units. Cannons (both the normal and multibarreled versions) can be used to deal incredible amounts of damage to troops that are too close, as their invisible crews will load grapeshot ammunition to deal with those situations. Sadly, there is no range indicator, so players must get some practice with the artillery units before they can fully exploit their potential. Different upgrades can be researched in order to increase both range and damage, and artillery units that are closer to their targets will gain bonuses to their accuracy.
Cossacks 3 also features naval units, which appear in both normal maps and others which were designed specifically for naval engagements. Mixed maps may contain transport ships used to ferry the player’s troops through bodies of water and frigates that can be used as artillery units in order to soften enemy fortifications. In those cases, the naval units generally work well and their AI doesn’t cause any issues. However, naval battles are a completely different story. Here, Cossacks 3‘s AI suffers from pathing issues, leading to situations in which the player’s ships may interfere with each other, something that prevents their crew from firing upon the opposing forces. This can be a serious problem in battles that feature many units, as the player will be forced to micromanage their ships at all times.
Aside from the game’s lengthy campaigns, there’s also a multiplayer mode in which up to eight players can engage in savage battles, and a skirmish mode (dubbed “random map”) There are no specific maps to be selected, and players can decide on the shape and terrain before starting the battle. Right now, the game’s multiplayer community seems quite healthy, and the netcode held up pretty well on my test matches.
Cossacks 3 is aesthetically pleasing, with detailed units and colorful maps. The game looks like a painting in motion, and it’s obvious that the developers chose this art style in order to make the game look as similar to the original as possible. Some players may dislike the fact that maps are mostly static, and that some units feel quite unrealistic (artillery units move on their own, as if their crews were invisible) Sound design is a bit hit and miss, as the different units don’t have voice cues when selected, but on the whole, the game’s technical aspect is competent. Performance can be an issue when there are more than four thousand units on the battlefield, however, even on machines that exceed the title’s recommended system requirements. There are some stability issues as well, which will hopefully be solved in future patches.
Ultimately, Cossacks 3 is a faithful remake of the original game, and strategy fans looking for an old school RTS will enjoy it enormously. Sadly, the game’s AI isn’t as good as one would expect, and massive battles lead to performance issues, even on systems that exceed the game’s recommended system requirements.