You have the choice of six countries to command: England, Russia, France, Austria, Egypt, and lastly, Prussia during the early 19th century. A brief tutorial will guide you past the obstacles and show you the ropes. After that, you can try your hand at Campaign, Battle for Europe, Multiplayer and Skirmish mode. Most are self–explanatory (Skirmish is “Quick Battle/Instant Action”), but the Battle for Europe mode is especially interesting. You are tasked with trying to establish alliances, treaties etc., while waging war “Risk” style across the map of Europe. Your aim is the complete subjugation of the surrounding nations to your might.
While the game does model some diplomatic features, the meat ‘n potatoes is the real-time combat system. Careful allocation of supplies is essential for successful combat, from gunpowder (coal) to food, an army will be useless without a steady flow of resources. As you march across the map, you can build new areas to help pump out supplies and add population to your growing army. Thankfully, the research options are streamlined, allowing you to focus on the battles at hand.
Cossacks II: Napoleon Wars demands vigilance in tactics and battlefield awareness, as you assemble your legions of dragoons, militias, musketeers, grenadiers and so forth. There is a lot of action going on, and the sheer size of the armies can be staggering at times (up to 64,000 troops). Based on historical fact, units are slow to fire and reload, so don’t be thinking this is some arcade conversion…. authentic, laborious action resides. You have to pay attention to the landscape, height, vantage point, etc. If you gain the terrain advantage, you can make quick work of your opponent, who may be left open in a gully, whilst your volleys ravage his troops. Formations are key as well, from the all around solid defensive square, to the prime offensive double-line formation. Also important is morale, which is expertly modeled here (unlike in Imperial Glory) If things get too hectic in real-time, there is a handy pause feature to hand out orders, although this takes away from the excitement of warfare.
Unfortunately, the AI scores some low points. Sure, the enemy AI is decent enough, but your men will moronically march to an objective under enemy fire, unless given an order to shoot back. Path-finding issues have always been a pain in RTS games, and those same issues creep up here.
Thankfully, a hearty multiplayer mode is included if the AI causes unneeded grief. You can play in a death match style or historical campaign, the latter involving real battles of old, for up to 1–6 players. The interface for finding opponents is clean and simple, with an auto-match for skill level, even. Land War is also included where you battle it out internationally for areas of map, vying to conquer parts of each nation. Most conflicts won’t take more than a few hours either, so don’t sweat that.