With the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation’s commencement fast approaching, it seemed appropriate to reminisce on the Renaissance period with a game that covers a large portion of that period. Cossacks: European Wars was developed by GSC Gameworld and published CDV Software Entertainment in 2000. Two expansions, The Art of War and Back to War, appeared in 2002 expanding game content with new nations, units, and missions.
European Wars is the first title in the Cossacks series and, like many of its contemporaries, features many of the standard mechanics and conventions that defined RTS titles of the era. Factions appear as different historical nations from the 17th and 18th centuries and each brings a few unique units and/or buildings to differentiate their approaches to the battlefield. Base building and resource collection are accomplished by peasant worker units that are trained from the central town hall.
Military units are divided into melee and ranged infantry, melee and ranged cavalry, siege and field artillery, and naval units. All military forces are also further divided into 17th and 18th-century variants and a nation’s unique units could be found in either century depending on the historical unit they represented. Technologies, representing economic and military developments from the period, are standard across all factions although their high average cost encourages players to choose carefully which technologies they wish to invest in first.
Historical accuracy was of prime importance to European Wars’ developers and the warfare of the 17th and 18th centuries is very effectively portrayed in the types of units available, like pikemen and musketeers, as well as the tactics and unit commands that the player can utilize, such as pike square formations and artillery battery lines. Infantry units can attack as large masses, or be assembled into a formation by combining them with a drummer and officer unit. Formations are overall more effective than masses, but certain units only use their special attacks if left without a grouping.
Perhaps one of the most unique elements of European Wars, and the Cossacks series in general, is the presence of a fully dynamic economy. Buildings require a fixed price to begin construction, as do units, but once produced all units require a constant upkeep of gold and food to continue functioning. Ranged units like musketeers and cannons require a constant supply of iron during combat or they will cease to fire. If food runs out peasants will die of starvation while military units will mutiny, attacking the player’s base if there is no gold. A large number of peasants and mines, which the game’s massive population cap more than allows for, are usually sufficient to keep even a very large army fed and paid but players still need to beware rapid military buildup and enemy raids against their resource production.
European Wars relies on its historical setting and details to drive the themes of its content. Several single player campaigns are included and all take place during historical European conflicts of the period. Most feature set-piece battles were the player is given a large army and no base and is matched against often overwhelming enemy forces, stressing effective use of strategy and tactics. These missions are widely regarded as being extremely challenging and players seeking a casual single player experience are better off utilizing the game’s custom map mode where up to seven AI opponents can be challenged on a battlefield that is semi-randomly generated based on the amounts of water, mountains, and resources the player selects.
The AI is competent enough to pose a danger to players, especially at higher difficulty levels, but its tactics are straightforward and often force the player into continual shoving matches. The AI also tends to neglect adequate defenses at lower levels and can sometimes simply stop trying after its field armies are defeated. The best way to alleviate this is European Wars’ multiplayer option allowing up to seven players to compete against the computer or each other. European Wars can suffer from joining issues but is overall a simple and stable multiplayer system.
History and RTS buffs will enjoy Cossacks: European Wars’ thematic design and detailed combat mechanics. Its pacing and learning curve are unstable and steep, but once a mastery of the economic system is acquired then learning the nuinances of Renaissance combat becomes another part of enjoying the game’s full experience. For those interested in a more modern iteration, European Wars has received a sequel: Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, and a modernized remake in Cossacks 3 with updated graphics and UI which is available on Steam.