The 19th century wars are largely ignored by strategy game developers nowadays. Most of the time strategy games are based in the far past to present (Age of Empires and Civilization), World War II (Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, or present and future wars (Command and Conquer, Ghost Recon. It comes as surprise that the American Civil War and European wars of the 19th century don’t get much coverage with modern strategy games. Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars aims to change that.

I did not play the first game in this series, but I hear the gameplay in this game is much the same. On the surface I would find it difficult to recommend this game over other RTS games simply because there is a steep learning curve in Cossacks II. The tutorials explain things pretty well, but once you get into actual battle you may find yourself in over your head. It took me quite a few hours before I felt comfortable enough to be able to hold villages for resources and attack my enemies using the strategies of the time. I am very much into history, but I’m not into the European wars of this time. Let’s get to the scores.

Graphics are not the strong suit of Cossacks II. They are sprite based, so you aren’t going to see any sort of graphical pizzazz that have come in RTS games lately or in the near future. When you have a large enough army you start to understand why the graphics aren’t great in this game: the slowdown. I run a pretty good system with a Radeon X800 XL card and this game can literally move at a crawl when there are huge armies on the board. There is no reason a game with graphics like this should run so slow on a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 system with 1GB of RAM. I’m not sure what is taking all the graphical power outside of the fact that from time to time you see a small video at the bottom of the screen showing human re-enactors do actions your army is about to do in real-time. It’s a nice addition to the game, but I wonder if it isn’t hindering the graphics at all or if GSC just didn’t work hard enough at keeping a good framerate with it.

Sound and music are pretty good until you get into the Campaign section. Then you get the voiceovers and they don’t even make a half-assed attempt toward the voiceover person sounding like they are from the country you have chosen. Instead you get an American reading the lines and sometimes he doesn’t even read the lines that appear in the subtites. Pretty poor if you ask me.

The rest of the sound is pretty good and the music can certainly keep you entertained for a bit. This isn’t a tour de force of sound, but given how it caters to the hardcore in strategy gaming I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

If you haven’t played the original game I recommend going through the tutorials just to get the general gameplay down. Even after that it will take a while to get used to everything and how precise this game is when it comes to commanding your troops around the battlefield. Once the learning curve is out of the way you’ll find that the controls are second nature and are on par with other strategy games that play from micro commanding angle.

Cossacks II is broken into 4 main game categories: Campaign, Battle of Britain, Skirmish and Multiplayer. The Campaign mode has you go through a fantasy-based campaign. You play the role of a British commander who is trying to stop the French from taking over. There is a mission in the campaign where you see London under siege from the French, something that I don’t think ever happened back then. The key problem with the Campaign mode was talked about in the Sound section with voiceovers being American in accent and no attempt at any English accent.

Battle of Britain is more interesting. You basically are playing a bigger version of Risk, the board game that I am sure many of us have played. You gather your resources, take out countries around you and try to control Europe. It isn’t as hands-on as either Campaign or Skirmish modes, but it can be quite fun if you are accustomed to or like Risk in any way.

In Skirmish mode you take an army and battle against another army in 10 scenarios. This mode is really helpful in learning how to perform different strategies on the fly. Multiplayer mode is basically Skirmish mode with the ability to play against other people online.

Gameplay in Cossacks II can be overwhelming to anyone that didn’t play the earlier game or hasn’t give the game enough time to sink in. This game isn’t like other RTS games since it is not as reliant on building bases as others are. Your basic gameplan is to take over villages that can keep your resources up (villages are only strong in one resource, so you’ll need six villages to have a good stockpile). If an enemy attacks the village that your resource is at your supply of bullets will be gone and your army will be a sitting duck. It is important to keep the villages fortified as well as continue on with the army.

One of the interesting elements of the game is that it takes into account what type of terrain you are attacking and defending from as well as having morale be part of the overall power of your army. If morale is low they won’t be as happy to help you as they are when the morale is high. Same thing goes for terrain; if you have higher ground you have the advantage, but if you are on lower ground you could be in trouble.

Enemy AI is competent, although if you try to suffocate their resources by taking over their villages you will find that they seem to have a better stockpile at the ready than you would in the same situation. In that way the AI is cheating, although it can be forgiven simply because your sole purpose would be to snuff out their villages in order to win the battle, but that would be too easy. Then again, this game isn’t all that easy. In fact the easiest mode is the Normal mode and it only gets harder from there.

If you have any interest in the section of time this takes place in you will find a lot to enjoy with Cossacks II. If you’re looking for an RTS to just pick up and play and haven’t played the proceeding game be prepared for a huge undertaking. A lot of time will be spent in the Campaign and Battle of Britain sections if you enjoy playing them.

GSC GameWorks’ Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars is a pretty good game, but it certainly can’t stand up to other RTS games out there. Regardless of that, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars is an excellent 19th century based strategy game, a time period that has been dry for a long time. The learning curve is pretty high if you haven’t played the series before, but if you give it time and enjoy the time period you will probably enjoy the game. Recommended for hardcore strategy gamers that like the time period, but I would recommend anyone else to look elsewhere for their RTS fix.